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Quests of Doom 4: A Midnight Council of Quail (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2021 11:40:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This module is intended for 4–6 characters of levels 3rd to 5th; in contrast to many modules in the series, it is actually not as brutal as you’d expect it to be. The adventure didn’t prove to be too challenging for a decently optimized band of adventurers. While a well-rounded group is suggested, the module is, difficulty-wise, very unlikely to result in PC deaths; if you’re running this for 3rd level characters, the PCs need good tactics in the final combat, but otherwise, the adventure is rather manageable.

Structurally, the module features slightly more of a page of magical and alchemical items, which range from functional (a ring to fortify you against poison) to rather creative ones like enchanted spurs; these spurs, by the way, also include a minor snafu in the item rules, missing a bonus type when there should be one. Another rules issue would be an instance where a Dexterity check is prescribed, when an Acrobatics check would be used for the sort of check instead. That being said, these two minor hiccups won’t break the experience.

The module can be thought of as a cursory investigation and a brief dungeon. As often for these modules, we get read-aloud text for the encounter areas in the dungeon, but not for the investigation section, which takes place in a small village. The module features a b/w-map for the village, and one for the dungeon, but both of these do not come with a player-friendly version sans glyphs/numbers. Serious comfort detriment there. The village map has no grid, and the dungeon map does not note its scale; I assume each square to be 5x5 feet.

Okay, there is one more rules-relevant aspect that needs to be addressed, but in order to do so, I need to go into SPOILERS. As such, I’d like to ask potential players to jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the module has a REALLY strong opening that hearkens back to old-school aesthetics, when high-level druids were rare (and only a fixed number per level existed, worldwide – to level up you’d need to eliminate a superior…): The party is approached by a flock of Quail, one of whom can speak: The bird has gained sapience (as well as speech – only this one bird speaks) due to proximity to an arch-druid. The birds have observed a weird tendency in a local village, with a new despot moving in and all people behaving more or less apathetic. They ask the party to investigate, and the first section of the module begins.

Here, the adventurers investigate the strange occurrences. The village is peculiar in a few ways, as it sports a wunderkind of sewing, which means that all peasants are very well-dressed, and with things like gong farmers taken into account, we have this subdued sense of weird that I very much enjoyed in the author’s 3.X offerings back in the day.

Structurally, the investigation is not particularly well-structured; a trail of clues or the like isn’t clearly laid out, requiring a bit more prepwork than necessary. However, on the plus side, the whole thing is created in a way that makes the PC’s actions matter more – it is relatively free-form and may well boil down to the party simply forming their own conclusions. The respective keyed encounters note “Infected” for a household that’s compromised, but ultimately, that is not relevant: You see, the obvious despot who moved in is part of the issue, one of the two villains responsible. This fellow is a wereboar who uses one of the new items, a ring of human control, to assert his dominance. This ring generates charm person 3/day, and has a CL of 1st.

…yeah, that’s unfortunately not how it works. RAW, this would mean that he can maintain 3 charm persons, for an hour each; on a failed save, mind you. That doesn’t suffice to keep all people in the village noted as “infected” under control. So yeah, RAW, the premise doesn’t work out as provided. Not even close. It should also be noted that, in PFRPG, there are plenty of ways to detect the presence of enchantment magic, so that is imho the likeliest outcome of the investigation. As a whole, this investigation feels like it has been cut down and/or simplified a bit, and that it doesn’t really account for all the cool things PFRPG can do.

Granted, you can fix that by explaining the flawed ring-rules away with a side-effect of the work of the second villain: You see, there is a hidden complex, where a mad druid lurks, who is under the effects of essentially a kinda-radioactive ore. I like this ore; it has a 6-stage progression (indubitably due to 5e’s influence), but the GM can potentially explain the weird villagers that way.

Anyhow, ideally, the party deals with the wereboar and the hidden druid, the latter being btw. the one difficult combat in the module: A young grizzly plus a CR 7 druid can be hard for a level 3 party but provided the party can keep the druid from using his spellcasting to full effect, it is very much possible to triumph in this module without having too hard a time. The small dungeon is solid; not much to complain there, but also not that much stood out to me.

Which brings me to one issue of the module that GMs need to be aware of: This module breaks the WBL-assumptions of the game, big time—not in a game-breaking manner, and indeed, I consider e.g. a flag that you can use to make use of the clouds as signals to be thematically amazing…but if that sort of thing is important to you, it still bears mentioning.

…and there is, sort of, the elephant in the room: The setup of this adventure is top-tier, and the village is rather neat as well; the Quail-hook is really cool. But I couldn’t help but feel that this great hook is totally wasted on the banality of the antagonists of the module. I mean, picture it: If the party actually had to use the Quail as a surveillance-force, combined with a schedule for villagers, you know, some actual real investigation, that would be SO COOL; but the module doesn’t really make use of its premise, instead opting for something safe. It’s so cool, but it’s only window-dressing. Alternatively, having a Quail surveillance hive-mind as an opponent would have been rather awesome, right? What has been done with the setup is okay, but not half as cool as mind-blowing as the premise deserved.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, okay on a rules-language level; the module is mostly functional as presented, with only details as slightly problematic factors. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks. The cartography in b/w is nice as well, but the lack of player-friendly maps is a big comfort detriment. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Lance Hawvermale’s midnight council sports the trademark subdued weirdness I always liked in his writing; there are aspects of fairy tale-esqueness here, with a subdued and interesting punk-sprinkling on top. There’s just this tiny bit of it that makes it feel distinct and novel, while still hitting the classic Lost lands vibes. Dave Landry’s PF-conversion also works better in this module than in many other modules of the series. That being said, I couldn’t help but feel like this had been cut down to a much smaller size than originally intended…or like it squanders its absolutely fantastic premise. The investigation aspect of the module, structurally, is so barebones and obvious, and without that much to actually actively thwart the party, that I couldn’t help but feel let down after it kicked off so strongly.

In a way, this is almost a mirror-image of Quests of Doom: Awakenings: Awakenings was dragged from the lofty praise it deserved by formal issues, whereas this one is stronger in the formal components, but promises much with its hook, only to then underdeliver a rather mundane story. Now, as a person, I vastly prefer Awakenings over this module, but as a reviewer, I have to account for this adventure actually working as penned. In the end, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded down…but this one gives me hope for the remaining modules in the series.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: A Midnight Council of Quail (PF)
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Book of Heroic Races: Player Races 2 (5e)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2021 12:25:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book of races clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, structurally, this book contains 4 new races, with each race receiving between 2 and 3 pages of information, which include physical descriptions, notes on the society of the respective race. Each race gets one stunning artwork, with the androids getting 2 additional ones that are slightly more comic-like in style, but also neat.

Two of the new races herein are constructed beings: The first would be the androids, who increase their Intelligence by 2, and get a kind of combination of low-light vision and darkvision: Within 60 ft., they treat dim light as bright light and darkness as dim light, but when in darkness, they only see in shades of gray. Imho, this should just be called Darkvision, the Perception proficiency outsourced elsewhere, but that’s cosmetic. Androids have advantage on saving throws against poison and enchantment spells; this is slightly ambiguous, for the reference to “poison” here could refer to the poisoned condition, and/or to poison damage. In comparison, the rules-syntax of Dwarven Resilience made that clear by contrasting it with resistance to poison damage, but this is admittedly nitpicking; I assume that the poisoned condition is meant. They also get proficiency in a weapon of their choice, and in Perception, but otherwise are Medium, 30 ft. speed. Two android subraces are provided to choose from.

Alchemical androids increase Dexterity by 1, their speed to 35 ft., and gain proficiency with their choice of alchemist’s supplies, cartographer’s tool, glassblower’s tools or tinker’s tools. Technological androids increase their Constitution by 1, and get advantage on saves against lightning damage and also have resistance to lightning damage. They also get an additional language.

The second construct race would have a less pronounced science-fantasy angle: The Geppettoans. The race’s name makes it obvious: We have the wooden Pinocchio-style race. Originally created by a fair and kind-hearted man, the design to create these intelligent servitors was quickly abused…until the race broke free. They increase the Intelligence and Constitution by 1, are Small with a 25 ft. speed, and are proficient with club, greatclub, quarterstaff and spear. They are immune to disease, but can ingest potions etc. like living creatures. They do not need to sleep, but must spend 4 hours a day maintaining their animating runes. This race has no subraces.

Beyond these constructed races, we have the Gillfolk free of their erstwhile aboleth masters. A warlike people, the Gillfok here reminded me less of the traditional Lovecraftian angle, and more of the subjects of e.g. Aquaman (or Prince Nemo, if you prefer Marvel); they increase Strength by 2, are Medium and have a land and swimming speed of 30 ft. They are proficient with net, spear and trident and the Athletics skill. Gillfolk who spend more than a day sans being fully immersed in water for at least one hour suffer disadvantage on all actions for that day. They can, obviously, breathe both air and water.

Two subraces are presented: Deep sea gillfolk increase Constitution by 1 and gain nominally the same Enhanced Sight feature as the androids, save that it actually has different effects: It has a range of 120 ft., but does not offer proficiency with Perception, and yet has the same name as the android feature. I think different names would have been preferable here, They also are have resistance against cold damage and advantage on saving throws vs. cold damage. Shore line gillfolk increase Charisma by 1, and know the shocking grasp cantrip. At 3rd level, they can cast speak with animals 1/day, and at 5th level, misty escape 1/day, all using Charisma as their spellcasting ability.

The final race would be lizardfolk, who increase their Constitution by 2 and gain proficiency with blowgun, handaxe, javelin and maul. They come with 2 subraces: Dragonsired lizardfolk increase Charisma by 1 and gain resistance against your choice of acid, cold, fire, lightning or poison, and also advantage on saving throws against these effects. Here, it’d be interesting to know how this works regarding poisoned condition/poison damage, and they also get a cantrip of their choice from the sorcerer spell list, using Charisma as spellcasting ability. Swampkin lizardfolk increase Wisdom by 1 and gain Hold Breath as well as +1 natural armor bonus…which isn’t how 5e handles natural armor. 5e uses natural armor as an alternate AC-calculating formula that does not stack with e.g. Unarmored Defense etc. Then again, this doesn’t break the game. As an aside, I’d have preferred to see a non-draconic lizardfolk subrace, after all, we already have dragonborn as a core player-race.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level there isn’t much to complain about either, with all my niggles being nitpicks. Layout adheres to the series’ standard, with green stripes on top and bottom, and the artworks deserve special mention: The prestige artwork that accompanies each race is really nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Dale C. McCoy Jr., Richard Moore, and Kevin Morris deliver a really nice supplement here. All of the races herein are power-wise within the same rough area and shouldn’t unbalance most games. Now, personally, I’d have liked to see some supplemental material for the races, or at least one instance of slightly more daring design; the content herein is pretty conservative in what it offers. But considering the low asking price, I do think that this is worth taking a look at. My final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Book of Heroic Races: Player Races 2 (5e)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for taking the time to review. I updated this product based on your review and I hope I fixed the issues you pointed out.
Five Nights at the Scythe (SN)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2021 10:57:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As usual for eventures, the focus in this supplement is not combat or regular dungeon exploration, but instead a more social setting; after all, not all adventuring needs to be done with blades a-gleaming and spells a-burning, right? It’s an event-adventure—an eventure. Anyhow, as such, this eventure is best-suited for the low- and mid-level regions, and is nominally situated within the Duchy of Ashlar, the region in which most current Raging Swan Press supplements are situated.

To be more precise, the eponymous Scythe is a dingy hovel of a tavern situated in the Low City district of Languard, which is itself lavishly-detailed in the City Backdrop: Languard and the Languard Locations-series; if you do own these supplements, the tavern does gain some seriously nice context, but if you don’t, fret not, for the tavern is easy enough to integrate into most cities. It should be noted that the Scythe is full mapped in gorgeous b/w with a proper grid; the map is actually mostly player-friendly, with the exception of a single indicator that can be considered to be a SPOILER. I tried using this in FGU, and there is enough space around the indicator to make it “vanish” until found by drawing the walls differently, but a version of the map sans the indicator would have been appreciated nonetheless. The map is pretty detailed and comes with a grid, so functionality is definitely provided.

Speaking of functionality: We do get values for food and drink, as well as a rundown of staff and regulars at the very beginning, and the place pointed out on a detailed map of the district of Languard, so you have a nice introductory cheat-sheet from the get-go.

Now, it should be noted that the tavern holds a secret, which, unlike the things encountered in most eventures, may well spark conflict; the NPCs referenced throughout, including this section, note alignment, gender, species and class + suggested class levels, but this being the system-neutral version, do not provide actual stats. The classes referenced are the proper old-school terms – you know, “thief” instead of rogue, etc. Mentioning that since some of my readers do care about that.

Now, the actual eventure follows a similar formula as the inaugural installment of the series, in that you use the first night the first time the PCs visit, the second night the second time they visit, etc.; for that first visit, there are 4 solid hooks provided, and we do get not one, but two lists with 6 minor events and 6 whispers and rumors each (so 12 per category) to add additional local color to the tavern.

Very helpful: Each night is grouped into a variety of events, typically around 3, sometimes more, sometimes less—these include dealing with arguing couples, rowdy drinkers, visitors from the feared Wrecks, bards performing (including larger crowds), beggars, performers…and, as hinted at before, a subplot focusing on a secret. None of these events are monumental, but they do an excellent job grounding the proceedings in between adventures, though e.g. brawls and guard interventions may well happen.

In this version, I can’t well complain about a lack of mechanics, either.

Beyond its content, the supplement also provides a couple of suggestions for further adventures.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The map is mostly, but not entirely, player-friendly.

Creighton Broadhurst has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in his writing, and this supplement is a great reminder for that, as far as the fluff goes. The system neutral version leaves few things to be desired; it would have been nice if the supplement had actually specified how the secret works (in words, not numbers), but that may be me. In many ways, it is evident that this is the primary version of the supplement, from which the respective systems were partially extrapolated; this supplement is refined, interesting and full of flavor for a fair price. Now, I do wish the 5e and PFRPG versions had more care put into them, but that should not tarnish my review of this supplement. With only minor nitpicks, such as the minor map issue regarding the indicator, this supplement receives 5 stars, but misses my seal of approval by a margin.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Five Nights at the Scythe (SN)
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Five Nights at the Scythe (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2021 10:56:02

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As usual for eventures, the focus in this supplement is not combat or regular dungeon exploration, but instead a more social setting; after all, not all adventuring needs to be done with blades a-gleaming and spells a-burning, right? It’s an event-adventure—an eventure. Anyhow, as such, this eventure is best-suited for the low-level regions, and is nominally situated within the Duchy of Ashlar, the region in which most current Raging Swan Press supplements are situated.

To be more precise, the eponymous Scythe is a dingy hovel of a tavern situated in the Low City district of Languard, which is itself lavishly-detailed in the City Backdrop: Languard and the Languard Locations-series; if you do own these supplements, the tavern does gain some seriously nice context, but if you don’t, fret not, for the tavern is easy enough to integrate into most cities. It should be noted that the Scythe is full mapped in gorgeous b/w with a proper grid; the map is actually mostly player-friendly, with the exception of a single indicator that can be considered to be a SPOILER. I tried using this in FGU, and there is enough space around the indicator to make it “vanish” until found by drawing the walls differently, but a version of the map sans the indicator would have been appreciated nonetheless. The map is pretty detailed and comes with a grid, so functionality is definitely provided.

Speaking of functionality: We do get values for food and drink, as well as a rundown of staff and regulars at the very beginning, and the place pointed out on a detailed map of the district of Languard, so you have a nice introductory cheat-sheet from the get-go.

Now, it should be noted that the tavern holds a secret, which, unlike the things encountered in most eventures, may well spark conflict; the NPCs referenced throughout, including this section, note in 5e default-NPC statblocks to reference, so regarding combat functionality, you’ll be better off than in PFRPG.

Now, the actual eventure follows a similar formula as the inaugural installment of the series, in that you use the first night the first time the PCs visit, the second night the second time they visit, etc.; for that first visit, there are 4 solid hooks provided, and we do get not one, but two lists with 6 minor events and 6 whispers and rumors each (so 12 per category) to add additional local color to the tavern. As in PFRPG, we don’t get any DCs to learn those.

Very helpful: Each night is grouped into a variety of events, typically around 3, sometimes more, sometimes less—these include dealing with arguing couples, rowdy drinkers, visitors from the feared Wrecks, bards performing (including larger crowds), beggars, performers…and, as hinted at before, a subplot focusing on a secret. None of these events are monumental, but they do an excellent job grounding the proceedings in between adventures, though e.g. brawls and guard interventions may well happen.

The absence of hard rules in the 5e version is less problematic than in PFRPG, courtesy of the default NPC stats providing a framework, but it’d have been nice to see barroom brawl rules – either as a mini-game, or by referencing Kobold Press’ take on that concept as a creature – it’s on the SRD, after all.

Beyond its content, the supplement also provides a couple of suggestions for further adventures.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues; not that there’d be much in the ways of rules herein. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The map is mostly, but not entirely, player-friendly.

Creighton Broadhurst has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in his writing, and this supplement is a great reminder for that, as far as the fluff goes. When it comes to actual rules, this supplement is even more sparse than most Raging Swan Press offerings; but in 5e, this still works; not as smooth as it should (the aforementioned secret should be supported by some DCs…), but as a whole, this is much more ready for actual play than the PFRPG-iteration.

Now, personally, I think this works better than “Night of the Masks”, but it also is almost the system neutral version and doesn’t add system-relevant aspects that should be there. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4.5 stars, and I frankly can’t bring myself to round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Five Nights at the Scythe (5e)
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Five Nights at the Scythe
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2021 10:54:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As usual for eventures, the focus in this supplement is not combat or regular dungeon exploration, but instead a more social setting; after all, not all adventuring needs to be done with blades a-gleaming and spells a-burning, right? It’s an event-adventure—an eventure. Anyhow, as such, this eventure is best-suited for the low-level regions, and is nominally situated within the Duchy of Ashlar, the region in which most current Raging Swan Press supplements are situated.

To be more precise, the eponymous Scythe is a dingy hovel of a tavern situated in the Low City district of Languard, which is itself lavishly-detailed in the City Backdrop: Languard and the Languard Locations-series; if you do own these supplements, the tavern does gain some seriously nice context, but if you don’t, fret not, for the tavern is easy enough to integrate into most cities. It should be noted that the Scythe is full mapped in gorgeous b/w with a proper grid; the map is actually mostly player-friendly, with the exception of a single indicator that can be considered to be a SPOILER. I tried using this in FGU, and there is enough space around the indicator to make it “vanish” until found by drawing the walls differently, but a version of the map sans the indicator would have been appreciated nonetheless. The map is pretty detailed and comes with a grid, so functionality is definitely provided.

Speaking of functionality: We do get values for food and drink, as well as a rundown of staff and regulars at the very beginning, and the place pointed out on a detailed map of the district of Languard, so you have a nice introductory cheat-sheet from the get-go.

Now, it should be noted that the tavern holds a secret, which, unlike the things encountered in most eventures, may well spark conflict; the NPCs referenced throughout, including this section, note alignment, gender, species and class + suggested class levels, but do not provide actual stats, so if you want to go into the combat route, be aware that you may need to do some stat-crunching.

Now, the actual eventure follows a similar formula as the inaugural installment of the series, in that you use the first night the first time the PCs visit, the second night the second time they visit, etc.; for that first visit, there are 4 solid hooks provided, and we do get not one, but two lists with 6 minor events and 6 whispers and rumors each (so 12 per category) to add additional local color to the tavern.

Very helpful: Each night is grouped into a variety of events, typically around 3, sometimes more, sometimes less—these include dealing with arguing couples, rowdy drinkers, visitors from the feared Wrecks, bards performing (including larger crowds), beggars, performers…and, as hinted at before, a subplot focusing on a secret. None of these events are monumental, but they do an excellent job grounding the proceedings in between adventures, though e.g. brawls and guard interventions may well happen.

As a whole, there is one primary weakness to this inexpensive offering, and that would be the absence of hard rules for this supplement; while nominally dubbed Pathfinder, this has no DCs, not even for gathering information, provided; if you wish to run the combat-angle, the suggestions for the NPCs etc. would make this work only for the lowest levels, which does sell the otherwise awesome stage short. It is particularly weird to see a reference to a Barroom Brawl without mechanics, when Raging Swan Press has published a very good and inexpensive supplement handling that.

Beyond its content, the supplement also provides a couple of suggestions for further adventures.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues; not that there’d be much in the ways of rules herein. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The map is mostly, but not entirely, player-friendly.

Creighton Broadhurst has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in his writing, and this supplement is a great reminder for that, as far as the fluff goes. When it comes to actual rules, this supplement is even more anemic than most Raging Swan Press offerings; this genuinely straddles the border of what one can still call “Pathfinder-compatible”, with only class references truly being a reference to actual mechanics.

In many ways, this aspect does hamstring the supplement a bit; getting at least some Bluff or Sense Motive or Sleight of Hand modifiers would have been nice; heck, the secret I alluded to should have some sort of DC associated with it…but alas, nothing. Now, if you don’t mind the absence of any useful rules and are willing to do some minor crunching/adding in re the Barroom Brawl supplement, then this becomes a resounding recommendation! For the low and fair price, you’ll get some cool scenes to add in between your modules. If you do mind this and want something that’s mostly ready to run, then the complete absence of even skill values may limit this to the extent where it becomes less appealing.

Now, personally, I think this works better than “Night of the Masks”, but it also is almost the system neutral version and doesn’t add system-relevant aspects that should be there. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the low price point.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Five Nights at the Scythe
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Night of the Masks (SN)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2021 09:58:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

In case you were wondering “Eventures” was not a typo; these little supplements depict events, adventures, if you will, that do not focus on combat or the like. Instead, we get detailed set-pieces that focus on a key concept and how to execute it in a rewarding manner. As such, the supplement does not note a level-recommendation, though I personally would situate it in the level 1-10-region of play. For high-level play, the grounded tone may seem a bit off. In fact, I recommend running this at lower levels; the lower, the better. I’ll get to the reason why below.

In this instance, we have, obviously, a masquerade, a truly fantastic experience if you ever have attended one, and as soon as travel becomes possible once more, I do encourage you to add attending a masquerade in Venice to your bucketlist.

In this instance of this eventure, though, the masquerade is assumed to take place in the lavishly-detailed city on Languard (which I, alongside the Languard Locations-series, heartily recommend) in the duchy of Ashlar, the region that many of the more recent supplements released by Raging Swan Press take place. While the scenario does involve some political ramifications for Ashlar, it is easy enough to strip of its subdued local color and adapt to your game.

Beyond a basic array of hooks presented for the party to attend the eponymous Night of Masks, we have a sidebar that explains, commedia dell’arte-style, the names and codified types of masks worn at the occasion, which did indeed bring a smile to my face. Similarly, a basic code of conduct is presented.

The night itself is structured in 4 phases, which should not constitute spoilers: First the guests arrive, then the nobility, then some politicking is done, and then we have the unmasking; much to my pleasant surprise the order of arriving nobility is presented in detail (that’s important, after all!), and 10 supplemental minor events allow the GM to spice up things easily and without much fuss. The supplement also includes a couple of rather nice more fleshed out events, which include nobles with uncommon tastes, mask-switcheroos and what may or may not be a case of poisoning. 9 specific guests of interest come with more detailed descriptions, including read-aloud text and, in the instance of a few, a general notion of their alignment, age, gender, race and class + levels. These referenced names do include the terms “wizard” instead of “magic-user”, just to note that for the purists among my readers.

The manor-esque part of Castle Languard in which the masquerade takes place comes fully mapped by legendary Tommi Salama in b/w, and is awesome; the player-friendly, key-less version was, to my knowledge, made available to patreon supporters of Raging Swan Press. The pdf includes 8 brief sections providing slightly more details for individual locations, such as the balcony or hedge-labyrinth.

Beyond this cool locations and set-up, we also receive 5 hooks to build on the things introduced in this eventure.

…so, all cool and dandy? Well…no…not quite. You see, I can’t complain about an absence of things accounting for interaction with rules and magic in this system neutral iteration, but I can’t help but feel that addressing, at least in some form or another, the etiquette of magics and magic items would have elevated this supplement even in this iteration.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues; this being system-neutral, there are no real rules here, just rough frames of reference. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The player-friendly map is not included in the download.

Bart Wynants, with additional design by Kat Evans, does a fantastic job at setting the scene, and evoking the flavor of the masquerade. There is no doubt about that.

And yes, this is, by far, the best of the three versions, because it is system neutral and not burdened to the same extent with the necessity to account for player characters with expanded capabilities. And yet, my central point remains even in this iteration: The lack of rules or acknowledgement of the magical capabilities of the party does hurt this supplement.

The hard thing in roleplaying was never to pull off a mundane masquerade, it was pulling off a masquerade in a magical world. Now, if you’re playing a rather gritty game with few magics anyways, then this’ll be an excellent investment for you. If not, then you may end up bemoaning the same things I did.

While, for me as a person, this is closer to a 4 than a 5, I have to account for other tastes and my in dubio pro reo policy; hence will round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Night of the Masks (SN)
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Night of the Masks (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2021 09:57:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

In case you were wondering “Eventures” was not a typo; these little supplements depict events, adventures, if you will, that do not focus on combat or the like. Instead, we get detailed set-pieces that focus on a key concept and how to execute it in a rewarding manner. As such, the supplement does not note a level-recommendation, though I personally would situate it in the level 1-10-region of play. For high-level play, the grounded tone may seem a bit off. In fact, I recommend running this at lower levels; the lower, the better. I’ll get to the reason why below.

In this instance, we have, obviously, a masquerade, a truly fantastic experience if you ever have attended one, and as soon as travel becomes possible once more, I do encourage you to add attending a masquerade in Venice to your bucketlist.

In this instance of this eventure, though, the masquerade is assumed to take place in the lavishly-detailed city on Languard (which I, alongside the Languard Locations-series, heartily recommend) in the duchy of Ashlar, the region that many of the more recent supplements released by Raging Swan Press take place. While the scenario does involve some political ramifications for Ashlar, it is easy enough to strip of its subdued local color and adapt to your game.

Beyond a basic array of hooks presented for the party to attend the eponymous Night of Masks, we have a sidebar that explains, commedia dell’arte-style, the names and codified types of masks worn at the occasion, which did indeed bring a smile to my face. Similarly, a basic code of conduct is presented.

The night itself is structured in 4 phases, which should not constitute spoilers: First the guests arrive, then the nobility, then some politicking is done, and then we have the unmasking; much to my pleasant surprise the order of arriving nobility is presented in detail (that’s important, after all!), and 10 supplemental minor events allow the GM to spice up things easily and without much fuss. The supplement also includes a couple of rather nice more fleshed out events, which include nobles with uncommon tastes, mask-switcheroos and what may or may not be a case of poisoning. 9 specific guests of interest come with more detailed descriptions, including read-aloud text and, in the instance of a few, a general notion of their alignment, age, gender, race and class + levels. The majority of NPCs just use the 5e-default NPC-roster as reference stats.

The manor-esque part of Castle Languard in which the masquerade takes place comes fully mapped by legendary Tommi Salama in b/w, and is awesome; the player-friendly, key-less version was, to my knowledge, made available to patreon supporters of Raging Swan Press. The pdf includes 8 brief sections providing slightly more details for individual locations, such as the balcony or hedge-labyrinth. Beyond this cool locations and set-up, we also receive 5 hooks to build on the things introduced in this eventure.

…so, all cool and dandy? Well…no. This is, in effect, a system-neutral supplement that eschews doing what makes masquerades hard to run, and I’m pretty sure that this won’t survive contact with some groups. Night of the Masks commits one cardinal sin: It doesn’t account for magic or the rules of the game pertaining to magic. So, poison-scenario. “Damn, I cast detect poison and disease!” And there goes your political intrigue. …and show me the group who attends a masquerade and isn’t paranoid enough to at least have that level 1 ritual ready!

Thankfully, the supplement in 5e fares better than in PFRPG: The amount of NPCs referencing default NPC-stats means that one does have proper references regarding rules-components, so that’s a good thing. On the downside, the NPC involved in the mask switcheroos would have assuredly benefited from, you know, having stats to reference (they don’t), or at least a value for their Deception skill given.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues; the latter primarily due to the absence of these elements. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The player-friendly map is not included in the download.

Bart Wynants, with additional design by Kat Evans, does a fantastic job at setting the scene, and evoking the flavor of the masquerade. There is no doubt about that.

The lack of rules or acknowledgement of the magical capabilities of the party in the context of the 5e game does hurt this supplement, though not to the same extent as in the PFRPG-version. While I do think that this may be a coincidental side-effect of the default-NPC-referencing, I do have an in dubio pro reo policy, and frankly, this works better in play than in PFRPG. As such, considering the low-price, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Night of the Masks (5e)
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Night of the Masks
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/23/2021 09:55:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Eventures-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

In case you were wondering “Eventures” was not a typo; these little supplements depict events, adventures, if you will, that do not focus on combat or the like. Instead, we get detailed set-pieces that focus on a key concept and how to execute it in a rewarding manner. As such, the supplement does not note a level-recommendation, though I personally would situate it in the level 1-10-region of play. For high-level play, the grounded tone may seem a bit off. In fact, I recommend running this at lower levels; the lower, the better. I’ll get to the reason why below.

In this instance, we have, obviously, a masquerade, a truly fantastic experience if you ever have attended one, and as soon as travel becomes possible once more, I do encourage you to add attending a masquerade in Venice to your bucketlist.

In this instance of this eventure, though, the masquerade is assumed to take place in the lavishly-detailed city on Languard (which I, alongside the Languard Locations-series, heartily recommend) in the duchy of Ashlar, the region that many of the more recent supplements released by Raging Swan Press take place. While the scenario does involve some political ramifications for Ashlar, it is easy enough to strip of its subdued local color and adapt to your game.

Beyond a basic array of hooks presented for the party to attend the eponymous Night of Masks, we have a sidebar that explains, commedia dell’arte-style, the names and codified types of masks worn at the occasion, which did indeed bring a smile to my face. Similarly, a basic code of conduct is presented.

The night itself is structured in 4 phases, which should not constitute spoilers: First the guests arrive, then the nobility, then some politicking is done, and then we have the unmasking; much to my pleasant surprise the order of arriving nobility is presented in detail (that’s important, after all!), and 10 supplemental minor events allow the GM to spice up things easily and without much fuss. The supplement also includes a couple of rather nice more fleshed out events, which include nobles with uncommon tastes, mask-switcheroos and what may or may not be a case of poisoning. 9 specific guests of interest come with more detailed descriptions, including read-aloud text and a general notion of their alignment, age, gender, race and class + levels, but no actual stats are provided.

The manor-esque part of Castle Languard in which the masquerade takes place comes fully mapped by legendary Tommi Salama in b/w, and is awesome; the player-friendly, key-less version was, to my knowledge, made available to patreon supporters of Raging Swan Press. The pdf includes 8 brief sections providing slightly more details for individual locations, such as the balcony or hedge-labyrinth. Beyond this cool locations and set-up, we also receive 5 hooks to build on the things introduced in this eventure.

…so, all cool and dandy? Well…no. This is, in effect, a system-neutral supplement that eschews doing what makes masquerades hard to run, and I’m pretty sure that this won’t survive contact with most groups. Night of the Masks commits one cardinal sin: It doesn’t account for magic or the rules of the game. So, poison-scenario. “Damn, I cast detect poison!” And there goes your political intrigue.

This issue is particularly egregious in Pathfinder, where we have an entire hardcover devoted to stuff like masks and intrigue. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Ultimate Intrigue. So no, no social combat stats or the like included, alas. And, you know, I can still kinda get behind that.

But we don’t even get DCs to identify people and see through disguises. And again, yeah, it’s kinda understandable that this isn’t the focus, when every key player is supposed to be easy to identify. But, well, once you insert a switcheroo plot, that sort of thing becomes relevant. In that way, this book pushes all the really hard work, accounting for magic, security measures, decorum, DCs, etc., on the Gm. And for me, that severely limits the appeal of this supplement.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious formal hiccups or rules-language issues; the latter primarily due to the grating absence of these elements. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes in two versions, one designed for the printer, and one made for screen-use. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The player-friendly map is not included in the download.

Bart Wynants, with additional design by Kat Evans, does a fantastic job at setting the scene, and evoking the flavor of the masquerade. There is no doubt about that.

As a Pathfinder-supplement, though? Even as a rules-lite one, this does fall short, as it fails to account for even the most rudimentary stumbling stones that one can encounter when attempting to run such a scenario in the system. There is no nice way to say this: This is a non-conversion as far as I’m concerned, and I’d have as much work with this, as I’d have with any supplement depicting a masquerade ported from another system.

If you’re here for the flavor, you won’t be disappointed; if you want more, then this’ll leave you disappointed. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Night of the Masks
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Forgotten Sepulchre of the Father (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/22/2021 12:20:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module taps into the Duchy of Ashlar/Gloamhold region of Raging Swan Press’ supplements, with the ruined village of Greystone serving as a backdrop; it should be noted that you do not need said village backdrop to run the module; the village’s lore, whispers and rumors, as well as a map, are provided, though the elaborations of the notable places are not included. (So if you want your party to linger here, I’d still suggest getting the Village Backdrop-installment.)

The module is a straightforward tomb-exploration for 1st-level characters and comes with 2 different adventure hooks as well as information for parties that do their legwork up front (as they should). The module, structurally, is intended as a trial/teaching adventure, and this is reflected in the structure – we have a pretty linear complex. The module comes with 6 general pieces of dressing, and 6 things to find when the party looks around; for the GM’s convenience, we get a one-page summary of monsters by CR and by location (which includes a cosmetic-effects-only list of effects for deformed creatures and the stats for a challenge 3 enemy. The respective areas include readaloud text. The page containing the map of the tomb (no player-friendly, unlabeled version included) also provides the information regarding lighting, etc., and e.g. the inscriptions for a given sarcophagus. Nice and handy. Convenient. This also extends to the respective rooms, which sport bolded headers for things that can be interacted with, as well as e.g. bullet-pointed contents for shelves

On the downside, the section on walls notes “Climb checks” – that should be Strength (Athletics) for 5e. A trap is missing its average damage value; formatting isn’t always perfect (lower case “I” in “Investigation” skill), and we have instances where e.g. the tool-reference to opening a door is missing. The implementation of 5e’s rules is not exactly smooth.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, the module begins with back-breaking labor, as the party needs to clear the entry to the complex in some serious work. This may just be a note, but it establishes a gritty tone from the get-go, one supplemented when deformed cultists (using the default stats plus aforementioned cosmetic modifications) attack. The reason for the party t be here actually matters, mind you: While the church is abandoned and ruined, it’s still a crypt the party is entering: Retrieving relics and bones of those interred from obscurity may be noble; desecration, on the other hand, may well result in the dead rising.

The simple dungeon is per se pretty high in interactivity, and has one nice thing going for it: You see, aforementioned new creature is a tomb guardian construct – and it’s a rather tough (if somewhat boring – it can only attack, no unique abilities) statue. That being said, clever parties can display a holy symbol of the deity to which the sepulcher is sanctified, saying a prayer, etc. can prevent combat here. Indeed, the most interesting aspect of this dungeon is that it can be solved with only minimal combat (a zombie, a ghast, and, optionally, 4 skeletons), which makes a 5d8 glyph of blasting an oddly-deadly outlier in an otherwise very tame adventure. This glyph is also my main issue here: It never states its trigger properly. I’m also not sure where it’s supposed to be on the map; I’d assume door, but there is no door on the map. The glyph could have easily been telegraphed in a subtle manner, with damage on the walls. As written, it is a bit opaque and consequently feels like one of those annoying “gotcha/cross-invisible-line-take-damage” instances.

To end on a more positive note: I did enjoy that the module did provide notes on how much a skeleton weighs. (As the party will likely be carrying quite a few of these home…)

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a rules language level; I noticed a couple of imprecise instances and deviations from 5e’s defaults. On a formal level, I don’t have much to complain about – a “Hit:” in the new critter’s statblock isn’t properly set in italics. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes with some nice b/w-artworks, though fans of Raging Swan Press will be familiar with them. The module comes with two awesome b/w-maps, but alas, no player-friendly versions are included in the files. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one for screen-use and one intended to be printed out. Nice!

I really wish I liked Creighton Broadhurst’s training adventure more than I do. I’m a fan of well-executed starting adventures that teach the basics of tomb exploration, and this one has a focus on being able to bypass many challenges and components without resorting to violence, which is a GREAT design-paradigm I very much adore. Problem-solution writ large = win, as far as I’m concerned. However, I have an issue here: For an introductory adventure, Raging Swan Press’ Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs is more versatile and interesting; and Retribution still remains one of the best campaign starter adventures I know…and in contrast with these two (admittedly longer) adventures, this one just falls flat. Add to that the uncharacteristic formal hiccups, and I can’t go higher than 2.5, rounded up to 3 stars for this one. It’s a very vanilla little tomb exploration; design-wise, it does a lot right, but it also remains somewhat unremarkable when compared to the other adventures Creighton Broadhurst has penned for level 1. I’d strongly suggest getting Retribution (if you’re willing to convert it from PFRPG) or Shunned Valley (which is available for 5e) instead.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Forgotten Sepulchre of the Father (5e)
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Forgotten Sepulchre of the Father (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/22/2021 12:18:01

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, ¾ of a blank page, leaving us with 12 1/4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module taps into the Duchy of Ashlar/Gloamhold region of Raging Swan Press’ supplements, with the ruined village of Greystone serving as a backdrop; it should be noted that you do not need said village backdrop to run the module; the village’s lore, whispers and rumors, as well as a map, are provided, though the elaborations of the notable places are not included. (So if you want your party to linger here, I’d still suggest getting the Village Backdrop-installment.)

The module is a straightforward tomb-exploration for 1st-level characters and comes with 2 different adventure hooks as well as information for parties that do their legwork up front (as they should). The module, structurally, is intended as a trial/teaching adventure, and this is reflected in the structure – we have a pretty linear complex. The module comes with 6 general pieces of dressing, and 6 things to find when the party looks around; for the GM’s convenience, we get a one-page summary of monsters by CR and by location. This section includes a primarily cosmetic template for deformed creatures list that might be familiar to some fans of Raging Swan Press, and the section also provides stats for all creatures included herein – including a rather potent trap which can be bypassed with a specific phrase that makes sense in-game: Nice. The statblocks tend to gravitate to a more complex bent, with templates applies – a good thing, imho. The respective areas include readaloud text. The page containing the map of the tomb (no player-friendly, unlabeled version included) also provides the information regarding lighting, etc., and e.g. the inscriptions for a given sarcophagus. Nice and handy. Convenient. This also extends to the respective rooms, which sport bolded headers for things that can be interacted with, as well as e.g. bullet-pointed contents for shelves

To get that out of the way from the get-go: The rules language in this version is significantly more precise than in the 5e-version. The module was obviously written for PFRPG.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, the module begins with back-breaking labor, as the party needs to clear the entry to the complex in some serious work. This may just be a note, but it establishes a gritty tone from the get-go, one supplemented when deformed cultists (who actually get their own templated statblock in PFRPG) attack. The reason for the party to be here actually matters, mind you: While the church is abandoned and ruined, it’s still a crypt the party is entering: Retrieving relics and bones of those interred from obscurity may be noble; desecration, on the other hand, may well result in the dead rising.

The simple dungeon is per se pretty high in interactivity, and has one nice thing going for it: You see, aforementioned new creature is a tomb guardian construct – and it’s a rather tough (if somewhat boring – it can only attack, no unique abilities) statue. That being said, clever parties can display a holy symbol of the deity to which the sepulcher is sanctified, saying a prayer, etc. can prevent combat here. Indeed, the most interesting aspect of this dungeon is that it can be solved with only minimal combat (an advanced fast zombie, a ghast, and, optionally, 4 skeletons). Now, if you’ve read my review of the 5e-version, you’ll remember how I was harping on that glyph of warding; this version explains how that blunder came to be: The trap statblock in the back CLEARLY states both trigger and that it’s on the door, as well as a way to bypass it sans rolling the dice – in a way that makes sense within the world. Which is great! The door is still not on the map, though, so not sure where exactly to place it. Since we’re talking AoE-effect, that matters. It’s still somewhat of a “gotcha/cross-invisible-line-take-damage”-moment, but to a SIGNIFICANTLY lesser degree.

I did enjoy that the module did provide notes on how much a skeleton weighs. (As the party will likely be carrying quite a few of these home…)

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good in this version. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes with some nice b/w-artworks, though fans of Raging Swan Press will be familiar with them. The module comes with two awesome b/w-maps, but alas, no player-friendly versions are included in the files. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two versions – one for screen-use and one intended to be printed out. Nice!

I really wish I liked Creighton Broadhurst’s training adventure more than I do. That being said, the PFRPG module shows how a few small things can make a huge difference: From the custom stats to the precise verbiage to the more precise trap (which is also fairer re power-level), the PFRPG version is by far superior to the 5e-iteration.

I’m a fan of well-executed starting adventures that teach the basics of tomb exploration, and this one has a focus on being able to bypass many challenges and components without resorting to violence, which is a GREAT design-paradigm I very much adore. Problem-solution writ large = win, as far as I’m concerned. I still maintain that Raging Swan Press’ Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs is more versatile and interesting; and Retribution still remains one of the best campaign starter adventures I know…and in contrast with these two (admittedly longer) adventures, this one feels less impressive. That being said, I can see myself running the PFRPG-version as a brief sidetrek. I enjoy the focus on player-skill and problem-solving enough. While it doesn’t exactly stand out in a significant manner, it most definitely is solid starter adventure; considering the fair price point, I’ll round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. (I’d still recommend getting Creighton’s Retribution instead, though – worth every cent!)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Forgotten Sepulchre of the Father (Pathfinder)
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Star Log.EM-082: Kithian
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/22/2020 12:11:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Star Log.EM-installment clocks in at 8 pages, with 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, the first thing you need to know is that the playable species herein uses the highly modular (and awesome) reforged-playable-species engine employed first in the Star Log.Deluxe-series: If you’re not familiar with it yet, I suggest searching for my reviews of these pdfs, because I assume familiarity with the engine in this review. That being said, if you don’t want to go through the hassle, think of it as more akin to how PF2 handles ancestries. The pdf can also be used with standard species rules – guidelines are included.

Kithians get an ability boost to Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma, with a second boost available for an ability flaw to Strength or Constitution. The species only gets 2 Hit Points, but gains the amphibian and aquatic subtypes: They can survive on water and land, can breathe water and get a base speed of 30 ft., swim speed 30 ft., and also a climb speed of 10 ft. They also have reflexive camouflage, which they can activate as a reaction when targeted, behaving like an operative’s cloaking field, but attacking or using a concentration-requiring ability ends it, and it can be used again after a 10 minute rest to regain Stamina Points.

So that would be the basics – but do they feel like an actual species? Well, first of all, while looking rather normal, they actually lack endo/exoskeleton and instead move via the inflation and deflation of air bladders; they are only fertile once in their life, and can procreate with pretty much any species via skin-contact – and yes, this can happen sans the donor knowing, though this is frowned upon in kithian culture. Finally, the final stage of their life cycle sees them discorporate into insects, becoming a hive mind; when only a few are left, they are usually consumed consensually by friends and family. They also tend to gravitate to being pacifists. Now how is that for a cool and thought-provoking culture when contrasted by the relatively mundane look?

Anyhow, we also learn about their culture, cuisine, home world, etc., and the pdf includes a table for different age categories, as well as the “Playing a kithian…” and “others think…”-sections as roleplaying pointers. But let us return to the crunchy side of things: There are 4 kithian heritages to choose from: Anurarian kithians gain extraordinary fly speed 20 ft. than must end on solid surface, and are a bit frog-like; holthurian kithians gain Filtration as a bonus species trait: This trait lets you be treated as though having a poor meal if you spend 2 hours in a body of water capable of supporting life. Mulluscain (not sure if that should be Mulluscian…I’d think so…) kithians gain the Compress Form trait. This trait lets you deflate or inflate as a standard action: While deflated, you become Small and off-target, but gain the compression universal creature rule—cool! Salamile kithians are somewhat more salamander-like and get Shed Skin: You can, as part of the action to attempt such a check, shed a portion of your skin to gain an untyped +4 bonus to Acrobatics to escape from grapples, pins and restraints. First of all, that bonus should be typed. Secondly, shouldn’t that have some sort of limit? Otherwise, why bother making this an active decision and not simply something that happens automatically? Pretty sure something went slightly wrong here.

At 1st level, kithians get to choose 2 species traits, with 5th level and every 4 thereafter providing another one. I’ve already covered a few of them in the coverage of the heritages above. The remainder would be: Bog Runner, which makes you operate normally in bogs; Combat Training nets Improved Unarmed Strike or Improved Combat Maneuver, and may be taken multiple times. Expand Form is cool: standard action to increase to Large size (or back) and you are off-target, but space and reach increase by 10 ft. Intimidating Inflation provides synergy here, netting you a +2 racial bonus to Intimidate checks made to demoralize, which upgrades to +3 when Large. Kithian Expertise nets you Skill Focus, and later allows you to increase the bonus granted later…or instead gain an enhancement bonus to the skill.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – for the most part. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork provided by Jacob Blackmon, while solid…kinda left me unimpressed this time around. The kithian race is so cool, the artwork feels a bit anticlimactic in comparison. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Joshua Hennington and Alexander Augunas deliver a rather interesting species here: A timid culture that is strange and still…good? In many ways, the race feels like one that would make for a great old-school Star Trek episode, you know, when Star Trek was optimistic and wholesome and was about encountering interesting, strange cultures, and not about action scenes and grimdark, dystopian misery? But I digress. I really like the kithians, more than I should. They are a fragile race that requires some player skill, and make for excellent envoys, for example. At the same time, I do feel like they’re geared a bit strongly towards that role, but the uneven race/class-combo is a paradigm that also haunts the core SFRPG game, so it wouldn’t be fair to bash the pdf for it. Mechanically, there isn’t much to complain about here, apart from Shed Skin, and a distinct wish on my part that the different heritages had some more exclusive traits between them. On the plus side, using the Advanced Occult Guide can add some nice tactical depth when it comes to the relatively spontaneous size-enlarging tricks. So yeah—as a whole, this is certainly worth the asking price. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-082: Kithian
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Star Log.EM-081: Vanguard Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2020 11:57:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

On the introduction page, we receive a brief contextualization of the vanguard class in the context of the Xa-Osoro system before diving into the nit and grit of the supplement.

We begin with an alternate class feature for vanguards, warrior’s insight (1st level), which replaces the aspect insights attained at 1st and 8th level: At first level, you gain a feat (Bodyguard, Cleave, Coordinated Shot, Deadly Aim, Improved Unarmed Strike, Kip-Up or Multi-Weapon Fighting), while at 8th level, you gain a related feat boost or gear boost, based on the feat chosen at first level. As you can glean, this is somewhat closer to a more martial vanguard.

The pdf then proceeds to provide an array of 4 different aspects: Emergence is all about teamwork and being part of a system that is greater than the sum of its parts; as such, we have Improved Combat Maneuver (Trip) and an insight bonus to Diplomacy as aspect insight, 1/combat (still prefer concrete durations) with a significant enemy the option to regain an Entropy Point sans action when hitting an enemy adjacent to an ally, AoE bludgeoning damage that is increased when adjacent to an ally, and an ally-based damage boost for entropic strike. Interesting.

Stasis is interesting, in that its embodiment rewards you for not taking you entire options contingent, and the catalyst allows for AoE fatigued, while the finale entangles creatures when you use mitigate. This aspect is design-wise very interesting and offers a rather distinct playing experience. Like it. Senescence nets you 1/combat an Entropy Point when taking ability score damage or drain to a physical ability score, and its AoE catalyst nets you low-range ability score drain, with the finale allowing for massive Entropy Point expenditure for a combo of entropic strike with said aspect catalyst.

Transference nets you Entropy when you succeed on a save, and its aspect catalyst lets you decrease the durations/end spell effects on enemies – cool! The finale lets you share conditions with enemies that caused them – and thankfully, this catches some of the nastier ones, so no cheesing. The duration is btw. contingent on Entropy Point expenditure.

We also have an array of new disciplines: for 2nd level, we have 4, the first of which would be Accelerate Entropy: 1/round reduce current HP and Stamina by entropic strike damage to generate 1 Entropy Point per damage die rolled, which lasts until the start of the next turn. This loss cannot be negated/cheesed. Blade Block does what it says on the tin: Reaction + Reflex saves to halve kinetic melee damage. Half-swording lets your one-handed entropic strike benefit from the penetrating weapon special property, or do so at an increased level—essentially a reason to go one-handed. Star’s Entropy lets you deliver entropic strikes via solarian weapon crystals, gaining the crystal’s critical effect. You also get to choose to deal acid, bludgeoning, or the crystal’s damage bonus when using entropic strikes, but the attacks are not treated as solar weapons, and effects applied to solarian weapon crystals do not apply. Good catch there!

For 6th level, we have 3 new disciplines: Defensive Posture requires Blade Block or Flatten Bullets, and lets you combo mitigate with them. Cool! Entropic Raider nets Spring Attack, and when using it as a full action, you gain 1 Entropy Point (here erroneously called Entropic Point). Fierce Knight requires Entropy Shield and allows you to treat it like a knight’s shield, with 8th, 13th and 18th level providing upgrades.

Finally, we have 3 10th level disciplines: Grasp Blade builds on Blade Block: If you succeed on the save, you can spend an additional Entropy Point for a disarm maneuver. Neat combo! Hasten the End lets you spend 1 Entropy Point as a reaction when you full attack to gain the benefits of haste until the end of your turn. Herd Immunity…is very important, and we all…sorry, slipped there. In the context of the game, when you succeed a saving throw against a poison or disease, all allied creatures within 30 ft. gain an untyped +4 bonus to the next save against the disease or poison, as though treated with Medicine. This one requires Curative Deconstruction to take.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious snafus on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard with a nice artwork by Jacob Blackmon. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Sasha Laranoa Harving delivers an interesting expansion for the vanguard class here; the power-level of the new options falls within the paradigms established by the class. Senescence’s 2d3 ability score drain, particularly in the Improved version, which extends this to all 3 physical ability scores, seems brutal at first glance, but the classes most hampered by the low-range effect are those with a good Fortitude save, so I consider this to be within the functional framework. Personally, I think that the bonus type of Herd Immunity should be typed, but apart from very minor niggles, I found myself genuinely appreciating and enjoying this expansion for the class. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-081: Vanguard Options
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Phantasmagoria #02
Publisher: Apollyon Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/21/2020 11:56:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Sword & Planet-‘zine for DCC clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of room for notes, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested via direct donation as a prioritized review, though said person has been very patient with me getting this done. Thank you.

My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

So, easily the best thing in the deeply-flawed first issue of this ‘zine was the relative rules-lite proposed system of spaceship rules, which has been revamped, streamlined and expanded in this supplement. We still have 3 ability scores: -Evasion affects AC, Initiative, Hull Points (renamed from hit points – smart choice) and Action points -Luck can be burned to improve rolls -Targeting affects attack rolls by permanent weapons or ramming. The system assumes a hex-grid and roll for initiative as usual; they get 5 + Evasion modifier Action Points; each Action point can be used to turn 60° (one side of the hex), or to move one hex forward. Alternatively, two Action Points can be spent to move backwards one hex or execute a maneuver. The transparency between ship and characters is interesting: The Pilot steers, and other characters are assumed to use the weapons, move e.g. from bunks or recreation area to combat stations, etc., so you may want mapped ships for that. (Evil Robot Games offers a ton of great spaceship maps…just sayin’…) Action Points do not carry over into subsequent rounds.

Maneuvers require a Piloting check: 1d20 + ship’s Evasion modifier + pilot’s level, and on a failed check, you roll on the 1d8 failed maneuver table. Considering that the lowest fixed DC is 18 (Evade uses the enemy’s attack roll), you have a good reason to not constantly employ these. The pdf provides a total of 4 maneuvers: Loop, Burst, Evade, Hide. I couldn’t help but wish that we got more of those. The spaceship rules also includes an optional rule for the classic shaking in space we know from TOS, Raumpatroullie Orion, etc.

So yeah, I like this system, but I couldn’t help but feel that it’d have been awesome to get more sample ships, tools for ships, maneuvers, etc.

After this, we move to a d30 table of artifacts. These are presented in a rather barebones manner, so if you expected the level of detail we usually see for e.g. magic items in DCC, you won’t get that: The best way to envision them, also due to the oscillating quality of the rules-language, would be to consider them inspiration and not much more. The table includes a blaster that requires that the target saves against the attack roll or disintegrate. There is a cloning tank (that requires a few months and some serious funds) to regrow characters. To give you an example: the Endless Battery notes: “Contains infinite energy and can be used to power most basic spaceship engines, but limits potential output to amount that can be taken by anything connected without exploding.” Yeah, I mean, that’s an idea, but not much more than that. Like the aforementioned rifle, there are some entries that are really problematic: Personal Space Suit notes: Creates an indestructible bubble around a character for interplanetary or interstellar travel (treat stats as escape pod, except cannot be destroyed).” Yep, we have a RAW indestructible defensive measure sans activation, drawback, duration, etc. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? This is at best a draft in my book, but not a cleanly-designed table of properly codified concepts.

More interesting (and much better designed) would be the 6 alien poisons, which include data sludge, a particularly effective poison against automatons…and Zelodonis’ Bane. This poison is really cool: It eliminates letters from the characters’ name, does not heal, and upon running out of letters, the character is forgotten by the multiverse…including deities forgetting clerics, patrons their wizards, etc.. This can be an amazing narrative tool. It also means that clerics are well-advised to have Picasso-like names…unless they want to be forgotten. Or do they? You see, there is a big issue in rules-integrity here: The poison does not specify whether it eliminates e.g. the letter “O” entirely from the affected characters’ name, or just ONE letter. Since the damage on a failed save is 1d30 letters, I assume the latter. That being said, I do think that the number of letters is VERY high for this one.Did I mention the poison that instantly heals under a full moon? Anyhow, this section may not be perfect, but it has some good ideas.

I wish I could say the same about the prosthetics-chapter, which seems to have been designed for another system: It references Dexterity multiple times, and Agility in other entries. This should have been caught in editing. The pdf also includes a spell that behaves as a ritual of sorts, the second level eldritch limb spell, which allows you to regrow lost limbs…Slightly weird, but cosmetic: The effects f the spell have a header that labels them as misfires…which isn’t correct. (Yes, misfire section is included.) Pretty sure that some organization went wrong in layout here.

The pdf then presents a stellar system generator with 9 tables that allow you to determine the center of gravity, number of cosmic bodies, type of cosmic bodies, what they’re inhabited by, valuable resources, status of resources, animal life, level of civilization, type of government. The tables note the next table to roll on and the die to roll. Solid if you need a basic generator, but not mind-blowing.

The pdf then proceeds to present monster generation: We first get a d12 table for monster reskins that include giving classic critters scifi weapons, adding eyes or tentacles, etc. If you’re new to the genre, the table may be helpful; otherwise, you’ll already know these tricks. The pdf then proceeds to a 2-page monster generator in 6 tables: You roll for HD, Size, AC, type of attack, intelligence and appearance. Essentially, this generator provides the basics. If you want the basics taken care of, this does its job; if you want to roll up something unique with a plethora of weird abilities, use one of the other generators out there.

The pdf closes with a nice d20-based dressing table of ways to getting around, which include ziplines, exoskeletons, flying barges, etc. – classic tropes blended with e.g. litters carried by skeletons and similar strangeness. Having an issue devoted to, you know, actual rules for these would have been nice. The pdf also sports an errata for issue #1, which does btw. not nearly cover all hiccups. It also should not be in issue #2, and instead, you know, be integrated into #1.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay; they have improved since #1 of the ‘zine, but the magazine still would benefit from a tight rules editor/developer. Layout adheres to a solid two-column standard with really nice original b/w-artworks, and the pdf is properly bookmarked for your convenience.

Chance Phillips’ second Phantasmagoria is a step in the right direction; the glitches that negatively impact functionality are less pronounced in this issue than in the first one. That being said, I really wish that the author (and/or editor) had actually taken the time to make sure that the sometimes rather cool ideas had also been supplemented by proper rules. As it stands, this ‘zine’s primary uses are the ship-engine, some basic generators for judges new to the job/genre, and some tables that essentially boil down to half-fleshed out dressing that could use some meat on its bones.

As someone rather into the genre, I didn’t get that much out of the dressing components, and the generators fell flat for me as well; as a person, I don’t consider this to be more useful than #1, with the exception of the ship-system expansion, though I wished that had gone further.

As a reviewer, however, I can see this being significantly more useful for judges with less experience in genre fiction, though I have to pronounce a caveat emptor for them due to the glitches influencing rules-integrity. As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag for most judges, and as such, my final verdict will be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Phantasmagoria #02
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Phantasmagoria #01
Publisher: Apollyon Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/18/2020 10:21:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the Phantasmagoria zine clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 3 pages of free space for notes, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested via direct donation as a prioritized review, though said person has been very patient with me getting this done. Thank you.

My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

So, in order to get your apartment’s keys, you need to use your rat Blob with the couch, then lure the fellow back out with your purse using your snickers-bar…

…wait, sorry. Wrong Phantasmagoria. This zine is all about sword and planet options for the DCC game, and this review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review via donation.

This pdf contains a total of 5 new classes, so let’s start by examining these. The first one, the automaton, gets 1d10 hit points per level, and the automaton gets a weapon of their choice integrated into their chassis. They don’t wear armor and start off with Crit Die/Table 1d6/I; table remains the same, but crit die scales up to d16. Action die begins at 1d16, and scales up to 1d30, and is applied to attacks or skill checks. We have good Fortitude saves (bad Reflex and Will) and a ½ attack-progression. Automata get the sociopath restriction – Their Personality can’t exceed 15; they still list any score in excess of that in brackets, though – for the purpose of losing Personality, the value in brackets is used. Automata are modular, and as such, you get to roll 1d30 on every level attained, including first level.

So, what types of modularity can you get? Well, we have +1d4 hit points, +2 AC, moving ANY ranged attacks up one step in the die chain, or perfect recollection of any building the automaton’s been in before. There also is the option to “cast one first level spell with an effective caster level equal to one-half of their level.” Okay, from which list? Compare that with the ability to crush ten cubic feet of loosely packed matter into a 1’ cube. Okay, notice that they are a bit uneven. Being able to see in the dark, as a trained skill, might sound neat, but the pdf fails to specify the associated ability score. Compare with infravision, which is NOT defined as a skill, and instead is automatic. And yes, the pdf is not precise with any of the modularity options and their associated ability scores. Meh. There also is e.g. a means to project thoughts or holodisk contents on a flat surface – cool! Not so cool: No dimensions are provided. Can you become a cinema projector? Is there a range? No idea. Compare being able to create a nutritious sludge that resembles tea (ending world hunger?) and healing 1d6 hp per hour. These are not all issues of the table, just an excerpt, mind you.

Automata also suffer from malfunctions – on any action die roll with a natural 1, they roll on a 1d12 malfunction table. This table suffers from similar issues. So, you can catch fire. Got it. Guess what#s missing? Bingo, the customary Dc to extinguish the flames. One module may break. No rules are provided to repair it. (RAW this means you can literally permanently lose class features.) The automaton can have its memory banks wiped for 1d10 rounds. Okay, cool. How does that work? Can the automaton still defend itself? Is it standing around, stunned? Is there a default programming? No idea. “The automaton desperately needs an oil bath.” Okay, what effects does this have? How much time before something happens? Automatons add Luck modifier to all trained skills. All in all, I consider this class to be a weak take on the concepts; its randomness doesn’t make much sense, and the unique rules components are pretty sloppy in their details. There are plenty better automata-class options out there for DCC.

Let’s see if the second class, the captain, fares better. The captain is familiar with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, shortsword and usually only wear light armor. We get 1d6 hit points, ¾ attack-progression, good Will-saves, and crit die/table starting at 1d10/III; the crit table remains III, and the die scales up to 1d24; the class begins with 1d10 as the action die, and +1d4 is gained at 5th level, growing pretty rapidly, capping at 1d20+1d20+1d14. Wait…the third die starts off as 1d14? I am PRETTY SURE that the action die gained at 5th level should be 1d14, not 1d4, unless the design choice here is SUPER-WEIRD. Action dice may be used for attack rolls or skill checks. The class gets good Will-saves. While we’re talking about glitches in class tables: All class tables consistently are missing their plusses, which bugged the hell out of me. Captains apply their Luck modifier to attack rolls with swords, but this bonus does not increase or decrease with luck score, and remains static instead, as per the first level score.

Any allied creature with a Deed Die within 20 ft. of the captain move the Deed Die one step up the dice chain; allies without a Deed Die within 10 ft. instead move their primary action die one step up the dice chain. Captains excel at one-on-one combat, and as such, when facing a single opponent alone, they get +2 AC, but also take 1d4 additional damage from other foes attacking them. Additionally, the captain gets to choose one of 7 special abilities when in a duel with an enemy, which include disarming, disorientation, feinting, etc., with 4th and 8th level letting you choose another effect. These sometimes refer to the wrong class, namely, duelist instead of captain. This makes sense, as, when you’re familiar with PFRPG, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect here. This is a duelist/cavalier-y class; that’s not a bad thing per se, mind you, as the mechanics have been adapted to DCC well enough. Precise strike, for example, lets you decrease the attack one step on the dice chain, but also nets you an double damage die of the weapon used: 1d6+3 would become 2d6+3, for example.

The third class would be the gremlin, who gets 1d8 hit points, ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref-saves, and crit die starts at 1d6 and progresses to 1d16, with the crit table remaining II. The action die starts off at 1d20, with 1d14 gained at 5th level, and 10th level providing the third die, for a total of 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14. The gremlin is proficient with dagger, flintlock pistol, longsword, nuclear pistol, “short sword”[sic!] and light armor. The class doesn’t specify where the action dice may be used, and the gremlin gains a limited amount of spells (up to 6, with the table providing 12 first-level, 9 2nd-level and 4 3rd-level spells as choices. The class fails to specify how the gremlin casts spells/list. Gremlins are mechanically-inclined and can repair broken equipment and relics; they can also sabotage things, rolling 1d12 and adding Intelligence modifier, which is interesting, but it probably means that the small table’s lower entries will never come into play. Problem regarding internal consistency: Can a gremlin repair an automaton, and if so, how does that work? No idea. Luck applies where? No idea.

The jovians get 1d5 hit points, are trained with all melee weapons and do not wear armor. Jovians can use their Luck modifier for melee attack rolls, and have ¾ attack progression, good Reflex-progression; we have the same action die progression as with the last two classes, and use crit table III until 7th level, where that is upgraded to IV; crit die starts at 1d8, and improves that to 1d24 at 10th level. Jovians are bird-like people (that look nothing like birds) hailing from a high-gravity gas giant, and gains +2 to Strength, to a maximum of 18. They get a 40 foot movement rate and carry up to 1.5 times their body weight, which is somewhat weird in a game that literally makes fun of encumbrance rules in the core book’s chapter. Now, mind you, I like encumbrance rules, but in this instance, context would have been nice. Jovians can meditate for a minute to temporarily float slowly, with 5th, 7th and 9th level increasing the speed while floating.

The final class would be the star prince, who begins play at 6th level (being the scion of, well, stars) and 1d20 + 1d16 action dice, which follow the progression to 1d20 + 1d20 +1d14, and are applied for attacks; attack-progression adheres to a ¾-progression, and crit die starts at 1d24, improving to 2d20, with crit table V used. Star princes get 1d10 hit points per level, thus starting off at 6d10, and they are trained in all weapons, but wearing armor eliminates their abilities. They have good saving throw progression in all saves and apply their Luck modifier to them. Depending on what type of star they were, they get one of 4 types of unearthly aura, but the respective auras don’t really have effects. Metal melee weapons wielded by star princes inflict +1d4 damage, and prolonged contact similarly deals 1 damage. They have a 15 ft. fly speed, with every odd level increasing that by +5 ft.

After these classes, we get an array of new weapons, with some interesting ones included: chain swords, for example, have a 2d16L damage – you take 2d16, roll them, and use the lower. The text for the flamethrower contradicts the table – is its range 30 ft. or 40 ft.? How can the nuclear pistol have the same ranges as a nail gun (20/10/1930), and how come that the medium and maximum ranges are so utterly weird and nonsensical? How can a nuclear pistol have a longer range than a nuclear rifle? Why does a blunderbuss not require a frickin’ attack roll, which it most assuredly should? The consistency here is weird. This also applies in the sidebar regarding the weapons core classes are familiar with: Thieves, oddly, are not familiar with the concealed ring blaster RAW, even though it’s clearly a weapon most suitable for thieves.

The armors provided include fungal armor (decreasing AC, but can regenerate its AC bonus), nanofiber suits, power armor (+2 Strength, +1 to atk thanks to HUD, one-hand wielding two-handed weapons), carbon fiber vests, personal forcefields and graphene bodysuits. The fumble dice and speed modifications as well as their check penalties fall on the very low side of things when compared to the core book. Personal forcefields net, for example, +6 to AC, -2 to checks, -10 ft to speed (but you can move faster, losing the benefits until the start of the next round), d8 fumble die, 2k credits cost. Compared to the banded mail, this is vastly superior, and it loses the design paradigm of AC bonus = check penalty for armors beyond light category that DCC usually has. The balancing attempt employed seems to be the significantly higher prices, but considering how DCC usually operates in that regard, I’m not sure that this was a good call. A few pretty generic items are also included, like Forged I.D., telescreens, etc. – these are pretty…lackluster? They seem like an afterthought. I’d have preferred a more detailed (and interesting) chapter. The pdf then sports a 70-entry occupation table, with associated trained weapons and trade goods noted – I per se like this, but I don’t get why it didn’t go for the full 100 entries, considering it has quite a bit of blank space on the last page it’s featured on.

The pdf then proceeds to provide space ship rules: Space ships have 3 stats, which you determine via 3d6: Evasion is added to the pilot’s rolls to evade danger, AC and hit points; Luck can be burned on any roll pertaining ship or components thereof, and Targeting is added to all attack rolls. A ship’s Hit Points depend on make – escape pods have one, and you add Evasion modifier to all HD. The pdf presents 7 sample ships, with HD, # of weapons, # of passengers, cargo space and cost in credits noted. Ships may be powered by one of 8 engines, with solar sails, portal chains, magical siphons, spatial folders etc. included.

These are thematically cool, but little more than window-dressing as presented. Magic siphons can be powered by spell levels, cool. Portal chains can “teleport several light years at a time”—okay, how much? This is promising, but as provided little more than dressing. We get space ship weapons next. The pdf states that “damage against actual characters may be far higher” – okay, by how much? No clue. The weapons include Star Crash-style boarding tools, cannons, etc. Costs are actually pretty low here, and same goes for the ship armor (4 types provided). Armor for ships has a buffer value, and when hit, reduces damage by this amount, while decreasing by one whenever the ship takes damage in one hit that exceeds the buffer value. Seeing how the weapon damage seems to be pretty low, this checks out well. The pdf also explains how space ship armor is supposedly super-expensive. …it’s not that expensive in comparisons to other items herein. The best armor for regular dudes, the graphene bodysuit (AC +7, 0 check penalty, d6 fumble die) costs more than all but one of the space ship armors. The text also mentions repairs, but never specifies a cost or the like.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, but not on a rules-language level; there are quite a lot of inconsistencies and hiccups here. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with impressive and evocative original artworks by Jim Magnusson, Stefan Poag, Jeremy Hart, Penny Melgarejo – this is a beautiful booklet, also thanks to Glynn Seal’s expertly done layout. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Chance Phillips’ first Phantasmagoria-zine is an exercise in frustration for me. It looks like a high-quality supplement and is, time and again, very close to making its material work pretty well. However, once you start actually using the content, poking it and really checking its details, you’ll encounter these holes that should really have been caught. I mean, I didn’t even try to poke holes into the rules of the classes; this is DCC, not PFRPG after all—I don’t expect the same level of consistency or detailed definitions of design elements, but when the rules require essentially guesswork on part of the judge, things become problematic. And DCC is pretty well-codified in a LOT of its components. Take all issues I fielded and compare them against the core book’s materials, and you’ll see what I mean. The material herein has no justification for the holes it sports in the engine; there is no deliberate design behind these holes. This supplement is one critical dev/editing run away from being really, really good, but as provided, it is a deeply-flawed offering.

The setting hinted at is tantalizing, and the spaceship engine is promising, if a little barebones, considering that combat etc. isn’t actually defined and covered. It seems to be a teaser of a proper system, rather than a full system, if you get what I mean.

As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 2.5 stars, and after some serious deliberation, I don’t feel I can round up for this. There are too many glitches affecting the mechanical integrity for that.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Phantasmagoria #01
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Ultimate Spheres of Power
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/16/2020 11:55:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive, colossal doorstopper of a tome clocks in at 626 pages of content. No, I am not kidding. This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to one of my readers actually sending me a print copy of the book with a request to review it.

Beyond the challenges 2020 held for all of us, this book proved to be a challenge to review in a couple of additional ways for me, ways which I simply had not anticipated. As a consequence, this review will be structurally a bit different from what I usually write.

First of all: What is this? It is important to note that Ultimate Spheres of Power is not (only) a compilation of the original book and supplemental material presented in the various expansion books (up to and including the Wraith, Fallen Fey sphere and Blood sphere are included); unlike many minimum effort compilation books, this tome actually did change some material and integrate feedback gathered during the original file’s circulation. It also does not include every bit of content from the expansion books for the spheres, which means it does not (completely) invalidate all those supplements—if you’re playing without that much regard to internal/external balancing anyways. If you do, then, and let me make that abundantly clear, then this book mops the floor with the previous incarnations of the books.

If you’re new to Spheres of Power, you can read reviews of the system and all books/pdfs compiled and refined in this book on my site. This book contains a ton of classes, spheres, feats, favored class options, items, incantations, etc.—this is one of the books with the highest rules-density I’ve ever covered.

Which brings me to the two ways one could look at this, and these require a brief look at the history of the system; please bear with me, this is going somewhere.

When Spheres of Power was originally released, it represented a widely-popular tome – and deservedly so. The Vancian spellcasting system with its spell-blocks is certainly charming and useful, but there always was a desire out there for casting to a) behave more in line with what we experience in books and the like, and b) spellcasting to behave in a way that is less overbearing. In short, Spheres of Power wanted to rebalance magic and make it feel more magical at the same time. The point-based spellcasting system made more sense to many people than the Vancian spellslots. And in the eyes of many, me included, it delivered on these promises. For the most part.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t clearly state that, to me, these benefits outweighed some of the issues that even the original book had, for example how dippable it was, the lack of power-parity between the various spheres, and quite a few more. I should have been harder on the original book, but the freshness of its design, and its vast amount of options outweighed the rough patches for me. That, and I didn’t yet have the same amount of experience with the rather intricate system...and how it changed. Still, even back then, I should have been harsher on e.g. the Dark and Light spheres being somewhat limited when compared to, let’s say…Telekinesis, Conjuring or Creation. It’s not hard to see e.g. the Destruction sphere outperforming the Light sphere in damage; that was intentional. But the lack of parity also extends to utility, and some spheres that really needed an upgrade didn’t exactly get it. Compare e.g. Alteration and Weather, and you’ll notice that these are not equal in utility; perhaps more obvious would be the comparison of Divination vs. Fate.

That being said, the original Spheres of Power book had this very pronounced notion, this design goal, of allowing us to play mid-tier/low-fantasy, or choose those high-powered advanced options for high fantasy; this division was not consequently maintained throughout the run of all those expansion handbooks. Indeed, one of the issues that only slowly materialized in my tests, was that there was no real guiding oversight regarding the power-levels of the expansion handbooks; strong spheres became even stronger, while weaker spheres were upgraded to parity with the original spheres. This inconsistency in power-levels was rather insidious, in that it happened gradually. And it’s understandable: You design for one sphere, do cool stuff—it works, nice. But the line of where, if at all, to draw the high-fantasy/optional line became ever blurrier, and in later supplements, often primarily was employed solely for high-impact abilities with serious potential for incisions into planned narratives.

And frankly, in hindsight, I can say that I’ve failed as a reviewer for quite a few of these expansion books was seen within the context of this system; the perspective I assumed became too much inundated with mainstream PFRPG or higher power-level material that didn’t care about balancing as much (speaking of which: the Path of War content has btw. not been reproduced herein); I lost sight of the original promise of Spheres of Power, the original vision of a more even caster-martial approach, of optional, more powerful tricks that were clearly categorized. Throughout the series, it transformed to provide a power-level roughly on par with regular casters, in some cases exceeding them in numerical depth and action economy, if not in breadth.

This being said, the following points should be taken in the context of someone genuinely loving this massive doorstopper of a tome: These issues may or may not come up in your game, but since they apply globally, I considered them worth mentioning.

If you expected a return to this original promise of the Spheres of Power system, alongside a streamlining of the material released since, and the implementation of this material in a stringent regular play/advanced play-paradigm, then this book, in spite of its changes, will be a resounding disappointment for you. While Ultimate Spheres of Power does a lot right in these regards, it does not manage to reign in the power-increase due to synergies and the increase of options available, nor does it really establish a clearer baseline of power among spheres.

That being said, it should be emphasized that Ultimate Spheres of Power is a much smoother experience than using the original Spheres of Power alongside all of the expansion books; it is evident in quite a few cases that the system has indeed been playtested more thoroughly, not simply jammed together, with some of the more powerful options eliminated. The by now notorious incanter dip has been nerfed slightly, for example, though the paradigm of “giving up stuff later to gain power now” can, unfortunately, still be found. And you can still multiclass out of having to pay out.

So big suggested rule #1 for using this book: Limit multiclassing.

Big rule #2: I’d strongly suggest limiting, or at least very carefully vetting content from the Player Companion line by Paizo when using this book; the player’s companions, while often interesting, are also not balanced in a tight manner, and I found quite a few combos of the materials in this series and Ultimate Spheres of Power that allowed for really nasty tricks. This is not necessarily the fault of Ultimate Spheres of Power, but it’s something to bear in mind; the book hasn’t accounted for some of the more broken combos that can stem from interacting with these.

Another difference of Ultimate Spheres of Power in contrast to its predecessor would be partially due to its increased amount of material, and that would be action economy, and its system-inherent consistency: Quicken Spell in spheres costs a whopping 4 spell points; but casting is not either a standard or an immediate/swift action – it is much easier to gain casting for standard, move, swift, and free action going in spheres; there is a lot to optimize, and that is generally something I enjoy. However, I do believe that the system would benefit from global guidelines regarding spell point cost and casting action economy, because a decently-optimized caster does have a higher nova-capability than necessary, performing on par (or beyond) with save-or-sucks of Vancian casters. An easy way to mitigate that would have been an introducing of something like the martial focus employed in Spheres of Might – that way, combos would still be possible, but needed to be deliberate. As such, I do, particularly if a campaign’s supposed to reach the mid-to high-levels, recommend introducing such a mechanic…or at the very least, to impose a hard cap on benefits attainable via free actions.

In absence of these, let me propose big rule #3: Cap bonuses and debuffs at +/-5. It’s no surprise that PFRPG’s math becomes a bit wobbly at higher levels, but with Spheres of Power, some of these number-escalations can hurt a bit more; if you want to really make sure to maintain something akin to the series’ original promise, carefully vet all increases to caster level in particular, and cap those numbers.

The other, similarly subtle issue that can still be found herein, would be that the spheres are not consistent in how they value bonuses and bonus types; it is no secret that I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to those, and there are a few instances where the types don’t make sense regarding their value or type to me. It’s also worth noting that it’s pretty common to have buffs and debuffs scale up to +7/8 at higher levels, which is farther than most class options go; again, strongly suggest capping those.

That being said, these issues, while very much indisputable and present, are by NO MEANS dealbreakers.

Indeed, after going through this huge tome with a relatively fine-toothed comb, I can comfortably ascertain that the tome clearly works better than the collective of expansion books; and that is an achievement; indeed, I think the Drop Dead Studios crew must be lauded for it, lauded for the streamlining and improvements that went into this book. It should also be noted that the implementation of italics in this book is much smoother and more consistent than before.

Which brings me to the layout, which is more important for such massive tomes of content: On the plus-side, we have color-coded chapters, and one glyph for each sphere; if you flip through the massive spheres-chapter, you’ll have this glyph on the border of the page as well, allowing you to quickly skim through the physical book and find the proper sphere’s information – two thumbs up for that. It made navigating this huge tome much easier. That being said, I kinda wish the glyphs had also been used in the feat-chapter, which is GINORMOUS. We’re talking about slightly more than 50 pages of feats. Yes, that’s FIFTY, as in 5-0. Granted, this might be me having a visual mind, but I think it'd have been helpful to have each sphere-specific feat have the associated sphere-glyph, with dual-sphere feats having two glyphs. The feat-chapter also uses yellow as its header-color; granted, not the eye-hurting yellow of the original Illuminator’s Handbook, but it’s still yellow text on a background that’s not that much darker; having the letters sport a black outline would have significantly enhanced the readability of the chapter as far as I’m concerned.

On a rules side of things, the book has taken a more stringently-curated approach than the individual handbooks, with uses of e.g. Everybody Games’ excellent antagonize mechanics (which should have been core) and Spheres of Might, as well as psionics, taken into account, among other aspects.

…and honestly, without going into a level of detail that would render this review all but useless to most people, that’s as much as I can say about this.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; while there are still aspects of the book where the rules can become problematic, I was pretty surprised by the degree of improvements that went into this book. Layout adheres to a functional 2-column standard with color highlights and artworks of various styles and aesthetic quality. As noted, I do think that information-design wise, the book does a couple of things right, but could have gone further. I still hate yellow as the feat chapter’s header text color; it doesn’t have enough contrast for my liking, but that’s an aesthetic nitpick. The PoD hardcover is a massive tome, dwarfing the Core Rulebook; it is glued, though, so if my other huge RPG-books are an indicator, it will suffer over the years. I can’t comment on the pdf-version, since I do not own it.

Adam Meyers, Darren Smith, Amber Underwood, Michael Uhland, Michael Sayre, Andrew Stoeckle, Andrew J. Gibson, Derfael Oliviera, John Little, Johannes Luber, Steven Loftus, Jeff Collins—that’s quite a bunch of designers, and considering that, it’s surprising to see how unified this book feels as a whole.

But is it good? This depends very much on what you wanted out of it. If you wanted a return to the vision of the original Spheres of Power and the power-levels it gunned for, then you’ll consider it OP. If you don’t care about balance, and just wanted a compilation of the handbooks, then the improvements made here in that regard might rub you the wrong way.

However, if you wanted an update of spheres of power and all of its content, with some of its rough edges sanded off, then this book does deliver EXACTLY what you wanted. If you’re looking for a system that plays more like magic from novels and movies, then spheres is a breath of fresh air.

Similarly, if your group enjoys optimization and combos, then Spheres of Power adds more strategy to the whole realm of magic than simply casting the best spell; in that way it’s a resounding success.

…but in those aspects, it’s also where one can genuinely criticize the book. I am inordinately fond of particularly the Blood and Time spheres, to call out two of my favorite parts of the book. Ultimate Spheres of Power is a gigantic toolbox of options that allow you to make magic more magical. When I love this book, I REALLY love it, and I adore the system.

…and yet, as much as I adore the way in which this rewards optimization, combos and the like, I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t have had to spell out that bonuses should cap to not further exacerbate the issues of PFRPG’s math falling apart. Or that, if your group consists of hardcore powergamers (like mine), this wonderful magic system can make them tax the assumptions of PFRPG to the breaking point; the latter is not as big of an issue if everyone’s on board, but in mixed groups, with some less crunch-savvy players, the differences in power-levels can be rather significant; more so than in many comparable contexts.

I would love to unanimously recommend this book and its inspired, awesome concepts and ideas, slap 5 stars + seal on it and smile from ear to ear, but I ultimately can’t do that. If you and your group can reach an agreement to not push the system to its breaking points, then it will provide literally years of fun for you; courtesy of the new system, the entirety of PFRPG’s first edition can feel radically different, fresh, exciting. For you, this book may well be one of the most important in your entire library.

I love a lot in this book. Heck, I loved a ton of the individual spheres-handbooks. But, in many ways, this book to me represents the end of a honeymooning phase, the point where the system should ideally have no aspects that creak anymore.

The best way to think about this, would be to think about it as an alternate caster-system that results in more focused, themed, casters reminiscent of those we know from fiction; who can theoretically perform in a devastating manner on par with Vancian casters; depending on player-expertise, beyond them in their focused areas of expertise.

It's also a book that lets you drastically change how PFRPG feels, with incantation engine and items etc. allowing you to make use of pretty much the majority of the entire PFRPG array of options.

Damn, how should I rate this? I am genuinely torn on this one, as I adore how it operates, but am somewhat disappointed by how easily the system can still be strained, and in spite of the name, I don’t think it makes for the best version of the content it could have been. I am, somewhat, in the camp of the people who wanted a realization of the original vision behind Spheres of Power; I wanted something more akin to a second edition, and I can understand anyone who’d consider this a 3-star tome.

But then again, I pride myself on reviewing books for what they are, and not for what I’d want them to be. Granted, this approach made me fall prey to the whole power-level escalation in the individual handbooks, as there was no clear power-level as a baseline for the entire series. Handbook A pushes envelope; handbook B doesn’t; C pushes further – you get the idea; when the individual frame of reference is the sphere in question in combination with an as-of-yet unfinished entire series as baseline, it’s hard to judge anything but the context of the sphere and a potential overall power-level guesstimate.

And there’s the factor that this book was billed as a compilation, with some improvements to (content) editing – and it delivers in that regard.

In fact, it delivers more than I thought it would, but less than I hoped for.

The key to rating this in a fair manner I can live with turned out to be a weird one: Eliminate the “Spheres of Power” from the title; try to block out what came before; try to block out the original, the handbooks. Assume a position of a person who doesn’t have very specific expectations of what the book should be but retain my hard-won knowledge of how its intricate and rather complex systems can be manipulated, tweaked and pushed.

If this were a new book of its own, what would my response be? I’d celebrate this book for all of its genuinely amazing components, and for the streamlining and rules-changes that it DOES implement. But I’d also caution against its not-as-streamlined components, and I stand by the big rules suggestions above; implementing them will make the system operate in a much smoother manner.

I thought long and hard about the verdict, and ultimately, I’ll settle on a verdict that will probably annoy everyone, but which I consider to be fair: In the end, I think this is a 4.5 stars book, rounded down.

If you are new to spheres of power and have no experience with the system, consider my verdict for the original book to still be valid: For you, this very much will a radical and awesome paradigm chances that breathes life into an old system , and may be worth 5 stars + seal based on that alone.. Just, if you do, consider implementing the limits I outlined above; you’ll thank me at the very latest when your characters reach 10th level. Unless, of course, that’s what you and yours enjoy! There is no wrong way to game, after all!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ultimate Spheres of Power
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