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Privateers: A Shared Storytelling Game Of Piracy & Plunder
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2019 16:13:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This game clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 27 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

So, a rules lite swashbuckling/pirate game? Why not! But before we start, let it be known that this game can be used in pretty much any context – I could see it work for a scifi-game, for example, pretty well. The game requires 2 six-sided dice and begins with the character generation.

You start by choosing a nickname, followed by selecting your attributes. There are three of those, the first being Mental, which denotes your wits, cleverness, will, etc.. Physical describes strength and endurance, agility, etc. and finally, Social, determines the character’s charm, persuasiveness, humor, etc. You assign the values +4, +3 and +2 to these.

After this, you choose one talent and one flaw; talents generally tend to provide a +2 bonus to one type of challenge, while flaws either provide a -2 penalty to all challenges pertaining some broader aspect, or -3 to challenges pertaining a more limited component – enough of those are provided to get a sense of the intended balance and make the notion of designing more of them yourself simple.

Talents and flaws may also influence your Health – the default starting value is 8.

After this, you choose your gear – gear doesn’t give you bonuses (at least usually!), but does allow you to perform certain tasks. All privateers begin with proper clothes, a knife, a blunderbuss and a letter of marquee, and the group shares a ship. Beyond that, you name items, such as a parrot or the like, and perform a simple challenge – if you win, you get the item; if not, then you don’t get it. You get to roll until you lose or have 5 items. A simple challenge is a binary roll of 2d6– you roll against the opponent, and if you win, you win, if you lose, you lose. Ties are rerolled. This is the most simple resolution method herein, but not the only one – I will get to others later.

Finally, you can act traits like age, weight, etc. and other non-.mechanical game data –and bingo. Character creation is very much possible in less than a minute – if you roll for items all at once and use colored dice, you can definitely resolve character creation in even less time.

Progression is wholly in the GM’s hand – Health is the combination of all Attributes; other than health-increases, gaining talents or removing flaws are the suggested means to depict character growth.

The Difference engine’s core resolution mechanic is to roll 2d6 + Bonus versus 2d6 + Bonus. Impossible tasks are not rolled, and easy tasks are resolved as automatic successes. Before dice are rolled, the GM and player agree on Stakes – what happens on a success, and one a failure.

The winner of the challenge is the one with the Higher Result; in case of a tie, Bonuses are compared; if the bonuses are the same as well, the highest rolled result on the dice acts as a tie-breaker – and should this still be tied, the player wins. In the case of challenges between players, neither fails – they can reattempt the check on the next turn.

But why is the engine called “Difference Engine”? Well, to determine your success in a challenge, you can have different successes – there are actually 7 degrees of success; by barely making a challenge with a tied roll of +0, you achieve minimal success, while a Difference of 11+ means an incredible success – fighting and jumping examples allow the GM to easily determine effects for a given result.

Teamwork is very potent – the player with the highest attribute rolls 2d6, and adds +1d6 per additional privateer involved. Only the highest two dice results are calculated.

Examples on how to interpret the rolls and how to make the eponymous Difference matter are provided, with several simple suggestions illustrating e.g. what happens if both player and GM roll poorly. The system knows critical successes (double 6s) and failures (double 1s), and the pdf even explains what happens on a double 6 opposed by a double 1, walking you through the entire process of using this.

There is one more factor to consider – luck. Each character begins play with 1 point of Luck, and more points are gained whenever a Double is rolled ( i.e. two 2s. two 3s, etc.); if the players use Luck, the GM gains one Luck, mirroring a system I have used with some success for hero points and similar mechanics in more complex systems. Using Luck BEFORE the roll lets you add +1d6 per Luck used, but only the highest two results are used to calculate results; OR, you can add +2 per Luck used. If used AFTER the roll, you get to add +1 per Luck used OR you may reroll one die rolled, but must take the new result.

Combat is classified in turns, which correspond to no set amount of time, allowing you to categorize them anew per frame (so that naval combat might have longer turns); initiative is stacked greatly in the PCs’ favor – you begin left of the GM, round the table, with NPCs etc. acting last. Akin to how VsM-games work, difficult movement may require Mental or Physical tests. Attacking may be resolved by rolling Physical vs. Physical, Physical vs. Mental, mental vs. Mental – it depends on the context. Damage is contingent on the weapon employed and the Difference– simple weapons cause 1 base damage, improved weapons (this includes btw. the starting blunderbuss) 2 damage and advanced weapons cause 3 damage. PCs reaching 0 Health take their negative Health as a penalty to all challenges If negative Health exceeds one of the PC’s attributes, they can’t use challenges in that attribute any more. At -6 Health, a character falls unconscious, at -10, the privateer is dead.

Healing is handled easily: Roll a Mental challenge, and add Health value of target, whether positive or negative, to the result. On a success, the target regains half the Difference (rounded down) Health. On a failure, though, the Difference is taken as damage! So no, Health-scumming is not wise.

Ship to ship combat knows 6 general roles, which all have so-called techniques – specialized challenges that e.g. allow a surgeon to heal the crew, potentially reviving crew; master gunners may initiate broadsides – you get the idea. Creation of new roles and techniques is a simple process as well. Ship to ship combat is structured in three stages – sighting distance, shooting distance and boarding distance, with all three stages properly explained.

Ships have simple stats – they have a base damage for cannons, a maximum Hull (the corresponding term for a ship’s Health), a maximum and minimum crew rating – the crew rating is an abstraction and may be jury-rigged for your purposes.

The GM section provides advice and also sample bonuses that may be applied to roles to simulate 6 different difficulties – an easy task may only have a +1 bonus, a nigh impossible one +11. We also get a couple of sample stats and a nice little character sheet.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with red highlights, and the pdf features thematically-fitting and modified public domain art. The pdf features bookmarks for easy navigation.

Lucus Palosaari’s work on VsM-engine products has informed a few of the components herein, but personally, I was also reminded of Into the Odd – both good things, since these are two of my favorite rules lite roleplaying game systems. With a focus on narratives, the system has one task it needs to handle well: The storytelling should not amount wholly to competitive BSing, and it is my pleasure to report that, simple though the game may be, it has a surprising depth to it. The techniques and how they work, the weapons – this book presents a great chassis and explains it in a way that is supremely easy to expand upon. I could e.g. see myself grafting the excellent VsM-magic system or a kind of arcana-system or starting packages from into the Odd onto this one. The one weakness of this game would be the lack of options regarding gear – sample options and prices and guidelines on how much loot to award would make sense and have further added value to this neat book. That being said, do you know how much this is? $1.95. I kid you not. You can’t even get a cup of joe for that around here, and I consider this to be, frankly, a steal – the system is so easy to adapt and graft that a good GM can create complex tales, devise progression reward mechanics (another aspect that could use some expansion) – but more importantly, the system, as presented, can be arguably run without the pdf. The beauty of the system lies in the fact that, once understood (which will take a maximum of reading the pdf and playing perhaps twice), it can be run spontaneously. This is a pretty big deal.

Now, for the future, I’d love to see books that expand talents, present gear, perhaps magic, more ship-options and the like – but right now, for the purpose of this review, I’ll remain with a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down by a margin. This is a great system with promise galore and the potential for staying power, but right now, the pdf presents the core and relies on the Gm to expand upon that. Consider me excited to see more, and if you’re looking for a great game to teach new players the joys of roleplaying, you’ll find very few as beginner-friendly as this one!! (As an aside – The Difference engine also can help kids improve their math and hone their sensibilities regarding stochastics, but that as an aside.)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Privateers: A Shared Storytelling Game Of Piracy & Plunder
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Starfarer Adversaries DELUXE: Drider
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/19/2019 16:10:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This extra-large installment of the Starfarer Adversaries-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, so let’s take a look!

So, this supplement begins with giving us a basic rundown of drider tactics, which also introduces us to a cool notion, the FiendWebs, a kind of horrific industrial spider-themed hellscape that acts as a hub for the dread empire of Akkanar – like it!

The supplement contains two different types of gear – the shock glaives (S & E) powered weapons with the block and reach special property and scaling Arc critical effects, and Fire damage microwave pistols – the beamer pistols – iterations for levels 5, 10, 15 and 20 are provided. The pdf does explicitly state that it uses the damage values of array and CR, and not the one based on the weapon – this is in contrast to how NPCs are handled in the Alien Archive, but is no oversight here, but a conscious deviation. Whether or not you like that is a question of personal taste and will not feature in my final verdict.

The drider statblocks within range in CRs from 5 to 20, with one statblock for each of the 15 levels provided, and are aberrations with the elf subtype. Slightly odd – while the immunity to sleep is retained, the +2 racial bonus to saves against enchantment spells and effects that would usually be bestowed by an application of the elf subtype graft has been left out of the statblocks. Also odd: The elf subtype graft notes that most creatures should get Perception as a master skill, another component that the driders do not receive. In spite of being made of drow stock, driders as presented herein also lack the light blindness weakness, which struck me as odd. Personally, I think that all those things would have made the statblocks more interesting, but that may be me. While we’re on the subject of some oddities: Initiative lines in the first 3 statblocks tend to read “+X mod.” instead of the proper “+x.”

On the plus side, the benefits of the aberration graft have been consistently applied. Driders use underized weapons for their Large size, but may use 2-handed Medium-sized weapons in one hand due to their mass and legs. All driders also can smoothly and swiftly move through webbing and generate titanium ally cable-strength webbing, which they may use to have their ranged weapons behave as though they had a grappler, which is a pretty cool angle. That is, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be “taking an action”, not “talking an action” – funniest typo I’ve seen all day. Drider poison uses Strength as progression track, with CR 9 being the first that requires two consecutive saves to cure. Frequency remains locked as 1/round for 6 rounds, and driders have climb speed equal to land speed, with the Cr 12 one being the first with supernatural flight, courtesy of equipment. Driders get SR of 11 + CR, have the create darkness offensive supernatural ability, and all builds use the high attack value for melee, the low one for ranged attacks. The builds do not gain multiattack, but do benefit from an array of different SPs. The damage type indicator of the bite attacks is consistently missing from all of the statblocks – probably should be P. All of the builds herein are based on each other, so don’t expect to see serious variation in the base chassis – all use the combatant array as a foundation and build from there. This is a bit of a lost chance.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level and the statblock integrity is high, if not perfect. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a nice artwork by Jacob Blackmon. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, which is a nice plus.

Owen K.C. Stephens’ driders are nifty and potent – these fellows can be dangerous, but I ultimately couldn’t help but feel that they could have offered a bit more in the sense of diversity. Sure, it’s nice to get this many driders, but personally, I’d have preferred less of them and instead ones that are more different. I’d also have enjoyed a more stringent application of drow traits, but this is a matter of taste – do you picture them as more drow-y or as more strongly defined by their aberrant side?

As a whole, I consider this a solid, if not mind-blowing supplement – pretty much the definition of a solid offering, slightly on the positive side of things. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, though I don’t feel I can round up here.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer Adversaries DELUXE: Drider
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Star Log.EM-062: Uramae
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2019 03:47:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, on the introductory page, we get a proper uramae subtype graft, as well as mummy rot as a special disease codified within SFRPG’s system – and a feat: Uramae of 5th level and a certain heritage can take that feat and sped 1 Resolve point to infect foes hit with unarmed strikes with mummy rot; this is balanced by a single opponent succeeding on the save being immune to this for 24 hours. This is relevant, because the mummy rot DC scales based on half class level and key ability modifier.

Uramae in the Xa-Osoro system hail from the dead world of Uramesh, and actually are the deoxyian’s progenitor race. They get 4 Hit Points, +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex, are Medium, and have a touch of Spock in them – 1/day, an uramae can take 10 on a d20 roll or “chekc”[sic!], except ones that automatically fail on a natural 1; additionally, they get a +1 racial bonus to a check when taking 11 – essentially, they take 11 instead, which is clever. Uramae are fast – they have a speed of 40 feet and get an extraordinary fly speed with average maneuverability – however, this is thankfully balanced by needing to end movement on ground or fall – they basically can hover-jump short distances. Cool! Additionally, uramae belong to one of two ethnic groups.

The first of these would be the mumiyah – these count as both humanoids and undead, whichever is worse, but are immune to negative energy and get +1 to Fortitude saving throws vs. disease, exhaustion, fatigue, mind-affecting effects, paralysis, sleep effects, and stunning. They count as living for what can affect them, and this ethnicity can take aforementioned feat. They may also be brought back to life.

The second caste, the wsjr, gains Great Fortitude, iron Will, or Lightning Reflexes or Toughness at 1st level, and may take these feats as replacement class features at 4th, 6th, 12th and 18th level. Wsjr also gain +1 skill rank at first level and every level thereafter. Really cool: We do get full racial notes that include “If you’re an Uaramae…” and “Others probably…”-sections – kudos for their inclusion!

Uramae lay eggs, as the notes on their life cycle make clear, and speaking of which – we get proper tables for their life cycle, codifying age categories, height and weight – here, the races goes one step beyond SFRPG’s standard, which I wholeheartedly approve of. The Uramae are a race defined in part by calamity – after the schism that split their race into the uramae and the deoxyians, the planet basically slew their home world – and now, in domes cities, the forces of necromancy and means to maintain the scarce resources are all that keeps the race from extinction. Suffice to say, uramae are not particularly fond of their genetic-engineering brethren.

The living wsjr, as a consequence, are actually today the minority of the species, which can be a very interesting twist for the society. Furthermore, there is an interesting further schism – while some could argue that the deoxyians are mutating, evolving at the cost of everything around them, the same can’t be said for the uramae, who believe that their society, a concept they think of as a living entity, reached its pinnacle thousands of years ago. This streak of conservative ideology, paired with a focus on logic, has been thought through in an interesting manner – essentially, the wsjr are a valuable commodity for the mumiyah; treasured and yet, as the wsjr contend, treated as children, as pets. Combined with the unchanging nature of undead, we have a great mirror-image of the sprawling, mutating evolution of deoxyians – a society defined in a way by unchanging stagnation, and yet one that requires the living beings that desire change to maintain its very existence. This is a great basic conundrum and offers plenty of roleplaying potential, particularly if more than one PC is an uramae – one mumiyah and one wsjr certainly make for a great dynamic all on their own.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level, .and good on a formal level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and we get artworks for both ethnicities of uramae, which is cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas and John Laffan paint a compelling picture of a race split it twain twice – once in the distant past, and, ironically, once by the very structure on which their conservative society is based. I really loved the unique psychological angles explored here, and the clash of themes and how they are explored – the uramae are an interesting race that features sufficient intriguing flavor to make them unique and compelling to play. My one complaint here would be that more information on the cataclysms that wrecked the race, and how it influenced their social order, would have been awesome. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-062: Uramae
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The Level 1 Creature Generator
Publisher: Gorgzu Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2019 03:45:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin with instructions, which are simple enough – you see, each of the tables here contains a matrix of 4 columns and 10 rows – these generally span 2 pages per table. You roll a d4 to determine the column, a d10 to determine the row. Simple, nice. With the entries differing in density and complexity, the respective font-size varies from what looks like regular sized 10 or 11pt (not good at differentiating those) to pretty large letters, so if you’ve got issues with your eyes, this still renders the pdf pretty usable.

Nice: In spite of not per se subscribing to a particular old-school rules-system, the pdf does take its time to properly explain its terminology – that means a couple of things: “Being” refers to an entity with a modicum of intelligence (so not oozes and the like); several entries make use of ability score checks, which are suggested to be resolved with a roll-under mechanic; in absence of the like, quickly rolling 3d6 to determine a value or fixing one is suggested. Alternatively, saves vs. death, breath, etc. are mentioned as a different means to resolve abilities.

Shapes are deemed to warrant a HD-rating, and bonuses stack; basic shape determines modes of movement; birds can fly, spiders climb – you get the idea. Distance references are handled via two abstract approximations – “Close” refers to 0 – 5 feet, “Nearby” to 5 – 60 feet. Several entries reference “roll with advantage/disadvantage”, so if you’re one of the hardcore grognards or Lamentations of the Flame Princess purists that dislike this rule, that’s something to bear in mind, as the modification to chances of critical success and failures mathematically is a bit more complex to replicate – an alternative would have been nice. AC is assumed to have a base AC of 11, and is presented in an ascending AC convention.

In case you were wondering – you can get a regular creature in 4 or 6 throws of the dice: The first table determines the basic shape, which can range from man to frog etc. – this entry determines AC, HD and damage dice caused by the attacks. Poison is noted here as well, and worm-monsters at half health split in two; butterfly monsters can cause AoE damage with poisondust (no save/text RAW – ouch!).

Table number two determines the form, which may be almost impossibly flat, incredibly cute, surrounded by a windstorm, have free-floating body components, etc. – there are some serious gems here, and quite a few of these shapes may have additional rules effects. Carapaces grant more AC, hypnotic eyes, being a thing of Hellraiser-ish pain etc. – a nice selection here.

Beyond these, the third, and arguably optional table, contains abilities – singing targets to sleep, exhaling a noxious cloud of poison gar, absorbing nearby gold, generate biological trap mechanisms – some pretty evocative ones here!

As an aside, if you don’t want to roll the dice, the tables are big enough to act as die-drop charts, if you choose to employ them as such.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, with a b/w-image of some ruins acting as a border, over which the tables are situated. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length – indeed, I’d recommend just printing the 6 pages of tables, laying them on the table and throw the dice on them. Monster generation done in seconds.

Michael Raston’s level 1 critter generator was a pleasant surprise – which not as potent as some other monster-generator engines out there, it is ridiculously comfortable to use and fast. If you’re time-starved as a referee/GM, you will love how smoothly and quickly you can make unique critters here; and as an aside, the results are very likely more sensible than the ones in e.g. “Isle of the Unknown” – there is more correlation between shape and function here, and while the respective entries are brief, they still manage to retain a surprising sense of cohesion.

The pdf does have a few weak points - not explicitly subscribing to a particular old-school system would be one of them. In an ideal world, there’d be an iteration for B/X, one OSRIC, one for LotFP, etc. – adapting the content herein truly to your game in question may require a bit of thinking first. (Do that when first reading the generator – the beauty of OSR-games is that they’re so rules-lite and simple that, after contemplating that, you won’t have to do so again.) Still, that is the one aspect of this super-nifty little tool that I consider to be less than ideal. Did I mention that this pdf costs a grand total of a single buck? Heck, you can purchase next to nothing for that nowadays, and this pdf is certainly worth leaving this symbolic obolus. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fine little tool to have. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Level 1 Creature Generator
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Spheres Apocrypha: Apex Shifter
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/18/2019 03:42:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Spheres Apocrypha-series clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because I had been tasked to cover the other Spheres of power-supplements, and I’m kind of OCD and can’t stand having something not covered yet when the rest’s done.

Okay, so this contains, obviously, the apex shifter, an archetype for the sphere shifter. A minor nitpick from the get-go – the rules verbiage tends to state “At level XYZ”, when PFRPG usually phrases that “At 3rd level…” – it’s a minor thing and won’t influence the verdict, but it bugs me as a person. Instead of endurance, we get a talent from the Alteration sphere, which may be chosen anew after resting for 8 hours. This should specify that such a talent cannot be sued for the purposes of prerequisites. It also establishes the notion that this archetype doesn’t attempt to balance its content with either the original shifter, or internally.

Extended transformation is moved to 4th level, which is a good call, since the spheres druid getting that before the shifter was a bit grating; 5th level allows for the use of shapeshift (not properly formatted) to the apex shifter as a swift action, with concentration-maintenance as a swift action. 9th level yields greater transformation – which is oddly listed before the 8th level ability, which upgrades the use of shapeshift (again, not formatted properly) as an immediate action. These abilities btw. replace the communication abilities and immunity to diseases and poisons. The capstone eliminates the need t make concentration checks for shapeshifts (bingo, not formatted - ever), and the need to pay for spell points. Additionally, 1/turn free action shapeshift.

5 bestial forms are provided: Accommodating form chooses one Alteration sphere talent (including Blank Form) granting traits; When using shapeshift, for +1 spell point one trait from the chosen form may be applied, and this does not count towards trait maximum. The bestial trait may be taken once per 4 class levels. Resistant Shift nets Stalwart (urgh) when increasing size, evasion when decreasing size. For a limited amount of rounds. This is very potent and should have a minimum level and be relegated to the mid-to high-level tiers of gameplay. Defensive shift lets you combine personal shapeshift and total defense, but makes the character staggered on the next turn. How is that in the same category as the option to gaining both stalwart or evasion? Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it almost looks like it’s been written by someone else. Feint as part of shapeshift? Okay, can get behind that. Shifting Style requires Spheres of Might and requires one talent from Alchemy, Equipment, Tech or Trap sphere as well as Knowledge of Many Shapes (the apex shifter’s wildcard talent ability gained at 3rd level), and nets a freely chosen combat talent from a sphere that is NOT among the 4 listed in the prerequisites, getting that for 1 minute or until a new shapeshift applies. Why would you ever not take this one??

The second page contains an alternate version of the “Elementalt[sic!] Transformation” talent – Dedicated Elemental Transformation. Okay, should this one be treated as Elemental transformation for the purpose of ability interactions and prerequisites? No idea. That being said, the presentation of this one is nice: It has mutable limbs, allows for speech 30 ft. speed, 2 slams (properly codified as primary), scaling AC bonus and darkvision 60 ft. Also features scaling chances to ignore critical hits and precision damage (25% to start with, scales every 5 levels by +25%) , and the talent nets you one package corresponding to the 4 primary elements – the cool thing here would be that knowledge of an element (the talent may be taken multiple times) unlocks elemental corresponding traits for use with other forms. Minor nitpick: “Burn” in the context of the fire elemental ability should be capitalized, as lower-case “burn” does not denote the extraordinary ability, and instead evokes ideas of kineticists..That notwithstanding, I liked this one.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are not good –on a formal level, the content failure to put shapeshift properly in italics makes the rules-language harder to grasp; syntax sometimes deviates in a weird way from the standard, etc. – more hiccups here than I’d expect to see in two pages. Rules language is generally functional, but internal balance of the archetype’s options are weird, and the wild-card talent stacking? Not a fan.

David Spektorov’s apex shifter is an expansion I wanted to see – I wanted to see a shifter who gets to shift as soon as the druid. The internal balancing of the bestial traits isn’t ideal and oscillates quite a bit, and as a whole, the apex shifter is a stronger option than the regular shifter, and not always ina good way. That being said, the notion of dedicated elemental transformations is neat, and the pdf has something to offer – it’s just rough in a couple of instances, probably won’t bow you away, and with stricter editing/development, could have been amazing. My final verdict, alas, can’t exceed 3 stars, in spite of the low price point.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Spheres Apocrypha: Apex Shifter
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Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
Publisher: Goodman Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2019 12:36:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module was designed for 6 third level characters, with the suggestion, as always, of a well-rounded party as an ideal means to tackle this one. Fighters will particularly appreciate the numerous occasions where they may execute special, environment-specific mighty deeds of arms – at least I did. As always with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, we do receive pretty darn impressive b/w-maps, but alas, as always, we do not get player-friendly iterations of the respective maps. On the plus-side, two massive one-page handouts that you can give your players does make up a bit for this shortcoming.

As always, we do receive well-written read-aloud prose to set the stage for each room.

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

… .. .

All right, only judges around? Great, so first thing: Never show the cover and title to the players – the combination of cover and title are actually a big SPOILER, and can really wreck one of the key-scenes of the adventure.

Second thing: Even though this adventure has a serious marine/water-theme, it actually isn’t focused on underwater adventuring, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t find it here. (As a plus: Unlike the horrible “Shadow under Devil’s Reef”, it tackles water and the chances to drown with rules that make sense and are fun, so that’s a plus, even if it’s not the core component of the adventure.

Now, the damsel in distress is nowadays a cliché, to the point where the subversion of the cliché has become its own cliché, which, arguably, these days is seen more often than the original angle. The primary hook of this adventure is just that – the PCs manage to get their hands on a magical token, and are thereafter sent strange dream-missives from a gorgeous queen beneath the waves, imprisoned by a vile wizard, who beseeches them to free her. Interesting here: In contrast to many other systems, DCC actually does have its share of “rescue lady”-angles that have not been perverted/inverted, and as such, paired with DCC’s patron-engine powered propensity for spellcasters to be (even more) corrupt (than usual), the angle, if sold properly to the PCs, may actually work, when in mainstream D&D-iterations, the Ackbar-memes wouldn’t stop – ever.

This module pits the PCs against the defensive measures left by the grand sea-wizard Shadankin, who mysteriously vanished ages ago. Cealheewhalool, the sea queen in question, directs the PCs towards the first of the small dungeons herein – Shadankin’s Sanctum, where jumping from levitating turtle-shell to turtle-shell and grotesque lamprey-men, this is a cool start – I was particularly enjoying the notion of finding jelly-fish diving suits – for the PCs will have to dive into a lake that doubles as a giant hammer-head’s hunting ground to extract a mythic horn from a giant clam shell.

And yes, fighting underwater rules are provided. Indeed, this is one aspect of the module that deserves applause: None of the encounters throughout the locations within are boring or even mediocre – there’s something special going on in each of the rooms, with unique chests, terrain features and hazards providing, as a whole, a sense of a neatly-structured, thoroughly detailed and creative adventure. In a way, it is the inverse of the author’s Stonehell mega-dungeon, which I love for its own merits: If you’re familiar with that one, picture this module as featuring unique terrain features and treasure for pretty much everything.

The sanctum deserves another shout-out for a practice I really loved: You see, the adventure, as noted, has two handouts, right? Well, on each, we can see strange drawings and scenes, which can provide cryptic clues – and make sure that the story starts making sense in hindsight. The scenes do not act as spoilers per se, but cautious players may well derive information from them. Getting the balancing act between too cryptic and exposition dump by another means right is one of the impressive aspects of this adventure.

Speaking of impressive: Turns out that Shadankin had a compact with an entity most potent – blowing the horn summons mighty Tudines, a colossal turtle of island-plus-size, but only once every 3 years – so the PCs better make sure their sojourn into the second of the dungeon locales, which is a sealed complex within the inside of the turtle’s shell, matters. The vault of the turtle is the most linear of the dungeons contained in this adventure, and it makes sense – after all, this place is intended as one o safe-keeping. Giant anemones and box jellyfish acting as deadly treasure chests of sorts may be encountered here – and a warning spells doom for the PCs. Indeed, pillaging the vault will incur the sea curse – a switching of minds that is represented in real life by character sheets being cycled. (And if only one PC fails, an alternative is provided.) I really enjoyed this, as, much like a lot in this module, it is systematically designed to generate an experience that emphasizes player skill over that of the character.

Anyhow, with the key from the turtle’s vault in hand, the PCs make off towards the final small dungeon herein, which is situated upon the isle of Lone Ait – a forlorn place, trapezoidal, and wrecked by the forces of nature; the water surrounding the place tainted with oil and tar-like slick. Indeed, in a nice twist on the traditional elemental oppositions, we have an earth-themed dungeon here, with glowing amber spheres, tether balls that may be used by mighty fighter and the like awaiting – the guardians left here, from living tar to special, strange lizards, are not to be trifled with, and a final warning also is left – but in that final room, the sea queen and her handmaidens, gorgeous and in stasis, await. Freeing them, alas, will have them attack as soon as they’re out of immediate danger – turning into the monsters so aptly-depicted on the gorgeous cover. You see, Shadankin and Cealheewhalool once were lovers, and both adepts to the dark and unreliable arts of sorcery; Cealheewhalool was corrupted through and through, while Shadankin was not – thus, he imprisoned his lover, looking for a means to undo the calamity that had befallen his sea-queen. He never returned.

Thus, the queen of sunken Ru languished, until the wards started to fail, initiating the sequence of events depicted in this adventure. Defeating her will make the PCs friends of the sunken nation of Ru, which is depicted in an appendix of sorts, including hex map and currents – while I adore the depiction of the latter on the hex-map, this section also made me cognizant of a few shortcomings – for one, the currents should have strong mechanical repercussions, and the module could have been so much cooler with a bit more underwater action, particularly one enhanced by such cool ideas.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Goodman Games’ two-column b/w-standard, with the b/w-artworks as fantastic pieces throughout; the handouts in particular are great, and the maps are awesome; alas, no player-friendly versions are provided for the maps.

I am a pretty big fan of Michael Curtis’ writing – from his Stonehell mega-dungeon to his more well-known work for Goodman games, he knows what he is doing. In this adventure, I was particularly enraptured by the strength of each of the dungeon-complexes – they all make sense from an in-game point of view, they all have distinct, yet linked themes, and there is not a single boring room to be found herein. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by the adventure. It took me a long time to properly enunciate why that is. I loved pretty much everything, so why didn’t this click in the same way as “Blades Against Death”, for example? In the end, my response has to boil down to one word: Scope. While more actual underwater action would have been nice, I did not expect that, and the module doesn’t need it to be a great experience.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that all of the 3 complexes would have simply deserved more room to shine. All complexes are strong and jam-packed with ideas, generating a sense of a highlight-reel; however, they are done very quickly. They don’t have much time to fully develop their themes and atmosphere, teach the PCs and players their unique traits – they happen, awe your players, and then they’re already over. This is nothing bad per se, and for e.g. a convention, you’ll be hard-pressed to find better modules to drive home the weird/metal-fantasy aspect of DCC. This notwithstanding, with a few more pages, a few more rooms per complex, this could have been a milestone for the ages. As presented, we “only” have a pretty darn good module, bordering on excellence, but not wholly reaching it. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeon Crawl Classics #75: The Sea Queen Escapes
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Thunderscape Vistas: Besieged Village
Publisher: Kyoudai Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/17/2019 12:32:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second Thunderscape Vista clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All righty, we once more begin this supplement with a brief in-character flavor-text before diving into the background, which is a bit simpler this time around: The Darkfall happened, which changed the requirements and realities of village life and what it takes to stay alive. They are fortified by necessity. If you’re familiar with the first Thunderscape Vista, you’ll notice a flip of the amount of text that is provided for general descriptions and those that depict the realities of the sample village within, which would be Syldan. This is a VERY smart move, as villages obviously are much more familiar to GMs. It should btw. be noted that yes, the generalization notes do actually provide some useful advice when introducing such a village and making sure that they make sense in Aden’s context.

As in the first installment, a big draw for the pdf would be the inclusion of a full-color map, and much to my elation, I found a player-friendly version sans annoying, immersion breaking numbers included: Minor complaint: Quarters are named on the map, and in this instance, going wholly description-less would have made the map more useful. As provided, the “Merchant’s Quarter” will now forevermore be that, as it’s written in bold letters on the map. The pond is also clearly labeled as “Syldan’s Pond”, which limits the use of the map essentially to only working as intended for the sample village within.

The pdf does something smart as it proceeds, though: Instead of providing lame, generic sample villager stats, of which most GMs will have an abundance at this point anyways, the pdf instead features a total of 6 different, named NPCs with full statblocks, including two rather awesome full-color artworks. The first of these would be Hannah Arroven, a female ferran panda ranger 7 adopted by the folks in the village at an early, she grew to become the champion of the people. On the plus-side, I never thought I’d say this, but the lean panda-lady looks extremely badass. Her artwork is genuinely amazing. Her statblock, however, is not – she lacks spells and sports a couple of minor formatting snafus. Harril Arroven would be a level 4 half-elven arbiter, and while he had a bitter childhood, he remains a steadfast fighter. Weird: His wife is noted in the header, but no stats are provided. From the context, I assume her to be a noncombatant, but I’m not sure, since the adoptive kinda-dad of Harril, Claudius, is actually fully statted as a human enchanter 9. Alas, as before, the formatting here isn’t as tight as it should be.

Speaking of formatting gone horribly awry: Typhon, once a scholar of forbidden lore now turned into a CR 9 monster, has change shape and similar abilities jammed into his SQs, notes “Pick 23” for languages and, you guessed it, spells or magic items aren’t italicized, but at least properly chosen. This massive formatting snafu really drags down what would otherwise be an impressive BBEG, for his sabertooth tiger shapechanging is as cool and twisted as his per se nice baseline…I just wished the statblock had received a bit of refinement to make it shine properly. Leona, his erstwhile wife, is btw. one of the reasons Typhon has not achieved his goal – the bard 5 is also fully stated. It should be noted that CMD values incorrectly feature a plus before their values. The final NPC would be a wildcard of sorts, with the level 6 rogue Sergei, who is keen to leave the region.

The pdf has a new trait, home guard, which does not specify its trait type, though background seems likely. This one nets you a massive, erroneously untyped +3 bonus to AC while fighting defensively. The pdf also sports a new feat, One of the Pack; this unlocks pack mentality for non-ferrans and nets you a +1 morale bonus to atk and damage when flanking.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are not particularly good, particularly on a formal level. You can run this, but it’s not as smooth as it should be. The full-color artworks are original pieces and GORGEOUS, and layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The cartography is full color and pretty damn neat, and the presence of the player-friendly version is a big plus. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Shawn Carman’s besieged village would per se be an instant recommendation – I liked the NPCs, the map’s cool – what’s not to like? The formatting. It’s really, really bad. To the point where it seriously detracted from my enjoyment of this pdf, where it really hurt this file. My final verdict can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Thunderscape Vistas: Besieged Village
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The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games Inc.
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2019 11:16:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 128 pages; if you detract ToC, editorial, etc., you instead get 124 pages out of this book.

This review was moved up in my review queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book. My review is based on the print copy.

First of all: Don’t be fooled by the cover. Yeah, I know. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Once you flip open the book, however, you’ll be greeted with different aesthetics. But before we get into the nit and grit of this massive book, let’s state something clearly:

Even if you don’t play Castle Falkenstein, this may very much be worth getting. I will elaborate why below, but it is my ardent belief that anyone remotely interested in Da Vinci, steampunk and Jules Vernesian, archaic retro-scifi/punk-components should continue reading. (And yes, let it be known that Castle Falkenstein is about high adventure, and not a game infused with punk aesthetics – this does not change that the ideas herein have universal appeal!)

Why? Well, the first 110 pages of this book? They’re basically one ginormous player handout. You see, the core conceit of this supplement is that Da Vinci, with his superb gifts of observation, was somehow aware of the (theoretical) existence of magick. He made small strides with it, limited by our world’s issues in that regard when directly compared to New Europa – and then, Tom Olam brought the notebooks, by coincidence, to New Europa. Here, these notebooks, deemed lost, could change the very fabric of reality, were their contents made known.

The notebook itself has been encoded and was obviously written in archaic Italian, mirrored, etc. – and as a fun enhancer of the conceit presented, one such page is reproduced before the rest of the book has been decoded by proper magick. As a nice aside – this use or sorcery also accounts for the few anachronisms and odd manners of speech that may be found within. Clever! Throughout the book, the sidebars provide annotations by Tom Olam, Grey Morrolan etc. on Da Vinci’s theses. Structurally, the book is a combination of historical fact 8surprisingly well-researched!), tinted by a bias that can be assumed to represent that of Da Vinci, with events in our Europe providing often the inspiration for the different types of “Ingenium” herein – clever to use that term to differentiate these machines from regular engines.

Now, the lead-in is similarly smart: Da Vinci’s recorded notion of tank-like devices ultimately leads him into the more far-fetched designs for various kinds of ingenium within, and this very much brings me to a component of the book that needs to be praised. From the font to the parchment-like background with its brown sidebars, the book aesthetically really enhances the basic idea of the notebook, but the true benefit? The thing that really hammers home the idea and the illusion of having Da Vinci’s lost notebook in your hands? That would be the illustrations by James Higgins. Each ingenium within features its own Da Vinci-style drawing, and if the text and banter in the sidebars won’t get you inspired to implement these ingeniums, then the glorious drawings will.

So, your players can find the notebooks, what will they find within? Well, for one, one of the most delightful reading experiences I’ve had in a long while in a roleplaying game supplement – the deliberate decision to interject historical commentary in-between the respective ingenium write-ups makes the book read like a blending of a diary and a proto-scientist’s notes, spanning the years of up to 1502. Of course, the test-runs in such a magick-deprived world as ours may result in all manner of at times tragic, at times hilarious consequences for the genius…and the reader gets to share in that.

But why bother with this book, you ask? There are so many books to take inspiration from regarding magical devices out there, so many spells and magic devices/items out there. What’s different here? Well, there is one crucial difference here, and it is entwined with Castle Falkenstein’s magic(k) system.

WAIT. I know. If one thing in the game needs some revision and clarification, it’s the magick system. It is per se inspired and mighty once you understand how to use it, but its presentation has to be labeled as byzantine. However, the system also has one gigantic plus as far as I’m concerned. It explains how magic works. There is an internal logic to the limitations and ways in which magick works within the context the game; unlike many games, the rules focus on explaining the underlying principles by which magic works. Now, combining this very scientific notion of the functionality of magick, deeply ingrained in the game system with the notion of scientific devices innovated by Leonardo Da Vinci, and we have proto-magickal science that feels simply more plausible and grounded than in any other supplement I’ve read so far – it feels like, you know, depictions of magic like the ones you can find in occult literature and the manuscripts of ancient orders. Not a single ingenium stoops to the low of the dreaded “A Wizard Did it!”-syndrome. Instead, this book constantly is making full use of the quasi-mathematical precision and codification that the powerful magical system offers.

This is a subtle notion, but one that is emphasized, time and again, throughout the book, as the annotations and commentary discuss limitations and feasibility of the implementation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs. The combination of the very clever rules underlying Falkenstein’s magic and the conceit of Da Vinci’s design fuse in a perfect way – and it should be noted that reading the book may actually help you understand more intricate components of Falkenstein’s magick.

But what type of ingenium devices may be found within? Well, from earthquake machines to chests that disassemble contents (a kind of copyright-shredder), to devices that force targets to tell the truth to magickal steam engines, from dissolution engines to means to heal creatures of diseases, proto-fridges and the like, many of these are influenced by modern-day conveniences, but their contextualization makes them stand out as distinctly New European. Dimensional barriers, a temporal barrier, etc. – there are plenty of truly cool types of ingenium presented.

But what does that matter if it’s all flavor? Well, that’s the beauty! You see, not all devices are feasible or work as Leonardo envisioned them to; the final section of the book notes the suits, costs, operation and investment required, all in a helpful and concise manner. Similarly, and that is a definite improvement in contrast to the core rules, the rules presented for creating your own ingenium devices are actually very concise, easy to grasp and fun.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column parchment-style standard with brown borders that house the copious annotations for the different chapters. As noted before, the various artworks inside deserve applause – seriously. I can’t fathom why the cover is as comparably unappealing, when the interior of the book is so awesome. The softcover I have is perfect-bound and features the name properly on the spine. As noted before, I can’t comment on the merits of the pdf iteration. Considering the low price point of the print book, I’d recommend that one, but as you know, I tend to prefer dead tree.

Edward Bolme, with the help of Mike Pondsmith and Mark Schuhmann, has crafted a book I thoroughly enjoyed – more so than the other work by Mr. Bolme I’ve read before. Written entirely (yes, even the rules!) in character, this lost notebook not only is a glorious expansion for Castle Falkenstein, it also is a great handout, and, more importantly, the supplement is a genuinely exciting reading experience. I rarely encounter roleplaying books that focus on presenting essentially a new sub-engine for a rules-system that are not a chore to read, and this is the exact opposite – a joy to peruse, and yet another all-time-classic that has aged remarkably well. If the notion even remotely excites you, get this – this book has entertained me more than the entirety of the Da Vinci’s Demons series so far.

Final verdict? Highly recommended, inspiring, 5 stars + seal of approval. Did I mention that we need more Castle Falkenstein? I’d so love to see a new edition, a new game…Hey, perhaps CD Project Red will make that game next after Cyberpunk… one may dream, right?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci
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20 Things #39: Black Dragon's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/15/2019 11:14:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ much-beloved dressing-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin the first page with 12 sample features for a black dragon’s lair – these include fetid pools of swamp water, glutinous mud, tangled curtains of roots, partially melted walls, and sinkholes and rotting trunks – this very much encapsulates the proper, grimy feel of swampy environments. 10 names for male dragons and 10 for female dragons complement the first page. I very much enjoyed this start!

The second page contains 20 dressing features for the dragon’s lair: From acidic smell in the air to dripping, dirty water, there are some nice ones here. I am particularly fond of ethereal-looking mud that may stoke the paranoia of players and PCs alike. Once more, the swamp/black dragon-theme is strong in these. The table of what the dragon is doing represents well the sadism associated with black dragons, as well as their cunning. A few generic entries are here – dragon sorting through hoard, chuckling? Seen that before. Compared to the so far very strong dragon-specific leitmotif, this selection was a bit weaker.

A list of 12 sample sights and sounds may be added to enhance the atmosphere of the dragon’s lair – these include a few different kinds of startling roars, jets of harmless steam, clouds of soot twirling and fake dragon’s eyes shimmering in the dark. The malign nature of the violent red masterminds is well-served here. An entry of 8 things the dragon may be currently doing can be found here. These include sorting through treasure, roasting human corpses slowly on a spear (cool!) or scratching itself. I’d have liked to see more red-specific entries, as e.g., the one where the dragon scratches itself with a wall is one I’ve seen before – and one I don’t consider too suitable for reds.

The pdf features a pretty massive 20-entry treasure and trinket selection, and includes a mechanical wind-up bird with ruby eyes (emerald or onyx imho would have made more sense there, but I’m nitpicking), a set of jade statuettes, blood-spattered tomes, hunting horns sourced from unicorns and the like – generally, I enjoyed this treasure/trinket selection, with its themes in line with the dragon species. 8 worn trinkets include colored mud used to draw strange sigils, eyebrow rings of gold, silver eye-monocles and the like – some nice ones, even though a few more black dragon specific touches would have been neat.

The final page is devoted to a total of 20 entries of hoard dressing, which this time around contains decaying, splintered wood, rotting barrels partially sunk in the floor, strange pyramids containing skulls, channels littered with wanna-be-dragon-slayer bones funnels water from the hoard, jars of honey, and more – these entries close the pdf on a definite high note.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very top-notch. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and, as always, the supplement features two versions – one intended to be printed out, and one for screen-use.

Creighton Broadhurst’s dressing for black dragons manages to eke out that special sense of being very close to the dragon sub-species, while at the same time providing the full arsenal of cool dressing we’ve come to expect. With a stronger, dragon-species specific theme than in previous installments, this delivers a bit more, manages to be more specific – and that’s a good thing. Very few entries herein lack some sort of direct connection to black dragons, rendering this pretty much a success in my book. As such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #39: Black Dragon's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
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Creator Reply:
Thanks very much for the review, End. I much appreciate the effort and time and I'm glad you liked this book!
Trollback Keep
Publisher: The Merciless Merchants
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2019 05:29:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 31 pages of content, not counting cover, editorial, etc.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the adventure. My review is based on the print version; I do not own the pdf-version.

Rules-wise, this game assumes the For Gold & Glory rules-set, which is based on 2nd edition AD&D; as such, conversion to other OSR-rules is not difficult. In case you were wondering: We do get a THAC0, HD-ratings, sizes, morale and the average movement rate for humanoids is set at 9, with small targets instead having 6. All in all, this makes modifying the module for other old-school systems pretty simple.

The book contains a new class – kind of. Essentially, if you’re familiar with how archetypes behave in PFRPG, you’ll have an idea of how the sorcerer class herein operates: It behaves like a regular wizard, save that it operates with a different casting engine. The sorcerer has a mana pool that they use for casting spells, and regain class level mana points per 8-hour rest interval (which means that taking them along will require loooooong resting periods before climactic boss fights – not a fan there. The pool’s size is equal to the number of spells known, which begins at 3 1st level spells. The way in which the increase of mana is handled is simple: If you get the first spell of a new spell level, you add the spell level to the mana pool – gaining the first 7th level spell nets you +7 mana. Any subsequent spell gained for a spell level instead nets you +1 mana point. While this is explained with copious examples that make understanding how it behaves viable, the relative inexperience of the author(s) regarding crunch-design is evident here, as the phrasing is a bit more convoluted and awkward as I like in my rules-language. Unique: Each spell, regardless of spell level, costs one mana point to cast, and the class does not automatically learn to read magic; while learning to do so to start learning new spells is possible, it is a pretty penalized operation. I am particularly fond of a small rules operation – sorcerers see magic; they benefit from detect magic when casting spells. Bonus spells known are governed by Wisdom, while bonus mana is governed by Constitution – the bonus hit points per level also applies to mana. Essentially, we have a character here who can cast longer and harder, but has a less versatile arsenal – the quintessential sorcerer. While not mind-blowing, it is an okay take on the sorcerer concept, but one you can ignore with relative ease.

Now, the main meat of this booklet is devoted to the presentation of the Trollback Keep adventure, which is intended for characters level 4th – 7th, and it is my pleasure to report that it, difficulty-wise, is a harsh mistress of a module, but one that I’d consider to be fair at any of its twists and turns. In many ways, this module is dangerous and potentially deadly, but it does a really good job of telegraphing danger and providing an internally consistent sense of plausibility regarding the things going on. Similarly helpful for the GM: The fact that a sentence in italics tends to highlight the things immediately apparent for a given room.

As far as maps are concerned, we do get solid b/w-maps, though unfortunately, no key-less version with redacted secret doors etc. that you could cut up or use in conjunction with VTTs is provided. Structurally, this is a sandbox – basically a hex-crawl-y wilderness region with a situation described. The players determine how to handle the issues presented, and what component of the module they’ll get to see. It should be noted that magic items are presented in gray boxes, making their rules pop out properly, which is a plus – if your OSR-system of choice presents GP or XP values for them, you will need to improvise these values, though. A general plus: The magic items presented within feel, well, magical. There is for example a pipe that can generate 3/day wall of fog, and also 1/day create a smoke duplicate that you can command to move up to a specific distance away – the latter may not sound like much at first, but it’s one of the tricks that makes clever PLAYERS start thinking, and then use in creative ways – you know, like a good magic item. Want another example? Okay, so PCs can acquire a blade made of amber that has insects inside, which lets you talk to insects, make them attack you last, if at all, and also has a minor healing power. Come on, that’s cool!! These items generally had me more excited than I usually am, so definite plus there!

The module comes with a total of 7 different hooks, plus what I’d consider the main hook, which takes place as the PCs make camp upon entering the mountain valley that acts as the backdrop of this module. Here, Drixell will arrive – a precocious gnome, who shares a tale of woe that is represented, if required, in an appendix. This represents the only text you’d consider to be read-aloud material – the rest of the book assumes that you know how to set the mood, but here, the module should be applauded for the way in which it structures its room entries – monster stats are where they are supposed to be, spells are consistently italicized, magic items consistently bolded, and e.g. traps are similarly bolded, making it easy to run this module. Where it’s sensible, we also have bullet points featured.

The module includes pretty detailed tables for wilderness encounters, and does something I very much enjoy – in the back, you’ll find a massive table of stats by encounter area as a piece of rather comfortable GM-helper. The individual tables also show up in the regular text of the module, obviously, and the end also presents 8 different sample barbarian NPCs, which belong to one of the new humanoid races statted up within.

In order to talk about them, though, I will have to start going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? So, the book provides stats for spriggans and two new monsters, giant olms and zospeums – the latter being snail-huamnoids! And yeah, they can retreat into their shells, are blind, etc. – nice ones. The book also provides a small ecology of sorts for an ethnicity, the Verloren, survivors of an arcane cataclysm that have since turned back to a lifestyle that makes them hard and less reliant on magics – these are the Verloren of the Wolf Clan. I very much enjoyed this write-up, but as a native speaker, I do cringe a bit when reading “Verlorens.” Excuse me as I engage in a bit of linguistic pedantry that will not influence the final verdict: You see, “verloren” means “lost”; “I have lost my keys” – “Ich habe meine Schlüssel verloren”; if you make that a substantive, you’d get “eine Verlorene” for a female verloren, “ein Verlorener” for male verloren, and “die Verlorenen” for the plural equivalent of “the lost”; so “Verlorenen” would be closer to correct in this case. Anyhow, the tribe is actually presented in a pretty cool manner, in that they actually come not only with some flavorful notes, but also with unique rules – bringing them to the brink of death may result in a rather nasty berserker-move that, in a nice change of pace, uses checks instead of saves to operate.

Okay, so far regarding creatures – let’s talk about what this features, shall we? As noted before, a primary angle involved Drixell the gnome, who shares a story of woe. You see, the scarce game in the region? It’s actually due to the predations of the humanoids, who’ve become ever bolder and ever more successful. Originally rallied by a hill giant named Uthog, the humanoids have recently become bolder and better organized. And there’s a reason for that – you see, when Uthog, lazy as he was, relegated the task of leading raids to his underlings, he fueled the ambitions of his warlord Kron Mountainshaker. When the orc was sent to raid Drixell’s home, he saw his chance and forced the gnomes to create manacles, which he then tricked Uthog to take on – now, the erstwhile master and architect of the eponymous Trollback Keep is a prisoner in his own keep, peeing into a chasm, dreaming of revenge, all while Kron awaits the completion of means to also hijack the mind of the hill giant – and thus gain a living siege weapon under his command!

The gnomes have been stalling, but who knows for how long this will work. The second faction that can provide most, but not all of the information, would be the Verloren, who could be rather interesting, if volatile allies against the struggle to conquer Trollback Keep. (In the one somewhat grisly scene herein, the PCs can happen upon verloren females inside the keep, one mad from killing her half-orc offspring, the others pregnant, obviously against their consent at the hands of the orcs – yeah, there’s no doubt that these orc deserve to die…) You see, the keep comes fully depicted in a regular manner – it’s mapped, hunting intervals are explained, as do we learn about guards. How the PCs try to take the keep is totally up to them – this is basically a “take the fortress”-scenario, one that is entirely player-driven, which is certainly something I enjoy.

I mentioned before an above-average sense of plausibility here – this would be encapsulated best in the dungeon (which, while hard to miss, can be missed potentially). You see, the gnomes, honoring their deity, had a shrine erected below where the giant’s fortress now stands. This shrine, focusing on trickery and the abilities of thieves, contains a mighty treasure indeed, but its deadly traps foiled would-be adventurers for years, until no locals ventured inside. Erosion and earthquakes did their part, and indeed, only under Kron’s auspice has the work begun to unearth the shrine. The shrine itself comes as basically a dungeon cut in half – the occupants of Trollback Keep are digging from the entrance, not realizing that the chasm the imprisoned hill giant urinates into also leads below. (An ogre is fyi magically used as forced labor to clear the path, allowing clever PCs to have the brute aid them…)

Drixell and the local gnomes can warn the PCs of the dangers, sure – but when has that ever dissuades adventurers? The way in which the whole sandboxy aspect is set up is really clever – the verloren, for example, could be made more friendly by telling them where that elusive herd of elk has gone. Oh, and there is an awesome monster/magic item here – a braid of hair, which, when its original owner’s name is called, can be used to rope trick…but it can also animate as a nasty lasso that attempts to stow the party away, then close the dimension, trapping them potentially forever! This is easily one of the best spell-in-a-can items I’ve seen in a while.

Indeed, as mentioned before, the need to clear potentially a path into the shrine proper is an angle all too rarely seen; the shrine proper is rather interesting, in that it features plenty of water, cliffs and the like – it’s as non-linear as can get in such a context, and the presence of water lends further plausibility to the whole erosion/changing dungeon angle. The shrine itself deserves applause in that it manages to be challenging (that’s what the dungeon was created for – as a test!) and marries being something deadly not to be taken lightly with the notion of gnomish playfulness. When a magic mouth requires a knock-knock-who’s there-joke to bypass? Yeah, that is gnomish! And the party won’t forget that they’re treading the halls of gnomes – the contrast between the dungeon and keep is not only one of tone, but also of scale – while the keep has been erected with hill giants in mind, the gnomish shrine has obviously been made for gnomes, and is thus pretty cramped. I love this.

Structurally, this creates a tension of two totally conflicting styles – not once does the keep feel playful; it’s a place of grim and brutal savagery, bulky and makeshift, but also grand and imposing; the leitmotif of the shrine, in contrast, is one of cleverness, of dangerous, but also playful challenge. This contrast elevates and emphasizes the two different themes in contrast to each other, and adds a smart way to emphasize the unique nature of each environment. You may not consciously pick this up, but your brain does. It’s a small thing, but it’s surprisingly effective.

Conclusion: Editing on a formal level can be considered to be good – I noticed a few instances where prepositions are a bit awkward, or where multiple sentences started with the same fronted participle, which is not a practice conductive to the reading experience. These remain the exception, though. On a rules-language level, the module fares better – with the exception of the presentation of the per se interesting sorcerer class. The sequence of information presentation here is not exactly simple or intuitive, and considering the fact that this is not the most complex of concepts, this shortcoming becomes extra-obvious. That being said, what’s presented remains functional. Formatting deserves a big round of applause – plenty of old-school adventures tend to be sloppy in that regard, and this isn’t – the formatting conventions have been implemented in a tight and concise manner. Kudos! Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, which, from font used to style of presentation, reminded me of the good modules from the days of yore, with artwork consisting of b/w-pieces I’ve seen before, sure – but they have been chosen in a pretty darn clever manner. The b/w-cartography’s highlight would be the slightly-isometric hexcrawl map of the region itself, which, while it could be a bit more crisp, is really neat. A downside would be that none of the maps come in a version without the map key. Ideally, versions that are player-friendly (sans letters and numbers, and with redacted secret doors) can make for a great enhancer of the playing experience, as you slowly unveil rooms. This also speeds up play, so yeah – I hope that the Merciless Merchants will think about including such maps in the future. As noted, I can’t comment on electronic properties, but my perfect-bound physical copy, with its glossy cover, is nice – I certainly would advise in favor of going print.

For me, the passions of roleplaying games and good food are remarkably similar. I am ever craving new and exciting tastes, the jamais-vu experience of exotic and weird experiences; a new taste like a fusion-cuisine sushi or the like? Heck yeah, I’m on board. Same goes for RPGs – I really love that, after all these years, RPG-supplements can still surprise me. However, I’m no hipster – I love, in equal manner, a well-made staple. Present me with a proper American BBQ or a good steak, and I’ll be just as happy and excited.

In a way, Jon Bertani and Aaron Fairbrook deliver an excellent “steak” here; we are all familiar with the themes and tropes presented here; however, there is a reason you go to a steakhouse and not some run of the mill restaurant; much like a good steak, a good take on classic fantasy is actually much harder to execute well than most people think. Bereft of an exciting elevator pitch concept to hook folks in, the supplement must stand on more subtle virtues like texture. To further the comparison – in the case of Trollback Keep, that would be presentation, consistency, the small things – like fair and plausible traps. Like rewarding player skill over character skill. Or the fact that this really lets the players decide on how to tackle it. Or the fact that an obvious dose of extra love went into all the magic items to make them feel, well, magical.

Now, there is one aspect where the whole comparison admittedly falls apart, and that is a good thing: For, you see, classic fantasy has the issue that it can easily feel stale, redundant, like a “been-there-done-that” sort of thing; this is not the case here. Much like a good seasoning can coax out new dimensions of taste from a steak, so have the authors managed to coax something new from the classic tropes. The juxtaposition of sizes and leitmotifs is one such subtle nuance, the other would lie in the twists employed. Come to think of it, warlord dethroned and enslaved by second in command? GNOMISH shrine that actually managed to feel, you know, gnomish? Think about it. It’s so weird, but I genuinely can’t think of an instance where these particular scenarios have been employed, much less in this constellation. And I’ve read a metric ton of modules.

In a way, Trollback Keep thus constitutes a good and honest classic fantasy module will a slightly dark tint regarding the primary antagonists. This module executes its themes surprisingly well, and makes for a pretty impressive adventure. There is not much to complain about here, and indeed, I consider this to be excellent example of an old-school adventure with a smart and GM-friendly presentation – it feels like a classic module that has taken modern presentation standards on board, that can manage to elicit fun even from jaded veterans. All in all, this can be considered to be a success of an adventure. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up, since the module is closer to the 5 stars than the 4 in my book. If the above even sounds remotely compelling, if you’re looking for a novel module that feels like a classic, check this out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Trollback Keep
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Corrupted Classes
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2019 13:05:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This plug-in for Wrath of the Righteous clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The first part of the pdf deals with so-called “Corrupted classes”, representing once pure targets that have been, in some ways, tainted by the harsh reality of the environment they work in – such as the Worldwound. The first of these would be the anarchist inquisitor, who receives access to mesmerist spells, but requires an (un-) holy symbol to cast them – this replaces monster lore and track. Domain is relegated to 3rd level, and all domain powers behave as though two levels lower, but to make up for that, the anarchist may freely choose domains and subdomains, disregarding deity portfolios, and change a domain or subdomain every 3 levels after 3rd. Minor nitpick: The ability’s header isn’t properly bolded here. Instead of detect alignment, we have a +2 to saving throws vs. divinations, and alignment may only be discerned if the CL exceeds inquisitor levels by 4 or more. At 3rd level, we replace solo tactics and 3rd 6th and 9th level’s teamwork feats with the graffiti ability, which is powered by judgment expenditure, but otherwise does not follow its rules. A graffiti is essentially an at-will arcane mark. Optionally, as a full-round action, a judgment use may be used to create enhanced graffiti, which defames a target, imposing a Charisma penalty on the target when interacting with creatures that can see the graffiti. The penalty scales, and duration may be enhanced by expending more judgment uses. Additionally, later, graffiti may duplicate glyphs of warding, that instead of holding a spell, either demoralize or alter a creature’s attitude. At 9th level, we then get the fully functional magic graffiti that can convey mind-affecting effects. Discern lies is replaced with class level rounds of detect charm per day, with said spell (hyperlink here not italicized) and suppress charms and compulsions added to spells known. The teamwork feats usually attained at 12th, 15th and 18th level are replaced by the ability to expend judgments to generate a potent and longer lasting variant of song of discord –proper riot instigation, essentially. 17th level nets immunity to mind-affecting divinations and compulsions instead of slayer. Really cool archetype here!

The Black Mage kineticist archetype is pretty out there – you first need to have the dark elementalist AND elemental annihilator archetypes to even contemplate taking this one – yep, it’s a third archetype stacked atop of the two! The black mage may freely choose on whether to use Intelligence or Constitution to determine the damage caused by wild-talents, the DCs and durations of Constitution-based wild talents, bonus on concentration checks and other class-related effects – this may be done freely and is NOT an action. The archetype nets two feats at first level, the first of which would be Burning Thunder of Omnikinesis. This one lets you choose to take a -40 penalty to Stealth, as you emit light like a sunrod. This feats also locks you into using it whenever you gather power, and it may not be used in social identity, if available through e.g. Incredible Hidden Power. When this feat is active and you use a feat, trait, wild talent, kinetic blast or kineticist class ability that deals one of the 4 core elemental damage types, you may freely opt to choose one of the other 3 damage types instead as a swift action, changing the descriptor, if anything, of the effect. Non-damaging effects remain unchanged, unless the changed energy type invalidates them, subject to GM’s discretion – and this is the key sentence here that prevents this feat from being ridiculously overpowered. That and the daily use cap of 3 + wild talent-governing key ability modifier. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a VERY strong option, but this caveat does indeed eliminate a lot of the tricks you can usually execute with blasts.

The second feat gained at 1st level would be Heir to Power Unstable, the single longest feat I’ve read so far…wait…do you also have a déjà-vu? Yep, this was originally featured in Occult Archetypes II. HOWEVER, close reading of the two actually yields an interesting observation – the feat as presented in this book, while still providing various unique effects depending on elemental focus, etc., has actually been changed in comparison – what previously caused bleed damage, for example, now causes animals and non-sentient animals to attempt to leave the area. The feat has been retooled, to the point where I consider it to be a flavorful and action economy-wise powerful option, and one that I’d allow in my campaign. Pleasant surprise! On the downside, this feat mentions rage or bloodrage in the prerequisite lines – both of which do not belong there.

I already mentioned Incredible Hidden power, another feat that makes a return here – this one also mentions rage/bloodrage, but here, it makes sense – the feat has been expanded, and in case you don’t remember it, it basically nets you a seamless guise/dual identity akin to the vigilante, with themagical child’s transformation sequence. It makes you social identity meeker, and the feat does scale at higher levels, with this book’s iteration also adding in a rage/bloodrage-interaction: These class features are not available per se in social identity, but may be used to tap into e.g. rage powers at increased costs, allowing for an interesting additional multiclass support-angle. The feat also provides a means to Bluff targets regarding your spellcasting in social identity, which, while something I appreciate concept-wise, would have been better off in another feat – this one already does A LOT, and this aspect imho is a bit overkill.

But I digress – let’s return to the black mage archetype. At 1st level, the character gets a masterwork staff that automatically rejuvenates if destroyed or lost upon resting, and that staff is required to use any supernatural kineticist abilities. The staff does not count as an occupied hand fo the purposes of kineticist class features, and all black mage’s wild talents are considered to be arcane, divine and psychic – all effects that resist one of the three are applied to all spells and supernatural effects a black mage uses as a kind of balancing drawback. Black mages only inflict half damage on undead or living creatures with negative energy affinity, and they may never gain kinetic healer. The black mage does not gain internal buffer, but is treated as having it for the purpose of the Force-Focusing Oath feat. This feat, alas, is still missing its prerequisite line. Kudos for the layout of Absorb Violent Energies, another feat from Occult Archetypes II – its presentation in this iteration is cleaner.

Black mages also are treated as having the Craft Wondrous item feat and a CL equal to character level, but only for the purpose of making a lich’s phylactery. While we’re on the subject matter of kineticist options, let us discuss some of the other feats within, shall we? By Blackest Ink lets you read scrolls and cast arcane spells from them at class level -4, and lets you use UMD to decipher them instead of Spellcraft – without read magic. (Spell-reference not italicized); the feat also nets you a scaling Intelligence bonus boost for the purpose of determining the spell levels you can cast from scrolls, which is pretty clever. Initiate of Thanatokinesis builds on By Blackest Ink, and nets you limited access to necromancy SPs, with burn costs – the feat may be taken multiple times, may not be used in sunlight, and is pretty damn cool.

Fierce Fiendish Brilliance allows you to BOTH be an Elemental Ascetic and gain the Dark Elementalist archetype, with free choice between Intelligence and Wisdom regarding the determination of what acts as key ability score modifier. This may be taken as a faith trait for adherents of evil deities, which makes sense, considering that it’s basically a multiarchetyping enabler – and before you scream that this is still too potent, if taken this way, it does come with a pretty extensive set of limitations and modifications. I liked this.

The pdf also contains 2 vigilante archetypes – the gore fiend is a vigilante with an evil vigilante identity; the archetype loses vigilante specialization and instead gets a bite attack, and damaging targets nets viscera points – these may be used to enter unchained barbarian-style rages and select rage powers, with higher levels providing the means to auto-cannibalize. Viscera may be used at higher levels for limited healing etc. Kudos: No kittens were harmed during the making of this archetype, i.e. you can’t cheese it by eaten harmless, cute animals. Rot Fiend is a feat for the gore fiend, which lets you gain viscera from undead. I like this one. Hellion vigilantes are the damned that have somehow escaped – they have one last chance at redemption (or existence) and may use hellfire. Annoyingly, this one of the archetypes that still hasn’t learned that there is no such thing as profane damage in PFRPG, which pretty much immediately disqualifies it for me. They use this make-believe energy type to enhance weapons, curse targets, etc. – nothing remarkable, and frankly, not worth the hassle of being riled up about the damage type.

The order of the blood knight cavalier order, on the other hand, is pretty cool: Unable to grant mercy, these fellows are bleeding specialists and can hijack the healing of challenge targets and cause bleeding to those nearby. Nasty and neat. The riven medium essentially gets a variation of dual identity that focuses on personality traits and alignment instead, representing compartmentalized component of nasty psychological traits. The archetype can tap into this power and manifest it to enhance spells to e.g. deal bleed damage, and being in mortal danger may see this personality surface. This does render the character more susceptible to evil effects, but we have DR and DC-increases to make up for this. Really enjoyed this engine-tweak with its unique roleplaying angle.

There are two class options presented for characters holding strong to their ideals, the first of which would be the grail knight paladin, who gets to choose an outsider subtype to detect, as though with detect demons, and may detect the chosen subtype via detect evil. This replaces third level’s mercy. Divine health is replaced with the Worldwound counting as favored terrain and immunity to the tainted plague. Channeling is tweaked to heal good and harm evil outsiders, and smite evil’s 4th, 10th and 16trh level uses are replaced with a favored enemy style passive boost versus the chosen evil outsider. Divine bond is replaced with the ability to designate a forged, holy cup as a grail-simulacrum,, which can enhance healing. Its duration may also be expended in a rather wide variety of ways that include SPs, anointing weaponry, etc. Mercy-synergy is also provided with it, and divine bond is relegated to 9th level, with the same level also enhancing attacks versus the chosen outsiders. All in all, one of the better nemesis-style archetypes.

Moon howlers are summoners with diminished spellcasting and a quadruped eidolon resembling a moon dog, with an obviously modified summon monster list. The archetype loses (greater) shield ally and merge forms with the ability to lick the wounds of targets, healing them with scaling effects, and the (greater) aspect as well as maker’s call and transposition abilities are replaced with a scaling array of howl-based supernatural effects that are balanced via a hex-caveat and and the use of summon monster SPs as a limited resource.

A massive section of the pdf is devoted to so-called cursed archetypes that begin play impoverished and with a minor penalty to saves, but also skill boosts and some spells added to spell list. Druid, shaman, bloodrager, kineticist, investigator, medium, mesmerist, occultist, psychic, sorcerer, spiritualist, sumnmoner and witch are provided, and oracle curse would be a leitmotif that may be found here, with the druid becoming a spontaneous spellcaster and gaining a witch patron being the most pronounced modification here – this is essentially an engine-tweak chapter, and one that I generally enjoyed.

Now, I’ve already touched upon quite a few of the feats from said chapter, but I should also mention the one that makes you a survivor of aforementioned tainted plague (which is btw. statted for your edification as a hazard); it is, alongside Thrallborn, Warped Mind and Twisted Flesh, one of the feats that basically help contextualize a character’s starting angle,as they are 1st-level only feats.

Blazing Bolts Against the Darkness requires being a Gray Paladin, but allows for the taking of divine hunter as an archetype as well; and with Oathbound, you can have further multiclass synergy with classes like slayer, inquisitor or gunslinger (if you have Mysterious Stranger). Dark Forces Adept would be another multiclass enabler, allowing you to use arcane pool, grit, ki, panache or touch of corruption interchangeably, and also nets some SPs with these resources. It should be pretty evident that this allows you to escalate resources fast – I’m not a fan, and would relegate this to NPCs only. (Granted, it’s only for non-good characters, but still…) Comprehend the Corrupted is narrative gold and allows you to determine whether someone would be swayed to your side, the motivations of the target, etc. Cruel Kiss of Thunder is a massive feat for antipaladins, druids or cityskin warlocks with the proper domains and feats, netting you cantrips, the modification of touch of corruption to deal half electricity damage and inflict bonus conditions, and also synergy of domains and bloodlines. Thrashing Heart of the Shockwave builds on that and nets you the Dark Force Adept feat as well as a further synergy there.Sorcerous Damnation provides a similarly complex operation, providing a crossover between Eldritch Heritage and antipaladin abilities. Fiendfoe is a bland anti-evil-outsider feat to identify them better and deal more damage to them. Not a fan. Flesh of Many Skins is a really cool wild shape tweak that lets you quickly change shapes and nets you partial swarm traits due to your rapidly-shifting proto-bestial form – however, this does also make you susceptible to AoE attacks. Redeemed Scoundrel nets you a couple of skill bonuses and two rogue class skills or a rogue talent.

There are also two complex feats for Pazuzu-adherents – Senses of the Shrike and Awareness of Dark Winds, which make you aware of your title/name being uttered, with such fools also suffering from you getting bonuses, treating them as studied target or favored enemy, and you may denote them as quarry; oh, and you may eat such fools to know when they first heard or read your name. This can make for a truly frightening, awesome villain. Love them! Warp Sense makes you potentially aware of teleportation and allows you to prevent teleportation-based ambushes. Useful one!

The pdf features two magic items – razor claw guards and razor mouthguard, which basically net you pseudo-natural attacks that may enhanced as a whole. Decent, but not mind-blowing.

The final section deals with feats based on a new one – Bright-Burning Super-Sanity, which requires that you can accept Burn. It allows you to mitigate Burn by one or more points, but when you do, you roll on a d20 table – these may entail becoming super-honest, a random phobia, language-loss, etc. – a phobia and obsession table is provided as well. One issue: I think defining “Mind Burn” would make sense - I don’t think I know what that’s supposed to be. I assume Burn applying to a mental ability score. The feats building on this allow for rolling twice (or choosing a 16), and the second lets you also roll a d8, gaining one of 7 (is there one missing?) effects. The 7th effect also lacks italics in the header, and a spell-reference is not italicized here.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a rules language and formal level are good, though not as good as usual for Legendary Games – there are quite a few missing formatting components (such as spell-references) and quite a few class feature-references that are nonstandard; considering the density of the rules presented here, those can make thing slightly more challenging for the user than they need to be. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the Wrath of the Righteous plugins (personally, my least favorite of LG’s layout templates so far), and the pdf sports a variety of full-color artworks that will be familiar to fans of LG. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Clinton Boomer, Jason Nelson, Carl Cramér, N. Jolly and Julian Neale are all veterans that regularly feature among my higher rated design supplements, and it shows here – the supplement juggles exceedingly complex concepts, and Clinton Boomer’s feats, which while always awesome, sometimes blow past the realms of the sensible, have remained more grounded this time around. The multiclass enhancing for character class combos is generally appreciated, and the archetypes (with the exception of the sucky hellion) tend to be pretty amazing and conceptually interesting. All in all, I consider this to be an interesting and fun expansion, one with a few filler feats that particularly stand out next to Clinton’s complexity-monsters, but nonetheless a book with a strong focus, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Corrupted Classes
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Starfarer Adversaries: Invader War Machine
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2019 13:03:50

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

Okay, so first thing – the invaders are not classified or codified, leaving them a mystery for the GM, which is a nice plus. It should also be noted that the builds make use of material from Starfarer’s Companion, but, as a huge plus, don’t require the use of the book – the special ability of the war machines referencing a spell has all relevant effects stated.

The invader war-machines within come in three classes: At CR 6, at CR 10 and at CR 14. From low to high CR, we have the scout-class, the assault class and the destroyer class. The builds use the combatant array. The war machines are technological constructs, and the latter two have a special ability invested to increase their saves by +1. The destroyer class’s base kick attack is off by 1 unless I’m sorely mistaken; it should be +25. The machines also seem to have counted Perception as a good skill granted by the array, when Perception is bestowed generally as a free good skill; consider that these are machines, I can get behind the choice to make the skill count towards the skill maximum here. I am a bit puzzled that all of the war machine’s attacks use the low attack column’s value as a base, though. Multiattack options have been properly implemented.

On a nice side, the critters do include unique signature abilities, namely the option to grab targets and stuff them into a prisoner cage – escape from these is properly noted (though “full-round” as a duration for attempted checks should probably instead refer to “full action”); prisoners may be used by the war machines as a kind of living battery, affecting them with vampiric touch – this would be aforementioned spell, and the effects, namely negative energy damage and healing of the war machines, are covered properly. The destroyer class war machine also emits toxic clouds as a reaction, which can nauseate those nearby when they have consumed 4 CR or more. This can be a tad bit wonky. Nice: A Small sidebar provides some suggestions for default prisoners.

It should be noted that the artwork comes in a one-page, handout-style version – neat!

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

Jacob E. Blackmon shows that he can not only draw cool artworks, he can also design some nice critters. The invader war machines are interesting and solid – not exactly world-shaking, sure, but they are fun and a nice addition if you need some nasty technological harvesters for your Mass Effect style invasion or similar storylines. Considering the low and fair price-point, I consider this to be worth checking out. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer Adversaries: Invader War Machine
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Star Log.EM-061: Zoomer Options
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2019 06:07:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

This being an expansion for the Zoomer base class, I obviously assume familiarity with the class in this review.

After a brief bit of contextualizing the zoomer, we dive right in with new zoomer stunts. The pdf presents 8 different ones that may be taken at 2nd level. The first one is already pretty interesting in its execution – it halves the time required to take 20, and allows you to execute skill checks that require 2+ rounds in half the time. This may not sound like much, but it can mean the difference between death and survival. Extra kudos: The stunt accounts for social skills – since they are contingent on talking and not supernaturally quick thinking, these are exempt. Agile charge allows you to charge through difficult terrain, and also makes the target of your charge lose eligibility to an AoO when you charge it.

Broken Delay is anything but – it is a genuinely cool trick that’ll make the zoomer feel more novel: When you delay, you may do so at any point during your turn, even after taking actions. If you come out of delay, you only have the remaining actions upon going into delay. This is kept in check by requiring a rest of Resolve Point expenditure to use it again. This one imho warrants getting the pdf all on its own. Devastating momentum adds ½ class level to the damage output of your small arms or operative weapons when using a move action or charging as a full action. When firing a weapon in a vehicle chase, you roll twice and use the better result, providing the vehicle moved its speed or more. Cool! Fast fingers lets you grab or retrieve unattended or stowed/stored items as a swift action. You can’t do so if it would usually require a standard action or more, and it requires having the Quick Draw feat nice. (As an aside: There is a stunt that, bingo, nets you Quick Draw.)

Lock and load lets you reload a small arms or melee weapon with the operative and powered special properties as part of moving your speed – once more, you can’t do so if this would take longer than a standard action. Smooth piloting reduces your vessel-based Piloting penalty if moving at full speed; and yes, this has star ship relevant repercussions accounted for as well!

At 8th level, we have 7 more stunts for the zoomer: Confounding speed. When you move at least 10 feet and attack a target, the opponent must succeed on a Perception check; on a failure, they become flat-footed against all of the zoomer’s attacks until next turn. This also has extra benefits for vehicles and star ships! Now, as a minor nitpick, the stunt does not specify a DC here, which means you default to the default DCs – this is not bad, mind you, as the DCs are pretty sensible and reflect well the intention of the stunt, but explicitly stating such would have prevented less rules-savvy individuals being puzzled there for a second – to make that clear, this does not make you invisible or anything, but it makes skirmishing much more viable..

Gust lets you leave a blast of water or wind in your wake when charging , running or withdrawing – this can render targets prone or off-kilter (in zero-G) on a failed Reflex save. The stunt costs 1 Resolve Point, and being extraordinary, does not conjure forth water or air, as such being contingent on environmental factors. Maneuvering charge lets you combo charges with a maneuver chosen via Improved Combat Maneuver, and it has grapple synergy, which is nice. Minor nitpick: This should specify that it has Improved Combat Maneuver as a prerequisite, otherwise it doesn’t do jack RAW. A synergy with the racing attack class feature would have been prudent here as well, as that one doesn’t require the feat. Reactive dodge lets you use your reaction for a +4 dodge bonus to AC, but renders you off-target. Nice. Run for cover is not only one of my favorite Project Pitchfork tracks, it also allows you to move zoom dash distance as a reaction to move out of AoE effects, which is great – however, you better know your distances, for if you still end up in it, you incur a penalty to Reflex saves. I love this, as it emphasizes PLAYER skill over character skill. Parquor has rules for charging through blocked or movement slowing places and creatures – cool!

Temporal recall requires a rest and Resolve expenditure to use again, but oh boy. It lets you chronically affix your position and condition, and then, for 3 rounds, you may recall that state as a reaction. This is very strong, but also absolutely brilliant and super-exciting regarding what you can do with it. Love it!

The pdf also offers 4 stunts that are unlocked at level 14 for the taking: Accelerated analysis lets you either roll a d20 twice and take the higher result, or reroll a check, depending on whether you pay the Resolve cost before or after you roll. Love it! (And yep, this requires accelerated acumen.) Bamboozling speed builds on confounding speed and makes it apply to all targets threatened during movement, which is brutal, but also very much iconic. Blinding speed also builds on confounding speed and requires 1 Resolve Point to use, but adds the insult of being blinded to the injury of being flat-footed or off-kilter. It also explicitly allows you to hide in conjunction with the stunt – and yep, at this level, this type of stratagem is well-placed. Splintered time, finally, expands the iconic broken delay ability mentioned before. This one lets you spend Resolve Points when coming out of delay to regain actions – the costs are steep and a bit nova-y, but the tricks you can pull off with this? Oh yeah!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level – apart from one talent not listing an obvious prerequisite as a courtesy to players with limited system mastery, I am bereft of stuff to truly complain about. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with a nice artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this point.

David N. Ross doesn’t hit one homerun, to speak in a baseball-metaphor, but a whole series of them as far as I’m concerned. This is a true must-own supplement for anyone wishing to play a speedster class. The potent, but sensible options for the zoomer class ooze awesomeness on every turn; from emphasizing player agenda to actually presenting meaningful skirmishing tricks and means to influence action economy, this humble pdf exemplifies how damn awesome a small expansion for a class can potentially be. I liked the zoomer before – now, I love it. 5 stars, seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2019. Seriously, if you’ve been on the fence about the zoomer before, get the class, get this pdf, and start grinning. This is absolutely inspired!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-061: Zoomer Options
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20 Things #33: Red Dragon's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2019 06:06:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Raging Swan Press‘ much-beloved dressing-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, we begin the first page with 12 sample features for a red dragon’s lair – these include billowing clouds of scalding steam, partially melted walls, and splintered and scorched bone piles. Odd: The glitch from the white dragon installment is replicated in a different entry here: Entry #5 states “As #5, but the…” – that should be “As #4…” Black rock shot through with livid, hot veins and 8 names for male dragons and 8 for female dragons complement the first page. Kudos where kudos are due – not one of these entries is generic, all have a distinct red dragon theme.

The second page contains 12 minor features of dressing for the dragon’s lair: Interesting here: Giants corpses LACKING fire damage (what does that mean?), soot and flakes of ash littering the area fissures in broken walls, and trophies (giant and draconic skulls) add a sense of serious unease here. 8 distinguishing marks setting the dragon apart are provided – including eyes that literally burn with avarice, pockmarked wings full of holes, swept-back horns atop a sinuous neck – some nice ones. I’d have liked to see a slightly stronger emphasis on red dragons, but the write-up does include descriptions that are in line with several iconic red dragon renditions over the years.

A list of 12 sample sights and sounds may be added to enhance the atmosphere of the dragon’s lair – these include a few different kinds of startling roars, jets of harmless steam, clouds of soot twirling and fake dragon’s eyes shimmering in the dark. The malign nature of the violent red masterminds is well-served here. An entry of 8 things the dragon may be currently doing can be found here. These include sorting through treasure, roasting human corpses slowly on a spear (cool!) or scratching itself. I’d have liked to see more red-specific entries, as e.g., the one where the dragon scratches itself with a wall is one I’ve seen before – and one I don’t consider too suitable for reds.

The pdf features a pretty massive 20-entry treasure and trinket selection, which includes a giant-sized two-handed sword, blobs of precious metals molten together, raven-shaped brooches of obsidian and the like. Carvings of cresting waves and birds wheeling atop a sail ship, though, seemed rather odd and misplaced to me, though that may be an intentional attempt to go against the cliché. A couple of these entries could have used a stronger tie-in to the red dragon as far as I’m concerned. As before, the pdf provides a table of 8 entries that sport specific dressing habits – these are pretty darn cool this time around, and include the dragon having bathed in molten gold, signet rings speaking of noble champions long ago vanquished and a missing eye replaced with a gleaming blue gem – really cool entries here!

The final page is devoted to a total of 20 entries of hoard dressing, including moldering remains that would be more suitable for black or green dragons. Burned flesh in cages struck me as more sensible here. While this is a strong table per se with some cool ideas, its focus is more generic than I’d have liked to see here – many of these entries could work for any dragon, not just reds.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and, as always, the supplement features two versions – one intended to be printed out, and one for screen-use.

Creighton Broadhurst’s dressing for red dragons is imho slightly superior to the white dragon entry – it manages to evoke a stronger sense of identity for the reds, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel like there could have been a stronger tie-in with the nature of evil sovereigns and the quintessential master of flame here. This is a good dressing file well worth the asking price, but doesn’t quite reach the level where I’d adjust my rating – this is also a 4 star dressing file.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
20 Things #33: Red Dragon's Lair (System Neutral Edition)
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Creator Reply:
Thank you for the review, End. Much appreciated! I'm glad you liked the book, but sorry I didn't sneak that fifth star!
Invasive Procedures
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/09/2019 06:54:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure for Fear Itself clocks in at 86 pages if you take away the editorial, ToC, etc., and the module was written for the first edition of the Fear Itself game. The adventure comes with rudimentary conversion notes for Trail of Cthulhu. It should be noted that my review is based on the softcover version of the supplement – I do not own the electronic iteration of the supplement. If you’re playing this module in conjunction with Fear Itself’s second edition, expect to do some conversion work, as this adventure obviously has medical themes, and 2nd edition provides some expansion there. If none of the PCs have such skills, this obviously is not an issue.

The module comes with 5 pregens, which work well in conjunction with the module, but unlike many GUMSHOE-scenarios, the adventure works actually very well when used within the frame of an ongoing campaign – it works rather well with characters other than the pregens. A slight bummer: We do not receive any cartography – personally, I suggest getting some hospital floor plans and/or merging the Silent Hill-series’ hospital plans for the purpose of the like.

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

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! This module take’s place with the PCs recuperating from a serious injury of some sorts in the old and somewhat remote “Our Lady’s Hospital” – should the characters be agents of e.g. OV, the presence of Dr. Clifford Drake, a world-renowned surgeon, makes for a great reason for them to be in this particular hospital.

How to handle flashbacks of being injured and the like is properly explained, and indeed, the module does an EXCELLENT job regarding its premise – as badly wounded as they are, getting out of bed costs the PCs one Health Point; similarly, stressful activity imposes the same tax. A full rest replenishes 4 Health, while an interrupted night only provides 2 Health Points. The hospital staff, fully detailed, is kind – though the module wastes no time: A patient breaks into the PC’s room – obviously mad, babbling and attacking the PCs, babbling about in German, for example, missing testicles. While the madman is retrained, the staff thereafter is properly apologetic. All seems as well as the initial shock may make it.

The module takes its time, building up a sense of anxiety, with the next day providing consultation, and the means to notice that the German lecturer from the previous night, Gavin Langley, seems to have met a nasty fate…provided the PCs are smart. If they botch this, then no problem – the module cranks up the tension in the next night.

You see, at night, the hospital turns into a Silent Hill-ish hellscape, with none other than the Practice in charge. What’s that? Think of them as Anti-Hippocrates doctors, morticians and nurses, transcendent beyond the confines of mortal life, turned into Outer Dark entities. PCs are overpowered, and dragged towards a painfully, horrible operation – this turns one character into someone with both sets of reproductive organs, internally, and there is a scar on the forehead…while another is missing an eye. Indeed, the Practice has turned on PC into The Eye. The scar on the forehead hides a not-yet-healed third eye that allows the user to see auras…but that will only slowly become apparent.

The hospital’s conveniently cut off from the rest of the world, with the somewhat grotesque porter as a strange foil for particularly clever PCs. Still, the daylight hospital is an example of almost painful normalcy as the PCs, probably increasingly panicked, proceed with their investigation. A second nightly operation will remove finger-bones from one character, replacing them with plastic, while creating a second, grotesquery, the Hand. This PC will be capable of using a limited (and painful) telekinesis. The visit of the Hospital’s overseer provides no respite – but at night and day, the PCs have hopefully at this point put the clues together.

You see, Dr. Drake has had a troubled career: Brilliant, but troubled, his career flatlined, hardcore, due to his erratic mood-swings. Dr. Drake is suffering from a split personality, with his more psychotic personality hell-bent on joining the Practice – the means to do so extracted with the help of the by-now dead German lecturer. The task of the Riddle of Flesh is complex: In one PC, there is a bezoar-like tumorous growth – this growth contains the key that provides the sole means for the PCs to escape the hellish version of the hospital at night. Drake will confront them, or they will find him – but here, we have another great thing: You see, while Drake was tainted and abused by the Practice, he’s the best chance of the PCs to retrieve the bezoar: The PCs will need to use the Eye to see the bezoar, the Hand to extract it. And yes, this can be very lethal to the poor sod with the bezoar. Drake is the PC’s best shot to perform the operation – while his regular persona is in command.

Escaping together is the best course here; for, to become a member of the Practice, Drake must die. If the PCs kill him, they actually transform him, and get a truly nightmarish and dangerous final confrontation with the ascended Drake – and of course, there’d be the issue of having earned the enmity of the Practice’s potent members…

The book does reprint the whole entry on the Practice from the Book of Unremitting Horror, just fyi.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with a couple of really awesome b/w-pieces included. The book has no maps, which is a comfort-downside, as far as I’m concerned. I can’t comment on electronic features, but the softcover book is nice.

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan provides a genuinely awesome and truly creepy horror-adventure here. From body horror to a sense of reality breaking down, “Invasive Procedures” hits all the right spots. The NPC-cadre is nuanced, the investigation streamlined, yet challenging, and the resource-management game of Health adds further tension to the adventure. In short: This hits all the right spots.

This is creative, genuinely frightening and an all-out successful adventure that made me wish the author had written more Fear Itself and Esoterrorists material. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Invasive Procedures
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