An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive book clocks in at 215 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, ¾ of a page blank, 10 pages of brief author/artist bios, 4 pages backer thanks, 3 pages of index, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 192 ¼ pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf-version; I do not own the print version.
Okay, in case the cover wasn’t ample indicator, this is a pretty wholesome book as far as D&D etc. are concerned; it is a book that presents a crafting engine, and does so thematically in line with Studio Ghibli movies, the inspiration that this book proudly wears upon its sleeves and acknowledges pretty much from the get-go.
In case you’re not that familiar with these charming movies, I strongly recommend watching them all now; in case you’re not up to a marathon of some of the most charming animated movies ever made, let me try to give you an idea about the magic presented herein: It is, ultimately, a form of magic that tends to feel high-fantasy in that it is something assumed to infuse the daily lives of individuals; unlike many high fantasy magic examples, we have no threatening industrial complexes or outrageous engines per se; instead, we have a take of magic as pertaining to the everyday life, to the domestic sphere – hence the supplement focusing on the sensible terminology of “domestic magic” – magic is seen and employed as a tool in everyday lives, with its potency somewhat influenced by the dedication, passion and care instilled into it by the creators.
The Crafting rules presented remain pretty simple and follow a six-step process: At the blueprint stage, you propose a project; then the GM decides a difficulty tier in 7 levels; simple tasks are level 1 or 2, legendary ones level 7; as a variant rule, level 0 tasks are also included. In step 3, this level then determines the DC of the project. This is calculated by multiplying the Difficulty Level with 5, and then adding 5, which generates a span from DC 10 to DC 40, assuming the unmodified difficulty tiers presented above. Crafting requires base materials, with the difficulty tier providing a general guideline of how easy it is to gather the respective materials. Then, you start preparations, which include gaining the required knowledge, assistance if feasible, getting high class ingredients. However, there are two interesting factors here: For one, when you sacrifice something of personal importance suitable for the task appropriate to the level, you improve the quality of the item; when you make an item FOR someone else (and not sold, etc.), generosity will make the item more powerful, excluding items that harm the recipient. In short: Honest gifts are always more potent than e.g. items bought/sold. More tricky: If you assume reciprocity, the bonus does not apply.
While I like the intent behind the latter rule, I don’t really think it works in game. Per definition when playing a game with numbers and success/failure states, you have an intrinsic motivation of making gifts, and many aspects become really muddy. Say, you make a healing potion for your adventurer buddies: One way of arguing here is that the gift is selfless; another would be that the gift helps keep the gift-giver alive as well if it can heal an ally, and as such does not qualify. I adore the idea behind the rule, I get where its limitations come from and consider them to be necessary to avoid gaming the engine and creating really cynical gift-giving rackets contrary to the game, but the precise definition of what is and is not gift-giving is not nearly precise and detailed enough. I’d usually mind less here, but as provided, this rule will lead to copious amounts of grumbling and discussing with the GM of what is and is not a proper recipient of the generosity boost.
Each of these aforementioned factors are preparation advantages, and one per type can be applied to a project. Here is where things become interesting: You roll the crafting check with just a d6 + toolkit/proficiency, versus the DC; each advantage you got adds +1d6, which is added to the roll. So, preparation is king. I like that It also keeps skill more important. However, taking the example from above, this also means that the +1d6 generosity die can be extraordinarily important, making chances for annoying discussions more likely.
Anyhow, this also means that that you can roll up to 6d6, plus a probably modifier of +6 (relevant ability score 18, plus proficiency bonus) as soon as first level, which makes it already possible to beat rather high DCs; unless you’re part of a trading class, though, you won’t see much relevant scaling, though. The engine has a few more charming peculiarities, though: Any “1” rolled in item creation introduces a flaw, and every “6” rolled introduces a boon. You can pay off a flaw with a boon. A variant rule lets you take a flaw or lose a boon for a +3 bonus to make a project you almost failed at apply this bonus. If you fail the role, the materials are lost. Flaws and boons are roughly categorized in 3 levels (stacks), ranging from Minor, over Substantial, to Dangerous (flaws)/Magical (boons).
While generalist rules are provided, the book provides the notion of trade classes, which reward specialization. Their framework is based on 5 tiers; you improve the tier at level 9 and every 4 levels thereafter; each tier increases your Craft Dice by +1d6 (so a tier 5 character has 5d6), and also increases Stamina by +1 from its starting value of 3. Stamina is a limiter of sorts: You expend Stamina at a rate of 1 per Difficulty Level, multiplied with the project’s size – Small projects have a x1 modifier, and the largest you can get is Huge, which means x4. Somewhat to my chagrin, this means that recreating Howl’s Moving Castle is beyond the options available by the system. If a project requires more Stamina than you have, it’ll take multiple days. When taking a trade class, you get a bonus language, the lingua franca of the trade, and choose a primary and secondary medium. (Open media alternate rules included). Tier 1 and 3 net you tool proficiencies, and you start off with two techniques, with an additional one gained every tier thereafter. Tier 2 and 4 net you a reroll of a d6, a reduced flaw, or lets you add a boon; tier 3 lets you autowin the craft action of Difficulty Level 1 projects. Tier 5 lets you double the stamina cost to roll twice the total dice and take the better result.
Techniques have prerequisites by tier, and some apply only for certain media: Collector requires crystals, for example, and nets you the sacrifice benefits automatically when making a gift. Which is something I mechanically understand; however, it once again ties in with the disjoint I mentioned above regarding the game’s mechanics and the intended spirit of the rules. This is a benefit that lets you forego making sacrifices when crafting; mechanically, it’s just a d6 without a narrative drawback, but within the themes of the game, if one does indeed assume a world wherein the rules herein apply, this pretty much undermines the tenet behind the power of sacrifice for the work. It also is really weird that it’s a crystal-exclusive. Why can only crystal collectors be this attached to the materials they used to craft? My grandpa (Rest in peace) was a carpenter, and he used to do wood engraving and carving as a hobby; you bet that he had a collection of his favorite pieces of wood, and could tell you all about where he found the branches etc. during his travels.
Having connections, a green thumb, etc. – there are plentiful cool ideas here; in quite a few instances, though, their mechanical consequences haven’t always been taken into account. The option to grant a +1d4 boost with a short rest recharge? Okay. What about having an eidetic memory stretching back one week? The ability explicitly states that we have the ability to create exact duplicates and forgeries thus, potentially including (at least RAW), magical aspects. Okay, but what about aspects that the character wasn’t aware of? Hidden mechanisms? A letter with a mage’s seal and some weird effects? As written, you get to reproduce them, even if you are not aware of their presence. This needed a cleaner presentation. It also imho warrants means to detect your forgery, for RAW, this is a perfect copy, which means when applied to a world, that documents are rather easy to simply, well, copy. Infectious Enthusiasm is another one of these aspects: It nets you advantage on any Charisma checks involving your current project. Okay. Does this entail adventuring to gain the materials? Just haggling for them? Where’s the dividing line? Sticky Fingers nets you advantage on all Dexterity checks made to gather resources for your project. Okay, so if I’m a rogue, entering a mansion to steal stuff for my project, I get advantage on every single Stealth check, on every Sleight of Hand, and each check made using thieves’ tools. Got it. All rogues need to be craftspersons with projects pertaining to their current heist, as this obviously nets the equivalent of a +5 bonus to pretty much everything they do.
Man, I feel like a prick disassembling the engine of such a charming book, but while the intent may be admirably, the design of these aspects is uneven; 5e is not a narrativist game; it is a rather precise system, and the rules here, well, they aren’t as precise as they should be. I’d usually give this some leeway, but as presented above, the verbiage unintentionally creates realities within the game that run contrary to the spirit of the book. Need another example? Well, why not take one from the tier 5 high-level techniques; let’s choose Symbol.
Symbol makes creatures within 600 ft. that can see or hear it, and creatures following the direct leadership of a creature wielding it, or creatures acting to preserve it, immunity to fear, the first “two steps of exhaustion”, and lets creatures regenerate two levels of exhaustion and all lost “hit dice” on a long rest. You may only have one such symbol “empowered” at any one time, however, you may have up to 3 duplicates. I don’t even have to TRY to poke holes into this. What constitutes “following direct leadership”? How does that interact with the rang/sight/hearing caveat? What constitutes preserving? Does this apply re range? What do duplicates do? The same thing? What action, if any, is changing the symbol to be empowered? If I designate a part of a border wall an object of preservation, does that make everyone defending that border eligible? You get my drift. I know what this is trying to do; I do maintain, however, that the book is not as precise as it should be, and there is NO REASON for it being so wishy-washy; this wide open ambiguity doesn’t add to the game; it leads to discussions and potential anger about different rules interpretation, which are very much contrary to the spirit this book seeks to evoke.
Now, as for the respective trade classes: Each of them sports essentially three sub-classes that modify/determine the trade class benefits depending on the profession. I generally like these, though the priorities sometimes seem a bit odd; while e.g. having cartographers, painters and writers presented as subsets of Drafting made sense to me, the same can’t be said for the “Crystal” header, which has Glassblower, Jeweler and Mason (!!) as subtypes of the trade class. Stonework in general is not represented, which struck me as a bit odd.
As for the system as a whole: I genuinely like its framework and basic set-up, as well as its versatility; however, in the details and verbiage of particularly the smaller rules components, this sorely needed a strict developer to get all the rules-language in line and modify it to be…well…precise. And no, I don’t care what anyone says, this is NOT a deliberate feature; I’ve reviewed plenty of supplements that employ vagueness in certain aspects of their rules without generating potentially weird effects on the game world and discussions; there are components herein that are needlessly vague. In short: If you’re an experienced GM/designer, I’d strongly recommend design your own set of more precise techniques. Much to my chagrin, the massive list of them provided herein does not reach the standards of rules language precision and internal consistency/balance I expected.
The book then proceeds to present us with Cape Verdigris, a charming seaside setting that reminded me of Majo no Takkyūbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), providing a per se neat basic framework of several locations in which to situate the game; as a whole, I very much enjoyed this section. I would have loved to see more details here, but as a sketch-like framing device, the book does a good job here.
A massive part of the book following this section turns out to be an adventure of a rather unconventional kind: Without going into SPOILERS, the module is about an old mansion, which the party gets to restore to proper glory, including a variety of rather interesting things that happen; the focus is, decidedly, not on combat, which I applaud. The characters and challenges per se are charming in that elusive Star Dew Valley-esque manner, and as a whole, I very much enjoyed this. HOWEVER, the module also fortified an inkling I had above: The module primarily makes use of the rules presented in this book, which is good; it often disregards the problem-solution options provided by D&D 5e’s core engine, though. Spells, skills in negotiation, etc. – unless absolutely requiring the system’s rules, the module always elects to tell you that it takes a DL X project to solve this. The lack of awareness regarding system options is evident with e.g. a kite flying event. I mean, you know that there are plenty of spells and options that let you generate wind? Not accounted for.
This is a weakness of an otherwise interesting one-year spanning series of small challenges and events. The second weakness being the focus on NPCs over the player characters regarding the baseline premise of the inheritance of the manor, which makes the entire module feel a bit more like the player characters are flunkies of NPCs. It’s a small thing, but having the party be the directly-affected individuals would have been more engaging. Finally, for an otherwise gorgeous book, the rather rudimentary b/w maps (which are player-friendly, however!) struck me as aesthetic sore spots; consider the success of the supplement during founding, I was surprised to see that the cartography wasn’t better.
The supplement also features an array of new spells, and what can I say: After the supplement has so far failed to impress me regarding its applicability to the general system of D&D 5e, the spells herein are generally neat: Using phantom inspection to analyze an object based on a hologram of sorts in your hands, getting essentially a spell-based infravision, fortifying your fellows versus airborne hazards with aura of incense (which may be a bit low-level for its benefits)…easily the best-designed section of the book so far.
After this, we move on to an array of new familiars, including new greater familiars that can only be called with a new higher-level spell. These familiars, including a mothy hamster-ish thing, a living piggy bank and more, are genuinely charming, and the statblocks not only adheres to 5e’s formatting conventions, the math also checks out. Kudos! What about birds that are literally instruments – you know, songbirds? This is genuinely heart-warming and charming, and yes, the soots are included as well! What about a tortoise that holds tools? Awesome. This level of charm and cuteness also extends to the magic item section, where blankets of napping, magical fishing rods and the hood of the edgelord (which has a chance to transform into a non-removable, sparkling flower) made me grin. I particularly loved the blueprint of artifacts section: here, proper artifact crafting (DL9 and more in some cases!) are provided – and we get actually IMAGES of the blueprints. That’s awesome.
The book then proceeds to provide a bestiary section (pertaining to the module and beyond) and provides uncommon trades in another appendix; these are presented with a single variant rule, and are, in some ways, less detailed than what I’d have liked to see, but oh well.
Then, we get the boon/flaw tables: 5 entries for minor, major and magical boon, same for flaws – that’s what we get regarding general ones. Then, we get tables for the respective general categories (not for the actual trades – so we get tables for Wood, but not for the individual trades dealing with wood). These tend to be interesting, but ultimately, a total of 5 entries per boon/flaw level seems awfully low to me. If you’re really embracing the system, you’d better prepare greatly expanding those tables, otherwise, they’ll become repetitious fast. I think that this section would have benefited from more meat on its bones.
After this, we get d20 tables: 17 entries for obstacles, 17 for high-quality materials. Weird: We’d have the space for proper 20-entry tables – why not fill them up?
Appendix 5, Crafted Treasure, was when I first read the book, admittedly the aspect I was preparing a long and droning monologue on, as it is here where we finally get the guidelines of values by DL and size, and labor. These two humble tables at the back of the book do a LOT to contextualize properly the entire engine, and ultimately allow you to create a plausible setting utilizing the frameworks of the book. Why is this only in the appendix? No idea.
Statistics for awakened objects and objects, as well as a full-color character sheet on two pages close the pdf before we get to the credits.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; when it comes to rules-language, the book oscillates between delightfully precise and frustratingly wishy-washy and vague. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book is full of impressive, colorful and wholesome artwork; lots of pastels, not a single drop of blood – you get the idea. Cartography is the one aspect where this doesn’t excel aesthetically – the rudimentary b/w-maps crammed into the book (why not on full pages in the back as well, for handout use?) look somewhat out of place.
…oh, and this has no bookmarks. WTF. A huge tome of a book, with rules, appendices, that requires you to skip to and fro, of this size. With no bookmarks.
Shannon Campbell, Damon Hines and Dillon MacPherson have achieved something I genuinely like here; while I may be a frickin’ edgelord, I’m very much in love with Studio Ghibli movies and the aesthetic, and the designers have actually managed to successfully translate that nostalgic, wholesome feeling to the gaming table, an impressive feat indeed.
And yet, while I should love this book, I don’t. The robust core engine starts buckling somewhat in the details, where the consequences of the technique benefits on the world this depicts by applying the system haven’t been thought through to the logical conclusion. The technique rules are often frustratingly imprecise and “open to interpretation”, and not in a good way or one that would help creativity, but in an aggravating way. It is weird, really – this book primarily struggles with applying its concepts to the realities of the game system and table; not necessarily in the rules aptitude, mind you, but with regards to how e.g. concepts like generosity apply in game. This is in so far weird, as the book is also an example of a team that actually can write precise 5e-rules, as highlighted in spells, magic items, etc.; and yet, the core engine, and to a degree, the otherwise absolutely heart-warming module, doe somewhat suffer from this phenomenon, from the integration of the content within the finer rules of the system.
You may not notice; an experienced GM can offset this – but ultimately, I can’t help but consider these to be unnecessary flaws in a book that could easily have become a Top Ten candidate. The rules aspects are what costs this my seal of approval.
In summary: This is a thoroughly charming, heart-warming supplement I can definitely recommend if you’re looking for a thoroughly wholesome take on fantasy not focused on slaying critters. Its systems are per se robust and solid; however, if you and your table tend to be individuals that think about the realities and consequences of the implementation of magic in everyday lives, if you expect pinpoint precision, then this book might also frustrate you. There are a quite a lot of components that need to be agreed upon regarding their interpretation, some of which are aspects of the core engine. And that, ultimately, is not something that this design should have, or that it needed to have to function. Furthermore, the priorities tend to feel a bit odd: The relatively few boons and flaws per trade, for example, will require expansions in prolonged play. The per se neat setting/framework hinted at could have used more meat on its bones, etc.
As a whole, I almost loved this, but the small and not so small hiccups did accumulate. I wanted to adore this, rate it 5 stars + seal; I can’t. From aforementioned small hiccups to the lack of bookmarks that renders navigation a colossal pain in the behind, this has too many small flaws, to the point where, in the system’s parlance, they no longer are minor, but have stacked up to a major flaw. And even if I pay off its flaws with boons, I can’t arrive at a unanimous recommendation. As a whole, I can’t rate this higher than 4 stars, even though I very much wanted to.