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Legendary Planet: Confederates of the Shattered Zone (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2020 08:25:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth (fifth if you count the optional prologue) installment of the Legendary Planet AP clocks in at 102 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 91 pages of pure content, so let’s take a look!

I was a backer of Legendary Planet, but otherwise not involved in the production of this book.

As always, this book is structured in a way that will be familiar to customers of Paizo’s APs – you get an adventure, some new monsters, a gazetteer, supplemental rules materials, etc. – including a piece of fiction penned by Chris A. Jackson, with the lion’s share devoted to the module.

HOWEVER, there is one thing this series does, which I will continue to praise to the high heavens: We get a frickin’ Art & Map folio. An Art and Map Folio should be frickin’ industry standard. Seriously. The inclusion is a huge plus.

That folio, this time around, is 28 pages long, and contains all the artworks featured in the installment – I love this: Print it out, cut it up, and tell the PCs: This is what you see. Awesome. Particularly since this time around, the artworks tend to gravitate to the seriously impressive side of things, as far as I’m concerned, even more so than before. More importantly, it contains the maps….but this time around, I do have a complaint here. The player-friendly maps are missing! WTF? One of the most awesome things about these booklets was that they featured key-less unlabeled versions of the maps that people like yours truly who can’t draw simply can print, cut up and then use…or that you can painlessly use in VTTs etc. And this time around? NONE! Where did my player-friendly maps go??? Not cool. I want my player-friendly maps back!

The module is intended for the medium advancement track, and assumes that the PCs begin it at level 11/mythic tier 3; by the end of the module, the PCs will have reached 14th level and the 4th mythic tier. The module sports plenty of read-aloud text, as always.

Anyhow, let’s talk about the supplemental material, which is pretty interesting this time around – since, as we’ll see later, this installment is pretty strongly centered on the auttaine, we have a whole little chapter on new auttaine augmentations, including suggested penalties for missing body parts and tightly-defined rules for prostheses. And yes, there is a note on player decency, roleplaying the like with respect, etc. Personally, I applaud this. Some of my favorite heroes have handicaps of some sort, and some of my most fondly-remembered PCs used prostheses, so theme-wise, I’m totally on board here! These include a couple of mundane ones (like stats for blade legs and hook hands), and also cover 5 magical prostheses. The hand of Haymot can transform into a +1 axiomatic crossbow (not italicized properly) and nets SPs (also not italicized). The honing ear helps judge distance and thus enhances Perception and lets you do FUN things. What do I mean by this? You can e.g. tune out background noise! This is a small thing, and something some people might miss, but it DRIPS roleplaying potential and seriously elevates the item. Awesome. Instrumental limbshelp Perform and can 3/day make buff skill checks of nearby allies. Lucky eyes have a clock for an iris, and let you wink 1/day as a standard action, rolling 1d4: They get a +5 luck bonus to skills, saves, damage or attack, depending on the d4, but only if executed before the next turn. The activation action limiting the attack/damage component sans smart tactics make this item more interesting. Another winner, as far as I’m concerned. Strongarm nets you Lifelike Prostheses and a boost to lift/Carrying capacity.

What’s that feat, you ask? Well, the pdf also features 9 new feats, and said feat allows you to better Sleight of Hand concealing the prosthesis. Swift Prosthesis lets you equip or remove one as a standard action. Craft Body Modification does what it says on the tin. Body Modification Attunement is pretty hardcore – you get to choose an item slot, and in that slot, a modification no longer occupies your magic item slot! Body Mod Expert increases the amount of modifications you can have and fortifies you versus infection; Body Mod Veteran builds on that. Skilled Body Modder seriously enhances your Heal checks to install or remove them. Able Amputee halves the penalty associated with a missing limb or body part, and Greater Able Amputee wholly eliminates that. I liked all of these feats, and they made me come up with quite a few cool ideas. Liking all feats in a chapter? Happens rarely these days, so kudos!

The module also features 5 regular bodymods (like nictitating membranes or steel dentures (grills, baby!)), as well as 7 magical ones: Adaptable scales net endure elements (not in italics) and lets you, as a swift action,, choose between minor fire or cold resistance. Filtering gills net water breathing (not in italics…); the hand of all trades is awesome and contains charges that may be used for thieves’ tools, healer’s kits, grappling hooks, etc. – awesome. Iron gut fortifies versus food-borne illness; legs of springing pretty much do what they say on the tin and come with a greater version as well. Finally, silver tongue enhances your singing and oratory skills, and lets you emulate dialects – once more one of these little roleplaying touches I genuinely love seeing. The pdf also includes 3 bodymodders, with locations, descriptions, relevant stats and price modifiers and crafting services noted. Nice!

The equipment section this time around also is pretty cool, sporting the easily concealed and rather deadly fist cannon firearm, as well as the mighty storm of chains, a VERY powerful kyton spiked chain for Large wielders that can also generate a variant of blade barrier. Finally, there is the mighty Darksphere, a technological artifact, which is essentially a variant sphere of annihilation. The section also includes fully realized void gondola vehicle stats alongside a brief discussion of navigation in the Zone. The gazetteer this time around deals with beacon, the largest asteroid in the Shattered Zone, and its de facto capital, including a discussion of the peculiar aspects: For example the oozes dubbed “angels” that produce air, or the fact that the “plague masks”, which actually filter out the corrosive agents from the air that particularly the auttaine don’t take well to. The write-up also includes two statblocks for agents of Purity (the latter called “Oberfähn” as the title – that should probably be “Oberfähnrich”; the other is called “Obersolder” – pretty sure that an “I” is missing there.

Anyhow. Purity. Pseudo-German nomenclature. You probably already have an inkling where this is going. Either way, it’s time to talk about the module and the monsters, so from here on out, the SPOILERS shall reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! The PCs’ expedition in Dead Vault Descent was easily one of my favorite modules in the AP formula, but unfortunately, the PCs ultimately didn’t leave it with much to show for – they still have not found a way home, and at this point, their allies have deduced another path home – which requires accessing a gate under the control of the Blood Slavers of Argos, which in turn will require a rather uneasy social event: A dinner with a neh-thalggu mesmerist. I mean, okay, the entity might be a brain-eating crab-monster, but she is impeccably polite and all about etiquette, which means that the PCs can meet up with her in a semi-safe environment. The mansion thus kicks off the module with a tense dinner and shows that this is, indeed, the darkest part of the AP so far. The PCs can attempt to best here, by the way – or roleplay the evening with a strange game called sensora id abstracta: A contest of drawing things from the strange mansion’s substance. So yeah, while the neh-thalggu is deadly, she can be potentially slain, should your group object to cooperating with a brain collector, no matter how impeccable her manners may be. This also establishes that, in this module, an exceptional Intelligence will be something more than one person will be interested in – in an unwholesome manner.

Either way, the path leads into the Shattered Zone – a field of asteroids that remain from a planet; to be more precise, the PCs will find themselves in Beacon (see gazetteer), a kind of sword and planet iteration of an industrial-revolution dystopia, with plague mask-wearing beings, and a thoroughly STRANGE. Indebted in aesthetics to Victorianism, industrial revolution, Bloodborne and sword and planet, the module goes for a genuinely interesting backdrop and a sense of danger enhanced by almost immediate arrivals of dangerous individuals. Unbeknown to the PCs, they have also just stepped into a three-way faction conflict between the Shattered Zone Mining Company, the Contraptors and the Corrosive Ventures. The PCs, thrust into these local struggles (for btw. aforementioned darksphere), and will pretty soon realize that they need to get to a certain gate, Asteroid 113…but to do so, they’ll have to “resurrect” three dead gates: One in Hope Mine, under the control of the Contraptors; one called “Salvation”, which is currently neutral territory, and one called Zenith, under the control of the Shattered Zone Mining Company. In case you were wondering – all of these are essentially sub-chapters, with plenty of dangers – and a need for smart politicking, for there are consequences for betrayal in the zone, and these consequences, well, they aren’t exactly pretty.

Once the PCs have managed to awaken the final gate, they not only get a mythic tier, they will by now also have deduced that their destination is a kyton prison, and that opening it…will, that went both ways. It is here that politics start falling by the wayside, and we get a rather…öhem…well…different approach. One that very much shows the hand of Richard Pett.

The destination is essentially a deadly kyton panopticon, a Hellraiser-esque nightmarescape, with plenty of unique and deadly builds…but wait. There is more. You see, the TRUE masterminds behind the factions’ squabbling, the most powerful force in the Shattered Zone right now, is Purity, which are essentially auttaine fascists. And if you don’t get it immediately from the German nomenclature employed, a propaganda poster with a red flag, white circle, and a black sun inside (which is a real life occult Nazi symbol) on the shoulderpads of Obercommander Aspa Corrosa’s artwork drive that home. She is also infested by a Queborrin, an alien parasite that is one of the new creatures – these generate unique abilities, which is a cool angle, but no template or the like for being queborrin-infested is provided, which is a bit of a lost chance While we’re on the subject of monsters, we also get a Large ogre-ish thing that can irradiate you (the void grim, CR 6), the ironrot lichen (CR 7), feral kytons (CR 9 – guess what the PCs will have to deal with in the prison?), and steamwerks golems (Cr 14) and the deadly CR 17 choke ooze – yep, that’s the stuff the people use to generate air. Don’t screw with them.

… Okay, so, to get that out of the way: I am not a big fan of depicting Nazis in RPG, because it is always a reduction of the true horror they caused. I expected to have more of a problem with this module. But Purity is not exactly Nazism in all but art-direction; it’s different kind of fascism. If you’re interested in why I don’t like Nazis in RPGs, I wrote a pretty comprehensive essay on the topic: http://endzeitgeist.com/miscellaneous-musings-stance-depiction-nazis-gaming/

Anyways, regarding Purity: In spite of their design being too on the nose for my tastes, I can kinda get behind them. Still, I think it’d have been awesome to see them actually visually coded as good guys. Because that’s more effective. Black uniform, red accents – we are hard-coded to view that as evil. One of the gates, the one called “Hope” – it’s actually in one of Purity’s internment prisons. And they are well on their way through the nightmarish panopticon, trying to reach the core of the asteroid before the PCs. The party will have to best the fascists of Purity. Provided the PCs can best the agents of Purity (which are, obviously, in league with the Hegemony), they also need to beat the mighty God-seer of the kytons – and meet a Purity agent who has already arrived: The PCs have reached the forbidden core, as they are taken into essentially a god-machine remnant of a dead planet, an almost BLAME-like complex of vast proportions…but can they best Commander Dhotan Roth? If so, they will learn, as the machine fulfills its purpose, forcing the vast knowledge of the ancient war between Patrons and Principalities…and the PCs will learn that Relstanna may well have set them up. They had to know. It’s time to get some answers…provided they can get out of the Shattered Zone…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules language level; I noticed a couple more formatting hiccups and typo level glitches (“is” instead of “it”, that sort of thing) than before in the AP. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the module comes with plenty of amazing full-color artwork. The art and map folio is great, but the omission of player-friendly maps is annoying. I also disliked that we didn’t get a map of Beacon – as a consequence, this hub always remained somewhat opaque to me, which is probably the biggest weakness of the module’s middle part. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Huh. After the pretty darn awesome supplemental material (penned by Patrick Renie, Mike D. Welham and Richard Pett), the module started off exceedingly well: I LOVE the Shattered Zone and Beacon regarding their aesthetics. Just plain awesome. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole politicking/three-factions angle, with Purity in the back? That could have been executed a bit smoother. The module requires more investment from the GM to make that section work. The gate activation and the like? The finale? Those are straightforward, if a bit combat-heavy. But the connective tissue, particularly considering what these amazing premises could have carried? It feels slightly weaker. This is not a bad module, mind you – the adventure is executed with panache aplomb, and has master Pett’s very distinct style, through a lens of sword & planet aesthetics. And yet, personally; I considered this module to be slightly weaker than the sheer excellence we’ve seen so far.

Legendary Planet, to this point, was an almost perfect AP, and from the lack of player-friendly maps to the middle part’s structure being a bit less impressive than the Shattered Zone would have warranted, this one falls a bit short of that. Does this make me less enamored with the AP? No. But after the nigh-perfect Dead Vault Descent, this feels like it tries a bit too much at once. What it does is genuinely great, but this nagging feeling of a module that is very busy, that would have done better by focusing more on core scenes, never left me.

This should not keep you from checking this out, mind you – particularly if you considered the AP to light-hearted until now; or if you want some seriously unique and twisted material. This would work rather well on its own.

How to rate this? Well, I consider this to be a very good module, slightly tarnished by the map-components and few snafus, and as such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet: Confederates of the Shattered Zone (Pathfinder)
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Thunderscape: The Thunder Trail
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2020 08:22:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Thunderscape supplement clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRd, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this supplement with 2.5 pages of well-written prose – Part 1 of “The Survivor”, to be precise; the narrative is nice. After this, we begin with the main meat here – a look at arguably the most advanced piece of tech in all of Aden, the massive dreadnought-style railways. Prior to the Darkfall, regular trains were employed in Columbey and the Concordance of Le’Ciel (As an unrelated aside: Pretty sure some Final Fantasy 13 designers were covert Thunderscape fans…), but the cataclysm made use of those pretty much a death sentence, and since they required serious resources to run, did not spread through all the lands. It was in Columbey that the first Thunder Train was unveiled, just 2 years after the Darkfall…and the rest is history. A history of pain and intrigue, but history nonetheless.

The eponymous Thunder Trail is the most important trade route in all the known lands, the primary means of restoring trade and commerce in a post-Darkfall age, and connects Mekanus all the way to Bulgrak – we are walked through the route ( a map would have been nice), and after establishing importance and course of these trains, we get information on, you know, actually riding them, with costs noted, and passage from Mekanus to various destinations noted, alongside with travel time, distance covered and costs.

And here, I’d like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to the authors. Why? We get distances covered not just in miles, but also in km. THANK YOU. Travel speeds are also noted, and guess what? We also get the km/h values, not just mp/h. I love that this helps poor ole’ Europeans like yours truly and other people not used to imperial measurements get into this and develop a relevant/sensible idea of the speed and capabilities of these trains.

Now, not everybody can afford the Thunder Trains. Traveling before them is plain suicidal, and next to them? Problematic for safety reasons. But behind them? In the wake of it and the mighty Iron Guard clearing passage? That’s grudgingly tolerated. As such, we have a kind of cross between externalized hobo- and budget-traveling culture, the remoras, who cling to the ephemeral wake of safety generated by these colossi.

After establishing the general functionality of these trains, we proceed to talk about the 4 iron giants – the Thunder Trains: The Dominant, the Pride of Mekanus, The Boundless, and The Scourging Eye. The Dominant gets a stunning 1-page full-color artwork, btw. The trains also note their length, the number of barges they feature, and the armament. Cargo barges are notes as well. Really awesome: Beyond the usual ballista and storm cannons covered here, we actually get two unique weapons: The Scourging Eye has a potent arcane matrix that can unleash stormbolts with a range of 1000 feet; the Dominant sports The Great Storm – probably the largest cannon in existence. These super-weapons, thankfully, are incalculably expensive – for once I applaud not including a cost here.

Beyond the Iron Guard, the Thunder Trains have another potent defense – the Sentinels, hidden in the machinery, capable of seamlessly emerging from it. These constructs clock in at a mighty CR 15. Not only are they immune to magic, they can fire multiple stun rays per round (as one standard action!), are masters of wielding steamreaver weaponry, and are bound to an engine of the train, gaining an excellent awareness of the train. Of course, as noted, they can camouflage and repair themselves. They are a cool build, though I did notice some minor aesthetic blemishes, like a capital letter X for critical multipliers. Nothing serious/too jarring, though. Yep, they are pretty much terminators. Of course, one of the discussed adventure hooks pertains rogue sentinels…

The pdf then proceeds to briefly touch upon the Urbana’s Annihilators and the airships of Yzeem and Arasteen, but doesn’t go into much detail there.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level.- Layout adheres to Thunderscape’s two-column full-color standard, and the full-color artworks for trains and sentinels? AWESOME. Less awesome: The pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation a bit of a pain – not cool.

Shawn Carman & Rich Wulf deliver one awesome little supplement here; if you enjoy the lore of Aden as much as I do, you’ll be excited to learn about the Thunder Trains indeed! I like many decisions taken here; for example, not statting these behemoths, and focusing only on the weaponry, where it is relevant. The stats would inadvertently make them something that’ll be destroyed, and for the purpose of most games, they’d be akin to deities of steel. From the inclusion of metric values to the lore, this is a very nice supplement.

But.

And that’s a big “but” – beyond general lore, the book doesn’t really help me PLAY on the Thunder Trains. We waste 2.5 pages on a short story-chapter; 1 full page admittedly awesome artwork, and the final page doesn’t have much to do with the trains either. In an ideal world, I’d have kept the artwork, cut the short story and final page…and instead provided MAPS. Schematics. ANYTHING that lets me picture how these colossi actually work, their layout, their interior/exterior.

I have no idea how a thunder train’s cabins and barges look like. How many may be seated. Where the engine is in relation to the rest. I have no idea how they work, and consequently, no idea how to actually USE them in game, save as an admittedly awesome backdrop. This is GENUINELY heartbreaking for me. I seriously, seriously, mean it.

When I first finished reading this, I was blown away, excited, wanted to use the Thunder Trains…and then I realized that I can’t. Because this doesn’t give me the tools to do so. The lore is fantastic. I mean it. I love it. But it ultimately only creates a backdrop, not an environment you can actually PLAY in. This pdf lets you make the Thunder Train cutscene of traveling from Point A to B more awesome, but it doesn’t really help you use it as a location in and of itself.

If you’re just in it for the lore, get this right now. You’ll love it. If you want an environment to play in, though, if you want to write an adventure in a Thunder Train? Then this will leave you sorely disappointed. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: The Thunder Trail
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The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/25/2020 11:37:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 269 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a colossal 262 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review.

All right, so we have been to the Sundered Kingdoms and taken in all the sights and cults...but this is something different. While situated in the adjacent region to aforementioned adventure-collection, we actually have a massive setting sourcebook. As such, the tome begins with a breakdown of the history of the region as well as massive timelines denoting the respective years in the different means of counting the timeline. The general overview provides a myth-infused and concise take on the ethnicities and races found within this region; from the savage vanigoths to the supposedly river-born Gaeleen and the Foerdewaith, the notes provided here already exhibit a level of detail and care that makes more than sense: The book talks about how the respective ethnicities see themselves or depict themselves in these tumultuous times, for they indeed are.

Even a cursory glance provides some rather intriguing notes of cataclysms past: Beyond the obvious collapse of the Army of Light, the end of an empire in a magical conflagration that consumed vast stretches of land, 10-year-lasting rains that resulted in famine and failed crops - these lands have indeed seen their fair share of evocative and inspiring catastrophes, but still the lands stand. Fans of the Lost Lands will consider the timeline to be a truly inspiring and chockfull with notes: From the founding of the metropolis of Bard's Gate to Endhome's history (the city of "The Lost City of Barakus"-fame), notes that acknowledge some lesser known modules (like "Mires of Mourning") or the influence of Razor Coast - for veterans of Frog god Games/Necromancer Games, this book pretty much can be considered to be the very glue that pulls everything together; or the skeleton of the body of the region, if you will.

Wait, that does not evoke the proper connotation, since it implies being somewhat basic - and nothing could be further from the truth here. Different technology levels for the respective ethnicities and people add a feasible and evocative tone to the subject matter. But how to give you a proper insight into the leitmotifs of these borderlands? Well, for one, let me talk a bit about nomenclature: In case the names of ethnicities were not ample clue, the provinces and stretches of land, from a linguistic point of view, do something smart: With names like Aachen, Exeter and the like, they employ our dormant knowledge of medieval ages and a palpable Old Europe-style aesthetic. With crests and everything, the presentation of the respective countries further enforces this. So flavor-wise, we'd be looking at a place that feels distinctly more like the end of the Middle Ages than most settings.

On a formal criteria, within the details of the powerful individuals noted, the book sports a sufficient array of powerful people mentioned...but never becomes bogged down in them. You do not have the Oerth/Faerûn issue of an archmage/demigod in every second town - capable folks exist, but ultimately there are barely enough to maintain a sense of cohesion. The general scarcity of truly mega-powerful individuals mean that there is ample potential for PCs to act and shine without thinking that the "big players can't be bothered". On the other hand, some setting have fallen prey to the inverse issue: You know, where the super-powerful forces of darkness only don't seem to win because they are damn stupid. The Borderland Provinces do not fall prey to this trap either - instead, a general level of threats suffuse everything here, providing ample need for adventurers without threatening an apocalypse at every corner. This balancing act emphasizes further as sense of the believable: We can imagine the darkness lurking, but we do crave people and places worth saving, and making the PCs the only capable (or not ignorant) characters is generally an approach that undermines this. Hence, while there are capable NPCs, at least in my mind the chief achievement for this component lies in painting a picture that is believable.

The aforementioned history, nay historicity, evoked by the book is further underlined by the political leitmotif: You see, the nomenclature and catastrophes echo some real life disasters for a reason: The political landscape of the Borderland Provinces is not unlike that of the trials and tribulations and collapse of the Carolingian Empire, which ultimately gave rise to the Holy Roman Empire. Much like these historic empires, the once powerful empire of Foere is within the process of dissolution and decadence; nobles think of secession, provinces are not properly defended and when even the loss of tax revenue is deemed acceptable, you will note that something is going wrong big time...meanwhile, the kingdom of Suilley has won its independence and is going through the growing pains of the rapid expanding empire - growing pains which may cause it to collapse yet under the issues inherited from years of mismanagement...if external forces don't do the job for the young kingdom. Similarly, the discrepancy between these two major players feel like bookends of the cycle to me - but that may well be due to my Nietzschean leanings when it comes to the structure of the history of mankind. On a less pretentious note, one could construe the political landscape as one that provides pretty much the maximum of adventuring potential: With the threat of war looming, political infighting and shifting allegiances all provide a rich panorama of inspiring metanarratives to develop...and that is before free cities and city states on the rise and the pseudo-colonial angle Razor Coast provides are entered into the fray.

The book, then goes on to underline yet another widely component that is a crucial glue often neglected in fantasy gaming: Religion. What's Endy now talking about, you ask? Well, beyond the presence of clerics, palas and the like, the function of religion for societies as a unifying thread is often neglected in gaming supplements - not so here: In the decline of Thyr's worship due to ever thinner margins and thus, possibilities of making an impact on the daily lives, Mitra's worship is gaining ground amidst the folk, adding another sense of Zeitenwende, of a radical change of the times to the social and political powder keg that is the Borderland Provinces. Conversely, this does echo similar proceedings in Europe - from Lutherans and Calvinists, a crucial component of their success ultimately can be attributed to the entwinement of the Catholic Church with the political establishment of those days, resulting in a disenfranchisement of a significant part of the body politic.

There is another component I feel obliged to mention, for, by the above, you may fall prey to the erroneous assumption that this book offers basically only a repackage of historical occurrences, when nothing could be further from the truth. After all, we are playing fantasy games and thus, the aspect of magic is deeply entwined with themes like religion: Beyond escalating the aforementioned cataclysms that have haunted these lands, magic also is firmly entwined with the aspect of religion - for, in a world where demon lords ever plot the ultimate collapse of civilization, a heresy suddenly becomes more than something to stamp out in order to maintain control over the doctrine and its narrative. Instead, heresy can range from the harmless to the soul-damning and as such, the task of the ever fewer agents of the organized religions traveling these lands is one of prime importance, as smart and devious cults operate beneath a veneer of respectability.

Which would bring me to the shadowy forces, whose threats are less obvious than warfare, racial conflicts, barbarians and monsters - namely, the leitmotifs of heresies. Whether benevolent or willfully incited by demonic cultists, the organized religions are having a tough time to maintain supremacy over their own teachings, considering the diverse challenges the lands face. In an age of flux, it is in the cracks left behind by the failures of the respective nobility and governments that darkness thrives. Which would bring me to the component that I have not yet mentioned: For up until now, I have mainly talked about the themes of this book and less about its actual use as a gaming supplement. You see, each of the areas introduced herein not only features notes on religion, major players and settlements - instead, the regions also provide monsters to be found within this area and a plethora of partially interconnected quests. Not content to simply depict hooks, the book goes into an almost-adventure-level of detail, with some statblocks and evocative quests there; to retrieve the train of thought associated with heresies, a whole village has fallen prey to false teachings and is thus doomed - unless the PCs can find a way to save their souls.

Beyond the monuments that litter the landscape and the traditional, exceedingly evocative indirect story-telling that comes together here, the book also is defined by a massive array of different random encounter-tables at the beck and call of the GM - and yes, the pdf does make a difference between regions, roads and the wilderness. Indeed, it should be noted that the narrative impulses contained herein blend all concisely; In an age where printing is not yet common, the appearance of potentially madness-inducing pamphlets, for example, would make for a unique angle. Have I mentioned yet the fact that this book also introduces a demon prince who may be one of Azathoth's Pipers, somehow turned sentient and...different, providing a long overdue thematic and innovative connection for the themes of the creatures of the Outer Dark and the forces of the Abyss.

Of course, there is more to the aspect of the fantastic than just an abundance of monstrosities haunting the wilderness; there would be the occurrence of a kind of truce between an archmage and the most powerful dragon of the region; there would be dangerous locales; neutral ground taverns at the intersection of no less than three territories...and there are places where the chivalric ideal still lives, with jousting and the means to rise in the social hierarchy. Numerous settlements in detail and a plethora of shrines and sacred or profane sites await the exploration by the PCs...and the sense of realism is further enhanced in its logical consequences: There would be, for example, a mighty city that has come to an understanding with a foul-tempered black dragon: The dragon defends the city...and who better to defend versus adventurers...than a whole city loving the creature, worshipping it...including the more powerful small folks? The component of the fantastic, from spells to the presence of creatures like ogres or worse, are not just simply slapdashed on like a thin fantastic coating - the internal consistency bespeaks careful and thoughtful deliberation and is baffling in its panache. Have I mentioned the region that uses giant ox beetles for beasts of burden?

Now the aspect of the fantastic even extends to some extend to the unique nature and economy that can be seen in parts of the borderland provinces; these lands are NOT just Europe-rip-offs. Quite the contrary, for e.g. the opium-studded fields of Pfefferain, originally introduced in the criminally underrated 3.X module "Vindication!" by Necromancer Games and the truce between ferry-operators and river giants - all seems to be connected in a tapestry of myriad colors and tones that nevertheless generate a concise whole. The level of deliberate care and internal consistency extends beyond the basic - MASSIVE name generators by region for both males and females, massive place-names by region (similarly ridiculously detailed and a colossal amount of stats for ready-made 109 encounters can be found to supplement the numerous adventure locales that are interspersed in the write-ups of the respective regions. Exceeding this, the book also features hazard generators and stats for aerial travelling - for example wind whales. Aforementioned heresies are similarly depicted in lavish detail...and the book provides a gigantic index that features pronunciation guidelines for the respective places. The book also features the previously released "Rogues in Remballo"-scenario and an impressive array of b/2-maps alongside player-friendly iterations - the inclusion of these just adding the icing on the cake this is. The physical iteration also has a gorgeous full-color hex-map of the regions.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor hiccups like a superscript "B" that was not properly formatted, as a whole, this book adheres to FGG's high quality standards. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read b/w-2-column standard and the book sports numerous gorgeous b/w-artworks. The electronic version sports numerous bookmarks for your convenience...but frankly, if you can somehow afford it, get this in print: With high quality binding and paper, this book's physical version is just so much more awesome to hold in your hands. The b/w-cartography is nice and the presence of player-friendly maps is amazing.

Matthew Finch, with additional content by Greg A. Vaughan and Bill Webb, has created something special here. When I heard about this book for the first time, my reaction, to some extent, was bewilderment. While I could see e.g. Rappan Athuk and Endhome occupy the same general geographic region, while I saw the more conservative aspects working in perfect unison, it is the weirder, the darker and subtle aspects of the modules that stumped me as to how this could ever work as a whole.

You see, setting-books of this size face an almost impossible catch-22-situation. Too much detail and you wreck their adaptability for a given round; not enough and the thing becomes too opaque and some jerk like yours truly starts complaining. If you add the excessive canon this unifies, you have another issue: Bastards like yours truly that have too much fun contemplating and considering the ramifications of the presence of creatures, the political landscape, etc. - i.e., sooner or later, unless you REALLY think it through, internal discrepancies will creep into the game and someone will find them and have his/her game ruined by them, as immersion comes crashing down. On the other hand, if you take the reins too tightly, you only generate a free-form adventure with a restrictive metaplot, not a sourcebook. You need to maintain consistency, yes - but if you overemphasize it, the book becomes a dry enumeration of facts and densely entwines facts - and not everyone wants to read such a book.

It is against these challenges that I have read this massive tome...and it holds up. More than this, however, the achievement this represents lies within not only succeeding at maintaining internal consistency and fusing a gigantic array of disparate files into a thematically concise whole - it also maintains its efficiency as a gaming supplement: Much like the Judge's Guild books of old, certain wildernesses and city states, this very much represents a sourcebook that does not require preplanned adventures or the like - instead, you just throw your PCs inside and watch them do whatever they please...and if you do want a module, well, the region provides a vast array of mega-adventures that gain a lot from the proper contextualization within the region. In fact, I frankly wished I hadn't played some of them, since their context herein adds significantly to their appeal.

I have not even managed to scratch the surface regarding the number of things to do and experience within the borderland provinces and that is intentional, for I have so far failed to explicitly state the biggest strength of the book: Perhaps it is the internal consistency of the book and its lore...but I experienced something while reading this tome I have only scarcely encountered: A sense of Fernweh (think of that as the opposite of being homesick), of a wanderlust for a realm that does not exist, of a world so steeped in lore, vibrant and alive that this book managed what only a scant few have accomplished - I actually managed to dream lucidly a journey through these fantastic realm in a sequence of dreams of several days. This peculiar experience is usually reserved for books of the highest prose caliber, books that manage to generate a level of cohesion that is so tight my mind can subconsciously visualize it. A prerequisite for this, obviously, would be some desire to do just that, meaning that ultimately, the book in question must have caught not only my attention, but provided a sort of intense joy beyond the confines of most books, let alone gaming supplements.

To cut my long ramblings short, the prose herein is absolutely superb and exhibits the strengths of the exceedingly talented trinity of authors, making the reading experience of the book a more than pleasing endeavor. Moreover, the significant attention to detail regarding the actual use of the book as a gaming supplement ultimately also deprives me of any complaints I could field against it in that regard. While this review is based on the PFRPG-version, it is my firm conviction that even groups employing systems beyond the 3 for which this has been released, will have an absolute blast with this book -even without any of the book's gaming utility, this is an excellent offering and hence receives the highest accolades I can bestow upon it - 5 stars, seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016 - This makes the Lost lands truly come to life and I can't wait to see the next massive sourcebook of the world. if the Frogs can maintain this level of quality and consistency, we'll be looking at my favorite fantasy setting among all I know. Get this - you will NOT regret it!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Lands: Borderland Provinces
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Adventures in the Borderland Provinces - Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/25/2020 11:36:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 166 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/product overview, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 160 pages of pure adventure...so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy for the purpose of a fair and critical review.

"Welcome to the Borderlands. You'll probably die here." - Ari Marmell's first sentence of the introduction of this book is pretty much amazing...and it makes clear from the get-go that this book provides old-school modules, in the slogan of FGG: "Modules worth winning!" - i.e. challenging, hard modules that test your mettle and not just CR-appropriate hand-holding exercises. As such, this massive book obviously represents a collection of adventures, all new ones, I might add - so even completionists with a huge NG-collection like me get all new material here...

...and since this review covers said adventures in detail, I strongly encourage players who want to play these to skip ahead to the conclusion. From here on, the SPOILERS reign. ... .. . All right, still here? The first module presented herein would be "On a Lonely Road", penned by Anthony Pryor, intended for 2nd level PCs...and it makes perfect use of the Borderlands and the notion of travel/sandboxy nature of the region: Situated in the city of Troye, the PCs are contacted by Professor Sarrus Togren to act as muscle during an important journey: The scholar weaves a yarn of the fabled Ancient Ones and their civilization, lost to the ravages of time and the reputedly dangerous Yolbiac Vale - it is for this expedition that the PCs are hired by the professor and his research assistant, one half-elven beauty named Nymea Goswynn. Obviously, there will be more people on board: Wilderness-experienced Maissee Tlivant and arcane student Gedney Foulkes as well as several other students are supposed to accompany the troupe - which coincidentally may be a nice way to replace PCs that have met their ultimate fate, but that just as an aside. The adventure proceeds, on a daily pace, to set the mood - there is plenty of time to allow the PCs to become invested with the NPCs - the journey is fraught with peril, obviously, with bandit ambushes and the like, but it is the slow escalation that makes this module work:

Slowly, but steadily, distrust is sown; weird dreams haunt the participants and the proof seems to accumulate that not all is as it seems - and when strange beings, white claws and chaos erupts, when people are going missing and the PCs have to explore a concisely-presented, thematically consistent dungeon to prevent a rite most foul...you could actually mistake this for one of the better CoC or LotFP-modules, as its blend of the fantastic, weird and horrific comes together in a truly fascinating experience that makes ample use of the grand sense of antiquity suffusing the Lost lands. More importantly, the module's pacing, crucial to anything horrific or darker in theme, as well as the read-aloud text, are impeccable in their effects. A superb, unpretentious genre-piece of a module and certainly one that deserves being played.

Illusion and Illumination by Rhiannon Louve, for characters of 6th level, is a completely different beast and frankly, with its whimsical tone, it very much is appropriate for play with younger players. A pair of fey from the city of Mirquinoc, has been troubling candle-maker Yannick...and everything is confused due to the pixies getting horribly drunk and confusing the orders bestowed upon them by their queen due to somewhat magical, local beer! The candle-maker's a good person and can fashion somewhat magical candles, 7 of which are provided. Alas, the rules-component of these candles is pretty messed up - lack of CLs for spell-duplicating effects, minor deviations from the rules-language - while only tangentially-relevant to the plot, I was pretty disappointed by this sidebar. On a plus-side, unraveling the chaos is pretty fun, since it becomes slowly apparent that the pixie's pestering is supposed to make the candle-maker confess to sins he has not committed. In order to fix this situation and prevent innocents from getting hurt, Yannick beseeches the PCs to help him embark on a quest to talk to the fey queen Twylinvere. On the way towards the queen, through the wilderness, the pixies and their stealthy antics as well as the original target of the pixies, one nasty fey called Oromirlynn and the thralls need to be defeated to clean up the misunderstanding.

The Mountain that Moved by Gwendolyn Kestrel is written for 9th level characters and takes place within the Cretian Mountains, which have a nasty reputation for in-bred settlements, cannibals and strange disappearances. And indeed, within the settlement of Yandek, strange mutations abound among the folk there and various angles provide for different means of entering the module. If you take a look at the Yandek folk template, you'll note an angle not unlike the flavor of the horrid ogres of the Hook Mountain - a Hills have Eyes-vibe suffuses the module. Hilarious for me: The inclusion of a character named Blind Piet...I don't seem to be the only GM who has a recurring theme of a rogue of that name... The deadly and pretty nasty cannibalism-angle suffuses the wilderness-section of the module, but there also would be a mine to explore, one that features a very strange property of the place....oh, and have I mentioned the mountain that walked's secret, which is, indeed, very evocative and makes for a potentially brutal showdown...just sayin'.

The Two Crucibles by C.A. Suleiman, written for 8th level characters, is something completely different and blends deductive investigation, social politicking and dungeon crawling in one evocative combo: The Vanigoths may seem like barbarians to the more civilized folks of the Borderland Provinces, but they do have several intriguing traditions: During the crucible of blood, a kind of moot/Þing, there is a very real chance of an election of a Warhalac, a warlord independent of the overking...which may mean war among the vanigoths and with the kingdom of Suilley. The PCs basically stumble into becoming honored guests - and potentially, participants among the savage customs and games associated with the crucible and the adventure also requires the PCs to deal with a powerful adversary in his dungeon, undermining mystical power and dealing with a capital letter ARTIFACT of nasty proportions. This module drips flavor and its focus on roleplaying and cultural tidbits make sense. Amazing module.

The War of the Poppies by Eytan Bernstein, for 10th level characters, is a pretty freeform investigation scenario and takes place in Mana, capital town of Suilley - where blue poppies are swaying the taste of local addicts and shadow wars to retain control of the opium trade still abound. It is here that noble scions, fresh from the grand tournament of the lilies, have vanished after partaking in the novel, blue opium...and it is up to the PCs to find the truth, as magical means seem to fail to properly locate them. Here, the module excels with a significant array of flavor text, clues to unearth and people to interrogate, as the mystery of the blue poppy and the truth behind it beckon ever more...though the module goes one step beyond and actually talks about dealing with the addicts, helping rehabilitation, etc. - sample Q&A-sections help the GM run the module and render this yet another full-blown winner.

A Most Peculiar Hunt by Ari Marmell is intended for 12th level PCs and takes place in the unclaimed lands as such, it makes perfect use of the region: Three communities (Avrandt, Corvul and Vath) not particularly far from the Aachen border have went to war - which, in itself is not remarkable. The solution proposed, though, was: Instead of wasting resources and lives, the 3 quasi-lords have agreed on a competition to solve their difficulties by trophy collecting of exotic animals...read: Monsters. Unfortunately, this competition has had untoward consequences: Hiring several adventurers has caused a kind of monster migration towards Aachen. In order to bring peace to the region and stop the potentially dangerous migration of monsters towards more populated areas, the PCs will have to explore the region and unearth the truths behind the motivations of the three "lords." Beyond uncovering intrigues (and a particularly cool BBEG), the PCs will have to deal with both a dragon and a very powerful group of rival adventurers...making this definitely one of the most challenging modules in the collection...and that's saying something! Still, an amazing sandbox indeed!

Ectarlin's Last Ride by Scott Fitzgerald Gray would also be intended for 12th level PCs and takes place at the coast of Eastwhich and more than one vessel has recently gone missing there, the holds ransacked and crews massacred. So far, so common - the region is not haunted by the usual issues with pirates and cutthroats - instead, the matter at hand is far more complex. In order to unearth the truth behind this mystery, though, the PCs will have to take part in a salvage operation (cool!) and a threat that may well steal memories, making for a truly amazing experience when presented to experienced roleplayers...and beyond a flow-chart, the PCs may actually witness the deadly threats duke it out with ghostly riders, potentially participate in the massive battle for literally the souls of a village, explore ruins, understand the fractured nature of the eponymous spirit lord drawn back to the mortal spheres and finally, defeating the powerful evil behind the horrid happenings.

After a brief appendix, the book provides a TON of maps - and all are prevented in proper, full-sized versions for both GMs and players, with the latter purged of secret maps, etc. - which is awesome for going the extra mile.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are almost perfect, great on a formal level, with some minor hiccups on a rules-language level, but not enough to drag this down. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the book comes with a ton of amazing b/w-artworks, all new and shiny. The pdf iteration comes fully bookmarked for your convenience....but the true beauty if the dead-tree hardcover, which is bound in the usual, high quality we have come to appreciate and love in our Frog God Games-books.

Eytan Bernstein, Soctt Fitzgerald Gray, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Rhiannon Louve, Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor and C.A. Suleiman have written an amazing compilation of adventures. This is, quality-wise, all killer, no filler - each of the modules in this book has its definite strengths and distinct narrative voices, while still retaining the consistency that the Borderland Provinces book established. More importantly, while the module here should definitely provide ample fodder for fans of old-school dungeon-crawling and aesthetics, I was positively surprised by the emphasis on smart players, on roleplaying and unearthing information - this is very much a ROLEplaying compilation that featured a ton of gorgeous scenes and truly astonishing vistas to explore. Cloak and dagger intrigue, deception and politics provide a level of investment for PCs and players alike to set this book apart from other compilations.

In short: When used in conjunction with the massive sourcebook, this book provides one of the most immersive sequences of adventures I have witnessed in a while...while still, thankfully, losing none of its plug-and-play-components. Suffused with the fantastic and the weird, a sense of fantastic, Gygaxian realism and some angles I have not seen before, the modules herein MATTER. They affect the lives of the people of the provinces and the diversity of challenges is amazing; I was positively surprised regarding the interaction of cultures, investigations, politics - all modules herein have the theme of indirect storytelling in common and use it perfectly. The book is amazing and very much represents the best of the Frog God Games that has transcended and surpassed the legacy of Necromancer Games. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and yes, this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Adventures in the Borderland Provinces - Pathfinder
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The Blasphemous Roster - Guilds of Infinigrad and their Machinations
Publisher: Gorgzu Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2020 08:48:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive toolkit clocks in at 73 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 69 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, first of all, this is a toolkit I didn’t realize I wanted. I love me some weird planar metropolis; whether it’s Sigil, the City of 7 Seraphs or some other place; I love Bas-Lag, and I enjoy the outré weirdness of, let’s say, the assumed settings of Troika. Infinigrad, in a way, is a ginormous such metropolis, one sprawling on a planar scale, and it just makes sense in such a context to have the city controlled by a plethora of guilds both strange and wondrous. (As an aside, in my interpretation of the City of 7 Seraphs, I have made the guilds essentially subcontractors of the parities.) Infinigrad’s assumption is that the PCs serve the guilds as Guild Dogs, a kind of fantasypunk shadow/edgerunners, and in the so far only module in the setting, the PWYW “Pollute the Elfen Memory Water” this cool concept is executed exceedingly well. It should be noted that this book can be used as an infusion of nonstandard fantasy aspects in your regular fantasy game – you don’t have to embrace the entirety of Infinigrad’s assumptions to use this.

So, first thing you need to know: This is peak indie roleplaying game design in many ways; the book straddles the realm of art, courtesy of the expert use of public domain images and sentences that look like they have been cut out and put inside; in many ways, this reminded me of my first use of Burroughs’ cutup technique with Naked Lunch, just…well, coherent. The entire book feels like a massive collage. This might strike you as pretentious at first glance, but once you realize that the functionality of the book is never compromised by the aesthetics, that feeling will go away. This is very much a book intended to be used. It is a tool.

Now, if you’re familiar with the PWYW “The Transient Bazaar”, you can picture, to a degree, what you’ll get herein – a ridiculously mighty generator, where page upon page of tables to determine the components of the guilds in detail – from modus operandi to realms of expertise.

The SCALE is what sets this apart. You get 10 pages of expertise and forename tables, and guild examples are provided as well. Like the Transient Bazaar, this supplement also makes use of the cool visual generator idea, where essentially collages of public domain images, codified in grids, allow you to get instant inspiration. This way, you determine guild member looks, how the base of operation looks, and combine it further – these instances once more cover a wide array of pages.

The book also presents a massive job generator that covers, once more, page upon page of targets. “Haunt a target or replace it with a ghostly copy” – now that is an interesting task for the PCs! “Cause target to grow to enormous size”? Heck yeah, why not! We also have desirable actions covered, job locations, and dangers at site – and the combination is genuinely better than what I’d be able to convey with this review. This also extends to the rewards. Beyond that, a room layout generator is included alongside a brief dressing table.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch; I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout is ART – 2-column collages with public domain art in the back, blended and combined in an effective manner that serves to enhance the overall, unique feeling of this toolkit. A huge annoyance of the book is that it has no bookmarks. I printed it out, and I strongly suggest you do that as well (though it’ll be BRUTAL on your ink/toner) – or get the print copy. I don’t yet own the print copy, but I will get it. If you want to use this as a pdf only, please detract a star – however, this is meant to be USED, and as such, I really suggest getting a physical iteration. It just makes the process swifter.

Michael Raston’s blasphemous roster is frickin’ amazing. It has all the hallmarks of artpunky indie RPGs, with its aesthetics, its genuinely novel ideas and sheer density of cool notions. And at the same time, it maintains its serious focus on functionality. This is a capital letters TOOL, and yet, it feels unlike e.g. all of New Big Dragon Games Unlimited’s excellent D30-toolkits. Why? Because it is genuinely FUN to use. This book is at once a thoroughly USEFUL book, and at the same time, a genuinely FUN book to read and use.

In short: This is one impressive beast of a book. If you have at least a small place in your heart for the vast fantasy metropolis, for the punk aesthetic, for the indie production that has an art-budget of exactly zero, you’ll absolutely adore this book. I genuinely consider this to be one of the highlights I’ve come across in the last couple of months. The generator not only delivers factions and quests, it does so in a manner that genuinely makes me, more often than not, contemplate how I’ll execute them – because I want to. If you’re tired of standard quests and factions, this’ll be a breath of fresh air. Heck, even if you don’t consistently use this, adding one or two guilds from this book to your regular fantasy setting’s city or region will make it feel fresher, stranger. Need a weirdo neighborhood? Use this.

The lack of bookmarks costs this a star for the pdf version, but in print? Full-blown masterpiece. 5 stars +seal of approval, and though this was released in 2018, I only now got around to reviewing this; hence, this gets a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2019. We need more Infinigrad.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Blasphemous Roster - Guilds of Infinigrad and their Machinations
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Thunderscape: The Radiant Order
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2020 08:46:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

In case you are less familiar with the lore of Aden, the radiant order is essentially a knightly organization that is pretty much deemed to be a good paladin’s order, and while as a whole, a good organization, it thankfully is not depicted in the usual, one-dimensional manner we get for such organizations. Also, of course, due to the order being essentially the government of Arasteen, as the king always hails from the order’s ranks, and the council of Templars is the only body that serves as checks and balances regarding the king/queen’s edicts, with only the bishops of the radiant path rivaling the order’s influence. As most familiar with Thunderscape will have indubitably deduced, the Radiant order obviously follows the edicts of the Radiant Code as a belief system.

The pdf recaps the code and also comments on the by now strained relationship between the order and the seers, and, as a knightly order, settling disputes via duels is covered – and yes, this does have legally binding consequences. The radiant order, with its access to education, can also act as a vessel for social mobility, as exemplified by a farmer’s tale…and the book does not draw a picture of an order devoted solely to warfare and combating the Darkfall: Instead, we also learn about the hospitalers, who are essentially squires who may or may not take up the knightly duties at one point. The process of attaining knighthood, and the duties that accompany it, are described in detail.

Beyond those ranks, there are the Templars – and only those invited may join these ranks, and they may only be replaced after retiring or being confirmed dead. This, obviously, means that there are plenty of roleplaying opportunities hard-coded into this aspect of the order. Above these austere people, there are only the King/Queen, and the Paladin – who is the King/Queen successor, always chosen from among the Templars, and acting as a tiebreaker and mediator, where required. Beyond these basics, suggestions for handling player character interaction with the order are provided.

After this, we learn about persons of note within the organization, with 4 nuanced NPC-write-ups of the order’s leaders provided. While we learn about their rough powerlevel by means of class-levels etc., no stats are provided for them. The pdf then proceeds to give brief summaries of the enemies of the order and their quarrels with it, before providing four new archetypes: The first of these would be the radiant crusader paladin, who replaces smite evil and aura of justice with a variant of barbarian rage sans exhaustion and debuff-components (4 + Cha-mod rounds per day, +1 round per additional level attained), with the bonuses upgrading to +6 at 11th level. The bonus granted by the ability is not properly typed. 5th level makes the paladin enter such a state of zeal whenever they cast a paladin spell, for rounds equal to spell level, and these rounds don’t count towards the daily allotment – a clever way to justify the low number of rounds per day. This replaces divine bond.

The radiant emissary is a rogue, who replaces trapfinding with using optionally Intelligence modifier to Bluff, Disguise, Diplomacy and Intimidate. Sneak attack is slowed to a die increase every 3 levels. Poor guy….but hey, they do get smite evil, and may select cleric spells via the minor and major magic rogue talents, and choose a talent that 1/day as a full-round action, nets Intelligence modifier as a bonus to a saving throw. This bonus remains until reassigned. The radiant path cleric must exemplify justice and compassion, and as such must select glory, law, liberation or war to represent justice, community, good, healing or protection to represent compassion, as domains. If the cleric selects all domain spells from one domain, he gets an additional ability, a kind of virtuous resonance: For justice, this is a buff for allies when he downs a foe, for compassion the option to sacrifice hit points when healing via spell or channel energy, granting the target twice that amount as additional healing. The radiant scholar wizard chooses a cleric domain at first level, adding the spells to the spell list, and gains a spell slot per spell level, which can only be sued to cast these domain spells. Spells not usually on the class list may only be prepared in these special slots. At 8th level, one of these spells may be chosen to be cast spontaneously via slot expenditure. This replaces arcane school and bond. 5th, 10th and 15th level net another domain.

The pdf closes with the radiant redemption spell, which takes one hour to cast and clocks in at 2nd level for clerics/oracles, palas and inquisitors: At the end of the spell’s casting, the target takes at least three paladin vows, gaining a +1 competence bonus that may be applied 1/round to atk, skills or saves, with the benefits lasting up to a week. Violating an oath makes the caster aware, and ends the spell. Such a violation also requires atoning for the violation. Interesting buff!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no accumulation of serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Thunderscape’s two-column full-color standard, with nice full-color artworks. The pdf lacks bookmarks, which is an unnecessary comfort-detriment.

Rich Wulf and Shawn Carman weave an interesting yarn in this supplement, and personally, I very much enjoyed the lore-centric approach taken to this organization. While the archetypes are not exactly mind-bending or novel, they do serve their purpose and add some local color, if you will, to the characters. That being said, I couldn’t help but wonder if inclusion of prestige/organization rules for the order wouldn’t have made membership potentially a bit more rewarding for the PCs in question. Tracking prestige etc. can very well be a rewarding angle, particularly in more rigid organizations like this. Anyhow, as a whole, I consider this to be a worthwhile offering if you’re playing in Thunderscape. Beyond Aden, there’s less of a draw to get this, as the concept per se is not that novel or unique. Fans of Aden, particularly if you’re playing in the setting, should round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. Those using these supplements for scavenging purposes might wish to look at another Thunderscape book instead – unless you’re intrigued by the order. All in all, my official verdict will take the intended use into account, and hence also round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: The Radiant Order
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Legendary Samurai
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2020 05:05:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the class-centric supplements by Legendary Games clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so few classes have been as much in need of a proper redesign as the lackluster samurai, which has failed to truly engage me in all iterations I’ve seen so far, so let’s take a look at the legendary samurai! The class receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as tetsubo and all one-handed slashing weapons and all armors. They get full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves.

The first thing you’ll then notice, would be the spirit engine, which radically changes how the class behaves and its role in the party composition from the get-go: Spirit is a bit like grit, but the legendary samurai starts the day with no spirit – it is gained when the legendary samurai damages a creature with an iaijutsu strike (this improves further at 7th level, which lets the samurai spend a move action prior to attacking to increase the spirit gain to 2 (known as spirit charge; at 14th level, this may also be done as a swift action, bo more than 1/round), or whenever the legendary samurai takes damage from an attack, including supernatural attacks, SPs and spells, but the class does not gain spirit when struck while flat-footed. Starting at 5th level, the samurai may elect to open themselves to attacks as a free action, making the next attack target touch AC or take a -10 penalty to Reflex saves, but when suffering an attack thus, the samurai gains 2 spirit instead, and may execute an Intimidate check to demoralize the attacking creature, even ignoring fear immunity as an immediate action. When they roll initiative, they gain 1 spirit, which upgrades to 2 at 3rd level, and 3 at 12th level. Spirit can stack up to a maximum equal to Charisma modifier, but unlike e.g. grit, it behaves more like an adrenalin bar – spend 1 minute outside of combat, and all spirit accumulated vanishes. You will probably have noticed the absence of a kitten-caveat – RAW, Iaijutsu-ing harmless kittens could be used to stack up spirit; this obviously is VERY un-samurai-like behavior, and imho should have been prevented explicitly in the rules. Does it break the class? Let’s see.

The class starts play with Quick Draw as a bonus feat and elaborates the notion of weapons being sheathed in the context of traditionally sheathe-less weapons, which is a nice touch. At 4th level, the sheathe may confer a scaling shield bonus when employed in conjunction with iaijutsu strikes. The legendary samurai can treat sheathed weapons as drawn ones for the purpose of AoOs, courtesy of their ability to perform lightning-quick iaijutsu-strikes. This is an extraordinary ability gained at first level, and may be performed with sheathed one-handed slashing weapons; it is an attack action and makes the weapon be treated as though wielded in two hands for purposes of damage dealt; when making such an attack, the legendary samurai may spend 1 spirit to roll twice and take the better result as a free action. At 8th level, this may be executed as an AoO once per round. Additionally, the class is defined by iaijutsu techniques – the class begins play with one, and gains an additional one every 4 levels thereafter. Only one such technique may be applied per iaijutsu strike until 10th level, where one slash and one cut may be executed at once (see below for an explanation of slash and cut), and the saving throw DC, if any, is 10 + ½ class level + Charisma modifier. Iaijutsu techniques are categorized in two different types: Slashes, which generally inflict conditions etc., and cuts , which influence area and range of the executed attack – the names of the respective techniques feature “slash” or “cut”, making that part easy to discern. Unless I miscounted, a total of 21 such techniques have been provided. These techniques often tend to feature some sort of scaling mechanic, and obviously, the more potent ones are locked behind minimum level requirements.

The techniques include penalties to AC, scaling bleed damage, ability score damage to Strength or Dexterity on a failed save, high level save-or-die, as well as some more supernatural options, such as forced short-level teleportation, and scaling dispel magic that later upgrades to the greater variant – the latter btw. with a hex caveat that prevents constant and abusive hitting of allies to dispel debuffs – excellent catch there. Forming the attack as bursts, including limited ability to shape the area, knocking targets back (as a bull rush), stealthy slashes (that even may even have their effects delayed at higher levels!), lines, limb-cutting, causing fear-conditions, attacking with wind slashes, skirmishing strikes, and utility attacks or using vacuum – if you’re like me an somewhat of a japanophile otaku, this section will have you smile from ear to ear – it’s INTERESTING and it sets the legendary samurai distinctly apart from other classes. The final ability gained at first level would be challenge, which costs a swift action and one spirit to activate – and whenever the legendary samurai rolls initiative, they get 1 spirit that may ONLY be used for the purpose of this ability. Effect-wise, this adds + class level to damage, but penalizes the AC of the samurai by -2; this penalty also is applied to the AC of the target as long as it’s inside the legendary samurai’s threatened area, but only regarding attacks from other targets. This is a thorough delimiter of challenge, but one that makes sense – to a degree. It’s mainly problematic due to the fact that it’s essentially a per-encounter mechanic sans cooldown. I.e. slaying a goblin, 1 round no combat, new goblin arrives, would yield two challenges, whereas waiting briefly and facing two goblins would yield only one challenge. Per-encounter mechanics make no sense in-game whatsoever, and need to be tied to an objective time-frame, which this ability forgets to do.

Resolve, gained at 2nd level, has been changed, and now also employs spirit in a variety of ways: As a standard action, fear-based conditions may be removed; as an immediate action, Fort- or Will-saves may be rerolled, or the legendary samurai may remain conscious. At 9th level, spirit via resolve may be used as an immediate action to make a critical hit sustained a regular hit; 17th level lets them avoid death by expending all points if they have at least 2 spirit, as an immediate action, to instead be left unconscious and stable – the latter conditions are important, as they prevent a pretty nasty immortal samurai glitch. Again, kudos for catching that.

Also at second level, the legendary samurai may choose from a limited list of vigilante talents, with quite a few taken from legendary Vigilantes and Legendary Villains: Vigilantes. (There is one instance where a superscript “LV” wasn’t properly superscripted.) 3rd level has renown hardcoded into the class (makes sense), and 8th level nets great renown, 14th incredible renown, and 20th level a capstone ability beyond that for the renown angle. 6th level nets Vital Strike, with every 5 levels thereafter yielding the further feats in that chain. The banner ability (and its upgrades) has been moved down a level to 4th, and also specifies a minimum size and use rules, which makes its rules integrity superior to that of the standard samurai – kudos! Greater banner was moved down to 10th level.

The class has a second array of options, so-called kiai arts, the first set of which is gained at 3rd level, with an additional ones unlocked every 4 levels thereafter – all such options are unlocked upon attaining the required class level, making them behave somewhat akin to deeds. While supernatural abilities, these explicitly require a kiai shout, and as such have a verbal component. These effects include using spirit to cure and even absorb fear to be discharged by the samurai’s blade, granting allies a scaling bonus to damage versus an enemy hit, and, obviously AoE-demoralize. Ghost-cutting blades etc. are cool, but there also are some potentially problematic ones, like an option that nets you temporary hit points AND allows you to ignore fatigue for as long as they persist, making that one POTENTIALLY prone to rage-cycling abuse, as well as issues pertaining other abilities kept in check by fatigue. That being said, the prerequisite 7th level does mean that such issues won’t necessarily come into play early in the game – still, it’s something to keep an eye out for. The high-level abilities do include some seriously awesome tricks, like teleport-intercepting attacks upon allies or a zone that forces flying creatures to land, ethereal creatures to shift to the material plane, etc. – awesome. The capstone of the class is a super-potent defensive stance, which minimizes damage and prevents death, but also imposes negative levels upon elapsing – and said negative levels may only be removed naturally.

5 different favored class options available for any race are provided, and, taking a cue from e.g. Legendary Fighter, we have an assortment of alternate class features: Instead of the armor proficiencies, we can have monk-like scaling AC based on Charisma, variant proficiency lists, replace challenge with favored enemy or studied target, etc. – and here is as well a place as any to remark that some ability names have not been properly bolded.

Iaijutsu strike may be modified to work with Weapon finesse, we have the option for combat spheres and being a Proficient combatant instead of the iaijutsu engine (Spheres of Might support!), and there’s the option of skirmishing and sneak attack as another form of variant tricks. The vigilante talents may be replaced with bardic, shifter or rogue tricks, and the kiai arts can be exchanged for bonus feats, limited kineticist action or spellcasting.

The pdf also includes an assortment of new feats, which include extra iaijutsu talents, increased DCs for one, having an old weapon that may be magically enhanced, using Intelligence or Wisdom as governing ability score…the solid support feats classes need. The one feat I really liked was Blind Warrior, which lets you play the iconic fellow, including a rather extensive discussion re balance etc. – kudos for including this one.

The pdf includes 10 different archetypes: Ancestral inheritors lose challenge and kiai arts with a biped eidolon without claws, instead gaining the same weapon proficiencies as the samurai. The benefits of resolve may be shared, and (greater) banner is replaced with the evolution surge options, powered by spirit. This one is pretty damn strong. It also is weird, in that the spiritualist’s phantom would have made much more sense than the eidolon. Not a fan. Gunblade duelists, though? Heck yeah. This appeals to the FF8 fanboy in me, but yeah. Just wished the archetype would do more than just yield basic functionality – if you’re looking for unique gunblade tricks, you won’t find them here. This fellow would have warranted a class hack. And yes, I know. I’m greedy. It’s just that I know how good N. Jolly can be with these, and since he wrote the excellent legendary gunslinger… One may dream.

Master strikers are essentially the monk-y unarmed samurai, while oni warriors focus on bludgeoning weapons and are the barbarian-y archetype/theme, including rage. Ronins can use dirty tricks and their renown is tainted. The samurai spherelord is a further Spheres archetype, using both Spheres of Might and Spheres of Power – essentially the blended training archetype. The short notes “SoP” and “SoM” have not been superscripted properly. Soul blades get an intelligent, improving weapon (that has one ability partially cut off, alas), steed lords are the mounted specialists, and yojimbos are the guardians – the latter is a particularly cool engine tweak. Yumi snipers are, no surprise, the ranged specialists.

With blood iron, we do receive a new material that oozes flavor (haha – pardon the pun), and 8 new magic items are included – the second page of their presentation is odd, featuring a lot of blank space in the middle, with items at the top and bottom – as though a piece of artwork was cut or something like that. 6 of these are robes of overflowing spirit, with 4 assigned to the classic elements (oddly, not the Eastern ones…), and one is themed around purity and another one around void. The robes have minor benefits, but wielders with spirit that gain spirit in excess of their maximum can use the excess spirit otherwise lost to activate the robes for a further benefit. The blade of the bloodthirsty (weapon properties not italicized properly) is a +2 keen blood iron falchion that can transform into other weapon shapes, and it can repair itself and enhance bleed damage caused. Nice one. The universal scabbard can fit any weapon.

As usual, we end this pdf with a sample NPC, fully detailed with a compelling background story and boon for the party, should they ally – this time around, we have Kuro (which means “black”) Hiro, whose name is quite ironic, as he’s actually a really good and friendly guy, well-intentioned and not burdened by some catastrophe. Nice to see!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are not as good as I’ve come to expect from Legendary Games – the numerous botched superscripts and the obvious exploits make this one feel less refined than usual. That being said, the book still manages to get more highly complex things done right than plenty of comparable files – it’s “just” good in the formal categories. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports multiple really nice artworks I hadn’t seen before. Much to my puzzled chagrin, the pdf lacks bookmarks, which is a huge comfort-detriment. Not cool.

N. Jolly, Siobhan Bjorknas, Adam Ricks and Wren Rosario have crafted a book that frustrates me to no end. Because I desperately want to love the legendary samurai; in many ways, this is the class I always wanted for the samurai-concept. The strikes are exciting and thematically fitting, the kiai abilities rock, and the class does a lot things right. Only to hit every single one of my pet-peeves. ALL of them. Nonsense per-encounter BS? Check. Can be cheesed with kittens? Check. Spirit engine needing some checks and balances? Check.

…and so on. And yet, I can’t bring myself to hating this, because, frankly, I’ll be doing some tweaking and using the chassis. Still, this has all the markings of a rushed and/or troubled development: From the formal superscripts and lack of bookmarks, to design snafus like aforementioned cheese-options that are frankly not something I expect to see from either N. Jolly or Legendary Games, as both author and publisher have demonstrated time and again that they can do much better. Compared with N. Jolly’s GENIUS Legendary Gunslinger-pdf, this feels like a minor let-down.

That being said, there is an excellent chance that you won’t mind the things that irk me to no end. For me, as a person, this is a genuinely aggravating 3-star file. However, it is also the single best take on the samurai class out there, and much of my personal disdain may be chalked up to the pdf hitting all the things that I really loathe to see, that I consider to be indicators of capital-letters BAD class design.

I try hard to not let my own bias cloud my verdicts too much, though, and if you don’t mind about those, this will deliver a compelling samurai; certainly an infinitely better one than the other takes I’ve read so far.

As such, my official reviewer’s score will be 4 stars, with the caveat that you have to be able to stand aforementioned issues.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Samurai
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Strange Worlds: Ice Planets
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2020 05:04:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Strange Worlds-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As before in the series, this little pdf is designed to be a one-stop shop resource to avoid flipping through the not always perfect organization of the core book, collecting relevant information for running ice planets in one convenient place, while also adding new material.

As before, we begin with the recaps of temperature and wind, and like before, I would have appreciated inclusion of °C values and kmh for wind speeds – and I’m sure the international audience not accustomed to the imperial systems would mirror this sentiment. Particularly °F are very hard for me to wrap my head around. Anyhow, on a plus-side, the pdf does cover the temperatures that prevent e.g. corpses from decaying, and the visibility section does differentiate between light and heavy snow, and terrain-wise, shallow and deep snow, as well as slush and ice receive proper rules.

The pdf comes with an equipment section that includes cold-weather gear, snow goggles, snow shoes, as well as portable heating units and ground-penetrating radar, which, while cumbersome, is a great little device to carry around. I can see this item be used in cool (haha) explorations.

The pdf also comes with a level 4 vehicle, the snow speeder; while easier to destroy than a police cruiser, it is easier to fight when piloting these. The stats, like the rules pertaining collision etc., check out.

The pdf then proceeds to present 4 different creatures – two of them have blindsight, with the type of blindsight properly noted; alas, both lack the customary range for these senses. One of the creatures also lacks the range for its darkvision. The first creature would be a CR 12 deep cetacean, which is built via the combatant array. The formatting for the multiattack line in the attack range is incorrectly-formatted, but the abilities make it functional. Ice biters are CR 1 mammals, which are mostly noncombatants, using the lower attack value for their only attack Their hard bite can still damage crucial equipment, though…At CR 3, snow goats might be smelly and built for the cold, with a stench aura and all, but their attack value is off, big time – only +5 for a CR 3 combatant? That should be at least +8. Finally, there would be the CR 17 tarrhidan. This guy has the wrong good skill values – they should be +29, not +22. With only a cold aura, these also are not too exciting.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, less impressive on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf features nice artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Kim Frandsen’s take on ice planets is the roughest of the Strange Worlds so far – the hazard section is once more interesting, but the critters feel rushed, featuring multiple rules-influencing glitches in the respective builds. While this pdf is very inexpensive and thus still potentially worth getting, I can’t go higher than 3 stars for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Strange Worlds: Ice Planets
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The Angel's Burial Ground - A Suburb of Infinigrad
Publisher: Gorgzu Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2020 05:58:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, first of all – this is an Infinigrad supplement, i.e. one with planar fantasypunk aesthetics; that being said, the place makes perfect sense in the context of e.g. subterranean environments of the weirder kind, or less traditional fantasy settings. The supplement does not subscribe to a specific OSR-rules system per se, instead electing to follow a general point. As in other Infinigrad supplements, HD are randomized, and each HD is supposed to be the equivalent of +1 to hit. When attribute checks are relevant, the supplement champions just rolling 3d6 to quickly determine attributes. The baseline HD of NPCs is d4HD@d6, so 1-4 HD, with each HD = d6. AC is ascending. NPCs tend to note special abilities as well as desires they might have. Navigation-wise, the pdf is internally hyperlinked, which is a bit of a saving grace due to the pdf not having any bookmarks. A map of the suburb is provided, though it does not have a scale – it’s more about giving you an idea of where things are in relation to each other. That being said, the scratchy, hand-drawn style of the map did have some appeal to me. The map is featured twice – once with the landmarks on the opposite page, once with the keyed buildings hyperlinked on the opposite page.

I really like how buildings are presented: We get a read-aloud paragraph, and then a bullet point list that makes sense in sequence: First the obvious/lower storey content, then the less overt information. NPCs and faction-names are bolded for easy referencing, making the parsing of information simple. If you are one of the people who are particular about wanting your descriptions terse and evocative, this delivers. Unlike many comparable supplements, the book, in spite of this terseness, manages to retain a genuine sense of wonder and atmosphere. This is easily one of the most pronounced strengths here. It should be noted that this place can be easily grafted onto e.g. a planar metropolis like Sigil or the City of 7 Seraphs, or it could be used as a stand-alone environment.

The book comes with a custom random encounter table, a custom reaction table, and a 20-entry rumor table. We also get 20 male and female sample names.

Okay, that out of the way, this environment is best experienced without prior knowledge, so consider this to be a SPOILER-warning for players. If you’re not a GM, please skip ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, so, this suburb is essentially a sprawling, former sanatorium, sprawling alongside a mountain range, with its whispering winds bringing messages, ostensibly directly from the gods. The place is choked with winged statues, but these indeed are the calcified remains of angels, their bodies conserved in perfect forms with the help of occult rituals. As a consequence, making angel statues can be deemed a subversive act/crime, and the suburb’s guards, the protectors of the wind, certainly won’t take kindly to that. Angels in this place are bereft of the connection to the divine, described as having annoyingly good looks and beatific sneers. There are also mutant angel factions – the first of these would be the savage storm angels, who seek to clear the suburb, and the other one would be the halfhere angels, who know the secret of turning corpses of angels to stone. There also are two fully realized angel gangs here – one being the disaffected angel youth led by a mysterious entity, the other being a mute, masked group – which ties in with the second leitmotif of the suburb.

The splendor of the angels and beauty of the place is sharply contrasted with the “scaled men”, humanoids devolved and turned lizard-like by an infectious curse that can and will potentially affect those they assault – including angels, who obviously consider it to a be a horrid tainting of their forms. An enormous dome of wrought iron cages a black, scum-coated lake, trapping the scaled ones – at least that’s how it looks like. On the stairs of silk, infested, beaked men held by chains beseech the visitors.

We can find workshops for plant-based augmentations, workshops of healing (and damaging) crystals, black marble towers containing banks (fancy a heist?), storm angel smiths crafting experimental weaponry, and more – each place herein is interesting in some way, and indeed, basically begs you to use it. I can’t picture any group of adventurers, any GM, confronting this place without being inspired in some way.

If that’s not the case, the book does come with a quest-hook generator – roll for a verb, an objective, and a reward – and go from there. A table of 8 complications may also be found, and we get a pretty huge dressing table for angels – you roll d6 to determine which of the 6 tables you’ll use, then a d10 – yep, 60 frickin’ entries. Green hair, with flowers budding. Red wings, blood dripping from them. Hairless and with an elongated pate and pink halo. These are genuinely diverse.

If you’re such a sucky map-drawer as I am, you’ll love the building interior map page, which makes you roll d8 and d12 – you can roll dice to create the layout as you go, or print a couple of copies of this page, and then cut them out and combine them. Or you can use it just as intended. There also is an interior dressing generator – 4 columns, 12 entries each. Finally, if you want to spontaneously determine how NPCs relate to each other, there’s a table for that: D12 for an adjective, d12 for the relation.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting is very good on a formal and rules-language level, particularly for such an indie offering. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with public-domain based artwork on borders. This was subtle, but I liked it – the different styles of architecture used for borders manage to underline in a subtle manner the atmosphere of this place. As noted, the pdf has no bookmarks, which is a big detriment, but the extensive internal hyperlinking does indeed help and keeps the pdf from being unduly hard to use.

Michael Raston’s expedition to this suburb of Infinigrad is inspiring in all the right ways. The atmosphere evoked is genuinely unique and managed to elicit a sense of jamais-vu I get to see rather rarely these days. It’s not artsy, mind you; you can take and run it as such, but this is most assuredly a game-focused book that wants to be used. It’s not navelgazing, nor is it pretentious in the slightest. As a whole, this managed to make me feel like I just stumbled into a weird crossing between Planescape or the City of 7 Seraphs, and a pre-cataclysmic Dark Souls or Demon Souls, like a version of Latria’s towers prior to falling. A sense of danger is ever present, and the contrasting of harsh leitmotifs is pulled off in an excellent manner. And this pdf is ridiculously inexpensive. 2 bucks. Seriously? Totally worth at least (!!) thrice as much! Considering the excellent bang for buck ratio, this does get 5 stars + seal of approval. If you enjoy unconventional fantasy environments, get this!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Angel's Burial Ground - A Suburb of Infinigrad
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GM's Miscellany: Monstrous Lairs II
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2020 05:57:10

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This compilation of the Monstrous Lairs-series of dressing files clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The book begins with an introduction/how to use, as well as a brief introduction, before we dive into the respective Monstrous Lairs entries compiled in this tome.

To give you an idea, the book covers dressing for assassins, basilisks, chimeras, cultists, derro, drow, dryads, duergar, fire giants, frost giants, ghost’s haunted houses, otyughs, hill giants, hydras, sphinxes, ropers, smugglers, scrags, troglodytes, vampires, wyverns, wolves and both sea and green hags. Each of these entries sports 7 d10-entry strong tables, and the respective creatures are organized alphabetically.

One table deals with the area outside of the lair; one nets dressing for the entity, and two deal with lair features – major and minor features. Major features tend to be potentially relevant in-game for combats, etc., while minor lair features are less encounter-defining, though they can well still feature in a relevant manner – or they could just be dressing. The entries also sport a table for what the entity is currently doing when the PCs meet it, and the entries sport a table for 10 sample treasures connected to the leitmotifs of the creatures, and also a table that deals with trash, or less useful materials that may be found.

Now, I have covered every single one of these Monstrous Lairs in their individual installments, so if you’re interested in reading my opinions regarding one of these installments, you can do so quickly – on my homepage, you can, for example, just click on the “Monstrous Lair-series”-tag, and have a massive list at your fingertips. As such, I am not going to repeat myself and go through all of them again; suffice to say, the book is essentially what it says on the tin – a compilation of an extremely useful series.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good; I noticed no serious accumulation of glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant 2-column b/w-standard, with neat b/w-artworks included. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions: One optimized for screen.-use, and one optimized for the printer. Very cool! I can’t comment on the PoD-hardcopy version, since I do not own it.

This book was crafted by Steve Hood and Robert Manson, with additional design-work done by Liz Smith, and as a whole, I genuinely consider it to be a useful compilation. By sheer virtue of being a properly-compiled book, we have a collection that is easier to use at the table, at least for me. And while I wasn’t blown away by all entries, there are several defining, truly outstanding ones contained herein. As a whole, the book ranges between being downright brilliant and being “just” good…so is this worth getting? Yes, yes it is. Unless you already own the vast majority of these dressing files, this is the way to get this part of series. And if you want the print version, then this’ll be a boon indeed. So yeah, all in all, a well-wrought compilation, and thus, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
GM's Miscellany: Monstrous Lairs II
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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for this review, End. I'm delighted you found the book so useful and enjoyable!
Blades & Blasters 5E: Bestiary & Rulebook
Publisher: Seth Tomlinson
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2020 04:21:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 132 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page backer list, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 124 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that the book’s electronic version comes with extra pdfs: A form-fillable character sheet (Nice) and a nice b/w map of the massive region of North Caliana. The book does come with a page of index not included above, and a handy page of items by rarity, a cheat-sheet for which alien species are part of the Federation, and a list of beasts by challenge.

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

So, first things first: This is NOT a campaign setting in the traditional sense. While it can potentially be run as such, the book doesn’t try to cover the bases that we usually associate with campaign settings. Instead, this tome behaves more like an event book or toolkit. What happens when a galaxy-spanning super-civilization with their tech is inserted into a fantasy context? In short, this is a way to science-fantasy-fy your game. Now, you can run this as a setting of sorts, but the clear intent of the book is to allow you to use its materials to modify your favorite setting.

The lore, as such, does a smart thing – it makes no assumptions about your game, nor does it provide a monolithic array of dates of facts about the Federation of these aliens. Instead, the book begins with a massive array of different pieces of prose that work together collectively in a well-executed example of mythweaving, which ranges from ancient songs to various vignettes. These sport different styles and work together to create not a prescriptive framework, but a basis from which you can expand. Did I mention that we even get a symbol-based glyph language? If you’re like me and love throwing deciphering puzzles (I once designed an entire fictitious language, including glyphs, as part of the central plot of one of my campaigns…) at your player, this’ll be awesome. It’s small touches like this, the discussion of the Xin’s linguistic culture, that show when a book goes the extra mile. Love it.

This approach focusing on complimentary material, instead of replacements, also is reflected in the way by which the book presents its rules. These rules never feel like they are grafted on, instead employing the aesthetics defined by 5e, and yes, this extends to the formatting, way in which abilities are phrased, etc. – frankly, it was a boon for my sore reviewer’s eyes.

Indeed, from a perspective regarding sequence of presentation and organization, the book does a lot right; at no point during my perusing of the book did I have to skip ahead or back. This also includes the color of the pages – the lore section has a green tint, the rules section a reddish one, and the bestiary a blue tint, which makes flipping open the proper part of the book swift and painless.

But you’re here, at least in part, for the tech, right? So the book does some really clever things: For one, the basis of all tech introduced herein are power cells, which are categorized in 5 different groups, the tech classes. Class 1 power cells are used for light weapons, grenades and the like (with the grenade cells unable to be reused). Class 5, on the other hand, powers frickin’ shuttles, with the others falling in-between. Which power cell powers what type of device is btw. listed in a table right after they are introduced. No confusion here. For the most part, the Xin federation is reliant on stationary chargers, which take some serious time to replenish power cells, depending on their tech class. In 24 hours, one of these chargers generates 5 charges – and a power cell requires as many charges as its tech class – that is elegant. So, e.g., you could recharge a level 3 and a level 2 powercell completely during a 24 hour period. And before you ask: Yes, the book clarifies what can be recharged during short or long rests as well. While portable chargers ostensibly exist, they are super rare. Tech classes, just fyi, also correspond to item rarity classes in another very elegant decision that seamlessly integrates the content. This also places pricing and availability firmly in the hands of the GM, allowing you to use the content in a manner ranging from playing agents of the federation to resistance of a conquered fantasy planet.

Alien items require proficiency with the alien toolkit to repair, with difficulty left up to the GM to decide – a smart choice here. Much to my pleasant surprise, I realized that characters with the proper proficiency actually are capable of salvaging materials and make scavenged technology from them. So yeah, you could play tinkers that slowly build the materials to fight the Federation. A handy table lists prices, required proficiency…and something that made the OCD-guy in me smile from ear to ear: The table actually LISTS what you need to make a scavenged blaster, heavy armor, etc.! It’s easy enough to handwave if you don’t like that sort of simulationalist angle, but personally? LOVE IT!

Okay, so, how do the weapons fare? Well, first of all, the new weapons are classified generally as light (class 1 power cells) and heavy weapons (class 2 power cells). They generally tend to deal more damage (most radiant, though e.g. antimatter weapons cause necrotic damage), and e.g. concussion grenades and some weapons deal psychic damage. Melee weapons, such as essentially stun batons are included, and there even is a chaos launcher, where you roll a d% and consult a table. Did I mention the nitro needler that can be used to help or hinder targets, or the gravity gun? Of course, there also are augmentations, which are interesting in that they are less invasive as in e.g. Shadowrun; these require class 3 power cell proficiency of Self Care, and from bionic arms to aqua breathers, there are a few examples. The text is phrased in a manner that lets you use them as enhancements of existing bodily components instead of replacements. 9 of these are provided, including rules for implantation, which are swift and easy to grasp. Speaking of which – from microscopes to a massive 100-entry table of science-fantasy trinkets, the mundane item array is also covered.

A total of 6 vehicles are included, including flitters, which are basically two seats mounted atop a jet engine. And shuttles. These vehicles use d10 for HD for Small and scavenged Medium vehicles, d12s for Medium and Large ones, and d20s beyond that. And yes, a shuttle will kick your behind. Instead of providing ship-rules, the book elects to treat the shuttle as a cohesive entity, which is an understandable decision, though it also means that the engine does not let you engage in starship combat in a manner that offers things to do for the PCs. In short, the book does not really cover starship combat. This is no bad thing, but I considered it worth mentioning. Armor adheres to the standard proficiency rules and generally does not require power cells. We get the classic bubble shields (YES!) and force shields…and there is another thing I loved seeing: The book actually features POWER ARMOR.

Mechanized armor, or mechs, require class 4 power cells, and two of them are provided. And yes, they are as potent as you’d expect. The rules are very smooth – apart from lightning damage, you are pretty secure inside the suit, and since the rules are pretty simple and easy to grasp, they practically demand being hacked, so if you wanted to play a Gundam-style campaign in 5e, this is where you’ll want to flex your design muscles. I love these, since the suit can be destroyed, sure, but it can also allow the pilots to alternate between grittier gameplay and using the machines to deal with more dangerous targets than their level would allow for. These suits btw. REQUIRE proficiency with them, which brings me to a really clever aspect of the book, one of the main selling points: The tech comprehension rules.

You see, everyone can theoretically use the tech featured herein – provided they understand it! So no, there is no feat/class/etc.-buy-in required, which is a great decision. Instead, you need to make Intelligence checks to understand items, and e.g. having seen it in action HELPS. The first success yields an understanding how it works, the second lets the PC use that item….but not with proficiency, which does require conscious buy-in on parts of the players. This is yet another seamless continuation of 5e design aesthetics. Love it. 17 feats are provided, and include gaining proficiency with mechanized armors, better scavenging, etc. – and considering the power-levels of the items in question, these buy-ins and benefits are sufficiently pronounced to warrant a feat-expenditure.

So yeah, in case you haven’t noticed: I consider the first 75 or so pages of this book to be a truly resounding success in pretty much every way.

The second part of the book, the 36 pages of bestiary, are ones that might leave you slightly more ambivalent, but let me explain. The book introduces the alien creature type, which introduces a sharp dividing line between the humanoids herein, and the ones established in the standard fantasy context. This is easy enough to navigate and make a call on. I have a more pronounced issue. So far, the book has been very much meticulous in its precision. In the bestiary, this precision flounders. Not to the point where the overall functionality of the components would be negatively-impacted, but to the point where discernible errors can be found. A bunch of them.

The very first statblock, the aglothian raider, for example, has both Acrobatics and passive Perception off by 1. – at Dexterity 15, the creature should have +4 Acrobatics, not +3 (+2 proficiency modifier, +2 Dexterity). The brainwashed assassin has a correct Perception value noted, but their passive Perception is, curiously, off by 1. The buewix average damage value is one less than it should be (3.5 x3 +3 = 13, not 12)…and you can find such minor hiccups in quite a lot of the statblocks. This is, alas, not the exception. One of the saving throws off by one here, a skill off there– the majority is intact and correct, but there are consistently hiccups here. And it’s WEIRD. Seriously weird. The Eo demolition trooper is missing their attack values for grenades, and I can continue pointing out such glitches. After the phenomenal, precise, first part of the book, this was a rather unwelcome surprise to me, to be honest.

There is another issue, which is the one instance where the book violates established design tenets of 5e: The bestiary assigns HD according to some principle that eludes my grasp. It’s not governed by species, since two members of the same species use different HD. There is no general rule I could discern regarding the HDs used in the builds featured herein. In case you didn’t know: 5e assigns creature HD based on size, not creature type – all Medium creatures have d8s, all Large ones d10s, etc. That’s the reason why e.g. the archmage default NPC from the Monster Manual has d8 HD, same as assassin, or bandit captain.

Conclusion: Formatting is excellent and impressive throughout. Editing is a bit of a different question: In the first part of the book, it is precise and thoroughly impressive; in the bestiary chapter, the quality of the mechanical integrity takes a dip. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book sports a lot of full-color artwork, which ranges in quality from cool to solid. Items tend to be depicted in b/w sketch-like, neat artworks. The cartography is b/w and solid. The pdf-version comes with a printer-friendly version (YEAH!) and a form-fillable character sheet. The hardcover, as noted, is easy to use, courtesy of the differently-tinted pages. The pdf-version comes with bookmarks, but only for chapters, so if you need to skip to a table or specific creature, you’ll have to scroll.

This book was, at least according to what I could find, the freshman offering of Seth Tomlinson, with additional material by Zachary Kronisch. The short stories were contributed by Calvin Christopher, Lilwa Dexel, Connor D. Johnson, Carmenn Alexander King Kocznur, Sean Murray, Joshua M. Patton, Leslie Starr O’Hara, Sarah Wagner and David Webb.

And oh boy, for a freshman offering, this is a frickin’ homerun. This is an inspired book that really shows that the authors know and play 5e; they understand the aesthetics, and execute a massive expansion of the core rules that seamlessly slots into the game and allows you the freedom to customize the material in a way befitting your game. The material is precise, elegant, and well-designed. The rules-section of the book, in short, is exemplary and inspired.

I really wished it was a book of its own.

Not because the bestiary is bad, but because it has flaws and is less refined than the rules section, and not by a bit, but by a noticeable part. Where the rules-section is nigh pitch-perfect, the bestiary, while not bad, falls short of this level of precision and awesomeness. Even without the numerous glitches, this section wouldn’t exactly reach the same level of awesomeness as the first part of the book.

Unfortunately, I can’t rate just the rules or just the bestiary. The bestiary makes it impossible for me to rate this 5 stars as a whole, but I still consider this to be an impressive achievement that makes me want more, which makes me super-pumped about what the authors craft next! This is why my final verdict will be 4 stars, and this is one of the rare cases where a book still gets my seal of approval. If you want to have the tools to add science-fantasy to your 5e-game, get this ASAP – this is worth getting for the rules alone!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Blades & Blasters 5E: Bestiary & Rulebook
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Artifacts & Artifice, Volume 1 (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Infinium Game Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2020 04:21:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive hardcover clocks in at 385 pages of content, already disregarding front-end matter and the like – that’s the content.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a hardcover print copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased, critical review. My review is based on the hardcopy – I do not own the pdf-iteration.

That beings aid, the first 11 pages are there to explain the peculiarities of Infinium Game Studios’ unique approach to game design. These include house rules like using reward stars, but extend beyond that: The book explains its color-coded boxes and icons, and, more importantly, the FlexTale concept of scaling: Statblocks are quadded in 4 categories: Low level (level 1 -4), moderate level (5-8), advanced (10-15) and elite (15+). The notion of quadding applies to statblocks, of course, but also to the respective individual items. This section also presents a random treasure table for use with the book.

The massive book contains a total of 47 different magic items – which does not seem like an awful lot; however, essentially, there are 4 versions for each of the items contained within; picture that like lesser, moderate, mighty and greater iterations, for example. These items sometimes adhere to linear progressions, but the respective items do not necessarily just adhere to just being a sequence of straight increases in bonuses. Each of the items also comes with a so-called “wielder” – that would be a NPC Codex-style NPC that comes with a quadded statblock as well. If the NPC sports a mount or the like, quadded statblocks for said entity are also included. As always with Infinium Game Studios, the NPCs come with cut-copy-pasted rules-texts of class features and the like to reduce page-flipping. The consequence of these inclusions is that you have a ready-made NPC to introduce the item, but on average, that’s also 3 pages, more if familiars etc. are present. The builds themselves tend to fall on the valid side of things, but do not expect to get builds that will challenge groups consisting of power-gamers or ones with a high degree of system- and optimization- mastery. Archetypes are used, but no classes from ACG (not too sad there, admittedly), Occult Adventures, Ultimate Intrigue or Wilderness are included – in short, the builds are pre-ACG.

The amount of detail featured by the items in the book goes beyond the inclusion of NPCs. We have descriptions, effects explained, and each item notes a line of whether it’s part of a synergy set…which not a single item in this book is. Quirks of ownership are also noted, though in the absence of intelligent items, these sections are not necessarily universally useful, and are included due to consistence.

On the more useful side of things, there are notes for the discovery of the respective item, a section that comments on the ubiquity of the item in question, and text that contextualizes the item in-game regarding its notoriety. The items also include oftentimes interesting notes on how the item was developed – we get brief background stories about all items. One of the most useful components of the book is the section on rumors and lore, for there are no less than 4 tables: One is the default context, the second is information gained from key NPCs, one for townsfolk with names, and one for blindly trying to obtain information. These tables further help ground and contextualize the items n the context of the game-world. The book goes beyond that: Each item also comes with VERY detailed notes on hooks for the items in relation to classes, with general hooks included as well. Furthermore, the items come with mini-quests, which are essentially quest-structure outlines. These tend to be better than most adventure sketches one can find in comparable publications.

As for the formatting of the items, the book does an above-average job at properly formatting e.g. the construction notes and the like, but in the run-on-text, the book tends to be less consistent with formatting item- or spell-references, particularly if these do not refer to the respective item in question. It should be evident at this point, that the selling proposition, and the focus of this book, is different from the usual magic item books you’d see in PFRPG or 5e.

Instead of a focus on pure rules, the majority of the content herein is devoted to the context of the item within the framework of the game world; it’s not just about the items, it’s also about how they interact with the world. The default here is Infinium’s Aquilae setting, though there are absolutely no issues integrating them into the frame of fantasy settings. In a way, the aesthetics often can apply to the context of slightly grittier settings as well, focusing on a sense of plausibility. This focus on the context and ease of integration of an item into the game changes, thus, the central focus of the book’s appeal and makes it behave differently than most comparable item-supplements regarding where the value of this supplement comes from.

This is important, because there is one aspect of the book that is pretty consistently, not always, but most of the time, something I consider to be highly problematic: The pricing. The cost to construct in relation to the price is not always correct, and beyond that, the cost is often VERY low. Compared with most other item supplements, the costs to purchase and to create the items in question is atrociously low; to the point where pricing is off to a degree where construction of these should NOT be allowed.

To give you an example for this, let’s compare, shall we? The boots of speed, a standard PFRPG item, let the wearer, as a free action, clicks their heels together for 10 rounds of haste per day. Price? 12,000 gp, half that to create them. In comparison: The dunnari swiftguard helm’s highest incarnation’s benefits are: +10 enhancement bonus to base speed for 12 hours a day (swift action to activate); 5/day spider climb, 5/day haste and 3/day expeditious retreat – all as SPs. The cost for this? 13,500 gp to buy, 7,000 gp to create. You don’t have to be a genius to notice a certain discrepancy regarding power-levels here. This discrepancy is pronounced to the point where the power-level of the items for their price is so badly off, that I strongly suggest not allowing for any of the items herein to be constructed according to the rules presented within this book.

In another magic item book following the usual presentation standards, i.e. just the rules-relevant information, this would suffice to utterly sink the entire tome. Due to the different focus of this tome, though, this might well still retain value to you, courtesy of its holistic approach and focus on context. The book also sports item ideas and concepts that I enjoyed more than I genuinely should, but let us go into the details – what follows will be a detailed, if not exhaustive, discussion of items herein.

We begin with the alchemical collar, and item that lets you ingest potions quicker (swift action for the lowest level version, free action for the others) at the cost of taking damage as the potion is injected. The highest-level version automatically kicks in when dropping unconscious. I like this. There are some issues, though: The item should e.g. have a caveat that makes the taking of the damage required to gain the potion-benefits, and higher level versions can hold more doses and be activated mentally. This item does not require a free hand, and is, even in its lowest power-level, is superior to e.g. the Accelerated Drinker feat, which requires holding the potion and requiring a move action. So this one is interesting, but needs some tweaking. This is also funny, considering that the potion gorget covers pretty much the same niche, but behaves more like a potion-strawhat. Less problematic, but also less interesting.

That being said, the next item is one that can be crucial for a certain character concept: The bandicoot sheath lets you draw or store increasing numbers of wands as a swift action, and the more potent versions slightly recharge wands in them. Since Quick Draw expressively prohibit using it in conjunction with the feat, this item is a wandslinger tool. Speaking of which: There is a super-cool Batman utility-belt-style item called the bandolier of options; I genuinely liked this one, and don’t have serious complaints beyond the pricing component here. The toolwebbing also is such utility belt, but it behaves as such not as a kind of bag of holding, but instead as a kind of omnitool.

There is the belt of dark knives, a belt that produces daggers, which can be used in melee or ranged combat, with the higher versions allowing for the adding of enhancement bonuses and granting the Distance Thrower feat. An issue here: You can RAW sell the daggers. The item should have a caveat that prevents sale of daggers drawn. The book also sports cursed items, such as the diadem of despair, which not only can grant control, it can drive those attempting to divest themselves of it insane. As you can see, while the execution per se tends to not always be perfect, the concepts tend, generally, to be interesting. The thighknife garter is an item that also lets you draw weaponry quicker (with the respective feats granted), and nets an untyped bonus to concealing the item – that should be typed. The blink greaves have a limited activation duration per day, and net you BOTH concealment and increasing daily durations of invisibility and at higher levels, shadow walk.

The ferngirdle nets a “competency” [sic!] bonus (the book otherwise tends to get bonus types right, fyi) to Knowledge (nature) checks, and also enhances the “DC of spells cast by the wearer with the Plant or Animal domain” – I assume that to apply only to the domain spells. The girdle also nets Natural Spell and Shaping Focus in its highest iteration. The higher the iteration, the higher the druid spell level that may be cast sans material components. (Weird, fyi: Why not have set-bonuses with e.g. the headdress of the fern priestess obviously part of the deal.)

The gloomsheath poisons items put inside, with low, percentile chances of self-poisoning for re-applying poisons to it. Straightforward. The vorpal scabbard (should not be called “vorpal” – that word means something else in PFRPG) nets weapons drawn from it with increasing enhancement bonuses for a few rounds, with the higher two versions also making them keen.

I REALLY like the grimcollar: On self-application of the item, it nets pretty massive bonuses to Intimidate and Sense Motive (up to +8), but whenever a check is failed, the item provides progressively worse negative conditions for a few rounds. Additionally, when applied by a master, the item makes the wearer more susceptible and changes their behavior towards the individual. I have not seen such a take on the concept. I like it. On the other hand, the magekiller helm imposes a -1 penalty to the wearer, and all abilities deal 1 hp damage to the wearer per round of activation.

The mortal pendant is an amulet that has a percentile chance of making you recover hit points for foes slain; oddly, the first and third iteration net temporary hit points, while the 2nd and 4th version heal. That’s weird. Hand me my bag of kittens to slaughter. On the plus side, the mistskin suit has a pretty extended ability, the mistfloat, which essentially makes you a smudge at the edge of your foe’s vision, visible, but not easy to define – this not entirely incorporeal state is very potent, but also dangerous, as being trapped in rock, or being reduced to partial space will be potentially fatal.

The spellbinder sheath is applied to wands, and nets you the free benefits of metamagic feats applied to the wands’ effect, with the higher level versions allowing for the application of multiple metamagic effects at once. These have a daily limit, and in the case of the most potent one, that’d be 5/day Enlarge Spell, 5/day Extend Spell, 3/day Empower Spell, and 2/day Maximize Spell. It should be noted that each item comes with a really impressive full-color artwork – this is particularly relevant in the context of e.g. the bleakmoth mask, a delightfully disturbing albino-moth mask that nets darkvision and some darkness-related SPs. The item’s effects are nothing special, but the visuals, the aesthetic? They’re awesome. The dreadhawk visor is another really aesthetically-pleasing item – essentially a kind of bird-skull-y mask, which not only nets darkvision, but also up to +6 to attack and damage rolls. And up to +7 to Perception check, with bonus type switching from morale bonus to luck. Cost: 13,800 gp. Contrast with the dunnari promise choker, which nets you up to a +4 insight bonus to AC and +2 Charisma, costing 60,000 gp.

Speaking of genuinely good ideas – what about essentially magical ablative brittle barding that may be falling apart, but it also hurts those foolish enough to assault the mount. I like many items here in concept, but in the execution, there are issues to be found. Take a really cool one, the corset of last resort. This item causes negative things to happen to those that can’t keep their hands to them, with triggering as an immediate action; low acid damage, electricity damage, and poison. In the highest iteration, the effect that can be triggered is 100 negative energy damage, half as much on a successful save. This works 5/week. Get eaten, kill monster. (As another example for the pricing being broken: That version costs 18,500 gp, 8,450 to create…) Corsetshield armor also is something for contexts where armor wouldn’t work, and nets an armor bonus for a limited amount of minutes (30 to 240) per day.

Corvanni shouldergarbs net bonuses versus attacks while flat-footed. The crimson parade armor is strange: It’s a leather armor that nets, in its best version, a +8 to AC. This would be the equivalent of a +6 enhancement bonus (or bracers of armor +6, 36K gold); it also nets you a +2 natural armor bonus to AC (stacks) AND a +2 shield bonus to AC. Also +4 morale bonus to ALL saves (equivalent of 16K gold) AND +6 to Diplomacy and Intimidate. This version costs 110,000 GP. And it’s one item, which would seem okay, right? However, the item’s bonus types stack with the usual candidates, and this item at the very least freed up 3-4 item slots. And remember: This item has NO enhancement bonus.

On the other hand, we get items like the rampart shield: A shield +3 that should have been designated as a tower shield, which nets you a 40% chance for ranged attacks targeting you, DR 10/magic versus ranged attacks, 3/day wind wall and 1/day repel wood. It’s a conceptually cool one, but why is it not properly codified as a tower shield? That’s relevant for proficiencies! Or is that supposed to be an almost-tower-shield? It obviously should be a tower shield, when RAW, it’s a normal shield with the base stats of a tower shield!

At this point you probably have a pretty good overview of the glitches that haunt the mechanical aspects of this book.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are better than what you’d expect for a micro-outfit such as Infinium Game Studios, but there are quite a few issues in the details. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard we know from the other Infinium books. The artworks deserve special mention: The book sports a lot of top-tier full-color artworks for the items, often to the point where they really make me want to use them. I can’t comment on the virtues, or lack thereof, of the pdfs. The hardcover is sturdy and massive.

J. Evans Payne and Bernie McCormick have crafted a book that I genuinely should hate. There are a lot of issues with many of the items herein, most of them stemming from a lack of understanding regarding the functionality of enhancement bonuses of items, and the fact that there are very clear correlations between what type of item should deliver what kind of bonus. Beyond stacking and exploits, there is a reason why magic items use qualities and enhancement bonus equivalents and the like, and the value of slots, of bypassing the caps imposed on item power via non-enhancement bonus types – all of that makes this book deeply problematic on a rules level.

And yet, I’d genuinely have a hard time mentioning a single item herein that doesn’t have at least one component that I consider to be interesting. The focus on the context on lore, and the concepts underlying these items, both are often interesting, and dare I say it, inspiring in quite a bunch of instances. This notwithstanding, this tome is a flawed book.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this, will be very much contingent on the value you place on the lore, rumors, background and the like in direct contrast to the mechanical issues. As a reviewer, though, I need to rate this book in its entirety, and as such, I can’t just close my eyes before the rules issues. If the rules components are your primary interest here, I can’t recommend this book. If the concepts and magic items less as a commodity, and more as unique items within a world’s frame are more important, this might well be right up your alley. In the end, this is a book with some highlights, but also some real shade. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Artifacts & Artifice, Volume 1 (Pathfinder)
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Thunderscape: Saints & Sinners
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2020 06:33:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the class-centric Thunderscape supplements clocks in at 43 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, first of all – this book deals with the thaumaturge and fallen classes of the Thunderscape setting; I assume familiarity with them in my review. Secondly, while this is a class-centric supplement, it does not necessarily focus JUST on new mechanics – we kick this off with in-character prose, and indeed, the book defines the classes within the context of the world of Aden to a degree beyond what you’d usually see.

We do learn how it is to be a member of these classes in Thunderscape’s setting, both as member of a party, and within the context of the various societies of the setting. The respective, exceedingly well-written entries do not differentiate between Pre- and Post-Darkfall attitudes to the extent as in e.g. Law & Destiny, but this does not change that the supplement provides a lot of lore and context that makes the classes feel more like parts of a greater whole. I really enjoy this way of linking setting and crunch.

Speaking of crunch – let us begin with the fallen, shall we? As you know, the class is very much defined by essentially a bloodline-like ability-suite called “stigma”, and 10 new ones are presented. Yes. 10. Each of these come with 5 bonus feats to choose, two special abilities, and a suite of stigma abilities, with 2 provided, most of the time, for 4th level, 7th level, 10thlevel, 13th level, 16th level and 19th level. There are instances where higher level abilities only net one. Going through all abilities point by point would bloat this review beyond usefulness, so I’ll instead give you and overview. Apparition nets you negative energy or cold damage inflicting touch attacks, and later nets self-only invisibility, fly and high level turning incorporeal. The claws can be upgraded, obviously. Cataclysm is about withstanding – as such, it fortifies you versus being knocked prone, lets you stomp to knock targets prone, call forth magma elementals, create pits, earth glide etc. Drake is a dragon-apotheosis angle (which has a minor formatting snafu at one point, with a lower caps “reflex” save; the drowned stigma nets you water-themed SPs and better grappling, including grab. Midnight is the stealth HiPS-gaining one, including darkness, shadow conjuration, etc. Rimeweaver, unsurprisingly, is the cold-themed stigma, including minor terrain control, slowing targets, etc.

The sanguine stigma lets your torment cause bleeding damage, animate blood…and if you have kittens on your hand, you gain infinite fast healing. sigh needless exploit there, particularly since assuming blood form is such a cool angle. Scrapheap lets you integrate equipment into your body and is perhaps one of the cooler machine-apotheosis angles I’ve seen in a while. Stormwracked is about agility, with an increased base speed and Acrobatics as class skill, as well as air- and electricity-themed tricks. Withered, finally, might be another one of the really interesting ones, as it allows you to keep enemies from charging/running; it deals with time and space, particularly time, including combo’d haste and slow, for example.

As for supplemental material, particularly items, we have the darkforged bindings, which allow you to easily perceive the frightened and track them; an elixir of normalcy acts as a veil stigma. The hide of hellish fury makes them count as three levels higher for the purpose of stigma abilities. Trait-wise, we have 8 new traits, all classified as background traits. Vicious and Horrifying are two relevant for the fallen, enhancing torment DC or +1 scourge damage; the latter should be a trait bonus, not untyped. The other traits apply to the thaumaturge: +1 DC for an aspect, proficiency with a bonded legend, bonus to Diplomacy with them (again, type missing), and shedding light. Beyond these, we have counting as +1 BAB higher for a feat, and Disguise sans the usual penalty for pretending to be another race.

The pdf provides two engine-tweak-style archetypes: The chimeric fallen loses all bonus feats and toughened, but gets to choose two stigmas, gaining all 1st level abilities, with later levels requiring the PC to choose which one to take, and you suffer an additional -2 to Disguise to represent your nature. The Carnivore archetype also loses the fallen’s usual bonus feat array, and instead gets feast of the damned: As a full-round action, they can absorb the essence of a corpse of a being that has only been dead an hour or less. You get to choose an ability from a massive table, provided you meet the prerequisites. Essentially, this is a surprisingly well-crafted take on the blue mage angle. There are also 9 supplemental feats for the fallen: Agonizing Wave lets you impose the tormented condition (and only it) as a move action to all adjacent targets. Hungry Torment nets you a free action use of torment when reducing a tormented creature to 0 hp. Greater Torment increases torment and suffering ability DCs by 1. Nightmare Smite lets you expend two suffering uses to lace suffering into an attack, with a +1 to the DC. Stigmatic Mastery nets you additional uses for stigma-based abilities, differentiating between uses gained for daily abilities or those you can execute more often – kudos there. Terrible Charge lets you spend suffering to make a full attack at the end of a charge…which is basically a better limited-use pounce, and should probably have a higher minimum level. Torment’s Reach lets you apply scourge damage via ranged weapons when targeting tormented enemies. Withering glare nets you an AC-bonus against tormented enemies Finally, Wrath of the Fallen lets you entangle, fatigue, frighten, nauseated, blind or stun targets those that incur conditions from your suffering.

The pdf includes two fully depicted NPCs with fully realized background stories – Iago Vesten an echo fallen with the horror stigma, and Ariana Dell, a human fallen with the rimeweaver stigma. The thaumaturge NPCs are Gudrun, a jurak thaumaturge, and Ivana Vetrov, a saint adept. These note bound legends in their stats, as well as aspects typically prepared. As usual for Thunderscape, the statblocks are actually a bit more detailed than usual, and thus deviate a bit from the standards, calling e.g. racial abilities and favored class options explicitly out. I like this notion. All NPCs come in three iterations – one at first level, one at 6th level, and one at 12th level. The statblocks are per se solid, though I did notice a few minor snafus.

The thaumaturge gets a serious amount of content herein: 15 new thaumaturge legends are included herein, ranging from the Arcadian to Faceless, Kraken, Sentinel…the interesting aspect here, indubitably, is that the requirements for the respective legends, such as not speaking when drawing upon the Beast, often act as a roleplaying balancing-based tool for the per se potent legends included here. The Faceless makes you a great social chameleon, but if someone sees through your disguise, you’re on your own; the demon and champion’s tenets are incompatible; in comparison, the more down to earth fencer withdraws when you wield a weapon that is not light or one-handed. The magister has no requirement, while the kraken retreats when you spend more than an hour out of water – get it? The proficiencies, feats, spirit points and BAB generally make sense, though it should be noted that the new legends tend to be better than e.g. the Diplomat. Of particular note: The martyr lets you regain uses of legends or heals your spirit damage when withdrawing – which is pretty much a gamechanger. That being said, the rules-language here is a bit opaque – it took me a some close-reading to deduce how this fellow works.

The pdf then proceeds to present a huge amount of new aspects – unless I have miscounted, 18 of them. And these introduce a pretty cool innovation: A lot of aspects herein have so-called resonances, which are aligned with certain legends, changing how they operate. Let’s take the aspect of vigor as an example: The passive effect lets you recover 1d10 spirit damage when consuming an aspect and rendering it inactive. The consume effect lets you, as a standard action, recover 1d6 HP per level, maximum 10d6. If you, however, have the Immortal, said legend’s Spirit Points are increased to 4+2 per level, the passive benefits of the aspect increase tor recovering 2d10 spirit points, and you can consume the aspect to draw upon the Immortal as a free action if it is currently inactive, replacing the active legend. This addition of the resonance engine radically enhances the way in which the thaumaturge class plays, rewarding thematic consistency with combo-potential. I really like this. It cements the Thunderscape thaumaturge class as an, in many ways, better iteration of the medium-concept. Beyond these, we also have 14 new greater aspects, which follow a similar design paradigm, making the thaumaturge the definite “winner” as far as the book is concerned. Indeed, the inclusion of the resonance concept is a pretty significant incision into the chassis, and imho suffices in its extent to warrant potentially a revision of the core book’s aspects regarding an addition of resonance options.

Indeed, as much as I love the new thaumaturge material, it should be noted that rebalancing the entire class chassis to account for the new options would have been prudent, as the thaumaturge has, with these options, all the makings of something truly outstanding. Don’t get me wrong – the new and improved thaumaturge with these options is impressive, it seriously is. If you take an in-depth take of the combos and components, you will notice some inner-class power-discrepancies here and there, though. Still, big kudos for how this improves the thaumaturge.

As far as supplemental material is concerned, we get the mythwrought armor special ability that enhances the duration of aspect or legend effects; the weapon-version sets the weapon ablaze after consuming aspects. Terrifying weapons deal bonus cold damage and increase fear effect durations. Channeler icons let you replenish aspects, pearl of power style, while enhanced books of saints and sinners allow for legend-swapping (unlike the mundane version). Rings of mystic proxy help using scrolls by consuming aspects. As far as the equipment is concerned, we have outfits that designate you as infected (and nobody looks closely at them…), relics, incense that lets you focus on concentration, war paint and taxidermist kits. Oh, and there is a new artifact, which is essentially a chaotic evil Hellraiser-box, Garquorin’s Terrible Puzzle Box. As a note: The magic item section this time around oddly seems to be missing a couple of italicizations in the run-on-text. Nothing serious, but noticeable in the context of the overall book.

We also have 4 feats intended for thaumaturges: Ancestral Guidance nets each bonded legend an additional bonus feat. Extra Legend does what it says on the tin, Soul of Sacrifice lets you exchange a legend at the start of the day for two aspects, and Thaumaturgical Focus increases thaumaturge class ability DCs by 1. We also get two archetypes, the first of which is the saint adept, who gets a paladin code of honor, and 4 + Int skills per level, but only half the thaumaturge’s usual legends, rounded down, +1- 3rd level makes them choose a legend as saintly benefactor, which nets a bonus form a variety of choices, with 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter yielding an additional improvement. This replaces manifest legend. 9th level nets a 1/week commune instead of saving grace. 17th level allows for temporarily gaining the half-celestial template while drawing upon the saintly benefactor. The second archetype, the soulless, goes the other round – instead of focusing on specialized legends, the soulless doubles the number of legends. There is a glitch in the rules-syntax here, when “legend” is used instead of “level” at one point, but that as an aside. The available spirits are determined randomly each day, and when not drawing upon legends, they are staggered! OUCH! I actually really like this. This “full house” allows the soulless to use saving grace more often, and e.g. use legends to transfix opponents in a dramatic manner. I so want to play this fellow. I love this archetype.

Beyond that, we have the Legends domain for clerics, which essentially lets you dip in aspects, and, later, even a legend. The Nightmare sorcerer bloodline is easily the weakest piece of crunch in the book – it’s just another fear-themed bloodline, and an uneven one, with +6 to Intimidate at first level, frightful presence, etc. – not the biggest fan. Beyond the usual roleplaying tips, we get a couple of cool ideas regarding the fallen and their burden, quirks and eccentricities, and we close with detailed, well-crafted origin-tables in the vein of Ultimate Campaign for the two classes.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting oscillates between excellent (most of the book) to good, with few flaws, though these rare ones do sometimes influence rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the book sports fantastic full-color artworks. To my utter baffling surprise, the supplement lacks any bookmarks, which makes navigation a total pain. Particularly since we first get both class chapters, and THEN the items, feats, archetypes, etc. for BOTH, necessitating some serious skipping around. I am not a fan of this organization.

Rich Wulf, Chris Koch and Shawn Carman deliver a pretty impressive book here; while I generally consider the new material for the fallen nice, it was, to my surprise, the context of the class in Aden, the setting-relevant aspects, that excited me most. Then again, the thaumaturge did steal the show with the inclusion and solid implementation of the resonance-sub-engine. If you even remotely are interested in playing a thaumaturge, you need to get this book right now. This book, more so than any previous Thunderscape-supplement I’ve reviewed, walks the line to true greatness. However, as much as I love several aspects herein, there also are a few filler pieces here, a few typo level glitches that can slightly impede the ability to parse the rules at once.

And yet, I have always valued creativity and high concept over e.g. penalizing a BAB off by two in a statblock; this might not be perfect, but I can’t bring myself to rounding down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, which is why I will round up. If you enjoy these classes, get this right now.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape: Saints & Sinners
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Cha'alt Pre-Generated
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2020 06:32:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters, and to supplement the review of the Cha’alt tome, which’ll hit sites soon.

So, first thing you need to know – these pregens work not only for Cha’alt, but also for other games using the Crimson Dragon Slayer D20-rules; there are 27 such pregens provided, and all are made for first level. Some background information does tie the characters to specific locations in Cha’alt.

The pregens state the class-dependent HP, the name, race, class and alignment. As a minor nitpick: The class refers to “Sorcerer”, when Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 called the class “Wizard.” The more detailed paragraphs for each pregen notes something “Noteworthy”, which may be speaking in infernal tongues, never forgetting a face or the like. There are also races beyond the standard mentioned in Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 (no surprise there, since Cha’alt sports a TON of weird elven races!), including lesser demons, which are immune to heat, fire and poison, but take double damage from cold attacks and need to consume blood and flesh for nourishment. The pdf also features classes like barbarian (12 HP) and Monk (6 HP) – these are kinda problematic, in that they include rules for these “classes” in the pregens – that’s not per se bad, but I think the like should be in the rules-pdf, and balanced versus those.

It should also be noted that the monk-class makes use of Cha’alt’s basic psionics engine (pg 50 of said book); without this engine, you’ll need to do some handwaving there. There is also e.g. an assassin pregen, who gets a fighter’s class level bonus to atk and damage AND a thief’s backstab (which has still not been properly codified). Sure, the assassin only gets 6 HP/level, but yeah – these rules should imho be in the rules-pdf, not in the pregen.

The second thing that the pdf includes in slightly more detail, would be the character’s belongings – these are generally sufficiently varied, but I did notice an instant of a thief sans thieves’ tools and a cleric sans holy symbol – two basic components of gear that the other characters of the classes do have.

The pdf then presents rules for divine favor: One point of divine favor may be gained per session, up to a maximum of 3. This replaces the default Inspiration-rules, and the pdf states how you gain these points by alignment. The agencies of Cha’alt’s old gods (and new gods) are explained – the old gods adhere to Crowley’s famous axiom “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” – these individuals seek to become deities, while the new gods attempt to return and form a unio mystica with the omnipotence of the universe – somewhat akin to how many New Age shamanism-like beliefs champion a mystic union and death of the “I”. Essentially a question of fierce individualism vs. fierce collectivism – I think this is an interesting angle.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good on as rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the pdf presents pregen-stats in card-like form; print a page, cut it up, viola, several pregens to hand out. As for artworks, we get aesthetically-pleasing cosplay photos of both females and males, as well as a one-page, pretty nightmarish demon-thing. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a minor comfort-detriment, but okay at this length.

I like Venger As’Nas Satanis’ pregens, and they’re FREE, which definitely adds to their appeal. Personally, I think that the primary shortcoming here is, that it jams class information that should be in the core pdf instead right into the pregens. These classes can also be significantly better than the Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 core classes: Barbarians can e.g. rage class level times per day, doubling damage and hit points until the combat ends. This makes no sense, since “combat ends” is not a viable time metric – beat a goblin to pulp in a minute? Rage ends. Fight for 2 hours against endless demonic legions? Rage ends. Same resource-expenditure. Per-encounter mechanics make no sense in game without being grounded in time. The barbarian’s downside is that they need to save to use magic or tech, or be unable to do so “until the next scene.” You get the idea. The new classes need some finetuning to bring either their rules-language, or their power-level in line with the core classes.

Oh, and the divine favor rules? They should be in the Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 pdf, not herein!

As a whole, I’d consider this to be a solid, if not perfect example of a pregen book, mainly because it jams material into the file that simply doesn’t belong here. While this would usually make me settle for rounding down, my final verdict will instead round up due to this being FREE, resulting in a verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Cha'alt Pre-Generated
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Falls Keep (5E)
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/16/2020 06:31:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This Fail Squad Games Side Quest comes with boxed read-aloud text, and a total of 6 rumors can be used for foreshadowing, or to reward player characters for doing the proper legwork. The module features a couple of astounding full color artworks – Lloyd Metcalf is an artist, and it shows – I particularly loved the artwork depicting the eponymous Falls Keep: Near a guard tower, a low, square place, intentionally designed regarding windows and entry to elicit skull-like associations without being ridiculous, rests among stunning waterfalls that made my heart ache for some places in the United States or Scandinavia. I Love this artwork, and I’m seriously curious why it’s not on the cover. The cartography is a hand-drawn full-color map for the lead-in-encounter, and that map has no scale. Falls Keep itself sports a little full-color overview map for the outside, and b/w interior cartography – which does sport grids. To my chagrin, no key-less player-friendly versions are included.

I did like the inclusion of a visual puzzle, which is represented in three different artworks regarding clues…which brings me to a curious decision: Why not have these rendition in an art-appendix, so referees can print it out, cut it up, and show it to the players? As written, I need to print several pages and cut out these visual representations from the module.

This version of the module is penned for D&D 5e, for 4-5 PCs. Or at least, it formally purports to be. The module is missing pretty much every instance of something that should be in italics, saves and checks are persistently formatted in the wrong way, and while the module contains a couple of statblocks, there are SERIOUS glitches in ALL of them. These range from improperly calculated attack values, incorrect damage averages, to damage types missing… or what about the BBEG’s statblock missing senses that he supposedly has an explanation for why he can’t be surprised. DCs are incorrectly calculated, there is an instance of something hidden missing a DC to find it, and there is an instance, where item durability is relevant…missing a damage threshold. In short: The 5e-rules are a sloppy mess; not in a gamebreaking manner, but in one that is seriously jarring if you’re anything like me and care about the like. You only want to dive further if you don’t mind that.

Genre-wise, Falls Keep hits closer to the dark fantasy side of things, sporting an instance where children might be slain, as well as a tragedy. It never devolved into grimdark territory, though. If you need a reference, I found myself most reminded of e.g. Tim Shorts’ less grim work, as featured in the Manor-‘zine. While 5e lets you choose whether to kill or subdue vanquished foes, I still strongly suggest bringing a paladin along, for lay on hands is one of the only ways to reliably cure diseases at a low level. The module is not exactly super-hard in this iteration, but it is no cakewalk either – PCs can very well die, and more importantly, be maimed permanently at one point.

Okay, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential GMs should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the module kicks off in the vicinity of the Wheatwey farm, where the PCs are attacked by hens in a blind rage – these hens are cursed. These are a precursor of the things to come, namely two cursed children currently devouring a farmhand they dragged up into the tree near the well. The well contains strangely radiating water, which, as it turns out, is the source of the berserker-rage-inducing curse. (As an aside: The curse can be mitigated via remove curse, dispel magic or cure disease. This is my aforementioned gripe with the suggested level-range: The farm contains further cursed individuals, and without a paladin (who can use lay on hands to cure diseases – I assume that counts!), the group will not have a way to cure the cursed, save to put them out of their misery. Considering that there are cursed kids involved, this begins on a pretty darn dark note.

Anyhow, by carefully checking the strange, cursed farmstead, the PCs will be able to deduce the source of the contaminated water, namely the tower of the mad lord Venwexal, who retreated into it to escape the rebels during a recent uprising, sealing the keep behind him. Okay, so, what if the PCs cast purify food and drink on the affected? What about lesser restoration or any other more likely option that PCs at this level should have? In many ways, this does not make use of 5e’s potential to a degree I’d consider to be satisfactory.

Venwexal’s survival is explained by an escape to the Lands of Lunacy (not required to run this, fyi)…and so, the PCs, provided they can best some worgs, gather clues from the remains of the Wheatwey farmer who perished here and the guardpost. Perceptive PCs can find a parchment and markings that hold the key to solving the puzzle required to enter Venwexal’s tower. As a curious aside: Cursed farm animals are MUCH more lethal than the worgs! The tower holds 9 holes, with handles, and the correct ones need to be turned in the right direction – trying to bruteforce this will btw. cost you your appendage, which can be pretty nasty. In 5e particularly, that is not something you’d usually do. Rules-wise, this trap uses a check instead of a save to mitigate, has an incorrect damage value, and does not format its magic blade properly. Speaking of which: The blades that cut off the appendages can’t RAW be disarmed or removed, or bypassed by magic, which rubbed me the wrong way as railroading. It should also be noted that the blades are, as written, +1 blades, and yet, the PCs have no means of removing them.

Things turn a bit sour in Venwexal’s tower, though. There is a metal rod causing AoE-blasts of electricity (it’s not called “electrical damage” – there’s no such thing in 5e; that’s lightning damage, FFS), and there are animated items – an armor, a table and a firepoker – with the latter using the stats for a flying sword. Spell/item-references here are not properly set in italics, and then, there’s the super railroady finale: Venwexal has 32 Hit Points and while his spell array in 5e makes him MUCH more interesting than the OSR-TPK-machine, the mad wizard has another issue: His addled state is due to a glowing rock that deals damage to those striking it. The stone has 60 HP, and notes no AC to hit, nor a damage threshold. Considering that destroying it is supposed to be the “good” way to solve the module, as it allows Venwexal to come to his senses, this is somewhat appalling. The stone orb’s destruction also makes the magical taint causing the curse to lift, but RAW does not end the cursed state of those affected.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are bad on a formal and rules-language level; they disregard, left and right, 5e-conventions, eking out a barely passable, and only because the average GM can run this as written. It’s not as bad as Marathon of Heroes, but it’s pretty close. Anyhow: You can run this. Layout adheres to a green-tinted two-column full-color standard, and as noted, the artworks presented are definitely my highlight of the book. A more printer-friendly version is included in the deal. Cartography is okay, and the lack of player-friendly maps is a bit sad. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t necessary need them at this length.

Lloyd Metcalf’s adventure Falls Keep starts off on a potentially pretty dark note, but one I’d generally like, were it not for the fact that the author obviously has serious issues with 5e’s finer rules components. Formatting is all over the place, and considering 5e’s simple math, there is no excuse for getting ALL stats wrong in some manner. Structurally, the railroading into the final encounter is okay, but both the BBEG’s spells and the environment make me marvel at the lack of lair actions, which are pretty self-evidently what should be here. If you can stomach the deeply-flawed formal criteria, there is a decent module to be found here, but much to my chagrin, the adventure, while working RAW/balance-wise better in 5e than for OSR, manages to suffer from a whole array of different issues than the old-school version. I wanted to like this, and just can’t. There is potential here, but it is squandered. 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Falls Keep (5E)
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