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

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial (Containing some rules-relevant material), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Stealth Feats
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The Vertical Halls
Publisher: Other Selves
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2021 04:15:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
The Vertical Halls
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Vathak 5e Character Options - Survivor Background
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/04/2021 11:09:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak 5e Character Options - Survivor Background
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Arcforge Campaign Setting: Spheres of Influence
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/04/2021 11:07:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Arcforge Campaign Setting: Spheres of Influence
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Scroll Puzzle Generator
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/06/2021 05:20:41

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Scroll Puzzle Generator
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Scenic Dunnsmouth
Publisher: Lamentations of the Flame Princess
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/05/2021 05:26:37

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… .. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Scenic Dunnsmouth
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Whisper in the Crags (S&W)
Publisher: Fehu Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2021 04:55:12

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

… .. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Whisper in the Crags (S&W)
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Shoony: Pug People for Starfinder
Publisher: Michael Mars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/30/2021 04:52:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shoony: Pug People for Starfinder
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Vathak 5e Character Options - Amoral Prodigy Background
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2021 07:53:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vathak 5e Character Options - Amoral Prodigy Background
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Whisper in the Crags (5E)
Publisher: Fehu Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2021 06:12:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

..

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Whisper in the Crags (5E)
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Shoony: Pug People for Pathfinder 1st Edition
Publisher: Michael Mars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/29/2021 06:09:21

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so we get the usual information regarding society etc. for the shoony, including notes on interesting aspects such as an inability to sweat; rules-wise, shoony get +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Constitution, are Small and have a speed of 30 ft. EDIT: Minor syntax glitch in the pdf was fixed. They get a +2 racial bonus to saving throws against inhaled threats such as gasses, stench, etc. courtesy of their short snout, and they get a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics checks to move through threatened squares. EDIT: Bonus now properly typed. They also get +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff, and may shift creature attitude by up to 3 steps, and get a +2 racial bonus to Survival checks. EDIT: Bonuses now properly typed. Shoony get Catch Off-Guard as a bonus feat and have low-light vision.

Catch Off-Guard and the snout may be exchanged for scent; the acrobatics bonus can be exchanged for ignoring natural difficult terrain in swamps; these paddler shoonies can also take one of the racial feats to gain a 20 ft. swim speed. The Survival bonus can be exchanged for cold resistance 5.

The pdf comes with a TON of different favored class options, which include the ACG and occult classes and the vigilante; these are generally interesting, and e.g. barbarians increasing armor bonus of hide and bone armors? That got a chuckle out of me. Neat! I was also fond of the rogue option to reduce non-proficiency penalty, gaining even proficiency when the penalty is reduced to 0.

Beyond the racial feat I already mentioned, there are two more: Small but Vicious nets a 1d3 natural bite attack. I know that’s not always consistently listed by Paizo. The author still took the extra mile and spelled out damage type. Thank you! Sodbuster requires 5th level, and nets a burrowing speed of 10 ft.

Conclusion:

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

Michael Mars Russell delivers a charming little playable race; the shoony are well-made, and while the pdf is pretty basic in what it covers (no race traits, no racial archetypes), it also costs a grand total of one buck. And for one buck you get a solid, well-wrought race. The fixes for the minor glitches elevate this to a straight 4-star file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shoony: Pug People for Pathfinder 1st Edition
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Comeback Traits
Publisher: Michael Mars
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/27/2021 11:06:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This is the review of the revised version – kudos to the author for fixing some snafus!

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so comeback traits are traits for people who hate failing; as the author explains, they are named after Strong Comeback and the pdf acknowledges the existence of exemplar comeback traits, with one provided. It should be noted that exemplar traits occupy both trait slots, but eliminates the usual 1 trait per category restriction that traits are subjected to. The exemplar trait provided for comeback traits would be Certain About One Thing lets you 1/day instead of rolling an atk, save or skill check take 10. You may do this an additional time for every 2 other comeback traits you have.

The other traits do not have this issue, though: A Little More Left in the Tank has been properly rebalanced and revised, and is now a neat kineticist option.

Accidental Flourish lets you 1/day when you roll a natural 1 on an attack and miss by 10 or mor reroll the attack. Solid. Duck and Weave is the same design-paradigm, but for saving throws. Not Nearly As Incompetent As I Look would be the skill check version, but its failure condition is 1 or failing a skill check by 10 or more.

Grazing Strike lets you 1/day ignore a natural 1 attack roll when the attack would otherwise hit, and deal minimum damage instead. Just Breathe On it is a bit weird: Whenever you reduce an enemy to 0 or less hp in melee and do not kill them, they drop unconscious. Okay, that usually happens? What if the target has Diehard? Ferocity? This one still isn’t operational as written.

Conditional Success helps you negate natural 20s of enemies when they negate non-damaging spells or abilities, having them suffer the effect until the start of their next turn; usable 1/day. Really like it! Forceful Spells is one that I really didn’t like, but not due to design concerns, but simply because I can’t wrap my head around how this trait’s effects manifest within the logic of the game world: when you cast a damaging spell, if all targets avoid taking damage, one target instead takes force damage equal to the spell’s level. I get the design intent: Reliable, minor damage as a consolation; I just don’t see the logic within the magic system in the world. Your mileage may vary for this one, though.

That Should Not Have Hit lets you 1/day when an enemy rolls a natural 20 that would otherwise not have hit instead take minimum damage. I REALLY like this aesthetically, and it now also has a caveat that covers effects like e.g. vorpal weaponry and similar effects that trigger on a 20. Kudos for cleaning that up!

Frenzied Defense nets you a +2 trait bonus to AC and saves when you miss with all attacks in a full attack, but only against the targets of your full attack. Can see that. Saving Grace lets you 1/day if you roll a natural 1 on a save, but otherwise pass, ignore the failure. On Second Thought lets you retry recall information checks as a move action within 1 round of the first attempt. Nice. Once More With Feeling can be very powerful, but also extremely rewarding: A 1/day ability that fails to have an effect may be regained by becoming fatigued. I love this, particularly since the rules have been cleaned up further, now accounting for immunity to fatigue, etc.. Kudos!

Maximized Minimum lets you 1/day treat all rolled damage dice 1s as 2s. Rub Some Dirt In It is the healing version for channel/lay on hands. Solid. Pooled resources ties in all those pool abilities: When you spend 2 points on an ability and it has no effect, you are refunded one point. Nice. Rain of Arrows lets you reroll a ranged attack you missed against an enemy adjacent to an ally, with an equal chance of hitting each creature adjacent to the original target. Odd on a design level: This requires the permission of every ally adjacent to the enemy, which makes no sense in-game. I get it: It’s to prevent inner-party strife, but that sort of thing should not require rules. Heck, any halfway competent party can work with that. Perhaps I’m too hardcore there. Not a complaint, mind you.

Saving Magic nets you a spell’s level as temporary hit points when you cast a non-damaging spell and all targets negate the effect; nice: temporary hit points have a duration and the proper non-stack caveat. Slow and Steady Wins the Race is interesting: It nets you a +4 trait bonus to initiative, but only if you ROLLED lower than all enemies. Note the emphasis here, as the result is not what counts. Interesting, and due to its unconventional rules, not something one can cheese.
Training Trumps Luck, finally, lets you 1/day when an enemy rolls a natural 20 to avoid the effects of a damaging spell or ability that would not normally suffice, ignore that and instead deal minimum damage.

Finally, there is a new feat, Comeback Kid, which makes a 1/day ability of a comeback trait usable 3/day instead. The interaction with the exemplar trait is noted properly.

Conclusion: The editing and formatting, particularly on a rules-language level, has improved significantly: Kudos! Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with some solid b/w-artwork familiar to fans of Frog God Games. The pdf has no bookmarks and needs none at its length, but much to my pleasant surprise, it comes in three versions: One for the PC, one for devices where HD-space is more important (smaller file-size) and one that is printer-friendly, omitting colors and artwork: NICE!

Michael Mars Russell delivers a rather intriguing array of traits here; traits are a difficult design space: One doesn’t have much room to maneuver in, and it’s easy to either be boring, redundant, or too strong; now, for the most part, this pdf does a solid job at presenting pretty open traits with a unified theme that I very much enjoy; the revised iteration has gotten rid of the majority of wonky bits, leaving only one instance where the functionality of a trait isn’t given. The pdf is inexpensive, though, and this is the author’s freshman offering (apart from conversion work, which is a different beast); that does grant this a bit of leeway. The revised edition is a significant improvement in almost every way, which means that the final verdict will be upgraded to 4.5 stars, rounded up in spite of the one remaining minor hiccup.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Comeback Traits
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Monsterarium
Publisher: Knight Owl Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/26/2021 12:37:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This bestiary clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look! My review is based on the pdf; I don’t have the print version.

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

Okay, so, the first thing you should know about this booklet would be that, yes, this is a bestiary, but it’s not a book of things designed to be hacked apart as throwaway monsters; this bestiary focuses on what I like calling “narrative monsters”, so creatures that have a more significant impact or that are intended to form the center of a narrative. The second thing would be art: Co-author Nahid Taheri has a truly unique style. Look at that cover. Each of the creatures herein has an illustration done in the same style, which I’d call uncanny and slightly creepy old fairy tale illustration. I like that style; it gives the book a genuinely unique visual identity and helped me retain my memory of these monsters. It’s been a long time since I first read this bestiary, and I still could recall every single critter herein.

Now, on a less impressed level, it should be noted that this book does not actually subscribe to a specific OSR-system. You know what this means: We only get very basic stats, and depending on the old-school system you favor, you’ll need to do some adjusting. It also makes it more difficult, at least for me, to actually decide how hard a critter should hit. If I e.g. run a B/X-Old-School-Essentials critter in a retro game based on AD&D 2e, I know by how much I need to upgrade it; same goes in reverse for running e.g. an AD&D 2e critter is OSE, obviously. These “general” OSR supplements lack this frame. Some of my readers might shrug this off, while some will very much think that this does matter. Anyhow, each creature notes an alignment on the law-chaos axis, a movement (120 seems to be the default value), an ascending AC value, the number of HD, the number of attacks, the damage dealt, and a single save value, which uses a descending value. Each creature has its special attacks and/or weaknesses listed after their flavor text.

Thematically, the creatures herein are partially original creations, and partially drawn from the rich and oftentimes untapped resource of Persian folklore, with which I share a particular fascination. That being said, the book does manage to maintain a sort of consistence in its themes and feeling I enjoyed. An old-school non-Disney fairy tale/folklore-esque angle suffuses the supplement.

Okay, so, the pdf doesn’t start on its best foot with the Al, an invisible roughly female thing that hunts mothers and seeks to kill their newborn and steal their livers; their teeth can cause bleeding wounds, and interestingly, they will be hard to confront: They free sharp objects. This is a great creature, but the prose accompanying it, the description, felt rough. To give you an example: “Al appears as a tall and slender older woman with long and unbound rough black hair. It is naked though covered in very short fur. It has long fangs that reach past its chin. Its teeth act as blades that never dull or chip.” Now, thankfully, this somewhat staccato-like aspect does not extend throughout the pdf, but since it shows up on the first critter, I figured it’d be worth mentioning that the prose gets better.

Cord legs are AWESOME. They appear as a person in need, and ask to be carried on the back; if they are, they wriggle their cord legs around the adventurer, and can quickly and efficiently kill those they are riding. The poor sods being ridden by a cord legs have Charisma 8, or -2 Charisma if less than 8. Okay, what if one has Charisma 8? No penalty? Hmmm. Carrying them around can permanently enhance your Strength if you get rid of them, which is codified. In spite of my nitpickery, I like these critters: They have the folklore angle, need to be outwitted, and there is something gorgeously grotesque about them.

Ejdohogo is a plot device disguised as a weird dragon, wingless and plumed…and its tail has this classic trick, where, if all present fail to save against it, the next adventuring session will be bizarre and weird, and actually a completely illusory adventure. If the adventurers live through it, they awake dehydrated and starved with 1 hp. Okay. What effect does the tail have if NOT everyone fails the save? No clue, no rules or even suggestions are provided.

Faux sirens are another puzzle boss of sorts: They actually are plants and have an ability that causes one random target to defend them – no save. Yep. Not even a save. I don’t like that, and think it’s essentially GM railroading. Not cool. And they have a siren’s call that lures targets to them, and while it notices that this is enough time to drown in bogs, the ability and generic OSR rules provide no frame of reference regarding whether this operates more akin to a charm or a dominate.

Hair that had a human, on the other hand, is grotesque and amazing in all the right ways: Long locks of floating hair with a human face, the long locks concealing a child’s body. Oh, and they are FAST, can become even faster and if they catch you, it’s save or die! And that save or die? You only get it if you’re adult. Kids are screwed. Need a good folklore-ish horror critter? This one fits the bill and is actually one of the few times where I consider an instant-kill move suitable. Two big thumbs up!

The lich queen…is weird. She has an entourage of zombies and skeletons and style galore, sure, and yes, she has not one, but two abilities that are save or die, but at a paltry 4 HD. I fail to see the appeal, and the two save or suck abilities are horribly lame. The one saving grace of this critter would be her hand-wand dependency: If she loses the wand, she casts “all her spells at half strength.” But she has no real spells. Just zombie/skeleton summoning and two instant-kill abilities sans rhyme or reason. Also, what does “half strength” mean? Do you only die half? This doesn’t work as written.

Loot wyverns are cool: Little winged lizards that eat treasure that are good at surprising targets, and a good bite can consume silver/treasure. Their claws scar over with gold. AWESOME. How much is such a gold scar worth? No clue. This is frustrating, as the treasure-scar mechanic is cool…but it WILL be cheesed and could wreck entire economies, obviously…but it has a lot of potential. Does the scar reduce maximum hp? This BEGS for proper rules.

Night hags take the shape of shadowy ravens in this interpretation, and lie down on the sleeping, stealing their sleep. They sport this intriguing section of text: “They might kill the person if no one is awake around, but they are not always interested in killing. They cannot rest, so often they steal sleep from humans in this manner.” Guess what we get no rules for? Bingo. For stealing sleep. For potentially killing the sleeping. Nothing. A perfect example of a cool, evocative critter tarnished by subpar design.

Peri are little fey-ish creatures with butterfly like snorkels that can sing and duplicate anything they heard, including spells; they drain Constitution and grow, and take additional damage from iron weapons; they come in two castes of sorts, the lesser wingless and the greater winged peri. Keeja, the chief of the peri, is also included in the book’s second section, and can dine on the saving throws of adventurers, and use a dandelion puff that actually is quite lethal. Two thumbs up, though adherence to a system would have made this one work slightly better. The tremulous troll is the last troll in the world; she takes next to no damage from all attacks, and has 6 types of magic fungi with spell-like effects…but she fears blades, and she fears light even more, for it is the one thing that truly hurts her. An interesting NPC-style creature.

The second part of the book is devoted to the creatures of the wood, and ties in, to a degree, with the aforementioned array: The first critter presented in this section would be the faun that s also depicted on the cover, lord of the peri and the wisps; he can alter memories of those it meets, and it can initiate raves, which may or may not tie in with Meatlandia Chaos DJs. Wisps, just fyi, are sentinet magic focused on a crystal set in a vial, and they increase in power by finding wisp stones, of which 6 are codified; an alternate, the wisp wizard, is also presented – these are pretty deadly, as one can imagine. They also want to get their hands on the torchbearer.

Who is that? Well, this lady was once an adventurer, but had to witness her fellows being slain; now, she is a quasi-mystical being who might show up to those in need and lead them to safety, sate their hunger, or even grant them Wisdom! A really neat mystical ally. Flying goldenfish are also amazing: They, when consumed, can, for 24 hours, grant you significant boosts to your stats (but you can also lose maximum HP)…and you’ll incur the ire of denizens of an extra-dimensional town…and they may well send the AL after you!

Harpy summoners are something rather different: Occupants of the Lajwardian mountains, these women left the realms of men behind to live free from the reign of men, and as such, they have the power to call harpies to defend them. Interesting flip of the traditional harpy mythology. The spate nymph is a creature of beauty; so much so that the apathetic lady causes those that witness her to forevermore lose Charisma…but her flying fish, if beseeched, can grant wishes. Keeja does hate her and wants her dead. And yes, there are more connections between the creatures than I’ve mentioned.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are…uneven. The supplement oscillates between sufficient precision and aggravating opaqueness, which is only partially due to not subscribing to a specific rules system. This phenomenon also extends to the prose. Layout adheres toa two-column full-color standard, and while the artwork of Nahid Taheri is most assuredly a matter of tastes, I really, really liked all these original full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print version.

The Monsterarium of Ahimsa Kerp and Nahid Taheri left me torn like very few bestiaries over the years. To make that abundantly clear: Conceptually, I adore this booklet. It has a distinct identity, and not one of the creatures herein is boring or bland; even when the creatures make use of classic folklore tropes, they have an execution distinct from the defaults. In some creatures, this reminded me of how Alana I. Capria’s feminist twists on fairy tales, just in a less grotesque and gratuitous manner, so if you enjoy flips like that, this’ll be intriguing. Similarly, if you enjoy your monsters as creatures informed by folklore, then this has a lot to offer and contains some true gems.

That being said, the decision to not properly adhere to a system hurts this book to a significant degree; in some instances, it breaks the functionality of the creatures and leaves the referee scratching their head of what was actually intended here. Combined with the inconsistent editing, this renders the bestiary a study in contrasts, and not in a good way.

To make that abundantly clear: If you’re after concepts and ideas, then this should be considered to be a 5-star file; if you also want mechanical integrity of the creatures, then this pdf unfortunately loses a lot of its splendor, and does so without any actual need. If find myself wanting to slap my seal of approval on this, but I simply can’t; for that, this is too flawed a gem. Still, I do encourage you to take a look if the above even remotely intrigued you. My final verdict, though, can’t exceed 3.5 stars. And while I will round up, I do so for the concepts. If you want the rules to properly work so you can simply plug and play, then I suggest rounding down instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monsterarium
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Files for Everybody: Acrobatics Feats
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/23/2021 11:21:43

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

Okay, on the introductory page we actually get content, namely a new background…the surfer. This one nets you an ability boost for Strength or Dexterity, and a free one, and makes you trained in Acrobatics and Ocean Lore. Additionally, you get the Surf feat, which brings us to the new feats herein, which all, to some degree, require, no surprise there, at least being trained in Acrobatics.

Surf takes an action, and lets you surf horizontally over the surface of a liquid, using the Athletics check DC to swim through it, and you thus ignore terrain features that would usually impede you, but wouldn’t impede your board. Helpful: Even though snow is technically not a liquid, the rules-text does mention it as a valid surface, and the rules also mentions the requirement for force acting upon you, such as gravity, the push of a wave, etc., and if said force would push you farther, you must keep surfing each round or fall, with a proper differentiation between critical successes, failures, etc. being provided.

Quick Grab is one of the feats that may not sound like much, but that is super useful and will see tons of use: Stride up to your speed and Interact to pick up an item if it was within reach during your movement. The feat accounts for alternate movement modes, and your proficiency in Acrobatics determines the maximum Bulk of the item you pick up. Cool! Okay, so these are the level 1 feats.

For level 2, we have 3, all of which require expert proficiency in Acrobatics: Blinding Squall requires a fly speed and flying at ground level and lets you kick up dust in a short-range burst to generate a concealing cloud that briefly lasts; this is obviously contingent on material to kick up. And nope, it doesn’t actually, you know, blind targets. Confounding Tumbler adds critical success and success effects to Tumble Through, allowing you to render the enemy flat-footed against your next attack, or attacks until the end of your turn. Skillful Contortion makes the enemy trying to Grapple you instead target your Acrobatics DC, and if you’re a master or legendary, you get some benefits if an enemy critically fails to Grapple you.

At level 3, we have Trap Dancer, a one-action feat with the secret and move tags, and which requires that you’re aware of a hazard. With it, you can make an Acrobatics check to move past hazards sans minimum proficiency to disable, and with a critical success, you can even trigger them in a way that prevents them from affecting your allies. If your proficiency in Acrobatics is higher, you can manage to use this feat with traps that require a higher minimum proficiency rank to disable. This one is gold for NPCs escaping, and for characters that enjoy planning/setting up ambushes.

At level 4, we have Perfect Balance, which builds on Steady Balance and requires a rank of master, and makes Shove and Trip attempts against you target Acrobatics DC instead of Fortitude. It also lets you Grab an Edge if your hands are tied or restrained. Level 5’s Cat Pounce builds on Cat Fall, uses your reaction, and lets you weaponize your falling when landing on enemies. The feat scales and, being situational, even a critical success will see an enemy take minor damage. The interaction with Cat’s Fall is also smooth.

At level 12, we have another reaction-based feat, namely Pin the Blade, which lets you retaliate against a missed weapon attack from an adjacent enemy (“Adjacent” is important – the feat works against ranged weapons as well this way, but only if they’re used in close quarters; clever and makes sense!): You make an Acrobatics check vs. the target’s Reflex DC, jumping on the weapon to reduce its effectiveness. The success/failure effects represent rather well what you’d expect here. Neat.

Finally, there would be Step In, another reaction-based one, which requires legendary proficiency in Acrobatics and which may be taken at 15th level; it’s triggered by an enemy of your size or larger using an action with the attack, manipulate or move traits, and makes you use Acrobatics vs. Reflex DC, and can immobilize the opponent and render them flat-footed AND unable to use actions with the concentrate trait. The effect ends, obviously, when you move or are forcibly moved.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level; on a formal level, the pdf is very good as well, though I did notice a few minor things, like “Expert” in the prerequisite-line being title case, when it usually is lower case, but that is cosmetic. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a really nice original full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Dustin Knight’s Acrobatics Feats were a pleasant surprise to me. Cat’s Pounce is a bit situational as far as I’m concerned, but as a whole, the feats include several definite winners, not a single sucky one, and with Quick Grab we have a feat that should have been core. That gem alone warrants imho getting the pdf. The feats that emphasize the slippery scoundrel angle also help a lot here. As a whole, this is a great example of an unpretentious and extremely useful little pdf. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Acrobatics Feats
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Files for Everybody: Nashi
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/20/2021 05:42:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 21 (!!) pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the nashi might be familiar to fans of Everybody Games; to summarize them: They’re raccoon folk with extremely sensitive hands. They get 8 HP, are Small, have a 25 ft. speed and their ability boosts are to Intelligence and a free one; their precise touch nets them tremorsense 5 ft., but not as a vague sense, but rather as a precise one. This is already a pretty awesome component that makes them potentially contribute something to the party that other ancestries wouldn’t be able to do. Oh, and there is something else I adore: This ancestry is not simply a collection of stats: The pdf explains the species’ culture, architecture, etc., making it genuinely feel like an organic and viable addition to the gaming world. Their language, rooted in Sylvan is explained alongside their cuisine, their nations, etc., and yes, their ethnic groups, including the tanukun and the seafaring Zumei!

There are no less than 10 heritages to choose from, which includes a knack for filching items, low-light vision and better chances of noticing concealed creatures with Seek, magical talents, being a socialite, etc.—oh, and yes, there is a heritage that actually represents a tanuki heritage, represented by making you a shape changer!

Unless I have miscounted, there are 11 level 1 ancestry-feats, which include being swifter, a representation of the nashi knack for tinkering regarding their proficiencies, a jaws attack, keen senses, a climbing speed, and means to further capitalize on the excellent tactile senses of the species. We also have the means to use Athletics for initiative as a reaction to scramble up inclines with Climb. This one can be very helpful if your GM is as hardcore as I am. Just sayin’…

The pdf also presents 3 5th-level feats: Sensate Strike is particularly cool: It combines the tactile sense with unarmed attacks, and lets you combine a Strike with actually looking for concealed objects! Among the 3 9th level feats, the one that lets you concentrate to enhance the range of your sense deserves particular applause as far as I’m concerned, and 4 13th level feats complete this part of the pdf.

Beyond that, though, we do get MOAR. Alchemists, for example, will like to hear that we receive a new Gunpowder research field, and this leads me into another aspect of this pdf: This file actually includes tight and well-crafted gunpowder weapon rules, including weapon traits for revolvers (chamber), weapons that let you fire bombs, weapons with spreads and the like. Malfunctions and means to clear them and basic combat actions for Spread Strikes complement this system…and seriously? Paizo’s system will need to best this one. It’s ridiculously cool. Bolas cartridges? Check. Flamethrower-y cartridges? Check. Cartridges that let you infuse alchemical items in them? Check. Rock salt? Smokescreen? Essentially flechette? Check, check, and check again. This system interacts incredibly well with the new alchemist feats, and the whole alchemy-trick-gunslinger build array that you can craft with this pdf? Pure gold. If you want to play a trick-shooting alchemist? Get this. It’s incredibly awesome.

Beyond that, we have a new sorcerer bloodline supplemented by 3 focus spells, two of which deal with reshaping your body, with one even allowing you to make fingers or other body parts into items, Mr. Fantastic/Plastic Man style, and yes, this interacts properly with the item level system. Did I mention Spell Sake, which makes it possible to make your spells into potions? And yes, these will render the imbiber buzzed; the “sake” moniker is not cosmetic. Magitechnician wizards focusing on Crafting are also covered, and the pdf also features the tinker archetype, supplemented by a couple of feats. Particularly shield-users will welcome the fact that this one lets you swiftly cobble together shields, but the utility of this one goes beyond that. Obviously.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level, and the pdf also excels on the formal level. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports really nice original full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which does constitute a comfort-detriment at this level.

…a comfort-detriment that would usually make me rate this lower. BUT hot damn, does this file deliver. This is a perfect example of not going one, but several extra miles. The pdf offers a genuinely compelling ancestry for your game, one that offers a distinct playing experience with a lot of customizing options…and it makes the nashi species feel organic, plausible, vibrant. And then you also, you know, have this very smooth and elegant alchemy firearm system as a frickin’ bonus. And all those class options. Alexander Augunas keeps piling cool stuff on an already excellent species.

The result? Frankly, the bang-for-buck ratio for this one is superb. Even if the firearm system is not something you’d want to use, I’d genuinely recommend giving it a shot (haha!), and once Guns & Gears releases, this’ll be the system it has to compete with/beat as far as I’m concerned. Now, usually I’d axe a star or my seal for the lack of bookmarks, but considering how much cool stuff we get, that’d be mean-spirited and asinine at best. This deserves the full 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Files for Everybody: Nashi
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