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Starfarer's Arsenal: Laser Grenades
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2019 05:02:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

What’s more awesome than blowing foes up with grenades? Laser grenades!

This pdf introduces 4 types of laser grenade: Excimer laser grenades cause targets that fail their saving throw vs. explode to also burn; discs are easier to throw; x-ray grenade ignore cover from objects with hardness 21 or more or force effects, and also cause burn – but pay for that by causing less damage. Pulse grenades have the new pulse weapon feature – which must always be paired with explode. It does damage immediately, and again at the end of your next turn – you can turn the second pulse off, if you choose to…and picking it up might allow capable Engineering-savvy characters to prevent the secondary pulse.

There is one grenade for every one of the 20 item levels, with three types of x-ray laser grenades, 4 types of excimer and pulse grenades, and 5 regular types of laser grenade.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres toRogue Genius Games’ two-column full-color standard for the series, and the artwork depicting the laser grenade? Love it. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Owen K.C. Stephens delivers big time here – I mean, come on, the concept of laser grenades might not be scientifically-viable, but for a science-fantasy game like Starfinder? For that, it’s pitch-perfect and oozes coolness. The design of the grenades regarding prices, damage caused, etc. is meticulous, and pulsing grenades? Great addition that can really lead to tense scenes. Considering the low price point, this pdf delivers more than I dared hope for from it. 5 stars + seal of approval – highly recommended for any Starfinder game!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Starfarer's Arsenal: Laser Grenades
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The Corwyn Catacombs
Publisher: Magnificent Creations
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2019 05:01:29

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The freshman offering by Magnificent Creations clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the adventure; the print copy is saddle-stitched, uses matter paper for the cover and thick, glossy paper inside, and generally feels professional in its presentation. I have also consulted the pdf-version for this review.

Okay, so the module is nominally set on the continent of Tyllia – a part of the continent’s map is included in the appendix, including a table that lists the respective deities, their alignment, symbol and domains; species like dragonborn etc. are also contextualized, noting the most likely geographical origin, as well as “Your character might be from…” The implied setting has a couple of interesting notions, such as a Witcher-esque “humans are relatively new” angle or the Warhammer-like notion of orcs (called “Aurx” here) being able to subsist on photosynthesis and being pretty civilized. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but a promising step away from the defaults.

Cool: The module does not only adhere to 5e-formatting conventions properly, it also explains them to the reader/GM. Indeed, this does extend to the presentation of the two new monsters herein – apart from a blank space missing consistently between e.g. “60” and “ft.”, a true nitpick, granted. However, the statblocks do sport a couple of peculiarities that bear mentioning: For one, proficiency bonus is explicitly listed, which is not usually something you do; this might be chalked up to the nature of these monsters, though – as we’ll see below, there could be a justification at play here based on narrative, one that explains why they have a higher proficiency bonus than usual for their challenge rating. Unfortunately, this excuse ceases to work once we get to skills, saving throws and passive Perception: With a +0 Wisdom modifier and a +4 proficiency bonus, I can’t fathom how you arrive at passive Perception 11. Similarly, even if we’d assume double proficiency bonus as an option, an Intelligence saving throw of +7 does not check out for +0 Intelligence modifier and a +4 proficiency bonus. Same applies for spell save DCs. I am also not happy with an attack being called “chill touch”, when it has a range of 120 ft. That’s a bad ability name, as it sounds like the spell – and I assume that that’s what it’s supposed to be, but I’m not sure. When one looks at the default stats, spells are usually not formatted this way. Damage and hit points in 5e also round down, not up, which means that the average damage values of the creature are off by one. As for spell attacks: They oddly seem to be using Strength as governing ability score to determine their atk, which is not how things are done in 5e. One of the new creatures has Multiattack and two attack options – a Slam and Touch of Death. The latter is vastly superior to the former, which is why I’d assume that a substitution clause, such as in the chimera’s statblock, would have been appropriate here. Finally, monster-HD-dice in 5e are tied to size, so a Medium creature with d6 HD is incorrect. So yeah, as well-executed as the formatting etc. is, the monster statblocks are not up to par.

On the other hand, the 4 new magic items included are nice, and include one particular item that grants additional powers when more items of its set are found; the capstone ability for this set is artifact-plus-level strong, and obviously is intended more for story/capstone purposes – while it does not feature in this module, it is nice to have as an idea. The book also features a nice “Wanted!”-poster (no mugshot)-style handout, which is presented as a nice jpg as well in the print version. Odd: There is an artwork showing a letter that the party can find, but said letter is not presented as a handout. Struck me as weird, considering that the artwork is already here.

The adventure per se is a pretty straightforward exploration of a linear dungeon, but it does sport more than one theme and has more to offer than just combat. Difficulty-wise, this probably won’t result in TPKs if your players are halfway smart. The module is intended for 4 to 5 4th level characters, and can be completed in one session, as advertized. The map of the complex explored herein is functional, focusing on room-dimensions and not including statues or specific features. It also lacks a scale noted. Additionally, there is no player-friendly map to copy, cut up, and hand out as the party explores, or for use in Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, etc. That’s a bummer for me, as I do hate drawing maps and REALLY suck at it. Plus, being able to hand out the map just speeds up the game so much. Finally, it should be noted that the adventure does come with read-aloud text, and a big plus would be that NPCs like smiths, bartenders, etc. get sections mentioning their appearance, mannerisms & personality and motivation – kudos there! Information design is also above average, with bullet-pointed lists allowing the GM to precisely and quickly get a grasp on treasure etc.

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 GMs around? Great! So, the plot of this adventure is a basic “Timmy fell down the well”-scenario – the party is asked to save the boy Hector on behalf of his cartwright mother, as he is prone to wandering too close to the taboo catacombs. Another party has recently vanished there, and once the party arrives, things seem to be pretty straightforward: The first couple of rooms depict the squalid and impromptu home of a small goblin tribe in exile, including their bugbear chief – this is, alas, where the information design, otherwise precise, becomes obtuse: You have to deduce the amount of goblins actually present and available from the read-aloud text, and no helpful bolding is presented to quickly parse the information. “Handful” is also not exactly precise. While hostile, the goblins may be cowed into providing information – which is another somewhat odd aspect: The module goes to above-average lengths to portray them as more then just foes to slaughter, and yet, RAW, Charisma (Intimidation) (not properly formatted here) is the only means to avoid combat. If you already depict them this way, why not allow the paty to negotiate between them and the local town? Come to think of it, that’d have been a more interesting adventure-premise to me. But I digress.

Ultimately, the goblins have dug into an old complex, which includes a riddle door: The riddle here deserves special mention, as it feels classic, is clever, and is not based on a pun – that means I could actually translate it into German, French, Norwegian, etc.! Another plus: The riddle’s references make sense within the gaming world’s context. So yeah, kudos there! The module does include means to brute-force the door, if required.

The party’s investigation into the complex will yield the remains of former adventurers, as well as things activated by accident – one of the new monsters, the chiran servitor, who is pretty nasty. Ultimately, the party can find Hector, who has one of two mysterious globes: These act as keys for the final (and completely optional) room, wherein the gorgeous fellow on the cover awaits – that’d be a Chiran, a very powerful progenitor race who escaped a cataclysm via stasis. This master of necromancy essentially is the secret boss of this adventure, and constitutes the second new creature. As noted above, the nature of Chiran and servitor might account for the irregular proficiency bonus, but not the other errors in the statblocks.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good; apart from the number of goblins being obtuse and some very minor niggles, I was duly impressed here. The same does not hold true for the rules-language, which generally is precise, but particularly in the statblocks, falls flat. Layout deserves special mention: The NPC-depiction, the bullet pointed rooms – they really help render the module easy to use, and look professional and well-crafted – kudos! The artwork by Izzy Collins is similarly a component of this module that pleasantly surprised me; they are full-color, high-quality pieces, and e.g. the aurx mayor gets their own artwork. Kudos! The pdf version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, and, as mentioned above, the print version I have received is rather nice indeed – certainly more impressive than many comparable adventures I own.

Jake Bhattacharyya’s freshman offering is promising in many, many ways: While structurally, the adventure is nothing special, it does a lot of things right from the get-go that many comparable publications botch: The information design (with the exception of the goblins) is better than usual, though e.g. the keys could use some highlighting in the text. The NPCs getting notes on mannerisms, motivation, etc. is a great angle as well. And while the dungeon itself is not exactly a jamais-vu-experience, it does manage to cover two distinct themes, and the notion of the new creatures is intriguing as well. In many ways, this feels like a test-run, like a teaser or prologue for things to come, and like a means to test various components and decisions – and, for the most part, I consider this to be successful in several instances. At the same time, the module does not capitalize on the unique components of the setting in social interactions, and the issues in the statblocks are something I expect to be rectified in future offerings.

That being said, if you’re looking for an inexpensive adventure for a single session and want to support a promising new publisher, then this is worth checking out – I could certainly think of several adventures that don’t do half as well as this one. My final verdict will be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Corwyn Catacombs
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Creator Reply:
Hi Thilo, thanks for such an indepth and fair review! The adventure has now been updated with changes made in light of your comments. The statblock problems were due to an error going from the main manuscript to the layout — I'm not sure how I missed it at the time but the Preserved Chiran's stats have been updated to their true values, and the maths should all add up now. Apologies to you and anyone else who had trouble with the stats — every care will be taken in the future to make sure something like that doesn't happen again. Other smaller tweaks and corrections have been made also — the number of goblins present in the goblin encounter is listed in the room description section, but this has been bolded and reiterated in the encounter itself to minimise ambiguity and confusion. A scale has also been added to the map. References to the orbs have also been bolded to aid readers, and the diary entry is also available as a handout. To quickly address some other points you brought up, there is some slight deviation from the official statblock format as I believe the changes I've made can aid GMs. I choose to list proficiency bonuses in my statblocks as I find it helpful to be able to see at a glance where the maths behind skills and saving throws is derived. If a prospective GM of the adventure feels their Chirans ought to be proficient in Athletics, Survival, etc etc, listing the proficiency bonus means they don't have to reverse engineer the statblock to determine the bonus. That's largely a personal preference on my part and I'll be monitoring feedback to see whether it's a worthwhile addition or not. The Chiran does also have his cantrips listed as Actions, which is a slight deviation from the WotC style but something I've seen other 3rd party publishers do and personally found useful when reading or running those monsters. In my experience it's useful to have the key text of simple spells like cantrips listed in the statblock itself so that the GM doesn't need to flip through the spells to check simple things like damage or damage effects. Again, I'll monitor feedback on this and make changes if required. With regards to the Servitor, the multiattack option is largely there for A) choosing to deal more total damage (4 on average) when an opponent is low on health and might be finished in one blow, B) splitting attacks between two opponents, or C) use against high AC opponents where rolls have a lower chance to hit and so making two rolls is more likely to result in damage than only one roll. During playtesting I did find that choosing to multiattack instead of using Touch of Death was more beneficial in certain situations, but again, I'll monitor feedback and make changes as necessary. I'd agree that a player handout map would be a worthwhile inclusion and I'll be working to get one made and have another update put out with it as soon as possible. The statblock issues you pointed out felt too important for me to delay fixing them to add a player handout map, hence why it's not present in the current version of the adventure. Thanks again for your review — it's clear a lot of thought and effort went into it and it's pointed out some very constructive changes for me to make! - Jake
Marathon of Heroes 5E
Publisher: Fail Squad Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/06/2019 04:59:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 36 pages of content, sans front cover, editorial, etc. My review of the module is based on the softcover; I don’t own the pdf and thus can’t comment on its virtues or lack thereof.

This review was requested by one of my patreon supporters, who sent me the print version, to be undertaken at my convenience.

This is an adventure for 4-6 5th level characters, and it makes use of the concepts presented in the Lands of Lunacy Campaign Guide. The supplement includes a character sheet, but it should be noted that the skills and the lines to write them down aren’t properly aligned.

Okay, here a word of warning: I am starting with a dissection of the formal criteria – please do read the entire review.

The supplement introduces a new playable race, the Murine, which are mouse-like natives of the Lands of Lunacy, who receive +2 to their Dexterity, optionally, subject to GM discreation a “penalty of -1 STR”, are Small (size not properly formatted) and have a speed of 30 feet. Murine have a nonstandard darkvision range of 40 ft. Proficiency in “perception” and advantage on it as well. They only need 4 hours of sleep and get +2 to Stealth checks, which struck me as odd. They also get +1 to all “climbing rolls” and are proficient in Athletics. They are immune to the effects of the Lands of Lunacy -. Okay, does this include the drexol’s drain? No idea. The write-up is littered with formatting discrepancies, and quite a few rules-components look more like a 3.X or PFRPG-race than like one for 5e.

While we’re on the subject of formal issues, let me get that out of the way right now: The statblocks and their presentation are more in line with 5e’s standards than the ill-fated Lands of Lunacy 5e-conversion; they also, alas, sport a lot of errors regarding, but not limited to, lightning damage being called electrical, incorrect attack values, incorrect HD, incorrect damage values, serious deviations from formatting conventions and rules-syntax, incorrect proficiency bonus values, incorrect saving throw values, “ft.” missing, nonsensical/unusable grapple notes, missing and/or incorrect formatting, etc. Alas, this aspect not only haunts the statblocks in the back, but also severely impedes the functionality of the adventure. 3 magic items are included, and they feel more like items from the 3.0 days. Yep, 3.0 – why? Because 3.X and PFRPG tend to do more interesting things with magic items.

This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the great dragon Vatrastrom must be stopped – thus, the PCs are hired to do just that. They set sail towards isles and are beset by Cephalugia, strange octopus beings, and giant electric eels – which is per se cool, but with the issues in the rules language + the lack of a map for the ship, the combat falls flat.

On the mist-shrouded isles, the proper “marathon” begins – there is this stone-circle with 5 stones – touching one transports the PCs to the respective “test.” There is a fighter’s section, one devoted to clerics, one devoted to wizards and one devoted to “thieves” – that should probably be rogues… Anyhow, each of these tests sports a serious of tasks that actually are really creative and far-out, as befitting of the Lands of Lunacy. In the fighter’s challenge, we for example have a scene where a berserking kobold attacks – if it’s slain, it spawns two new ones! This would be interesting, were it not so simple to, you know, not kill in 5e. There is a warrior that can’t be hurt by anything outside of a salt circle. There is a giant (stats not included) and the means to contract a disease that clearly fails to grasp how 5e’s exhaustion mechanics work, and in the end, a combat with hobgoblins to save a damsel – who turns out to be a friendly medusa, who can revert petrification. Okay, what happens with her? I assume that she might accompany the PCs, but I’m not sure.

The cleric’s challenge doesn’t work particularly well RAW: The global effects are even more messy than that of the fighter’s challenge (which btw. entail penalties to spell damage dice and healing dice - including HD? If so, why? Also: 20% spell failure chance…more 3.Xish aesthetics); here, we operate with reductions of HP, and there are basically pyramids in a forested region swarming with undead – these beacons are supposed to keep the horde at bay. Damage can be used to power them, but no indication is provided how close you need to be for the damage to register. The idea here is pretty awesome, and I really like it, but its implementation is so confused, I basically had to guess the author’s intentions regarding how the whole thing was supposed to work within the confines of 5e’s rules. The supplement also denotes here things that should clearly be a saving throw as a check instead, etc. – in short: Not operational.

The wizard’s challenge, in contrast, while flawed as well, does work better – because it doesn’t try to do anything too fancy. Still, credit where credit is due – a magic carpet ride with aerial combat? Cool! The rogue’s test similarly has a rather neat angle – it’s basically a flight from a frickin’ Clay golem through a vast canyon, Apart from damage types not codified, the whole section doesn’t really account for how much the discrepancies in speed actually matter – while it could be excused as handwaving (“The golem is just behind you…”) in an odd decision, it’s not the rogue’s forte that tracks escape speed, but rather, correctly, Athletics. Making the canyon, you know, actually challenge roguish skillsets would have made sense there. Plus, it’s very much possible to do the math and calculate obstacles that would require e.g. being 1 minute in advance of the golem and maintain the excitement of the scenario. Ultimately, this is a great idea that has been implemented in a borderline broken manner. Traps are incorrectly presented regarding formal criteria, damage types, etc.. Again, non-functional.

Oh and here’s the thing: RAW, each of the challenges is supposed to grant the PCs some sort of advantage, but in the end, none of them truly matter. They can all be skipped and don’t influence the finale at all. The PCs can theoretically, as written, skip to the dragon by just touching its rock, which brings them directly to the climax of the module. In the beginning the adventure notes that there are supposed to be benefits for completing the challenges, but apart from a few minor magic items that can help a bit (which include stars like an improperly formatted scroll of fire bolt…a frickin’ CANTRIP-scroll….), the ultimate joke of this module is that there is no reason to actually finish the entire adventure. NONE. Aforementioned medusa? She just fades into the background. Oh, and the big bad dragon? No legendary actions, no lair actions, no strategy – it’s just a fire-spewing lizard that waits at the end of lava tunnels. Also: “a character with a weakness to heat (whatever that’s supposed to mean) risks being “exhausted” until leaving the tunnels. This displays a blatant disregard and lack of knowledge of how this works. Having a barbed DEVIL guard two succubi also showcases a lack of understanding regarding planar cosmology. sigh

And if the PCs triumph and return, murine will ask for the treasure to rebuild stuff – where was the population before? Also: Upon their return to their ship, all but one NPC will be dead – said NPC will try to kill the characters. Okay, I can get behind a good denouement à la “It’s not over yet!” – but guess what? The guy has no stats. NONE. No idea. If he’s supposed to reference default stats, he doesn’t mention as such or have the formatting to indicate it.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are a train-wreck. If there’s something to do wrong, this module will do just that. It’s not even consistent in its own errors. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, with Lloyd Metcalf’s amazing artworks being the one good thing about this adventure apart from its ideas. Cartography is b/w and ranged from “okay” to “it exists”; no player-friendly versions are included. As noted before, the character sheet has issues. I can’t comment on the electronic version.

This is heart-breaking to me, it really is. I genuinely like the Lands of Lunacy; I also genuinely enjoy the ideas behind many encounters, and this module has heart; it’s not phoned in, it’s not bland, and the ideas underlying every little aspect of Lloyd Metcalf’s and Ric Marten’s “Marathon of Heroes” are genuinely cool. They deserved better.

It is painfully evident that, from rules-language to basic formatting and balancing to everything else, the authors had no idea how 5e operates; it’s what I’ve come to call the “old-school-trap”; 5e looks, in many ways, like an old-school system, when it really, really is not. Sure you can ignore a ton of the rules and play a handwaving pseudo-old-school game with it, but then you’re ignoring 90% of the rules of the system – and you’re not designing for the system, but for your homebrew hacked version. This is evident here. This has obviously been written (I will not demean the term “design” by using it in this context) by well-meaning and creative individuals that don’t play the game, or if they do, they choose to ignore even the most basic first-readthrough evident conventions of the system that you can think of. There is no understanding regarding the aesthetics, the math or the functionality of 5e beyond a most cursory familiarity here, resulting in a weird mishmash of old-school and 3.X-y rules grafted onto a rules-chassis without an understanding why that doesn’t work. AT ALL.

From the statblocks to the traps to components that are frankly required to run the adventure properly, this only works if you are exceedingly tolerant of a nigh-constant and blatant disregard for crucial components of the game system, if you’re willing to handwave almost every mechanical component anyways. This is the most broken attempt to write a module for a system that I’ve seen in quite a while, with rules-issues bleeding into the very fabric of the plot, requiring copious amounts of GM calls to make this work as intended, even if you are willing to ignore the HUGE amount of formal glitches, formatting deviations and other issues.

It is horrible, really, and one of the instances where I genuinely would love to state that this has saving graces beyond art and ideas, but it really doesn’t. I try hard to stay positive, particularly when it comes to per se good ideas, but the issues here are so darn pronounced, I can’t justify rounding up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Marathon of Heroes 5E
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Sinner's Manor
Publisher: Mind Weave RPG
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/05/2019 04:53:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This brief adventure module clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 17 pages of content. No SRD is included, which is odd.

This module is a mansion-crawl and comes with player-friendly versions of the manor’s map, which note their grids, but no scale; the usual 5 x 5 feet would make it very cramped indeed. The module also contains paper-minis – both in full-color and as b/w-drawings. The b/w-drawings are vastly superior; while it shows that the author is no accomplished illustrator, they work. The garish full-color versions…don’t. Still, kudos for the inclusion of, in particular, the b/w-versions. The pdf comes with internal hyperlinks, which is helpful – character notices an item? One click, and you’re there

This module is intended to be run with D&D 5e-rules, and is intended for a 1st level party as a deadly adventure; the module does have a section that walks the GM through some of the design decisions – and if your players think they’re smart, they will learn the hard way that, not only are the opponents all bosses, the module needs to be cleared in one day. I liked this decision – it prevents long rest-scumming.

5 magic items are included; one would be a lesser healing item. Another is a mirror with limited daily uses of flesh to stone; another nets you Expertise (double proficiency bonus) in Stealth and Slight[sic! – the pdf gets that consistently wrong throughout] of Hand; there is a ring for a 1/day barbarian rage, and a gold-only locate object at will item. I liked none of these, and they would imho be serious overkill for first level; that being said, the useful items have curses that act as serious detriments. The items or curses are not as interesting as some in “A Blessing and a Curse”, and much to my chagrin, no removal conditions are included, but yeah. Okay. The pdf sports no read-aloud text, and formatting-wise, it should be noted that the pdf tends to use the proper skills and formatting in most, but not all cases (e.g. tools). Classes are, oddly enough, capitalized, and monster names are printed in italics throughout, which strikes me as a weird decision, as it can be kinda confusing.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, there’s this manor, ostensibly haunted or occupied – 7 grandchildren of Henri Sumner, each aligned with one of the deadly sins, used to throw parties. Something horrible happened, and ever since then, people have been disappearing there – including a team of adventurers. Davis O’Chuul hires the party to clear out the manor and provides some healing bulbs, aforementioned minor healing items. Oh boy, the party will need them.

There is another thing you need to know: The rather lame “Seven Dead Sinners”-pdf of sin-themed undead? They are in this pdf as well. Only, they kinda aren’t – at least not in their nigh-useless original iteration. You see, where previously, they had next to no value due to their concepts (one undead for every one of the seven deadly sins) being tired and bland, there now is something that even jaded ole’ me can appreciate about them: They get proper 5e-stats. And I don’t mean sucky ones, but actually pretty tough cookie stats; all of these undead are essentially bosses, with some approaching even 100 hit points, with 95; these are offset by a pitiful AC of 7 and atrocious 5 ft. movement, granted, but you get the idea – if you’re not smart, you will die. Heck, you might still die when faced with the boss. The module is not playing when it states that it is deadly. Much to my pleasant surprise, I noticed no glitches in the statblocks or ability-formatting. Kudos for getting these right. So yeah, while I still maintain that the concept is boring (compared to all those delightful sin-themed monsters out there), the array of well-crafted, genuinely tough low-level stats? That’s a reason to download the pdf. It should be noted that there is implied incest going on between the undead representing lust and the one representing wrath, though only the GM needs to know about this.

The manor provides quite a few nice details – but I couldn’t help but notice that there is a good chance that the party will run into potentially more than one of these bosses at once. Since the map sports no scale, and since it can be rather cramped, this can easily result in the party being trapped. Sure, this is a horror-module, but yeah – a GM might wish to be careful with the undead. Anyhow, my main gripe with the presentation of the module is two-fold – the rules-relevant components tend to blend in with the text describing the places, making quick information-parsing tough…and then there is the fact that I can generate a more interesting manor in 30 minutes with Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Price of Evil.”

Conclusion: Editing and formatting is very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I noticed a few more hiccups. Layout adheres to Mind Weave RPG’s two-column b/w-standard with golden headers, and the artworks presented for the undead are charming b/w hand-drawn pieces; if you can appreciate the cover-art, you can also like these. I liked the inclusion of internal hyperlinks and paper-minis, and the player-friendly maps would have been nice, had they a) more details (e.g. tables etc.) and b) a scale. The pdf, unfortunately, sports no bookmarks, making navigation a pain – not cool. The pdf comes with an archive of the images for Roll20 etc.

James Eck’s Sinners’ Manor is interesting in many ways; the module plays better than it reads; the manor may be barebones, but much to my absolute surprise, the focus on extremely tough boss monsters that often may be tackled in safer means by smart parties rendered this much more compelling that it honestly has any right to be; it’s a perfect example of good creature design elevating a per se painfully mediocre concept underlying them. Indeed, I think that the 5e-stats of creatures I considered to be super-boring in their system neutral iterations actually make for the main draw of this one. The manor may not be the most interesting out there, but all in all, you can do worse – for PWYW, this might well be worth checking out, particularly if you want some sin-themed low-level bosses to scavenge. As such, my final verdict for this pdf, in spite of its shortcomings, will be 2.5 stars, rounded up due to its PWYW status. I still think that Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Price of Evil” is the better choice, though – while it has no 5e stats, if you’re even remotely interested in making a compelling mansion-crawl, you can’t do better than that one – add in hazards and critters, it’ll deliver a stand-out mansion-crawling experience.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Sinner's Manor
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Recall Knowledge: Fiends
Publisher: Evil Robot Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2019 11:22:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second installment of the Recall Knowledge-pdfs clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

PF2’s Recall knowledge use of the Lore skill, with its sub-categories, is something I genuinely loved seeing, and which I felt to be curiously absent from the Bestiary – and as such, I very much welcome what this series brings to the table for the GM. In this supplement, the sub-categories will be Daemons, Demons, Devils, or Religion; non-unique fiends are assumed to be common, as far as creature rarity is considered regarding the skill’s application. The DC of the catch-all Religion tends to be 5 higher than the specialized skill. A handy table of DCs by level and DCs by rarity adjustment, as well as a list of creature trait and identifying skill is provided. Finally, a best-known ability is also provided per creature.

And here, the pdf does offer something genuinely useful for the GM. Know how I often mention how important legwork, doing your research, playing smart, is in my game? It should come as no surprise, then, that having the respective skills and thinking about the adversary? It’s a very potent tool. Anyhow, there are a few issues arising from such a playstyle, as most GMs can attest: You not only have to have facts and information ready, preferably ones that do not consist of rules terms (because that breaks immersion), you also should have an assortment of pieces of information that MIGHT be correct, but which is actually false. Because, if your information is too obviously being BS, the players will immediately recognize that, right? So, in a way, this rewards character AND player-knowledge – and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Anyhow, this is where this little supplement comes in: Not only do we get correct information for the respective creatures, phrased in a way that does not break immersion overtly by referencing an undue amount of game-terms, but ALSO erroneous information that might be half-truths or plain false…but which remains plausible. At least that’s the goal, so let’s see how this fares!

First thing you’ll notice would be that the respective subtypes of fiend, i.e. demons, daemons, devils, get their own tables of general knowledge; true knowledge tends to be presented in a table that ranges from 4 entries (roll a d4) to up to 12 (roll a d12), while the general type tables provide another 8 entries per creature. Of course, as noted before, the validity and draw of these entries is partially contingent on your ability to interpret the information – and in many instances, this is simple: When the pdf states that vrocks are fearsome combatants with various physical attacks? Then nobody will dispute that. However, this book does make good use of PF2’s increased focus on unique abilities in creatures.

Without flipping open your Bestiary, tell me: Can vrocks be placated by showing them signs of self-harm, or are they particularly vulnerable to spells and effects that force them to behave peacefully? One of these is correct, one is incorrect – and yes, this is one of the reasons the bestiary fared better in my review than I expected it to. These components, these aspects that reward ROLEplaying, not just rolling dice, really add to the creature.

And with this pdf and its entries, simulating how the PCs AND players accumulate information about the adversaries they face, becomes simply more organic – in a way, the book has identified a strength of the system and heightens it. Since I don’t want to stray too much, and since all precise entries I mention are, ultimately, spoilers, I’ll keep to the ole’ vrock for now: What would you say: Are eagles natural enemies of vrocks? True or false? (And yes, speculation at the table over such entries? Super fun!)

Beyond daemons, demons and devils, the supplement also covers barghests, greater barghests, hell hounds (including Nessians), nightmares (+greater variant), nighthags, rakshasas…and, of course, Treerazer. Now this deadly bastard is obviously closed IP of Paizo, but still very much easy to identify – it’s the entry for a level 25 creature called “The Tyrant” – and guess what? The Blackaxe? It has its own lore tables!

So yeah, in many ways, this feels like a refinement, when contrasted to the first installment of the series – and that is a good thing. That being said, there is one aspect on a formal editing side of things that really irked me: Plural/singular snafus. “Nightmares can cause its hooves…”[sic!], plural/apostrophe hiccups and the like – the entries check out, are cool and creative, and the DCs are appropriate. It’s just that the pdf could have used a final proofreading. While we do have an instance where “psychic damage” is referenced and the damage type is actually “mental damage” in PF2, I assume deliberate intent here, trying to rephrase the term to not be so rules-language-y. This still could potentially be construed to be a glitch, as psychic damage is a damage type in 5e. I have elected to assume deliberate intent here, though.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a rules-language level are very good; on a formal level, the pdf has more small glitches than I am ultimately happy with; it’s not bad, but it’s an aspect that is pretty obvious to me. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with quite a bunch of nice full-color artworks, some of which fans of Rick Hershey might be familiar with. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, with detailed, nested bookmarks – kudos indeed!

Jim Milligan’s second Recall Knowledge-pdf is a great step forward, as far as I’m concerned. While the typo-glitches deprive this pdf of my unconditional praise, I absolutely love the direction the Recall Knowledge-series is taking. The incorrect information is plausible, and often ties in with folklore, half-remembered stories and the like, and in many cases, some components were so compelling, I genuinely contemplate making them true in my game! There is e.g. one instance, where the pdf remarks, that a specific demon might be driven away by a child’s tears. That does seem appropriately magical to me, and something I most assuredly will use in some form or another.

So yeah, there might be a couple of typos herein, but I genuinely consider this pdf to be useful, inspiring and simply handy to have; if anything, it further convinced me that my assertions in the review of the first pdf were correct: This series has potential galore, and I want more! He, that rhymed…now tell me, can a rhyme drive away one of these fiends? My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Recall Knowledge: Fiends
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Star Log.EM-073: Formwarp Spells
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/04/2019 11:20:47

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!

This pdf contains 2 spells, both of which exist for levels 1-6, with both spells available at all spell levels for mystic and technomancer. They also feature the (formwarp) descriptor, which is concisely-defined herein in its interaction with e.g. polymorph effects.

Both of the spells cam be cast as a standard action; formwarp has a close range and targets one creature, while transmute body has a target of personal. Both last for 1 min/level and are dismissible. Formwarp has an interesting and rather complex structure: It has formwarp lists for each level and then provides subheaders that also denote the systems they modify: Take e.g. climber’s soles: At 1st level, we have climbing speed 20 ft., or + 10 ft. enhancement bonus climbing speed. At 6th spell level, we have a climb “peed”[sic!] of 70 feet, or +60 ft.-enhancement bonus to climbing speed, as well as allowing for the climbing of perfectly smooth surfaces. At 3rd level, you don’t have to use your hands to climb, for example. Each level has something unique going on. Take digitigrades locomotion: Jet Dash, run as a move action, withdraw as a move action (balanced by becoming flat-footed and off-target)…these bonuses offer SERIOUS and important tactical benefits, while retaining the balancing of the game. Gaining blindsight and variations of blindsense, gaining additional arms, natural weapons…what about quicker drawing of multiple items? Or piscine transmutations? This spell is a mighty engine and it certainly can change tactics in a unique manner.

Transmute body is frickin’ brutal – it makes you choose one type of energy or matter, with matter providing the more significant damage output of e.g. the modified unarmed damage inflicted. Each choice has different resistances/DRs and additional qualities/weaknesses. Matter provides scaling fortification. If energy is chosen instead, the character becomes incorporeal, which is one of the by far best defensive options in SFRPG – as soon as first level! Granted, the individual forms do have weaknesses, but getting incorporeal at the lowest level is imho too strong – going the route of partial incorporeity, with scaling and minor versions of the defenses increasing at higher levels, might have been the better call. A further nitpick with this spell would be that the damage types of the respective attacks granted are not classified. While it is obvious what damage electricity forms will inflict, the same can’t necessarily be said about radiant and shadow forms – while Starfinder does have suitable damage types here, having them spelled out would have been a big convenience boost – and prevent RAW-discussions. On the plus side, while not perfect, we do get two new universal monster rules, namely absorb and spines, adding to the game. And while I am not happy with low-level incorporeity, I don’t think that the spell as such will break the game. My balance-concern, particularly for incorporeal forms at low levels, though, remains.

Finally, the introduction page contains 3 feats: If you can cast the 1st-level version of formwarp, you’re eligible to take Formwarp Knowledge, which lets you choose four additional formwarps for each spell level of the formwarp spell you have. Body Transmutation Knowledge requires that you be able to cast transmute body at 1st level, which lets you choose four additional energy or matter forms for each spell level of transmute body. Formwarp Adept lets you change formwarp spells targeting yourself as a standard action, switching the current formwarp to another of an equal level or less. Nice!

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

Alexander Augunas presents two mighty spell-engines here, both of which are very interesting and broad in their applications. Both are tough cookies to design, and should enrich most games; while personally, I’ll use a formula akin to how the gradual increase of fortification behaves for transmute body’s matter forms to nerf the incorporeity components of the spell, I still very much like this supplement. Lower-powered groups might want to beware of the unmodified version of the second spell…and yet, I can’t help but admire the complexity of the material, its ambition and how well it is, ultimately executed considering that. That, and I always prefer ambition and daring with minor flaws over boring and safe cookie-cutter files that execute their blandness properly. This pdf is many things, but “boring” or “simple” are certainly two things that this is not, which is why my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-073: Formwarp Spells
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Monstrous Lair #34: Green Hag's Swamp
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2019 12:34:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

Green hags are one of those color-coded critters that can use an infusion of good dressing, so what does this one offer? Well, first of all, I felt reminded of the Thronebreaker game, as the vicinity of green hags is signaled by blood-red water, an abundance of insects, warning signs and the like…and what about the wind whispering the names of fallen friends and lost loves? The table for indicators of hag presence are suitably dark fairy-tale-esque and disquieting without giving the entire ploy away, so kudos there. As for what’s going on, here, the table features hale and hearty washerwomen inviting folks for dinner, naked maidens flaunting their bodies as a lure or e.g. hags in the process of removing entrails from a boar or tending poisonous gardens. On the VERY dark side, what about a hag growing flowers on the corpses of children? Ouch! Here at the very latest there will be no question as to how vile these hags truly are.

The table for major lair features includes large patches of poisonous plantlife, clawing hands grabbing at a pond’s surface from a body wedged in willow roots, walkways of rotten logs – these all are potentially relevant for combat – and diverse! Kudos! Minor lair features include the skeleton of a giant alligator serving as a bridge (which any Gm half worth their salt will make haunted, a potential animate-target or lair action), sharp bones in pits – once more a diverse array that left my mind pondering tricks and encounter design. Nice!

As for the hag’s appearance, here, we have huge bird skull helmets, pitch-black skin, leeches covering warty skin and cloaks made of former lover’s skins, among other things. Love it! As far as treasures are concerned, what about a crown of fish skulls and deer antlers that increases your persuasive prowess at the cost of being, well, super obviously a black magic item? Fungus-filled skull bombs? Human skin sheaves detailed how to animate a hut, Baba Yaga-style? Yeah, aweome! As for miscellanea – what about jars of human ears? A fetish made from a horse’s genitals? A lyre with human hair? Heck yeah!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

This is Steve Hood doing masterclass work. Usually, green hags are the less-evocative annis hags, and this pdf really helps set them apart. The dressing dives deeply into dark fantasy, and is better off for it, offering a thoroughly inspiring glance at wicked hags. I’d use this with the Witcher RPG, for example, or with other fantasy RPGs when I want to highlight how dastardly and magical these beings are. I loved this dressing file, and for the low asking price? Heck yeah, no-brainer! 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Lair #34: Green Hag's Swamp
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Thank you for this review, End. I'm delighted you found the book so cool!
Monstrous Lair #32: Sea Hag's Grotto
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/02/2019 12:32:57

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

So, the approach to a sea hag’s lair can feature treacherous undercurrents, ensnaring seaweed, shells of monstrous crabs housing aggressive fish and the like – this time, we thus emphasize the nature aspect a bit more, though sigils and anchors embedded in cavern walls also hint at the magical aspect. It’s a good table, if perhaps not as strong as the one for green hags. As for what’s going on, here, the pdf shines once more in some entries: Sea hags slouching on thrones of rotten wood and bone, while tended to by blind servants? Yeah, makes sense. In contrast, sifting through tribute is a theme that’s featured twice, and both entries aren’t particularly compelling, particularly when contrasted against the other entries in the table: When you see a sea hag dancing to a melody of bones and skulls hitting rocks in the current! That’s what I’m talking about! Instant awesome!

The major lair features are appropriately grisly: We e.g. have rotting corpses floating on the surfaces, drifting via hot air, as though in a huge, disgusting soup. Prisoners in air pockets are a solid, if not brilliant complication, and thrones from figureheads, altars of spiked corals and similar foci are also neat. The current carrying drowned cat? That’s neither a major lair feature, nor interesting – just sad. Minor lair features include once more hot air, only this time manifesting as poisonous fumes, hundreds of rotting hands and arms nailed to the walls – yeah, this is neat dressing.

The appearance table is interesting: Rotten and bloated, the hag might disguise herself as a bloated carcass, and what about a cloak of graving octopus/squid skins, blends of sickly bruises, floating, bloated skin – some gems here. I wasn’t as blown away from e.g. a dress of shredded skin, but that may be me. The treasure table includes a siren’s shawl, a dagger that enhances your speed underwater, cauldrons that mumble profane chants and pearl-embossed kraken-skin armor – I liked this table. The miscellanea includes primarily flotsam of various degrees and damage.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

I probably shouldn’t have read this back to back with the Green hag installment – Steve Hood delivers a good, inexpensive hag dressing file here, but it is evident that he had less ideas for the sea hag than for the green variety, which was stunning to me, as, mechanically, sea hags do offer more angles. Don’t get me wrong – each table herein has a couple of good ideas, but there are also a couple of instances here where the dressing felt less exciting, particularly in contrast with the superb Green Hag-installment. As such, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Lair #32: Sea Hag's Grotto
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Thank you for this review, End. I'm sorry this book didn't knock it out of the park for you.
Races of the Lost Spheres: Bloodborn
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/29/2019 13:04:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 23 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, what are Bloodborn? Well, at one point, there were those that came before – collectors of lore and knowledge, this ancient empire implemented a unique plan to withstand the inevitable fall of their empire, electing not for the preservation of the self, but instead of the things they achieved in a supremely selfless gesture. Thus, they crafted the Sourcerunes and the Bloodwells – when these are seeded with the blood of 2 compatible beings, thus generating the bloodborn, heirs to an ancient empire. Mechanically, the bloodborn are augmented humans who receive +2 to an ability score of their choice, and they choose two skills to represent the blood donors – these become class skills. Subject to the GM’s discretion, this might allow the bloodborn to engage in skills familiar to the blood patrons. Due to their unique genesis, bloodborn have a -2 penalty to saving throws versus death effects and can’t reproduce naturally. The dual heritage has a unique effect, with the echoes of conflicting memories growing ever strong. If the bloodborn remain single-classed after 1st level, they incur a circumstance penalty equal to the number of class levels beyond the first to all d20 rolls; if this penalty exceeds the highest mental ability score modifier, they even become insane! This is an AMAZING notion I really like – however, RAW, taking a single other level eliminates this effect when not using the variant multiclassing rules from Pathfinder Unchained. When not using those, consider instead adding the following to the rules-language:

“When the class level of a multiclassed bloodborn in a single class exceeds the total combined class levels they have in other classes by more than 1, this penalty applies as well.” There, fixed that for non-Pathfinder Unchained multiclassing for you. :)

Now, what’s with those Sourcerunes? Each bloodborn begins play attuned to two such runes – one of these is the primary Sourcerune, the other being the secondary Sourcerune. 6 Sourcerunes are provided, and yes, these do include drawings that showcase them – love that! Each Sourcerune has a primary and secondary benefit, and the first would be the Atkai, who may use Charisma as governing spellcasting ability score for spellcasting or manifesting, or instead choose a single class and make the supernatural or spell-like abilities be governed by Charisma. The secondary ability score is an alternate favored class option, granting access to a single spell known. The Muo rune may instead use Wisdom as governing modifier as a primary benefit, and as a secondary benefit, we have a channel energy enhancing alternate favored class option. Essal, unsurprisingly, use Intelligence as their governing spellcasting ability score, and the favored class option alternative granted from the secondary benefit nets a racial bonus to a skill – important: This does NOT count as ranks, so no cheesing of prerequisites! Good call there! The Juhn can use Constitution as the governing spellcasting…you get the idea by now, right? The secondary benefit of that family can enhance e.g. ki or arcane pools as an alternate favored class option. The Jhi family can learn to cast via Dexterity and their secondary benefit nets ¼ bonus feat. Sho, as you could picture by now, nets Strength and either a martial weapon proficiency or half an exotic weapon proficiency.

Okay, before we continue: I do not like seeing the physical ability scores as basis for spellcasting; HOWEVER, considering the limitations and enforced multiclassing of the base race, this had a rather intriguing effect – it rendered a whole plethora of multiclass builds and concepts suddenly valid. While there are bound to be some that are exceedingly potent, the race can help you with other components, and do so rather formidably: Let’s say you’re playing a 15-point-buy campaign, but want to play a class with MAD (Multiple Ability Score Dependence) – this can help somewhat mitigate that. The concept looks horribly broken on paper, and you can indeed generate VERY potent combos – but it’s not as easy as you might think, and it actually works in favor of plenty of unique character concepts – so yeah, I do consider this to be a wide-open, but inspiring component of the race’s design.

This is not where the pdf stops, though! Instead, we are introduced to the concept of Sourcerune Resonance: Depending on which runes you chose, you get different unique abilities that may be triggered under the right circumstances, which can just be using abilities on consecutive rounds, or e.g. require using abilities from the same class in subsequent rounds, etc. Let’s say, you’ve chosen Atkai as your primary rune, and Muo as your secondary one, right? When you use a spell, granted ability or power within one round of using a spell, granted ability or power from a different class, the second effect will have its level of usage (caster level, manifester level, class level for the purpose of scaling abilities, etc.) increased by 1 – or you can increase the save DC, if any, by +1. If you have Atkai-Juhn (Atkai primary, Juhn secondary), if you thus alternate abilities granted from different classes or use ones from the same class, you get temporary hit points equal to the effect’s level, with the temporary hit points overlapping, so no stacking to high-heavens. That’s good. Even better: The rules language prevents infinite healing exploits! Since the effect’s level is the governing metric, cantrips and the like can’t be abused in conjunction with hit point transfer. Very clever. And before you ask: Yes, the pdf is very much cognizant of the term “granted abilities” not being standard rules language, and defines the term properly. And yep, with the right resonance, you can get Weapon of the Soul and a mindblade.

This is easily the most mechanically-unique player race I’ve seen in a long, long time. But does the supplemental material hold up?

Well, first of all, we get not one, not two, but 24 (!!) new [Runic]-feats. Why are there so many? Because the help build on individual Sourcerune Resonances. Let’s take soulgrace, which is the Muo-Jhi resonant power – it provides a +1 luck bonus to a penalized roll; with the proper feat, the duration of this bonus extends to 1 round, or until the penalty ceases. There is also an interesting one, namely Imprint Rune, which lets you meditate with other bloodborn, replacing the feat with a feat the other bloodborn has that you qualify for. Cool! Quicker rune-drafting, bonus to atk and damage when attacking targets that failed against an effect powered by your Soulrune Resonance – we essentially have a feat-based expansion of the base combo-reward engine championed by the base Soulrune Resonance frame. I am not a fan of the feat that lets you increase threat range and multiplier; multiplier should cap at x4, and threat-range should have a caveat that prevents undue stacking…but I don’t consider this feat to be OP. Why? Because it has a maximum daily use limitation – the verbiage here “Before you must reset” is not perfect, but yeah. Really cool: There is a feat that lets you, when resting, switch primary and secondary rune! This essentially provides a gestalt-lite engine, two different modes – love it! Other feats allow for the suppression of visible runes, and as noted before, there is a mindblade lite engine. A lite-version of martial flexibility may also be found – and yep, it’s only available t one resonance, thankfully.

The pdf also presents two prestige classes, with the first being the bloodstone adept, wjo requires aforementioned feat to reverse primary and secondary rune, as well as 5 ranks in Knowledge (Arcana)…and he needs access to past-life or ancestral memory. The PrC gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression, and 7/10 spellcasting/manifesting/feature progression. In that way, this 10-level PrC is akin to e.g. Everybody Games’ take on PrCs – which is a good thing. The adept may, at first level, enter an 8-hour trance too channel an alternate self. This self has the same statistics and racial bonuses, and the runic self must have one level in common with the bloodrune’s adept, but may redistribute the class levels among the classes they have. The runic self is balanced by having levels equal to character level -2, and may differ from the original character’s alignment by one step. At 6th and 10th level, the character gains an additional such self. At 4th level, these selves may be character level -1, and at 9th level, they may be of equal level of the character. However, the text does not state this – it’s obvious that this was intended, but the “Greater Bloodrune Recall”-text is missing. :(

At 2nd and 7th level, you get a blood self, which is similar, save that the blood self must share class levels with the bloodborn’s patron donors (the people that spawned the bloodborn), and the alignment of these may diverge up to two steps from the bloodborn, as long as it’s towards the blood patron’s alignment. Cool. 3rd level and 8th level net a bonus feat (though the text does not mention the 8th level). At 5th level, we have the ability to 1/day lets you act as though an alternate runic or blood self, with the full compliment of powers. The text here contradicts the class table, stating that a second daily use is gained at 9th level, while the class table states it’s supposed to be 10th level. The latter is obviously correct.

The second PrC is the zenith caster, who requires two metamagic feats, Knowledge (Arcana) 5 ranks and access to spells or powers of 2nd level from two or more classes. These fellows get d6 HD, 2 + Int skills per level. Interesting: At each level except at 1st and 5th, you gain spells/powers/etc. known as well as caster/manifester level increase as though you advanced in one of your original classes; at 1st and 5th level, you ALSO get an increase in CL/ML etc. in your LOWEST CL/ML/etc. class. The ability also uses the Source concept of many Lost Spheres Publishing books to add some caveats here. At first level, the PrC lets you choose two classes with different Sources, increasing CL (and, I assume ML etc. – though that’s not spelled out this time) by +1. This increases once more at 4th and 7th level. This is called “tidal magic”, and at 2nd level, you can select a metamagic feat – you can sacrifice a spell or spell slot from one of your tidal magic sources to apply the metamagic feat to the other tidal magic source chosen. The class feature includes a limitation on maximum spell-level enhancement, and the complex ability sports a caveat that prevents abuse – you have to sacrifice a spell slot or spell prepared of at least the metamagic feat’s spell adjustment. And yes, does take psionics into account. 5th and 9th level net bonus feats. You select an additional such metamagic feat at 4th level and every 2 levels thereafter. This one is cool – a feasible dual-caster metamagic specialist that is not overpowered. Interesting indeed.

The pdf also sports two new psionic powers: Destabilize resonance is cool in that it ends your resonance effect as an immediate action to let you make a touch attack that deals, what I surmise from descriptor etc., MUST be force damage – the power does not state this in an obvious oversight, though. Rune lock is also cool and lets you temporarily lock down your resonance effects. The pdf also offers two new spells – hide sourcerune, and the mighty curse seal sourcerune – both do exactly what you think they’d do.

The final page of the pdf contains new mythic path abilities – universal path abilities include extended resonance duration at 1st tier, and a potent enhancer to the number of runic feats possessed for the purpose of their benefits at 3rd tier. The Archmage path allows as a first tier ability to invoke a drafted rune more often; at 6th tier, we have a cool ability to be reborn as a bloodborn upon being slain. The Master-of-Shapes (see Lost Sphere’s Mythic Paths booklet) gets the 1st tier ability lets you consume a slain bloodborn, gaining essentially another secondary sourcerune – or a primary rune, if you’re no bloodborn. Minor nitpick: The feat referenced here is called Tertiary Attunement, not Tertiary Sourcerune. The Scion-of-High-Sorcery may, with the right 1st tier ability, gain access to the SOurcerunes by tasting a bloodborn’s blood. The Will-of-All, finally, gets a 1st tier ability – and here, something has gone wrong with the sentence structure, and an “r” is missing; essentially, you make a connection between your Sourcerunes and that of a bloodborn , and you get the resonant benefits of this connection.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are a bit of a weak spot of the pdf: While the rules-language deserves to be called good for the most part, there are a couple of obvious formal snafus that, in parts do influence the ability to immediately comprehend some components. Oh, and missing ability? Big no-go. Layout adheres to Lost Spheres Publishing’s two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports multiple unique and high-quality full-color artworks – original pieces, mind you! Kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Christen N. Sowards’ bloodborn made me wish for one thing – that this got a final editing pass. Why? Because I genuinely LOVE the race. Yes. Ole’ cynical Endy actually likes a race. The supplement fills a very distinct niche, and does so with panache aplomb – it is ambitious, cool and genuinely fun. The concept is inspiring, and as a whole, I adored the race. This’d be a straight 5 star + seal of approval file, were it not for its glitches, and try as I want to, I can’t ignore them as a reviewer. The core feature of the race requires an additional sentence to smoothly run with non-unchained-multiclassing, and while the engine works smoothly and surprisingly well, there are, time and again, these small hiccups…and a few greater ones. I honestly should be rounding down, but I genuinely, seriously enjoyed the material herein, its snafus notwithstanding – and hence, I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars….and for the race, for what it brings to multiclassing…this does actually get my seal of approval, for those components are seriously inspired.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Races of the Lost Spheres: Bloodborn
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Classes of the Lost Spheres: Paramour
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/29/2019 12:53:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Classes of the Lost Spheres-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, so, the paramour, chassis-wise, gets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor, and if they have a Heartbound partner, they get a weapon proficiency of that character as well. They have ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, and add their Charisma bonus to AC while in light or no armor and unencumbered, which increases by +1 at 3rd level, and every 6 levels thereafter, for a total maximum of +3.

Wait, heartbound? Well, yeah, this class is all about the power of love, and as such further builds on Transcendent 10: Heartbound feats. As a brief recap: Heartbound feats require that both partners have a Heartbound feat to work…but they don’t have to have the SAME feat, which makes them more flexible than, say, teamwork feats. Speaking of which: At first level, the paramour selects a heartbound, teamwork or combat feat as a bonus feat, with an additional feat gained at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. Teamwork feats must be shared by the partner, though they may be retrained as Forlorn feats (see Transcendent 10: Forlorn Feats).

The unique component of the class engine here would be “Tides of Passion”, which builds on the new “Ardent” condition – this condition is triggered upon seeing the Heartbound partner take damage, gain a negative condition, or by dropping beneath 50% of your maximum hp. This condition is exclusive to beings with Heartbound feats or paramour levels, and grants a +1 morale bonus to saving throws “or -2 versus mind-affecting emotion effects” – pretty sure that this should either read “or a +2 morale bonus…” or “and a -2 penalty…” Which of these is correct, though? I can’t say. Being ardent for more than Constitution modifier + paramour levels leaves a character fatigued. This is problematic on several levels. For one, the condition is not actively triggered by a character – RAW it just happens. This potentially can lock out e.g. Heartbound barbarians out of their rage…which, come to think of it, kinda makes sense on a narrative level, guess I finally know why Conan took so long to settle down. However, on a mechanical perspective, being locked out of your class feature due to fatigue is not fun. Additionally, the condition specifies no terms by which you can dismiss/end it – so, if you’re stuck in a really long battle, you’re screwed, particularly since the fatigue incurred has no rage caveat – it has no duration, which makes it default to “until rested”; again, very problematic.

Anyhow, tides of passion grants you a 1d4 pool, which increases by +1d4 at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter. When you get the ardent condition, you roll your dice, and commit the result as a free action. At first level, these may be committed as temporary hit points. Complaint here: As temporary hit points, they should have a caveat that prevents their redistribution to avoid abuse via triggering of negative condition-ardent and infinite hit point redistribution.

Starting at 2nd level, and ever even level thereafter, the paramour receives a so-called expression. Multiple expression benefits from multiple paramours don’t stack, and expressions that interact with psionics temporarily grant the psionic subtype. 17 expressions are provided. There is a means to add fire damage to melee or ranged attacks – and if you lose your love and become Forlorn, this instead works via cold. Channel heartfire lets you fire the committed points as rays, with the bonus to atk increasing the longer the expression is maintained. This should have a maximum caveat. On the other hand, I really liked the means that lets you apply the dice result as a shield bonus to your adjacent partner. There also is Heart’s Magic, which lets you choose one spellcasting class and spell. You can expend 2 points from your tides of passion per spell level to gain the ability to cast it as a spell-like ability, using your paramour class level as caster level. Each time you use this to create the same spell effect, you increase the cost by 1, and the spell can’t exceed in spell level the number of dice in your tides of passion pool. The ability can’t duplicate expensive material components. Minor nitpick (and I mean minor) – its reference to the same exhausted effect might be considered to be a bit subtle. While both are not perfect, I certainly respect how their engines operate, and frankly, enjoyed them both for their complex operations. The psionic version here is different, instead granting you Wild Talent and a power from a chosen class, with a surge-lite enervation as a downside.

Heart’s resolve acts as Iron Will for purposes of prerequisites, and lets you apply the tides of passion dice as a morale bonus to Will saves; alternatively, you can apply the dice as a bonus to damage with atk, SU, powers and spells versus the target that triggered ardent. Inspiring cry takes a swift action to activate, and allows you to outsource your tides of passion, heart’s redoubt or one expression benefits to an ally in close range, losing the benefits during that time, with lingering effects lingering on the ally instead of you. Another expression nets you a teamwork, with the heartbound partner counting as having it; with inspiring cry, you can make the partner actually have it as a swift action – okay, for how long? No duration is stated. We also have the option to gain an Intelligence-, Dexterity-, Charisma- or Strength-based skill as a class skill, to which the dice may apply. Another expression lets you use tides of passion dice as sneak attack dice for the purpose of prerequisites. Okay. Another expression lets you have a true friend, and you get Heartbound benefits for this fellow. Another expression allows you to commit two points from the pool to add a +1 morale bonus to attack rolls for 1 round. This one suffers from not getting the bonus type verbiage right – only the highest level morale bonus applies, and in the absence of a direct stacking with itself caveat, this does not work as intended.

Heartbound is gained at 3rd level (and the ability name is a bit unfortunately chosen); it also does not state at which level it is gained in the text, requiring defaulting to the class table. The ability nets you btw. a ranger’s Track or an at-will status for the heartbound partner. At 7th level, we have 1/day overflowing, allowing you to use a single swift action to commit tides points to temporary hit points and activate up to two expressions, gaining an additional use every 6 levels thereafter.

9th level nets the aforementioned lingering passion ability, which extends the duration of expressions and the temporary hit points by one round (two rounds at 17th level), which is odd in conjunction with spells, abilities and powers with a duration greater than a round – are these supposed to last only for a round? If not, is their duration increased by a round? This is odd. Starting at 10th level, 12 so-called greater expressions may be selected, including untyped damage boosts (sigh), temporary boosts to Wisdom, Intelligence, Dexterity or Constitution, granting the heartbound partner Wild Talent’s power points…yay? The power is RAW not included, and at 10th+ level, the scant few power points won’t cut it. These also include an upgrade for the atk-boost, better shield bonus granting, and a means to prevent the expenditure of spells/powers. There also is a Whirlwind Attack variant and more teamwork sharing.

There are three capstones provided, which include additional benefits, redirecting effects to you, away from your partner, and upgrades for magic.

The class comes with the narcissist archetype, basically a partner-less paramour with slightly better defenses and three unique expressions (regular, 10th level greater, capstone). It’s a decent system tweak, but not exciting. The pdf contains 20 Heartbound feats, and their balance is unfortunately as wonky as I feared. While in psychic or telepathic contact with your partner, and the fellow gets psionic focus, you can “roll to achieve psionic focus.” In Pathfinder, you don’t roll to gain your psionic focus. Even if the details in the verbiage worked, though, this’d be broken, as it can be used to bypass one of the most crucial balancing components of the psionics engine; at the very least, this should be level 15+. What about free heightening/extending of spells etc. whenever your partner targets you? On the other hand, we have the option to select a single spell from the partner for the tides of passion-granted spellcasting. Filial Devotion allows you to treat an ally as being heartbound to you. I did like the synergy with the Echo-class that one yielded. Being able to cast personal effects on the partner is super strong for multiclass characters (since the feat does not limit the ability to the paramour’s lite-spellcasting)…you get the idea. Puzzling: There is a rage-sharing feat that seems to have overlooked how the ardent condition and rage don’t work with each other. Beyond these heartbound feats, we have also 3 class feats that allow for split expressions, gain an extra expression – you get the idea.

The final page is devoted to a huge list f favored class options, which include exotic races like the darakhul, the psionic races, noral, vishkanyas, etc. Some entries here labor under the misconception of there being a thing such as “holy” damage – there is not. Other than such snafus, these generally did tend to be solid.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the supplement gets high-complexity operations right and bungles the basics, going so far as to undermining the basic foundation of the class’s engine. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with nice, original full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with extensive, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable.

This is an early work by Christen N. Sowards, and it unfortunately shows; where the echo class was rough around the edges, but functional, the paramour’s issues at the very core of its per se interesting engine hamper its functionality. Additionally, its individual options, be they expressions or feats, are simply not balanced well. And that is a genuine pity, for I really ADORE the theme of the devoted partner; I think we need more of that in gaming. And the bits of genuine talent and smart components? They are here. This class is far from unsalvageable, but it will require a serious design addendum to work as intended. All in all, I can’t recommend this class, unless you’re willing to invest your time balancing and streamlining the content. My final verdict can’t exceed 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Classes of the Lost Spheres: Paramour
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Star Battles
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/28/2019 06:14:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for Star Empires clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

In many ways, this supplement is the all but mandatory expansion to the Star Empires-system, as we this time around take a close look at space combat, so yeah, Star Empires is very much required.

We begin the supplement with 3 new themes – the commander (Charisma +1), the Dog-Fighter (Dexterity +1) and the Jury-Rigger (Intelligence +1); minor nitpick: Resolve Points and Skills are capitalized in SFRPG, and not all of the theme abilities do that consistently correctly; in fact, there are a whole lot of instances throughout the book where skills etc. are not properly formatted. I’ll be calling out a few of those to give you an idea, but not all of them. That being said, there are quite a few remarkable tricks here – 12th level commanders being able to change command boons? That’s quite a potent (and cool) thing; that being said, Master Dog-Fighter’s level 18 ability, for example, is overpowered and exploitable: After you serve as pilot or gunner, you recover 1 Resolve Point. No cap. This is in so far puzzling, as Starfinder has the significant foe-mechanic, and imposes a hard cap on a similar theme ability, namely the master pilot’s level 18 theme ability; and the other theme abilities do not suffer from this – master jury-rigger, the level 18 theme ability, actually has such a proper cap in place, for example.

The pdf then proceeds to present 7 new feats: Arcing Shot is ridiculously strong, as it lets you be treated as standing in an adjacent square or hex for the purpose of determining line of effect for ranged attacks or gunnery checks. The feat ahs no prerequisites, when it clearly should at least have Mobility and an alternate feat as prerequisites – you add 9 squares/hexes to where you can fire from, and can do so as soon as first level. Thankfully, this broken feat remains the exception – the others include options to attempt to teleport into starships, enhancers for the combat engine, the means to substitute BAB for skills in ship combat, better bypassing of hardness, and the option to spend a Resolve Point (not capitalized properly) in starship combat to take 10. So yeah, apart from Arcing Shot, which needs to be seriously nerfed or burned to the ground, the feats are cool and meaningful.

Next up are 7 new spells, two of which are mass versions of spells; these do take the (imho problematic) Starfarer’s Companion’s classes by Rogue Genius Games into account, should you be using that book; the spells are technomancer and Starfarer classes only, so no new material for mystics. (Odd, considering that a couple of the spells are on e.g. the cleric spell list.) Anyhow, we have a couple of rather interesting ones – conjure starship pulls together a tier ¼ starship sans weapons, and requires a Resolve Point; minor nitpick: Starfinder formats the means to cast spells at higher levels different than what it displayed here: The spell can be cast at +3 spell levels for a better starship. Disrupt function and its mass version allow you to glitch and malfunction starship systems with a caster level check opposed by the ship’s TL; pretty potent, but held in check by the necessity to expend a Resolve Point. Enhance ship is pretty awesome, as it nets temporary build points for 1 minute/level; for 5 Resolve Points, high-level technomancers can even completely reshape ships in an 8-hour ceremony – cool! Finally, there would be restrain vessel and its mass version, with a proper Piloting check to break free. These spells add some serious fantasy into the science-fantasy, and as a whole, I found myself enjoying them very much, in spite of the minor formatting hiccups.

The book then presents 8 new starship stunts, which include rules for planetary re-entry. There also are proper ramming rules, as well as clinging, escaping and propelling the vessels – essentially a means to grapple with ships, and e.g. Stern Drifts and thruster backwash? Cool! Bouncing off of shields of other ships is also iconic, but to nitpick, the DC notes “DC 20 + 1.5 the ship’s tier” – the piloted ship, or the once you bounce off of? I assume the former, but this is still ambiguous semantics. Cool: The book also introduces the invoker starship role, a role I very much enjoyed seeing – it adds some tactical depth and makes sense. Kudos for this one.

Okay, this out of the way, let us take a look at squad ship combat. This assumes, generally, one ship per character. The book suggests removing the -2 penalty for Snap Shots in the context of squad combat, and the engine introduced the hack job minor crew action. (Minor nitpick once more – it’s minor crew action, not minor action.)

The book then introduces 5 mks of ablative armor – which is essentially a form of DR that applies versus kinetic and energy attacks, but which degrades with every hit, and armor hardened versus radiation? Makes sense. I very much liked these! The book then introduces damage control systems, which includes damage repair bots (DRBs) and automated damage control system (ADCS), both once more in 5 mk-ratings, with essentially virtual Engineering ranks. These made sense to me, and speaking of which: Decoy and Ghost drones, the latter of which mimic essentially a phantom signal of a ship? Yeah, I smiled a big smile here! 7 expansion bays are provided, and include cryosleep chamber, dimensional lockdowns, teleportation bays, etc. Weapon expansion bears close watching: It lets you install a weapon of one size category larger than normal, and costs just 2 BP: This means that the expansion allows smaller ships to feature bigger guns, which outclass all comparable other weaponry of the other categories. An upgrade from a light particle beam (10 PCU, 10 BP) to a heavy laser cannon (10 PCU, 8 BP, +2 BP for weapon mount) would increase your damage output from 3d6 to 4d8 – for NO INCREASED COST in BP or PCU. You don’t have to be a numbers wizard to notice that this is problematic. Yes, it costs an expansion bay, but it provides massive combat-related benefits for that. This needed playtesting and nerfing, this needed to have higher costs. Compare that to the other options, like boarding passages, planar travel lockdowns etc. – those are primarily acting to narrative tools. Though it should be noted that the dimensional lockdown should imho have a caveat that allows for caster level checks or the like to bypass them, but one can argue that the 2-hex range of the lockdown makes for a sufficient limitation there.

On the other side, e.g. having essentially a transformer ship? Heck YES!! Speaking of “heck yeah” – external aides with localized gravity outside and the like? Yes, I love those! We also get three new hulls, and the (multibody) hull descriptor, which denotes a group of ships of Small or Tiny size, somewhat akin to a starship swarm. There also are rules for regenerative hulls, with the BP cost ranging from 1 x size category (1 Hull Point, not properly capitalized in the book) to 7 x size category for 5 Hull Points per round. This occurs at the start of the engineering phase. I do not think that these should have no PCU costs. They should. Particularly since Hull Points generally tend to be harder to replenish. And yes, it does note that it best works for organic starships, but yeah – I’d seriously restrict that to GM ships only.

On the security side, we have cloaking fields, dimensional and divinatory shielding, exterior antipersonnel weapons, and the like – the cloaking field’s high BP costs here are chosen well – you won’t be doing stealthy reconnaissance with heavily arm(or)ed ships. Star Trek-ish means to use dimensional analytics to enable crew to teleport on board of target or locked on ships is nice, and its increased costs mean that they do not invalidate e.g. boarding passages. Still, chances are that you probably will favor one of these two options, and disallow the other – it’s different aesthetics. Cool: We also get terrain adaptations.

The weapon section includes Star Crash (I need to watch that classic again!) like boarding pods, jammer rockets and observer missiles? Interesting: Marker cannons and frickin’ ORBITAL WEAPONS and an array of super deadly ramming weapons! Yeah, there are some gems here. And yes, there are plenty of starship weapon-rules, such as contagious weaponry. Unfortunately, there are instances here where the author makes some errors in rules terminology that can be rather confusing: For example, the celestial quality mentions “radiant energy damage”, which does not exist in Starfinder. Granted, the pdf makes this behave as irradiate versus evil outsiders and undead, but it also notes that it’s penetrating shielding and hulls, which makes rules-interaction weird. More confusing, there is a radiant special property (see SF #7), so this is not only the wrong terminology and non-existent damage type, it also confuses what “radiant” means in established SFRPG rules parlance. Draining weapons are also exceedingly potent, and interesting, if the hit and deal at least 1 Hull Point damage, they cost a ship hit 10% of its PCU output until the next engineering phase, stacking up to 50% - but here, I can see the interesting angle the weapons’ power adds to the game: It provides a reason to NOT try to get most out of your PCU. As per SFRPG’s core book, components not powered renders systems inactive, so yeah, like this. The starship weapon upgrades are interesting for the most part, though the long-range weapon modification (2 PCU, 1 BP) is a bit underpriced.

Okay, so next up, we have rules for dealing with characters battling starships – and vice versa. And yes, you won’t be soloing starships a lot. They are super deadly for tiny little characters, and the rules represent that – including appreciated notes that such scenarios need to handled with care. Two thumbs up here! Same goes for the starship-scale monsters (with e.g. world-eaters and miasma kraken included); we also get an adaptation of the troop, depicted as a graft. Artillery bracer rules are also provided alongside ones for planetary shielding. Did I mention rocket fists for powered armor?

Alrighty, and now it’s time to take a look at the mass combat rules! We not only get a brief errata for Star Empires, we also have army equipment and starship rules for mass combat! Starships are organized in fleets, with a CR of 10 + tier, rounded down, minimum 10, and a properly defined array on inherent abilities that all starships have, including weaknesses. The integration of ships in the system is surprisingly simple, smooth and elegant. The book also presents some ideas for multi-layer mass combat and more than 10 new tactics to teach to fleet and armies, and as briefly mentioned previously, we do have command boons herein as well, with a couple of them being very strong: Using RV instead of MV, for example? That’s a very potent boon when compared to a +2 MV or RV versus armies that suffer a penalty to DV. A couple of immunity special abilities are provided as well.

Much to my joy, siege weapon rules have also been included here, and while we’re at it: The simulationalist in me cheered big time for acceleration movement rules, as they make simply more sense to me – plus, they’re easy to implement, and add tactical depth! The book also provides alternatives to Profession for the purpose of mass combat, with two pages helpful starship DC-action tables in two difficulty levels makes for nice options here. Easier and more lethal modifications to the engine are provided as well, and from scaled ship combat to simplified mass combat, there are more options here that I really enjoyed seeing.

Speaking of which: Don’t have the time and/or inclination to stat a ton of armies and fleets? Fret not, for the book closes on a high note, with 19 sample builds, ranging from ACR 8 to 30.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting on a rules-language-level is as precise as we’d expect; on a formal level, the pdf is more rushed than what we expect from legendary Games, with quite a few formatting deviations. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, with a blend of old and new full-color artworks. The pdf version includes plenty of nested bookmarks, making navigation simple and convenient.

This book by Matt Daley, Mark Hart and Jason Nelson was an odd duck for me: It’s on the one hand the work of obviously very talented designers, and features not one, but several rules and option that had me smiling from ear to ear; and when it operates within its closed system of mass combat, it operates very well; the use of starships in regular scale etc. is another big plus, and as a whole, there are plenty of things herein that I’ll be using time and again. This book features components with top ten candidate level of coolness, and more than once. This has lots of truly inspired, top-tier material inside.

However, on the other hand, the book also feels rushed in a few ways – from formatting not being as precise to more serious strikes against it: There are several rules-components that are easy to cheese, overpowered, and/or obviously should have seen some thorough playtesting to iron off the rough patches – and I mean seriously “rough” – the book doesn’t falter a lot, but when it does, it does so in a way that is noticeable on a rules and balance level. In a way, this could have easily been an EZG Essentials-must-have-level book, but in its current iteration, I can’t recommend it as universally as I’d very much like to.

To make this abundantly clear: This is a book, chock-full with things to love; but it’s also a book that needs some very careful scrutiny by the GM, for there are options herein that will unbalance the game if introduced as written. It is the accumulation of these flaws that deprives this book of the accolades I would have heaped upon it otherwise. My final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Battles
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Monstrous Lair #35: Ghost-Haunted House
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/28/2019 06:11:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

So, the time-honored haunted house…what hints at its presence? The “Outside the Lair”-table sports the classic thick bushes and sickly trees, a zone bereft of vegetation surrounding it, chill hanging in the air, oddly muted sounds, shadows hovering and the like – I was positively surprised by this table. While it deals with classic entries, it does cover a breadth of interesting components. As for what’s currently happening, we have the classic cawing crow flying away, clouds obscuring the sun, shutters banging in the wind, hints of movement within – in contrast to many of the installments in the series, this table provides further dressing for the house, and not for the ghost itself….which is valid here, as one could construe the creature featured within to be the house itself.

Major lair features include rotten floorboards (shouldn’t that be “rotted”?), weakened supports, minor poltergeist activity, doors swollen shut and the like; while the phenomena per se are not mind.-boggling, they all have meaningful potential impact on the game, which is what I expect from this table. The minor features table sports creaking floorboards, doors nailed shut, and periodic sensations of something breathing down your neck. The ghost appearance table contains swirling dust interrupting leaves, scraps of paper, etc. There is a ghost of a child, dragging its severed head along, ghostly women wearing smoldering clothes…or what about a ghost with hands bound behind. Solid array. The treasure table includes gold lockets nailed to doors, strange leather books, beautiful silken gloves, remains of a sewing kit, including a silver thimble…interesting. The miscellanea-table that sports trash includes bent spoons, drief blood next to a hammer and stake (wouldn’t that be more suitable for vampires?) and remains of silver shavings from hurled holy water.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

This is one of the best dressing files I’ve read by Robert Manson – the author focuses more on the specific in this installment, and while the dressing file is not necessarily a must-own offering, it does provide a solid amount of atmosphere that you can use to supplement e.g. the haunted houses you can generate with Zzarchov Kowolski’s superb “The Price of Evil.” While the ghost-angle was slightly more subdued than I’d have liked, I do consider this to be a nice little dressing file. All in all, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Lair #35: Ghost-Haunted House
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Into The Deep Dark
Publisher: Gamehole Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/27/2019 08:43:36

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 43 pages of content, 44 if you count the gorgeous full-color map on the inside of the front cover. (The inside of the back cover has btw. one of the most hilarious images I have seen in all my years as a reviewer, also in full color, but that as an aside.)

This review is based on the softcover version of the module, which was sent to me in order to expedite the reviewing process and move the module up in my queue.

Okay, so first things first: This is an Underworld adventure, if the cover didn’t provide ample clue for that. There are, roughly, two different types of Underworld, though – and we should talk abit about them. Many gamers will probably agree that the notion of the underworld remains one of the strongest, most fantastic vistas that came out of our beloved hobby. But, whether you call it “Underworld”, “Underdark”, “Deep Below” or by some other colorful moniker, there are roughly two types of subterranean vistas that are truly amazing, at least as far as I’m concerned…and for completely different reasons.

This first type of underworld has long been neglected – the truly strange and alien vistas, the dark and potentially horrific below, the depths where things are radically different from anything surface—dwellers may know; the place where godlings sleep and the strange rules. This type of underworld has long been neglected and only hinted at – these depths are only highlighted in precious few books, for example Frog God Games’ superb Cyclopean Deeps duology.

The second type of underworld is no less wondrous, though perhaps a bit more familiar: This would be the type of world that we first think of, when we hear the word: The realm of subterranean kingdoms, where drow and illithids duke it out; the places where the many modules take place. Here, we have functional economies, dwarven holds and a region that is both alien and familiar. This region is no less inspiring, though in a completely different manner; it allows for relatively easy insertion of PCs, sports strange player options, etc. – but unlike the lightless hell of the true depths below, it is very much a strange, yet relatable vista, a country we can’t visit in real life, as it does not exist. Sure, many beings are evil here, but surface dwellers can generally function in their usual capacities and while the world is more dangerous, it also still sports a lot of amenities, if ones seen through a peculiar lens of strangeness.

This module would be firmly rooted in the second tradition of the depiction of the underworld, but does so in a tone I get to see relatively rarely; you see, many settings make the underworld a kind of evil ghetto (AAW Games’ Aventyr would be a notable exception here) – this module, much like some old-school underworld books, adds, to an extent, a slight touch of whimsy and wonder to the proceedings and makes that the central angle.

Okay, beyond that, it should be noted that this module is the sequel to “The Brain-Gorger’s (aka: Illithids minus WotC IP) Appetite” and may be run as such, though this is by no means required. We (re-)join our heroes in Ockney’s Hold, as the Baron has regained use of his senses, and as certain…individuals are arrested.

And this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. … .. . All righty, only GMs around? Great! So, it seems like the PCs managed to foil the plans of the brain-gorger Marlipp – the Baron has regained his senses, but is not particularly happy. He wants the brain-gorger as dead as a doornail. Yesterday. Hence, the PCs are tasked to hunt down the fugitive mastermind and set off towards the underworld. (In case none of the PCs speaks Undercommon, a somewhat handwavy and convenient potion-solution is presented, though personally, I’d prefer PCs trying to pantomime…anyways…)

The trek is pretty uneventful apart from a couple of kobolds and the descent into the lightless realms similarly isn’t too tough, though the battle with a Chuul may well test the adventurers and show them that this place is nothing to be trifled with…and then, the PCs meet one of the most amazing characters I’ve seen in a while. Atop a riding lizard, there is Zanthos. Zanthos is a gelatinous cube that identifies as female. Of sorts. She is also curious, funny and utterly strange. The lavishly detailed dialogue with her provides fully guidance for the GM, with sample Q&As. I love this section. Really fun…and funny, even! How often do you get to talk to a friendly gelatinous cube?

The cube also offers some helpful information, if asked the correct questions, and thus, the PCs are off to Dun Delve – en route, they just have to survive a deadly drow ambush and meet a svirfneblin trading caravan (they btw. use giant mole-like things as beasts of burden)…and a couple of other things. If they get off track, you’ll have a couple of nice sample encounters as well…including one with a greater flail snail. Anyways, the PCs will sooner or later reach Dun Delve if they don’t fall prey to the dangers of the subterranean realms.

Dun Delve is massive…and prejudiced murderhobo PCs will have a very tough time; the focus here is on keeping a low profile and good roleplaying…which is evident from the get-go, as a wererat questions them…and may well yield information. The exploration of the stronghold will also bring the PCs to a drug den, where e.g. two Brian-gorgers are currently taking their drugs – the fully depicted scene is hilarious. I mean it. It almost looks like one of the tentacle-headed monsters is at the psychologist, only that the psychologist is currently holding a hookah-pipe and imbibing. The doofy look in their eyes and whole scene…I don’t know what it is, but it is deeply comical to me. This is further enhanced by the fact that this is NOT a combat encounter – the PCs can actually get quite a lot of information out of the stoned brain-gorgers; Marlipp seems to believe that the Great Brain will save him – and hence is en route to the Brain-gorger city of Quinthrall!

Thus, the PCs are on the road once more – they have to pass fungal forests, deep ones (including a dragon eel)…and finally confront Marlipp! The brain-gorger hasn’t fully recovered from his addiction, but remains a formidable foe – whether the PCs best him or are bested, some mages gate in and capture the creature…but leave the PCs a seal of introduction and invite them to city of Trilllium. Seems like the PCs have just attracted the attention of the mighty Ceaseless, while also satisfying the Baron’s command!

The module comes with a handy monster appendix (including descriptions etc.) a nice hand-out that represents the invitation at the end, and we get a proper, player-friendly version of the amazing Dun Delve map – big kudos there! The module closes with a brief one-page gazetteer of Dun Delve.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to an elegant two-column b/w-standard and the artwork deserves special mention: With Erol Otus, Jeff Butler, Terry Pavlet, Jason Braun, Del Teigeler, Britt Martin, Jeff Easley, Diesel LaForce and Dan Fransee, we have some amazing talents here. The cartography by Dan Fransee and Lloyd Metcalf is also excellent. The softcover booklet comes with a nice, glossy front and back and the interior paper is nice quality as well – no complaints there!

It took me quite some time to fully digest what it was about this book that appealed so much to me; it wasn’t the subtle humor, nor was it the weirdness – I’ve seen both done in less subtle, more in your face ways. In fact, writing this review, I realized that, ultimately, Alex Kammer’s second module is, as a whole, stronger than the sum of its parts. Yes, it is a pretty linear exploration, one with a few hub-scenes; it has a good mix of challenges…so why did it work so well for me?

Okay, so here’s my thesis: This is the module-equivalent of a road-movie through the underdark. We embark, we visit wondrous places, meet quirky characters…and the road moves on. There are hubs, waystations if you will; wondrous vistas that hint at more – yet, the journey is subservient to the need to go on, to find the target. The resolution of the module, which might have been frustrating if presented in another context, feels oddly fitting for the adventure: It is the journey that matters, not the result. At the end of this adventure, the PCs will have seen wondrous vistas and strange things, both wondrous and dangerous. As someone who adores roadtrips and the whole genre, this feels fitting, and, as is my contention, very much deliberate. This whole structure works too well for that mold, that type of thinking, to be coincidence. It is only in hindsight, with a bit of analytical distance, that I can appreciate how these elements come together to create an atmosphere that is uncommon and wondrous; This journey is sometimes funny, sometimes dangerous, but, most of all, it is worth embarking on.

My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Into The Deep Dark
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Monstrous Lair #42: Derro Outpost
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2019 09:16:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

All right, this time around, we’ll take a look at an outpost of the loathsome, insane derro, and considering their madness, it should come as no surprise that their presence is hinted at by cave paintings, hollows dug into stalagmite tops containing weird offerings, stacked bones and the like – these do hint properly at the presence of the insane dwarves; there’s a method to the madness that might be misinterpreted as the presence of savage beings. Like it! As for what’s going on, we have obsessive ordering of stones, derro hopping around while listening to insanely babbling sorcerers, insane dwarves hurling spears at a wall before running and similarly puzzling happenstances – I’m happy to report that these all feel very derro-esque and unique.

The same holds true for the major lair features, which include fungal sticks with hooks, stone bowls polished to mirror sheen containing insects and similarly puzzling things…including a corpse-dump, just to drive home that these dwarves are not the harmless kind of insane. Minor lair features also emphasize this, with stacks of skulls held together by orange paste, stinking mashes of fungus and feces in low dips and similar indicators that these dwarves are not well. What about footprints painted on a tunnel wall? Yeah, cool!

With huge, bushy moustaches and shocks of white hair, derro may be both comical and terrifying; they might be wearing weird armor woven of leather and fungus, and e.g. having meaningless gibberish tattooed all over? Yep, can see that. The appearance-table does not disappoint. The treasures found include strange holy symbols, flensing knives, shotgun-style repeating crossbows and unstable wands. Did I mention the shrunken heads with their madness-inducing fumes? The miscellanea table includes anti-slug salt laced with quartz (probably not wise to use it for seasoning), grub-cheese, picture books of imaginary creatures and the like – I like these.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

We have a return to form here for Steve Hood. After obviously struggling slightly with the previous two outposts, he manages to once more deliver a truly exciting little dressing file here, one that is chock-full with evocative and novel dressing that oozes with the derro’s delightful and twisted insanity. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Lair #42: Derro Outpost
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Epic! Thanks for this review, End. I'm glad this Monstrous Lair worked for you!
Monstrous Lair #41: Duergar Outpost
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/26/2019 09:14:56

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables.

Okay, so, the outside of the lair features improved defensive positions on alternating sides of the corridor, accounting for the duergar’s low speed; hidden deadfalls, crossbow emplacements, guard posts with a large steel gong – this is generally a table with a couple of cool entries, though once more, we have slaves stumbling along booted tracks, and there is a bit of a strong focus on poisons, which struck me as slightly odd. As for what’s going on, we have duergar chasing wounded dwarves, we have duergar branding slaves, consulting elf-skin maps, etc. The table also includes duergar forcing slaves to pile rocks, and examples for their cruel and unrelenting obsession with duty – I liked these former entries; forcing two elven slaves to fight to the death? Less unique.

Among the major lair features, we can find mutilated dwarf corpses, braziers emitting light and smoke, stone statues lording with evil smiles over crushed adversaries, stalactites poised to collapse – several interesting ones, though there are two brazier entries, the second of which is cooler and renders the first pretty obsolete. Minor lair features include heavy stone blocks crashing down, hollow pebbles that break loudly, catapults firing oozes at intruders – oddly, these minor lair features are much cooler than the major ones – and more mechanically significant. Though a dead elf hanging from the wall? Not that interesting.

The different duergar appearances include bushy eyebrows poking forth from helmets, duergar growing to wield huge towershields with halflings strapped to the front, individuals with spike-hand prosthetics or priests wielding red-hot, fiery chains. I can get behind this table – it’s varied and interesting. The treasure section includes light-absorbing amulets, barbed whips made from roper tendrils and doppelgänger face-masks – grisly, and yet distinct from the decadence that was on display in the drow-entry. Nice! The miscellanea this time around includes empty vials of spider venom (kinda lame, duergar are not exactly the race that is known for their spider-theme), edible puffballs, spore-stained copper rings. The best entries here deal with well-crafted items that have subtle traps/caveats included – these are great, and I wished the whole table consisted of the like.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Duergar are harder to set apart than e.g. drow, but for the most part, Steve Hood’s pdf does a solid job; while not all tables are winners, each has a couple of entries that I considered to be genuinely interesting. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Lair #41: Duergar Outpost
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Epic! Thanks for this review, End. I'm sorry this Monstrous Lair didn't worked for you 100%
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