DriveThruRPG.com
Browse Categories













Back
Other comments left by this customer:
You must be logged in to rate this
Land of the Silver Lotus
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/01/2021 07:10:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure/mini-setting clocks in at 43 pages of content; this is content, not taking SRD, editorial, etc. into account.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

It’s been MUCH TOO LONG since we’ve been to the World of Xoth, my friends, so please let me start with a brief recap: In the bad ole’ days of D&D 3.X, when pretty much everyone pumped out atrociously-balanced cookie-cutter stuff, and everything seemed unified and bland, there were a few companies that stood out, that generally delivered quality. One such company was Necromancer Games, but there is one book that is only relatively rarely talked about, and that would be Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia. A true, underappreciated and imho maligned classic, this book breathed the spirit of Clark Ashton Smith, Howard, et al.

As such, when PFRPG came around, I researched whether the author had written anything else, and one of my very last purchases for 3.X was a 200+ page colossus of a module-collection that doubled as a setting-introduction to the world of Xoth.

Xoth is radically different from regular D&D 3.X, PFRPG, etc. in one major way that radiates through the entire series: Xoth is SWORD & SORCERY. Yes, the classic sword & sorcery that deserves allcaps; the one from the classics; gritty, dark; sorcery is subtle, healing super rare, life is brutal, and alignment mostly irrelevant. There are bad things like slavery, sex and drugs, and yes, these are an integral part of the setting and its aesthetics; this is for mature audiences. This is a GOOD thing. Because, do you know what doesn’t work? Frickin’ sanitized sword & sorcery where every bit of edge has been sanded off; if your “Sword & Sorcery” setting is family friendly, you’re imho doing it wrong. Similarly, overemphasizing these less wholesome aspects makes a world feel schlocky and sleazy, and not in a fun way.

Xoth walks that tightrope PERFECTLY. The mature themes are here, but they are not explicit. Personally, I can’t fathom anyone getting offended over these, but then again, I’m a European.

HOWEVER, none of these mature themes are handled in a gratuitous manner, at least not to my sensibilities. In short: If you can read classic genre literature without being offended, this should not be a problem. If you’re one of the professionally-offended, steer clear of the entire genre.

Another important difference between Xoth and other examples of RPGs in Sword & Sorcery settings would be that its aesthetics hearken closer to the plausible; yes, there are supernatural monsters and cosmic entities and dark gods; but traditionally, the core aesthetic is one of relative grit when compared with plenty of other settings out there. And Xoth manages to excite within this frame of understatement, which is much harder to achieve than when you’re throwing high magic concepts into the world.

…in case you haven’t noticed: I am very, very fond of Xoth.

Okay, so, the module I’m tackling today is the last Xoth module released for PFRPG’s first edition, but frankly, you may want to stick around even if you’re playing another system. The adventure is nominally designed for 4–6 characters of levels 4th to 6th, but due to how different Xoth is, this does require some caveats from yours truly: For one, the module is not designed for high-magic classes, etc.; checking out the FREE Player’s Guide (also available for 5e, review of that one forthcoming) and blog makes sense, as the balancing of Xoth is old-school and operates with some paradigms that are more often observed in DCC or OSR gaming; there are high DCs, considering the low magic item density; there are instances where acting dumb will get you killed quick, and there even is one instance that is de facto a kind of story gameover, where the party tries to deal with something that doesn’t even have stats. It still has a save, though, which makes it kinder than my games sometimes are.

In short: This book puts a refreshing emphasis on player skill over simple character skill for a PFRPG module.

While we’re talking about mechanical aspects of the module: Considering that, apart from artwork/cartography, this is the work of a single person, the editing and creature design is really good; I noticed some minor hiccups in statblocks (like an initiative being off by +2), but as a whole, the new critters introduced here work. This is also, as you could glean from the above, a passion project of the highest order; it is peak-indie in many ways, but actually sports several gorgeous pieces of original b/w-artwork, as well as a surprising amount of b/w-cartography that looks aesthetically pleasing.

Which brings me to something that is perhaps the biggest strike against this adventure for me: The maps are nice, but no key-less, player-friendly versions are provided; labels all around; some maps also don’t have a grid; this does work better than it has any right to in Xoth’s interpretation of PF1 due to the reduced emphasis on magic, but it still struck me as galling.

Structurally, the module is a sandbox set on a tropical archipelago that consists of one bigger and two smaller islands (yes, hexcrawling! Nice!) and can be run as a sandbox; the author also proposes a kind of mini-campaign of sorts that the GM can tweak and adapt; this outline has but one potential issue, namely that it assumes (a trope of Sword & Sorcery) that a party member has to stay behind as a hostage…or a henchman. While great for when a player can’t make it to a couple of games, this can lead to a bit of rough patch for less experienced GMs and parties less familiar with the genre’s aesthetics. Easy enough to solve, but since it’s in the outline, I figured I’d mention it. Speaking of newer GMs: this module has no readaloud texts, so you should prepare it properly.

The eponymous silver lotus, just fyi, doubles as a super-potent magical drug (full rules provided) that can even replenish spells quicker. Why am I not screaming for blood, death and vengeance? Simple: the drug is unreliable; it’s the good ole’ d100, with several effects, and some are brutal. Oh, and silver lotus? Once you’ve seen that stuff, you probably really want to think twice about snorting/smoking it, even if you’re a power-hungry sorcerer. Random encounter tables are provided, and there is a LOT going on.

Oh, and that “a LOT”? It’s primarily player-driven and makes good use of a smart set-up as well as of indirect narratives, so while there is the possibility of an exposition dump for the GM, if so desired, at some points in the story, it is by no means required.

But in order to go into details, we’ll all have to enter SPOILER-territory. If you’re a player, PLEASE do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. This one has some serious oomph to unpack!

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So the silver lotus only blossoms in the darkness, burned to ash by sunlight, enhanced in its potency by the silvery sheen of the moon; its volatile power makes the drug a sought-after commodity for those dabbling in the dark arts as well; thing is, it only seems to blossom on the archipelago ruled by a rather unpleasant, decadent pygmy king, whose settlement (including two claustrophobic warrens, one for him and one for his shaman) are provided. But things are not as simple as they first appear.

For example, there is a Taikangian pirate junk current anchored at the island, and while the captain is nothing to sneeze at, the passenger and pirates can act as an interesting wild-card.

The obviously degenerate pygmies of the island are also not as unified as one would think: You see, while the pygmy king I mentioned before may be nasty and power-hungry (and he’s not above providing quests, if required), he’s still better than the swamp-dwellers, who are full-blown cannibals with crocs and aquatic juju zombies and a really nasty magical item that can make you walk into the swamp to drown yourself to the beat of the drum. Oh, and they worship carnivorous giant slugs as gods! The only thing missing was the archmage who fused his golden skeleton with one of those. (Kudos if you got that obscure reference!) Kidding aside, the slug god cavern complex is a nice dungeon example for what can go wrong if the party aren’t smart, because their slime is REALLY sticky.

But I was talking about the background: As any such island is wont to, there is a place that is taboo: The Forbidden Mountain, from which a massive waterfall erupts. There is but one strange thing here: There should be a rainbow, but there isn’t. Well…turns out that, obviously, there once was a potent civilization atop that mountain; there are frequent rainstorms on the plateau, so two subterranean rivers flow through the rock: One was used for drinking water, and one in a ceremonious manner, as a sort of Duat-like river to the afterlife for the deceased; the dead would be consigned to it, and said river would become the waterfall. At one point, though, an extremely (for Xoth) powerful mage hijacked the rainbow, trapping it in 7 stones, all of which provided benefits, but also corrupt the user. These stones, ultimately, turned the wizard into a lich (!!) who promptly took care of rivals, now banned as VERY angry spirits.

The pygmies, though, took 3 stones, and thus, the lich was dissembled in a way; the corrupting influence of these stones were the origin of the schism between the pygmies, and resulted in the even-more-tainted cannibal crew. Guess who wants all stones? Bingo: Pygmy king. The shaman doesn’t want that to happen. Oh, and OF COURSE the ancient ruins have their guardian monster! And yes, any foolhardy enough to bring the stones to the Gate of the Underworld of the old civilization will make the lich reform. Yeah, that probably is a story-gameover. A deserved one.

What does all of this have to do with the silver lotus? Not as much as one might think, but the plants are important as power-boosts to deal with the harsh module, and as a touch of horror: Silver lotus is essentially yellow musk creeper on speed; or at least, the regular and younger plants are; they are dangerous, make zombies out of you…you get the idea. Oh, and consuming the drug? Yeah, that may infect you. However, even beyond that, there is a nigh-bottomless chasm deep below, and from it, the plants rose; below is a vast network of titanic, ropy tendrils. The true silver lotus? No, you can’t beat that. And trying…well, you may end up wishing you hadn’t. The plant is supremely creepy, but also has the advantage of providing a very good reason to engage with it. This source, though? It’s pure cosmic horror regarding its potency; the thing doesn’t even have stats, and adds this cosmic revelation when the party realizes the vast power and reach of this plant-thing. This, to me, was the icing on the cake, blending the traditional archmage-reborn theme with sheer strange and alien weirdness/horror.

…have I mentioned that I like this module very much?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, particularly for an indie production such as this; on a rules-language level, the same can’t be said, and this gets only an “okay”; we have a few rough spots here and there, but the functionality of the content within Xoth’s paradigms is maintained. My review is based on the stitch-bound PoD, because I have all Xoth books in print. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. The original artworks in b/w deserve special mentioning and are awesome; the cartography is per se solid, but suffers from a lack of player-friendly/VTT-friendly maps, though, as noted before, less than a PF1-module has any right to.

Morten Braten’s “Land of the Silver Lotus” is, to me as a person, a no-brainer purchase and frankly, phenomenal. He just gets Sword & Sorcery like very few people do and has the gift of evoking the correct atmosphere without drifting off into high fantasy, horror, or dark fantasy; it’s always like one of the glorious Savage Sword of Conan b/w-comics when they were at their peak.

However, it is possible, if unfair, to poke holes into some aspects here: There is no “bone damage” as a type in PFRPG; sometimes damage types are missing; the cartography having no grid puts the PFRPG GM in a tougher spot than people running most other games. The lack of player-friendly maps hurts, there are hiccups in the statblocks, etc. This would have really benefited from a tight rules-edit.

In short, I can totally see this module being, at best, a 3-star file for some groups.

Personally, though? I love this. To frickin’ bits. And it’s not a rules-book, it’s an adventure, and one that oozes passion from every single page.

I have read and run a lot of sandboxes, and even more modules, and frankly? This is as far from the mediocrity of a 3-star-file as you can get, in a good way. This presents a captivating, awesome baseline, a ton of hooks to latch on to, and if you can’t make those factions react in a dynamic manner to the impetus of a party of PCs, then I don’t know. There is so much potentially going on here; there is a strong leitmotif to pursue if you want to; the set-up even makes capture and immediate sacrifice something that certain individuals would have a vested interest in interfering.

This is a sandbox in the best way; full of things that jumpstart the imagination; and their proximity escalates that; considering that we also get an outline to use or modify as a structuring tool, we have a genuinely amazing sandbox here. The emphasis on player skill is another plus, and the at times savage difficulty (when run in Xoth paradigms)  works in the adventure’s favor without ever becoming unfair.

That being said, as a reviewer, I have a responsibility to my readers; if you can live with a couple of formal glitches and want some top-tier Sword & Sorcery, then get this ASAP; for you this probably ranks as a 5-star + seal file.

As a reviewer, I have to take the module’s shortcomings into account; as such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars…but this does maintain my seal of approval. It may be a rough gem, held in the fist of a corpse from which strange, swaying blossoms grow, but it is a true gem. If you polish it even a little, it’ll shine very bright indeed.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Land of the Silver Lotus
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

The Citadel beyond the North Wind
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:43:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of advertisement, leaving us with a total of 35 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This adventure for the Sword & Sorcery genre and character lvl 8-10, while utilizing the PFRPG-rules, uses some default assumptions that are different from you standard fantasy fare, as befitting of the genre. First of all, 6 cultural archetypes for humans are presented in the first appendix. Due to a lack of humanoids like elves and dwarves in Sword & Sorcery literature, the versatility that is the spice of roleplaying comes from choosing cultural archetypes with their own distinctive attribute modifiers, special abilities etc. Decadent characters, for example, get bonuses on social skills, Cha as well as a penalty to their will saves to represent their unwholesome lifestyle. Personally, I LOVE this approach, as it makes the different cultures and humans feel more versatile.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion. All right!

Still here? Let's go! Essentially, the module presented in these pages is almost as much gazetteer as sandboxy module and details the frozen north of the world of Xoth, just short of the polar circle and much like in the classic renditions of the north we know from pulp literature, the glaciers beyond the black hills and the frozen swamps of Thule hide old things indeed. There, in the realms of the men of Yg, where petty warlords and princelings clashed for dominance over their frozen lands, a love triangle both sinister and repulsive has will draw the PCs into the power struggle between the two most powerful beings currently active in the icy north: The dread Witch-King of Galuga, Arkanth Mal, is scouring the lands, enslaving and kidnapping beautiful women in a quest to restore his fallen witch queen Eliyh. Seduced by the White King Boras, the beautiful sorceress once left her king behind to bear the children of the White King - only to one day realize that the White King is a terrible creature from beyond the stars. Driven mad, she was annihilated in direct confrontation with the beast, but had her life-force transferred to the fabled Ark of Zamar. Now, Arkanth Mal, still in love with the insane spirit of his once beloved, scours the lands for a suitable body to serve as the reincarnated Eliyh.

Whether the PCs stumble upon slavers, find Eliyh's former familiar in the process of being killed or are captured, they will be drawn into the machinations of the powerful beings that rules the icy lands (which are btw. presented as a one-page, hand-drawn, nice map). As a gateway to adventure, the border-town of Tartuum is provided in rather excessive detail, though a settlement statblock per se is not provided, the details and fully stated NPCs with flaws and mannerisms make the town immediately come to life. Better yet, the areas like the Moors of Sul or the Frozen Tombs of Yg, though only depicted in short paragraphs, evoke enough iconicity to make them not only valid targets for side-quests, but interesting locales, though I noticed a distinct lack of a ride skill on a supposedly mounted bog mummy riding a bog mummy horse. Have I mentioned the disturbing Yg-tree, which not only is baptized by blood, but has tendril-like roots animate special spore-spewing undead or the cannibalistic Ma-Gu? We are also introduced to the fully mapped Citadel of Galuga, the stronghold of Arkanth Mal, where sorcerors from the south experiment with the dead and flesh-consuming plants and the Ark of Zamar and Eliyh's spirit wait for retribution against the vile thing that is Boras. 3 levels (fully mapped) and a player-friendly side-view of the palace are provided as well as several infiltration suggestions on hwo the player might tackle the challenge of the citadel. The final section of the pdf then details Naath, the land of Boras, his dread Ziggurat and stats for his true form Yon-Ylath-Ul. (And yes, as nasty as it sounds!). The Ziggurat-section is rather short though, providing only 9 locations, though many might spawn adventures of their own.

As mentioned before, the module also features the rather cool and excellent cultural archetypes for humans in the first appendix. The final appendix, then, deals with sample statblocks for the men of the north, providing a total of 10 additional statblocks as well as more information on organizations and ethnicities.

Conclusion: Editing is top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches in that department. Formatting has some peculiarities, though: The statblocks do not adhere to the PFRPG-revision with clear distinctions between offense and defense sections, providing instead the cluttered statblocks we know from earlier editions of d20. While usable and adhering to the rules, the presentation should be updated as well. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly b/2-2-column standard with a typical Sword and Sorcery of a nude female in peril and some fighters on the respective borders - this is a classic Sword & Sorcery-module and thus also tackles mature topics, just to let you know. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and the cartography and artworks are nice and serve to further enhance the sense of foreboding antediluvian antiquity. However, no player-friendly maps are provided, which is a major bummer in my book - just a version sans the map-key would be nice.

Xoth Publishing is sure to be either beloved or hated by people and I count myself among the former. Ever since I read Necromancer Games' Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia, I fell in love with author Morten Braten's vision of an age through which a Cimmerian barbarian might stroll. When his anthology "The Spider God's Bride" hit virtual shelves in the 3.X days of old, I loved it and still wholeheartedly recommend you checking it out - even if you're by now playing Pathfinder, the information on the World of Xoth and its assumptions will serve to greatly enhance your enjoyment and immersion into the spirit of this module - or should I say gazetteer? Honestly, to me it feels more like that. The adventure-section of this module is so sandboxy, a DM should not expect to be able to run this sans preparation. Dauntingly old-school, the module instead gives us a variety of different NPCs, potential plots and unique adversaries waiting in areas that, via clever use of omissions, hinting at things and linguistic skill manage to spark the creativity of all but the most burnt-out of DMs. The material herein could be seen as a rough skeleton of not a module, but rather a whole mini-campaign - enough information is provided and the cultural peculiarities that so vastly enhance immersion are second to none and alongside Adventureaweek.com's modules at the apex of this particular component of adventure-craft. That being said, while I'm a vast fan of the overall content portrayed herein, I also consider the module to be far from perfect - the rather lackluster final ziggurat feels like it has been a massive dungeon once that was cut down. Another pet-peeve of mine is that not sample DCs etc. for infiltrations are given, though in scenarios like Xoth's they usually are the more prudent way to go.

Quality-wise, were I only to judge the writing, I'd immediately go for a full 5 stars, but unfortunately aforementioned minor blemishes, the lack of player-friendly maps and the fact that a tad bit more guidance would have been prudent, conspire to make me drop my final verdict down to 3.5 stars - UNLESS you're an enthusiast for the Sword and Sorcery genre like yours truly: We have far too few modules that cater to this genre and for me, as one who has all the Xoth Publishing releases so far, this is just awesome and 4.5 stars. After careful deliberation, I decided to round down in both cases, for final verdicts of 3.5, rounded down to 3 and 4.5, rounded down to 4 stars respectively.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Citadel beyond the North Wind
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Song of the Beast-Gods
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:42:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 23 pages of content for the latest adventure by Morten Braten, the mastermind behind the modern Sword & Sorcery classic Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia. It is also his first foray into PFRPG-rules to my knowledge and the first sign of life from Xoth publishing since the extremely cheap 200-page anthology "The Spider God's Bride", which I immensely enjoyed.

This adventure for the Sword & Sorcery genre and character lvl 2-3, while utilizing the PFRPG-rules, uses some default assumptions that are different from you standard fantasy fare, as befitting of the genre. First of all, 6 cultural archetypes for humans are presented in the first appendix. Due to a lack of humanoids like elves and dwarves in Sword & Sorcery literature, the versatility that is the spice of roleplaying comes from choosing cultural archetypes with their own distinctive attribute modifiers, special abilities etc. Decadent characters, for example, get bonuses on social skills, Cha as well as a penalty to their will saves to represent their unwholesome lifestyle. Personally, I LOVE this approach, as it makes the different cultures and humans feel more versatile.

Another problem in Sword & Sorcery is that magic is different from the basic PFRPG-assumption - you seldom see sorcerors fling artillery spells around or crushing whole legions of foes. Indeed, while they might level whole cities with their rituals, they'll have to sacrifice virgins, take exotic drugs etc. to do so and their spells will be dependent on the cult they adhere to. After all, in Sword & Sorcery, there s no distinction between arcane and divine magic. While the sorceror-base-class from Spider God's Bride is not updated to PFRPG herein (and does not feature in the adventure), the Cultist class is introduced over 2 pages in the appendix.

Essentially, the cultists is a variant of the oracle base-class that is well-designed. While not many sample cults are given, two do feature in this adventure and subsequently get their full stats. It is here I want to advise reader discretion - while the themes of the adventure are mature, they are not gratuitous and probably not meant for younger audiences. The themes of Sword & Sorcery often center around religious depravity and the cult that features as a part of the PC's opposition in this adventure has e.g. the initiation ritual of mating with a animal.

That being said, the World of Xoth blog as well as the "Spider God's Bride"-anthology greatly enhance the flavor of this module, as they contain more information on the human ethnicities as well as the world per se and I'd highly recommend reading them prior to running this adventure.

All right, so far, so good, from here on we'll jump into the action - Thus, the SPOILERS start to reign. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Still here? All right! The adventure kicks off by having the PCs rescue a bunch of handmaidens from a slaver who then proceed to guide them to the accursed city of Khadis. In the best of sandboxy styles, we are introduced to the city of Khadis, its palace, secret shrine etc. Essentially, the city once worshipped a dread, bloodthirsty hyena-cult that has recently been toppled and exchanged with a more benevolent religion. Unfortunately, the kind is more or less senile by now and his daughter has been acting strangely. This is due to said daughter being the returned princess who has been raised in the ways of the beast-gods, her sister and true heir to the throne being one of her captives. Unfortunately for her (or the PCs), said handmaidens rescued from the slavers were servants of the supplanted princess and thus will notice that something is amiss - which might have the PCs on lock-down in the palace.

The palace, the palace's dungeon and the now desecrated sphinx in the city feature their own, hand-drawn maps and from the arrival in Khadis, the further development of the adventure is mostly up to you as a DM and your players - from cultist's catacombs with stitched-together mummies, beast-men cultists, a palace that has the PCs on lockdown until they're sacrificed to fuel the fake princess' transformation into a beast woman, a ritual, court intrigue (finding out what is amiss with the princess) - just about anything is possible. While a sample outline is given, essentially it's up to you and your players to decide how the events unfold against this backdrop of depravity, decadence and vile practices. While this approach means that you as a DM have a bit more work than usual, it also means that no two playthroughs are the same and that PCs tendency to do unforeseen things is accounted for by not having a set-in-stone plotline. While this is no "Go-Play"-module, it makes for an interesting sojourn to the primal world of Xoth that, once again, like its predecessor, necessitates PCs fighting smart.

The pdf also features 3 new templates, (all CR +1) - The embalmed creature, hybrid stitched mummy and Beast-man of Khadis templates, all of which are simple to use and neatly designed.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard and features neat b/w-artwork borders as well as some nice b/w-artworks. The maps are hand-drawn and not too great, but they do serve their purpose. On a layout-side, the statblocks unfortunately are not broken up into offensive/defensive/etc. sections, making them a bit harder to read than necessary.

I really liked this adventure, being a sucker of Sword & Sorcery and Morten's work. However, as a reviewer, I have to realize that this adventure has some problems: The statblocks not adhering to PFRPG-standard being one, the plethora of information you have to gather from the blog being another. While familiarity with the world of Xoth is not strictly necessary to run this adventure, a lot of the fluff and atmosphere might be lost without having read the campaign information from "Spider God's Bride" and the blog. I really think that the general campaign setting information from said sources should be updated to PFRPG in order to ensure the usability of future adventures, as without prior knowledge and modifications on your part as the DM, some of the fluff and enjoyment might be lost to you, which is really a pity, as the adventure per se is dauntingly old-school and oozes Howard/Ashton-Smith-style. If you're already familiar with the world of Xoth, this is an excellent purchase. If you're not, though, the amount of work required to make this adventure work as intended might be a downer for you. My final verdict, having to take this into account, will thus be 3 stars and the definite recommendation for those of you willing to invest a bit of work and/or familiar with the World of Xoth. For those of you who want a plug-and-play module, steer clear.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Song of the Beast-Gods
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Player's Guide to the World of Xoth (Pathfinder Edition)
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:41:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This FREE player's guide to the world of Xoth clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 55 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Wait, before we do...a couple of notes - this uses the PFRPG-rules, but, as the cover should make abundantly clear, this setting is one indebted to Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, etc. - in short, this is Sword & Sorcery and not Tolkienesque high-fantasy.

GASP I know, I know. I've read the rants and ramblings...plenty of them, in fact. So let me dispel these flawed pre-conceptions from the get-go: Yes, you CAN play a rewarding Sword & Sorcery game in PFRPG...it just takes a bit of tweaking and this is, among other things, where this pdf comes in.

It should also be noted that this genre obviously does away with a lot of the assumptions and themes of PFRPG - this is a mature setting and tastefully-rendered temple-courtesans and eunuchs, drug-consuming, mad cultists and worse are a staple in the genre and the reason you don't see this advertized more openly, lies in these mature themes. Don't get me wrong - this is not gratuitous or grim-dark in any way, shape or form - but exposed breasts, sex and partying the loot away are all tropes this employs.

Now, before you're asking: This is the world of none other than Morten Braten, the man who created one of 3.X's best Necromancer Games-books, namely "Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia" - the World of Xoth would be, at least to my mind, one step beyond and can be easily extrapolated to other rule-sets, so flavor-wise, this may be worth getting if you're preferring other systems.

All right, that out of the way, the book begins with several steps that radically change PFRPG as we know it. Firstly, alignment is gone. Everyone is neutral...unless an entity is CE - that stands for Cosmic Evil and certain spells retain their effects versus such beings. Monsters are rare and monstrous and as such, even oversized animals and the like gain Frightful Presence. Magic is rare, magic items are not for sale and combat is DEADLY. A character is assumed to have a massive damage threshold of his Constitution score + 1/2 level. When this threshold is exceeded, a DC 15 Fort-save is required, with every 10 points increasing the DC by 2. An interesting effect of this would be that min-maxing damage...doesn't really make as much sense...and there is obviously no returning the dead properly to life. HOWEVER, at the same time, one attack cannot kill you. Much like Conan, Sonja, etc. get knocked out rather often, being subject to massive damage knocks you to -1 hit points and puts you in risk of bleeding to death. This allows for a rather cinematic structure with highs and low and easier means of having PCs potentially being captured.

The scarcity of magical healing within the setting also means that wounds heal quicker naturally +3 level + Constitution bonus per night and a Heal skill use versus DC 15 can, 1/day, restore an equal amount of hit points, making the skill matter for once. Ability damage heals at a rate of 1 per hour, unless inflicted by a disease - in such a case, you need to cure the disease before that.

The pdf also sports quick and dirty training rules that work surprisingly well - in an absence of common magic items, AC-bonuses, ability score increases and bonuses to saving throws can actually be purchased from the loot recovered...but it should be noted that training bonuses and enhancement bonuses do NOT stack. The pdf explains this process rather well and, throughout its pages, provides a guiding hand for players and PCs alike, allowing for an easy an immersive contextualizing within the world of xoth.

Now, in absence of the Tolkienesque fantasy races, we instead get no less than 20 unique ethnicities, all coming with information on appearance, culture, religion and language...and each of them sports an amazing b/w-artwork. Not all of these cultures have racial traits, though - instead, e.g. an urban population could be deemed enlightened or decadent, while the rural population are nomads or savages. What does this mean? Well, culture is extremely important. The culture of the character's background determines the racial traits of the respective human, not their "race" - this retains the spirit of the classic tropes perfectly, while getting rid of the slightly racist angle implied in the classics - elegant indeed.

Savages, whether they be vikings or people from the jungle, all have the same abilities and the same goes for nomads. And, before you're asking - yes, these make quite a lot of difference. Savages gain, for example, among other things the constant benefit of endure elements for a climate, while nomads have to reduce their land speed, but gain a wild-card feat to represent their unpredictability. Decadent folks are superbly charismatic and better casters, but their Will-saves are penalized. The arrogant enlightened may transcend the usual life-span, but their haughty heritage breeds overconfidence and a penalty to intuitive checks - and yes - all of these cultures come with their own amazing artworks as well.

Now, not all classes are suitable for this world. The first thing you'll note is that there are no clerics, oracles, paladins, inquisitors or summoners, wizards or sorcerors...though there VERY RARELY are witches and alchemists...and there are class tweaks to prevent favored enemy (human) from being too good, druids lose wild shape...etc. - however, to make that clear: This section actually also provides advice to play a character of the respective allowed classes that properly fits in within the context of the world.

"But wait!" I hear you say "The oracle kinda does fit, theme-wise...right" Well, instead of oracle, we employ the cultist archetype, which is basically compulsory within the setting: This bakes a cult ( and a LOT of them are included) into the hard framework of the class and thus replaces mysteries. The cult has a linear progression and the (often) grisly things done in an initiation rite replace the curse. Amazon and Slaver rangers, Spymaster and temptress bards, torturer rogues and witchdoctor druids complement the archetype array - while none of these really does something exceedingly smart, they all have in common that they fit the themes of the setting really well. And yes, this is not the campaign setting you want to use if your primary motivation is min-maxing.

The attention to detail stretches btw. to the weaponry: Since steel is rare and not all swords are common, taking a good look at the equipment chapter can prove to be rather intriguing. There also are nice alchemical items and herbal drugs to be found. (Though the rules-language of the silver lotus leaves much up for GM-interpretation - how it boosts magical power is not clear from this write-up...but there actually is a reason for that...one we'll explore in a future review.)

Now, obviously, in such a world, spellcasting also has to follow its own rules - as such, say good bye to artillery spells, teleportations, low level divinations, shapeshifting and traditional superhero spells - the precise way in which you enforce these restrictions is up to the GM, but having the list is intriguing. Summoning spells may btw. only call forth animals, vermin or elementals and are contingent on climate and availability of the elements. But fret not - there are new spells herein, including spells that do inflict damage - breaking bones via the incantation of the broken limb or causing heart attacks via the black fist of Ptahaana are suitably visceral and devious casters may pronounce the curse of green decay, the curse of double death...or enhance the fertility of the target. These spells breathe the spirit of the classics in more way than one and, as a whole, can be considered to be superb additions to the world.

Now, I mentioned cults, right? Al-Tawir, the sleeper beneath the sands requires initiates to gouge their eyes out, while the cult of Belet-lil, the moon-goddess, demands your virginity, given freely to a member of the cult. Elephant-headed Yaathra Yok needs you to solve a sacred riddle before your head is crushed underfoot of an elephant and fetching eggs from devil-bird (pteranodons) nests, surviving ritual drowning or the like - there are a lot of different cults in tone and style - all 6 major cults have in common, though, that they sport amazing b/w-artworks...and a wide selection of lesser known cults is also touched upon.

A player-friendly, brief gazetteer of the known world of xoth allows players to get a feeling for the lay of the land, while the legends (lavishly illustrated) speak of the dwellers below, the sons of giant-kings of old, the dread serpent-people...and yes, the longskulls of sunken Ptahaana, beholden to their weird, otherworldly masters. The final two pages contain helpful random tables, from names to random loot/events, races, cities, punishments, hit locations for monsters and humanoids to trade goods and occupations.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level - the balance between cultures is also tighter than it was back in the 3.X iteration of these concepts. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a nice full-color map of the known world. The artworks deserve special mention: I have RARELY seen a book with this many amazing original b/w-pieces. Big kudos! The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment...but then again...IT'S FREE. It's the single most lavishly-illustrated free file I have seen in YEARS. I mean it. And the PoD-version is btw. a really nice softcover that can be purchased at cost - i.e. it's ridiculously inexpensive.

See, if I had a say in this matter, I'd pay Morten Braten a significant wage, just to write Xoth stuff full time. I am not kidding you. As mayn of you know, I am sucker for good Sword & Sorcery. The problem with the genre, though, is interesting to discuss with literature scientists. Frankly, the genre shouldn't work as well as it does. Intellectually, there is better prose out there, but there is something visceral, immediate that bypasses my analysis-mode and pulls my lips apart in a devilish smile whenever I read good sword & sorcery. Here's the issue: At least from what I've seen, an author either gets it...or not. Even the most neutrally-viewed mediocre of Howard's tales has this resonance, this consistency, this illusion of authenticity.

The issue for me, regarding roleplaying games and the theme, is that they try, often enough, to make sword & sorcery "family-friendly" - you know, get rid of the disturbing stuff, the sex and the drugs. At least for me, that defeats the whole purpose and central tone of the genre. You do not have to be explicit - this book showcases that beautifully, but these themes are as important to the genre as hobbits are for middle-earth's mythology.

When I first found Morten Braten's writing, it frankly blew my mind - I felt like I had finally found someone who gets it. His prose is phenomenal; his nomenclature and naming conventions brilliant and his world is actually fresh - it's not Conan's world, nor the slightly more fantastic interpretation of Red Sonja, burdened with a gazillion of stories that are over the top - this setting is basically, to me, how I would canonize the good, down-to-earth, slightly more realistic stories. It is a world rife for stories and adventure, and having played all Xoth-books released so far, I find myself returning to this place with every new release, always a smile on my face.

How much do I like this setting? Well, enough to actually get all books in print. If you are even remotely interested in Sword & Sorcery, if you have even the tiniest bit of love for the genre, then please, do me a favor, and check this out. It's FREE and the love that went into this book and the adventures in this world drips from every single page. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Guide to the World of Xoth (Pathfinder Edition)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

The Spider-God's Bride and Other Tales of Sword and Sorcery
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:39:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure-anthology for 3.X is 200 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page appendix for references and bibliography, 1 useful page-appendix with 80 items miscellanea, 2 pages of SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 193 pages for the adventure anthology. It should be noted that a whopping 42 pages of maps can be downloaded in a separate zip and don't feature in the page-count of the book. The maps range from hand-drawn to PC-generated and are useful, but not too beautiful - they serve their purpose and there are many, which is nice. I'll mention the amount of maps for each adventure separately. We also get an extra map of the World of Xoth.

The first thing you'll notice is the fitting b/w-artworks, which, while stock, serves to underline the atmosphere of the world. Layout is nice and easy-to-read two-column format and features a graphic border. Editing is surprisingly well done, I only noticed 3 glitches in the whole big book - quite a feat for Morten Braten. Who is that? Well, Morten is the author of one of my most favorite Necromancer Games-books from the 3.X days of old, Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia (AK:M for future reference), to be precise. This book introduces the World of Xoth, a savage world inspired by Clark Aston Smith, Robert E.Howard and their iconic creations, spiced up with a bit of gothic horror à la Lovecraft - we're in for Conanesque, savage, bronze-era action where wit and raw strength are matched by bearded, drug-addled and perverse sorcerors. A word to the warning - While the book is not explicit in its mentions of depraved sexuality (and personally I wasn't offended), I gather that morals in e.g. the USA might be different, thus the content is intended for mature players and readers, which is also acknowledged in a side-box on the very first page.

Before we jump into the action of the adventures, we are introduced to some basic assumptions of this mini-campaign as well as optional rules you might (or should) use in conjunction with these adventures: First of all, there are no true alignments: There is just "normal" and "cosmic evil" - that's it. We're in for shades of grey. Next up: Monsters are rare and trigger fear checks, i.e. get frightful presence. Magic is rare and mysterious, combat is deadly (with massive damage and death effect rules), an optional rule for armor damage reduction and a rule for faster natural healing of wounds. Next up are the characters that are suitable for the world - of the core-classes, only barbarians, rogues and fighters are allowed. The ranger is more or less replaced via the new nomad class and due to there being no gods or divine magic, all spellcasting prowess falls to the NEW sorceror-class, a caster that reflects the traditional image of the spellcasters from the Hyborian Age better than the regular core-class. If "Sorceror" is mentioned in this review, it refers to this new class and its restrictive but very flavorful spell-list of non-flashy, mysterious magic. Wait. No divine magic? Yep, that's why natural healing is faster than usual. Wounds HURT and combat should be carefully picked, as will be shown in the adventures. If you act dumb and fool heartedly jump into every battle , prepare to die. A lot.

With the genre being human-centric and having no place for halflings, elves and the like, we also get a huge array of different kinds of humans who get varying racial traits and abilities depending on their stock - we get a huge array of 23 of these nationalities. Furthermore, we get 26 feats centered on the new sorceror and the nationalities. I liked the feats and their story-centric approach to organizations and the secrets of magic. In the next chapter we delve into sorcery, how to restrict spell-lists, the effects of maddening taint sorcery has on its practitioners as well as several new spells. 23 cults and demons with their specific available spells are provided for your convenience and we also get new drugs, weapons and alchemical equipment.

This concludes the 41-page campaign-section of the book and kicks off the adventure section of the book - next up is the first of the adventures, thus from here on SPOILERS ABOUND!!! ... Still here? All right, so let's check the first adventure out:

The Necromancer's Knife comes with 3 maps, one of the city, a hand-drawn map of a charnel house and a rather confusing map of catacombs. The basic premise of the adventures is that the PCs come into possession of a dagger that is inhabited by the spirit of a restless necromancer bent on revenge against one of his former pupils. One of the PCs (or a guard captain) is possessed by the spirit and from there on, the PCs are in for a race against time to infiltrate the catacombs of the city via the charnel house of the cities' cult of skull-masked, depraved priests to the necromancer's final resting place where they'll hopefully either destroy the spirit and the necromancer's knowledge (his spellbooks are kind of his phylactery) or reach an uneasy truce with him, making the PCs his chosen tools of vengeance. The infiltration is actually very well-made, but the possession-angle might cause problems, depending on your group. Other than that: Nice, sandboxy infiltration.

The Spider God's Bride comes with 4 maps, one city map, 2 maps of a mansion and one player-friendly map of said mansion. This adventure begins with the PCs being hired as caravan guards by a fugitive priests in disguise as well as his retainer and their slave-girl, who turns out to be a temple-"virgin" devoted to the perverse Spider-God. Thus, the adventure starts with a wilderness trek through the Kharjah Pass and the al-Khazi desert, spiced up via both a two-page table of random encounters and a deadly nomad tribe. After enduring the harsh and deadly climate of the al-Khazi, the PCs reach the city of Zul-Bazzir, where they continue to serve as bodyguards for the priest and his allies after moving into an Eastern-style mansion that will be attacked by deadly assassins - during said attack the priest will be betrayed by his servant and the girl, who will give birth to the abominable spawn of the spider-god. In the end, it's up to the PCs to stop the temple-maid, her lover and the dreadful abomination she has brought into the world. The spawn is a new creature presented n the appendix. The Jewel of Khadim Bey This adventure is introduced by the PCs hearing about the theft of the legendary jewel of Khadim Bey and the subsequent plea of one of the thieves of the jewel - The woman scorned sets the PCs on a quest to kill her partner, who has supposedly left her to be caught by the guards. Supposedly? Yep, as the woman is in fact an instigator who wishes to make the PCs kill an agent of the local ruler - whether they kill him or look through her treachery, they will have to hold the abandoned temple where they encounter him against a whole cult of cannibalistic nomads. After that, the trail leads to Abu Khafi's notorious house or trail the perpetrator to Melik Khan, a corrupt, silver lotus addicted general whose house the PCs will have to infiltrate to prove his involvement in the conspiracy and clear both their names and bring the spy to justice...or ally with her. The plot allows for all kinds of interesting developments. The adventure also features 3 maps. The Eidolon of the Ape This adventure is a very straight-forward infiltration (brute force is not an option) of a temple devoted to a dread simian god. Deadly, hard, cool. Simple, yes, but also a quite remarkable adventure. The Crypt Thing of Khorsul The PCs are recruited by one of two feuding mountain lords to steal an amulet from his enemy, who dabbles in black magic, and kidnap the "son" of his enemy. As often, though, not all is as it seems and the true sorceror is the lord who hired the PCs, the "son" a traitor to his sorcerous master. After infiltrating the castle of one lord, they might learn the truth about the dark witchcraft (or not) and venture out to a mountain cavern to clear out the immortal creature the other lord has created, hopefully ending the sorcerous threat their once-employer poses for the whole region, either at said location or via infiltration of the lord's own mansion. The Vault of Yigthrahotep The PCs find a clay tablet and are subsequently approached by a group of merchants, who tell the PCs about a gold mine to which an item they possess as well as the clay tablet and a third glyph point. The merchants and PCs join forces and traverse the deadly Katanga desert, braving its terrible sandstorms, slavers and finally reach Katanga, where they'll somehow have to gain entrance to a temple, find the hidden glyph and then brave the deadly jungle towards the purple spires that conceal the gold mine - near which, unfortunately, lairs a tribe of in-bred locals led by an incestuous, grossly obese witch queen. After hopefully escaping the predations of said fiends, the PCs finally can venture to the lost mines and brave the monkey-men that have claimed the place as territory to finally reach the vault of Yigthrahotep, where the merchants will reveal themselves to be shapechanging snake-men bent on freeing their mighty kin from hibernation - the PCs will have to deal with their treachery and the dread creature they unwittingly unleashed upon the world. The adventure features 6 maps and is among the coolest, darkest and most disturbing ones among the adventures presented herein. The Swords of Zimballah The PCs venture towards the savannah-city of Zimballah to prevent the balance of power in the region from shifting, as a rogue priest of the living flame has agreed to reveal the secret of crafting iron weapons to the local ruler. Via a safehouse, various factions and the battle of both wits and blades with agents, the PCs will have to infiltrate the royal palace of Azimba and either kill the rogue priest or even get him out alive. The fact that he is quite comfortable and can conjure elemental creatures to his aid does not facilitate the task - the opportunity to stage a slave rebellion, however, does. The adventure comes with 4 maps. The Slaves of the Moon This adventure is set in the cursed city of Kumara, located in a desolate, mist-bound valley that prevents the PCs from once again leaving the area. The isolated two-class society there is lorded over by a ruling class of were-leopards. The royal palace, once again, can be infiltrated by the PCs and provides some challenging defenses. The fact that there is dissent between were-creatures wanting to end the curse and ones who revel in their bestial natures Caught in the act and barely suppressing their nature, the aristocracy bids the PCs to destroy the remains of the sorceror who cursed the town, prompting them on a delve into his crypt and a battle against his dread remains. Moreover, via this the PCs might uncover a way to end the curse once and for all by killing a legendary creature and potentially toppling the social order in the cities' political microcosm. The adventure comes with 5 maps. The Daughters of Rhama Stumbling over an encoded message, the PCs are led to the city of Yaatana, a cult devoted to a supposed orgiastic moon goddess, which they may infiltrate to put an end to the dark creature devoted to filth and sickness behind the supposedly harmless cult. The adventure comes with 2 maps and a handout for players. This was my least favorite adventure, because it was rather on the short side and does not feature that much documentation. The Call from the Abyss Being the longest adventure of the series, I had high expectations for this one: The PCs come into possession of a strange (and VERY creepy) magical conch-shell that sets them on course for a mythical island. From the city of Ghazor, the PCs have to meet up with a spy in a rather hostile tavern to enter the half-submerged royal tombs in Ghazor - after killing the dread creature there, the PCs finally can obtain the map describing the path to the legendary island of Namthu. After recruiting the service of a vessel, the PCs will hopefully root out the hidden priest of a dark god hidden among the crew-members and make their way to Namthu, where bloated dead rising from the deeps, flesh-eating birds and worse will greet them. Worse, the priest might instigate an attack against them and the temple they will want to explore is not only infested by the rotten undead and similar terrors from the deep, but also floods with the tides, imposing a time limit on explorations. To add insult to injury, the PCs will have to clear partially collapsed passages and scale the Eyrie of the flesh-eating bird-creatures to disable a force-field blocking their passage in the temple (and yes, they get sufficient hints to do that). Once they have cleared the force-field, though, they will have to battle the dread cephalopodan sea-god to claim the accursed treasure of Namthu or live with the knowledge of having unleashed an elder evil once again to roam the high seas, thus providing a sufficiently epic and cool final adventure. This adventure comes with 8 maps. After that, we get the appendices, with three new templates (Bloated One for the servants of said sea creature) and Corpulent (for grossly obese enemies) and Rhama's Blessed (translates to disgusting and stinking) as well as two new creatures, the devil birds of Azimba and the Spawn of the Spider God from the second adventure.

Conclusion: I already commented on the formal criteria, so I'll just get right to it: This one is hard to rate - on the one hand, we get A LOT of adventure (in fact enough for half a campaign or even a year or two of play time) for a few meager bucks, and a lot of cartography. On the other hand, the cartography ranges from nice city maps to hand-drawn ones that seem not too professional. What is professional, though, is the editing - I only noticed 3 minor glitches in 200 pages - that's top quality! In the end, I guess it comes down whether to if you like the swords & sorcery genre or not - if you're willing to delve into the world of Xoth and accept its premises, your PCs will have a very challenging, fun time. If they're smart, that is - many adventures are VERY sandboxy in style and challenging. Infiltrations are hard and if your players first approach is always "Bash its head in", they might be in for a rude awakening in some of the adventures. If you and your players tend towards rather sneaky and smart play-styles, though and if you are an experienced DM (novices will be hard-pressed by the amount of potential ways stories might develop), this book will provide entertainment galore. The only word of warning I have to utter is that your players have to be comfortable with trusting (at least for a time) NPCs and settling up temporary alliances with them, as some adventures hinge on cooperation. What's my final verdict, then? Well, for me as a huge fan of the S&S-genre, I loved this anthology. It provides a lot of material and some of the adventures genuinely provide a sense of antique dread and iconic locations that I loved from the stories I used to read all the time. However, as a reviewer, I have to acknowledge that some of the adventures don't hold up to e.g. the brilliant "Call from the Abyss" or "The Vault of Yigthrahotep". My final verdict will thus take the VERY low price into account as well as the had-drawn pieces of cartography that might impede the fun for some DMs. My final verdict will be 4 stars. Detract a star if you're very picky about beautiful maps and original artwork, but add a star if you're a fan of the Swords & Sorcery genre - Fans of Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia, Conan etc. practically have to pick up this gem.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Spider-God's Bride and Other Tales of Sword and Sorcery
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Files for Everybody: Stealth Feats
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 04:18:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial (Containing some rules-relevant material), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 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.

Okay, so, on the editorial page introduces the synergy trait for feats; a skill action with this trait combines two skills as complimentary and taking a skill feat with it requires training in both; for classifying, they are assigned to the skill that is more important. If, for example, you have a Medicine feat supplemented by Arcana, and it requires being an expert in Medicine, but only being trained in Arcana, it’d be classified as a Medicine skill feat. Simple, right?

Okay, so let’s take a look at the 12 feats herein; we start with two feats available at 1st level, both of which require expert in Stealth. The first is Conceal Efforts, which is interesting in design; it lets you attempt an Interact or skill action while observed and compare a Stealth check with the Perception of all creatures present, allowing you to theoretically perform the action without it being noticed. I do like this as a concept; I also appreciate the fact that the feat sports a caveat that states that the GM might require higher proficiency ranks for some actions. In many ways, this feat aims to fill a blank space between Thievery and Deception; the most common applications would be those related to the Thievery skill, and Deception’s Create a Diversion delivers what this feat offers. As such, the question is whether you’d prefer covert Interact to be feasible via Stealth. Personally, I’d consider this to be closer in the providence of Thievery, or simply require a diversion, which intrinsically draws attention away, but I can see some groups preferring the approach presented here.

Ambient Cover is interesting, in that it conceals you in crowds and makes you treat crowds as regular terrain; it also lets you treat crowds as cover when you begin and end Sneak in one. This is a pretty nifty tool, and reminded me of the origin story of Garrett in the Thief franchise, you know, back when those games were good.

4 feats are available at 2nd level: Snipe requires that you are concealed or behind cover or greater cover, and lets you, as one action, Strike with a ranged weapon, then Hide AND also Interact once or draw a thrown weapon or reload a ranged weapon. If you have Legendary Sneak, you can use the feat even without (greater) cover. I like the concept of this feat; I am not sure it’s situated well at second level; the action economy provided seems VERY good. My suggestion would be to make Interact as a substitute for the attack, also for the purpose of potential weapons that require more than one action to reload. Quick Conceal is triggered by a reaction and is triggered when you pick up a small object, or use it as part of another action, including wand-based Casting a Spell. Essentially, this one lets you make that Conceal an Object as a reaction. This is interesting, and it is kept somewhat in check by a cooldown: Subsequent uses within 1 hour yield diminishing returns, with increasing circumstance penalties. I’d allow this one. Cautious Prowler is another reaction-based one, and nets you a second chance of sorts: When you become observed as part of Seek or Interact, you treat the trigger as a failure, and then resolve Stealth vs. Perception. This one is GOLD for infiltration-heavier scenarios. Conceal Trap does pretty much what it says on the tin, save that it also applies for hazards, using the crafting DC for traps, the disable DC for hazards. It’s also only one action, which struck me as interesting; since Pick a Lock and Disable Device require two actions to perform, I’m pretty sure that this one should fall into that category as well.

For level 7 and up, we have 5 new feats: Misleading Snipe builds on Snipe, and requires two actions to perform, and adds a critical success effect that makes you undetected if the critter could see and if you are at least 15 feet away from the target of your ranged Strike. Ambush Master makes you, whenever you perform a Strike against a target and are undetected or unnoticed, treat the creature as flat-footed versus your Strikes until the end of your turn, regardless of whether your first Strike hits home. Solid. Disappear requires a smokestick in hand, or Quick Alchemy and the smokestick formula; for one action, you Interact with the smokestick and get to Hide or Sneak. Iconic puff of smoke move, solid in execution. Like it. The rules language is also phrased in a way that does not let the Manipulate trait go missing. Nice. Silent Dispatch is a free action, and triggered while undetected or unnoticed and use an action that kills a creature of your size or smaller or makes them gain the dying, paralyzed, restrained or unconscious condition, and can make the triggering creature unobserved or unnoticed by a creature observing it. You do this by Sneak into an adjacent square, and dragging it to (greater) cover. Two thumbs up. Gold.

Seek Synergy would be a skill feat that utilizes the aforementioned Synergy trait; it requires master in Stealth and expert in Perception, and makes any success with Seek to locate hidden, unobserved or unnoticed targets a critical success.

Finally, there is one new skill feat for 15th level, Spirit Away builds on Silent Dispatch, and also muffles restrained targets temporarily. Neat.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a nice piece of original art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Dustin Knight’s Stealth feats contain some serious gems for a campaign that focuses on clandestine operations; there are several herein that I’d consider to be great picks indeed, and a couple of them are serious seal of approval-material; at the same time, you have noticed in the discussion above that I’m not as happy with all of them. That being said, I do think that this pdf is very much worth its low asking price; Conceal Efforts and the Snipe feats in particular should see some GM oversight, though. As for a final verdict: I consider this to be 4.5-stars pdf, rounded down. Well worth getting.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Stealth Feats
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

The Vertical Halls
Publisher: Other Selves
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 04:15:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5.

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

This review is based on both the pdf and the print version; the print version is a perfect bound PoD-softcover, with a b/w-interior. Special mention deserves the b/w-artwork: With one exception, the b/w-artwork is actually pretty top-tier and rather surprising in its number of pieces; the convention of DCC-adventures featuring pretty lavish maps can also be found here; the maps feature artworks and are gorgeous—Valentí Ponsa deserves applause in the aesthetics department. But my players will never get to seen them, because, alas, also like many a DCC-supplement, the module lacks player-friendly versions of said maps: One of the maps has the annoying number-labels next to the rooms (out of sight when using VTTs), but the others do not, and e.g. secret door indicators are clearly visible. sigh Annoying about the maps: The first level has a clearly visible grid; the second level has no grid, and the final level has a half-visible grid. The functionality of the second level is somewhat compromised at least, thus.

The module is intended for a 2nd-level party but does not specify a number of characters. I recommend 4-6; at 6 characters, the module isn’t that hard. At 4, it’s pretty challenging.

The module features no read-aloud text, and as a whole, I wished the organization of the respective text was a bit smoother; as presented, it’s very much a classic form of presentation sans any highlighters. The sequence of presentation for the keyed locales doesn’t prioritize information to be quickly accessible to the judge. I usually don’t mind that too much, but without read-aloud text, the relevant information is buried pretty deeply.

To give you an example: “Here the Geometrist would carry out his experiments involving living beings, dead beings, dead that were later alive again, undead, and…well, experiments.” That’s the first paragraph of a keyed locale. Information-content relevant for the judge? Next to 0. If you want to run this adventure, you should most assuredly have carefully prepared the entire module.

The text above should also provide some pieces of information for the astute reader. While not to the extent that it’d be a game-breaker, it is obvious that the team did not employ an English native speaker or someone with the proper skillset to properly proofread the module. DCC-purists may also scoff at the lack of the hyphen in “un-dead”, and indeed, in some ways, this is a thematic indicator for the module. The aesthetics of the adventure are significantly closer to the classic fantasy adventures laced with a few slightly weird components; this makes conversion potentially easier regarding the themes, but if you gravitate closer to the more Sword &Sorcery-esque themes in many DCC-adventures it’s certainly something to note. In many instances, the module takes a classic D&D creature and puts a somewhat horrific spin or alternate twist on it. The amount of loot also should be reduced and DCC-ified, imo.

On a personal pet-peeve level: The module does extend this at times verbose angle to rules-language; I usually don’t mind some tongue-in-cheek humor, but when I have to see “…it will start choking its victim (big surprise!) …” in the middle of a statblock, it’s really grating. I’m not just annoyed by the use of “will”, but by the snark in the middle of the rules-relevant information. That’s the stuff a judge has to quickly reference. It’s NOT the place to put snarky comments.

Anyhow, there is more to talk about, but in order to do so, I have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. . Only judges around? Great! So, the module starts in the small settlement of Shadypass, which was recently wracked by a quake; and ever since, people have started falling ill, with “geometrical nightmares”, and then later, geometric shapes in front of the sick. Okay, this is cool, and the angle points towards, how should it be different, a wizard’s sanctum, namely that of the aforementioned Geometrist.

You see, a magical stained-glass window was broken, and from it, the illness spread, as the imprisoned Hound of Tindalos is also the carrier of the virus. (And yes, the hound is a potentially brutal “super-boss” of sorts.) The tindalos-virus is pretty cool and acts as a multi-stage ailment, with stage 4 = death by hyperpyrexia (blood boiling).

Structurally, the module is a pretty linear dungeon-crawl, with particularly level 1 being essentially a corridor of rooms, with the second being a mincer of grinding gears. So, the thief gets to the other side and clears the path? Heck no, that would be sensible and reward player skill. Instead, the room requires the proper magic (not a given in DCC), and falling can split the party between two levels in the unlikely event of the falling character surviving. So yeah, this is also what I meant with the D&D-aesthetics; I can’t help but feel that this module was written for a system that assumes a higher degree of reliable utility spellcasting available than DCC.

On the plus-side, some rooms do have a pretty high degree of interactivity, with e.g. a gallery of detailed art coming with its own description; the area also includes e.g. one of the creatures that exemplifies the creature design: The darkmoantle, a twist on the darkmantle with cloaker-esque fear-moaning and some debuffing ability; this also is one of the leitmotifs for one of the dungeon’s factions. These include the amalgams, which are the caretakers of the halls and there’s also essentially a flesh golem by another name. The other factions are a spider/human missing link, the attercopus that creates spider-vomiting husks. Essentially, this is an Ettercap-y character. Finally, there would be the “survivor” of a failed adventuring party; a middle-aged halfling who has become the ”husband” of a choker-lady and now is essentially a grotesque, fused amalgamation with her, not unlike how in some species the females start absorbing the males. This latter aspect is certainly horrifying and interesting, but the entire impact of the horrific fate of said adventuring party is something the module could do a much better part at showcasing; having the party find out the truth as they explore? That’d have been neat. As provided, the unfortunate adventurer probably will have the function of a grotesque and icky bossfight, perhaps a rather sad one, but yeah.

As you can glean from these ideas, the twists on the “classic D&D concepts” executed here are actually GOOD and interesting; similarly, e.g. a lavishly-illustrated generator room that includes terrain effects is pretty interesting, and I do think that, making the flesh golem-y thing use skills from various adventuring classes, is mechanically an interesting angle. As far as a combat-relevant aspect of module design is concerned, it does an interesting and competent job. When it comes to the non-combat aspects, the adventure flounders somewhat.

Now, ultimately, the party tries to find a cure for the virus in the halls, while navigating these twisted “bosses” and…wait. There was something about this, right? Something… …oh yeah. These were supposed to be “vertical”, right? Well, let me divest you of any notions of a proper vertical dungeon. Essentially, this is a regular dungeon with one prolonged encounter/half level that is actually vertical. This level is awesome and has one simple rule: As long as one limb touches the “floor”, you don’t fall. AWESOME, right? Particularly since this environmental rule ties in with the aforementioned attercopus’ webs etc., this encounter can be great…but it’s just that. One encounter.

Calling the dungeon “The Vertical Halls” borders on deceptive marketing as far as I’m concerned. More like “The Vertical Half-a-Hall.”

…and that is perhaps what galls me most about this module; it’s not that the module employs a “D&D with a twist”-angle; and I can live with the less-than-optimal information-design. Particularly since it does D&D with a twist pretty damn well. Structurally, I object to the instances where the module could do a much better job at rewarding player-skill over character-skill. There are also quite a few unrelated filler critters like the darkmoantle, a fire elemental, etc.

But my main gripe? This is one of the worst instances of lost potential I’ve seen in a while. For one, I was really aggravated as a person by the halls not being, well, vertical. Why not actually present a vertical dungeon? Because it’s hard? Secondly, and even worse: The module introduces this cool Tindalos-virus as a ticking clock, as a motivator. I like it, but it could be any other magical ailment as written.

Picture this: First, the entire dungeon operates like the vertical half hall, which means lots of potential for falling and actual vertical adventuring! Awesome! Secondly: It’s the TINDALOS virus. What if those infected by it could tap into it and jump through angles? That would be a GLORIOUS way to jump from certain death to another place; it could have been used to make the halls a truly unique puzzle dungeon. Picture it!! And, of course, tapping into the power of the tindalos virus will worsen the sickness! Perhaps the hound is freed if the virus-powers are used too often? Each use = one vision of the window’s crack spreading further and further… so it’s a question of how well the party can navigate the complex without tapping into these powers.

Come on, you know you’d want to play that! I would! After I read about the virus, that’s what I was stoked for.

And then I got a relatively conventional and pretty cookie-cutter dungeon. Not a bad one, mind you, but also not one that left me impressed in any real sense of the word.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. There were a few minor nitpicks, but nothing crucial. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with nice borders and plentiful neat b/w-artworks, and original ones. The cartography is also aesthetically pleasing, but as noted above, the lack of player-friendly maps and the lack of grid etc. are comfort detriments. The pdf has no proper bookmarks (only one for front cover, editorial, back cover), so it loses points in the comfort detriment as well.

Gabriel García-Soto, with the English adaptation by José Manuel Sánchez García and proofing by Tim Snider, delivers a solid D&D module with some DCC-ish twists to the classic themes. For the most part. But that’s all this is.

The module has a PHENOMENAL idea and all the components to make it a genuinely UNIQUE and creative module…and then fails to capitalize on all of these components. Instead, it delivers a challenging dungeon, but not one that will rock your world. If you’re looking for a DCC-module that hearkens closer to traditional fantasy in both its aesthetics and its design, then this may well deliver.

Compared with the many excellent DCC-modules, though, I can’t help but look at this is as anything but the sum of its lost potential. As a person, I felt deceived by the module’s title. As a reviewer, I will not take this into account.

But add the lost potential the comfort-detriments, and even the low price-point can’t make me rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Vertical Halls
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Vathak 5e Character Options - Survivor Background
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/04/2021 11:09:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement consists of 2 pages, 1 page content and 1 page of editorial/SRD, so let’s take a look!

So, the survivor background gets proficiencies in Perception and Survival, as well as with one type of artisan’s tools. The background also nets a language and a suitable equipment loadout.

The background’s feature is “Not on my watch!”, which is really nice: Attempts to sneak up on you have disadvantage. Even if the enemy succeeds, you can act during the surprise round, but with disadvantage to attack rolls. You also are considered to be awake for half the 8 hours of rest, and you can rest while standing. This sounds too potent? Well, here is the kicker: It doesn’t work if you’re inebriated, and it also doesn’t work while another person is sleeping next to you. This ties in with the grizzled survivor themes, where they finally find someone to trust in, only to have their talents fail them. There is serious narrative potential here. Awesome.

The background also provides the usual tables for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, which as a whole, are intriguing. Minor nitpick in the formatting department: The names for the individual entries in the Ideals table should have been bolded.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard; the pdf has no bookmarks but needs none at this length.

Ismael Alvarez delivers a great background here. Flavorful, interesting, built-in narrative potential, where rules supplement roleplay; no serious complaints. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak 5e Character Options - Survivor Background
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Arcforge Campaign Setting: Spheres of Influence
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/04/2021 11:07:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Arcforge-series clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 6 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This supplement was moved up in my reviewing queue, since the remainder of Arcforge was requested as well, but while I’m in the process of analyzing and purchasing the series, I figured that it would make sense to take a look at this, as this supplement doubles as a gazetteer of sorts for the setting.

It should be noted that the issues I have found within the first two Arcforge supplements do not influence this review; instead, I’ll tackle this in as thorough a manner as I can as its own entity. This is relevant in as far as the first Arcforge supplements codified psionics as Advanced Technology and Akasha as Cybertech. Personally, I’d suggest making these components operate primarily on a flavor level—something that, fyi, works rather well. So no, you do not need all the implications of no longer denoting these components as magic.

Similarly, Arcforge partially has the notion that it can use PFRPG and SFRPG in the same game. While my analysis of the pertinent file, Star*Path, is not yet complete, there is a definite tendency that lets me state even now said pdf does not manage to achieve this goal. Consequently, I will review the PFRPG and SFRPG content included herein as components divorced from each other.

Okay, that being said, the book does contain the genesis of the setting of Vandara, a world rich in magic and resources, primed to become a center of culture and sophisticated magitech… which would then change as the people of Vandara made contact with extravandarians…the Qlippoth. Chthonic, alien and mighty, the alien scourge cut swaths of devastation into the land, to only be vanquished by the creation of the eponymous Arcforge. And yet, as the external threat eased, humanoid nature prevailed and the nations of the mighty planet once more fell apart into factions, now armed with exceedingly potent high-tech magical weaponry.

From this baseline, one can already pinpoint several defining factors: Arcforge is a high science-fantasy setting, with the “science”-part having a higher focus than usual, but the fantastic is also deeply ingrained in the planet, which is, just fyi, a creation of the progenitor dragon species. With Outer Lords having ships that blot the very sun, Vandara brims with high-tech, and the Arcforge-mech-angle also means that there is a distinct Anime-angle infused in the setting; not in a Lodoss War way, but in one that reminded me more of ole’ Appleseed, Gundam, etc. One of the most interesting and helpful pieces of flavor provided here would be the 12 injunctions: Essentially a grand societal contract that the people of Vandara agreed upon; these injunctions prevent for example war crimes, atomic exchanges, etc., with the Qlippoth threat emphasized by being listed here. If you need an analogue, I’d consider them to be closer to Warhammer’s CHAOS than to regular demonic cultists.

Now, one thing that the author Matt Daley and I have in common would be a rather extensive tendency for permissiveness regarding various exotic and less-exotic 3pp-options, and indeed, the Arcforge setting does a couple of things I very much enjoy: It explains the place and context of a type of magic within the frame of the respective setting; So what actually, logic-wise, akasha is in Vandara? That’s explained. Same goes for psionics, for psychic magic, etc. Here are a couple of differences, though: Vandara overlaps with the ethereal plane, but otherwise is pretty isolated from standard planar cosmology due to the Silicon Barrier, which renders e.g. banishment etc. a painful (untyped damage) random teleport instead, and which means that summon spells? They actually draw from creatures in Vandara. The latter is a VERY important change of the core assumptions here, and one that can have very interesting and far-reaching consequences. The aforementioned barrier also prevents communication with any soul that perished prior to the creation of it, and raising the dead? It actually weakens outsiders of the respective creature’s alignment nearby.

The planet also features a magical alternative to the internet, loosely based on mindscapes, and the supplement then proceeds to give us an overview of the nations of Vandara, some supported by stunning artworks. All of this lore and the basic premise of the setting has me rather excited indeed; the setting is compelling and interesting, and manages to evoke a sense of a plausible world that touches upon familiar tropes without being just a reiteration of the old, also courtesy due to the rules informing to a significant degree the underlying premises of the setting.

On a rules-level, we have the arcforged champion class template for paladins and antipaladins, which can best be summed up as an option to make a mech-pilot paladin or antipaladin. It is a well-wrought and welcome option for Arcforge and does what it says on the tin.

Now, one basic premise you need to know regarding Arcforge, is that the setting uses a LOT of different subsystems, and not all of them necessarily operate within the same frame of reference, but it should also be noted that this supplement at least does show examples of crossover options that are interesting: Let us take the 4 new armorist tricks (for the Spheres of Power class); the minor layout hiccups (a superscript missing, the “S” of “SoP” has been added to the “armorist”-word) aside, we have e.g. the option to reduce enhancement bonus from the armorist to gain the soulknife’s emulate technological weapon blade skills; this does represent a power-upgrade, but Spheres of Power is a system that is geared towards an (often) more down-to-earth power-level, whereas Arcforge, courtesy of its other systems, tends to gravitate to the higher power-levels. In a way, this can be seen as a power-increase, yes, but one in line with the higher-powered paradigms implied by the setting. The “magical” “call me”-type of mech also gets a representation here, which is, obviously, a powerful option, but one that perfectly fits within the context of the world; conversely, if that sort of thing does not gel with your aesthetics, its limitations make it easy to discard from your iteration of Vandara. There also are a few rules-relevant components that might be construed to be problematic, such as a +2 enhancement bonus increase that does not specify the usual cap these have. Using spell points to rapidly change mech enhancements will be welcomed by people who want their mechs more magical/flexible.

While we’re on the subject of Spheres of Power: We also have a symbiat archetype, the technopath; regarding the core engine, the technopath is interesting, foregoing telekinetic manipulation for the option to transfer sprites as immediate actions, a kind of mental super-defense field and linkage, etc. —per se cool; I’m not a fan of the untyped bonus employed by the optimize ability, though. Wait. Sprite. Need to talk about that, right? Well, the pdf includes a new sphere, the Technomancy sphere.

This sphere lets you, as a standard action, generate sprites, technomagical entities within constructs or technological items, which persist as long as you concentrate, or 1 minute per level sans concentration if you spend a spell point. While such a program exists in such an object, you may run one of 4 different programs: Drain does what it says on the tin and drains a charge on a failed save, and constructs instead get a scaling debuff. Interfere can negate the action of another sprite, even when it’s not your turn. Power generates a charge, or acts as a buff. The former is problematic, as it generates infinite charges and lends itself to infinite healing exploits and similar tricks, particularly since the charges gained also increase. This would get a hard limit per item per day in my game, or the ban hammer. This one needs a caveat or a proper non-exploit agreement between players and GMs. Transfer makes the sprite move to another host in close range. While close range is a technical term, it’d have been more convenient to have the distance spelled out. Also: The core ability does not specify a range, and both touch and close would make sense, though this usage of the sphere makes close the more likely culprit. Note that each sprite can only execute ONE of these per round, which means there’s theoretically some cool strategizing going on here. I can see users of these spheres pit their sprites against each other in a compelling manner. 16 talents are also included for the sphere, including new programs to unlock for the sprites, which are set apart by the (program) tag; these include skill boosts due to analyzing targets (annoyingly untyped and the verbiage includes a few skill references not in title case), and e.g. making the target deal additional damage; ideally, the damage type would specify that this uses the host’s damage type, but yeah. Other talents let sprites assimilate charges they Drain and use them to Power other objects; see above. Concealed sprites etc. can also be found, and having sprites from a destroyed host evacuate to other targets? Yeah, can see that. If you also have the divination sphere, you can divine for sprites, which was a nice touch. For completion’s sake: Yes, the sphere’s abilities sometimes prompt Fortitude saves, and objects/constructs are usually exempt, but considering the exclusive focus of the sphere, I don’t consider the omission of an exception-clause for this particular rule to be a problematic. Mathematically, it should be noted, though, that courtesy of these immunities, constructs do not have adequate saves to reliably resist these effects. As a consequence, implementing the sphere on the player’s side does require some contemplation on the GM’s side, and a likewise implementation…or a modification of the construct type’s chassis. It also should be noted that the sphere effects tend to cap at 20th level, which most Spheres of Power-based options do not. HOWEVER, personally, I do think that this makes sense (and that Spheres of Power would have benefited from hard caps. Just my 2 cents.

The advanced talents include transforming targets into Ais, controlling mechs, or making sprites permanent – super-powerful, high-concept…and honestly? All well-situated in the advanced talents sphere. Unlike many a sphere, here the differentiation is VERY clear in conceptual power, and while the core sphere isn’t perfect, the differentiation between those parts? Smooth indeed.

The pdf also offers an incanter sphere specialization for the sphere, which makes your sprites more resilient to interference and also nets you buffs versus sprite hosts. I think the level 1 ability is too dippable here, and I’m not too fond of the unified energy ability; I can construct an exploit out of it, but it’s an obscure enough one to not repeat it here. I was rather fond of the sprite-based prodigy-imbue sequence and its system overload finisher. The one boon provided is brutal: Techno-Miraculous makes attempts to counterspell or dispel you fail automatically, unless the target has the Technomancy sphere or Harmonic Counter (one of 7 new feats; lets you use Counterspell feats vs. technological equipment). As noted before, this “separate”-angle imho doesn’t work too well in PFRPG, but YMMV; personally, I’d rather roll the Harmonic Counter into the regular engine, but that may be me. Two drawbacks are included, and for Spheres of Might we have a talent that nets proficiency with all heavy weapons.

The other feats include two (Dual-Sphere) feats, one for use of Life Sphere with tech, and one that lets you use sprites and Mind sphere to make constructs valid targets; the latter makes sense on many levels to me. There is another feat that nets transparency between spells and psionics, and one that lets you one-hand two-handed weapons at a -2 penalty. Not a fan, also because of the massive array of consequences this has for weapons, but I guess this is a bit of genre-pandering. You might consider it awesome instead. Magical Lorekeeper lets you poach spells from other members of your spellcasting tradition, but fails to account for how the situation of a spell with different spell-levels for different classes is handled. Soul Keeper is an outsider feat that lets you hold souls and be buffed by killing. 12 casting and mixed traditions are also provided.

There is one more pathfinder archetype to note: The zoomer for the powerful (and very interesting) voyager class; now, I’ve gone on record stating that I adore a lot about that fellow, even if the voyager is pretty damn potent and beyond what I’m comfortable allowing in most of my games. Most of them. The zoomer, essentially, is the mech-version of the class, and may e.g. use the vehicle they get as a the location of her parallel action range; the archetype is an excellent rendition of the zipping, space-bending ace-pilot we know from various anime series, often as the nigh unstoppable enemy who ends up being pretty fragile. Considering the voyager chassis, this makes sense. On the down-side, the formatting glitches here and there, like e.g. an ability-header that’s not bold…well, that did make my face twitch. There also is a “call mech to you” vigilante archetype, just fyi.

The Starfinder content presented herein is in a way unconventional, as they are class-specific archetypes; in short, they operate like PFRPG-archetypes, not like the blanket archetypes SFRPG usually employs. I’m okay with that per se. The Industrial priest technomancer is a divine spellcaster, and they get a variant cache capacitator. Annoying: Spell-list formatting of the available spells is borked completely, and yes, it includes PFRPG spells, I assume due to StarPath. One of the abilities lets the technomancer spend Resolve to convert half damage dealt to untyped holy or unholy; not a fan. In a way, this is a good point to state one of the issues that StarPath encountered, and that would be the cardinal issue I have with Arcforge: The assumption of global parities between sub-systems and powers, and here, systems. PFRPG and SFRPG look a lot alike, and play in a similar manner, but with some experience under the belt, the differences become evident, even if one doesn’t engage in a deep math analysis. So yeah, I’m not a fan of this one; the machine voice envoy who can affect constructs and gets a custom rig? Okay, here I wasn’t really sure why it exists, to be honest, and the scholastic technomancer is essentially a book-caster version…which, again, struck me as a weird choice.

In PFRPG, some options may be a bit rough, but I see why they’re here; the SFRPG options, on the other hand, don’t feel like they were really made for the system, and oddly look like filler to me; none of the excitement of the design decisions in the remainder of the book can be found with them.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; when it comes to a rules-language level, the pdf, alas, attains an at-best “okay” rating; there were several instances of formatting hiccups, some even in ability names, and the rules-language also has some wide-open exploits and minor omissions that tarnish what is a per se inspired basic set-up. The pdf is certainly not up to the usual level of polish Legendary Games supplements tend to have. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a blend of old and new full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Daley’s Arcforge-setting, on a conceptual level, has truly captured my interest; I really like it, and it appeals to the scifi-fan in me as well as the mecha-fanboy; the SETTING is one I’d genuinely enjoy playing in, and it is obvious that some serious passion for PFRPG went into this. This feels like a passion-project from top to bottom, and I can really appreciate this. I did not expect to say this after the hit and miss and frustration of the first two books, but I like the setting and want to know more. It has this sense of genuine passion and excitement that are hard to come by.

As a reviewer, this book, though, leaves me in a weird state. Now, reviewing Arcforge is a TON of work due to all the things you have to bear in mind, and I might be wrong, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a dev, any dev, would have thrown their hands in the air at one point. It’s also hard to review, because Arcforge’s core books got so much almost right, only to then add in options for parity that upended the very systems the books provided.

In many ways, I can see why this was hard to work on. Which is a shame, for this supplement feels, as a whole, a bit smoother than the first 2; there is a higher consistence regarding the (high) power-level of the setting, if post Ultimate Psionics-psionics (i.e. the REALLY powerful stuff that doesn’t work smoothly with most of Paizo-PF anymore)/C7S-permissible stuff is your jam, then this is well worth checking out.

If you play PFRPG. The SFRPG-options are afterthoughts, at best, and it is clear where the focus of this book did lie. For SFRPG-fans, I’d recommend steering very far away from this supplement, unless you consider the flavor to be sufficient to warrant the purchase. Design-wise, there is nothing interesting in here for SFRPG. Personally, I’d have been ROYALLY pissed if I had bought this as a SFRPG supplement.

How to rate this? Oh boy. So, the pdf is a bit rough in the formal criteria, and there are several instances where bonuses that shouldn’t be untyped are untyped, etc.; there are several instances of those necessary little caveats missing…damn, this is SO CLOSE to being an easy recommendation.

But I can’t rate hypotheticals. I like what’s here as a person. But the amount of stuff I’d use from this book without a very careful re-evaluation/re-design is rather low indeed. So, let’s look at focus: We have 8 pages of rules stuff, with one of them lost to the almost useless pseudo-SFRPG-stuff; the remainder of the supplement is the setting…and that setting? Well, I really enjoyed it. So: For SFRPG? Dud, 1.5 stars, steer clear. For PFRPG: If you like high-powered, enjoy a very permissive game, and don’t mind a bit of fixing? Worthwhile investing the work. But there is more to take into account: The setting is intriguing, and the pdf only clocks in at a VERY fair $2.00. Two bucks? HECK YES, this is worth two frickin’ bucks. The VERY low price point does help offset the flaws of the supplement…plus the setting? It genuinely entertained and intrigued me. It has a quality of distinctiveness that sets it apart and makes it resonate. These two components are ultimately responsible for why my final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up. For PFRPG.

As noted above: caveat emptor if you tend to gravitate to lower power-levels and are not willing to invest some time to streamline the rougher parts. In that instance, you should consider this to be closer to the 3-star-vicinity.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Arcforge Campaign Setting: Spheres of Influence
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Scroll Puzzle Generator
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2021 05:20:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, this generator, ideally, cuts up an image you choose and disperses it among scrolls, which the players can then use to solve a puzzle.

The deal includes a 3-page “How to”-pdf, which explains the process; you choose an image for the puzzle. Then, you choose a background image; you also select a scroll and a paper image.

Then, you determine the parameters of the puzzle: The number of scrolls and the height of pages, and a bottom buffer: The larger that is, the easier the puzzle can be solved. The puzzle generator (html-file) also includes an option for a background change and a message overlay option.

The archive included here features a series of different artworks from Mind Weave RPG’s library. These include some cover artworks, backgrounds, some paper textures, etc. The archive features one image folder that includes the aforementioned, and also a puzzle-folder that includes 3 pregenerated puzzles. The puzzles you generate must be copied into this folder.

Additionally, we have a 3-page pdf that provides a kind of in-game context for the puzzles, providing a sort of sample encounter, which comes with some advice on using checks as hints. The encounter set-up was intriguing, and it assumes a 5e frame.

The pdfs also explain the core mechanic of these puzzles, and a kind of b/w handout-seal of the NPC that contextualizes the generator.

I have tried making scroll puzzles in both Firefox and Chrome; both browsers worked perfectly.

The main criticism I can field against this generator would be that the image selection is very limited and not that appealing; getting more paper textures or artworks/sigils for the actual puzzles would have been nice. On the plus side, you can use your own images, if you have any.

Structurally, the puzzle is VERY simple as far as I’m concerned and is more a matter of perseverance than genuine brains, but that may be years of adventure game-experience speaking; I can see some groups being rather challenged by this puzzle. Unfortunate: Once you realize how the puzzle operates (which I did within a minute or so…), the gig is up and solving the puzzle remains a matter of slogging through it. Some means to modify the factor behind the solution would have been nice; a scramble variable would have greatly enhanced the longevity of the puzzle generator.

How to rate this? The generator works but didn’t exactly impress me in either depth or complexity, but for a single buck, this might be worth checking out. As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag, and as such, my final verdict will be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Scroll Puzzle Generator
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Scenic Dunnsmouth
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2021 05:26:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure-toolkit clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 3 pages of editorial/front matter, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 108 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf, the LotFP-released softcover, and also the version included in the limited edition Zzarchov’s Adventure Omnibus Vol.2. For the purpose of this review, only the softcover and the pdf are taken into account for the verdict, though, as the omnibus cannot currently be purchased by the public.

Okay, so what is this? Remember those Ravenloft adventures where you’d use cards to randomize key aspects of the adventure? Yeah? Well, now picture that the randomized nature was amped up to not 11, but 12, and beyond. Scenic Dunnsmouth is intended for a well-rounded party of adventurers levels 2-5, but it is not a classic adventure. Instead, this is an incredibly potent randomized “assemble-it-yourself” toolkit. The replay value is VAST, and the depth of the content provided is also impressive. It should be noted, though, that this toolkit is not one you quickly assemble. While the creation-process is pretty quick, the intricate combinations and variables do mean that you should take some time, though you won’t need more than for most module-preparations. With one exception: I hope you like drawing maps. None are included. I hate that.

Theme-wise, the toolkit is firmly entrenched in the dark fantasy/horror genre, so if you’re easily offended and want your fantasy fluffy and clean, steer clear of this. This is grimy, gritty, and contains taboo subjects. At least to my German sensibilities, it is never gratuitous, though: This is frightening and mature without devolving into a grimy schlock-fest. Dunnsmouth is, as implied by the name, cursory related to the Innsmouth theme popularized by Lovecraft, but only in the theme of a remote and xenophobic community; there are thankfully no Deep ones or other tired mythos critters in this book. Dunnsmouth is supposed to be an isolated, perpetually mist-shrouded community, and the most likely adventure hook provided would be that of the tax collectors, which did make me smile.

So, how does the generator work? You need a deck of playing cards, a d4, 10 d6s, a d8 and two differently colored d12s. Then you take a sheet of paper and roll all dice on the sheet, taking note where they fall; the d4 denotes the location of an important artifact, and its value denotes the infection level; each d6 is a home in Dunnsmouth. If the value of the d6 is equal to or less than the infection level, then the home is infected. For each home, you also draw a playing card, and each playing card corresponds to a specific inhabitant of Dunnsmouth. The suits of the cards are aligned with one of the 4 “great” families of Dunnsmouth. The value of the respective d6 also determines certain properties of the inhabitant. The d8 is the local church, and its value determines the state of mind of the priest, and if the d8 is less than infection level (only if it’s less!), the priest is infected.

The two d12s are special: On a 1-6, they are another home; on a 7+, they are a special location; each of the two dice has different special locations. The die that lands farthest from the d4 is the home of Uncle Ivanovik (more on that later), with the die result denoting the fellow’s level. The total tally of dice is used for determining treasure. 1 inch is considered to be 10 minutes of travelling by foot, 2 minutes by boat. The “step-by-step building Dunnsmouth”-explanation is provided twice; once at the start of the pdf, and once in the back, where the generation process is illustrated with various diagrams. 9 pages are devoted to the step-by-step sample process in this appendix. The toolkit also includes a handy quick reference appendix of 3 pages of statblocks; 3 sample spells properly balanced within the frame of the rules-set (which is LotFP, i.e., Lamentations of the Flame Princess – no surprise there) and 6 magic items are included, not including the aforementioned artifact. This back of the book matter also provides some sample suggestions to clarify beforehand: One of the great families is partially defined by an ancient shame, and two sample ideas are presented. Both are interesting.

While we’re on the playing card angle: It is HILARIOUS to me that particularly kooky characters and somewhat intrusive NPCs are assigned to the cards you were supposed to take out of the deck. So yes, if you left the jokers inside, the poker rules card or an advertisement card…you actually have an associated NPC for those as well. There are a ton of b/w/red-artworks for the inhabitants of Dunnsmouth: Jez Gordon uses an interesting combination of b/w-art and red shaders that gleam almost in a metallic manner in the softcover for a rather neat aesthetic identity, and the sheer amount of mugshots included (alongside other artworks) is neat to see and helps establish the theme. Usually, each set of inhabitants, say, the 4 of clubs, gets their own page that lists the card, the NPC/home description and the mugshot-artworks for (almost all) inhabitants, with presentation switching to a one-column standard, making organization pretty easy on the referee. The downside of this is that there is quite a bit of blank space on most pages; the majority of NPC-write-ups come with approximately half a page of blank space.

It should also be noted that each NPC clarifies what’s different when they are infected, and in a pleasant surprise, I often found the non-infected write-up sections more interesting than the infected scenario; the depth and potential interconnectedness is VAST. I created a whole slew of Dunnsmouths, and how differently they turned out was impressive; the sheer replay-value for the referee is GINORMOUS, and indeed, this is one of the very, very few adventures that you could run once per year with the same group and still have radically different experiences without becoming redundant. Of course, it’s very tempting to make Dunnsmouth LARGER. Frankly, one can get an incredibly deep and complex web of relationships by increasing the d6s and NPCs included, but adding in stuff you didn’t roll, even though that’s not the intention of the toolkit.

Okay, in order to discuss this in more detail, I will need to go deep into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Don’t SPOIL yourself. (Even if your version of Dunnsmouth will be different from all I have made.)

… .. .

Okay, only referees around? Great! So, let us talk about the 4 families and other players, shall we? The Duncasters (Heart) struck me as southern upper middle class, with impeccable joviality and friendliness, but also strong familial bonds; they are probably the closest to a traditional allied family the party may have. The Dunlops (Diamond) are moderately-wealthy, and in contrast to the Duncasters, are somewhat elitist. The Samsons (Club), allied with the Duncasters, curiously are perhaps the most unpleasant of the families – they are angry, xenophobic, inbred and consistently aggressive, and they manage to fill that role superbly and without treading into the classic Lovecraft themes. Finally, the Van Kaus (Spade) are quasi-Dutch/Germanic and have a kind of austere, almost Amish style and a hidden secret that the referee needs to specify. We have 13 cards per family, and the aforementioned 4 wildcard cards. These families are an example of fantastic writing; they feel organic, nasty, plausible and captivating; some of the best webs of NPCs I’ve read in all my years of roleplaying. I’m not doing them justice with these short breakdowns.

Beyond these NPCs, we also have e.g. Uncle Ivanovik, who delivers your crazy trapper/hermit-angle, and his lair is modular as well; there also would be Magda, an ageing Romani magic-user, who is very likely to be a solid ally for the party. (And she is, unlike most LotFP magic-users, not some ridiculous psychopath.) There also would be Father Iwanopolous, the priest…and yes, Magda and Ivanovik can theoretically be here. There are a lot of changes that might happen depending on infection level, and individual Dunnsmouth creation. The special locations that you can roll with the d12s include elven spies, an inn, a foundry, a sawmill, a fort, etc. To give you an example for the modularity: let’s say, you rolled the sawmill: There are special considerations if Aces were drawn, if Uncle Ivanovik is in the sawmill, if Magda is here…or if the original spider is here.

Original spider? Yeah, there are two sources of malign weirdness here, the first being the spider. You see, there is one type of spider whose bite charms those bitten, making them consider the spider akin to a child. And with the strong family-theme…well, you get the idea. Those thus inducted and bitten tend to have a rather good chance of producing spider-human hybrid creatures as offspring; these are not cursed, but naturally born that way…and there is a chance that, when infected parents procreate, a whole swarm of these spiders may be born. The genetic corruption of humanoids is simply a part of the lifecycle of this spider. (The power of the spider is pretty much randomized as well, just fyi) This and the NPC set-up means that the party will need to make a ton of hard decisions.

Now, while it is very likely that this spider-cult is a driving force of the hostility in Dunnsmouth, it is not guaranteed. There actually is a chance that there won’t be a cult at all, and that the original spider has already died! I love this!

The second angle of weirdness is actually a subtle cultural reference: The artifact that influences the mist-shrouded and rather nasty atmosphere of Dunnsmouth would be the Time Cube. In-game, the artifact is sufficiently alien and dangerous, volatile and odd, and manages to be that without being yet another “Lol, all die 11!!!! So grim, so mature”-bullshit. It’s high impact in a good way and may manage to pit you against Old Man Time, who may well be an allusion. Anyhow, for the purpose of this toolkit, I’m pretty sure that the author actually read the batshit-crazy Time Cube theories and used them to, at least partially, influence the subtle numerology mirrored in the spider-theme, in the corruption of family ties, and in how these insane notions affect the choice of the actual NPCs. To give you some context: Picture one absolutely harebrained, but incredibly complex theory of everything and its random rules and dictates, and then picture using that as a structuring and incredibly subtle principle to build a dark fantasy structure atop it. From a design-perspective, this is so subtle and elegant it made me smile. If you are not familiar with the tragic story of the crazy pseudo-Weltanschauung of Time Cubism and want to learn more about it, I recommend watching the “Down the Rabbit Hole: Time Cube” documentary on youtube.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with red/purple-ish shades used for accentuating the artwork; as noted above, the NPC-write-ups adhere to a 1-column standard. There are a ton of artworks, primarily mugshots, included...which is actually my main point of criticism; see below. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The softcover is perfect bound and has the name on the spine (good), but it also didn’t survive the rigors of constant use too well; the glue of my copy is coming apart.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Scenic Dunnsmouth” is a frickin’ masterpiece of adventure design; this toolkit spits out modular and compelling swamp backwater sandboxes like nobody’s business, providing compelling adventuring time and again; it is testament to how incredibly good this is, that I consider its results to be more compelling and interesting than almost all fixed adventures with such themes. If you’re doing Innsmouth-like horror, get this, roll up a sample Dunnsmouth, and if your module isn’t better, then learn from this. The writing for all those NPCs is brilliant. The HUGE replay-value this offers is pretty much unparalleled, particularly considering how WELL this runs. And if you disregard the die-limitations in creation, you can create a super-Dunnsmouth of sheer unrivaled depth. And yes, it can be funny in the author’s darkly-hilarious way. Particularly if you don’t remove those cards that you were supposed to remove from the deck, so if humor in your dark fantasy isn’t your thing, you do retain full control over that aspect.

Now, I do consider this to be a true masterpiece, yes. But not one I love sans reservations. Why? Well, creating Dunnsmouth is, by necessity of its modularity, a pretty involved process. That’s all fine and dandy. But for me, the process of settlement creation got much more involved, and to the point where I do not want to do this too often. You see, I suck at drawing maps. I HATE drawing maps. It takes me forever, and I derive no joy whatsoever from it. Know what’s conspicuously absent from this toolkit? MAPS.

And the thing is, each location/house/shack can have quite a few rooms/areas in theory; cellars, hatches. The map-drawing for Dunnsmouth can occupy you literally for months. Which brings me to the artwork. You know, I like artwork as much as the next fellow, particularly if it’s nice. But the art-budget for this book? In my opinion, it was wasted on a wealth of pretty but functionally nigh-useless NPC-mugshots, when getting actual maps (or modular map-components that we can assemble, like in e.g. “Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter”) would have taken a huge boatload of work off the back of the referee. Considering that Dunnsmouth has paranoia and xenophobia as leitmotifs, and considering that details are the spice of an investigation, I do think that the lack of maps genuinely and truly hurts this product. I like theater of the mind playstyles as well, but here? Here so many instances basically scream for maps. This holds particularly true for the special locations, but frankly also extends to the regular homes.

In many ways, this is what derives this book of my “best of”- and “EZG Essentials”-tags, and if there ever is a revised version, I certainly hope for an inclusion of proper maps, because right now, that is what prevents me from using this again. The thought of drawing so many maps.

As it stands, this is still a truly phenomenal piece of dark fantasy/horror-writing that I consider to be a great investment even if you’re playing in a completely different system. For most referees, this will be a masterpiece, perhaps even become the annual Halloween-module. If you’re like me and loathe the map-drawing aspect of the game, then consider this a limited caveat emptor: This is still worth getting and investing the time and effort in, but you probably won’t do it more than once.

My final verdict, though, will still remain at 5 stars, because this is a masterpiece by any metric I can apply to it. Except for the lack of maps. Did I mention that the lack of maps really annoyed me? Did I mention that this should have maps? …that was actually the sole point of contention for me. I really wanted to strip this of my seal of approval because of the lack of maps…but as a reviewer, that would be a disservice to the design and narrative depth of this supplement in favor of a pet-peeve of mine. So, there you go. With gritted teeth and grumbling, this does get the seal of approval, even though, for me as a person, the lack of maps would derive it of that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scenic Dunnsmouth
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Whisper in the Crags (S&W)
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2021 04:55:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover/thank you, leaving us with 13 pages of content.

This review was requested by one of my supporters and moved up in my reviewing queue at their request.

Okay, so this is an adventure for 4–5 characters of 4th level; while the pdf does have boxed text, it’s not really read-aloud text, but rather what some NPCs might say; the module, structurally, is pretty linear and included a really nice full-color region map. The regional map is missing a scale and grid, and there is no player-friendly iteration included, which struck me as a huge pity. The module also sports a smaller and significantly less-impressive mini-dungeon map, which does have a grid, but no scale. There also is no player-friendly version of it, and the map is very small, so not that useful for VTTs. The artwork used herein is impressive indeed: Raven Metcalf provides artworks that reminded me of some of my favorite creepy gothic manga like Bizenghast; for the non-otakus: Think of a slightly more sinister aesthetic than Tim Burton; more scratchy lines and slightly more wicked. Love that. As a system, this uses Swords & Wizardry.

Now, an important warning note: This is an incredibly dark adventure in more than one way. I don’t think it can be called grimdark; for me, this edges straight into misery-tourism land. You have been warned if you’re sensitive. Here there be dead children.

Okay, in order to talk more about this, I will need to enter SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the adventure is set in the small settlement of Lorview, which is not really detailed; in a somewhat puzzling decision, the name of locals and the information they provide have been relegated to an appendix, which makes rendering the start of the module a bit weird. It should be noted that one of the background knowledge entries refers to 2:00 AM, which does imply a church or the like, or other form of reliable time-measuring, so that’s something the GM has to bear in mind. The module begins with the party patrolling near the settlement, finding a doll; the tracks to follow are really hard and no consequence for failure is given, which is odd, since that’s the sole lead-in provided for the module. There also is a hidden stash here. Hope your party includes someone who gets an autoroll…

This is the best point in time to note that this module does not do a particularly good job at OSR design, alas; we have a creature reference that is a 5e-remnant; we have references to e.g. STR checks; disorientation mist suddenly is anti-magic (why? No clue), and Know direction isn’t taken into account. Like in the 5e-version, read-aloud text and NPC statements are not clearly set apart from the remainder of the text. In an investigation, some details “may be noted” by the party, but no “how” is really presented. This is bad; really bad…but at least it’s not as borked as the 5e-version. Design-wise, this doesn’t get that part of the charm of OSR gaming is the decreased emphasis on fighting, with a higher focus on problem-solving and the like; this module railroads the party into several combats that can’t really be avoided, stacked in favor of the party, etc.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is: If rules-integrity or ease of use is important to you, then this’ll test your patience to the limits. If you’re really into the whole problem-solution-angle of OSR-gaming, then this will also be something that disappoints you.

If that were the only issue, though, this could still be salvaged. Alas, it is not.

You see, the hard to follow trail leads to a weird sight: A local girl, Lottie Fisher, having tea in the forest with a troll! And yes, with an appropriately dainty tea-service. How would your party react? If the response was anything else than “Troll, kill it with fire! (Or Acid!)”, then this module may not be for you; the chance for a social encounter, for the party not murderhoboing towards the strange pair isn’t even considered. The troll lifts up Lottie, and runs, quite literally, for the hills. What follows is a sequence of bland encounters as the party runs after the troll: Wolves, vine blights and bugbears. Oddly, the “chase” is scripted in a way so that the party only loses the troll if they rest; it’s also weird that the wolves can’t be dealt with by druids/rangers, and that the bugbears may be negotiated with, but that’s about it. The pdf is also littered with remnants from the (Pseudo-) 5e-version.

Lottie is returned to her grateful parents, and all seems, kinda, well in Lorview. On the next day, the schoolteacher’s terrier is found gruesomely murdered, its entrails used to form some sort of rune; after a VERY rudimentary investigation (we don’t really have much regarding locals; much of this needs to be improvised/designed by the GM), the party will find one villager missing, Joey Blakely, who is found murdered and sunken in One-mile Creek. Late the following evening, a local woman claims to have seen Lottie run by, and she has left the head of a local handyman. A fire also erupts and fails to specify what it takes to contain the flames. If all of this sounds railroad, btw., then because it is. This is preordained, and the actions of the party matter not one bit.

Anyhow, Lottie flees to the family barn, and seems to have written pleas in blood to a local bogeywoman to save her; some floorboards are loose, and under them are 12 dead children Lottie murdered. …

  1. Dead. Children. Just for shock value, mind you. They make no sense whatsoever. No, there is nothing the party can do to prevent that. No, they curiously don’t seem to draw the attention of a ton of flies, maggots, scavengers, etc. You see, Lottie is essentially a night hag spawn, a kind of changeling, so she is kinda possessed, but not really because she is also somewhat intrinsically predisposed to be evil. sigh Anyhow, if the party uses the toys of her, they can cause her to briefly pause. Okay. So, the fellows who slaughtered her buddy…Ach, never mind.

…Yes, it’s ALSO one of those modules. This module’s plot revolves around a way in which night hags procreate that is different from established D&D canon.

The module concludes with the party going into the crags, finding Sleepless Sally’s hideout, dealing with two generic rooms in a nano-dungeon of sorts (two keyed rooms, two dead ends) …and that’s it. Lottie’s actual mom’s dead, Lottie, a child, is essentially a magical psycho-serial killer…but now that Sally’s dead, surely that will have no repercussions. Right? Right??? This module either forces the party to kill a kid or assume that a settlement is totally A-OK with a kid who killed more than 10 (!!) other kids.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are bad on a formal level, and also fails at the simple job of rules-language for an OSR-game. Ouch. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard, and as noted in the beginning, I genuinely liked the artworks by Raven Metcalf. The cartography is okay, but extremely limited in its actual utility, and the encounters that needed maps don’t get any. The pdf comes with two basic bookmarks and a second printer-friendly version – kudos for that!

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Whisper in the Crags” is, design-wise, a disaster. The OSR-version doesn’t suck as bad as the 5e-version, but still is a long shot from being good for the system; structurally the module is bereft of almost any player-agenda. It’s a straight railroad from start to finish, and one that forces the party into cruel, unpleasant decisions.

How unpleasant? I consider this to be more mean-spirited and depressing than “Death Love Doom”; DLD was at least so over-the-top and grotesque, it kinda came out on the other side as a gory schlock-fest, and it had player-agenda. It also didn’t force the party into the roll of unempathetic murder-hobos and present essentially a child serial-killer; it went for mercy-killing, which was dark enough. And yes, I’m a frickin’ edge-lord. I liked Death Love Doom for what it was. I did not like this. The ramifications and reactions of the village and party are pretty much a joke.

This reminded me of The Last of Us 2; a sucky railroad that forces you to make bad, miserable decisions due to a lack of any agency and then constantly asks all players “Are you feeling bad/guilty yet?” That, or it assumes that we just LOL the hardcore themes away.

Thankfully, I don’t have to take the moral implications of this module into account at all. Why? Because this is structurally so bad it sinks itself even if you and your group are totally okay with the themes. Because it’s a boring, miserable railroad that knows combat, combat and more combat. Because, for OSR-versions, the rules may be less important, but the structure underlying a module becomes more important, and this fails miserably there as well. The “investigation” is nothing but a series of cutscenes; the party has no real bearing on the story, and this has plot holes so large I could fly a dragon through them. I can make out no saving graces. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Whisper in the Crags (S&W)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Shoony: Pug People for Starfinder
Publisher: Michael Mars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2021 04:52:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Shoony get +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Constitution, 2 HP, are Small and have a speed of 30 ft. and low-light vision. EDIT: The bonus types have now been codified properly. They get a +2 racial bonus to saving throws against inhaled threats such as gasses, stench, etc. courtesy of their short snout, and they get a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics checks to move through threatened squares. They also get +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff, and may change attitude by up to 3 steps, and get a +2 racial bonus to Survival checks. Shoony get Practiced Improvisation as a bonus feat. Personally, I'd have enjoyed a tighter version here, but they work as written.

The flavor information has been properly adjusted, including notes on homeworld, playing a shoony, etc. Alternate adjustments include +2 Intelligence and Charisma, -2 Constitution; -2 Charisma and +2 Constitution and Dexterity; and -2 Charisma, +4 Strength.

The alternate racial traits from the PFRPG version have been modified; you can still exchange the snout and the feat (Practices Improvisation) for scent. Snout and feat may now also be exchanged for claws (with damage type codified properly and the usual level 3 specialization) The social boosts can be exchanged for +2 Bluff and Intimidate (type missing). The feat may also be exchanged for a 1/day reaction that lets an ally within 10 ft. roll a save twice and take the better result. The ability to walk through swampy natural terrain is even more circumstantial in SFRPG and doesn’t make for a good exchange. The social skill boost and Survival bonus can be exchanged for skilled, and as before, the Survival bonus can be exchanged for cold resistance 5.

The feat-section has been expanded: Sodbuster still nets 10 ft. burrow speed; Practiced Paddler nets ½ land speed swim speed, but only for one shoony sub-species. Practiced Improvisation makes clubs and improvised weapons no longer count as archaic. Imperial Combat Training makes natural attacks count as unarmed, and you may use them sans using hands, including combat maneuvers, even if hampered in some ways. Catch Off-Guard adds Weapon Specialization bonus damage, if any, to attacks with improvised weapons, and unarmed opponents are flat-footed against attacks you make with improvised melee weapons; also eliminates the atk penalty.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. One alternate racial trait is still missing the bonus type, but that's a minor hiccup. Artwork employed is a selection of neat, comic-style pug artworks, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf comes in three versions: One regular-sized one, one with a smaller file-size for mobile devices, and one printer-friendly iteration. KUDOS!

Glen Parnell’s conversion of Michael Mars Russell’s shoony species is solid, but pretty unexciting; quite a few components have just been copied. Now, I get it: SFRPG doesn’t have the same design space for races as PFRPG, but more than some alternate adjustments would have been nice. Similarly, the lack of a subtype graft for the species did disappoint me a bit.

All in all, this is an okay conversion; it’s not exactly spectacular and is less meaty than the PFRPG-iteration, but for a buck, it’s worth checking out for pug enthusiasts. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the very low price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shoony: Pug People for Starfinder
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Vathak 5e Character Options - Amoral Prodigy Background
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2021 07:53:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 3 pages, with 1 page devoted to editorial/SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content.

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

Okay, so the amoral prodigy is someone who absolutely excels at one field, and as such has a bit of leeway when it comes to some behavior that may not be possible (due to time constraints or morals) for others. Nice touch: The pdf does explain how e.g. a LG amoral prodigy might operate, as the background obviously works best for neutral or evil individuals and/or Vathak’s shades of gray morality.

Proficiency-wise, we get skill proficiency in Deception and Stealth, as well as one tool proficiency of your choice. The verbiage for the tool proficiency is somewhat opaque: “Your proficiency with

this tool is always doubled.” This could apply to the entire value, or just to the proficiency bonus. For an example of how that would be phrased usually, the rogue’s Expertise feature can be consulted. The text should read: “Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with the chosen tool.” On the plus-side, this ability does note that it doesn’t stack with other options that might let you double your proficiency bonus, so good catch there. The equipment includes the tool or kit, two sets of forged documents for new identities, an award relating to the tool, some gp and a cloak. On a formatting nitpick: In backgrounds, Skill/Tool proficiencies, languages etc. have a colon after them, not the full stop that 5e otherwise tends to favor.

The background’s narrative feature is cool: It essentially nets you a degree of trust from authorities and a somewhat solid reputation that lets you get away with things you otherwise wouldn’t.

The pdf provides the customary d8 personality traits, d6 ideals, d6 bond, and d6 flaw tables to add character to…well, your character. In the Ideal-table, the sub-headers like “Self.”, “Duty.”, etc. have not been bolded properly.

Conclusion:

Editing is good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have a minor guffaw. Formatting also sports some deviations from 5e’s defaults, though these tend to be internally consistent and cosmetic. The one piece of full-color art is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Ismael Alvarez’ amoral prodigy background is cool and interesting background rife with roleplaying potential, particularly for darker settings like Vathak, or when you always wanted to play a somewhat sociopathic Sherlock or character like the good ole’ Dr. Frankenstein…or a certain bard… Either way, I very much enjoyed this background. While the minor guffaws do partially influence rules-integrity, the background does retain its functionality for most GMs, and the low price also made me decide to round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. For a single buck, this is definitely worth checking out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak 5e Character Options - Amoral Prodigy Background
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Whisper in the Crags (5E)
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2021 06:12:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover/thank you, leaving us with 12 pages of content.

This review was requested by one of my supporters and moved up in my reviewing queue at their request.

Okay, so this is an adventure for 4–5 characters of 4th level; while the pdf does have boxed text, it’s not really read-aloud text, but rather what some NPCs might say; the module, structurally, is pretty linear and included a really nice full-color region map. The regional map is missing a scale and grid, and there is no player-friendly iteration included, which struck me as a huge pity. The module also sports a smaller and significantly less-impressive mini-dungeon map, which does have a grid, but no scale. There also is no player-friendly version of it, and the map is very small, so not that useful for VTTs. The artwork used herein is impressive indeed: Raven Metcalf provides artworks that reminded me of some of my favorite creepy gothic manga like Bizenghast; for the non-otakus: Think of a slightly more sinister aesthetic than Tim Burton; more scratchy lines and slightly more wicked. Love that.

Now, an important warning note: This is an incredibly dark adventure in more than one way. I don’t think it can be called grimdark; for me, this edges straight into misery-tourism land. You have been warned if you’re sensitive. Here there be dead children.

Okay, in order to talk more about this, I will need to enter SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the adventure is set in the small settlement of Lorview, which is not really detailed; in a somewhat puzzling decision, the name of locals and the information they provide have been relegated to an appendix, which makes rendering the start of the module a bit weird. It should be noted that one of the background knowledge entries refers to 2:00 AM, which does imply a church or the like, or other form of reliable time-measuring, so that’s something the GM has to bear in mind. The module begins with the party patrolling near the settlement, finding a doll; the tracks to follow are really hard: DC 22, and no consequence for failure is given, which is odd, since that’s the sole lead-in provided for the module.

This is the best point in time to note that this module does not understand 5e’s rules. At all. The high DC is the least of the adventure’s issues, with formatting off, and even worse, off in a way that is not even consistent: “DC 15 INT – Perception”, as an example. Anyone who ever played 5e knows that Perception is not governed by Intelligence. That is literally the system’s 101. We also have instances where it’s obvious that the author has no firm grasp on when to use a check and when to use a saving throw. The module also uses a critter that are WotC’s closed IP and NOT in the SRD, but that just as an aside. Modifications and additional attacks provided for one creature are formatted wrong, range in a ranged attack? Wrong. Sequence? Wrong as well. In the hazards, there is a spell-reference sans the appropriate DC. The one fully statted creature’s statblock has more than 10 glitches I noticed on a cursory glance. It’s actually quite difficult to get 5e-stats that wrong. The one magic item is also boring and wrong.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is: If rules-integrity or ease of use is important to you, then this’ll test your patience to the limits.

If that were the only issue, though, this could still be salvaged. Alas, it is not.

You see, the hard to follow trail leads to a weird sight: A local girl, Lottie Fisher, having tea in the forest with a troll! And yes, with an appropriately dainty tea-service. How would your party react? If the response was anything else than “Troll, kill it with fire! (Or Acid!)”, then this module may not be for you; the chance for a social encounter, for the party not murderhoboing towards the strange pair isn’t even considered. The troll lifts up Lottie, and runs, quite literally, for the hills. What follows is a sequence of bland encounters as the party runs after the troll: Wolves, vine blights and bugbears. Oddly, the “chase” is scripted in a way so that the party only loses the troll if they rest; it’s also weird that the wolves can’t be dealt with Animal Handling, and that the bugbears may be negotiated with, but no DC is given. The troll, ultimately, will fight the party at the precipice of the eponymous crags, and has a custom attack (that includes several glitches) that has a chance to push the characters over a cliff. No map or DC for that is included. Anyhow, troll is slain, child is duly traumatized her buddy was killed. Great job, adventurers. The crags have a couple of interesting hazards, but all that are not combats are, well, not operational in some way.

Lottie is returned to her grateful parents, and all seems, kinda, well in Lorview. On the next day, the schoolteacher’s terrier is found gruesomely murdered, its entrails used to form some sort of rune; after a VERY rudimentary investigation (we don’t really have much regarding locals; much of this needs to be improvised/designed by the GM), the party will find one villager missing, Joey Blakely, who is found murdered and sunken in One-mile Creek. Late the following evening, a local woman claims to have seen Lottie run by, and she has left the head of a local handyman. A fire also erupts and fails to specify what it takes to contain the flames. If all of this sounds railroad, btw., then because it is. This is preordained, and the actions of the party matter not one bit.

Anyhow, Lottie flees to the family barn, and seems to have written pleas in blood to a local bogeywoman to save her; some floorboards are loose, and under them are 12 dead children Lottie murdered.

Dead. Children. Just for shock value, mind you. They make no sense whatsoever.

No, there is nothing the party can do to prevent that. No, they curiously don’t seem to draw the attention of a ton of flies, maggots, scavengers, etc. You see, Lottie is essentially a night hag spawn, a kind of changeling, so she is kinda possessed, but not really because she is also somewhat intrinsically predisposed to be evil. sigh Anyhow, if the party uses the toys of her, they can cause her to briefly pause. Okay. So, the fellows who slaughtered her buddy…Ach, never mind.

…Yes, it’s ALSO one of those modules. This module’s plot revolves around a way in which night hags procreate that is different from established D&D canon.

 The module concludes with the party going into the crags, finding Sleepless Sally’s hideout, dealing with two generic rooms in a nano-dungeon of sorts (two keyed rooms, two dead ends) …and that’s it. Lottie’s actual mom’s dead, Lottie, a child, is essentially a magical psycho-serial killer…but now that Sally’s dead, surely that will have no repercussions. Right? Right??? This module either forces the party to kill a kid or assume that a settlement is totally A-OK with a kid who killed more than 10 (!!) other kids.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are bad on a formal level, atrocious on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard, and as noted in the beginning, I genuinely liked the artworks by Raven Metcalf. The cartography is okay, but extremely limited in its actual utility, and the encounters that needed maps don’t get any. The pdf comes with two basic bookmarks and a second printer-friendly version – kudos for that!

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Whisper in the Crags” is, design-wise, a disaster. The 5e-rules are botched in pretty much every way, and worse than that, structurally the module is bereft of almost any player-agenda. It’s a straight railroad from start to finish, and one that forces the party into cruel, unpleasant decisions.

How unpleasant? I consider this to be more mean-spirited and depressing than “Death Love Doom”; DLD was at least so over-the-top and grotesque, it kinda came out on the other side as a gory schlock-fest, and it had player-agenda. It also didn’t force the party into the roll of unempathetic murder-hobos and present essentially a child serial-killer. The ramifications and reactions of the village and party are pretty much a joke.

This reminded me of The Last of Us 2; a sucky railroad that forces you to make bad, miserable decisions due to a lack of any agency and then constantly asks all players “Are you feeling bad/guilty yet?” That, or it assumes that we just LOL the hardcore themes away.

Thankfully, I don’t have to take the moral implications of this module into account at all. Why? Because this is structurally so bad it sinks itself even if you and your group are totally okay with the themes. Because it’s a boring, miserable railroad that knows combat, combat and more combat. The “investigation” is nothing but a series of cutscenes; the party has no real bearing on the story, and this has plot holes so large I could fly a dragon through them. I can make out no saving graces. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Whisper in the Crags (5E)
Click to show product description

Add to DriveThruRPG.com Order

Displaying 1 to 15 (of 4855 reviews) Result Pages:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9 ...  [Next >>] 
Back
0 items
 Gift Certificates