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Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:22:28

An ENdzeitgeist.com review

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

“Cave of Iron” is an old-school module intended for characters level 1st to 3rd – a well-rounded party of 6 is recommended, and at 1st level, this is a VERY deadly module. It should be noted that the module requires that the GM pulls off something that every experienced player will be weary of; otherwise, it might well end before the intended finale, so yeah – this is certainly a module for experienced GMs. And parties. Oh boy, this is capital letters DOOM. Are you tired of your cocky, optimized PCs? Well, the final region has 10 minute intervals for random encounters, and these encounters can include 6 CR 4 creatures, and even one encounter with 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 (!!) critters – while one of the planned encounters lists this as not necessarily an IMMEDIATELY hostile one (they do turn hostile if the party dawdles), parties that think they can murder-hobo through this with their 3133T-murderhoboing builds will die horribly. It should also be noted that, while the numbers of critters encountered make this intent clear, the like is not spelled out in the random encounters section, so yeah – experienced GMs definitely required. The party has no chance of survival if they can’t level mid-adventure, and imho, even level 3 parties may well be hard-pressed to survive this one. You have been warned.

The module features read-aloud text, as well as b/w-maps for a section of wilderness and an adventure-location; the latter is aesthetically really pleasing and nice, but both maps come without player-friendly versions.

The primary antagonist comes with very rudimentary and pretty flawed depictions of making characters of that type; I strongly suggest ignoring the paragraph. Apart from the primary antagonist, we have two new monsters here – as a minor nitpick, an ability called “thought onslaught” should most definitely be codified as mind-affecting, as it does cause untyped damage. Another creature’s CMD is off by one, missing its special size modifier.

The module is set in the Keston province in the Lost Lands campaign setting, but is pretty easy to adapt to other settings. The adventure starts off in Hillfort, and nomen est omen here. 12 years ago, valuable metals were found in the hills in the vicinity, and the Hardshale Mine thrived – every month, a wagon train carries supplies to the mine, and returns laden with iron and miners, with the trip usually taking less than a week. It’s been 3 weeks and the last supply train hasn’t returned, and the riders that were dispatched when the wagons were 4 days overdue haven’t returned either, and more goblins than usual have been sighted – enter the adventurers!

To provide more details, I’ll need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first section of the module deals with the road to Hardhsale Mine after the short briefing. If the PCs are smart, they’ll take a friendly NPC along for the rid: A kind rogue can certainly help; the commoner minor, who is also an alcoholic, though? Less useful. En route, the PCs get to face several goblins (potentially gaining some intel regarding the plant monsters, like Jupiter bloodsuckers, which the PCs can also find.

And then comes the hard sell I mentioned, which really requires serious GM mojo to pull off – The PCs meet Pezzi Zakii, a friendly shroom-humanoid, who professes to be a kind being. Ideally, the shroom accompanies the PCs as a funny sidekick, “saving” them with his “shroom powers” over his own plant creatures. Conversation primers are also provided, and this’d be a more effective angle if, well, if shrooms were not one of the most classic OSR-villains ever. If your players played through either Expeditious Retreat press’ shroom modules or Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic Demonspore, forget about selling this one to your party. The module does not hinge on the party falling for Pezzi, but becomes more fun if they do. Here’s an issue: “It is vital, however, that characters don’t kill Zakii on the road.” While the shroom has 35 HP, making that unlikely, it’s certainly within the range of things that the party can pull off. On the plus-side, invisibility and sleep as prepared spells do make for a pretty likely chance to escape. So yeah, not penalizing the module for this one, even though I really suggest GMs taking some serious time to think on how to sell this.

Why? Because the module does actually a really nice job at making Pezzi seem likable, and the shroom, until recently isolated from the surface world, has a good reason to have free-willed adventurers around, wanting them to demonstrate how e.g. smelting iron works, etc. Still, some designated troubleshooting sections most assuredly would have been helpful here. The Hardhsale Mine, once the party arrives there, is the highlight of the module: Lavishly-mapped, the place features a ton of feeblemind-ed miners, deadly plant creatures (including a cool reskin of the assassin vine – the flowershroud), and with the magic-dampening witch grass hazard, the small mining settlement is atmospheric, dangerous and thoroughly creepy.

Of course, the PCs will need to go down into the Hardshale Mine – the mine has three levels, with the majority of the action dealing with the third level, where the mine managed to break through into the shroom’s habitat, thus initiating the catastrophe…provided the party isn’t TPK’d. A planned encounter deals with 5 CR 4 and one CR 5 enemy….which can’t RAW be bypassed. Hope your group is super-paranoid and good at hit and run…The final encounter with Pezzi Zakki and its minions btw. add +2 advanced violet fungi on round 1, 5 mandragoras (CR 4) and a green brain (CR 5) on round 2, a CR 3 fungoid on round three, and all surviving vegepygmies from a camp on round 5. These vegepygmies, btw.? That’s the 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 creature. Plus, you know, the CR 5 BBEG. If the PCs have not leveled by then, they will be wiped out at the very latest here.

Now, there is a room for super-deadly modules like this one; heck, I prefer hard modules. But this one is insanely brutal, and its level-range is hard to sell. I can’t see a level 1 party beating this; not even really overpowered groups. Level 2 will also be borderline – so yeah, wrong level-range.

But there is one aspect that really tanks the module for me. That final subterranean area, which constitutes more than half of the keyed encounters? Well, guess what’s missing its frickin’ map? YEP. The entire subterranean finale is missing it’s §$%&$§-map! And no, this is not intentional – the text references hexes, and the module certainly doesn’t waste time talking about the relation of encounter areas sans map, making it very obvious that a map should be here…but isn’t. How in all the 9 hells could that happen???

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports some nice artworks in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography for the surface of Hardshale Mine is awesome and b/w – but that doesn’t make up for a) the lack of player-friendly maps (which Frog God Games usually provided) and b) THE FIRCKIN MISSING MAP for the region containing half of the keyed encounters!!

Man, Steve Winter’s scenario deserved better.

The module has not one, but two bad strikes against it: 1) The lack of player-friendly maps is disappointing; the missing map is inexcusable. 2) Dave Landry’s PFRPG conversion is insanely-brutal. I get the whole DOOM part of Quests of Doom; heck, I’ve been a fan of the super-brutal modules. But this one? You can throw mythic characters at this and watch them die. The level-range is not appropriate, and I’d seriously not throw this at a party below 3rd level; heck, most parties at 4th level would still consider this to be HARD if the GM plays it halfway smart. Unless you’re dealing with a super-optimized group, this might still TPK level 4 parties!

Both of these would be serious strikes on their own; the latter perhaps more excusable than the former; but in combination? In combination, they tank this module, and while the adventure, if run as intended as opposed to as provided, is a solid yarn, it isn’t outstanding, or novel enough to make up for these issues. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
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The Luchador (Pathfinder 2nd Edition)
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2020 12:43:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The luchador base class in its PF2e-iteration clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages so let’s take a look!

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

So, the luchador gets 10 + Constitution modifier Hit Points, and chooses whether to apply the ability boost to Strength or Charisma, the latter being the governing ability score for class ability DCs etc. As far as initial proficiencies are concerned, the luchador is trained in Perception as well as Athletics, Performance, and one skill determined by the stable, as well as 2 + Intelligence modifier additional skills. They are trained in unarmed attacks and simple weapons, and the luchador class DC. 5th level upgrades the ranks in simple weapons and unarmed attacks to expert. This improves further to master at 13th level. As far as the class DC is concerned, we have the proficiency rank increase at 11th level, which includes occult spell attacks, if relevant. 17th level increases these two to master.

Regarding defenses, they are Experts in Fortitude and Reflex, Trained in Will, and are untrained in all armor, but Expert in unarmored defense. At 7th level you increase your proficiency rank in Will to expert, in Fortitude to master. At 9th level, successes in Fortitude or Reflex saves are upgraded to critical successes. 19th level improves your Reflex save rank to master and also nets you +2 on initiative rolls.

This already looks promising, considering how PF2e is more adapt at portraying characters fighting without armor. The luchador gets Powerful Fist at first level, upgrading damage to 1d6, as well as eliminating the penalty for inflicting lethal attacks with them. 7th and 15th level net you Weapon Specialization and its Greater brother, in line with the fighter base class.

Feat-wise, we have a class feat at 2nd level and every even-numbered level thereafter, a skill feat at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter (requiring being trained or better in the skill, as customary), a general feat at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter net a skill increase, with 7th level unlocking master, 15th legendary. 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter we have ability boosts, and 5th level and every 4 thereafter an ancestry feat.

It should also be noted that we have Aerial Expertise (+5-foot status bonus to distance moved vertically and horizontally, +5 ft. for every 4 levels) at 3rd level, and the ability to execute Aerial Takedowns, a two action ability with the Open trait: Stride or Leap twice, then follow up with a Grapple if you and the enemy are in the air, allowing you to down flying targets. Interaction with nonstandard movement modes like Climbing etc. is provided. Cool!

Additionally, first level makes you choose a persona (minor niggle: there’s a blank space missing between “persona” and “class feature”); the personas are Freestyler, Heavyweight, Ki Warrior, Lichadore, Oil Wrestler and Rudo. These net you, as noted above, a skill you’re trained in (which was called stable, but that’s not a big deal), and a class feat. For Freestyler, we have Acrobatics and Improvised Weapon Training; for Ki Warriors Occultism and Ki Strikes, for Lichadores Religion and Returned from Beyond – you get the idea.

These deserve a bit of elaboration, as they significantly alter the playing experience of your individual luchador: Ki Strike nets you the ki strike spell (not in italics – an oversight that extends to multiple named spells throughout the pdf) and a Focus pool of 1 Focus Point, for example. Further feats provide additional spells and tend to increase the Focus Point pool. Returned from Beyond nets you negative healing and a +1 status bonus on saving throws vs. positive effects. Oil Chemist nets you some Alchemical Crafting and alchemy dabbling.

Here's the thing: The original iteration of the luchador did a pretty impressive job at tackling (pun intended) a combo-driven fighting engine; in PF2e, this is a much easier (and smoother) proposition, courtesy of e.g. the presence of the Press trait, which the pdf does make pretty good use of. Speaking of another thing the pdf makes good use of: PF2e’s modularity regarding class feats deserves special mention here: For example, if you already have negative healing you don’t need the luchador persona to e.g. take Dark Deliverance at 4th level – while the feat will primarily be accessible to lichadores, the pdf is future proofed in this regard, which is most assuredly a plus. On the other hand, where it makes sense, the persona requirements are intact: It takes a luchador with Ki Strike, for example, to learn Hand of the Lich. Only a freestyler can learn to escape a Grab or Swallow Whole as a reaction.

I also rather enjoyed seeing that the pdf provides a great in-game justification in line with rules for having a higher weight and retaining the grappling options: With Giant Frame, your weight doubles, affecting the maximum size category you can Grapple and what can Grapple you.

Of course, there are class feats building on each other, such as the AC-enhancing Shoulder Roll reaction, which can be improved to include a counter attack. What about setting yourself on fire to buff your attacks (sans harm to you?) as a sequence building on Oil Chemist? Yeah, very much a cool option.

Of course, suplexes are here as well, and we have the obvious elemental strikes based on ki; more interesting to me (and most assuredly some other fans of the class’ first iteration) would be the fact that the dual identity and Charismatic leader/star-angle imho work better in PF2e than they did before; making enemies Doomed 1 at high levels, downtime abilities and more are provided, and with capstone abilities that net you undead apotheosis and mask phylactery, controlling grappled targets and more, the class feat engine does an impressive job at rendering the PF2e luchador at once flexible and distinct; there are feat trees, but as a whole, the freedom to make your combos and customize the class accordingly is neat indeed.

The aforementioned ki-based spells are all provided (6, to be precise, and conditions/damage with regards to spell level, actions, etc. checks out for them); we get two backgrounds (Masked Inheritor and Stable Trained), and we get 6 items for the luchador, beginning with wrestling oils and silk masks at first level, all the way up to item level 17 championship belts. The pdf also covers how PF races (including orcs) handle luchadores and closes with a sensible luchador multiclass archetype.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a rules-language and formal level; on a formal level, one reference to stable instead of person and the missed italics for spell-references irked me somewhat, but not in a way that would compromise the pdf. Layout adheres to a two-column standard with green highlight, which remains pretty printer-friendly. The artworks are full-color, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

One can see Michael Sayre’s expertise with PF2e on full display here, and the class actually showcases a lot of what I like about PF2e. This is not simply a 1-to-1-conversion of components; instead, the pdf showcases how the thoroughly robust core engine of PF2e renders combo-based fighting styles such as the one championed by the luchador work in a much smoother manner. If I take a look at this and the PF1-iteration, I consider the PF2e version to be superior in pretty much every way. The class presented here remains in line with the core tenets of the game, while providing a significantly smoother gaming experience. In short, this is an impressive beast of a class. While there are a few formal hiccups, I can’t justify rounding down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and frankly, the playing experience is so smooth and enjoyable, this also earns my seal of approval.

This is how you show off the strengths and improvements of a new system.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Luchador (Pathfinder 2nd Edition)
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Star Log.EM-080: Isekai Characters
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2020 12:42:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what is an “isekai”? Well, put simply, isekai characters are those hailing NOT from the universe/reality in which SFRPG takes place, but rather from our own world.

The pdf kicks off with the isekai theme: The theme knowledge lets you choose up to 3 Starfinder RPG products; these must be legal at your table, and the GM needs this list. You can’t choose an adventure, but gain a special Intelligence-based class skill called RPG Lore, which you can use to Recall Knowledge to identify creatures in the chosen products; you also get an untyped +1 bonus to such checks, and your theme-based ability-adjustment may be freely selected. Minor nitpick here: Personally, I’d base the selection on number of pages instead of product number, as the ability as written rewards choosing thick books over pdfs. At 12th level, 3 additional books may be chosen.

At 6th level, we have the ability to take 10 on any d20 roll or check due to your knowledge of the law of averages, with the ability refreshing after spending Resolve to regain Stamina. At 18th level, 1/day when succeeding on a RPG Lore check, you regain 1 Resolve.

The pdf also provides the isekai avatar archetype, which requires that you take aforementioned theme. The archetype replaces the 2nd-and 6th level class features. Second level nets mechanics application, which nets you a +1 insight bonus to RPG Lore, which increases a5th level, every 4 levels thereafter and 20th level by +1. As a move action, you can choose a creature or challenge within 30 ft. and use RPG Lore to identify it, gaining a +1 enhancement bonus when dealing with you, including AC, saves, etc. This improves to +2 at 7th level. The 6th-level class feature nets you an isekai advantage, with skill DCs defaulting to 10 + 1.5 times class level, and saves defaulting to 10 + ½ class level + class key ability modifier. 6 isekai advantages are provided, and if the adventurer wants, they can forgo the class features at 9th, 12th and 18th level for another isekai advantage.

One lets you use law of averages 3 times and with a +1 bonus to the result before requiring Resolve expenditure to regain Stamina to use it again; we have a bonus feat. Additionally, we have to option to spend Resolve to reroll failed checks, or force rerolls of adversaries – interesting here that this has no range or line of sight caveat for the offensive application; this might be an oversight. The ability is kept in check by the Stamina-replenishing caveat to regain its use. There is also an option that lets you dabble in class features for a kid of gestalt-lite (minor nitpick: typo “bonsu” should read “bonus”), and we have a +2 improvement for an ability score of your choice, which doesn’t stack with personal upgrades. This may be chosen multiple times, stacking up to +4. The final advantage lets you use mechanics application as a move or swift action, if you choose, but still no more often than once per round.

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

Alexander Augunas’ isekai are a neat concept, whether you dabble in old-school sword and planet themes or full-blown gonzo; they may not be for every table, but I considered them to be pretty neat. If anything, the concept and isekai advantages have plenty of potential for expansions, and I think that the out-game knowledge should be based on page count; otherwise, the ability prioritizes big books over larger ones. When all is said and done, I consider this to be a good file, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-080: Isekai Characters
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Ætherjack’s Almanac Number 6 Iridium Frigates & Cybernetic Corpses (Troika! Compatible!)
Publisher: Axes & Orcs
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/13/2020 06:35:44

An Endzeitgeist.com

The sixth zini in the Ætherjack’s Almanac-series clocks in at 2 pages, which, as always, contain essentially 4 pages – print them, fold the booklet in the middle, done. The first half of these pages contains the front cover.

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review via direct donation.

On the first half of the second page, we get the Cyber Corpse AI Hub background, making you the AI of a decaying warship; you are an old warship at 2d6% capacity, and have a corpse soldier as well as a barely-functioning plasmic cannon. You have an internal armory of advanced weapons and armor, but it is lost. Within you. Why? Well, that’s a curious thought, isn’t it? Your possessions also include the hole in your heart that captain and crew abandoning you left. Oh and works of art from cultures you helped destroy.

The advanced skills include a solid 4 Strength, 3 Iridium Frigate Piloting, 2 Fusil fighting and Fist Fighting, and the basics of Mathmology as well as a bit of Astrology, Religion, and Arts so you can be pretentious in your loneliness. (George R.R. Martin’s scifi stories, anyone?) Here’s the cool thing: You do NOT have awareness of your internal structure; you don’t have a proper engine for sailing within a sphere, but you can, provided you have the charts, sidestep reality and switch spheres.

Of course, we do get stats for the ravaged iridium frigate ship, a fully repaired version for reference, and stats for the cyber corpse drone, which has 9 Skill, 15 Stamina, initiative 3, and armor of 0, 2 or 4; it deals damage as a Modest Beast or weapon wielded; the Armor 4 is only deployed when not caught unaware. A full d6 Mien table is provided. Minor nitpick: The background lists the possession as “corpse soldier”, and not as “cyber-corpse drone”; as an aside – a less potent ravaged cyber-corpse drone would have imho made for a good addition here. Why? Well, when comparing this to the Shellfolx background in #4, the cyber corpse drones are superior in every way: I Skill more, 7 Stamina more, 1 Initiative more, and vastly superior armor, plus more weapon capabilities. The same holds true for the Iridium Frigate versus the Golden Barge of the Shellfolx. Oh, and the advanced skills. Indeed, the background is VERY MUCH like the shellfolx, just stronger in pretty much every way.

The second half of the first page, traditionally the back cover-ish one, contains only brief notes on ship-based hyperspace generators; something more substantial would have been nice here. I did, however, enjoy the shout-outs to two indie supplements by other publishers that work well in conjunction with this series.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-color standard using dark blue and lighter-grey-blue-ish white text; easy to read; a b/w-version is included if you don’t like the colored version. The collage-style artworks employed are charming as always. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Ian Woolley’s sixth Ætherjack’s Almanac provides a pretty neat, fun background with lots of roleplaying potential; however, I couldn’t help but feel that the background would have benefited from a better balanced cyber drone body (perhaps more of them to make up for that?), a frigate in line with the shellfolx, an Advanced Skills array in line with the Shellfolx – you get the idea.

I’d be much more impressed by this, were it not in quite a few ways a super-up version of Shellfolx. I know that Troika embraces chaos and uneven characters, but the comparison here, within one series, makes this feel like overkill. I like the design, but I hate how inconsistent it is regarding the baseline of power of comparable backgrounds in its own series. It’s, essentially a reskinned #4. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded up only due to the fact that Troika! is more resilient regarding such inconsistencies than many comparable systems.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ætherjack’s Almanac Number 6 Iridium Frigates & Cybernetic Corpses (Troika! Compatible!)
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On the Bringing and Binding of Toothcollectors
Publisher: Violent Media
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/12/2020 05:38:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so first of all, this is a combination of a kind of mini monster-ecology with a grimy dark fantasy/horror flair, and a brief, sketch-like adventure.

The supplement doesn’t adhere to a specific OSR rules system. The stats presented for the eponymous toothcollectors note their HD, their armor “As leather”, and their Move as “Quick, erratic, upside down at night”; now, if you expect a standard tooth fairy trope, or its simple inversion, then you’re most assuredly new to Evey Lockhart’s supplements.

There is constantly this touch of the weird and uncanny. “Upside down at night” certainly evoked a disjointed and odd sentiment in me. The strength of toothcollectors is contingent on their collected teeth – they have 18 slots, and if they jame enough teeth in, they can’t close their mouths or speak anymore. They are superb assassins and excellent at sneaking around, represented by percentile values. They speak the languages of those whose teeth they have collected; and what they need for their services can be determined with 2quick d8 rolls: A blackened incisor, for example. They are obsessive, and at day, they dream, sending rhizomes into the soil, communicating, forming and dissolving strange alliances. A d8-table lets you determine their personality – oh, and nonhuman teeth have special effects. Powers. They crave some of them, yet won’t admit to it…and others will need to be forced into the little…things.

And yes, before you ask: The supplement does describe the somewhat grimy ritual required to call and bind a toothcollector, and I really enjoyed that one. I’d immediately back a book of ritual magic penned by Evey Lockhart.

Brief notes and minor SPOILERS for the low-level mini-module follow. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

… .. .

The module deals with a magic-user who won’t leave the basement of a stonemason, which her rented. It’s up to the party to kick out the magic user from the strange, subterranean observatory where he observes the Red, Red Moon with a telescope pointed at the eye of a dying toothcollector. The module comes with rudimentary maps sans player-friendly versions or grid, but on the plus side, effects like acidic paste note how they can be dealt with in ways other than succeeding the saving throw. Also a plus: The magician ahs a few unique tricks, though these do suffer a bit from the system-agnostic approach; not unduly so, though.

Conclusion: Editing is good on a formal and rules-language level. Formatting could be employed in a somewhat tighter manner, but isn’t bad either- Layout adheres to a one-column standard, with a red moon on the side, and the utterly weird, frightening artwork for the toothcollector drives perfectly home how alien they are. Cartography is functional and b/w – not impressive, but it does its job. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Evey Lockhart is one of the RPG-authors whom I’d consider to be auteur, though she’d probably scoff at that. She knows horror and has a distinctive voice and theme; if I’d had to classify it, I’d probably call her aesthetic one resounding from the American hinterlands and the downtrodden; a neon-neo-hobo’s nightmare- and dream-visions. They might not all be for me, but there is something compelling about them. As an avid fan of beat poetry, I tend to adore her more poetic supplements, but this one here? If you dislike the whole poetry-as-game-text-angle, then rest assured that this is not that artsy, and instead depicts a compelling little ecology well worth checking out if you like your fantasy grimy and weird. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
On the Bringing and Binding of Toothcollectors
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Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow - Revised
Publisher: Dying Stylishly Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/11/2020 07:02:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

4 pages of handy index, leaving us with 285 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so before we dive into the book itself, it should be noted that, while I have used both pdf and hardcover to write this review, I can ONLY recommend getting the hardcover. Why? The pdf is missing bookmarks, rendering it extremely grating to use and impossible to navigate on the fly. If you’re interested in actually playing the game, get print or prepare to suffer.

Now, as for what this is: Essentially, Wolf-Packs & Winter Snow (WP&WS) is a prehistoric roleplaying game that has several modular components that allow you to utilize in it a pretty wide variety of contexts; from a quasi-historic version sans magic to one featuring subdued magic to massive, full-blown magic prehistoric roleplaying, the system/setting allows for a wide variety of playstyles.

Now, it should be noted that I consider this supplement to be pretty much what I’d deem “Peak-indie-ness”; this book is mostly the work of one woman, and it feels like an indie game with a concise and undiluted atmosphere; however, this strong focus is also represented by flaws, particularly when it comes to editing and formatting; some pages tend to be exceedingly precise in both regards, while others suddenly sport accumulations of minor snafus. If, e.g., ability scores (which the game calls Attributes) being in title case at one section, then lower case in another, then this’ll annoy you once in a while. Not consistently, mind you – this is better in that regard than I figured it’d be, but considering that this is the revised edition of the system, I was surprised to see that this wasn’t adequately edited with regards to that. Some of the glitches are very obvious, when e.g. a class table suddenly lacks the number indicating the die-size for grit gained.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; we have the classic ability scores as Attributes, with their modifiers ranging from minus 3 to plus 3. Skills follow the “x-in-6”-style we know from Lamentations of the Flame Princess; we have 4 saving throws: Weather, Poison, Hazards, and Magic. (The latter can eb cut in a game sans magic, obviously.) Constitution modifier is added to saves vs. Weather and Poison, Dexterity modifier applies for saves vs. Hazards, and Wisdom modifier is applied for saves vs. Magic.

The standard level-range noted in tables ranges to level 15, but there is content herein (such as among the spells) for levels beyond that. The game has 4 core classes: The Expert is basically your guy who uses skills, akin to thief/specialist, etc. – they start with 6 skills, and get +2 per level, and use d6s to determine how hardy they are. Hunters get scaling Animalism as a skill, d8s to determine hardiness, and are the only class that gets an attack bonus, which scales up to +10. Hunters can take the fight defensively, fight recklessly, go for the kill and aim actions sans penalty. Magicians are the only spellcasters, get d4s to determine hardiness, and get a scaling Art-skill. Neanderthals get d10s to determine hardiness, and a 3 in 6 Foraging, Athletics and Tracking skill, as well as the same combat benefits of hunters. Neanderthals are, statwise, better than hunters of equivalent levels, but require more XP to attain a new level; additionally, there is an implied social stigma attached to them, but as a whole, I think it’d have been nice for hunters and Neanderthals to get different unique things to set them apart.

Now, you may have noticed that I have used this weird term “hardiness” to talk about the staying power of these classes, and there’s a reason for that: You see, Hit Points are differentiated between Flesh and Grit. You roll the die for Flesh, but every level after that, up to 9th, nets you only +1 Flesh. A new level attained does net you a full die determined by the class. As an example: An expert starts play with d6 Flesh and d6 Grit; At third level, we have a total potential of Flesh of 1d6+2, and 3d6 Grit. Constitution modifier is add to BOTH Flesh and Grit at first level; at higher levels, the modifier is only added to Grit. As common in old-school games, full Hit Dice are only gained up to 9th level – beyond that, we have no more Flesh increases, and Grit increases by a fixed amount defined by the class. Neanderthals get btw. 1 Grit more than Hunters – probably because being roughly based, framework-wise, on dwarves, but without their level cap limitations. Grit is regained pretty quickly – one turn, or one hour; however, when fatigued, it takes a full night’s worth of sleep to recover Grit; Flesh, however, only replenishes at the rate of 1 per such longer rest, 2 if the circumstances are particularly favorable. Using the Medicine skill can also replenish Flesh. You die if your Flesh is reduced to 0.

It should be noted that there is a system that makes gameplay less lethal, but more gory: When reduced to 0 Flesh, you consult a table depending on the type of damage that reduced you to 0 Flesh; The game has a basic and concise engine for bleeding out, and each such injury will have serious implications – you can end up losing an eye or the like, become a Dead Man Walking (with only a few rounds left before you inevitably die), etc. – if you want a less gritty, and more epic-bloody angle, this system is the way to go.

Spellcasting is interesting in how it represents a riff on the traditional systems, contextualized in a couple of very interesting ways: We have the basic Vancian spellcasting with spell preparation etc. as the framework, and we have the usual spell levels, though this book calls them “ranks” instead; these go btw. up to rank 9, even though the standard range of play only advances to 8th rank. Anyhow, since we don’t have paper yet, the spellcasting has a very important aspect: It requires a wizard’s sanctum, where rituals are conducted, with the actual spellcasting only finishing these rituals. When preparing a spell in a spell slot not suited for it, the magician must make both an Arts skill check and a saving throw versus Magic, risking casting the spell normally on a failed Arts check, and risking magical backlash on a failed save. The engine explicitly tells you that e.g. making a spell that usually grants protection from an element do the inverse, rendering the target vulnerable, etc., would be a valid tweak. In short, the system, while still very much focused on precision, does allow for creative modification. Good! The backlash tables are also well-wrought, ranging from the minor and cosmetic to the apocalyptic, with application left up to the GM.

This is great, because it keeps magic volatile, while at the same time allowing for the means to rein in attempts to game the system, all without risking that campaign play is wrecked on every cast. In short: The backlash system proposed herein is, much like the one in Lost Pages’ “Wonder & Wickedness” of Goodman Games’ Spellburn-engine from DCC, one of the better ones out there, providing volatility without destroying outright and constantly – you can play magician without being hated by everyone at the table. But how do the magicians record their spells? Art! They have a sanctum, usually a cave or hut, and it is here that their art and rituals take place; item creation in this place is also much faster. For the purpose of magic item creation and beyond, we also have herb, reagents and body-part generators, allowing for precise and on-the-fly creation of components – and thus, adventuring potential. The general notion of the grimy, visceral haruspex-style savage magic is strong here, and I love it.

Speaking of elegant components I enjoyed: There is a handy mechanic for light going out; essentially, light sources have a die that you roll, and after a timeframe or when drenched etc. by a downpour, you roll, and if you roll badly, the light goes out. It’s pretty simple, and it does its job. Beyond that, we have a weather table, altitude sickness, the consideration of requiring food and water (Constitution damage looming…) and more, and the base engine already is interesting.

Speaking of interesting: XP is generally awarded for exploration, and for the exploration of ENTIRE complexes, which means that the game has a hardcoded reason to dungeon (or rather: cave) dive, if you will. Ignoring danger? Doesn’t net XP. Ignorance, though, like not realizing that there are more rooms hidden, for example, is taken into account – so your players can’t use XP to know if they explored the entire system. Killing harmless animals and other NPCs doesn’t net XP, but looting the gear might – the focus here is more on survival.

However, there is one aspect that I very much enjoyed, and that was probably already obvious to some of my readers: When the sanctum of a magician is essentially a fixed place (it can be moved/transferred, mind you – just not easily), how does that interact with the gameplay? Well, the book does a pretty solid job depicting that, but unlike many OSR-games, I’d argue that WP&WS offers for an interesting playstyle that is rarely, if ever, supported: What’d call “generational.” You see, it’s easier to attract a tribe than in many comparable games, and the tribe needs to be fed; there are mechanics provided for managing the tribe (you assign roles), which, while as simple as the ones presented for the day-to-day survival, ultimately allow for a playstyle that lets you potentially focus on more than one character – I like that. So, your old PC died? Good news, your tribe has this excellent hunter anyways…Paired with the relatively subdued power-gain of the system we have a game that is lethal, but not unduly so, but one that also will make a PC death hurt in just the right ways.

The book, and this should be noted, is littered with random tables, with particularly the exploration of biomes above and below ground being important factors here; since exploration and survival are driving forces, the sheer amount of random cave/dressing generators and features really help crafting the encounter-driven aspect of the game. (Other examples of tables include magical transformations, etc.) The exploration focus also is enhanced by the plethora of cool hazards featured, which include a variety of fungi, spores and slimes, and e.g. calcifying miasma and the like – really cool. Speaking of which: Herbalism has a pretty nifty core engine (including a table to let you determine whether that poison/drug/etc. will be a broth, syrup, etc.

But let’s take a look at exploration generators for a second: We’re exploring a plain, and thus, we roll a d8 (Landscape), a d10 (wildlife) and a d12 (weirdness): and get: “Snow laying in the lee of scattered boulders in a wide plain of low grass and weeds, the howls of wolves echoing around the plain at night...and sometimes, plants move in the breeze, even when no wind is blowing.” You can work with that, right? Considering that the book presents an easy method for randomized grid maps, we have, as a whole, a rather impressive component here; and of course, we also receive a massive bunch of random encounter tables. Indeed, the hazards and dressing will make a lot of sense to check out even if you’re not interested in the game per se. The book also provides a solid little haunting engine, and yes, we do get a proper generator.

The book also presents a pretty massive bestiary section that ranges from a chapter devoted solely to prehistoric fauna, to one with fantastic monsters – kudos for the separation there. Makes retaining the chosen tone of the game easier. NPCs get their own subchapter, and we do get a supplemental NPC tribe generator, including trade goods, situations and tribal quirks. Undead and constructs also have their own chapters.

In case you want more classes, the book is happy to oblige: We have the degenerate aberrant class (d6 HD, 3 in 6 Stealth, and the same chance for either Tracking or Perception, based on original race); they also deal extra damage when making a surprise attack. Morlocks are essentially reskinned elves,; mystics are a tweak on the charismatic spellcaster who gets their powers from a patron (which felt somewhat like a more DCC-style caster blended with a charlatan engine). The Neanderthal Apothecary is particularly good at making potions, which can even mimic spells. Orphans are essentially Mowgli – the class, and get superb Animalism, and while fragile, they are excellent at Stealth. There also would be the Wendigo, who can use cannibalism to heal, and limited spellcasting. This consumption-based eating is, unlike the majority of content in this book, sloppily designed, with exploits so far wide open, that, unlike other sections, this one is not a charming ambiguity to allow the GM to make their calls, but a borderline broken component. As with the core classes, I couldn’t help but feel that giving the individual classes a few more things to set them apart, while also balancing them against each other, might have been neat to see. We do get NPCs and tribal generator options for this one. Variant rules for allowing characters to change classes are provided.

The book also features appendices for becoming eloi, hollow ones, children of snow and liches, which are pretty exciting, as all feature some procedures, often in steps, to attain the transformation – but nothing is free…

The book provides a detailed sample cult, and we get an appendix of bonus spells that can only be attained in game, not at the start. I like this distinction per se, but I considered the choice of which spells to feature here, and which to include in the core spells, odd – magic mouth, for example, is here in the appendix, and that spell usually doesn’t exactly break the game. Resist fire is a core spell – resist acid and resist lightning can only be found here. There is no real rhyme or reason for some of these choices.

The book, just fyi, also contains a variety of magic items, which note the spells rquired to make them – the garrote Throat-Closer, for example, requires silence. It’s a small thing, but a touch I appreciated.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are two of the weaknesses of this book; while the tome is better than one would expect from a indie production of this size and ambition, but I still think that some proper editing would have been rather helpful for this book. Since this is the revised edition, I couldn’t help but be somewhat aggravated by the inconsistent formatting. Layout adheres to a nice and pretty clean two-column b/w-standard, with well-chosen public domain artworks and black silhouettes used. The pdf is a colossal pain in the backside to use due to the lack of bookmarks; I do not recommend getting the pdf, unless you only want to scavenge tables for your DM-tool folders. The hardcover is a neat book, with name etc. on the spine.

Emmy Allen’s Wolf Packs & Winter Snows were her first offering for the roleplaying game scene, and the book has aged surprisingly well; the revised edition has expanded the original content in meaningful ways. In fact, I wanted to review the original when the revised edition was announced. Then, the revised edition pdf hit sites, and I figured I’d wait for the print option, as dealing with a book of this size on screen is very unpleasant for me. When the print copy finally arrived, I was ecstatic, and after excessive perusal of the book in theory and practice, this has somewhat mellowed, but not vanished.

The information design regarding small rules can sometimes be a bit more precise; the organization of “bonus spells” vs. the spells available in core…there are quite a few aspects that could be smoother. While uneven classes in OSR-games are pretty much a given, I couldn’t help but feel that having more unique options per class would have been nice. Similarly, the unique selling proposition features, such as the tribal management, survival aspect, etc. are great, but I wished the book focused more on them.

This being said, all of this should be taken as criticism voiced most respectfully, for a book I generally consider well worth owning; the Flesh and Grit-rules, and the horrible wounds engine, for example, just beg to be scavenged for a variety of OSR games, perhaps even beyond that. As a whole, the designs presented are per se concise, and when it is hampered in its integrity, this is usually due to small aspects that could have been fixed rather easily by a capable editor or developer.

So, Wolf Packs & Winter Snow: Revised Edition is a flawed tome, but it is an OSR game that has more unique tidbits than MANY of its compatriots; its designs are interesting, and its vision and commitment to said vision exceed in ambition, and most of the time, execution as well, what you’d usually dare to expect from such a book. As a reviewer, I can’t rate this 5 stars – there are too many hiccups in this book for that; however, I do consider this to be a book worthy of my seal of approval. My final verdict will thus be 4 stars + seal of approval….for the hardcover. The pdf is only useful to a very select clientele willing to suffer through its lack of comfort-features.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Wolf-Packs and Winter Snow - Revised
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Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental
Publisher: Astrolago Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:08:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 215 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, ¾ of a page blank, 10 pages of brief author/artist bios, 4 pages backer thanks, 3 pages of index, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 192 ¼ pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.

Okay, in case the cover wasn’t ample indicator, this is a pretty wholesome book as far as D&D etc. are concerned; it is a book that presents a crafting engine, and does so thematically in line with Studio Ghibli movies, the inspiration that this book proudly wears upon its sleeves and acknowledges pretty much from the get-go.

In case you’re not that familiar with these charming movies, I strongly recommend watching them all now; in case you’re not up to a marathon of some of the most charming animated movies ever made, let me try to give you an idea about the magic presented herein: It is, ultimately, a form of magic that tends to feel high-fantasy in that it is something assumed to infuse the daily lives of individuals; unlike many high fantasy magic examples, we have no threatening industrial complexes or outrageous engines per se; instead, we have a take of magic as pertaining to the everyday life, to the domestic sphere – hence the supplement focusing on the sensible terminology of “domestic magic” – magic is seen and employed as a tool in everyday lives, with its potency somewhat influenced by the dedication, passion and care instilled into it by the creators.

The Crafting rules presented remain pretty simple and follow a six-step process: At the blueprint stage, you propose a project; then the GM decides a difficulty tier in 7 levels; simple tasks are level 1 or 2, legendary ones level 7; as a variant rule, level 0 tasks are also included. In step 3, this level then determines the DC of the project. This is calculated by multiplying the Difficulty Level with 5, and then adding 5, which generates a span from DC 10 to DC 40, assuming the unmodified difficulty tiers presented above. Crafting requires base materials, with the difficulty tier providing a general guideline of how easy it is to gather the respective materials. Then, you start preparations, which include gaining the required knowledge, assistance if feasible, getting high class ingredients. However, there are two interesting factors here: For one, when you sacrifice something of personal importance suitable for the task appropriate to the level, you improve the quality of the item; when you make an item FOR someone else (and not sold, etc.), generosity will make the item more powerful, excluding items that harm the recipient. In short: Honest gifts are always more potent than e.g. items bought/sold. More tricky: If you assume reciprocity, the bonus does not apply.

While I like the intent behind the latter rule, I don’t really think it works in game. Per definition when playing a game with numbers and success/failure states, you have an intrinsic motivation of making gifts, and many aspects become really muddy. Say, you make a healing potion for your adventurer buddies: One way of arguing here is that the gift is selfless; another would be that the gift helps keep the gift-giver alive as well if it can heal an ally, and as such does not qualify. I adore the idea behind the rule, I get where its limitations come from and consider them to be necessary to avoid gaming the engine and creating really cynical gift-giving rackets contrary to the game, but the precise definition of what is and is not gift-giving is not nearly precise and detailed enough. I’d usually mind less here, but as provided, this rule will lead to copious amounts of grumbling and discussing with the GM of what is and is not a proper recipient of the generosity boost.

Each of these aforementioned factors are preparation advantages, and one per type can be applied to a project. Here is where things become interesting: You roll the crafting check with just a d6 + toolkit/proficiency, versus the DC; each advantage you got adds +1d6, which is added to the roll. So, preparation is king. I like that It also keeps skill more important. However, taking the example from above, this also means that the +1d6 generosity die can be extraordinarily important, making chances for annoying discussions more likely.

Anyhow, this also means that that you can roll up to 6d6, plus a probably modifier of +6 (relevant ability score 18, plus proficiency bonus) as soon as first level, which makes it already possible to beat rather high DCs; unless you’re part of a trading class, though, you won’t see much relevant scaling, though. The engine has a few more charming peculiarities, though: Any “1” rolled in item creation introduces a flaw, and every “6” rolled introduces a boon. You can pay off a flaw with a boon. A variant rule lets you take a flaw or lose a boon for a +3 bonus to make a project you almost failed at apply this bonus. If you fail the role, the materials are lost. Flaws and boons are roughly categorized in 3 levels (stacks), ranging from Minor, over Substantial, to Dangerous (flaws)/Magical (boons).

While generalist rules are provided, the book provides the notion of trade classes, which reward specialization. Their framework is based on 5 tiers; you improve the tier at level 9 and every 4 levels thereafter; each tier increases your Craft Dice by +1d6 (so a tier 5 character has 5d6), and also increases Stamina by +1 from its starting value of 3. Stamina is a limiter of sorts: You expend Stamina at a rate of 1 per Difficulty Level, multiplied with the project’s size – Small projects have a x1 modifier, and the largest you can get is Huge, which means x4. Somewhat to my chagrin, this means that recreating Howl’s Moving Castle is beyond the options available by the system. If a project requires more Stamina than you have, it’ll take multiple days. When taking a trade class, you get a bonus language, the lingua franca of the trade, and choose a primary and secondary medium. (Open media alternate rules included). Tier 1 and 3 net you tool proficiencies, and you start off with two techniques, with an additional one gained every tier thereafter. Tier 2 and 4 net you a reroll of a d6, a reduced flaw, or lets you add a boon; tier 3 lets you autowin the craft action of Difficulty Level 1 projects. Tier 5 lets you double the stamina cost to roll twice the total dice and take the better result.

Techniques have prerequisites by tier, and some apply only for certain media: Collector requires crystals, for example, and nets you the sacrifice benefits automatically when making a gift. Which is something I mechanically understand; however, it once again ties in with the disjoint I mentioned above regarding the game’s mechanics and the intended spirit of the rules. This is a benefit that lets you forego making sacrifices when crafting; mechanically, it’s just a d6 without a narrative drawback, but within the themes of the game, if one does indeed assume a world wherein the rules herein apply, this pretty much undermines the tenet behind the power of sacrifice for the work. It also is really weird that it’s a crystal-exclusive. Why can only crystal collectors be this attached to the materials they used to craft? My grandpa (Rest in peace) was a carpenter, and he used to do wood engraving and carving as a hobby; you bet that he had a collection of his favorite pieces of wood, and could tell you all about where he found the branches etc. during his travels.

Having connections, a green thumb, etc. – there are plentiful cool ideas here; in quite a few instances, though, their mechanical consequences haven’t always been taken into account. The option to grant a +1d4 boost with a short rest recharge? Okay. What about having an eidetic memory stretching back one week? The ability explicitly states that we have the ability to create exact duplicates and forgeries thus, potentially including (at least RAW), magical aspects. Okay, but what about aspects that the character wasn’t aware of? Hidden mechanisms? A letter with a mage’s seal and some weird effects? As written, you get to reproduce them, even if you are not aware of their presence. This needed a cleaner presentation. It also imho warrants means to detect your forgery, for RAW, this is a perfect copy, which means when applied to a world, that documents are rather easy to simply, well, copy. Infectious Enthusiasm is another one of these aspects: It nets you advantage on any Charisma checks involving your current project. Okay. Does this entail adventuring to gain the materials? Just haggling for them? Where’s the dividing line? Sticky Fingers nets you advantage on all Dexterity checks made to gather resources for your project. Okay, so if I’m a rogue, entering a mansion to steal stuff for my project, I get advantage on every single Stealth check, on every Sleight of Hand, and each check made using thieves’ tools. Got it. All rogues need to be craftspersons with projects pertaining to their current heist, as this obviously nets the equivalent of a +5 bonus to pretty much everything they do.

… Man, I feel like a prick disassembling the engine of such a charming book, but while the intent may be admirably, the design of these aspects is uneven; 5e is not a narrativist game; it is a rather precise system, and the rules here, well, they aren’t as precise as they should be. I’d usually give this some leeway, but as presented above, the verbiage unintentionally creates realities within the game that run contrary to the spirit of the book. Need another example? Well, why not take one from the tier 5 high-level techniques; let’s choose Symbol.

Symbol makes creatures within 600 ft. that can see or hear it, and creatures following the direct leadership of a creature wielding it, or creatures acting to preserve it, immunity to fear, the first “two steps of exhaustion”, and lets creatures regenerate two levels of exhaustion and all lost “hit dice” on a long rest. You may only have one such symbol “empowered” at any one time, however, you may have up to 3 duplicates. I don’t even have to TRY to poke holes into this. What constitutes “following direct leadership”? How does that interact with the rang/sight/hearing caveat? What constitutes preserving? Does this apply re range? What do duplicates do? The same thing? What action, if any, is changing the symbol to be empowered? If I designate a part of a border wall an object of preservation, does that make everyone defending that border eligible? You get my drift. I know what this is trying to do; I do maintain, however, that the book is not as precise as it should be, and there is NO REASON for it being so wishy-washy; this wide open ambiguity doesn’t add to the game; it leads to discussions and potential anger about different rules interpretation, which are very much contrary to the spirit this book seeks to evoke.

Now, as for the respective trade classes: Each of them sports essentially three sub-classes that modify/determine the trade class benefits depending on the profession. I generally like these, though the priorities sometimes seem a bit odd; while e.g. having cartographers, painters and writers presented as subsets of Drafting made sense to me, the same can’t be said for the “Crystal” header, which has Glassblower, Jeweler and Mason (!!) as subtypes of the trade class. Stonework in general is not represented, which struck me as a bit odd.

As for the system as a whole: I genuinely like its framework and basic set-up, as well as its versatility; however, in the details and verbiage of particularly the smaller rules components, this sorely needed a strict developer to get all the rules-language in line and modify it to be…well…precise. And no, I don’t care what anyone says, this is NOT a deliberate feature; I’ve reviewed plenty of supplements that employ vagueness in certain aspects of their rules without generating potentially weird effects on the game world and discussions; there are components herein that are needlessly vague. In short: If you’re an experienced GM/designer, I’d strongly recommend design your own set of more precise techniques. Much to my chagrin, the massive list of them provided herein does not reach the standards of rules language precision and internal consistency/balance I expected.

The book then proceeds to present us with Cape Verdigris, a charming seaside setting that reminded me of Majo no Takkyūbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), providing a per se neat basic framework of several locations in which to situate the game; as a whole, I very much enjoyed this section. I would have loved to see more details here, but as a sketch-like framing device, the book does a good job here.

A massive part of the book following this section turns out to be an adventure of a rather unconventional kind: Without going into SPOILERS, the module is about an old mansion, which the party gets to restore to proper glory, including a variety of rather interesting things that happen; the focus is, decidedly, not on combat, which I applaud. The characters and challenges per se are charming in that elusive Star Dew Valley-esque manner, and as a whole, I very much enjoyed this. HOWEVER, the module also fortified an inkling I had above: The module primarily makes use of the rules presented in this book, which is good; it often disregards the problem-solution options provided by D&D 5e’s core engine, though. Spells, skills in negotiation, etc. – unless absolutely requiring the system’s rules, the module always elects to tell you that it takes a DL X project to solve this. The lack of awareness regarding system options is evident with e.g. a kite flying event. I mean, you know that there are plenty of spells and options that let you generate wind? Not accounted for.

This is a weakness of an otherwise interesting one-year spanning series of small challenges and events. The second weakness being the focus on NPCs over the player characters regarding the baseline premise of the inheritance of the manor, which makes the entire module feel a bit more like the player characters are flunkies of NPCs. It’s a small thing, but having the party be the directly-affected individuals would have been more engaging. Finally, for an otherwise gorgeous book, the rather rudimentary b/w maps (which are player-friendly, however!) struck me as aesthetic sore spots; consider the success of the supplement during founding, I was surprised to see that the cartography wasn’t better.

The supplement also features an array of new spells, and what can I say: After the supplement has so far failed to impress me regarding its applicability to the general system of D&D 5e, the spells herein are generally neat: Using phantom inspection to analyze an object based on a hologram of sorts in your hands, getting essentially a spell-based infravision, fortifying your fellows versus airborne hazards with aura of incense (which may be a bit low-level for its benefits)…easily the best-designed section of the book so far.

After this, we move on to an array of new familiars, including new greater familiars that can only be called with a new higher-level spell. These familiars, including a mothy hamster-ish thing, a living piggy bank and more, are genuinely charming, and the statblocks not only adheres to 5e’s formatting conventions, the math also checks out. Kudos! What about birds that are literally instruments – you know, songbirds? This is genuinely heart-warming and charming, and yes, the soots are included as well! What about a tortoise that holds tools? Awesome. This level of charm and cuteness also extends to the magic item section, where blankets of napping, magical fishing rods and the hood of the edgelord (which has a chance to transform into a non-removable, sparkling flower) made me grin. I particularly loved the blueprint of artifacts section: here, proper artifact crafting (DL9 and more in some cases!) are provided – and we get actually IMAGES of the blueprints. That’s awesome.

The book then proceeds to provide a bestiary section (pertaining to the module and beyond) and provides uncommon trades in another appendix; these are presented with a single variant rule, and are, in some ways, less detailed than what I’d have liked to see, but oh well.

Then, we get the boon/flaw tables: 5 entries for minor, major and magical boon, same for flaws – that’s what we get regarding general ones. Then, we get tables for the respective general categories (not for the actual trades – so we get tables for Wood, but not for the individual trades dealing with wood). These tend to be interesting, but ultimately, a total of 5 entries per boon/flaw level seems awfully low to me. If you’re really embracing the system, you’d better prepare greatly expanding those tables, otherwise, they’ll become repetitious fast. I think that this section would have benefited from more meat on its bones. After this, we get d20 tables: 17 entries for obstacles, 17 for high-quality materials. Weird: We’d have the space for proper 20-entry tables – why not fill them up?

Appendix 5, Crafted Treasure, was when I first read the book, admittedly the aspect I was preparing a long and droning monologue on, as it is here where we finally get the guidelines of values by DL and size, and labor. These two humble tables at the back of the book do a LOT to contextualize properly the entire engine, and ultimately allow you to create a plausible setting utilizing the frameworks of the book. Why is this only in the appendix? No idea.

Statistics for awakened objects and objects, as well as a full-color character sheet on two pages close the pdf before we get to the credits.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; when it comes to rules-language, the book oscillates between delightfully precise and frustratingly wishy-washy and vague. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book is full of impressive, colorful and wholesome artwork; lots of pastels, not a single drop of blood – you get the idea. Cartography is the one aspect where this doesn’t excel aesthetically – the rudimentary b/w-maps crammed into the book (why not on full pages in the back as well, for handout use?) look somewhat out of place. …oh, and this has no bookmarks. WTF. A huge tome of a book, with rules, appendices, that requires you to skip to and fro, of this size. With no bookmarks.

Shannon Campbell, Damon Hines and Dillon MacPherson have achieved something I genuinely like here; while I may be a frickin’ edgelord, I’m very much in love with Studio Ghibli movies and the aesthetic, and the designers have actually managed to successfully translate that nostalgic, wholesome feeling to the gaming table, an impressive feat indeed.

And yet, while I should love this book, I don’t. The robust core engine starts buckling somewhat in the details, where the consequences of the technique benefits on the world this depicts by applying the system haven’t been thought through to the logical conclusion. The technique rules are often frustratingly imprecise and “open to interpretation”, and not in a good way or one that would help creativity, but in an aggravating way. It is weird, really – this book primarily struggles with applying its concepts to the realities of the game system and table; not necessarily in the rules aptitude, mind you, but with regards to how e.g. concepts like generosity apply in game. This is in so far weird, as the book is also an example of a team that actually can write precise 5e-rules, as highlighted in spells, magic items, etc.; and yet, the core engine, and to a degree, the otherwise absolutely heart-warming module, doe somewhat suffer from this phenomenon, from the integration of the content within the finer rules of the system.

You may not notice; an experienced GM can offset this – but ultimately, I can’t help but consider these to be unnecessary flaws in a book that could easily have become a Top Ten candidate. The rules aspects are what costs this my seal of approval.

In summary: This is a thoroughly charming, heart-warming supplement I can definitely recommend if you’re looking for a thoroughly wholesome take on fantasy not focused on slaying critters. Its systems are per se robust and solid; however, if you and your table tend to be individuals that think about the realities and consequences of the implementation of magic in everyday lives, if you expect pinpoint precision, then this book might also frustrate you. There are a quite a lot of components that need to be agreed upon regarding their interpretation, some of which are aspects of the core engine. And that, ultimately, is not something that this design should have, or that it needed to have to function. Furthermore, the priorities tend to feel a bit odd: The relatively few boons and flaws per trade, for example, will require expansions in prolonged play. The per se neat setting/framework hinted at could have used more meat on its bones, etc.

As a whole, I almost loved this, but the small and not so small hiccups did accumulate. I wanted to adore this, rate it 5 stars + seal; I can’t. From aforementioned small hiccups to the lack of bookmarks that renders navigation a colossal pain in the behind, this has too many small flaws, to the point where, in the system’s parlance, they no longer are minor, but have stacked up to a major flaw. And even if I pay off its flaws with boons, I can’t arrive at a unanimous recommendation. As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars, even though I very much wanted to.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental
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Close Encounters: Onyx Station
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:05:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Close Encounters-series clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so we have essentially an Event Horizon situation on our hands: Onyx Station vanished in hyperspace, and now, 50 years later, it suddenly reappeared. Scanners show biological life, and it’s up to the party to explore the returned station. Structurally, this is essentially DIY-make-your-own-module toolkit, providing brief overviews of respective sections alongside hazards ad creature suggestions, with every 2 levels getting their own suggested creature assortment and adventure hooks.

Unsurprisingly, this means that the majority of the pdf is taken up by a bestiary, but we also get two ships: The tugboat, which is a tier 3 shuttle coming with a gravity beam; I generally like this ship, though it has some space left to customize it, and the tier 5 pilgrim-class freighter. Both are not combat-focused, just so you know. They are not as meticulously-crafted as the vessels presented by Evil Robot Games.

Anyhow, bestiary: We have pretty much a nice array of the classic concepts you’d expect, conceptually: We have weird science-experiments (CR 6), chaos beasts (CR 7), columns of flesh (CR 10), sedating fungi, creepy sentries (think Alien: Isolation), fear-consuming nuisances, scifi-morlocks, etc. – essentially, the creatures herein have a pretty strong horror angle.

The good news here is that you can use these critters; the bad news is that there are some glitches in them, some of which obviously did stem from slipping in the line in the table. When a CR 4 expert creature has the EAC and KAC of the CR 3 critter, the source of the glitch is pretty obvious. Said critter has btw. also slipped in the HP column – but down here, sporting 20 HP more than usual for the CR.

Fly speeds, if present, do not list being extraordinary or supernatural. We have further hiccups in the details here, like an ability that obviously should be mind-affecting (both from context, and the fact that its damage is untyped). The statblocks per se tend to be correct, but also sport quite a few glitches, some of which seriously should have been caught: “…while those already exhausted become exhausted.” [sic!]

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, okay on a mechanical level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with quite a bunch of nice full-color artworks. Fans of Fat Goblin Games will be familiar with a couple of those. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience; weird: Each critter gets two hyperlinks to point to them: One critter name, and the CR.

Kim Frandsen and Michael Ritter deliver a solid little toolkit here; it may not be exactly mind-blowing, but it is a helpful little supplement if you’re looking for some hazards and critters to add to your game. The build-integrity of the content is significantly higher than in e.g. the ill-fated NPC Codex. Oh, and this costs a grand total of $1.50. Do I think that this is worth the equivalent of not even half a cup of mediocre coffee (a good cup cost more than €3 where I live…)? Heck yeah. This may not be mind-boggling, but for little more than a buck? Most assuredly worth checking out! As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Close Encounters: Onyx Station
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Arcforge: Psibertech
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/10/2020 05:02:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first expansion of Arcforge (actually the second half of the original document, to my knowledge) clocks in at 76 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This book requires the first Arcforge book, and for full use, you should also be using Ultimate Psionics and Akashic Mysteries.

Okay, while the book doesn’t start that way, let us begin as always, by taking a look at the class options presented within this book – these include two new archetypes, the first of which would be the biomech speaker druid, who adds Knowledge (engineering) to the class skills and gains a mech, as well as “biomech pilot” (should be capitalized) as a bonus feat, replacing wild empathy and nature bond.

This feat requires a bit of explanation: It nets you a partially biological mech, which unlocks a whole array of unique mech enhancements, which includes share spells, 25% to negate critical and precision damage that can be taken multiple times to upgrade to full-blown immunity, or treating integrated weapons as natural weapons. These benefits are potent, but considering the dual tax, and the per se plausibly minimum level requirements, they are valid. But back to the archetype: 4th level lets the druid 1/day as a standard action exchange one of the mech enhancements for another; 6th level and every 2 levels thereafter increases that by another daily use, and 8th and 12th level improve the action economy. The capstone delimits this daily-uses wise and replaces wild shape. Instead of resist nature’s lure, we have an untyped +4 bonus to saves versus Ex/Su, Sp and Psi-like abilities of biomechs, robots, and bio-engineered critters.

Before we go to the second archetype, we have to talk about the robot engine featured in this book, the modular robot engine: In addition to the robot subtype’s properties, the book champions them having Upgrade Points (UP) equal to twice the robot’s CR, minimum 1. Additional upgrades may be slotted on to a robot, granting +1 CR for every 2 UP beyond the normal amount, and if possible, these abilities have a saving throw DC of 10 + ½ the robot’s HD + the robot’s Intelligence modifier. For creators of robots, Improved Robotics nets +2 UP for any robot made (does that increase the robot’s CR for cap-purposes or not?). Most upgrades cost between 1 and 2 UP, with a few also offering a cost of 3 UP. These include additional modes of movement equal to base speed (including clumsy fly or burrow), an additional attack (both 1 UP), Dex to damage, all-around vision…there are a ton of cool ideas here, but the individual value of the upgrades oscillates rather drastically. Let’s take aforementioned movement mode upgrade: It places the same numeric value on climb or swim speed as on burrow speed, which is valid for a monster-customization engine. There is also one upgrade that is called “Autodestruct core”, which deals 1d10 times HD damage in a 30 ft.-radius as a full-round action, with half damage being fire, the other slashing, Ref halves. At higher levels, this also irradiates the area. Cool, but destroys the robot. Compare that to threat range +1 for all the robot’s attacks (which RAW even stacks with keen et al., which it really shouldn’t) or a threat multiplier increase by 1, which has no maximum cap. Both of these cost 1 UP. Notice something? Formatting is sometimes weird: “The robot gains burn (1d6) with attacks of a certain type.” – look no further than this to realize how important formatting is…making a melee attack work as energy-based is valued the same way as causing 1 Constitution damage on an established or maintained pin.

To make that abundantly clear: I like the robot customization engine! And heck, as a quick and painless GM-customization tool to make robots more potent and versatile it is absolute GOLD. The problem here is akin to others in the first Arcforge supplement– the almost obsessive system transparency between subsystems that are not, or no longer, balanced for parity. In many ways, the core issue of the robot upgrade system lies that it is not as finely balanced as a class option among its own options due to originally being a GM-facing tool. Okay, that’s something one can deal with. However, the system is opened to players, and to other subsystems, and that’s a really bad call. The mech engine, for example, has obviously not even cursorily been balanced against the robot upgrade system. You don’t have to be an experienced crunch wizard to see the disparities here at a glance.

One of the mech enhancements introduced herein, for example, nets you 1 Upgrade Point – this upgrade point can be spent on bonafide fly speeds, boosters, etc. – compare that to hover stabilizers or the feather fall-based modified aerodynamics enhancements in the first book. Need more? In the core engine, only mechs with the quadruped/threaded body type could gain a climb speed – well, now that limit’s been thoroughly squashed. In many ways, this small mech enhancement that allows for robot upgrades to be used for mechs is SUPER-broken and needs to die; it compromises the per se solid core engine for Arcforge mechs established in the first book. Thoroughly.

Unfortunately, this annoying lack of concern with system parity can be seen in some other instances. There’s e.g. the new feat chain that upgrades your astral constructs with upgrade points (because we all know that astral constructs really need a power upgrade /sarcasm) or the option to add the aggregate template (more on that below) by adding AIs stored into the thus created astral robot. The idea here is AMAZING. Let me make that abundantly clear. I also love the world-building implications this has. Execution? Not so much. This book introduced the Biomech Construct psionic feat, which applies the biomech template to any astral constructs you create, and you can choose options from an enhancement menu or the metamorphosis powers of the same line, which is pretty potent as a whole. At one point, I am pretty sure that parity between power points and BP/corresponding abilities was considered, and the feat would be potent in that context; however, the final iteration of the Arcforge-systems has gone another way, which also destroys this assumption of parity.

The integrator aegis is a more complex archetype – this one gets rid of astral suit, but instead modifies their own body, which means they can wear armor. They get access to a limited array of aberrant customizations, and begins play with two robotic enhancements (see above) twice at 1st level, once at 2nd, and once at 12th level. Reconfigure is replaced with the inorganic property that provides a pretty darn impressive list of growing immunities. This theme is also emphasized by cannibalize suit being replaced with an option to ignore a whole array of negative conditions with limited daily uses. And yes, that’s flat-out “ignore” – not suspend or delay onset, ignore. And the character even gets hardness that scales, with all implications of hardness, and as a capstone, has a construct apotheosis. The aegis also features generally available customizations to gain weapon emulation, the ability to mimic psibertech, gain robotic upgrade points, or apply the astral suit’s bonus to touch AC. These general customizations should be taken with a grain of salt – I do not recommend any but the weapon emulation and the psibertech mimicry to be introduced – bingo, once more we have system-crossovers that pretty much go beyond what’s feasible. Robotics enhancement would, for example, net you an UP as a 2-point customization, which can be…well…overkill.

So yeah, the robot upgrade engine and how it pertains to robots on their own? Valid, fun and cool. How it interacts with other sub-systems? Broken. These crossover options need to die in a horrible nuclear fire, or the material needs desperately to be rebalanced to the power-levels and assumptions of the respective systems that they connect to.

The pdf then proceeds to provide specialties for technological daevics, the metahumans – essentially akin to passions, opening the flavor of the class and expanding it, which is a cool angle. Two are provided, the cannoneer (fixation) and espionage (vigilance) specializations. The cannoneer gets Perception, Stealth and Knowledge (geography) as skills, and the passion veil list includes the new tech-themed veils from Arcforge: Technology Expanded (with micro-missile gauntlet and nanite cloud delivering two veils usually exclusive to vizier and helmsman), as well as gorget of the wyrm, armory of the conqueror, courtesan’s cloak, sentinel’s helm, and lashing spinnerets, the latter usually being a guru/vizier-exclusive. The pdf also introduces a new veil, namely daevic aspect, which the specializations/passions both get – but interestingly, the effects differ by specialization. The core benefit for fixation would be a +1 insight bonus to attack rolls and AC, for vigilance, it’s be +1 (untyped, should probably be insight) to saving throws and skill checks against creatures you have identified. This differentiation also pertains to the chakra bind to blood. The cannoneer (fixation) gets a 20% constant miss chance, as per blur (spell reference not in italics), as well as a threat-range expansion of 1 with all ranged weapons used, explicitly applying after the Improved Critical feat or keen. Not a fan of threat range stacking per se, but not necessarily broken at 12th level; it should be noted that weapon and weapon property lack formatting in the pdf. Espionage (vigilance)’s blood chakra bind instead nets 30 ft. blindsight, +10 ft. per essence invested, as well as improved uncanny dodge as a rogue of the daevic’s level. Notice what I didn’t talk about? Yep, essence invested. The veil lacks its essence invested section, and e.g. Fixation provides no reason to actually invest essence in it beyond the base benefits outlined above. Pretty sure that’s a glitch.

Anyhow, back to cannoneers: 3rd level nets Precise Shot, 5th Deadly Aim, 8th level Improved Precise Shot or Pinpoint Targeting sans prerequisites. 6th level nets one of two aspects: Sharpshooter lets the character use a full-round action to make one shot, making a number of attacks they normally could execute, even with weapons that can shoot only a limited amount of times per round; for each hit, they deal damage and add it together, and if even a single attack was a critical threat, one confirmation roll at the highest BAB suffices. I am EXTREMELY torn on this one; on one hand, it is a good example of representing the one-shot-kill style of snipers; the damage this can accumulate, particularly on crits, is insane. Then again, that’s exactly what the ability is supposed to do. So yeah, it might not be for every game, but I actually like it, with reservations. If you need a nerf suggestion for a grittier game, make the 2nd iterative attack the only one that is consulted for critical confirmation; with a good build, this still will yield a reliable amount of critical hits, but not as much as the “one confirmation suffices”-angle.

Cannoneer requires the use of the armor penetration rules already previously mentioned in Arcforge: Technology Expanded (as an aside – they are one reason why I believe that this book and the first one were, at one point, one massive tome that was split); however, the rules actually are here, and the benefit increases armor penetration by 2, and all creatures adjacent to the projectile’s impact point or line of fire for automatic weapons are treated as if caught in a splash weapon (save based on class level and daevic’s Charisma modifier), with 12th level and 18th level increasing the radius of the splash by 5 ft., and the armor penetration by 2.

Let us briefly talk about armor penetration. That would be a kind of variant rule that is applied to weapons, with a proper table added: To explain the scale: A light crossbow or light pick has AP 1, an atom gun AP 14; muskets and revolvers, for comparison, clock in at AP 4. AP does pretty much what it says on the tin – it bypasses the respective value of armor. This value is enhanced by the enhancement bonus, if any – a +2 revolver, for example, would have an AP 6, value, the revolver’s base 4, plus 2 for the enhancement bonus. I like the idea behind AP per se – weak weapons like crossbows etc. definitely can use a power upgrade, and AP does deliver that, and the excessive-looking AP-values at higher level start making sense courtesy of a simple rule: It gets rid of that “attack touch AC”-caveat of firearms. Now, I do think that some of the higher AP values are a bit excessive, but having tested playing with the AP rules, I actually found myself liking them quite a bit. While my pretty conservative tastes would reduce the higher AP values and increase the lower ones for a more even playing field (that would also make tanking more viable and interesting), the notion behind this system is one I can definitely get behind. The Piercing Attack feat introduced herein increases any AP value of your weapons by 2 if you maintain your psionic focus, and by expending the focus, you can also apply the AP value to deflection, sacred or profane bonuses to AC.

The second specialization/passion for the daevic gets Perception and any two Knowledge skills, as well as HU.D. from Arcforge: Technology Expanded, as well as sentinel’s helm, courtesan’s cloak, dreamcatcher, collar of skilled instruction, essence of the succubus, cuirass of confidence and bloody shroud, as well as aforementioned, slightly problematic daevic aspect. 3rd level nets an untyped +2 to Knowledge skill checks and the ability to make them untrained, as well as the option to, as a swift action, make Perception and Knowledge checks. Rules syntax here is a bit ambiguous: Is that a swift action for both? Or a swift action for either? Additionally, we have a +1 DC-increase for veils used against identified creatures, which increases by a further +1 at 8th level and every 5 levels beyond. 6th level allows for the choice between optimizer and saboteur; Optimizers get the tactician’s strategy and one strategy, with an additional one unlocked every 6 levels thereafter; these use Charisma as governing ability score. Unfortunately, quite a few strategies don’t work for the daevic, as they are contingent on being a member of a tactician’s collective, which is a class feature the daevic does not have. No alternate means to determine eligible allies is provided either. Yep, another point for my assertion that Arcforge struggles when attempting to blend systems. Saboteurs gets 1d6 sneak attack and the unchained rogue’s “debilitating strike”, with 12th level and 18th level increasing the damage dice by +1d6 and the option to apply an additional debilitating strike effect whenever the ability is used. Why did I use quotation marks above? The class feature of the rogue is not called “debilitating strike” – it’s called “debilitating injury.”

The pdf also provides the psiborg racial variant for the noral race: +2 Constitution and Intelligence, -2 Wisdom, starts with a psibertech piece’s basic augmentation and treats their level as +1 for its purposes, and an increased implantation value of +1/2 character level (min 1) as well as a decrease of the Heal check to install cybertech by 10; the variant loses symbiotic resistance and surge for these. Androids can choose three new alternate racial traits for a similar start play with a basic augmentation, Small androids, and a bonus feat in place of nanite surge. Forgeborn can replace fearless with a piece of psibertech and its basic augmentation. There is more interacting with the eponymous psibertech: The Crystal Psiborg feat transforms a psicrystal into a piece of psibertech, granting you its base augmentation, but eliminates its autonomous ability to move; I don’t think doubling the personality based benefits in this context was the best call, though. Feat-wise, an Android or construct can choose the True Machine feat, which nets you full construct apotheosis, the robot subtype and 1 UP, or the clockwork subtype sans winding requirement. This feat may be taken at 1st level. Seriously, this feat is not a good idea – I’d rather recommend basing the like on a player race properly designed to account of the copious immunities of constructs. It’s not like we don’t have enough of those. Alternatively, if you wish to salvage the feat, I’d strongly recommend implementing a scaling mechanism that lets the player choose new immunities from the construct’s lists as the levels progress. Otherwise: Kill this with fire. It should also be noted that soulknives and zealots can use blade skills/convictions to tap into the psibertech engine so prominently featured above.

Which is also what we should talk about next, for 15.5 pages are devoted to psibertech. Cybertech is interesting, in that it blurs the line between item and class feature: A psibertech implant may be chosen in lieu of a power known, feat or selectable bonus feat; if the character does not have a manifester level, they use class levels in a class granting Wild Talent to determine manifester level-based benefits. A character must first choose the respective basic augmentation before choosing an advanced augmentation; if the character has 3 advanced augmentations, they get the ultimate augmentation at 20th level. HOWEVER, psibertech does occupy a slot and has an implantation value, and they have a weight. Unlike regular cybertech implants, these psibertech pieces can, as you can glean, not simply be bought…or can they? After all the information on individual psibertech benefits, there is a note that provides global pricing for psibertech crafting: 5K for the basic augmentation, +20K per advanced augmentation, and +50K for the ultimate augmentation; twice that price for being bought and installed. This latter section is one I’d be careful with, but do appreciate as a whole: Adding these costs to the class feature angle might be a way to keep the psibertech power in check for less high-powered campaigns. It should be noted, though, that in comparison to regular cybertech, psibertech is VERY low-priced. 1/day full-round action to replenish all power points is certainly worth more than 100K gold.

There is one aspect about psibertech that I consider extremely problematic and broken, regardless of campaign power level. You guessed it. Mechs can get psibertech if they have the proper body parts. Thing is, the pdf doesn’t really explain whether the pilot has to pay for in class features, whether the crafting is the only thing, or any limits – is psibertech a mech enhancement? Not that it’d matter. Psibertech as a sub-system has no semblance of power-parity with regular mech enhancements, and it’s very much obvious that this section was pretty much a very ill-conceived afterthought, as psibertech’s rules language never intersects properly with that of mechs, making cross-interaction very wonky at best. You guessed it: Kill it with fire. Scratch that, make it “Kill it with untyped damage.”

To give you an idea of what to expect: At the same implantation value of comparable cybertech, the arm of the augmented blade acts as a mind blade or call weaponry, which replaces your hand as though affected by graft weapon. Rules syntax isn’t 100% clear here in whether this means that only that hand is lost while the weapon is drawn, or whether the benefits of graft weapon also are assumed to apply. It could be read either way. The advanced Augmentations (header not properly bolded) include threat range increases of +1 (which do stack with keen, but NOT with static threat range increases, retain usefulness in areas where psionics don’t work, a critical multiplier increase of up to x6, or making it count as a DR-bypassing material chosen from adamantine, cold iron or silver. I think adamantine should have a minimum level here. The capstone ability nets auto-confirmations of critical threats. (Yes, there’s a lot of missing formatting here, unfortunately.)

The collectivist’s mental uplink requires a collective to do anything (and should probably specify this as a prerequisite), and allows you to add willing creatures as a move action, and expend psionic focus to add a willing creature as a free action. This is potentially very strong, but the “willing” caveat does prevent abuse via Unwilling participant etc. and a breaking of the offensive capabilities of the collective engine. The advanced augmentations here include making all collective members count as having your teamwork feats for the purpose of the psibertech augmented creature gaining their benefits, a shared awareness of creatures regarding concealment, and a very powerful one: manifesting powers through collective members – but that last one is actually properly kept behind 15th level and another augmentation as a prerequisite. Remote viewing through members is included, and the capstone doubles collective members.

A psionic tattoo-based one can be found, and there’s one that provides the ability to morph and infiltrate, including options to fortify their mind, deliver false readings, etc. There also is an athanatism-themed enhancement that could be thought of as somewhat themed in line with Death Stranding (which I btw. grew to absolutely love after hating it for the first 10 hours…) There also would be one that allows for psychometabolism powers to double duration (doesn’t stack with Extend Power); nomads gain mobility-enhancers (which include altering teleportation destination by up to half base speed – very cool!) – and yep, the nomad still has to have “line of site[sic!]” to the destination, but that’s at least just a typo. With mech pilot’s bond, you can teleport your bonded mech to you (again, this should have a prerequisite that, you know, it requires an actual bonded mech to do anything…), and a vocal enhancer can improve the mind-affecting abilities of the target. Interesting, btw.: There is a piece of psibertech that has construct-apotheosis as an advanced augmentation – only here, it’s locked behind a proper minimum-level-requirement. On a minor meta-level complaint, some bonuses here probably should be circumstance bonuses, as that’s usually the bonus type associated with regular cybertech. Some of these augmentations, just by the way, are pretty much game-changers. If you have plating of the psion-killer, you get the ability to choose an advanced augmentation to fire off a 30-ft. radius dispel psionics with ML equal class level (should be character level), usable every 5 rounds. This is very potent, but also pretty darn cool, and at 16 lbs. weight and implantation 3, it does have a cost. Flat-out power immunity for any power to which PR applies is locked behind 12th level, as another example for the augmentations provided here. I am not a fan of the one that nets you slowly replenishing technological charges and charges of psionic items, and replenishing the entire power point pool in 2 hours? Ouch.

An incorporeal phantom lite also ranks among the more potent pieces here. Fans of Path of War also can psibertech that interacts with Path of War Expanded’s sleeping goddess, which does, among other things, allow for the substitution of expending 2 readied maneuvers instead of psionic focus. This one is very powerful, but that’s what fans of Path of War know and expect. There also is an interesting piece of psibertech that eliminates the limitations of cybertech – only up to implantation value works at once, the rest becoming latent, and with an advanced augmentation, they can have two pieces of cybertech that take up the same slot, active at the same time. MOST of these are pretty well-balanced. Most. Not all. Temporal schemer’s interface, for example, has a cool base power – automatically notice delayed powers or those set up triggered. Cool! An advanced augmentation nets you, however, the option to make a move action to get as second swift action. That can be EXTREMELY powerful. Don’t do it. Seriously. Swift actions are extremely valuable. This should have, at LEAST, a 15th level minimum prerequisite. Readying a full round worth of actions is also insanely strong, and it introduces a whole can of worms. As a whole, I love a lot of the psibertech ideas – pretty much all of them. But their internal balancing, even without the subsystem-spanning issues, imho would have warranted further finetuning to ensure that the material is on a singular level.

The magic/tech item section includes a means to fire ranged touch, rays, cones and lines through weapons to add their enhancement bonus to the attack roll or save DC, doubled charges and ammo capacity for just the equivalent of +1 (x5 for +3 in the greater version), injecting weaponry, etc. – the armor penetration rules also are featured here, with AP-ignoring armor, laser-weapons increasing AP, etc. – some interesting ones here. Combined weaponry is interesting (but should specify that components lose e.g. finesse if not both of them have that property…); an modification that decreases charge uses, means to withstand psionics/tech-negating fields and 3 regular cybertech types are also included: One is essentially a template-based slavecollar, one decreases psychic enervation chance (with a limit). Realignment chips are interesting, if very low-priced– at 36,400 GP, they allow for the swift action regaining of psionic focus, though each subsequent use renders you first fatigued, then exhausted – and this DOES have a caveat that prevents abuse, bypassing immunity. Kudos for that! It’s in instances like this that the series shows how good it can be. A couple of neat items (balanced against the Armor Penetration-rules) are provided alongside two new artifacts, including the mighty mech/robot-crafting Arcforge.

Apart from the 4.5 pages of aforementioned robot customization engine, the last 30 pages of this module deal with creatures – first, with a whole array of new templates. These include sample statblocks, and feature the biomech template, data phantoms, a variant mindborn template, a template for modular constructs, one for the aforementioned slave-angle (shell), synthetic creatures, the anti-magic spellspurned and one for radioactive creatures. I did not reverse-engineer all of the sample creatures, but at a glance, the builds and templates generally are neat and interesting. The robot section ranges in CRs from 2 to 16 and includes terraformer bots (looking like birds with drill-beaks), and seriously ends the boot on a useful and versatile note.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are, like in the core book, very much uneven – psibertech sometimes gets high-complexity stuff right, only to botch in the easy parts. Formatting is often very inconsistent, but less so than in the first book. This pertains to rules-language as well, which oscillates between “I’d allow that in a heartbeat” and “what were they thinking” – the latter applying primarily to anything regarding attempts to crossover between subsystems. The pdf sports a nice array of old and new full-color artwork. Bookmarks are annoying – the first part of the pdf is bookmarked with a few lines, but after the daevics, the entire template and robot and item section has no bookmarks, making navigation of these parts a pain.

Matt Daley & Michael Sayre’s Arcforge: Psibertech shows many of the same issue of the core book, but also does many things better: Within the individual frames of reference of the individual subsystems, the content tends to be cleaner than in Arcforge: Technology Expanded. While internal balancing isn’t often as tight as it should be, if you do exert some caution, you can get some seriously neat mileage out of this book. There’s this part of me that loves this book.

And then there is the part of me that is infuriated by the plethora of formal glitches and uneven balancing, and more so, by the absolutely broken links between subsystems. These aggravating afterthought-like crossovers that compromise the systems they intersect with; both psibertech and the robot upgrade system have no business intersecting with the regular cybertech (pricing all off in comparison) or mech engines (balancing of UPs vs. mech enhancements all off); considering that the core book already had its issues in the core engines and how the engines of classes and sub-systems interacted with the mech-engine, adding these on top is asking for a colossal cluster-f - and not in the fun way, but in the “how the f does this line up” kind of way.

In short, when seen from solely a design/balance perspective, this is broken as all hell.

Dear lord, this is a rough beast of a book, and one that clearly shows that it desperately needed some serious playtesting, development, etc. – this, like its first book, could have been a milestone. It oozes cool ideas. But, and there’s not questioning that, it does fall short of its lofty ambitions.

And yet, while I consider this book DEEPLY flawed, I also can see it having its appeal: If you take care, eliminate the broken bits, and want to flex your design muscles a bit, it’s actually a book that’s surprisingly easy to redeem (provided you can handle the complexity of the subsystems): Rebalance a few components, limit psibertech and nerf a few parts, kill off the system-crossovers, and there you go – psibertech is a book you’ll get a TON of mileage out of. For me, as a private person, I can get a ton of fun out of this!

As a reviewer, however, I can only rate what’s here, not what I wish this was, or what I can make the book into for my table. I have to rate this book for what it is.

And it is a flawed book that shows glimpses of true greatness time and again, but still falters. Worse for the system-inherent context, this book compromises the mech-engine, which already was struggling under the none-too-great class option components in the first book, even further, at least if you are not careful and realize how broken those system-crossovers actually are. Considering that aspect, I should rate this lower than the first book; probably around the 2-star vicinity.

However, idea-wise, and within the systems presented, the book also does a lot right. Moreover, the extensive bestiary section is super useful for the GM, and, it covers almost half of the book, it needs to be weighed accordingly. As such, I actually do consider this book slightly better than the first one, but it’s still an incredibly uneven book, one that makes the first Arcforge book more uneven as well; hence, my verdict will be 3 stars. If you are a very crunch-savvy GM (or simply not concerned about balance) then consider this to be a full-blown recommendation; if balance matters to you, do yourself a favor and bear my warnings in mind. I thought long and hard, and while I really wanted to rate this higher, round up, etc., but I just can’t justify doing so. The book has too many serious and pronounced issues to warrant doing so. For me, as a person, it’s a good book that inspired me to flex my design muscles, but as a reviewer? As a reviewer, I can only recommend this with reservations and very pronounced caveats.

As an aside: One of the authors has expressed a desire to revisit this series at one point. I’d LOVE to see that. Arcforge is one of those frustratingly-rough books that really shows potential, and this holds true for this second part here as well. Now, the first book and this one were probably part of an original document, split in production; the following installments were not, so I’m looking forward to seeing how/if they improved upon the lessons learned here and engines crafted.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Arcforge: Psibertech
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13 Rogue Talents and Powers (13th Age Compatible)
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/04/2020 08:57:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so after a brief introduction, we begin with 3 new talents, the first of which would be Artifact Fence, which lets you carry and use magic items equal to your level +1 sans suffering quriks; on Adventurer feat level, we get to roll twice when enhancing an item via rune activation, applying your choice of the two; the Champion feat upgrade is interesting: When using less magic items than your level +1, and you choose to act upon an item’s quirks to the detriment of your compatriots or yourself, you can improve the benefit granted by 1 tier. Kudos: Has a GM-control caveat. The Epic feat upgrade is super interesting, in that it lets you ignore quirks from item pairs that have fundamentally opposing penalties, and it also offers a cool mechanic that makes magic item overload beneficial, depending on Escalation Die. Cool talent, particularly since, when used with Thievery from the start, it lets you start with a magic item at the cost of a negative Icon relationship!

Knife Thrower increases damage for thrown daggers to d8, with Adventurer allowing you to spend your momentum to add Escalation die to damage; the Champion feat adds the Escalation Die to crit range when you have momentum, and the Epic feat also adds it to damage when you have momentum, and 1/combat reroll a missed attack. Now, this combo is very good for certain builds, and the pdf actually acknowledges this! Better yet, the pdf actually specifies a ruling that can be sued to keep the talent in line. The pdf lets the GM actually make an informed decision here AND provides a means to reign the option in. This sort of care is absolutely awesome to see; it’s the difference between a situationally broken option, and one that can be tweaked to operate properly in any game. Huge kudos!

Magical Savant lets you choose wizard cantrips equal to the highest of your mental ability score modifiers, casting them as a wizard sans Cantrip Mastery. With the Adventurer feat, you get a wizard spell of your level or lower as a daily power, with a level equal to the current Escalation Die, maximum your level. The Champion feat lets you use Sneak Attack with this spell, provided you have momentum. Yes. At range. The Epic feat eliminates the momentum requirement, and makes it recharge 11+ after battle.

3 first level rogue powers are next, with 2 being momentum powers: Clothesline lets you intercept targets and potentially daze them, with the feats increasing the chances of doing so, and Champion/Epic improving the negative condition. Grace Under Pressure is another interrupt action that requires being engaged by 2 enemies or more, and lets you add Escalation Die to AC at the cost of losing it as a bonus to attack; Adventurer adds it to PD as well; Champion makes you no longer lose the bonus to atk, and Epic makes the bonus last. The non-momentum based power would be Vicious Strike, which can only be used while staggered; this one basically nets you ongoing damage, but at the cost of suffering damage yourself; the feat upgrades increase the save to get rid of the damage and let you use it when not staggered, but when you are, you instead increase the effectiveness; the Epic feat can also render nearby enemies afraid.

There are 2 new 3rd level powers: Dirty Trick can only be used once per combat on an enemy, and pretty much lets you cause damage based on your Charisma, with PD as target, and the attack causes a variety of negative conditions, with the feats adding more conditions. The new momentum power presented here would be No Cage Can Hold Me; an interrupt action that is triggered by being hampered, stuck or stunned; a hard save lets you negate them, and you also get to use it instead of Background checks to escape from bindings, cages, etc.; the feats decrease the save’s difficulty and let you spend momentum to lose the inflicted condition.

The 2 5th level powers are Guileful Twist (momentum, lets you add Charisma (or Intelligence if you have Cunning) to damage rolls when hitting foes with attacks or rogue powers; this one has no upgrade feats; Knife Drop requires fighting with two weapons, with a one-handed weapon wielded in off-hand; it’s a daily quick action, triggered by missing in melee, and the missed attack deals half damage instead and you gain momentum; the feats upgrade use to 1/combat (Champion) and ongoing damage (Epic).

There are 2 new 7th level rogue powers, both daily: Be Prepared does not turn you into a lion; instead, as a move action, you get ½ level as a bonus to all defenses vs. the next attack by the targeted enemy. The feats let you retain this vs. one defense and add a counterattack. Painful Smash is a Dex-based attack that makes a nearby ally get triple escalation die to all attacks until the end of your next turn. The feats let you add Strength to damage, even on misses, and the other lets allies that crit the target retain the bonus for another round.

The final new power is the Distracting Dash 9th level power, which is an at-will momentum power that lets you, as a move action engage an enemy engaged with an ally, allowing said to pop free, even if grabbed or stuck. The Epic feat upgrade lets the ally move as an interrupt action without provoking opportunity attacks.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports nice full-column two-color layout, and the pdf sports neat full-color artworks, including a one-page piece. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of the pdf’s brevity.

Richard Moore has delivered a rather impressive expansion here; the rogue options herein allow for cool combat options, roleplaying opportunities, and, moreover, takes a lot of these little combos into account; it is a carefully-wrought, inexpensive, and thoroughly rewarding class expansion. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
13 Rogue Talents and Powers (13th Age Compatible)
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Star Log.Deluxe: Cantrips Reforged
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/03/2020 10:34:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank space, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, what is this? In short, it applies the design paradigm of PF2’s cantrips engine to SFRPG, making them automatically scale with your level. For the purpose of scaling, only the class level in the class that actually grants the cantrip is taken into account for heightening. SP are heightened to 1/3 of the creature’s CR or level, maximum 6th.

Okay, one thing could be spelled out clearer: What about cantrips like daze that are on the spell lists of more than one spellcasting class, how do these operate with multiclass characters, say a technomancer/mystic who has access to daze via both classes? Do they take all levels into account, or do you have to choose the spellcasting class/take the one with the higher CL? The answer is in the text, even though the phrasing is a bit more opaque than I’d have liked: The class you learn the cantrip in is what counts. If you learn daze as a technomancer cantrip, it is heightened as a technomancer spell. (This means that you have to note in which class you learned which spell, which seems a bit unnecessarily cumbersome for me.) That being said, handy glyphs denote whether the cantrips are present on mystic, technomancer or withwarper spell lists.

The pdf goes through the scaling cantrips in alphabetical order, beginning with charming veneer, which provides a minor buff to Charisma related skill checks and lets you once per 24 hours gather information more quickly, with the heightening effect allowing for Resolve expenditure for rerolls. Churn fluid is a GREAT spell for thinkers, allowing you to alter the chemical composition of fluid; in the hands of a good roleplayer, this is a really neat tool. It also brings me to a nice thing to note: We have heightening via +1s, in increments, and thresholds – i.e. if heightened to 3rd level or above. Quite a few of these cantrips sport both of these options: For churn fluid, the regular heightening extends the duration; at 3rd spell level, there is the option to send Resolve to make the duration permanent instead. Cost/benefit ratio represented in an interesting manner here. Another such creative spell would be ghost sound, which later lets you generate scripts to lay out. Now this demands being used for a complex scenario!

There are also simpler cantrips here: Dancing lights increases the number of lights and area affected; daze causes minor untyped damage – and before you ask: Yes, the spell has the proper descriptors to balance the untyped damage. Kudos. Dazzling flare gets increased durations and the means to use Resolve to render targets off-target for a round.

Detect affliction deserves special mention: You see, the cantrip’s diagnostic ability gets new capabilities at each spell level. Detect magic does something similarly amazing: The higher the spell level, the longer in the past may the aura be that you can see – oh, and the area affected also improves. These detect spells are gold, and seriously warrant getting this booklet. Energy ray, not exactly a spell I was looking forward to covering, was also a pleasant surprise, in that it presents an assortment of critical effects as part of its scaling, instead of just attempting to make the damage scale. Damage in comparison to common regular spells btw. checks out. Same goes for the save-based alternative hazard, or the KAC-based telekinetic projectile.

Fabricate scrap is a great one that lets you generate increasing amounts of junk for spells and abilities based on junked electronics. Fatigue sports scaling nonlethal damage alongside higher-level chances of exhausting targets hit – and the mechanics here are clever, as the metric checked is Constitution: If damage exceeds the value, the target is exhausted. Interesting. Mending is nice, preventing abuse with a proper heightening cap and Resolve expenditure required to heal the same construct. Psychokinetic hand gets increased distance, range, etc.

I also love the grave words cantrip: Roll 1d20, flat, against DC 19 when the character touches a corpse: If you succeed, the corpse utters a useful tidbit of information. The higher the heightening, the lower the DC. Neat. Stabilize at higher levels include options to add shield other-ish effects, and at the highest level, even use the spell as a reaction – though at a steep Resolve cost. Yes, this means that frickin’ stabilize may cause applause at the table. The length of telepathic messages and their range can increase seriously. Token spell can be made to last longer and generate more benefits. Transfer charge now lets you transfer charges between multiple objects at once and improvise shock grenades, but the latter is kept in check by requiring short rests to make these overcharge tricks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, on a formal level, there are a few minor blemishes like a missing instance of italics; nothing serious, though. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a nice artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

So, Alexander Augunas’ cantrips reforged ultimately represent a power-upgrade, and as such, send my reviewer’s senses tingling. However, when seen in the context of the damage averages expected at the respective character levels, you’ll quickly realize that cantrips are very much in line with what they should be. This is NOT an unbalanced supplement, and for that, it really deserves serious kudos. More so than that, however, it deserves applause for the instances where the cantrips not simply provide numerical escalations but how they open up new roleplaying opportunities. That’s what really makes the pdf shine for me.

It should be noted that, if your aesthetics include high-level spellcasters being very fragile sans spells, this will somewhat mitigate that Achilles heel. If that is part of how you envision Starfinder, then this may not be for you. If you, however, wanted to see cantrips matter more and actually be conductive to roleplaying in meaningful ways? Then you should consider this pdf to be one I can recommend from the bottom of my heart. Considering that this is the very goal of the pdf, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up in spite of the slightly cumbersome core implementation for multiclass characters (which is easy enough to tweak), and for the evocative roleplaying enhancers, this does get my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.Deluxe: Cantrips Reforged
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Star Log.EM-077: Chimeraborn Characters
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2020 12:01:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

As an aside: The concept of the playable chimera had originally been introduced for PFRPG as a class-neutral general archetype, but personally, I do think that the SFRPG-implementation is actually smoother in its structural interaction with the system, since SFRPG is better suited for the global archetype concept. This is not a simple linear conversion.

After a brief introduction on the chimeraborn, we begin with a new theme: Instead of the usual theme knowledge, the theme makes the character a Large magical beast with the shapechanger subtype and the race’s original reach, and you count as both the original race and as a magical beast. However, the pdf does not future-proof this aspect: If e.g. an effect affects shapechangers in a benevolent way and penalizes the original race, we’ll need a GM-call. The body has three heads and the front paws are as prehensile as the hands of a human. You get shape change to a version of your original race. While in your chimeramorph form, you lose all racial traits except Hit Points and ability score adjustments. You also get +1 to Strength. At 6th level, each head has its own name alignment within one step of you, and the same languages and mental ability scores. This nets you a +2 insight bonus to saving throws versus mind-affecting effects, but the other heads also tend to voice your desires, which is a glorious roleplaying angle if handled well. 12th level nets you +1 Stamina per level, +1 for every further one you attain; 18th level lets you, up to twice per day, as a move action while in chimera form, roar and recover 1 Resolve Point.

The chimeraborn scion archetype requires the theme, and at 2nd level nets you Skill Focus with two skills, one skill from each of your other heads’ list of associated skills. At 4th, 6th, 9th, 12th and 16th level, you can replace the usual class feature with a so-called chimeraborn instinct. Minor nitpick: The ability is called “Temporal Scion” in an obvious cut-copy-paste glitch from Timelost Characters. Also: The ability should note that 2nd level does net an instinct – that has to be deduced from context.

As for the heads, these all have different skills associated with them, and grant you abilities: Animal heads net a vesk’s natural weapons, blindsense (scent) 30 ft. and low-light vision, with the associated skills being focused on the physical. Dragon heads net you blindsense (vibrations) 30 ft., a dragonkin’s breath weapon, natural weapon and darkvision, while the magical beast head nets darkvision, low-light vision and natural weapons. Slightly problematic here: The dragon head is much better than the alternate choice regarding magical beast heads...at least unless you make smart use of chimeric evolution, an instinct which nets you a polymorph (1st level) based access to an ability of a creature whose head you have. 6th and 12th level instincts feature btw. upgrades of this one.

2nd level instincts also include the ability to have gear incorporate into your form, and quicker shapechanging. The 6th level instincts include an ability to upgrade the chimeric creature’s natural weapons – oddly, it does reference the requirement of natural weapons, when it is impossible for the chimeraborn to not have them. Chimeric shapechanger is a Resolve-powered, limited ability to assume the shapes of the creatures of your alternate heads, with limitations properly included, and scaling handled precisely. There is also the means to spend Resolve to shunt mind-influencing effects into your other head. The 12th level instincts include an upgrade versus mind-influencing effects to +4, and an evasion like defensive boost for them. There is also a means to get a 4th-level polymorph (not italicized) available universal creature rule, and the means to assume a hybrid form, which erroneously refers to itself as an evolution once.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, and on a rules-language level, odd: On one hand, the design is super-precise regarding high-difficulty concepts; on the other hand, there are some remnants and slightly rough patches that make this ultimately feel like a condensed version of a complex option that needs more room to shine. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes without bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas at once did a great job converting this, while also stumbling a bit in some details. These minor niggles don’t impede the usability of the material herein per se, but they do make this feel rougher than it should be. As a consequence, I can’t rate this per se conceptually amazing file higher than 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the low price. If the concept even remotely intrigues you, get this – it’s worth the fair asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-077: Chimeraborn Characters
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Close Encounters: NPC Codex
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/30/2020 11:58:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive pdf clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This book contains 8 characters intended for general use, and 5 custom characters, so let’s take a look at the general use characters first, shall we? Structurally, we get a plethora of different builds for various CRs – CR 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, so quite a bunch of builds for each character. For the general use NPCs, the integrity of the statblocks is very important, obviously. Unfortunately, this is where this book falters. On a cosmetic angle the first two lines of the statblock (denoting gender + species, alignment, type, etc.) are missing from all but the first of the statblocks. Indeed, in a really annoying angle, all but the first statblock tends to be cut down to bare minimums, which don’t include e.g. speed (which is VERY important in SFRPG). While this triggers my OCD to no end, it’s most assuredly a factor that can be ignored if the statblock utility is up to par, right?

Well, there are a couple of other issues with the stats, and these, alas, are more poignant. There are quite a few instances where base arrays have not been consequently used, mixing and matching, for example, the values provided by expert array and spellcaster array. Race/class graft interaction also tends to be rather weird and inconsistent, and e.g. the hacker is missing the plusses for the (sometimes incorrect) skill values, instead putting the values in brackets. The whole array of the hacker statblocks do not feature the correct (good) skill values for Perception in the senses line. More egregious: What about spellcaster builds that only list the base spell DC and fail to add the spell levels properly? We have operatives sans the proper initiative boosts, and the truncated statblocks also mean that the speed enhancement is missing. Skill bonuses? Nope. The special abilities are all crammed into one header, instead of being properly integrated into the statblock.

So yeah, unfortunately, the mechanical flaws in the builds severely compromise this entire supplement, and the puzzling decision of these truncated statblocks renders using them hard, even for people who don’t care about mechanical issues.

Indeed, if anything, the entire book feels woefully rushed in a plethora of ways, and in a manner, that’s a pity, for there are these small touches that show that the team cared. We have a plantlike dragon template graft (with a header not properly bolded); but on the downside, we have improperly formatted spells and needlessly untyped bonuses here. Ironic: The new graft hasn’t always been implemented properly. The builds consistently fail to properly situate abilities where they belong in the statblock. And this is heart-rending, for the little details show some passion: When hackers at high levels gain an ability to represent how caffeinated they are, you have to smile. When you get essentially a transformer NPC, that’s neat to see; a professional fighter/big game hunter skittermander? Those are cool concepts, illustrated in a rather neat manner. A sentient ooze named Bleeb Glolump? Cool! The sentient hive turned DJ? Awesome. The concepts for the named NPCs herein are great; however, they are compromised by both the mechanical hiccups and the utterly puzzling decision to cut their statblocks down to a level that is no longer comfortable or convenient to use.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are not good; there are several formal glitches, math not checking out, as well as cosmetic hiccups. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with colorful artworks provided for each character. The pdf has bookmarks, but the bookmarks are nested in a weird way: “Introduction” is the header for the first character, who is the header for the second character, etc., until we are 4 sub-levels deep. Yet another indicator of a rushed release.

Ben Dowell’s NPC Codex is a supplement that really needed a second pass by the author; the puzzling decision to cut away vital parts of the statblocks eliminates immediate utility even for those tables that can look past the plethora of errors in the statblocks, and there are so many basic snafus in the stats that I can’t really recommend this pdf. At one point, I had a running list of issues, but I ended up deleting it; it felt like bullying/dissection, rather than criticism. Suffice to say, this has a ton of issues.

I like the concepts for the named NPCs and their little touches, but for a utility-focused book such as this, that does not suffice. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Close Encounters: NPC Codex
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Future's Past: Tomorrow's End (5 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 11:01:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The finale of the Future‘s Past AP clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 26 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

…to be frank, not that moving this one up would have really needed coaxing. The module is for 5th level characters, and concludes the Future’s Past AP. This is not a module you can run as a stand-alone offering without losing its impact, which is also why I’ll deviate somewhat from my usual format for reviews, and instead note something important:

The Future’s Past AP, in many ways, is one I’d recommend for experienced GMs, but it is one that also has an intrinsic teaching angle integrated into its structure: The initial two adventures started off in a way that was more conventional and should be easy to run for less experienced GMs; part III and IV progressively built on that, slowly taking away the training wheels and going more and more into freer-form structures that emphasize player agenda above linear presentation of a projected plot. This module, then, is the final exam, the graduation of the GM into a scenario so epic in scope and versatile in its possibilities, anything short of an open presentation would be doomed to failure.

You see, while the structure of the module is very much one of a linear sequence of events, the scale or scales on which these events happen and their precise nature are very much open to the preferences of the respective group playing this adventure. The module does come with read-aloud text. That being said, this module does require preparation; like the remainder of the AP, you cannot run this spontaneously. Frankly, though? I’ve rarely had as much as joy preparing a module as I did with this one. Why? Well, know how the previous modules in the AP sent shivers down my spine?

Guess what? This one genuinely managed to outdo them. The prose is fantastic, and even the non-read-aloud text, in many instances, is quality-wise on a level that outperforms the vast majority of readaloud texts. I am not kidding. And before you ask: This is not a victim of failed-novelist-syndrome; it may sport phenomenal prose, but it’s also very concise, precise. It doesn’t waste words or pages.

Okay, in order to go into more detail, I will need to dive into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. No seriously. If you spoil this series for yourself, you’ll be missing out on what might be the best adventure saga for SFRPG to date. You’ve been warned.

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Take in this introductory text: “Déjà vu implies some uncertainty. This is more like a recurring nightmare coming true. The distant stars twinkle, as if obscured by a thickening sphere of dust, the size of a solar system. Then, the galaxy disappears entirely. Illuminated by the light of dimensional rifts, ships gradually take shape within the cloud. Some seem miles long, dwarfing even Edge Station’s asteroid. While most are smaller… there are so many. Hundreds or thousands of crafts moving in perfect tandem. Each is all sleek, aggressive lines. Like a sword or spear sized to stab a god. You have never seen these ships, and yet you have. They are an old foe, and you have fought them many times. But… they always win, and you always die.“

Central AI is coming with an entire fleet; the PCs have fought and lost this battle an infinite number of times, and thus, the characters benefit from practiced perfection throughout, which is mechanically represented in a variety of ways. The PCs start off with a frickin’ functional time machine (problem solving advice included); it can transfer matter; it can tinker in the past – and yet, there is no chance to win. There simply are not enough people on Edge Station to beat Central. Ever. Only, you know, the PCs can take themselves out of alternate timelines/realities, evening the odds – and it only costs a few hundred-trillion lives as those doomed realities are now reliably lost. Of course, seeing variants of yourself die and die and die over and over again isn’t particularly good for the psyche…

And there are limits: Timetech Gamble pays a hefty, horrible price for the use of the time machine; Butterfly effect tables, and Vincent’s mighty Node as an ace in the whole also are included – but ultimately, the module requires winning against a vast fleet combat, which comes with concise rules for starship fleets and (rules more abstract and simpler than starships, but otherwise capable of making fleets pretty much on the fly, based on starships), but starship-level rules for Edge Station are provided as well; indeed, it is possible to run this potentially sans the fleet combat, but the beauty here is that you can switch from fleet combat to ship combat to personal combat, if you want to – you know, PCs on board a ship fighting nano warrior invaders, representing hundreds of battles like this, taking place all over the fleet, as infinite PC duplicates live and die…

Ultimately, the PCs need to face the Nanochine avatar of Central AI itself; it has killed them 127 times; it can’t fathom how they can still surprise it; it can’t fathom that here, at this one junction in time and space, at this one instant, the all-mighty AI can LOSE. It’s up to the PCs – or their future might well end up a thing of the past…

Conclusion: Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are good – it’s the one thing about this book that I don’t love; it’s good, mind you, but I noticed a few instances of spell-references missing their italics and similar cosmetic glitches. Layout adheres to the series neat two-column full-color standard, and the module comes with great full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and we get a pretty awesome galaxy map, but no player-friendly version of said map.

I should probably penalize this for its minor hiccups.

I refuse.

Srsly. This conclusion to Future’s Past not only manages to end the AP in a satisfying manner, it actually succeeds in surpassing the previous installments. Yep, you read that right. If you’re an experienced GM, you will read this and balk at the ambition, at the scale. At how smart it is. At how well it covers all those “OMG, I can’t handle that” aspects; this book not only makes a functional time machine work, it expects the party to properly use it. To beat impossible odds that would even be beyond the power of deities. At level 5/6. And IT WORKS.

The streamlined, quick fleet combat suffused with the option for individual encounters of starship combat requires prep-work. This holds true for the entire module. This adventure assumes competence on part of the GM. If you pull it off, your players will laud you forever.

I genuinely can’t believe that this series exists and is complete. Why? Because it is so smart, clever and concise it almost hurts me; each module in this series can outclass adventures of thrice or more pages; the entire campaign is perhaps one of the best scifi/science-fantasy campaigns ever put to paper. At least I’d be hard-pressed to mention anything that comes close. Additionally, it’s a saga that exceeds in ambition and scope what most authors and publishers would even dare to attempt, much less pull off. I still can’t believe that this masterful AP was pulled off not only with a singularly clear vision, but even without using a kickstarter or the like. Within the seemingly few pages of the saga, the extremely concise writing allows GMs to easily spread the content if desired. You could make this module, for example, last one session – or up to 5-6.

Stephen Rowe once more shows why he’s one of the few authors I buy sight unseen. I have the entire AP in softcover, and I’d rather sell some limited edition hardcovers than these modules.

How good is Future’s Past? If you play any non-SFRPG scifi/space opera game, I genuinely believe that this saga is worth converting. Yes, even if you’re not familiar with SFRPG’s complex rules, this series is imho good enough to translate it to Stars Without Number, Traveller, etc.

This right here, this AP? It’s the benchmark for SFRPG-modules, the level that needs to be beaten. In fact, I consider Future’s Past to be so far beyond most modules, it almost feels unfair to put them in the same category.

5 stars. Seal of approval. Top Ten Candidate. EZG Essential. If you even remotely like the concept, please buy this series.

Future’s Past is one of these outstanding sagas that should grace the shelves of any GM. This should be considered to be a rite of passage level adventure for the genre.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Tomorrow's End (5 of 5)
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Gnome Jambalaya
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/07/2020 06:07:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/supplement clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 41 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) booklet size, so let’s take a look!

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

Before we get to the main meat of this supplement, it bears mentioning that this book actually has some serious player-facing stuff, so let’s start with that! Oh yeah, and because someone is bound to think that: Ähem…BLASPHEMY! DCC HAS NO GNOMES!! ;) Well, in case you missed the (properly-credited to Yves Larochelle!) CRAWL!-zine #6, you might not have been aware of there actually being such a race-class, and it has been reproduced and expanded here. Speaking of proper credits: Even suggestions by a user on the Goodman Games-boards are credited! That’s awesome and seriously deserves applause!

In case you missed the class so far: We have d5 HD, 20 ft. speed, training with sling, staff, dart and dagger, and are limited to attaining 5th level. Gnomish magic is restricted to illusion and deceptions, and gnomes can’t have patrons; they get to choose 3 1st-level spells from their list, and cast like wizards via Intelligence, with the exception of the Trick Die, which is rolled to determine the caster level. The spell check is rolled with 1d20 + Trick Die + Intelligence modifier, and spell failure only applies if both dice come up as 1s. Gnome illusions can become “sturdy” if the judge deems it appropriate and the Trick Die comes up as 3 or higher, becoming tangible and potentially dealing an automatic 1d5 damage per level of the gnome; if the Trick Die comes up as 5 or higher, the target must also succeed on a Will save vs. the spell check or flee. Sturdy illusions can cause elemental damage, if that’d make sense. Trick Die starts at 1d3 and improves one step up the die-chain every level, up to 1d7. Each level nets a spell known, with 5th level providing two, and the maximum spell level increases by 1 at 3rd level and every level thereafter. All saves kick off at +1, with Reflex improving the quickest. Gnome attack bonus caps at +3, and the class uses crit die 1d6 (improving to 1d10) and table I throughout. Action die remains 1d20, with only 5th level adding +1d4 to that; the action die can be used for attacks and spell checks.

Gnomes are resistant to magic, having a 10% chance per level to not be affected by magic; gnomes can also roll the Trick Die to render animals/insects with less than 1 HD friendly; they can see in the dark up to 60 feet, detect the presence of gems (10% chance per level), and apply their Luck modifier to all saving throws versus magic attacks and spells. 0-level gnome information is provided, and we get a 1d14 table of Zero-level occupations.

This class is also supplemented by the scripted illusion spell, which pretty much does what you’d expect.

Beyond the interesting gnome class, we also have an expansion of the awesome faerie animals class introduced back in Faerie Tales from Unlit Shoes: Creeping Beauties of the Wood (seriously, if you haven’t checked out the series and even remotely like dark faerie tales, then get the entire series now…); the expansion focuses on bayou-themed animals, with class table etc. provided alongside a massive alternate occupation/animal type/etc./table.

The supplemental material also includes a d20-table of swampfolk occupations, and also features notes on how to tie it to a selection of other Purple Duck Games supplements (excellent ones), and hints at something I’d rather love to see.

Now, as for the main adventure featured herein, it is a funnel and was tested with gnomes + faerie animals; it should be noted that the module is pretty deadly when run as such, and puts a serious focus on player skill, but not exclusively. It does work well as a 1st level adventure for 4 characters, just in case you were wondering.

The module sports well-written read-aloud text, and a pretty massive array of modular/random encounters, which include infected spoonbills, swampfolk, quicksand, etc., running a pretty good gamut between the grounded and dangerous, and weird. And these only are the random ones.

Structurally, the module is essentially a sandbox of the Blackwater Bayou. The hex map of the bayou is presented in full-color and comes with a keyed encounters noted for the GM; GMs get two versions, one with hexes, and one without them; however, even better, the supplement comes with a player-friendly iteration of the map, which is also presented in proper pngs for VTT-use. A player-friendly version of the final location of sorts is also provided. HUGE kudos, considering that the lack of player-friendly maps is often one of my main gripes with DCC adventures. A hex s assumed to be 1000 ft. and take 10 minutes to traverse, and paths and trails are noted on the maps.

It should be noted that the adventure does a pretty neat job at setting up global effects such as drinking swampwater, and it does have a rather rarely seen vibe, somewhere between twisted fairy tale, classic weird and southern gothic.

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

… .. .

Okay, only judges around? Great! So, a meteor…WAIT. I know, it’s a trite old cliché at this point, but a) the module does frankly acknowledge its inspirations and b) the devil’s in the details. In many ways, we don’t have a full subversion of the classic trope here, and instead focus on an execution that lives and breathes a unique atmosphere by virtue of its small tidbits. The “infected” creatures I mentioned above are infected by a weird fungal lifeform spreading from the carcinoma, and there is a risk of fusion with the horrible hellscape these things hail from.

So far, so predictable – but you won’t call the curious bottle witch with her d7 tables of dark and light liquids. These can include the shadows of the slain (who might later rise, when the PC passes the place they’re buried in) or gain other benefits. But, being a witch (she’s illustrated in full color, btw.!), she does demand a price – and these not only note the price and consequence, but also how it is taken, be it soul, shadow or dream. A proper engine for her oracular readings and effects is also provided, just fyi.

From skunk apes and snapping turtles to strange swampdweller villages and beached skiffs, there’s quite a bit to uncover as the PCs need to brave a crossing – and what about that instance where frogs, like in the old Budweiser ad (yep, even I know that one, and I’m from Germany!) croak the name of their demonic patron? (Which also doubles as a chance to take ole’ Bobugbiliz as a patron…)

As the PCs progress, they will find villages of zombie-like individuals controlled by a dread petalhead, vanguard of the potential invasion…and if you enjoy the timeless/dimensionally-confused themes, you’ll geta chuckle out of the New Orleans 65 miles sign. If you don’t want that angle in your game, you can easily change it, with guidelines provided. This holds true for all such instances, btw. En route, the party also has a chance to potentially experience a deity’s positive influence (and/or end that…), making for a potential cleric (-to-be) angle.

Ultimately, the party will reach the carcinoma, and the nightmarish petalheads, which are also illustrated in full color. And they almost feel tailormade to scare the living hell out of me. You see, I consider sunflowers to be creepy. They move too much for plants, are too tall, and I always feel watched by them. It’s the one truly irrational fear I have. The petalheads? Picture three leg-like things, a stalk, hands, and a sunflower-ish head with an eye-studded mass in the middle. I genuinely can’t look at the artwork for long, and my response at the table would be to scream to purge these things with fire and extreme prejudice.

Ultimately, the party needs to eliminate the strange machinery slowly doing its horrid work, hopefully sending the carcinoma back to its homeplane/world of Hellgoth.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with a couple of really nice full-color artworks. The cartography in full color is neat as well, and the presence of player-friendly versions that are VTT-friendly is absolutely great. Not so great: The pdf unfortunately has no bookmarks, which is a comfort detriment; once the PoD-version goes live, I’ll get that; until then, I suggest just printing out the pdf – its layout makes this pretty printer-friendly.

Daniel J. Bishop’s “Gnome Jamabalaya” is a great example of a supplement that is greater than the sum of its parts; when someone had told be about the individual components, of the relatively grounded aspects, with slowly mounting weirdness and some Easter eggs thrown in, I’d probably have yawned, which makes describing the appeal of this module pretty hard for me as a reviewer.

You see, there are goofy elements here, there are playful elements here; however, these are contrasted with a surprisingly effective rendition of growing horror, which, while not subtle, performs in an effective slow-burn that mounts towards the finale, which btw. can best be solved by smart players.

So, as a whole, I consider this booklet to be a neat success; it is not the author’s best module, but it is yet another example of how a great author can wring gold from even tired tropes. As a whole, I consider this to be a module worth getting if you’re looking for something playful that yet can be run in a truly creepy manner. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo and the player-friendly maps.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gnome Jambalaya
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