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Ships: Heavy Dropship
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/30/2021 08:58:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Galaxy Pirates-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, and the deal also includes a high-res jpg floorplan of a medical shuttle. Let’s take a look!

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

This pdf contains a total of 6 different dropships for your perusal, and these include one-page ship-sheets that already include the respective ship’s stats filled in, serving as ready-to-use handouts. Additionally, a page contains a selection of paper-model stand-up style artwork versions of the ship you see on the cover; the floorplan of the medical shuttle is included in a version that specifies what’s where in the pdf as well, serving as a nice complement to the VTT-ready jpg, which omits that information and thus can be used for other contexts as well. The awesome artwork is presented, handout-style, on a one-page size, handouts-ready, as well.

Each of the 6 ships features a brief introductory note on how they are used, a statblock, some ship notes and sample names (nice!), and a Computers-table full of DCs (EDIT: Typo in pdf was fixed), so that’s what we get structurally.

Regarding the respective ship tiers, we’re moving in the lower tier-section, ranging from tier 1 to tier 3, with all classified as small shuttles. The standard tier 1 heavy dropship is powered by an arcus light power core, and sports basic short-range sensors; it features mk 4 armor and defenses, as well as a mk 1 tetranode computer; S8 thrusters provide proper perfect maneuverability. No drift engine for the basic version, and three cargo holds. Basic 20 shields are applied in a 3:2 ratio to forwards/aft : port/starboard. Offense capabilities would be provided by a forwards-facing coilgun.

For the tier 2 heavy arms dropship, the shields are upgraded to basic 30, with the shields on port and starboard almost as well-developed as those on front and back. Beyond the crew being better, the primary change here would be that the offense has changed to featuring linked coilguns on the forwards-facing side. The increased power requirement of shields is satisfied by a pulse gray power core.

The heavy armored dropship (tier 2 as well) places s single coilgun on a turret, and uses a micromissile battery as the forwards-facing weaponry. Shields are upgraded EDIT: and now properly classified as light 60. For this fellow, we go with only budget short-range sensors, but upgrade armor and defenses to mk 5. A mk 1 duonode computer is in this one; like the heavy arms dropship, it sports 3 cargo holds as expansion bays. Funny: There is a list of irreverent nicknames for these types of ship: From “Anvil Chorus” to “Aerodynamic Brick Express”—that got a chuckle out of me.

The remaining 3 ships are all tier 3: The medical dropship gets light 50 shields with relatively even distribution, the base mk 4 armor and defenses, and a mk 2 trinode computer; the only weaponry here would be the ole’ forwards-facing coilgun, and 3 medical bays underline the focus of this one.

The science exploration dropship (tier 3) has a pulse gray power core with a signal basic hyperdrive and advanced medium-range sensors, and a mk 3 duonode computer. With mk 4 defenses and armor, is suitable regarding defenses for a non-primary combat ship for the tier, and the shields (6 better on forward and aft) also make sense; Good crew quarters make sense for scientists and two labs plus environmentally-sealed chamber as expansion bays certainly make sense as far as the designated use is concerned. Offensive capabilities would be provided by a turret coilgun.

The recon dropship uses the heavy armored dropship’s offensive capabilities, and also has the signal basic hyperdrive; as noted previously, we have 60 shields, which are distributed identically to the science exploration dropship; we have a mk 3 mononode computer, and also retain the science exploration vessel’s good quarters. Defenses are upgraded to mk 5, and sensors are improved to advanced long-range sensors. The science-vessel’s labs and sealed chamber have been replaced with cargo holds. EDIT: Computers check DC table has been fixed.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting EDIT: have significantly improved, getting rid of some typo-level glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, which, while in color, remains relatively easy to print, and the ship-sheets are really handy; similarly, the inclusion of a deck plan in full color, including a VTT-friendly, key-less version, is awesome. Weird issue, probably only on my desktop PC, as I haven’t been able to duplicate it elsewhere: The colors of that jpg display correctly for a second when opened, then switch to their negative values. The VTT is tried this with got rid of the issue, though. Just figured I’d mention it. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length, and the dropship artwork provided is awesome (seems to be the heavy arms dropship, fyi).

I really appreciate the ships provided by Paul Fields and Jim Milligan; they take some time off my hands, and help when one needs to improvise; plus, I always maintain that SFRPG needs MOAR ships. And ship plans. Lots more. That being said, I am somewhat less enamored with this installment than with the best of the previous ones. A little bit more variation between the different types of dropship would have been nice to see. EDIT: As a whole, for the low price, and considering the neat plan + artwork, there isn't anything to really complain about, now that the previous hiccups have been taken care of. It's not the strongest of the installments in the series, but it does provide some neat bang for buck. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, but in the end, I think this is closer to 4 than 5, hence I'll be rounding down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ships: Heavy Dropship
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Fronds of Benevolence
Publisher: Melsonian Arts Council
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2021 06:42:20

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page hyperlinked ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 44 pages of content, laid out in booklet size (6’’ by 9’’/A5). My review is based on both the pdf and the offset-printed hardcover-version. Let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my supporters as a prioritized review.

On the interior of the back page, we have a total of 36 common names, and 36 common occupations, which include cockfight referees, thinking engine specialists, etc.; similarly weird in a good way would be a 36-entry table of golden barge meals, and the inside of the front cover provides two d6 tables of rumors, which state that they want the GM to state whether they’re true or false; one d6-table is for the Northern part, the other for the southern part; facing this would be the point-crawl-style flowchart of encounters/regions that the party may explore. A pointcrawl is a way to depict overland adventure: Scripted encounters/locations are noted on the map, travel distances between them as well; it’s like each encounter/location is one dungeon room. Simple and elegant.

In the back of the book, we get a selection of 12 critters/NPCs and their stats, with some of them featuring Mien-sub-tables.

Regarding the theme, this book plays to Troika’s biggest strength: Full-blown strangeness in a playful manner, and the module, ultimately, is a road-trip like journey; it has a branching path of sorts, and is intended for 4 to 6 characters, but it does not focus on a riveting plot or the like. The module starts in the Duchy of Plandra, which is headed by Duke DeCorticus, a benevolent plant-overlord with a complex life-cycle that depends on rare earths; also known as star loam, this substance usually comes from “The Wall”, far to the south; now, no more shall be delivered. Is that due to the crazed pamphlets of seditionists that have been showing up in Plandra? It’s up to the party to secure the earths their patron/deity/ruler requires to survive.

Structurally, this is a broad-strokes type of module; the journey aspect caters to that aspect, and the GM is encouraged to move things along to the best of their ability; this is contrasted with something rather uncommon… …but to comment on that, I need to dive into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, on page p, the timekeeping aspect comes into play: At the module’s start, you roll 4d6; this is how long the Duke’ll have to live. Each day has 4 die-signs showing 6s, and every hour, you fill in a pip. On the pointcrawl page, a specific region lists its travel time, usually in days, to pass through it or to move to a connected locale; this means that, RAW, if the initial 4d6 roll is bad, the module can actually be unwinnable. I intensely dislike this. Say, you roll 4d6 and get 1,1,2,2. Then, the party takes the faster travel option, but might have to wait 1d3 days; the party is lucky and comes up with a 1 day waiting period and rolls travel duration for it: 1d3, comes up as 3. One day left; even with ideal actions by all players, they cannot return to Plandra in time to save the Duke. As an aside: The Duke’s life is on the line—the party should have an express barge set up for them. The delay to even start the journey makes no sense to me. Granted, a pretty bad scenario for the Duke’s life is not that likely, but a minimum value (it’s 6 days, fyi) noted for the GM to save the Duke, or a suggested number for a fair, a tough, an extreme challenge? That’d have been helpful.

Anyhow, I already mentioned branching paths and travel options: The party has two general venues when it comes to traveling from Plandra, first of which would be a Golden Barge; the other being a stilt loper, essentially a massive platform on two goofy mechanical legs. The stilt loper walker can set off right away, but it requires trusting the pilot, and is slower: the very first travel to the first associated area takes 1d6 days. You see where I’m getting at. The randomized deadline doesn’t do the module any favors.

This out of the way, the first of the most likely routes is the one with a stronger intrigue-theme: taking the Golden Barge also means that the party will probably have a fight with a void beast, and there’s a chance that the auric liquidators will attempt to blow up the Barge; these liquidators are the fanatical secret police that serves Green Overseer Feng, the delightfully goofy mastermind behind the brewing sedition and pamphlets denouncing Duke DeCorticus. If the Barge does crash-land, it might end up on an asteroid, which sports the one content-level gripe I could find; the rudimentary culture on this piece of rock is governed by The Calculatronicus, a vast engine capable of firing rays, but which lacks the stats for these rays. The rainbow badlands haunted by the (white) wine-colored raiders would be the second possible location to crash.

Which brings me to a structural nitpick with this module: While there are possible connections between routes and options given for, and where the barge crash-lands is actually noted in a table, there is no real guidance provided there; one silt loper pilot wants to get to the emptied city, which can be reached from the rainbow badlands, the asteroid, and from the eye-bleed badlands, but WHY the party would get there/the connection per se, is weak. The asteroid is another example: It can lead to the rainbow badlands, or to the emptied city, but how? The GM needs to fill in those details.

Thus, as a whole, the module does feel in parts like a well-fleshed out outline, but one that does not sport a consistent connective tissue between all locales, which, admittedly, tend to be outrageous and interesting.

As mentioned before, one way to solve this would be to reach the Wall and best Overseer Feng in his cupola; I generally like this route, but the society atop the wall and the unmapped chambers of the cupola have made this section a bit more opaque than I’d have liked it to be.

The second way to save the Duke would be to find an Yggdrasil-sized tree and reach its roots, where the psychic holy tuber is guarded by 3 undead gardener-knights with unique weaponry, all in a village otherwise only inhabited by grotesque mummies, whose heads have been replaced with roses, which struck me as a truly disturbing and weird imagery.

A big plus of this module would be its significant replay-value; there are many ways to go about solving the module, and e.g. the cultural conflict between the red and white wine-colored raiders is but one of the various strange tidbits; having a species of pseudo-baba-yagas hunt silt lopers? Interesting. Terrain-features with actual impact on gameplay? Nice. I couldn’t help but feel, though, that the module would have been better-served by decreasing the number of locations, and instead providing more details for them…and being consistent in their connective tissues/transitions.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard with a blending of original b/w and full-color artworks in the same style as seen on the cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with the header of each page of the pdf jumping back to the pointcrawl map—nice. The pips of the die-timeline can be marked in the pdf version as well. Kudos! The print version is a solid, well-crafted hardcover.

Andrew Walter provides a nice, fast-paced journey when it works as intended; if the GM consistently pushes the party forward and hasn’t rolled too low on the days-to-live-counter, the module can feel like a truly strange and fascinating roadtrip that taps into the same kind of weirdness that the Troika! core book proposes; hitting this note is impressive. On a downside, if a party does want to think, linger, plan, act methodically, then this module might well be frustrating for the party and GM alike, as the connective tissue between locations, how to actually get from A to B, is more vague than it really needs to be. Quite a lot of pages have between ¼ and 1/2 of a page of free space, so the module certainly had plenty of space to put these final developments in.

In many ways, this module, to me, is slightly frustrating; with one final development pass and some blank spots filled out, this could have easily been a masterpiece. Having a player-friendly map of the pointcrawl, or parts of it, would also have been helpful indeed. In the end of one of the routes, some maps would have been helpful as well.

This adventure is certainly unique, brims with creativity, and has some delightfully outré ideas, but it does lack that final refinement to make everything smoothly gel together; not to the point where an experienced GM is stumped, but certainly to the point where this needs some serious planning to run smoothly. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Fronds of Benevolence
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Files for Everybody: Fighter Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/26/2021 09:12:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction (which does contain new mechanics in the side bar), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with slightly over 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

We begin this pdf with 10 fighter feats for 1st level; among those, the passives are “X Training” feats; Trip Training, Shove Training, Intimidation Training, Feinting Training, Grapple Training and Disarm Training. The design paradigm of these is clear: You use a weapon instead of a skill for a maneuver, provided your weapon has the proper trait, you use an attack roll instead of the respective skill for the maneuver. For the physical maneuvers, this usually means not requiring Athletics, while Deception and Intimidation can be avoided with the respective feats; in these two instances, we also have a modification to prerequisites, allowing you to use a weapon rank’s proficiency rank instead. I am the only one who cares about that, but to me, Demoralize Training would have been a better feat name, and analogue to the other feat names, but that’s just me being OCD, and not a strike against the feats.

The remainder of the 1st-level feats take one action to activate, with Combat Advice being the first: You choose an ally and one opponent and make a fighter roll (explained as 1d20 + proficiency bonus for fighter class DC + key ability modifier); if you succeed, you briefly share proficiency rank for one attack (or until the ally’s next turn on a critical success); on a critical failure, the ally takes a penalty until the start of your next turn. The feat requires both to be within 30 ft, but oddly, not that you actually perceive both.

Parry has the Concentrate trait and lets you make an attack roll, which you compare with the AC of all opponents you’re observing; on a success, the next attack is resolved vs. attack DC (10 + proficiency bonus with used weapon + Strength modifier, or Dexterity modifier if you used a finesse weapon) instead of your AC; on a critical success, this lasts until the start of your next turn, while a critical failure nets you a penalty to AC and Reflex saves against that opponent. This feat is interesting, but it’s also a bit weird, in that it allows the user no control over the enemies against which it applies, save the “observing” caveat; RAW, you check against all opponents, which might end up with you having a critical success against some opponents, and a critical failure against others. Design-wise, I get this decision 100%, but from an in-game logic point, it strikes me as odd, as it potentially rewards limiting your own field of view.

The other 2 first-level feats use a new trait introduced, namely Exhaust; you can only a feat with this trait only once until you take the Rebound Exploration action, which also features the Concentrate trait; one use of Rebound refreshes all your ability to take actions with the Exhaust trait. (That’s the new content on the intro-page, fyi.) EDIT: As an aside, if your group gravitates towards to higher-powered play, an easily-turned balancing screw would be to track Exhaust by feat, and not globally.

Battle Trance would be one of those feats: It has the Exhaust and Stance traits, and it adds deadly equal to the weapon’s damage die to all weapons you wield, and the effect increases as usual for striking weapons; if the weapon already has the deadly or fatal trait, you instead increase the die size by one step. Battle Trance lasts for Constitution modifier rounds and takes one action to activate. Con 14 is a prerequisite to ensure the feat is viable, which also extends to the next feat. For two actions, Second Wind can be used when your current Hit Points are less than your total hit points; this nets you 3 + Constitution modifier temporary hit points that last for 1 minute.

For 2nd level, we have 5 feats: Swift Aid takes an action and can eb sued once per turn, allowing you to Aid attacks of an ally. Which struck me as weird. Pretty sure that the action icon here is wrong, as the vanilla Aid already requires spending an action. Or this was supposed to eliminate the need for the reaction, but I’m not sure here. Size Up lets you Recall Knowledge using Perception, and nets you information on fighting prowess, whether the target uses offensive or defensive fighting styles, etc.; It's nice to see that the control here remains firmly in the GM’s hands. One Step Ahead is a stance and makes you choose an opponent. If said opponent tries to use Manipulate and triggers and AoO, you disrupt the attempt if you hit, and can, on a critical success, even regain your reaction. Stance lasts for 1 round. Bravery is a reaction with the Exhaust trait, and makes a failed fear effect save a success, a success a critical success. Lightning Reload is another Exhaust action (1 action) and requires Dex and Con 14M it makes all trained weapons reload 0 and thrown weapons can thus be drawn as part of the same action as attacking them; the stance lasts for Constitution modifier rounds.

Among the 4th-level feats, we have one that builds on Second Wind, with scaling increases to temporary Hit Points. For one action, Distance Thrower is a stance that increases the distance of weapons you’re a master or legendary with. Half Haft is a stance that lets you one-hand 2-handed melee weapons at the cost of damage die decreasing by one size; when entering of exiting the stance, changing grip appropriately is a free Interact. With the Exhaust trait, we have two feats that also sport the Fortune trait: Unmoving requires wearing armor, and nets you a circumstance bonus to AC, save DC, or saving throw equal to the armor check penalty. I like the idea here; long-term, this is a feat that bears close scrutiny, though. Rebounding Attack is a reaction when you miss a Strike with a weapon you’re an expert with; it nets you a reroll, but can’t do anything for you on critical failures.

For 6th level, we have a total of 7 feats: Boundless Stamina lets you use up to 3 Exhaust actions before you need to Rebound. Armor Training decreases the Speed penalty by 5 feet for every 2 by which your Strength exceeds the armor’s Strength value; it also nets you minor physical resistance based on armor type. This feat makes sense in so many ways. I love it! Assured Strike is a feat with the Exhaust trait and can be triggered when you Strike an opponent and hit, dealing average weapon die damage, rounded down. The second feat with Exhaust, Determination lets you make an ability check against negative conditions, with the ability depending on the condition, and if you succeed, you get to decrease the respective condition value. Minor nitpick: The “Success” line has a formatting hiccup.

If you’re wielding a shield and are expert in Reflex saves, you can, for two actions, use Shielded Evasion to Raise a Shield. Until the start of your next turn, your Reflex save successes become critical. Makes so much sense, 2 thumbs up! Also, for two actions, we can make the classic Dazzling Display, but only if you are a master with simple and martial training and have Intimidation Training; this is a 60 ft. AoE Demoralize that uses your attack roll vs. Will DC of affected foes. Shrug It Off builds on Second Wind, and nets you temporarily half your level as fast healing for 3 rounds when using it.

For 8th level, we have two feats: Armored Assault enhances your unarmed attacks by your armor’s potency rune, and if it’s made from special materials, lets you bypass resistances. Hustled Step is a Flourish and Exhaust feat that requires no action and nets you a free Step. Finally, we have 3 10th-level feats: Quickened Combatant also has Exhaust and Flourish as traits and requires no action but must be used when you begin your turn; you get quickened 1 until the end of your turn and must use it for Strike or an attack action. Bolstered Stamina takes only one action but can be used only once per day: It nets you an instant Rebound. Battle Routine is a Stance with the Concentrate and Exhaust traits, one action to activate, and builds on Assured Strike; you can maintain it for Constitution ability modifier rounds, and while you do, Assured Strike no longer has the Exhaust trait.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork featured is nice. The pdf needs no bookmarks at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ fighter options are bold and let you do some rather neat things; from the anime-inspired Battle Trance to the iconic option to use the shield to withstand dragon breath, the supplement offers quite a few feats I’d consider to be gold. The usage of the Exhaust/Rebound-mechanics to balance the more powerful options is nice as well and discourages from building nova-fighters that are very strong, and then need a rest after every combat…which is rather clever, design-wise. I like this supplement; it’s not 100% perfect, but certainly worth getting if you’re looking for some fancy fighter tricks. 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Fighter Options
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Book of Beasts: Witch Codex (PF 1e)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/23/2021 05:54:58

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Book of Beasts-series focusing on NPC Codex-style NPCs clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, as usual, we begin with a brief introduction before diving into the respective NPC stats; the focus, for the most part, lies on the statblocks, though, like in the NPC Codex, there are a few instances where the statblock is followed by a brief sample NPC personality and potential roleplaying advice for said named NPCs. The rationale here is clever: Essentially, statblocks that do not take up enough room use the extra space to deliver this bonus content of sorts; conversely, this means that these entries mainly show up between the extremes of the level-range.

The pdf includes a total of 20 statblocks, one for each level, thus spanning CRs from ½ to 19. A significant plus as far as I’m concerned: there are no derivative statblocks in the supplement, so you won’t see one statblock at CR 1, and a mildly-modified/scaled version of the same statblock at CR 5; instead, each of the builds actually is independent, which is a great thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s also nice to see that base statistics are included in the builds, as is a proper tactics section.

Beyond this show of genuine passion and care, the supplement also features another aspect I very much enjoy seeing: This book makes full good of PFRPG’s extensive book canon: Ultimate Wilderness, Ultimate Intrigue, and, of course, the older hardcovers (excluding, interestingly, Occult Adventures, pretty much my favorite PFRPG 1e hardcover by Paizo), which helps diversify the content presented in a significant manner. The builds actually represent this broad focus in more than one way: The CR ½ Coven Aspirant, for example, has chosen Defiant Luck, with the spellbook including snowball.

At CR 1, we have a goblin tribal cursecaller, with corresponding low Wisdom and Charisma, and a spell-selection that includes aphasia and mudball. I really enjoy seeing builds like this. Why? Because PF1e, in some of its best moments, uses mechanics to underline the story and flavor of a creature or NPC, generating this cool mutual reinforcement between rules and flavor.

Of course, there also is a rather significant diversity between patrons chosen for the various witches. The CR 2 clandestine practitioner, for example, has the ancestry patron, while the CR 3 draconic debilitator uses the occult patron; the kobold uses the hex channeler archetype, and with flame-retardant outfit and two different grenades, the fellow feels radically different from any builds after and before it.

Need an arcane skirmisher with hit-and-run capabilities? What about a CR 4 grippli using the woodlands patron and blowgun and Opening Volley? Yeah, cool build. At CR 5, we have a hedge witch (with a super-minor cosmetic hiccup: The correctly formatted archetype is listed twice in brackets; does not influence integrity of statblock) that pretty much is a take on the white witch trope; nice!

A dwarf brewing specialist has sensible feats: Brew Potion, Brewmaster, Ironguts…you get the gist; the rules complement the concept; same e.g. for the CR 7 changeling sea witch with a tidal theme, blending “stormy” aggressive and defensive options, resulting in a we—rounded build, including Brilliant Spell Preparation and a properly reserved slot. NICE. In fact, that is probably one of the things I enjoy most about these NPC builds: I can see these characters actually existing in the game world; they make sense.

Need a dhampir caster with a serious vampire mage angle? You can find it here. A sylph with a hard and soft terrain control angle themed around mobility and a theme of mists and air magic? Included. A tiefling with a seduction/enchantment theme? Yep. Want a witch who, spell-wise, cleaves closer to the wizard, representing arcane schooling? Included herein. Want a hermit with a subdued dark fey/thorn angle? You can find ne in this pdf. With the bonded witch archetype and deception as a patron, we have a CR 13 half-elf that makes for a good take on the arcane thief/heist-specialist. The ratfolk skin changer would do skaven proud, with a blend of transmutations & plague-based magic.

The book also includes an evil monarch build focused on domination and vengeance, supplemented by full-blown battle magics, and, on the other side of the spectrum, the most potent witch herein masquerades as a shepherd…and if you cross them, you may end up as a goat…

One of my favorite builds in a while: Fetchling gravewalker 17 that has a spell-selection based primarily on necromancy, with darkness and debuffs plus clever selection of hexes and supplemental options, making this witch a threat in regular combat, but also a surprisingly efficient serial killer style adversary. A genuinely cool villain build that made me come up with a neat adventure outline.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level; well done! Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with a black border, and the pdf includes a blend of new full-color artworks and classic stock art pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Richard Moore delivers, big time, in this NPC-Codex-style offering; the builds are versatile, make sense in-game as persons, and still retain a wide variety of tricks that make them mechanically viable for the respective focus of the build. The pdf does everything right that I’d want here: The builds are versatile and varied; they make use of a ton of options and provide a blend of straight and rather out there builds, and all without compromising the viability of the respective statblock as a representation of a character actually existing in-game. Heck, when a statblock makes me come up with a module structure? Yeah, awesome.

This is 100% worth the low asking price and stands as an excellent representation of a damn fine NPC Codex-style book. Final verdict? best of-tag, 5 stars + seal of approval. Want a selection of diverse and cool witch statblocks? Get this. Heck, this might be worth getting even if that’s not what you’re actively looking for.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Beasts: Witch Codex (PF 1e)
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Vathak Times Zine #1 (5th Edition)
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2021 12:07:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the rebooted Vathak-‘zine, now for D&D 5e, clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page editorial/introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages (laid out for 6’’ by 9’’/A5), so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, we begin this installment with a cool NPC, a cambion militia captain Zacharia Lammant, who is an interesting ally whose twisted exterior does not mirror his personality; my only regret with this entry would be the lack of stats. Regarding further flavor-centric write-ups, the ‘zine includes a nice two-page write-up a tavern, the “Hangman’s Daughter”, including notes on menu prices, etc.; I love the artwork provided for it, but would have preferred a map instead, but that may be me. There also would be a 2d20 table of strange settlements in the Ina’oth region, which I per se appreciated, but I did not get why it was a 2d20-table. It’s exactly 20 entries long. Weird. There is also a crimereport page that any decent GM can use as adventure-inspiration.

Item-wise, the ‘zine includes the apothecary kit, and 3 magical cloaks: The first is a winner: Once per rest interval, change into a flock of birds as a reaction to being hit; winner. There is essentially a one-use “extra-life”-cloak made of burial masks that gets full points for its creepy imagery evoked, and the third one is actually a cursed cloak that can make you an unwitting slasher. These cloaks are cool.

The ’zine also includes an article on forbidden lore and corruption, which differentiates between 4 types of reading that take different amounts of time, with failed saves resulting in corruption that translates as a bonus to ability checks pertaining to Great Old Ones, and eventual power gains, but also the threat of losing it; the engine per se is solid, and while I’d have streamlined a few minor passages in the verbiages, it’s a system that’s easy to expand and customize further.

On the player-facing side of things, we have a race with the living dolls, who get a Constitution increase of 2 and don’t need to eat or drink (but RAW do need to breathe!) and are Small with a speed of 25 ft.; they come with 3 subraces (porcelain, rag doll and marionette), each of which features also an ability score increase by 2 (Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence respectively), and each subrace comes with its own unique feature. I really enjoy this write-up for what it is on 2 pages, but personally would have leaned deeper into the doll-nature, working with more positive features and some drawbacks, but that’s just my preference, particularly for horror games.

On the class option-side, we have a warlock pact with the Undead Lord; the expanded spell list lacks proper spell formatting here; first level either nets darkvision or increases it to superior darkvision, and also removes the requirement to eat, drink or breathe, and also nets advantage on saving throws versus exhaustion, paralyzed or poisoned, which seems a bit front loaded to me. 6th level lets you shapechange (incorrectly formatted in text) into a Tiny bat or Medium wolf once per short rest interval, 10th level nets advantage on saves vs. being charmed and frightened, and 14th level nets resistance to cold, necrotic, poison and psychic damage, but also vulnerability to radiant damage. Decent, I guess, but, at least to me, not interesting.

There are two brief modules in the ‘zine. One would be “The Rimeguard Trials”, for a party of level 8 adventurers (no number is provided), which is supposed to last for 1-3 hours, which is a solid assessment in my experience. It has no read-aloud text, and no map. The mini module deals with a test of strength and a kind of test that would allow a party member to “gain” lycanthropy as a reward of sorts. This module would be forgettable in many regular fantasy settings but is a total failure for Vathak. It is not even remotely creepy, is bereft of any cohesive atmosphere, has serious amounts of treasure for paltry challenges, and potentially introduces the issue of player character lycanthropy. Not recommended.

The second module fares better: A one-session dungeon with “The Firefly Cult” that centers on the exploration of a former cult’s sealed basement, and the threats therein; no suggestion regarding party size or character level is provided, but the customary 4–6 characters should work; level-wise, I’d recommend level 2–4, though only parties that don’t mind character death or TPKs should attempt this at level 2. Indeed, there is a new critter herein that can wipe out a level 2 or 3 party if things go badly, but really skilled and clever parties can beat this at level 1…or avoid it. Only the best parties will succeed at this feat, though. The module has neat read-aloud text, and a solid b/w-map, though no player-friendly version is included. The module does include a challenge 5 critter, its statblock being a neat representation of the classic mythos critter. The atmosphere of the dungeon is rather neat, but it’d have been neat to have a more focused information on the cult and how they operated; a table for legwork-based information on the cult could have helped here. You know, set up how something happened, then deliver the payoff in the dungeon. A higher degree of interactivity with the per se solid dungeon. Finally, the entry door needs a pretty high DC to even enter the dungeon; while it makes sense here, it can be slightly frustrating. That being said, for a ‘zine-based ultra-short module, this does its job.

We get a couple of solid adventure hooks themed around the war-effort against the forces of the Old Ones, and a fully-statted NPC also features a neat hook; said NPC would clock in at challenge 2, and represent an interesting gangleader with a tragic backstory of poverty, crime…and eventually, notorious; there is a reason the fellow is called “Lobster” as a nickname. Solid writeup, though, for me personally, the fellow is slightly too goofy for my interpretation of Vathak, but YMMV. While we’re on the subject of statted beings, the module also features a delightfully icky undead, but curiously, ability name formatting, something the other statblocks herein got right, is incorrect; other than that, though, the massive amalgamation of evildoers (well-illustrated in b/w, like a lot of creatures/NPCs/environments herein…) is a brutal challenge…and some of the classic ways to survive such monsters won’t cut it here, and it does have some tricks that make it more manageable, so yeah…interesting!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are both inconsistent on a formal and rules-language level; sometimes, we have excellent precision, and sometimes…not so much. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column standard for the most part, though 1-column sequences can be found. Artwork deserves special mention: The original b/w-pieces throughout are numerous and stunning. They rock. Aesthetically, this one gets two thumbs up. Cartography, in stark contrast, is basic, and the lack of a player-friendly version of the map hurts it in the convenience department. I own both the pdf and the perfect-bound print on demand softcover, and I recommend getting the softcover. Why? The pdf lacks bookmarks, making navigation a colossal pain.

Some of these articles are inspired, ooze atmosphere and rock; others…not so much. One adventure is not good, while the other feels like it could have been awesome and more effective with a bit more lore, and only remains a solid sidetrek. The other articles range from hitting Vathak’s flavor in a pitch-perfect way to less impressive fantasy pieces, though the majority does hit the right notes in the themes. Mechanically, the ‘zine is extremely conservative and could have used a bit more experimentation in my book, but as a whole? As a whole, this is a successful and promising Vathak Times; if you enjoy dark fantasy or horror gaming, there is quite a good chance you’ll get some inspiration out of this supplement, and the bang-for-buck ratio is fair as well.

This sports several authors: Ismael Alvarez, Rick Hershey, Lucus Palosaari, Troy Daniels and Geoff Gander wrote this, and it shows in how uneven the ‘zine is. It does have its moments where it shins and executes, and as a whole, I do think that it deserves rounding up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars…for print. The verdict for the pdf should be rounded down for the comfort detriment.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak Times Zine #1 (5th Edition)
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Shadows over Vathak: The Shrine (5th Edition)
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2021 05:13:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This module is intended for 4 characters of 1st–3rd level, and takes place in an obscure shrine in a forested area, preferably near some water. A variety of hooks are provided, and while intended for use in the Vathak-setting, the module is easily transplanted into other settings, if desired. The module does explain commonly-used abbreviations, and also sports a couple of full-color maps. These are serviceable for the low price-point, but aesthetically stick out a bit from the otherwise impressive full-color layout. To my chagrin, no player-friendly versions of the maps are provided. Not cool. The module comes with read-aloud text, but its formatting is sloppy: The first read-aloud text for the shrine’s interior, 3 paragraphs long, has its regular area text included in the read-aloud section. The term “PC” is also not used for characters in 5e. On the plus-side, we have a list of treasure and a named spellbook; things I certainly appreciate. What I did not appreciate was that there are instances where the rules syntax for 5e skill checks wasn’t properly implemented. The pdf also e.g. has phrases like “See Animated Armor at the back of this book”…and no duplicated stats for these armors there. I don’t need them, mind you; MM has the stats…but why does the pdf say they’re there, when they clearly are not?

Beyond the referenced standard creatures, the module also features a total of 4 new critters/NPCs with full stats. The stats are, quality-wise, okay; they can be used, but do contain hiccups: a weapon attack that is either off by +1 or -1, but either way, definitely off. Same goes for e.g. a Stealth value. Two of the creatures lack the italics for e.g. “Melee Weapon Attack” and “Hit” in their attack sections. The BBEG’s AC, HP and speed are not bolded in the statblock, one save is incorrect; a once per day ability does not have its frequency listed in the feature name (and no average value for its effect), and the ability DCs of the BBEG are incorrect…you get the idea. If you’re, like me, particular about that sort of thing, this’ll be a bit grating. This also applies to trap formatting, by the way, which does not adhere to either the default 5e-formatting, nor does it adhere to the Unearthed Arcana formatting.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? The module kicks off when the party reaches the eponymous shrine in a woodland area – and it’s guarded by deep ones. No context, fanfare…they’re just hanging around. The deep ones, if they notice the party, attack or “use a full-round action” to sound an alarm. There is no such thing in 5e. Drinking from the nearby well can cause a sickness (phrasing includes an apostrophe-s-glitch); the verbiage of the disease notes that Wisdom (Medicine) can be used to help characters recover, but guess what? No DC. We also have issues like “poison condition” (should be “poisoned”) and stuff like “Thieve’s Tools”. I usually don’t harp on stuff like that to the extent I’m doing right now, but DAMN. These are rules terms and syntax.

And yes, I’m talking about rules…because, frankly, the module? Where do I start. Essentially, it’s a brief dungeon-crawl in the shrine, with spooooky stuff, and not that much to contextualize everything. It’s certainly a lot of things, but a horror module? Not one of them. The setup is…at best decent. The adversaries…are not. There is no real atmosphere here, and the plethora of glitches eliminate all immersion I may have felt. For example, in the boss-section, the text talks about a ghast that’s not there. The editing and formatting are so BAD they crush all of my desire to even attempt to further analyze this mess of a module.

Conclusion. Editing and formatting are BAD on a formal and rules language level; glitches in math, atrocious formatting, typos that render even simple things ambiguous…this is not an acceptable amount of glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with neat artworks. The full-color maps are serviceable, but the lack of player-friendly maps stings. The pdf has no bookmarks, making navigation a pain.

Rick Hershey and Lucus Palosaari dropped the ball big time here; this module is barely functional, rushed, and shows that it’s, at best, a minimum-effort conversion to 5e. Worse, it’s also a total failure as a horror-module; exchange deep ones with orcs and you lose nothing; this module isn’t creepier than any generic, short dungeon-crawl. At this length and low price-point, I certainly don’t expect the Ulysses of adventure modules, but this one? It is painfully generic, uninspired, and also badly-executed in the mechanics. The authors can do so much better. This module is a disservice to the amazing Vathak setting. I can’t find anything positive to say about this module. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Shadows over Vathak: The Shrine (5th Edition)
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In Vino Gigantus (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2021 06:24:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

This review was requested as a prioritized review by my supporters. And yes, I know I should first finish the Quests of Doom-series, but I needed a palate cleanser from them, and this is the first Frog God Games-book where Michael “Mars” Russell was taken on board as a conversion expert to PFRPG.

The adventure is a low-level adventure, nominally intended for 4–6 characters of levels 1 – 3, though personally, I think that it works best for levels 1–2; at third level, most halfway decently-optimized PFRPG parties would curbstomp any opposition in this module. The PFRPG version uses NPC Codex material. The module features read-aloud text and does include a random encounter table that either has two entries cut, or the wrong die noted (the table mentions a d10, when it only has 8 entries), but that’s a minor nitpick. Regarding difficulty, the module is not exactly easy, but neither is it as much of a meatgrinder as the tougher Frog God Games modules; this can be bested without character deaths, and a well-composed party shouldn’t have too tough of a time. It’s no cakewalk either, though! The final fight in particular is designed to include the chance to die in a pretty epic way.

Length-wise, we have a pretty compact dungeon that can be run in a single session, two at most, and which would also work in a convention context. The map of the module notes its scale properly, but also represents a potentially weird logic bug I’ll talk about in the spoiler-section below. On the HUGE plus-side, the module actually does have a player-friendly map, and not one of those fake ones, but one that actually properly redacts secret doors! Huge kudos for that.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this adventure is very “D&D-y” in the way that it feels like it is steeped, lovingly, in the tropes of both modules and CRPG quests, for the party acts as essentially conscripted exterminators. The “where” is important, though: Summoned (literally) by the foppish storm giant Clovis Tempestas IV. To his Stormridge Sanctum, a fortress in the sky, the party is tasked with cleaning up his wine cellar. The young and rather decadent giant lets his henchmen provide a meal before banning the party to the wine cellar of the rather dilapidated and neglected sky castle in the clouds.

This premise takes the much-maligned “kill rats in cellar” trope, and proceeds to infuse some serious high fantasy into it; while the vermin-angle is well-represented by the random encounters (which focus on giant frogs, leeches, centipedes, etc.), and the dungeon that contains all the action would be the wine cellar. The cellar is partially flooded, adding an interesting terrain angle to the proceedings (difficult terrain on the floor), and there is some solid interactivity going on. While the module features lots of fights, it also has at least some stuff going on beyond that. Personally, I enjoyed that quite a few actions don’t necessarily require DCs, as quite a few adventure authors for PFRPG tend to focus too much on that.

The strange knights with holes on their heads? They’re btw. marble knights and the animated salt and pepper shakers, which I considered to be kind of hilarious. They also are a first boss fight of sorts, with solid defenses and hp, particularly for a level 1 party, but on the other hand, the party only has to contend with them if they do something foolish, namely going for the Sunday’s best. So yeah, reap what you sow…

In the dungeon, the party can also find another party that the giant forgot about, and whether or not combat ensues is pretty much up to the party. If the players are smart, they take these fellows along, as the finale can become challenging indeed. Anyhow, this is a good place to note that information presentation isn’t always concise, and shows that the 5e-version was probably used as a template for conversion: we have e.g. “Treasure.” in one room, clearly denoting loot, while in another room, no such clear indicator is given. Personally, I’d very much would have been in favor of retaining that for all rooms. Beyond that, the aforementioned salt and pepper shaker knights have their extraordinary ability names both bolded and in italics, when PFRPG usually only bolds them, and the new critter has its ability also formatted thus, followed by a full stop instead of a colon, but that is cosmetic.

Risk and reward are tied together, and careful exploration can deliver some serious loot for a low-level party, and things that should have mechanical consequences do have that; jumping in the ash can might result in becoming briefly sickened, for example. Much to my enjoyment, the module also features the classic “contained mold freezer”, the dry storage uses brown mold, and beyond a wererat and giant spiders, the final encounter is particularly interesting: You see, Donner (Thunder in German, btw.), the thunder terrier (a new critter) and pet of Clovis, is caught by some giant spiders; the massive terrier is not dead or particularly injured, but frightened…and his bark is pretty damn lethal, particularly for a low level party. The build is neat with only a, even though the colors of the artwork and read-aloud text don’t match.

The goal here is to defeat the spiders, preferably without being killed by the lightning-infused bark of Donner; worse, the bark also causes random sections of the floor to fall away, which can send the characters falling to a horrible fate thousands of feet beneath the sky castle. It’s a cool set-up and calming the dog may be key to survival. There is but one issue with this set-up, and it is due to the premise of instability in the room: There is nothing keeping the party from retreating out of the rather cramped room, which is probably one of the smartest things they can do: Large creature (Donner) + 5 Medium spiders mean that most of the 12 squares are occupied by critters already, so pretty claustrophobic, and there’s a good chance to fall very far or be obliterated by the terrier’s bark, so playing smart? That’s a must here! But the claustrophobic nature of this battle does feel weird.

Which brings me to an issue I had with the entire dungeon: The grid is too small: I don’t get the whole “giant’s wine cellar” angle from the scale of the map; RAW, the storm giant can’t even walk into the cellar in his natural form, as the rooms and doors are scaled for Large creatures instead of Huge ones. I think I know how this happened: I assume that the original iteration had a larger grid, probably 10 x 10 ft., but PFRPG requires a 5 x 5 ft. grid to work smoothly, so the grid-reference was shrunk without increasing the number of squares. Where do I get that from? The TEXT still references 10 x 10 ft. grids, in a pretty glaring editing oversight. Ideally, the number of squares should have probably increased to make the dungeon less claustrophobic. And no, the excuse that “the servants do it” falls apart when one looks at the very claustrophobic final fight. Ideally, I think the bark-collapse would be more interesting if that arena locked down after entering, with the barking being less deadly, but that may be me. (Cool, btw.: the module does take spider webs vs. falling into account.)

Conclusion: Editing is okay on a formal and good on a rules-language level, particularly in the latter discipline, the expertise of Mr. Russell shows; formatting sports a couple of hiccups and inconsistencies, but as a whole, works. Layout adheres to a full-color two-color standard with solid full-color artworks. The maps are full color as well, and as noted, the player-friendly map is a big plus. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the merits of the print version, since I do not own it.

James M. Spahn is an adventure-writing veteran, and it shows here: This module takes an old cliché in RPGs and infuses some high-fantasy fun into it; the module is dangerous and interesting, requiring and rewarding player skill over good rolls; Michael “Mars” Russell delivers a significantly better conversion to PFRPG than what we’ve seen in the Quests of Doom-series, so that was neat to see.

The angle and dungeon per se are solid, and the ideas are neat, but ultimately, the scale-issue with the maps/set-up is a pretty significant detriment. I also couldn’t help but feel that the issue of the scale of the map is mirrored in what the dungeon doesn’t do: The whole angle of regular-sized characters in an environment designed for larger creatures could have been used to a much higher degree, and indeed, at least for PFRPG, I do have some recommendations: If you want to further scale the module’s size categories, Microsized Adventures is a perfect toolkit; for a level 3 party, more terrain hazards, such as via Ultimate Strongholds, would be a good call.

In the end, this is a good adventure; it’s not outstanding, but I do consider it to be worthwhile. If the scale aspect doesn’t faze you and you’ll just put a new grid on it anyway, then you should consider this to be a 4-stars module; with the aforementioned issue, though, this is only a 3.5-stars offering, and I have to rate what’s here. Ultimately, I do feel like this is closer to the 3-stars than the 4-stars verdict due to aforementioned gripes, hence I’ll round down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
In Vino Gigantus (PF)
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Invasion of the Tuber Dudes
Publisher: Knight Owl Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2021 06:55:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page playtester thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was prioritized at the request of my supporters.

This module was designed for Old-School Essentials as the target rules-system, with the module intended to be used for first-level characters, either as a one-shot, or as a kick-off for a new campaign.

And yes, theme-wise, this is WEIRD; one could call it gonzo, but the module does not engage in the all-too-common “Look at me, I’m topical/reference pop-culture”-shenanigans that so many comparable modules dubbed “gonzo” engage in. The adventure is actually pretty darn serious, one could even say grim. In many ways, this did remind me of the Dark Tower-series; there is a certain melancholy in the set-up that is contrasted successfully (!!!) with the utterly audacious concept you could read in the title. That is a feat indeed.

The module is set in the Sage Desert and feels steeped in Americana in its aesthetics, something also underlined by the public domain artwork that is used to supplement (successfully) the b/w line art by Luka Rejec. In many ways, this feels like a fantasy wild-west-y post-apocalyptic setting that never explicitly states its post-apocalyptic nature per se. The use of two particularly neat landscape-shots of the American wilderness also add to that…and made me really long for the landscape of the US.

Anyhow, structurally, it should be noted that the majority of this module is essentially a series of greater events that the referee needs to flesh out; this is closer to an adventure outline of a module than an actual ready to run adventure. Personally, I didn’t need more, but for inexperienced referees, this might be a taller order. The GM should also prepare maps: There is a rudimentary map of one settlement herein (no scale, looks pretty bad, to be honest), and one b/w-map of a small dungeon of sorts (by Dyson Logos), but the complex’s map lacks a player-friendly version.

The final formal gripe I have with this pdf, and primary reason why I consider it to be a case for experienced referees only, would be its organization. This is a rather chaotic supplement, and it is definitely required that you read the entire thing, take notes, etc. In my instance, I had the module printed out, and a gust of wind blew the pages all around. I was in a hurry and didn’t look at the page numbers; I reorganized the pages and the module actually was easier to run/grasp, and when I looked at the pdf again, I was kinda surprised. This isn’t a module in the traditional sense; instead, it is a general, global situation, and then things are sketched out in a rudimentary way. This felt very “new school of adventure design”-y to me, because it structurally is: You can run this as written, but if you do, you’ll be running a lot of cutscenes, where linear things just happen, and player decisions are glossed over. Ironically, one of the most important parts of the module seems to be a cut scene (haha), where the referee is left entirely hanging. If you expect regions prepared, sandboxes for the party to explore, a high degree of interactivity…well, this does not offer that. Instead, think of this is a plot-train, and a sketch of one at that. At one point, the direction of the train can be steered towards the two most likely outcomes, but the supplement requires copious amounts of fleshing out if your party wants to meaningfully engage with some aspects of the module and not just adventure through the most likely progression. Important for this type of module: No, the adventure does not prescribe what players do in read-aloud text (Thank Gygax!), but primarily because there is no such text presented anywhere. As noted before, one of the most important locales in the module actually is missing sufficient information to run it in a non-linear/non-railroad manner.

For a preliminary summary: This adventure is geared towards more experienced referees, particularly those accustomed to improvisation and fleshing out. That being said, I do think that the pdf is worth going through that hassle.

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

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! So, the scene is set in the Sage Desert, where evergreen trees cling to dormant volcanic peaks, with hot days and cold nights, gleaming rivers, etc. – the last of the post cities, Sun Radive, was once built as a fortified lumber town and former military installation, and as such has a 20 ft high and 20 ft. thick wall, an intersection of hot springs and a river. The town features only one-way roundabouts called circles, and there are circles 1-11, with circle 7 omitted due to its mystical meaning. Each circle gets a rudimentary 1-sentence description, and we do get 12 rumors. The town is depicted in the rather not-that-great map mentioned before, fyi.

The rulers of the city are the supremely-creepy Sisters of Clemency: Faith, Hope and Charity, who are all clerics, and all really creepy in that seemingly benign, but…well…creepy religious fundamentalist sort of way. Somewhat to my chagrin, they do have different Constitution values, but this doesn’t seem to be reflected in their HP, but that is a minor aesthetic choice. The sisters are actually one of the possible bosses of the adventure, and as such, are supplemented by a few unique spells: Candle blow has a low range and deals minor damage, but can permanently cause the loss of Charisma on a failed save. Summon lava golem does what it says on the tin, and oh boy will the party suffer if the sisters manage to cast that spell. Interesting: The golem uses dice themselves as hit points of sorts, and when hit, you just take a die and put it in the damage pool. Design-wise, the module is a bit opaque here: The next sentence states that “When it has 6 attack dice…”—that’s the first time “attack dice” are mentioned. This should read “When all its dice have been moved into the damage pool…” Further nitpick: A reference to dispel magic is not properly formatted in the spell. Volcanic storm creates a cloud of smoky heat that deals minor damage, but if you fail two consecutive saves, you pass out. Minor nitpick: This refers to the “player”—that should read “target” or “creature” in the parlance of B/X and its derived systems. Players are the people playing the characters.

That being said, the final spell? It can only be cast be the Sisters’ faithful henchman Jack…wish. As a fourth-level spell. Ouch…literally. Why? Well, there is a reason he’s called “Three-fingered Jack”: He carries a mini-guillotine, and to get the wish, he has to cut off a finger! Suffice to say, he can only do so three more times, but his wishes…well, let’s just say that the party should eliminate him quickly and decisively if they want to beat the sisters, preferably without him having a chance to use this wildcard… But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: The module actually begins in Sun Radive, with a massive bounty on the head of the local warlord Jhadar Khale, an extremely deadly adversary who has amassed an army and who is particularly loathed for his propensity of taking pregnant women and babies…everyone else who wasn’t slaughtered in combat usually gets to free. The warlord’s background can be determined with a d8 roll, which does change things up a bit—I enjoyed that! The offer to hunt down the warlord also comes with the Sisters allowing the party to take a close look at their armory, which features various magic items of different potency: The Lawful Candle only burns chaotic beings; there is a potato that regrows daily as long as the skins are kept and a glove that allows the user to change hair color at will…but also an axe that casts silence 15’ radius when drawn, which can be deadly indeed! A character who wants one of these items has to submit to a gem being inserted in their neck—an insurance. If the item is not returned within 15 days, the gem will start killing the character slowly.

Once the party is equipped, they are off into the Sage Desert, those endless forests, and en route pass a couple of flavorful environments, with a river of particular note: Drinking from the river causes transformation into a new race-class, the Skellington, on a failed save. This reduces Charisma TO 1d4, grants 2d10 HP, and the Skellington is immune to the party’s cleric’s Turn Dead [sic!] (should be Turn Undead) and is forced into a dual class, keeping original abilities, but now leveling in the 10-level Skellington class. The 10th level is missing, unless that was supposed to be the level of the original class. These get 3d4 HD according to the text, but this seems to be incorrect when compared to the table. They have no allowed armor, but may use any melee weapon. Skellingtons can spend 1 minute and picking up a bone to restore 1d4 HP. They can tell jokes that cause all who hear them to get a -2 penalty to all saves, -1 to attacks, -1 to damage, or -3 HP. These do NOT have a save RAW, and they stack with each other. RAW, they also affect the entire party, so brace for different strategies for the party to attempt to block out the japes. Design-wise, making this targeted and having a saving throw would have been better. NPCs must make a morale check, and flee or attack them. The skellingtons are a good concept, but their execution/design is rushed and hurts the module more than it helps. I recommend skipping them.

Once the party reaches a canyon, they are ambushed by the eponymous tuber dudes, a force of 10 carrots led by one of the rare, spellcasting purple carrots named Tendril: This fellow demands that the party surrenders. Whether or not they comply, the party ultimately will have to face Jhadar…but how this happens is very much left up to the referee. The actual meeting, the operation of Jhadar’s army and the like are totally opaque. It’s a huge blank slate, and considering that the fellow is one of the 2 important factions, this struck me as extremely annoying. The players can’t devise a proper infiltration strategy, can’t wage a war of attrition, etc., because the module/outline lacks the information for the referee to properly improvise these aspects. It railroads the party, hardcore. If the party is bested by the tuber dudes, they land in prison. As an aside: There is no “stun damage”; that’s supposed to be subdual damage in OSE, B/X, etc. If the purple carrot has been killed, he’ll be furious, locking up the party…and if the party surrendered or was knocked out, the paths coalesce once more. At this point, the module has a bit of a break and provides a brief one-page summary of the 10 tuber dudes types: Jicima, for example, can heal.

Imprisoned, the party has a timer as they come to: They have d4+1 minutes real time to break a lock, represented by a handout type square with bands of letters; you have to find the words below to break the lock. Really like this! On a failure, the party will lose d4 HP from hunger and thirst. This gets two thumbs up! The complex of the dudes is the aforementioned dungeon; it’s essentially a very sketch-like one-page prison-break; apart from the cool cell-door puzzle, nothing to really write home about. Worse: After the brief dungeon, the whole camp/Army has progressed to besieging the city, I guess. No timeline, no environment, no information on the vicinity, nothing. Everything outside the dungeon pertaining to the tuber dude operation is a huge, amorphous blob of “Don’t know”. It is here that the module starts feeling like a half-finished draft that was abandoned mid-writing.

And here we are at the point where the referee has to really start building/expanding. You see, the 3 Sisters have this Baby, which may or may not be an antichrist-like doomsday figure; Jhadar Khale certainly believes that the Sisters plan on using the child to wreak untold destruction upon the land…so he marches on Sun Radive with his army of tuber dudes.

The siege itself is sketch-like, and comes with a brief table of 10 random things that can happen to the party while getting into the city, and there are 6 rudimentary random encounters. The embedded gems from the sisters can be an asset of sorts: The Sisters’ observatory is defended by a variety of curses (d20 table included), and the gems protect against that…but impede attacks on the sisters, so there’s that… But whom to eliminate? Jhadar? The Sisters? Both? Certainly, neither of the two factions are nice people, and the fate of the destined child needs to be ascertained. Sun Radive’s supposed to be right in the middle of a war, but that aspect is pretty much cut-scene’d through, so I recommend expanding it as well.

The module then provides some considerations for continuing the adventure, and then the Tuber Dude racial class—while the module sports no option to play one, parties allied with Jhadar might well get one. One can only play 6 types of tuber: Carrots, purple carrots, beet, crosne, mandrake and jicama. Tuber Dudes require Strength and Constitution of 10 or higher, use Strength as Prime Requisite, have d8 HD, 10 maximum levels and may use all weapons, but no armor. The dude-type determines more: Carrots get +1 to hit and damage with polearms and have the XP- and Save-progression of a fighter; purple carrots have +1 to hit and gain 1 spell (which list? which level? I assume elf, but it doesn’t clarify that…) each level and progress XP and saves as an elf. Beet have saves and XP of dwarves, and d12 HD. Crosne have XP and saves of thieves and get a “really cool vest with sequins”. Mandrakes use XP and saves of magic suers and begin play with Speak with Plants. (Incorrectly formatted.) Jicima get the progression and saves of a cleric, but cast Cure Light Wounds 3/day. You also roll 3d6: Once for a weapon, once for a personal quirk (which may be +1 to AC, to hit, infravision, etc.), and once for a bonus – like said vest, a gangly potato horse, etc. The concepts here are cool, but e.g. the onion-based tear-grenades fail to state their area of effect.

Tuber dudes can hide as a thief of their level in forests and verdant locales, and unarmed tuber dudes can, if they win individual initiative, grapple an opponent on a successful hit, potentially briefly incapacitating the opponent. Insects and vermin can be a save-r-die situation for them, but they live off photosynthesis. They can bury themselves in earth to heal faster, but have a short lifespan.

The tuber dude class is better designed than the skellington, but know what they’re missing? A frickin’ THAC0. I assume that they use the one of the classes whose saves and XP they use, but the class does not state this anywhere.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; the deviations from OSE’s standards are quite numerous for such a brief module. On a rules-language level, the module is a bit of a mess, particularly regarding the new race-classes, which are not really operational. The pdf has an orange-y background with some cacti on the borders. I generally enjoyed this aesthetically, but it does make the pdf a bit of a drain on the printer. Since the maps are b/w, and since Luka Rejec’s neat artworks are also b/w, they do clash with the remainder of the module – in a way that was kinda unpleasant for me. This would have been better off with a more unified aesthetic. The pdf has bookmarks…one for the first page, and one for the second page…really? This is a comfort-detriment.

By all accounts, I should hate Ahimsa Kerp’s “Invasion of the Tuber Dudes”; while the concepts herein and the set-up remain genuinely amazing and manage to evoke a unique atmosphere, the rules, the design…are just sloppy. This extends to aspects like the lack of bookmarks. Some of the deviations in formatting (which are inconsistent, just fyi – they are NOT intentional) are annoying, but the rules language? Particularly when contrasted with Gavin Norman’s precise and faithful rendition and expansion of the B/X-rules, this hurts to see.

And there is the fact that this “module” isn’t really a module, but instead a kind of event-outline with rudimentary scene-sketches that glosses over one of the most important aspects/scenes of the entire book also is JARRING. It’s a huge hole smack in the middle of the module.

And yet, this has something going for it; a unique atmosphere; a creative vision. One that was abandoned halfway through designing, sure, but damn, do I love the concepts that made it here. As a person, I appreciate this framework and nuanced villains. Ahimsa Kerp has vision…I just wish they had finished the adventure.

But as a reviewer, I can’t look past the structural issues, the rules issues, the unnecessary accumulation of glitches. Know what this is? A great pitch. If this were sent to me as a pitch for a bigger module to develop? I’d jump on that and tell the author to properly develop that, to flesh it out, make it shine, and watch the rules formatting and rules integrity.

…but it’s not. This was advertised as a module, and it is NOT a finished module. Nor is it a sandbox-style adventure. It’s an OUTLINE. Not more.

This is a rough one, it’s neither finished, nor as detailed as it should be, but it has enough of a personality and identity to make it worthwhile. The low price as a gesture is nice, but not sufficient to make me increase my rating and round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

IF, and only if you want to expand the scenario, fill out the HUGE blanks, then this can be a unique and memorable start for a campaign; this might be up to 3.5 stars for you. But you’ll have to do the lion’s share of the work and deal with the problematic rules components. If you’re not willing to do that, then consider this to be a 2-stars-file at best.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Invasion of the Tuber Dudes
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Files for Everybody: Medicine Feats
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2021 06:24:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Files for Everybody-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, on the introductory page, we have a recap of the synergy trait: This trait combines training in two skills, using one to support the other, and the feat is classified usually as a skill feat for the more dominant skill. Additionally, the introductory page features the Acupuncturist background, which nets two ability boosts, one free boost, and one that must be applied to Intelligence or Wisdom. It also nets trained proficiency in Chakra Lore and Medicine and the Acupuncture skill feat.

This would be a skill feat with the synergy trait, and requires an acupuncturist’s kit. Okay, can we have that codified, please? I don’t know about such a kit. There is also an issue between the feat and the background. The background nets trained rank in Chakra Lore, but the feat requires being trained in Occultism. Which is it? From the other feats, I assume Chakra Lore to be the wrong skill, since e.g. Align Chakra does not require it. Anyhow, the Acupuncture feat lets you, when treating a target for 1 hour with Treat Wounds, counteract ANY one effect on the target with Medicine. This sounds OP, but the counteract level is half your character level, rounded down, the target is immune to Acupuncture for 2d12 days, and critical failure has serious repercussions, so yeah. I can get behind this.

The 2nd level feat Hostile Acupuncture requires one action and makes you roll Medicine vs. Fortitude DC; the next successful Strike with an agile or finesse weapon you make can cause the target to become sickened, with severity depending on degree of success. At 7th level, Acupuncture Master can build on this, increasing total healing, and decreasing the immunity to Acupuncture; the debilitating conditions of critical failures also are mitigated, and the feat accounts for legendary proficiency with additional benefits. I already mentioned the 2nd level feat Align Chakra, which is also a synergy skill feat with Occultism, and lets you grant a target temporary focus points. Higher DCs can be attempted for more focus points, but at increased risks of failure, obviously. The feat has a 24-hour cooldown, and a cosmetic typo “ten” instead of “then”.

At first level, we have Battlefield Diagnosis, which requires being trained in Medicine. It lets you use Medicine to Recall Knowledge about any creature that spreads an affliction, such as disease or venom. I love this. It makes sense in many ways. Two thumbs up! The final level 1 skill feat requires three actions and has the Flourish trait. This one maximizes alchemical elixirs or potions when you apply them to a target. If you have Battle Medicine, this can be sued as one action. I assume that the once per day caveat of Battle Medicine doesn’t apply here for the reduced duration. Personally, I’d still have kept this at 2 actions in such a case.

False Death is one of those really nifty story-relevant feats, in that it lets you induce coma in willing (and unwilling) targets, which can even fool divination. There is a weird hiccup in the feat, when it suddenly starts talking about a spell, though, and the critical failure condition implies that the feat’s user, instead of the target begins to choke. Not ideal; not something that destroys the feat, but something that decreases utility. Also at 2nd level, we have Forensic Analyst, which lets you make autopsies of targets for Recall Knowledge and learn information about the creature, potentially even profession, role, cause of death, etc. Really cool for investigations. At 7th level, one can build on that with Forensic Master, which lets you gain information sans forensic examination and lessens the failure condition.

Finally, we have Pharmaceutical Apothecary, a 2nd-level synergy feat with Crafting, which lets you harvest samples from recently-slain poisonous critters to Craft an antidote in one action; the antidote is Infused and lasts only to the next daily preparation, or 24 hours. The antidote only applies regarding the creature’s poison. This is GOLD. It’s brilliant, tons of narrative potential, excitement…this one is pure gold.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay to good on a formal and rules-language level; there are a few typos here, and a few instances where the rules-integrity is slightly compromised, Not significantly, but yeah. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, and the artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Dustin Knight’s Medicine Feats show genuine talent: There is a lot I love about this little pdf: The design paradigm knows when to balance potent benefits with proper caveats, and the ideas herein enhance narrative potential; particularly Pharmaceutical Apothecary is a feat that definitely is going to feature in my games. Similarly, in spite of some rough patches here and there, I think this is worth getting for many of the feats herein. Conceptually, this’d be 5 stars + seal of approval. As a reviewer, I have to account for the glitches herein, though. Usually, this would make me round down from 3.5 stars, but considering the high-concept nature and how much the feats hit home, I’ll round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Medicine Feats
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Files for Everybody: Yroometjis
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2021 09:45:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Files for Everybody-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of introduction, leaving us with 16 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.

Before we dive in, it’s prudent to briefly talk about the introductory page, because this time around, it does matter, as it provides a brief context for the ancestry and advice on using them and clarifies an important aspect: Yroometjis all have pouches, regardless of their sex. While this may not be “realistic” in a way I’d usually favor, I wholeheartedly agree with the author that pouches are an iconic feature, and as such, a sexual dimorphism mechanic would make no real sense here. Good call!

So, yroometjis are one of the weirdo races that I’ve grown rather fond of since their initial inception in other systems: They are essentially kangaroo people, and ones that are somewhat laidback, less bookish, and in many ways simply interesting, courtesy of the author’s indisputable knack for making ancestries feel like more than just a series of mechanical benefits. Ever since e.g. the Dynastic Races Compendium for PF1, Alexander Augunas has managed to constantly make me appreciate species I was, at best, lukewarm before his treatment of them, and the details presented here regarding physical description, life cycles, etc. help contextualize these beings.

Mechanically, they are Medium, have a Speed of 25 ft., ability boosts to Charisma and Constitution, ability flaw to Intelligence, 2 starting languages + Intelligence modifier additional ones, and a pouch: The pouch can hold 1 Bulk worth of items, and transferring an item from hand to pouch or vice versa is an Interact action. One important caveat: While wearing medium or heavy armor, you cannot access the pouch...unless you take the level 1 Pouch Convenience ancestry feat that requires being trained in Crafting…which makes sense. While we’re on the subject of languages, it should be mentioned that we do get a sidebar that notes the Yroometji language as having a whole array of pronouns, so if you’re into nonbinary hymns à la “Poppy – Am I A Girl?”, you’ll certainly appreciate this tidbit of cultural lore.

This is not the only aspect regarding yroometji culture that is touched upon, though, so if you prefer to keep identity politics out of your game, you’ll still find a LOT to attach to: From the obvious cultural references regarding their oral history traditions to the notes on cuisine and their origin myths, the result of the presentation here is a well-rounded and genuinely compelling ancestry, which also includes notes on three ethnic groups. On the rules-level, no less than 10 (!!) heritages are presented: Arboreal yroometjis are Small and trained in Athletics, and climb faster (yes, takes Quick Climb into account). Riverland yroometjis are adapted to Swimming, following a similar design-paradigm as the arboreal ones. Bushborn yroometjis can partially ignore plant-based (greater) difficult terrain, and the ability takes Woodland Stride into account. Desert yroometjis are well-adapted to the extreme heat and cold of deserts, decreasing their severity, and can withstand the fatigue incurred by starvation and thirst. Stargazers get low-light vision; striders increase their movement speed, also regarding overland travel, provided the region isn’t too rough. Stewards get one primal spell-list cantrip as an at-will option, and the cantrip chosen can be changed with a 10-minute concentration meditation. Wanderers only get one boost, but also no flaw. They get to choose one skill to be trained in, which upgrades to expert at level 5. Wayfinder yroometjis are trained in Survival (upgrade to expert at level 5), and receive know direction at will. Spirit speakers get Sylvan and guidance, and a +1 Circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to Make an Impression or Request stuff from nature-related entities.

The pdf contains a slew of ancestry feats: 10 that unlock at 1st level, and 3 each for 5th, 9th and 13th. As a minor cosmetic nitpick, the intro text that states when the ancestry feats are unlocked erroneously references nashi instead of yroometjis, but that’s a cosmetic hiccup. Ancestral Markings is a feat that lets you choose from 6 actions during daily preparations, which provide minor bonuses with a 1-hour cooldown and activation actions ranging from free action to reaction. At 9th level, a follow-up feat can let you choose two per daily preparation, and 13th level lets you increase the bonus gained by them with another feat. The level 1-feats also include options to double the cone to Seek undetected creature to 60 ft. while your hearing is unimpaired (and a bonus while creatures are in the regular range); there is an option to get imprecise sense (scent) with a 30 ft. range, a 1d6 bludgeoning unarmed kick in the brawling group, with finesse, unarmed and versatile P traits. 5th level lets you build on that with agile and deadly 1d6, as well as a critical specialization depending on the damage type you dealt with the kick. (Good catch there!) A 5-foot Speed increase and a familiar can also be taken at 1st level. Tail Spring is interesting: It’s an action with the Concentrate and Flourish traits, and can be used when you aren’t fatigued. You Step, and then, if you make a melee Strike next, you deal +2 damage. The Lore and Weapon Familiarity options are also here, with the respective upgrade feat for the latter at 13th level, and a mastery feat at 5th level. Hopping Gait requires Powerful leap and lets you Stride and Leap during the Stride, with how often you Leap depending on the success/failure. This one can be made more reliable with a level 9 feat, essentially eliminating the critical failure condition. 9th level also has the option to get a 2nd-level multiclass dedication feat with the druid, monk, ranger or sorcerer trait or a list of proficiency rank of expert or better in Nature. At 13th level, you can access and stow stuff in your pouch as a free action with the right feat, but only once per round.

The class options included for the yroometjis include a new druidic order (Life), which nets trained rank in Medicine, Nature’s Cure, and +1 Focus Point as well as nature’s remedy as an order spell: This is an uncommon spell that takes two actions to cast (somatic, verbal); you touch a target, choose a Medicine action and make a spell attack roll; the latter is used as your Medicine check result. Nice! The order includes a total of 10 druid feats that, unsurprisingly, focus on healing and counteracting; the options also feature a feat that makes you gain and lets you modify the resurrect ritual, and, apart from one instance where italics are missing, is presented in a neat manner. One of the feats nets you spell slots you can only use for curative spells, so you won’t just be healing.

The monk options include 3 feats: One for ancestral weapon synergy, one must be taken at 1st level and makes your ki primal, and nets you wild stance (minor formatting snafu here); this is btw. a Focus 1 spell that probably has one casting icon too few, or one component too many: One action for both somatic and verbal strikes me as odd. The stance nets imprecise scent and low-light vision, and monk feats with the stance trait and those with an animal’s name may be entered as part of casting the spells; the spell per se, as one with Polymorph and Transmutation traits, allows heightened versions to also provide polymorph benefits. Tight and interesting. The 4th level feat Spirit Guide Form nets you the second new spell of the same name, with crocodile, kangaroo and thylacine as options.

Beyond those, we have 3 hunter’s edges for rangers: Ambush does pretty much what it says on the tin, Menace makes you better against creatures that are afraid, and Pack Tactics enhances your options regarding Aid. The pdf includes the cool pouch ally ritual that lets you put allies in the pouch, asleep, maintaining them; success-degrees influence e.g. whether the target dreams what the yroometji sees, etc. Really interesting! The pdf also includes 7 yroometji weapons that are boomerang-inspired, with an interesting array of traits, with one being a melee weapon with the thrown 25 ft. trait. The Multistrike trait is also introduced, which lets you make two strikes, which must be made against adjacent targets, with the multiple attack penalty applied. A total of 9 different magical body paint types finish the pdf, though it should be noted that each entry features a variety of different versions for different levels. The effect include becoming incorporeal, extradimensional pouches (6 – 150 Bulk), better navigation of tight spaces, cosmetic adjustments, resistance to physical damage, size increases at the cost of being slightly clumsier (clumsy 1), anti-magic bodypaint, and options for polymorphing and infiltration.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level; while I noticed a few minor hiccups, apart from one instance there was no instance that would hamper rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ neat 2-column full-color standard, and the artwork by Chan Yue Rong really rocks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a bit of a comfort detriment. At this page-count, it’s still okay, but I still would have loved to see bookmarks.

I have a soft spot for Alexander Augunas’ yroometjis; they are one of the most unique anthro-ancestries/races/species I have come across, regardless of system, and in PF2, they feel even more yroometji than they did before; the ancestry allows for playstyles that are truly distinct, and the bang for buck ratio is excellent. Moreover, the ancestry feels cohesive and sensible in its entirety, and indeed, makes me want to see more: Their rich oral tradition almost begs for some bardic options I hope to see in the future. The pdf as a whole does no shirk away from complex operations and, as a whole, manages to present a potent array of options that allows for interesting things that no other ancestry can do, and it does that without breaking the system’s tightly-coded math. Is the pdf perfect? No, but I rather have exciting with minor imperfections over blandness sans hiccups. Thus, I’ll gladly round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and also grant this my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Yroometjis
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Land of the Silver Lotus
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/01/2021 07:10:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Land of the Silver Lotus
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The Citadel beyond the North Wind
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:43:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Citadel beyond the North Wind
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Song of the Beast-Gods
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:42:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Song of the Beast-Gods
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Player's Guide to the World of Xoth (Pathfinder Edition)
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:41:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Guide to the World of Xoth (Pathfinder Edition)
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The Spider-God's Bride and Other Tales of Sword and Sorcery
Publisher: Xoth Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 05:39:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



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