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Sentence of the Sinlord
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/24/2020 08:39:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive module clocks in at 95 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages editorial, 2 pages introduction/ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 84 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, this module is intended for level 20 characters, and mythic ones at that…mostly, that is. You see, the introduction of the adventure actually lists difficulties by mythic tiers, and these assessments are VALID. And yes, the module can be tackled without mythic powers, but that makes it one of the hardest modules ever, and means that pretty much every single battle risks TPKs. Still, if you’re like me and want a combat-puzzle par excellence, this might be worth contemplating. I generally recommend it for mythic tiers 1-5 for the best results; sans mythic tiers, it is ULTRA-brutal. The module also makes use of a TON of books and assumes serious PF1-familiarity. Then again, it’s a capstone – and not just for an AP. In a way, it’s a loveletter to the system and to what only PFRPG delivers with its intricate, strategic combats.

And to Golarion.

Much more than any other Legendary Games supplement, this makes a TON of use of the setting; from Castle Korvosa’s cellars to obscure metaplot references, the module features A LOT of little tidbits that the savvy fan will notice and appreciate. But how? Well, here’s the thing: While Legendary Games can’t well use Paizo’s IP, the renamed components are VERY CLEAR, and in the beginning, a handy list of terms/names is provided. With these, the module is one name-exchange away from being pretty much a module steeped in obscure Golarion lore. I love that, particularly considering that it’s an alternate post-finale-ish module for Return of the Runelords.

At this point in time, PF2 and the AP are old enough that the existence of New Thassilon is not a SPOILER anymore – but this module poses a question: What if? What if the final runelord Sorshen (here genderswapped as Kazsethil, the fellow on the cover) had a bid for global dominance like the others and stuck to evil guns? That one phenomenal bid for all or nothing, that bookend to the age of rising runelords? This module follows this train of thought, and I’m not exaggerating when I’m saying that the module’s structure and challenges, to a degree, remind my of ole’ Karzoug and Xin-Shalast, and similar high-fantasy scenes from various APs. In fact, it almost feels a tad bit more audacious, more willing to embrace ultra-high fantasy – and that’s a good thing, for structurally, this is a kind of dungeon with a planar theme. In a relatively clever bid, it does not try to limit the capabilities of the characters, which is a good thing. Indeed, the module walks a good tightrope when it comes to making the party actually explore the dungeon instead of bypassing it – so kudos for that. While I personally prefer event-driven/grand scale operations in high-level gameplay, this does an admirable job when it comes to making an ultra-high-level group actually crawl through a dungeon, so kudos there.

While we’re on the topic of structures and formal criteria: The module has hyperlinks for less commonly used spells, etc., we have read-aloud text, etc., and while I haven’t reverse-engineered all statblocks herein, I did the math for a couple, and was actually duly impressed. While there are glitches here and there, these tend to be in sections that matter less, like a ranged weapon for a melee-focused combatant, etc. Unless you’re diving into the nit and grit of the numbers, you won’t run into issues on the rules-front GMing this.

I own both the pdf and the PoD-softcover; the latter has no name on the spine, which is a bit of a bummer. And which brings me to something I usually don’t mention in my reviews. Ever wondered why there aren’t more high-level modules? I mean, okay, they are hard to run, and harder to design…but that’s not all, right? Right. You see, high level adventures tend to sell not particularly well. They’re a small subsection of a subsection of the market, and this module, in many ways, feels like fan fiction that managed to get published. WAIT.

I do NOT mean that in a disparaging way! Not in the slightest! Some of the best Ravenloft material ever written was penned by fans! And in many ways, this module reminded me of the good ole’ Kargatane and Fraternity of Shadows, save that its content, well, is for Golarion. What do I mean by that? Well, for a Legendary Games book in particular, the shoestring budget is somewhat evident. The maps are not impressive, at best okay and certainly are not as strong as many Michael Tumey has made in the past, and no properly-sized keyless player-facing versions are included, and the maps have 10-ft.-grids, which is a HUGE pain in a game where pretty much all abilities are based on 5-ft. grids. So yeah, you’ll have to redraw all maps. That SUCKS. I hate it.

The majority the full-color art will be familiar for many GMs; particularly the layout irked me a bit: The lower border is reminiscent of the Horror-plug-ins in style (which is nice), but out of some strange glitch, the lower page border and the red seven-pointed star are very pixilated, which makes the lower border look messy. As a consequence of the pixilated lower border and the less than appealing maps, this is not an aesthetically-pleasing module. These rough edges also extend to the editing part; while the module can be run in a clean manner, there are quite a few hiccups, including rules-relevant (but minor) ones that do accumulate throughout the module.

And yet, it does have something that many, many published adventures lack. An audacious love of the subject matter that oozes from every damn page of the module. The tactics and builds themselves help running the complex encounters, and from creature choice to scenes, the module pulls no punches.

Heck, if you want to hear this module’s whole appeal made awesome-cheesy metal track, listen to “Beast in Black – Unlimited Sin” – the back cover’s tagline is by no accident an indirect variation of that song’s chorus. Picture the bombastic melodies and synth blasts of that track made module. That’s this adventure. And I mean this as someone who adores this track. This pumped up, hyper sense of epic conflict? Yeah, that’s the tone of this module down to a “T”.

Okay, this is pretty much 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 first combat pitches the party, as they try to stop Kazsethil, against two elite guardian troops (CR 18), a draconal agathion (CR 20) and a CR 20 paladin. Yep, you heard right – Kazsethil, as the runelord of lust, has a surprising variety of devoted minions in the highest echelons of power, including characters that can be made to see the error of their ways; the module also spends quite some time explaining the individual character’s reasonings and how they may or may not remain loyal – for example the CR 21 nosferatu sorcerer, who may well be aghast when he realizes that he’s nothing more than a disposable guard dog…

From here, the trail leads to the Crimson Ziggurat (including notes on how teleportation’s a bad idea through a pillar – and we then turn to the paradisiacal gardens of the runelor…äh, pardon, “sinlord” – essentially the “high-level plant/beast”-level, where the party has a chance to face off with a giant swarm-blooded 18-headed mythic hydra. CR 23/MR 8. This build…made me cackle with GLEE. Glee, I tell you!! It’s such an EVIL build. Love it. Of course, the PCs may also run afoul of an ancient paradise dragon and 4 planetars. You know. As you do. Just one further encounter. Oh, and yes, mythic dimensional lock and mythic guards and wards in place.

To make that abundantly clear: I am smiling a very wicked smile as I’m typing these words. And that’s the start. From here on, we venture into Kazsethil’s proper dungeon, where highly volatile damaged portal tables: What about a massive miniature city that acts as a kind of imprisonment focus? Or a stone colossus that is the prison of a frickin’ INFERNAL DUKE? Heck, his concubines are CR 18 succubus mesmerists (yes, PLURAL), izfiitar proteans. Oh, and super high-level vampires, infernal champions and more await en route to the catacombs, where familiarity with Thassilonian magic and its themes is truly rewarded. Here, the eldest lamia, hemodynamic clockwork fiends and psychic lich arcanists await alongside soulbound warmongers. No, that’s not the level’s boss encounter.

See what I meant with “this module does what only PFRPG delivers” – in many ways, each combat herein, to some degree, is a brutal test of strategy, power, and genuine system mastery skill. The trompe l’oeil magus kensai that wields the sword of lust being one particularly noteworthy monster of a battle. The sepulchers of the other runelords, represented by runeplated akaruzugs, even have a whole page-table of infused attacks/custom SPs. And then, below, there is the Shining Elder, the creator of rune magic (CR 26/MR 10; and if that looks too puny for you, guidelines to ramp the fellow up to CR 30 are included…) – defeating this ally of Kazsethil may well restructure the order of magic (a perfect explanation for changed rules if you’re planning on transitioning to PF2, introduce Spheres of Power, akasha or Grimoire of Lost Souls or something along those lines in your next campaign!).

Oh, and all of that? That’s but a prelude in comparison to the true finale. You see, Kazsethil seeks to merge with the very fabric of nature, becoming essentially a cosmic law – and he’s not dumb enough to face the PCs alone. Colossus. Advanced elohim. Runeslave Runegiants. Sinspawn champions. A full-blown, fully statted ultra-high level adventuring group. Oh, and Kazsethil. Good luck. Your players will need it. All those tricks, all that experience? The party will need it. Desperately. (As an aside: If you wanted to use Spheres of Power in your next campaign, the book has you covered, and the whole “creator of magic/paradigm change" has help for adjusting the boss there…)

The module concludes with an alternate 8th sin (doubt) and items/artifacts as well as a feat and aforementioned hemodynamic construct template – and the rune of transgression spell.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules language level; on one hand, the highly complex high-level builds are better and more inspired than I expected to see, but there also are quite a few minor hiccups, though none that truly impede the module. Layout, as noted before, is weird – the pixilated lower border really irked me. In combination with the lack of player-friendly maps sucks; the maps aren’t particularly impressive, and use a 10-ft.-grid, which makes running tactical combat in PFRPG a huge PAIN. You’ll need to redraw all of them for 5-foot-squares, as the module really requires that level of tactical precision in combat. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the softcover, as noted, doesn’t have the name on the spine, which is a bit of a bummer.

Oh boy. Matt Daley’s “Sentence of the Sinlord” is a really tough cookie for me to review. Because it is, in many ways, a pretty flawed adventure; the requirement to redraw maps alone, and the lack of player-friendly maps, is a pretty big downside, particularly considering how tactical this module is. How finely-calibrated the combat encounters are to push the PCs to the limits and beyond. This, all on its lonesome, would usually sink the module on a personal level for me.

The shoestring budget is very much apparent, and in some ways that are not only not as aesthetically-pleasing, but frankly inconsiderate. The map-redraw situation alone is a big no-go. I should punish this module for it and rate it down to the vicinity of the 3-star region. And yet…

…to say it with aforementioned song: “Unlimited Sin, Unlimited Power – that’s the price you must pay” – that was my credo when I prep’d this. But why would you bother dealing with that, when there are so many other modules out there?

Well. There are almost no adventures out there that deliver what this one does – this level of challenge, this level of audacity and full-blown embracing of apex-level combat action. In many ways, Sentence of the Sinlord is a resounding success that OOZES passion from every page, testament to the love that the author professes for the game and setting in the introduction.

If you are like me and value substance over style, value ambition and creativity over perfection, then this may well rank among your favorite modules for the system. Heck, with the sheer number of ultra-deadly high-level builds herein, this module could be scavenged for super-enemies and campaign endbosses for years.

In a way, this reminded me in some ways of Coliseum Morpheuon, save that it was built with PF’s by now increased power-level in mind. And that is a high, very high compliment. Since Rite Publishing has gone semi-dormant right now, feeling this vibe once more made me smile from ear to ear. I know that Steven D. Russell (R.I.P., my friend) would have approved of this module.

As a reviewer, this leaves me in a precarious position: As a person, I’m saying “screw the flaws, I’ll fix the downsides, this is too cool”, but as a reviewer, I genuinely should trash this module. I don’t want to.

So, once more: This is a flawed module. This might be a 3-star module, perhaps even a 2-star module, for you; if you just want pretty original art and maps, this is not the module for that. If you want an audacious, deadly, tactical love-letter to Golarian and the age of runelords, then this will make you smile from ear to ear. As such, I feel justified in rounding up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. And since I, as a person, really loved this, it does get my seal of approval. I want to see the author write more modules. I’d love to see if he can maintain this level of energy throughout a whole campaign. There is a joy here that is impossible to fake, and if you want to see more, more high-level modules, more adventures that dare to be this deadly, this difficult, this joyously high fantasy in the best of ways, then please get this adventure. This deserves a spot in your collection, in spite of its flaws.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Sentence of the Sinlord
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Star Classes: Solarian
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/23/2020 13:17:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Classes-series clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, this supplement begins with a discussion of components that the supplement defines as problematic at the table – these are, for one, MAD (Multiple Ability Score Dependency) of Charisma, Constitution (though to a lesser degree due to how SFRPG operates), and Dexterity/Strength, depending on the build; this is a factor that could ostensibly be deemed to be intentional, though I do agree that the solarian suffers from needing to split their focus thus. The second factor is a BIG one, and one that is impossible to dispute – the solarian has dead levels: On level 5, we have a resistance increase for solar armor, on level 15, we have the same + 1d6 for solar weapon. That kinda sucks and is really not fun. One of the things that PFRPG improved over 3.X was to make most levels fun and unique. So yeah, filling these? Great! All for it!

This supplement operates under the central premise of making the solarian more powerful, so that’s something to bear in mind here.

As such, the supplement begins with abilities suggested to even the playing field a bit for the solarian – these include number-tweaks like expanded proficiencies (heavy armor, longarms, grenades – oddly all capitalized, as though they were feats; indeed, quite a few abilities are presented thus, deviating from formatting conventions), making Strength or Dexterity key ability modifier, use Charisma instead of Dexterity to determine AC, use Charisma instead of Constitution to determine Stamina gained, or using Charisma instead of Strength or Dexterity to calculate attack rolls with solar weapons or blasts.

Regarding flexibility, upgrades suggested are making them learn a harmonic revelation or both of a photon and graviton revelation. The suggestion to provide an additional manifestation or strengthened manifestation at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter (highly recommended – it kills the dead levels), or an ability that lets them retrain a stellar revelation when using sidereal influence. (Also an ability I’d recommend – makes the playing experience more versatile, and sidereal influence’s level and time-requirements prevent abuse) Good call here: The supplement doesn’t simply leave the GM alone with the new material, and advises caution regarding use of too many “substitute Charisma for X” type of abilities. The suggested tweaks, as presented, provide some customization options, but leaves the control firmly where it belongs - in the GM’s hands. While slightly more guidance would have been appreciated, but what we do get here is already something I very much appreciate.

Speaking of things I appreciate: Easily one of my least favorite things about SFRPG in the beginning was, that it simply didn’t offer that much regarding compelling lore pertaining to the respective classes; I still think that the Pact Worlds book could have done more there. Anyhow, the supplement provides quite a few cool lore justifications for the existence of solarians, which include cosmic radiation (cool for a somewhat comic-book-like feel), being an agent of fate…and one I’m particularly fond of, where notions of absolute moralities are dissolved. As someone who has always been vocal about hating alignment systems, particularly within the complex realities of more advanced civilizations, that one struck a chord with me. 6 of these complex explanations are provided, and I genuinely liked all of them.

The pdf then proceeds to provide the stellar beacon archetype, which grants alternate class features at 2nd, 6th, 9th, 12th and 18th level: At 2nd level, we have a means to gain stellar mode – and if you already are a solarian, you gain 2 points of attunement per round, rather than 1. This is a potentially very strong change, as it decreases the speed to become fully attuned by 1 round, unlocking zenith revelations sooner. Considering that the payoff is a single stellar revelation, this is a very powerful option, particularly when combined with the basic notion of getting more flexible revelations, as suggested before. 6th, 12th and 18th level provide a stellar revelation – so no change for solarians? Well, not quite: If you are a solarian, you can choose zenith revelations at 12th and 18th level instead. At 9th level, we have the Inverted Being ability, which lets you choose one revelation of equal level and opposite attunement for each one you possess. By meditating 10 minutes and spending 1 Resolve Point (not capitalized properly), you can exchange any of these revelations for their opposite.

This archetype is interesting in a couple of ways: For one, it allows for valid dabbling in the solarian engine for non-solarians. For solarians, it provides pretty much a straight power upgrade, in that it allows for quicker zenith manifestation access and an increased emphasis of the duality-concept at 9th level. It also puts me as a reviewer in a very weird position: On one hand, it is, pretty much by design, a VERY strong option, and one you’d be a fool to pass over, if it is allowed in your game. As such, it would be easy to complain about it being overpowered in the context of the solarian class as presented….and indeed, the quicker access to the solarian’s “finishers” is something that requires careful observation, as ALL future zenith revelations or those from other sources are balanced against requiring the set-up time being required. Getting rid of it can become problematic rather fast.

On the other hand, this archetype’s intention is to let you get sooner to that “cool” stuff. The question on whether you’d consider this archetype broken or amazing is ultimately wholly contingent on whether you think that the solarian’s modes play as they should. Do you want the set-up period and play a grittier game? If so, then you should not allow this archetype – for your game, it might tip the balance in an unpleasant manner. You should also be very much careful with zenith revelations and how they operate when using it. If, however, your group is gunning for a higher-powered playing style, and if the set-up of zenith revelations struck you as bothersome, then this archetype will be a godsend, and operate consistently at its intended powerlevel. While zenith revelations still require some oversight, the archetype may well drastically increase your enjoyment of the solarian class in your game. So yeah, for certain games, this is awesome. I just wished that the book clearly spelled the intended design goals to allow GMs to make an informed choice there. An explanation there would have certainly made this more newbie-friendly.

The supplement then proceeds to present two new solar manifestations: Solar amplification increases the DC of both stellar and zenith revelations by 1, +1 at 9th and 18th level, and the ability also nets you ½ solarian level as a bonus to maneuvers executed with stellar revelations. RAW, zenith revelations are excluded from this bonus; not sure that this was intentional, but I assume it was. Solar form nets +1 to all saving throws, which increases to +2 at 10th level (providing a bit of alleviation for the common save-complaint), and nets you twice solarian temporary hit points, with fast healing equal to your solarian level. The latter aspect is highly ambiguous regarding its verbiage – does the fast healing apply universally, or just to the temporary hit points? This needs clarification. Much to my chagrin, the pdf also fails to specify whether and how these interact with the solarian class graft.

Unless I miscounted, we have 24 new stellar revelations. This book introduces a new category of those, so-called harmonic revelations, which count as neither photon, nor graviton, and are active in both attunements. While I get the design goal behind that, I also do think that these somewhat dilute the duality leitmotif of the solarian class on a rules level. I am not a fan of this.

The vast majority of new revelations are harmonic ones, so I’ll just explicitly call out those that aren’t. Among the 2nd level stellar revelations, we have the means to get an additional solar manifestation, which, well, is kinda understandable, but once more, is future-proofing-wise perhaps not the smartest choice, considering that the class ability provides a scaling, constant benefit for the class. Amplified attunement nets you an insight bonus to EAC and KAC while graviton-attuned, while photon-mode nets you a scaling bonus to movement speed while photon-attuned. Both grow in potency at 9th and 18th level. Attunement Pool changes the attunement engine in an interesting manner: It lets your attunement grow to 4 + Charisma (should be capitalized) modifier attunement; when you use a solarian ability that would render you unattuned, you instead reduce this pool by 3. I really love this one. It’s a great investment for epic battles and unlocks some neat combos. Minor nitpick, though: Ideally, the ability should specify that you still can only use abilities that’d cause you to become unattuned if you have at least the 3 attunement required. It is very obvious from context, though. There is also a revelation that makes your solar weapon optionally a 60-ft.-range blast, which can’t be modified by crystals.

There are 8 6th level revelations, the first of which nets you 1 attunement whenever you damage an enemy with an attack. … WTF??? Okay, so this completely delimits attunement. With AoE attacks of any kind, this’ll allow you to scale up to the maximum of even the expanded attunement scale very easily, very swiftly. Compare that broken piece of WTF-ery with +1d6 damage output increase for solar weapon or blast. Or the pretty nifty option to get a solar weapon for each hand, which also gets weapon crystal interaction right. A revelation that nets you plus Charisma modifier uses of limited use revelations, or additional means to target specific targets, excluding targets from AoE revelations – the majority of these options tends to fill a plausible and per se well-wrought idea. Not having sidereal influence end in combat is also an interesting take, and there are means to upgrade the solar manifestations. Higher level revelations include “spending 2 resolve points, you may cast Plane Shift” ([sic!] as an example of formatting hiccups), with the added benefit of working for space ships as well, increasing drift. The latter part here? That’s REALLY cool. Not so cool: SFRPG does not have “full-round actions”; one of 16th level harmonic revelations includes the option to spend 1 Resolve Point to maximize all damage a target takes (NO SAVE); for another point, you also apply critical effects automatically, and any hit is a critical hit. While this ability may only affect a single target once before you need a 10-minute Stamina-replenishing rest, remember that there’s a revelation that lets you affect a target + Charisma modifier times with this! Oh, and guess what? There is also one ability that renders the target utterly invulnerable until the end of your next round. It has the same caveat, but…again…can be prolonged with a revelation herein. No DR, no resistance – flat-out immortality! Fall into a black hole (a proper one), be subject to a god’s smite or a planet destroyer supergun. You can take it. Unscathed. Yes, it requires a full action (erroneously referred to as full-round action) and is high level, but seriously? When compared to the regular 16th-level revelations, these latter two provide ridiculous damage boosts or defensive boosts. And know what? Solarian is DPR-wise already pretty damn good. That wasn’t the main issue of the class.

The book also provides 3 capstone revelations (one for each mode) – 1/week rebirth, a devastating proper mini black hole, and a mini supernova (that actually deals proper damage). I liked all of these, its glitches regarding action names and formatting notwithstanding.

On the photon side, we have means to replenish charges, which can be problematic – if you’re playing a resource-heavy game, this eliminates any energy-shortage you can construct, provided the solarian has enough time on their hands. (It also would allow for evil empires to construct solarian batteries, etc.); for 10th level revelations, we have a nice Glow of Life for allies (with a limit) that I really loved, and a means to increase a ship’s speed – I LOVE this one and wished there had been more options here that focus on ship combat and general utility; as many solarian players will be able to attest, ship combat as a solarian can use a couple of unique tricks and meaningful things to do.

The graviton revelations include a massive 10-hex extension of an aura that tanks ship speed (awesome), and a boost for defy gravity or gravity boost. See, these provide breadth, and that’s something the solarian can really use!

The pdf also features 10 new zenith revelations, which includes moving struck targets around while graviton-attuned, Stamina replenishing while fully attuned (not a fan), or what about a light doppelgänger who can act as an alternate origin for your revelations and who can switch places with you? That is AWESOME and incredibly cool. Rapid manifestation is hard to stomach: While fully attuned to one thing, you decrease the action your revelation activation might take from “full-round action to a standard action”, standard action to move action, move action to swift action.” This doesn’t work with ones that let you execute attacks. Now, combine this passive ability with the ones for max damage or invulnerability. Or the others. Or what about the zenith revelation that all but eliminates the duality notion, which makes you no longer lose attunement in photon/graviton if you attune to the other, adding +1 attunement in both modes automatically at 17th level? These are presented right next to a zenith revelation that makes a creature striking you in melee take 1d6 fire damage per 2 solarian levels, Reflex save halves.

The supplement also provides a full page-table of new weapon crystals – I genuinely liked these. No problems there. Beyond that, the pdf provides weapon mods – essentially modifications for weapon crystals that make the weapon count as cold iron, adamantine, change damage types, etc. At item level 8, targeting EAC seems pretty brutal, particularly for just 2,100 credits…and the level 18 true strike infusion bypasses all hardness, damage reduction and energy resistances – that should be scaling, numerical values, not a flat-out “I ignore everything.”

The pdf concludes with 5 solarian creatures, which aren’t always perfect: The CR 13 hemeros aeon, the CR 2 reptoid, a CR 8 dwarf, the CR 18 void prophet, and the CR 11 corona dragon. The aeon has darkvision listed twice, and its resistances are both off by 3, though the latter is probably intended – resistance 13 as per aeon is less elegant than the value of 10 it has. Apart from minor hiccups like these, the statblocks tend to be usable, though.

Conclusion: Editing is per se good on a formal and rules language level, though the same can’t be claimed for formatting, which is consistently off, and inconsistent in how it’s off. It kinda irritated me. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with neat full-color artworks that fans of LG will be familiar with. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Daley’s Star Class book on solarians is frustrating for me, because the majority of its issues can be boiled down to presentation, fine-tuning, and context.

On the one hand, we have a smattering of content designed to expand the options available for the solarian, within the context assumed by the class.

On the other hand, we have a significant number of pieces of content designed to delimit the class and increase its power-level.

These two categories of content are neither clearly divided, nor does the book really explain the vast impact the collective of the options herein can have on the solarian.

Where a single revelation might make for an engine tweak that, in conjunction with the modifications to the core chassis, can fix the disadvantage regarding sheer numbers the class suffers from, the combination of all these tweaks escalates the power-level of the class significantly beyond its brethren.

In many ways, this book feels like it was once two documents: “Solarian Expansion.docx” and “Solarian Power Increases.docx” – and both were just thrown together.

Moreover, the hypothetical second document, “Solarian Power Increases.docx” suffers from losing its individual contextual frameworks: So, we have the core engine tweaks, got it. We have a power-boost archetype, got it. Then we have revelations designed to provide a power-boost beyond the power-boosts already established, and not all of these have been designed with the care they needed.

All address these, to some extent, similar issues.

Once you start combining all these options to enhance the power of the class, you’ll get a pretty darn brutal beast. And I get it. I can see the intent behind the individual tweaks.

Functionally, the solarian is not a hybrid class in PF1’s style – instead, it is a frontline fighter with a bit of utility thrown in, perhaps 1/5th of its role in the party. But that utility is what people gravitate (haha) to – it’s what makes the solarian special. And it is the thing that this book obviously tries to bring to the prominence and put front and center. And I LIKE that per se, but wouldn’t that have suited an alternate class better? This feels like a desperate attempt to hammer a core chassis into a shape it’s not made for.

I can also get behind the notion of broader applicability of solarian abilities that seems to have been the design goal with quite a few of the materials herein. Heck, I ADORE, and I mean ADORE the fact that this book sports quite a few tricks that allow solarians to be more useful in star ship combat. Same goes for the sidereal expansion (which helps re skills and breadth of options), or the notion (if not the implementation) of getting both solar weapon and armor – there is a lot herein I absolutely LOVE, particularly in the instances where the pdf expands the breadth of options, rather than the solarian’s already pretty impressive DPR.

But on the other hand, this book’s fix-type options to increase perceived flaws in the solarian are not existing in a vacuum; rather than that, they offer for the means to combo them, and when you combo serious power upgrades, the effect quickly can become exponential. There are things that are a matter of taste (dual attunement) that should have some balancing caveat, sure. I wouldn’t call an individual revelation herein broken (with the notable exception of the max damage and flat-out immunity ones), but their combinations are frickin’ savage and OP in the context of any SFRPG game I’ve seen or run. Even if you use them without the further power-upgrade by class fixes and archetype. Combine all of them, and the result will be PAINFUL, not only equalizing with e.g. soldier math-wise, but transcending it.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. In many ways, this feels like this, at one point, wanted to operate a bit like Legendary Rogues or Legendary Fighters: Explain a problem, present different ways to address the problem, and provide the means for the GM to reach an informed decision.

This book has all the potential of such a stand-out supplement, one that provides means to customize the solarian in an informed manner, according to the requirements of your individual game. Think about it as such: Let’s say, you see a power-level issue. In your opinion, the solarian is -2 power levels behind a comparable class. Okay, so Fix A provides a +1, Fix B another +1. A series of stellar revelations provide anything form a power level increase of +0 to +2. Even with a simplified numerical sequence, the issue becomes apparent, when in fact, some of these would rather behave as escalating multipliers. The problem is that none of the individual increases are bad per se; you can see their intent, their tweaks, etc. – but when you combine them? Ouch. This needed context.

Only, instead of providing context, warning the GM from the implications and power-level increases that individual pieces or combinations of the content herein can offer, everything’s lumped together, implying a parity of power and attempted synergy with brutal results that I refuse to believe is intentional.

And that is a huge, damn shame. You see, even though the formatting here is a long shot from Legendary Games’ usual precision, this book contains GEMS. Components that had me smile from ear to ear. And yes, I’ll be using content from this book in my games.

But as a reviewer? As a reviewer, I can’t recommend this book as presented. Even with the significant amount of formal glitches present, this could have been a 4.5-star offering, and certainly something that could have warranted a seal of approval. But the book requires that the GM not only carefully reads the entire book, they also have to carefully, meticulously vet the content and decide which of the perceived issues of the solarian class in game may or may not have sprung up in their game. And then understand the implications of allowing the content herein. And most importantly, the combos this content allows for.

In short: You need a deep understanding of the game’s balance to prevent this book from catapulting the power-levels of the solarian off the deep end. If you do, then this book might well be one of your favorite solarian supplements out there. If not, then, well…you have been warned.

Ultimately, I can only recommend this book in a very limited capacity; for most tables, this will not be worth the hassle of balancing its entire content versus the core solarian – and while I love many of its components in a vacuum, in conjunction with each other, they quickly become broken. Hence, my final verdict can’t exceed 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Star Classes: Solarian
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The Undercroft #10
Publisher: Melsonian Arts Council
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/14/2020 09:46:53

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The tenth installment of “The Undercroft” (and final one prior to its only recent reanimation) clocks in at 34 pages (disregarding editorial, ToC, etc.). my review is based on the print copy, which is a staple-bound classic zine (6’’ by 9’’/A5).

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request for a prioritized review via a direct donation.

So, let us start off with a winner: Sándor Gebei delivers Babel Square – a market square that would feel perfectly at home in DCC’s Punjar, Lankhmar, Shadizar or one of the weird metropoles out there, be they of a planar or more mundane variety; the veil is then, and sounds, sights and smells are noted. Various general types of activity by time of day are provided alongside 12 sample encounters, 8 rumors, 20 strange objects to be found, 6 unconventional payment methods (including temporary voice removal, memory extraction via leeches and more), and 7 interesting landmakrs and places add further to it – the only thing keeping this from being a perfect little set-piece would be the lack of a map.

The second article is one of my favorites in the entire ‘zine’s run – it’s title is an edged, wrong-looking glyph-thing, for the sake of the review’s readability called “nameless taint” from here on out. For this is about a taint that infects characters if their players are interested, it is a corruption, wherein not even the abstract glyphs remain consistent, set against the backdrop of the occulted kingdom, fallen to the nameless taint; 4 items from this tainted realm are provided, all interfacing with the crisp and concisely-presented rules, and there are three spells that cannel the power of these horrible taints; the article also presents essentially a template that allows you to make husk-monsters consumed by this nameless taint, alongside two notable husks – high-level bosses, if you will. Oh, and the corruption of the characters has 10 long steps – that do provide serious benefits, but also erode your ability to understand names and the like. You lose your identity to it, but you might well learn to conjure the flailing shards of the nameless taint… Not only is the glyph angle cool and unexpected, the article by Luke Gearing also has SERIOUS Dark/Demon Souls-vibes, and is captivating enough to warrant translation into pretty much whichever system you’re actually playing. This one warrants getting the zine on its own, at least in my book.

The shortest of the articles in this installment, Greg Gorgonmilk’s miscellany of 4 different magic items: The dead faerie in a lamp can emit light that not only reveals the invisible, it also renders stone transparent! That’s cool. Even cooler: Knocking on wood snuffs its light – but here, the item is less precise than it should be: Can others knock on wood? Or just the wielder? The item has a second little hiccup: It implies that the wielder must invest hit points in it: “The luminosity will last 1 turn for every (temporary) hit point invested by its bearer.” Okay, does this entail a process? Can the damage be healed? Is the hit point returned if the light goes out or is suppressed by knocking on wood? Not sure. This is an extremely cool item, and easy enough to salvage, but I wished the rules lived up to the cool concept. Tetrograts are miniscule, stationary golems that will decry “It is a lie” when a lie is spoken in their presence. A range for this effect would have been nice to see. The cloak of beards is made of regal…well…beards, and grants you Charisma 18, and those within 30 feet that fail to save against its enchantment are convinced that the wearer is a king of the noblest kind. Serious folklore vibes here – nice! The Quintessential is not an item, but a legend, of a despot who sought to vanquish all differences between people and turn them into a homogeneous neutral state. It’s a solid legend.

The final article herein, penned by Ezra Claverie, depicts the ruins of the elven ship- and submarine yard/officer’s clubs; the tantalizing and strange default setting assumed by the author’s articles makes me once more wish for a fully realized campaign setting, but even without context, this is interesting – for against this backdrop, two creatures are provided – one horrific and subtle, the other weird and grotesquely hilarious, and both are unique and essentially puzzle-monsters – they are complex threats that are not easy to beat, but at least one of these things will need to be bested to enter “The Officer’s Rest”, the ruins of an at-once magical officer’s club, where strange mixology, magical frescoes and more may await. This article was inspiring in the best of ways, and while I wished that the creatures had been presented in a slightly less wall-of-text-y manner to parse more easily, they are unique enough to require preparation anyway. I’d once more like to reiterate: I really hope that we get to see a fully realized campaign setting in this strange post-imperialist world, ravaged by bio-mago-technical warfare.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and we get quite a lot of cool b/w-artworks. The stapled softcover is a neat classic ‘zine.

Whereas #9 was all quantity, this issue focuses more on quality: Sándor Gebei, Luke Gearing, greg Gorgonmilk and Ezra Claverie deliver articles that I absolutely adored; heck, I’ve actually used the majority of the content herein in my games, often with blatant disregard for the intended system and some serious conversion work – because the ‘zine is THAT GOOD! Even when I do have nitpicks and complaints regarding rules-precision, these are few and far between, and the strength of the respective concepts? That’s formidable indeed. Add to that the VERY low price-point, and we have a definite winner here. Usually, I’d probably have settled on 4.5 stars for this one, due to its minor hiccups in the rules. However, I just can’t bring myself to do that. The majority of the articles herein simple deserve being called “excellent” As such, my final verdict will be 5 stars, and this does get my seal of approval; it’s one of my favorite ‘zines in the entire Undercroft.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #10
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The Undercroft #9
Publisher: Melsonian Arts Council
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/11/2020 05:18:07

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The ninth installment of „The Undercroft” clocks in at an impressive 64 (6’’ by 9’’/A5) pages of content, already sans cover, editorial, etc. My review is based on the perfect-bound softcover of the ‘zine, which, while meaty enough, unfortunately does not note its name on the spine.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request for a prioritized review via a direct donation.

This zine’s content is designated as OSR in a general sense – most of the content assumes LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) as a default system, but the degree to which the material is faithful to the system varies by author. However, the thematic fealty is evident: This is a ‘zine for mature audiences, and this issue in particular tackles sometimes puerile and sometimes horrifying, really dark themes. If you’re sensitive to such themes or easily offended, you might want to skip this issue.

Okay, so first thing you need to know, is that this zine contains a surprising amount of classes, fleshed out until 10th level, with the first being Benjamin Baugh’s “Skinned Moon Daughter” – the skinned moon is a rare phenomenon in the north; daughters born under its auspice are…different. They spook animals, making for poor hunters and fishers, but they do change – born with a wolf’s stomach, they can subsist on carrion, undergoing changes as they indulge; ultimately, when maturing, they learn the song of the Skinned Moon, and can then proceed to coat themselves in blubber and fat, to eb swallowed by creatures, which they then control from inside for a month. The class gets d6 HD, has Wisdom and Charisma as prime requisites, may use one-handed and thrown weapons, and usually are clad in a beast, and thus wear nothing. The class caps at 10th level, and has a minimum Constitution of 9. I love this class for a narrative game, though it does require an experienced referee to pull off, as the beasts can potentially be vastly superior to the other characters. That being said, controlling a beast of more HD than the daughter becomes unreliable, so this needs to be considered carefully. Cool: Twins born under the Skinned moon can combine their powers, and being married to one comes with blessings…but also restrictions, making the class feel like something taken straight out of myth. As you could glean from the note on prime requisites, the class is balanced more for LL (Labyrinth Lord), OSE (B/X), etc. and does require some conversion when used in LotFP – or in Wolf Packs & Winter Snows, which seems like the perfect system for this class.

The second class presented would be the Doctor, penned by Patrick Stuart. The class is essentially an archetype for the fighter class, using the chassis for attacks, HD, saves, etc. – however, the doctor may not cause LETHAL damage and no class features work while encumbered. The doctor can heal damage caused by trauma at the rate of 1d4 per 10 minutes of work. Additionally, in combat, the doctor can prevent death of a target of -4 hit points or lower: On the doctor’s and referee’s turn, you roll off with a d10: The doctor gets their Intelligence bonus to the roll, the referee the number of HP the target is under zero – there are three stages, and a doctor’s success moves up a stage, a referee a stage down. If the doctor triumphs, the target stabilizes at 0 HP; if the referee prevails, the target dies. 1/session, the doctor can identify a process or item – personally, I prefer in-game time to designate mechanics. Doctors also get a control hold that behaves like a garotte and inflicts d6 damage, with damage pausing only at exactly 0 hp. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, you get to roll a d6 and gain a new ability – these include e.g. getting essentially advantage on all saving throws versus magic, but at the cost of magic never working for you due to your rationalist outlook. You could be an atheist, immune to clerical magic – but also their healing, and incapable of keeping silent in the face of agents of the divine. I generally like these double-edged abilities, but couldn’t help but feel that, when used back to back to other classes in LotFP, this one feels very…special? Not in a necessarily bad way, mind you, but I couldn’t help but feel that it should have been a part of a whole array of such class tweaks. On its own, it feels oddly specific. I also am not the biggest fan of rolling for class features, as that can kinda wreck your planned character story, but that’s easy enough to rectify.

Daniel Sell is up next, with pretty much the antithesis to this approach of the singular – “Everybody is an adventurer” replaces all default classes with a general class, the adventurer. Everyone starts with 16 in all saves, and a fighter’s experience and level progression, and a +1 attack modifier. Each level, you choose fighting, learning, or cunning. Fighting nets you +1 attack modifier d8 HD, -1 on poison and breath saves, and -1 to a save of your choice (can also be poison/breath); learning nets you 2 skill points, d6 HD, and -4 to “saves of your choice” – okay, how many? Two? Three? No clue. This issue also extends to cunning, which nets you d6 HD, “2 points lost from saves of your choice” (how many??), and 3 random spells from any class or level. You cast spells as you wish, with a MP (Mana pool); you calculate this by adding your highest and lowest ability score. Casting a spell costs the spell’s level in mana, and you recover 1 MP per hour of rest; if you usually wouldn’t eb able to cast a spell due to not meeting its level requirements, you pay double MP. Still, this means that you can theoretically cast 9th level spells at 1st level. I really dislike this system. It feels rushed, its eliminating of level caps makes magic-users frickin’ OP, and the ambiguous verbiage regarding save progression isn’t impressive. Odd, usually Daniel Sell’s designs tend to be precise and well-wrought. If you want a modular class engine for LotFP; I’d consider the system presented in Undercroft #4 to be superior to this one.

The final class selection here in would be presented by Evey Lockhart – not one, but 4 new classes are provided, all with starting equipment noted, all with a theme of being broken, ostracized and volatile – if the world of her Stark Naked Neo Savages and Sanguine City States series is ever fully realized, it’ll be these classes I’ll use to play in it. The classes are intended to replace the standard LotFP classes, but imho work well enough if inserted as a single class. The detached are numb and make for excellent tanks – while sedated by alcohol etc., they take less damage, are immune to emotion effects, and always act first when not surprised. Okay…so what if two detached participate in a combat? The fallen was once something more – and still has the Preacher-esque ability to issue command a limited number of times per day…and they can cast a few spells…exactly ONCE each. Not ONCE per day, ONCE…it’s the last dying fire inside, and each new level unlocks an additional exceedingly potent such spell. Pariahs are foreign, ostracized…they are a bit like a cross between specialist and fighter, potentially able to pick up Bushcraft and Languages quickly, and might be familiar with strange weaponry. Perhaps the most interesting of these new classes, though, would be the partners in crime. Yep, you get to play two utterly co-dependent individuals. The class acts as a variant skill specialist, and is pretty powerful, balanced by the fact that you have some serious baggage from the past…and, well, the fact that this co-dependency is really nasty. Playing these should render you really paranoid of AoE damage…that being said, the partners in crime are seriously stronger than the other classes; some minor tweaks and more things to do for the pariah and detached would have been nice.

The supplement has more to offer, though – Barry Blatt, who gets the whole historic angle rather well, presents 101 uses for a hanged man, drawing deeply from medieval and early modern superstition, though the article’s title is somewhat misleading, as it instead can be likened to a brief occult research system, with the moss of dead man’s hair being of particular interest here, and modular steps provided; this may be me being a prick, but I wasn’t a fan of part of the article being outsourced to a blog, but yeah. As a whole, I enjoyed this, and I’d certainly love to see Mr. Blatt tackle an entire book of such step by step procedures for harvesting and applying strange substances.

Luke Gearing provides something rather disturbing (and appropriately-illustrated by Sean Poppe) – The Sickness. It’s essentially a magical STD that transforms you slowly into a grotesque, slimy tumor thing of orifices and secretion – statted as a monster, btw. And yes, this is scary and one of the instances that needs to be handled with care. Speaking of such stuff…

…was LotFP’s “Fuck for Satan” not enough of a screwjob (haha) regarding players? Are you fed up with your party and want to TPK them in arguably the most stupid and dumb way I’ve ever seen in a published offering? Okay. The ‘zine has something for you. Chris Lawson’s Cockdicktastrophe. It’s not a monster in the traditional sense. It’s a penis with penis hands, penis-eyes, etc., and if you are tired of warning players away from a locale, this is essentially a multi-page cut-scene without any player agency or stats. It’s just “everything becomes penis and fucks, you die.” It has an illusion of choice, but that’s it. I never thought ‘d say this…but I liked the penis-monster in FFS more. This is probably the worst article in the entire run of the Undercroft. I don’t see any serious use at a table, and even in gonzo tables, it has no agenda. Wasted page-count, imho. The comic-like artwork is kinda cute, though.

Finally, we have the largest article herein, “Nine Summits and the Matter of Birth”, penned by Ezra Claverie; like the author’s other offerings, this one has a backdrop of a strange blend of the fantastic, horrific and colonial themes, and makes me really crave a fully-realized campaign setting. But before I go further: This is not for the faint of heart – the subject matter deals with anti-natalism, stillbirths, (forced) abortion and nihilism. In case that sort of stuff bothers you, consider this to be your TRIGGER WARNING. Oh, and SPOILER WARNING as well.

… .. .

All right, only referees around? So, we have essentially a micro-setting that is roughly Polynesian as intended backdrop, though changes to other settings are very much possible; this culture has developed a strange and much-ostracized tradition, the “Circle of Unbirth” – think of these individuals as fervent anti-natalists, including their 12 sacraments and ritualistic magic, which includes causing stillbirths, quench any form of sexual appetite, etc. – and in this region, rules by the 12 clans, these beings may actually be helpful. You see, an inscrutable entity with insufficient comprehension of the mortal sphere ( somewhat akin to the one in Rafael Chandler’s “No Salvation for Witches”), the Generative Authority, has tainted the land, and the article presents the tools to make an adventure out of the horrors that happen due to its meddling – births will result in zoa, i.e. from the monstrous births will be birthed more things attached to it – think of Human Centipede, save that the new things sticking to the old ones grow ever more in mass with every birth – a table of zoön mass in kilograms, with comparisons noted, is presented, including the associated HD. There are also subtables that let you determine the type of creature the zoön’s latest part resembles, usually represented by a 12-entry table (mammal table is only 9 entries); weird: table #3 (probably amphibians) is missing from the ‘zine – you roll a d6, and table #3 is just not there.

What do you do with these monstrous births? Singular occurrence? Full-blown local or global apocalypse? All that’s up to you. Same goes for the role of the circle – are they an evil opposed to the cosmic evil? Truly DARK saviors in this time of horrors? The article provides some guidelines, but is, as a whole, about as uplifting as reading Philipp Mainländer. Unlike many comparable modules, I don’t see a way in which you can make this premise funny – it’s GRIMDARK in the most extreme form. It’s not my place as a reviewer to comment on the like, but even as an ardent fan of Ligotti and someone with pretty nihilistic convictions, I don’t see this being fun for my group. YMMV, of course. If you want to really out-edgelord someone, this toolkit will do the trick.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, but not as tight as usual for The Undercroft. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the original artworks by Matthew Adams, Jeremy Duncan, Sean Poppe, Anxious P. and Cedric Plante deserve special mention – I particularly loved Cedric Plante’s stylized renditions of the skinned moon daughters.

Benjamin Baugh, Barry Blatt, Patrick Stuart, Daniel Sell, Luke Gearing, Evey Lockhart, Chris Lawson, and Ezra Claverie really did deliver something here; it feels, in many ways, like a means to edgelord LotFP, and frankly, in many ways, it’s successful. This tackles seriously taboo subjects, with particularly Ezra Claverie’s adventure toolkit/mini-setting being pretty much the bleakest piece of RPG-material I’ve seen in a while. That being said, I think this may be the most uneven Undercroft I’ve read so far – the classes range in precision and power by quite a lot; then again, I’d used the moon daughters and Evey’s wicked classes in a heartbeat. Daniel Sell’s article disappointed me big time with its imprecisions. Patrick Stuart’s fighter archetype is per se cool, but uneven as well, with some abilities significantly better than others, and a sense of a global context missing; it feels like a teaser for a longer book I’d enjoy, but on its own, the doctor feels a bit forlorn. Luke Gearing delivers big time with his monster, and I’ve made clear that I really don’t enjoy the waste of a pages for a prolonged “haha, you die”-troll for players. That may be me.

More so than any Undercroft before, this issue is a matter of taste; personally, I frankly didn’t like a lot of the content, with some aspects feeling rushed, tables cut, material on an external blog, instead of where I need it when I want to use the material at table and have the booklet before me.

That being said, I can see people loving what I didn’t – I certainly know quite a few black metal fans who’d really get into the bleak adventure outline presented by Ezra Claverie; I can see people love Patrick Stuart’s doctor. And I can see an annoyed referee getting a kick out of the prolonged read-aloud “hehe, you die”-troll. I just can say that this issue…wasn’t for me.

As a reviewer, this leaves me with the mechanical glitches here and there, which contribute to the overall notion of a rushed issue in comparison to earlier offerings. Still, it is VERY hard to not get something cool out of this ‘zine. Hence, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #9
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The Gem Prison of Zardax
Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 09/01/2020 10:01:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module was moved up in my reviewing queue as a patreon request to cover this and a few other modules and moved further up in the queue due to a direct donation requesting faster coverage of it and the other old modules released by the author.

So, this is, thematically, a pretty radical departure from Zazrchov Kowolski’s usual fare – instead of the plausible low-powered dark fantasy we usually expect, we get a psychedelic funhouse dungeon, which is also represented in the artworks, which this time around, have been presented by Scrap Princess – and there are a LOT of them; many of the rooms get their own little artwork, and the new critters also get their artworks. Now, Scrap’s art is divisive, but I generally tend to LIKE the frantic energy they exude – however, it should be noted that this time around, the artworks are in full color, and personally, I don’t think the use of lots of colors suits the style that well. Artwork is subjective, but I figured I’d mention it nonetheless. On the plus side, the excessive use of bright colors in Scrap’s artwork might have been a deliberate choice to drive home how tacky the dungeon is supposed to feel.

But I digress. As usual for Zzarchov Kowolski’s self-published modules, we get two rules systems – NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR – the latter not adhering to a specific system, instead noting movement, AC etc. in relation to other creatures/items, etc. – AC “as chain”, that sort of thing. I am not a fan of this, preferring proper adherence to a specific system, but I won’t penalize the book for that, particularly because the rules don’t suffer – when e.g. picking locks and similar scenarios are concerned, e.g. percentile, x-in-d6 and similar solutions are noted. The module is designated for a party of characters for levels 3-6, and indeed, some experience and prowess is strongly suggested; the module can be rather brutal.

The module lists the color of the walls for every room, and each room also has its little map right in the room’s description – and these room maps are player-friendly! Huge kudos for that! The supplement offers a random treasure and a random encounter table, and a book generator, and if you’re using NGR to play this (imho the better experience – plus, I really like the rules system!), there also is a spell generator here, with each component of the spell offering 6 variants, making use not only of NGR’s neat magic system and its versatility, but also providing quite a bit of bang for buck in that regard. Furthermore, NGR gets 8 fully-crafted spells in addition to this. The module color codes system-specific text – NGR text tends to be mint-green, OSR text a bit beige/greenish. The module does not feature read-aloud text. The treasure presented is also pretty neat, going so far as to e.g. describing mundane items like glass coins and the like; formatting of magic items does not adhere to the most common OSR-conventions.

Difficulty-wise, this is clearly aimed at experienced roleplayers – you can potentially TPK the group rather easily, but as a whole, the challenges tend to be pretty fair; personally, I’d suggest this module for the higher end of its suggested level-range; tackling this at level 3 would be a rather brutal test of survival.

Okay, so, there is one more thing to note: You need to do a bit of prep work, namely generate a couple of strings of dicerolls and put them on paper. Why? We’ll get to that. The module is billed as a puzzle dungeon, and it is not necessarily a simple one – there is a handout page of glyphs, and each room has a glyph. And the glyphs mean…well. There is a bit of a potential issue. The module does DELIBERATELY refrain from explaining its puzzle per se; the GM is giving ample information (which the player’ll have to deduce in actual play) to figure out how this is supposed to operate. It’s not hard, mind you – but for some GMs who are bad with puzzles themselves, but who have parties who enjoy them, this might be a problem.

The intention, obviously, was to make a puzzle that the GM can’t cheat, that the GM has to figure out. As this was the author’s intent, I am not going to spoil the puzzle’s solution here. I thought about doing that, but since the module can actually be solved by brute-forcing it, I ended up deciding that doing so would not be in the spirit of the adventure. Note that, if the party is not smart, trying to escape might well require a sacrifice.

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

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, there is the eponymous Zardax, a wizard of bad temper and worse taste, who happened to come into possession of this nifty gem-prison (Ravenloft flashback right there…) – while rumors suggest otherwise, holding the gem aloft in moonlight will transport you into the entry room of the dungeon – and the former dungeon has been redecorated in the most tacky of ways, with walls painted in different colors, etc. – the obvious Zardoz reference implied by the name is certainly somewhat present in the aesthetics – if Zardoz had such a prison, he’d have probably done something like this with it.

The extradimensional prison angle explains the diverse inhabitants: There are giant eyes firing lazzz000rz, protected by regenerating energy barriers, cat-headed elves, extraterrestrial ice-people trapped in a “scorching hellhole” 15 below freezing; they also think they are elves. Oh, and there are bosses – like the giant silver wasp, and Azoozl. The latter is essentially a lich who occupies 5 identical wraith bodies who share a pool of memorized spells and hit points – this one is pretty darn deadly if the party isn’t really smart. The wasp has a whopping 12 HD – so yeah, this is an old-school module that requires that the players play smart; murderhobo-attempts will cause TPKs here.

Now, I previously mentioned requiring some pregenerated numbers: You need to roll a d20 thirty or so times, and jot down the sequence.; then roll d8, d6 and d4 twenty to thirty or so times, writing that down; Azoozl needs spells if playing this in OSR. The three smaller dice can be used for encounters and treasures, while the d20 provides the initial sequence of the prison’s twenty rooms, which does mean that this has some replay value for the GM.

You see, the dungeon has essentially energy fields (portals, pretty much like the game) between rooms; most are reddish-orange, but designated cells have blue energy fields; at the center of each field is a copper plate shaped like a human hand, with the current room’s glyph (not the destination!) inside. Pressing the plate causes the portal to disappear, showing a random room based the sequence you rolled on the other side; such doorways stay open for 30 seconds, with a mist as a hint that it’ll close very soon – and being inside while it closes is not healthy. Here’s the crucial bit: As long as a sentient member of the party is on both sides of the portal, it locks itself in place. That is, opening it again will show the previous room, not a random one. So no, unless parties are pretty careless, they won’t be split – but the danger yet remains. I like that.

As an aside – once you run out of pregenerated numbers, you’re supposed to start rolling; this way, the players a get a metagaming hint as to the structure of the module. Having the pre-prepared sequence of numbers conceals the random nature for a bit. Add to that a room where the exit is mirrored by +(- 10 and similar tricks, and we have an interesting brain teaser. (Minor hint for GMs stuck with the code: Take a look at the symbols of this one, and compare it to another room with two entries.)

But how do you escape? Well, there is the exit portal guarded by non-hostile owl-headed warriors. Pretty decent chaps, really – they’re supposed to guard this place, as they’ve been tricked into providing their real names, but can shirk their duty and let the party leave…they just want a little “cannibaliscious feast” – if one party member volunteers to be eaten alive, they can get out. Trying to pick the lock of the exit portal is another means to escape by sacrifice and good roll: The door starts building up energy, which is potentially VERY lethal – and the chances to pick this are BAD. Still, theoretically, it’s possible. However, there is also one key hidden in the dungeon – said key can negate the lock’s magic…if the party finds it and realizes what it is, that is.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a formal and rules-language, while formatting could be a bit more consistent: The exit room’s NGR-rules, for example, aren’t colored, and same goes for the OSR-rules here. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard without much frills, and uses colored highlights in room numbers, with Scrap princess’ artwork presented in full color. The b/w-cartography is pretty basic, but also uses some color highlights – being player-friendly is a huge plus here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “The Gem Prison of Zardax” is a nice change of pace; it is strange and does the funhouse dungeon with a twist angle very well; it’s dangerous, and clever use of the dungeon can seriously help dealing with the potent inhabitants of the prison: Players are rewarded for being smart here.

I might catch some flack for this, but here goes: I don’t think that the dungeon does a particularly good job regarding its “puzzle” aspects. Since the module can be solved by brute-forcing it, there is a decent chance that the players might not even need to solve the code. Unless I am missing something, I am also pretty sure that the code can be interpreted in more than one way. Whether you consider that a feature or a bug, I’ll leave up to you – personally, I’d have preferred a code that is simpler, but which has just one solution. I’d also have preferred it if the players had to, you know, actually solve the code to escape.

That being said, even if your players never decode the code/bother with it (happened in my test), the module still operates as a puzzle dungeon (in a lesser capacity), which is most assuredly a plus. As a whole, I consider this to a successful, if not perfect adventure, and thus, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Gem Prison of Zardax
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Under the Waterless Sea
Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/28/2020 07:38:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/setting/event book clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page credits, and one page is almost blank save for a single sentence, so we get around 46 pages of content here.

This supplement was moved up in my reviewing queue as a patreon request to cover this and a few other modules and moved further up in the queue due to a direct donation requesting faster coverage of it and the other old modules released by the author.

So, what is “Under the Waterless Sea”? Well, first of all, it’s a somewhat quasi-Polynesian setting/module (inspired by Hawaii or a similar place), situated on the Old Island, complete with its unique monetary system (food tokens, pearls, etc., with coin-conversion noted). A marketplace section of weapons and trade goods for sale is included, and there is a 6-entry expanded table of black market goods/adventure hooks. The main backdrop would be the place, which, in an illusion of grandeur, is called “city”, and 4 cool types of hired help are provided – including a warrior with a Kiwi. There, that’s it, 5 stars + seal of approval. …I’m kidding. But I do love kiwis to death. So yeah, cool. Puzzling, however: While these cool NPCs for hire come with names, the same doesn’t hold true for the remainder of the individuals; indeed, the surface world/setting; indeed, a name-generator is curiously absent from the book, so you’ll need to do some digging for proper names…an unnecessary comfort-detriment.

A pretty huge plus, and not unsurprising if you’re familiar with the author’s previous offerings: This does contain not one, not two, but three of his amazing encounter tables, where you roll a d8 to determine “Where”, a d6 to determine “What”, a d4 to determine “Weird”, and get additional entries for triples, doubles and the maximum score. The regions covered are shallow water, twilight zone and midnight zone – bingo, this module primarily happens under water.

As many of the author’s modules, it is written with two systems in mind – NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival) and OSR, with the latter not adhering to a specific rules system, something that I am not particularly fond of per se. AC is given with and in very general terms, e.g. “Level 4 warrior, very strong (18 or 18/00 if used), low charisma (6), maximum hit points”; critters get hit dice and note armor and damage in equivalents like “as leather” and sport a general idea of morale– you get the drift, you’ll have to hack this into shape.

If you have the luxury of choice, I’d suggest running this in NGR, as it’s clearly the smoother choice: There are plenty of items from which new spells can be learned, and disassembling some weapons can net sages or wizards 4 new spells that have no equivalent in the OSR-rules provided. That being said, that does not hold true for the majority of other spells; then again, the NGR rules, well, are better. The Branding of Hydra, for example, can increase power levels of unarmed attacks of up to a d30, while the OSR-version…nets a 1d6 touch attack for 1 round/level. A particularly icky spell lets you store a spell in your excrement, with the duration somehow tied to bowel movement, which also somehow can be passed to other characters? I’ve read and reread this spell numerous times, and it still makes zero sense to me. Either way I read it, it’s broken, though – I strongly suggest not allowing that version. The NGR-version, while still just as icky, is mechanically precise. In a way, this is one of the aspects that we’ll return to again in this review.

The module and premise is pretty dark in a nuanced kind of way, and certainly is not a module ‘d run for kids; while it can be run as a hack-and-slash, the adventure ultimately is based somewhat on shades of gray morality and can be run almost as a fantastic version of a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now-ish manner. If the excrement spell example noted above was no indicator – this module does have a few components that can be considered to be mature: For example, there is an edifice that is shaped like a penis. So yeah, if the like bothers you, you’ve hereby been warned.

Similarly, I can only recommend this module to pretty experienced GMs, mainly due to one important structural aspect to which I’ll come in the SPOILER-section below. The module sports no read-aloud text, and as far as level-range is concerned, this works best in the 1-8 level-range, depending on how murderhobo-y your players tend to be, and on how you run your game, the power-levels of your OSR-game of choice, and how you want to play out the whole scenario.

The module comes with a stunning, isometric map in b/w of the region, and several maps of specific adventure locales in the classic top-down manner. Utterly puzzling to me: The pdf is a layered pdf, and yet, there is no way to turn off the annoying, immersion-breaking letters and similar indicators on the maps. Oh, and while there is a layer called “Guides and Grids” that’s turned off as a default, guess what doesn’t materialize when you click it? Bingo, a grid on the map. The result of these shortcomings, alas, is that the individual locales and relation between the mapped places, kinda remains abstract and hard to grasp – and the isometric map doesn’t help much there either.

This module exists in print, by the way – it is part of Zzarchov Kowolski’s Adventure Omnibus Vol.1, a limited edition book, which I do own – and in said book, there is an additional map, an absolutely STUNNING top-down b/w-map of the main adventure location – but like the other maps, it also lacks a scale, so while it helps picturing the area in a concise manner and makes running this in VTT easier, the map hasn’t been included in the pdf-version.

Okay, I’ve stalled for long enough, so let’s dive into the SPOILER-section. As always, I’d ask prospective players to steer clear and jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

Okay, only GMs around? Great! So, beyond the “fun” aspects like a brewing religious war among the human populace, the big kerfuffle of the module actually has already happened. You see, recently, a new priest has taken controls of the local religion, and he’s a hardliner – a hardliner who didn’t take kindly to learning about locals consorting with the Deep Ones, whose cities lies on the slopes of the surface of the volcanic island where this module takes place. As such, the usual purges and unpleasantries resulted – and then, something else happened: Somebody, somehow, opened a portal in the ocean. When saltwater falls on the portal, it shrinks. It’s fortified. But when you go through it, well, then you’re operating under a different set of physics and restrictions until you once more touch the ocean’s surface. You can act, fight, etc. as if on land. And all effects originating from you ALSO behave that way.

This section needs to be read VERY closely imho, because it is crucial to running the module. Essentially, the humans went through the portal, and brought bloody slaughter to a city of Deep Ones that was woefully ill-prepared to withstand the assault of such an army – and who proceeded to had to watch their underwater city BURN. The GM should think very carefully about how physics work in their game, because the module doesn’t really draw a clear dividing line. So, you could throw a fireball, okay. The targets would take fire damage. Okay. But the fire that springs from the fireball technically is no longer directly sourced from the aberrant set of physics employed by the land-dwelling invaders…and what about a target that operates under regular water physics grappling and dragging along someone who is operating under the aberrant, magical physics?

Don’t get me wrong, the module does a solid job defining how things operate, but a clear and more pronounced set of guidelines would still have been very much appreciated for the corner cases. Think I’m exaggerating? Well, in the Deep One city, there are pockets of air, such as e.g. in a sorcerer’s workshop. These become pretty deadly traps RAW, as the module states that breaching the surface of the water here will, well, end the effects of the portal. Okay, got it. But the portal states that it’s the ocean’s surface that counts, and a bubble of air beneath the waves? Is that really the ocean’s surface? Same goes for the human holding cells that can be found. An argument could be made that any surface of the ocean would do, but then again, this would theoretically render air bubbles of mammals or divers pretty damn potentially lethal.

Because this structural aspect regarding the basic premise of the module and the somewhat opaque spatial relation between adventuring locales, the module has another weak spot, but we’ll come to that pretty soon.

You see, the module is all about squashing the last traces of deep one resistance, taking their mighty, penis-shaped tower (which does make sense for deep ones…) – there are victory points that are tallied for the human aggressors and the deep ones, with a variety of outcomes – and yes, the module does account for the eventuality of the party switching sides, which I most assuredly appreciated.

The city has the spire, the labyrinthine apartments, the temple, the barracks, and the sorcerer’s dome as adventure locations, all mapped and keyed and suffering from the map issues mentioned above. There is a lot of adventuring to be had here, including the option to run afoul of a shoggoth, but all of them feel uncommonly sterile for the author. There isn’t that much going on regarding details here, and quite a few of the rooms are simply about mass. To give you an idea: “K.) a horde of 25 zombies sit in agitation, just waiting for their chance to eat the flesh of the living. Most are armed with stone maces, but a few have pikes and there are some with leiomanos as well.”

That’s…not particularly interesting. Indeed, I was surprised to see how positively mundane the entire city feels; this sense of wonder one associates with an undersea city, the option of verticality in architecture, an evocative dressing table – anything. There are a few instances where a sense of the weird manages to suffuse the scenery, but if you want my opinion, then don’t bank on the module managing to elicit a sense of wonder here.

Then again, that’s not the focus. The focus is WAR. And the horrors of war, even when executed against frickin’ deep ones; instead of a juxtaposition of the horror of civilization and nature, as in Heart of Darkness, we have a juxtaposition of humans committing the non-euclidean atrocities to the ones usually perpetrating them. That’s interesting. And the notion of burning a city beneath the waves is pure GOLD. A capable GM can weave a yarn here that will be remembered for years to come.

The premise is absolutely genius. But the actual execution of the deep one city is not. This is particularly surprising, considering that the author is a master at wringing unique magic out of pretty mundane setups. Here, we have a magical setup that couldn’t be more exciting, and instead, mundanity is wrought from it, at least for the most part.

Is this intentional? I can’t tell. I mean…it’s essentially Futurama/SpongeBob-logic, the war-module. It has a penis-tower. I genuinely don’t know.

I can say, however, that this is one of the weakest sunken cities I’ve had in all of my years as a reviewer; without the genius premise and context, I’d be trashing this to smithereens. With it? With it, this mundanity serves to humanize the deep ones, and de-humanize the humans.

…call me a philistine, but I’d rather have had wonder here. Unique dressing. Glimpses at a strange culture.

Structurally, it’d also have been nice to get a series of missions for both sides of the war, some if/then-conflicts and gambles, some strategy. You know, “If the party takes the barracks, the shoggoth will be unleashed by desperate priests in x days…” – that sort of thing. Some events to spice up the free-form siege. I read the start and was thoroughly pumped – then I got to the actual city, and by the end, I was bored by the city itself. In play, the war scenario adds the tension, but quite a lot of that rests on the shoulders of the GM. The premise makes this work. But it requires work.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-langauge level, but not as tight as usual for the author. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard with a couple of nice b/w-artworks thrown in. The cartography deserves special mention for featuring the awesome b/w isometric piece (and the awesome top-down map in the print version!), but the maps of the actual adventure sites are pretty barebones and their lack of player-friendly versions and grids limits their utility. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and the pdf is layered as well, which makes printing easier – I just wished the layers let you customize the maps as well.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Under the Waterless Sea” is at once a genius piece of adventure that can run REALLY well, and a disappointment. How well this performs depends very much on how well the GM is able to depict either an outrageous war beneath the waves or a somber story about the horrors of war; the backdrop of the action, which should be suffused with wonder, is anything but; instead, the module relies almost entirely on its brilliant premise to carry it. And it does carry it – to a degree.

In many ways, this should have been my favorite Zzarchov Kowolski module; it started off that way when I first read it. But then, it feels like it runs out of steam a bit; like the details never being able to live up to the level of excitement that the premise fostered. A good GM can make this a legend of a module; but I can only rate what’s here, and what’s here are a couple of unnecessary comfort-detriments, some oversights in dressing, and a general sense of lost interest in seeing the premise through to the end.

If you are willing to put in the time to add unique cultural tidbits and dressing, then get this! If not, then I’d suggest getting one of the author’s other adventures instead. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Under the Waterless Sea
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The Stormbound PF1E
Publisher: Cobalt Sages Creations
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/27/2020 11:28:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This base class supplement clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page introductory notes/editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 39 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

The stormbound class is an akashic base class, but all required information to run this is included in this pdf.

After a brief introduction, we start off with the stormbound class. The stormbound is an akashic class that gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, and proficiency in simple and amrtial weapons, and while they are proficient with light armor, medium armor and shields, metal armor reduces the essence capacity of the stormbound by 2 to a minimum of 0, and the veils the stormbound shapes only require half as much damage to sunder and halve their hardness. Shields and armor made from veils are exempt from this rule, even if they manifest as metal. Chassis-wise, we have a ¾ BAB-progression alongside good Fort- and Will-saves, and Wisdom is their governing ability score for veilweaving, with the saving throw DC being 10 + the number of points of essence invested in the veil, plus the stormbound’s veilweaving modifier.

The stormbound receives a unique veilweaving slot, dubbed the “Storm slot”; the stormbound receives an additional veil shaped per day, denoted via the +1 in the class table, which must be used to shape a Storm veil. Unlike regular veils, the stormbound cannot allocate essence to or from a Storm veil. At the beginning of a combat turn, the stormbound gains a temporary point of essence that can ONLY be allocated to a Storm veil, but doing so is a free action, and it lasts for 1 minute after the combat ends; re-entering combat resets the duration. The stormbound cannot stockpile this temporary essence: If they do not allocate it immediately, it is lost. When not in combat, the stormbound can spend a full-round action to meditate, treating this round as a round of combat; they can only generate this temporary essence up to half their maximum essence capacity, rounded up, minimum 1.

So, you’re all familiar with my seething hatred of “per encounter/combat”-mechanics, but this one does a remarkably good job covering its basics – non-combat use is possible (so less temptation to try to cheese the engine), a concrete duration is provided, and meditation generally slows things down enough that the stormbound can’t quickly refresh or walk through the dungeon charged. Add the sidebar that explicitly provides a caveat to avoid fake combats, and this does a solid job at keeping the combat-related abilities in line. As far as veils are concerned, we start off with 1 (+1 Storm) and increase that up to 10 (+1 Storm); essence capacity starts off at 1, and increases by 1 every class level attained. Chassis-wise, this makes the guru a valid frame of reference, but we’ll see how that develops. At 12th level, this btw. increases by another additional point of temporary essence.

The stormbound has the constant benefits of endure elements, and, as a free action on their turn, they may exempt up to veilweaving modifier + ½ class level (rounded down) creatures from the harmful effects of the Storm veils shaped; targets thus protected automatically succeed their saving throws versus Storm veils, attack rolls and combat maneuvers prompted miss the targets, and if damage would be incurred, it is reduced to 0; these properties also apply to the stormbound, even while they are unconscious, but while the stormbound is unconscious, the protection extended to allies vanishes. Penalties that do not have a saving throw to mitigate still apply. This is the so-called “weatherproofing” ability. Now, as you can see, this ability firmly situates the stormbound in higher fantasy confines; a level 1 stormbound will usually be able to reliably weatherproof with endure elements an entire party of allies, which does eliminate the struggle usually associated with low-level weather-threats, so if you’re planning on running the class in such a campaign, I’d advise caution. On a design perspective, when looking at the Storm veils, this could have been more interesting: You see, the Storm veils tend to cause AoE-damage that has no save and doesn’t differentiate between friend and foe; however, unlike comparable effects, it tends to have a decent range. This could have rendered the ability an interesting tactical decision to use if it involved some sort of strategy; since most stormbound will be able to exclude their party members from the effects from the get-go, that decision is lost. But I’m just musing right now.

At 2nd level, and every 2 levels thereafter, the class gets a chakra bind, in the progression of Feet, Hands, Head, Wrists, Shoulders, Headband, Belt, Neck, Chest, Body, so essentially the vizier’s progression, with Hands and Feet switched around, and Neck and Belt switched around. This is interesting, in that Feet veils tend to gravitate, as a tendency, towards passives, while Hand veils are more offensive in focus; the same can generally be stated for the Belt vs. Neck, the latter having the rather popular gorget of the wyrm. The Storm slot becomes available for chakra binding at 9th level, and at 11th level, the stormbound can shape two veils in the Storm slot, operating like Twin Veil. Okay, but when you also have Twin veil, does that mean you can bind three veils to the Storm slot? Four? You see, while the effect specified by the ability behaves as Twin Veil, it’s not actually Twin Veil, it just functions as such, which means that the “same effect doesn’t stack”-clause does RAW not apply here. Pretty sure that this is a glitch.

The stormbound gains improved essence capacity at 3rd level, 9th level, and 19th level, placing the stormbound between the radiant and vizier classes, for example – they get the second improved essence capacity as soon as e.g. radiant (9th instead of 11th level), but the final one later (19th instead of 15th level). The capstone ability is an outsider apotheosis with 3 damage immunities and quicker re-assigning of veils. Okay, I guess, but not that interesting. What is, however, interesting, would be that 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter net a so-called storm power. These are essentially talents, and where applicable, the saving throw is the customary 10 + ½ class level + veilweaving modifier. Storm powers have different power levels, with new ones unlocking regarding their prerequisites at 5th level, 9th, 11th and 17the level, with one storm power situated with a 13th level prerequisite.

To give you an idea: We have a medium-range option to suppress Storm veils or dispel weather-controlling magics via opposed veilweaving checks (not the biggest fan of opposed rolls, but valid); the ability gets the clause for spellcasting right, and has a success criteria wherein, if you really beat the enemy, the duration of the suppression lasts longer. To avoid spamming this versus spells, it has a hex-caveat (applies RAW only regarding attempt to dispel spells thus!) that limits you to one attempt versus a given effect in 24 hours. The power also allows for the suppression of your own storm veils. Distracting current is a close range debuff, and you can invest essence to increase the penalties inflicted; once more, spamming is prevented with a hex caveat. Alternatively, we have at-will feather fall, and a power that lets you, when using a [Weapon] veil or natural weapons granted by the veil, use your stormbound level as BAB, making you a full BAB front line assailant, with an added bonus – you get to use veilweaving modifier instead of Strength modifier to determine damage with these. This is very, very powerful.

Compare this one with being treated as one size category larger for the purpose of being checked or blown away by wind, and versus maneuvers that move you, and halved penalties for skill checks and ranged attack rolls due to wind. Or the one that lets you fire close-range icicles at will (with moderately-scaling damage output; +1d6 per 4 levels – which, however, can be increased with essence investment); sonic armor nets you class level temporary hit points as a move action, and when an enemy hits you in melee (important caveat!) while you have those, they take sonic damage equal to the current temporary hit points you have, and risk becoming briefly deafened on a failed save. For an essence invested, this increases by +3 temporary hit points. sigh This can be exploited for infinite healing via the usual transferal means. Making the armor more potent, but imposing a hard cap on this instead would have probably been the better choice here.

Then again, some of you are rolling your eyes right now, so let’s move on to the actual healing storm power, namely soothing rain: Much to my joy, this one nets you pretty potent healing that reduces its effectiveness whenever the same target benefits from it within a 24 hour timeframe, and it can be selected multiple times, which provides a “buffer” of sorts before healing is reduced for each target. Unless you’re playing in a very large group, this amount of healing is okay. Storm lash nets you a lash of lightning – cool! Veilproofing…is certainly pretty at least in the wrong level-range. It extends the weatherproofing ability’s immunities to Storm veils for allies to ALL veils. This should be unlocked at a much higher level. A similar issue applies to a faster unseen servant with a Strength of 10 + veilweaving modifier and a fly speed of 30 ft. (perfect). Doesn’t sound like much? Well, this means you get perfect flight at level 1, bypassing the usual restrictions. You see, the unseen servant spell usually explicitly states that the servant can’t fly; that it can’t perform anything that requires a skill check. Special rules override larger ones, so while the unseen servant can’t succeed in anything like hovering, tight turns or the like, it can very much carry the stormbound or their allies around (which does NOT require a skill checks, and which the unseen servant thus probably can do due to the increased Strength!) , provided it does so in a way that doesn’t require a Fly check. This storm power should have been altered, or moved to the section with the 5th level prerequisites, or better, further. I am pretty sure that this is a glitch. Why? The 5th-level prerequisite power “Lifting gale” nets you at-will levitate AND requires that you previously take the at-will feather fall power. Why would anyone do this, when you get infinite unseen servants with perfect fly speed, and the explicit Strength required to carry most characters, apart from the full-armored fighter? Or the one that also requires the feather fall power, but nets you 20-ft fly speed with poor maneuverability?

The internal balancing being inconsistent regarding these storm powers may also be seen in e.g. “Channel the Storm” – you gain ½ your maximum essence capacity that you can only invest in Storm veils. Hmm, let me think for a bit: Should I take this or at-will levitate? /sarcasm. Or the one that increases the radius of Storm veils by their base radius for each point invested in them beyond the first, treating further ranges as essentially weapon ranges, with the veils treated as having less essence invested in them at higher range increments? This is REALLY INTERESTING, particularly since Storm veils are close range, though one 11th level storm power lets you upgrade that to medium (and retain control whether you want them to be medium or close); compare that with the 17th (!!) level power for at-will control weather.

The storm powers, as a whole, are weird. They seem to be based on hexes, but tie advancement to of their benefits weird components. If you, for example, made the bad call of getting at-will levitate, you’ll most assuredly be excited to hear that, at 13th level, you can activate it as a move action and move up or down once per round as a free action. Gamechanger, right? At 13th level? I tried pretty hard to deduce the reasoning behind some of the prerequisites imposed, as some storm powers make perfect sense in their context, while others don’t; some are clearly roleplaying facilitators, while others provide brutal mechanical advantages. And it drives me bonkers that I can’t see a pattern for the deviations.

This also extends, to a much lesser degree, to the favored class options, namely the comparison Belaran vs. Ifrit. Belarans increase their essence capacity of Storm veils with the Fire OR Cold descriptor by +1/8; ifrit only get this benefit for the Storm veils with the Fire descriptor.

This bothers me to now end, for the class does bring something extremely interesting to the table, namely that it focuses on soft/hard crowd control. The Storm veils, of which 12 are provided, are cylinders with a height of 50 ft. + 5 ft. per veilweaver level (or ceiling/ground) and a radius of 25 ft. + 5 ft. per veilweaver level. The cannot be sundered, and here’s the thing: The shaper is NOT immune to them (which also explains the “immunity storm power” available at first level); the storm veils generally focus on dealing energy damage, while adding additional effects; interesting here: there is an option that allows you to inflict essentially poison damage – which is codified as untyped in PF1e, but provides immunity for those with poison immunity. The Storm veils also provide pretty potent terrain control and debuff options; take, for example, “The Blizzard”, which deals cold damage and also fatigues targets on a failed save (no stack up to exhausted, but barbarian’s still cry), but also has the option to make the affected area difficult terrain via snowfall. When you stop the snowfall, it melts away at the end of your turn. That is an interesting effect. It should be noted that, while damage tends to look pitiful (1d3 etc. as a baseline), the damage caused is AUTOMATIC at the end of your turn; no save or the like to negate, which can make this rather deadly at lower levels. It should also be noted that the veils have a few more formatting glitches (lower caps saving throw, missed italics) than I’d have liked to see. And yet, I really like the idea of Storm veils. I have a soft spot for aura-based characters, and this has interesting options.

It is, alas, a somewhat uneven array of veils regarding internal and external balancing. There is a pretty solid blaster-style veil, which doesn’t have ANY detrimental aura effects, and just lets you fire bludgeoning damage that can cause the target to catch fire, with essence investment as potential for more damage. Alas, for you powergamers out there, this thankfully at least requires an attack to hit, and only targets one enemy.

Compare that with the veil that decreases visibility. Or that one, with the one that lets you generate banks of darkvision impeding fog that can be rendered more dense and even made into something akin to solid fog is sufficient essence is invested in it. (Which is a nice angle – these veils tend to have a threshold of sorts, where their benefits become more pronounced than linear scaling, often adding new options.) I was talking about internal balance being weird: The sirocco is essentially like the blizzard, save that it deals fire damage, and causes the sickened condition…and it has neither the barbarian lock power, nor the terrain control effect of the blizzard, but the condition remains until cured. The direct comparison here makes pretty evident that the blizzard may have overshot what it’s supposed to do. Compare that to “the scouring”, which has slashing and piercing damage as a baseline…but also reduces visibility to 30 feet, with essence invested allowing that to go as low as 5 ft. in 5 ft.-steps. This applies to all senses based on sight. The effect is interesting, even in its baseline, in that it breaks line of sight beyond 30 ft. – reliably. In short, it may not be much, but the Storm veils differ in utility.

But in comparison with regular, damage-dealing veils, how does this fare? Let’s stick with the fire-based one, shall we, and compare it to the gauntlets of the storm: The conflagration lets you use your veilweaving modifier to hit instead of Dexterity with the ranged touch attack it requires, and deals a base of 1d6 bludgeoning damage; for each essence invested, the initial damage increases by +1d6; bludgeoning damage on odd-numbered points invested, fire damage on even-numbered ones invested. For every two points invested here, the saving throw DC increases by +1, and the secondary burning damage by +1d6. Okay, so for 3 essence invested, we’d have 3d6 bludgeoning, 1d6 fire, +2d6 secondary fire if the target fails its save. For the gauntlets, we have 1d6 cold, 1d6 sonic and 1d6 electricity damage, but ONLY as a melee touch attack, NOT as a ranged touch attack. It does have the energy versatility going for it, though. However, it does NOT not with the veilweaving for Dex-to-atk caveat, which should, at the very least, make difference of at least +4 to atk in most instances. The Gauntlets are only available to the vizier among the core akashic classes, who has a ½ BAB-progression; still since the stormbound can also gain these, and they start outperforming the fire stuff, this seems like a clear case, right? Well, that’s where the aforementioned threshold comes in: If this is too esoteric an example for you, let’s take a more clear-cut one: Polar snowshoes vs. the blizzard. Polar snowshoes net you a whopping 1d4 cold damage in a 10 ft. aura, +1d4 for every essence invested, and the ability to generate some movement-related benefits when used with chakra bind. While the blizzard has slightly less damage per essence, it has the difficult terrain option, the option to fatigue, when chakra bound, to be intensified – oh, and it affects AoE and doesn’t allow for a saving throw to reduce damage. The aura of polar snowshoes? Fortitude halves. And its AoE doesn’t grow, unlike the blizzard.

Okay, one can still chalk that up to the Storm veils being class-exclusives, right? Okay, let us take a look the significant amount of non-class exclusive veils herein, for example winter’s somnolence, which conjures a scythe dealing nonlethal cold damage, lethal cold damage versus undead. It’s a weapon veil, so you can get full BAB with it, and use veilweaving to calculate base damage, provided you chose the right storm power. The hand chakra bind lets you add up to a +5 enhancement modifier that you can also use to instead choose a variety of special weapon properties, which are not properly in italics in the text. For undead, it bypasses all damage reduction, resistances and immunities, which is pretty nifty. A creature struck must also succeed a Fort save, or have its speed reduced by 5 ft. for one round (yes, all speeds and stacking with itself), +1 round per essence invested in hands; on a critical hit, it’s save or fall asleep. For each additional point of essence invested, we have +1d6 cold damage. The chakra bind to wrists expands upon the means to cause targets to fall asleep/reduce the target’s speed. Know where things become weird? “This bonus damage is multiplied on a critical hit.” Yep, the essence invested-based bonus damage is multiplied. For a scythe. That’s x4 without even trying. That’s a pretty good visualization of the subtle hiccups with the veils here. In comparison to other melee/atk-based veils, the damage potential here is insane. And this bothers me to no end. Why? Because the general ideas presented are pretty darn awesome, and there is some care here – it’s just…inconsistent? Take the storm gauntlets – these do not duplicate an error that was present in their original iteration (electric instead of electricity damage); but in another veil, we see exactly this hiccup.

And the pdf does get these fine balancing aspects and utility concerns right in quite a few a cases: Traveling the planes and even planets (somewhat unreliably) via a utility veil? Cool! Or what about sabatons of the storm, which BUILD on Storm veils: You can make a trail of storm energy behind you – 1d4 electricity, 1d4 sonic, 1 d4 cold damage, plus movement halved for 1 round if affected, with the caveat that a target can only be affected once per round? Cool, right? Essence invested increases damage for all three…and outperforms the aforementioned gauntlets in damage dealt, but has a save to negate. This Is interesting While I consider 3d4s different energy damages sans essence invested a bit overkill at low levels, it’s contingent enough to render it a fun trap-option. Granted, it outperforms polar snowshoes by quite a bit in pure damage, but is has the movement contingency. This shows that these weren’t designed sans care; or take the robe of the worldwalker, which lets you choose two energy types from the usual suspects and grants resistance, alongside scaling bonuses to a whole array of checks and the like pertaining forced marches and so on – and lets you sleep in armor. Unlike e.g. frostbite halo, it doesn’t offer the same increase to damage with one energy type, though, and has the Body slot, more valuable than the halo’s headband.

On the other hand, we have brume treads, arguably the most powerful Feet-veil; it lets you ignore the adverse movement effects of difficult terrain, and always 5-foot-ste, +2 insight bonus to Acrobatics; for each essence invested in this, the Acrobatics bonus increases by another 2, and you also get +5 ft. land speed; when chakra-bound, this also nets you full speed in armor, ignore movement penalties, etc. Compare that to coward’s boots. +5 ft. base speed, +5 ft. for essence invested. The chakra bind of coward’s boots nets you Essence of Movement – scaling dodge bonus to AC vs. AoOs, and per essence invested, a +1 insight bonus to Acrobatics. Brume treads outperforms this SO HARD, you’d have to be stupid to ever look at coward’s boots again. And yes, brume treads are intended to be available for all core akasha classes.

Okay, so, this review’s already insanely long, so let’s talk about the archetypes: The Devotee of the Storm replaces the first level storm power with hunter’s spellcasting, but has a diminished chakra bind sequence. They lose essence capacity in favor or Endurance and a bonus vs. mundane storm effects, and later do not leave tracks and teleport between storms. The wind whisperer gets essentially an eidolon reskinned as a storm spirit minus evolutions, but with essence; these spirits veilweave via Wisdom, while the wind whispered uses Charisma; the storm is essentially outsourced to the pet, which gets its own essence capacity and pool of essence. The wind whisperer has half the essence at each level, rounded up, but veils shaped are divided among the pair, and the spirit also learns the chakra binds. This is very strong, as e.g. even the weatherproofing aspect is shared. Would not allow this one in my games.

The pdf also offers two 10-level PrCs: The Storm Warrior gets full BAB-progression, ½ Fort- and Ref-save progression, d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, and requires the new akashic Storm Scoured feat, which reduces the penalties weather imposes based on essence invested. The idea here is that of a warrior type character who gets limited access to Storm veils without actually becoming a full veilweaver, using a temporary essence engine. Interesting! The second PrC would be the Veilshifter at d6 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full veilweaving progression, ½ BAB and Will-save progression. This one is all about quickly unshaping and reconstituting veils, as wella s the ability to take multiple Twin veils.

The feats contained herein include a feat-based option to exclude allies from veil effects, a feat to dabble in Storm veils, and several (Confluence) veils – these require that you’re able to form two specific storm veils, enhancing those. I really love the idea here, I just wished this had been integrated into the core Storm veil engine instead of being outsourced to feats, since the core class already has the multi-storm trick hardcoded into it. Rebalancing the storms and including this at higher levels? That’d have been neat indeed!

The supplement also features 3 magic items: Imbuement gems allow you to outsource weapon/armor enhancement bonuses to these gems when forming akashic weapons/armor, and switch between the regular and these benefits. Yeah. No. There is a crook in three power-levels that lets you treat Storm veils as having additional essence invested in them. Finally, there is a totem that lets you expand the Storms to the radius of miles (!!), but weighs 5K lbs. – an interesting story item.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are…weird? On one hand, we have complex caveats caught, rules-language in complex scenarios performed admirably well; we have carefully vetted content…and then, we have some formatting hiccups. We have veils and components obviously very carefully balanced next to blatant power-escalation, which renders the class a very much uneven experience. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with quite a few nice full-color artworks I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Hel Kennette’s stormbound base class was an exercise in confusion for me; I have rarely seen a class with such complex and thoroughly INTERESTING framework, that shows, very well I might add, that the author generally knows what he’s doing. That being said, in the same way, this does feel like it’s one dev-/content editing pass short of realizing its potential. An additional set of eyes would have e.g. caught the VERY uneven balancing of the storm powers, which range from being powerful engine modifications to “almost fluff.” That being said, I was duly impressed by the concepts of the vast majority of veils herein, if not always their mechanical tweaking/execution. It’s exceedingly hard to design for akasha due to the sheer number of moving parts that the system offers. And this class certainly shows that the designer is capable.

BUT. Beyond its internal balance re storm powers being off, it also pushes the power-level of akasha further; not in overt ways, mind you – it’s a lot of small components that work together, but which, as a whole, can eliminate some checks and balances. If your players have a pronounced enough degree of system mastery, this might well suffice to compromise the system. On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to make a stormbound that is significantly less powerful than what the class can deliver regarding performance. The reliable AoE energy damage output is an interesting angle, but as a whole, I can’t help but feel that the class either underestimates, or willfully ignores what you can inflict with a properly-calibrated veilweaver. The significant degree of oscillation between a well-optimized stormbound and one made by the average joe/jane is what made this so hard on me.

I can see this class not upset some groups and work like clockwork; I can also see it really being super-problematic. Comparing this to other akashic classes, it certainly can be very strong. Would I allow this class in my game? No. Do I think it’s problematic? Yes. Do I think it could have been vastly improved by applying the same care that obviously went into some aspects of the pdf to the entirety? Heck yes. But do I also think that this can be a fun supplement? That this can work without upsetting the game’s balance if the players are kind enough? Yes. If you’re running a high-powered game, then checking out this class may well be a pretty good idea for you and yours! Just be VERY careful regarding allowing everything here.

In the end, to me, this represents a mixed bag. A clever class with genuinely exciting ideas that’s missing the final polish in power-level consistency, some finer rules components and formatting to really excel. This is incredibly close to becoming excellent in pretty much all ways – I can taste it! Heck, if I have the time at one point, I might clean up this class for my games, go with a fine-toothed comb through it and tweak it to the level it deserves to be. It’s like running a marathon, then stumbling on literally the last few inches. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, with a tentative recommendation under the caveats noted before. For me, personally, I’d round down, and I suggest you do the same if akasha’s meticulously-calibrated framework is as important to you; as a reviewer, though, I do have an in dubio pro reo policy, and tables enjoying high-powered classes and power-increases might get a kick out of this, which is why my official verdict will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Stormbound PF1E
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A Day Out at the Circus
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2020 04:03:44

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

So, in case you’re new to these: “Eventures” are essentially mini-adventures that focus on events, as opposed to a plot, a confrontation, or combat; this makes them eminently useful as pre-prepared set-pieces that you can enter into the game.

And frankly, a circus is a good call there. I mean, I can easily list 10+ modules that feature a circus; all of them have in common that something goes horribly wrong/sinister. And I get why. However, on a meta-level, this also means that the party of players will be on edge as soon as the word “circus” falls anywhere close to the in-game world.

And this is where this supplement comes in – in it, we learn about the “White Tiger’s Crew”, and their circus; general hooks are provided to get the party to visit the circus, and a 12-entry whispers and rumors table adds further hooks to the fray. If all of that doesn’t suffice, the supplement also has a 20-entry minor events table.

The crew, by the way, is not without their internal struggles and shades of grey decisions to be made when interacting with the party, but the supplement does not run the usual “evil/deadly nightmare circus” shtick. An important note: Whether the circus becomes fully evil, redeemed, or remains in an equilibrium very much might be up to the party. Particularly the tastefully touched subject of slavery is interesting in the context of this circus.

The circus comes with an artwork/handout that depicts a flyer inviting people to the circus, and also features a really nice b/w-cartography by Tommi Salama of the circus grounds and the ship they use to travel. The map sports 6 keyed encounters. The respective acts are described, including an orc and goblin comedic act, blind jugglers, fortune tellers, clowns, a lion tamer, and yes, a freak show. The food cart lists a surprising amount of good alongside prices that are affordable for non-adventurers, and the eventure also suggests a variety of activities.

Which brings me to one point of serious criticism for this supplement: There are no rules provided for any of them, even though PFRPG very much tends to solve the like with…you know…rules.

The supplement concludes with a variety of adventure hooks that go beyond the actual visit to the circus.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules language level, the book omits several aspects that would be handled via rules in PFRPG. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and features neat b/w-artworks, a cool handout, and neat b/w-cartography. I am given to understand that you get high-res unlabeled maps via Raging Swan Press’ patreon, but I still consider the lack of player-friendly versions here a downside, though not necessarily a crucial one in this instance. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two iterations – one optimized for screen use, and one optimized for the printer. Jeff Gomez’ trip to the circus is a delightful change of pace for the trope. The circus feels plausible and organic, and taking a break from the “circus nightmare/massacre”-trope is indeed appreciated. There is, formally, nothing to complain about the supplement in that regard.

As far as the PFRPG-components are concerned, it is severely lacking in actual crunch, though – and in this instance, the very activities that are supposed to, you know, entertain characters and players alike, don’t have any mechanical chassis to make them work. And yes, pretty much every evil circus module has some mechanics, so giving an atk-value for a dart throwing champion, an AC, some rules for competitions etc. wouldn’t have blown up the word-count beyond the scope.

This remains the big downside of this supplement, and the only reason why I can’t rate this version higher than 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Circus
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A Day Out at the Circus (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2020 04:02:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

So, in case you’re new to these: “Eventures” are essentially mini-adventures that focus on events, as opposed to a plot, a confrontation, or combat; this makes them eminently useful as pre-prepared set-pieces that you can enter into the game.

And frankly, a circus is a good call there. I mean, I can easily list 10+ modules that feature a circus; all of them have in common that something goes horribly wrong/sinister. And I get why. However, on a meta-level, this also means that the party of players will be on edge as soon as the word “circus” falls anywhere close to the in-game world.

And this is where this supplement comes in – in it, we learn about the “White Tiger’s Crew”, and their circus; general hooks are provided to get the party to visit the circus, and a 12-entry whispers and rumors table adds further hooks to the fray. If all of that doesn’t suffice, the supplement also has a 20-entry minor events table.

The crew, by the way, is not without their internal struggles and shades of grey decisions to be made when interacting with the party, but the supplement does not run the usual “evil/deadly nightmare circus” shtick. An important note: Whether the circus becomes fully evil, redeemed, or remains in an equilibrium very much might be up to the party. Particularly the tastefully touched subject of slavery is interesting in the context of this circus.

The circus comes with an artwork/handout that depicts a flyer inviting people to the circus, and also features a really nice b/w-cartography by Tommi Salama of the circus grounds and the ship they use to travel. The map sports 6 keyed encounters. The respective acts are described, including an orc and goblin comedic act, blind jugglers, fortune tellers, clowns, a lion tamer, and yes, a freak show. The food cart lists a surprising amount of good alongside prices that are affordable for non-adventurers, and the eventure also suggests a variety of activities.

As far as the 5e-version is concerned, the supplement makes proper reference of the 5e default stats, though purists may scoff at the use of “PCs”, which, as a term, isn’t usually employed in 5e. (And yes, one of my readers asked me to point out when a 5e-supplement uses this term; I won’t penalize a supplement for that, but I understand if that’s the pet-peeve of some people.) Annoyingly, the 5e-version suffers from the same shortcoming as the PFRPG-iteration: This huge list of fun activities for the party to engage in? They have no rules provided. Coal holding, ring toss, etc. – all sans rules, when presenting them would have been very easy.

The supplement concludes with a variety of adventure hooks that go beyond the actual visit to the circus.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules language level, the book omits several aspects that would be handled via rules in 5e. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and features neat b/w-artworks, a cool handout, and neat b/w-cartography. I am given to understand that you get high-res unlabeled maps via Raging Swan Press’ patreon, but I still consider the lack of player-friendly versions here a downside, though not necessarily a crucial one in this instance. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two iterations – one optimized for screen use, and one optimized for the printer.

Jeff Gomez’ trip to the circus is a delightful change of pace for the trope. The circus feels plausible and organic, and taking a break from the “circus nightmare/massacre”-trope is indeed appreciated. There is, formally, nothing to complain about the supplement in that regard.

As far as the 5e-components are concerned, it is severely lacking in actual crunch, though – and in this instance, the very activities that are supposed to, you know, entertain characters and players alike, don’t have any mechanical chassis to make them work. And yes, pretty much every evil circus module has some mechanics, so providing an AC for ring tossing, an engine for the drinking contest etc. would have been neat.

This remains the big downside of this supplement, and the only reason why I can’t rate this version higher than 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Circus (5e)
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A Day Out at the Circus (System Neutral)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/24/2020 04:01:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

So, in case you’re new to these: “Eventures” are essentially mini-adventures that focus on events, as opposed to a plot, a confrontation, or combat; this makes them eminently useful as pre-prepared set-pieces that you can enter into the game.

And frankly, a circus is a good call there. I mean, I can easily list 10+ modules that feature a circus; all of them have in common that something goes horribly wrong/sinister. And I get why. However, on a meta-level, this also means that the party of players will be on edge as soon as the word “circus” falls anywhere close to the in-game world.

And this is where this supplement comes in – in it, we learn about the “White Tiger’s Crew”, and their circus; general hooks are provided to get the party to visit the circus, and a 12-entry whispers and rumors table adds further hooks to the fray. If all of that doesn’t suffice, the supplement also has a 20-entry minor events table.

The crew, by the way, is not without their internal struggles and shades of grey decisions to be made when interacting with the party, but the supplement does not run the usual “evil/deadly nightmare circus” shtick. An important note: Whether the circus becomes fully evil, redeemed, or remains in an equilibrium very much might be up to the party. Particularly the tastefully touched subject of slavery is interesting in the context of this circus.

The circus comes with an artwork/handout that depicts a flyer inviting people to the circus, and also features a really nice b/w-cartography by Tommi Salama of the circus grounds and the ship they use to travel. The map sports 6 keyed encounters. The respective acts are described, including an orc and goblin comedic act, blind jugglers, fortune tellers, clowns, a lion tamer, and yes, a freak show. The food cart lists a surprising amount of good alongside prices that are affordable for non-adventurers, and the eventure also suggests a variety of activities.

Unlike in the other two iterations, I can’t complain about an absence of rules for the system-neutral version. When referencing classes, the supplement uses the proper old-school apellations. The supplement concludes with a variety of adventure hooks that go beyond the actual visit to the circus.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules language level, I can’t complain about the system neutral version lacking rules either. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and features neat b/w-artworks, a cool handout, and neat b/w-cartography. I am given to understand that you get high-res unlabeled maps via Raging Swan Press’ patreon, but I still consider the lack of player-friendly versions here a downside, though not necessarily a crucial one in this instance. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and in two iterations – one optimized for screen use, and one optimized for the printer.

Jeff Gomez’ trip to the circus is a delightful change of pace for the trope. The circus feels plausible and organic, and taking a break from the “circus nightmare/massacre”-trope is indeed appreciated. There is, formally, nothing to complain about the supplement in that regard, and in the system neutral iteration, I can’t complain about a lack of rules either, which is why this version gets a final verdict of the full 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A Day Out at the Circus (System Neutral)
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Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/20/2020 05:56:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, who asked for slow, but steady coverage of the entire series.

Okay, while nominally set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, Nightstone Keep can easily be put into just about any campaign setting without much hassle. We have a location-based adventure wherein the PCs explore the eponymous dilapidated keep as the baseline premise. The adventure does not sport read-aloud text, but does feature one thing I very much enjoyed: The b/w-maps presented herein are actually player-friendly – no annoying numbers etc. are featured, and there are no spoilers on the maps, just general designations. Kudos.

 The module is intended for a party of about 6 characters of 5th to 8th level, at least nominally. What does that mean? Well, this is a Quest of Doom module, and as such, I expected top-tier difficulty; however, a more salient way of looking at this would be to consider this a horror adventure; at the very least, a dark fantasy yarn. If you approach this with the mindset that you can just “win” it by doing everything right, you’re facing a TPK. The module, alas, isn’t particularly good at telling the GM how to handle the challenges presented, and one CAN argue that this is just as broken as “Awakenings” in some ways; however, I maintain that, unlike said adventure, “Nightstone Keep” can potentially work, or at least, is closer to actually working as a top-tier difficulty module. This can be bested. Kind of.

In order to explain the potential issues this has, and means to offset them, and whether you want to check this out, though, we need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Nightstone Keep was abandoned some time ago, and apart from the initial encounter that pits the party against so-called carrion graw (crow-like monsters), the focus of the module otherwise is a single creature of sorts. Of sorts? Yeah, remember the awesome Monstrous Arcana-series from the second edition days of yore? If I had to liken this to any other module, this series, and Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic “The DemonSpore” would be my frames of reference.

You see, a strange, brown, fuzzy growth spread through the keep – and it*’s the herald of the true horror that the heroes will need to best, the Aurunglyd. Like the DemonSpore, we have a fungal infestation here, but one without the whole divine angle – instead, this one seems to simply spawn servitor creatures with different roles , like tendrilled maws, the slow, but hardy glaur guardians, or the nimble, aerial speartongues. In a way, the plant monsters in this module provide a strange and somewhat frightening ecology that is interesting and well-executed.

To a point. You see, having e.g. the Huge glaur guardians only sport a speed of 10 ft.? That’s smart, and clever parties can exploit this to hell and back – in a good “fight smart” sort of way; the massive tunnels and general size of the environments also means that the module can play very much like an awesome survival horror scenario. You see, the aurunglyd has an Intelligence of only 11 – it’s not dumb, but it’s also not super smart, so that’s a good thing; it lets the GM play it accordingly, and fall to smart tactics. In theory.

There are two issues with this critter. It’s a CR 17 monster on its own, with 6 attacks, all sporting grab, and the engulf DC is 27. Ouch. Still, can be handled. It’s two details that make this critter cease functioning: 1) The monster has regeneration 10; RAW, this regeneration has no negation clause. I kid you not.

From context, I assume that fire and lightning were supposed to negate it, but the statblock fails to specify that. 2) This thing has 210 hp, regeneration 10. Oh, and it has an artifact that makes it ALSO regenerate 1d4+3 hp per round. The gem of vitality is an artifact that the PCs might well end up with – it’s a massive gem that heals you for 1d4+3 hp PER ROUND. INFINITE HEALING! Yay! -.- Granted, it is relatively fragile for an artifact (hardness 15 + 200 hp, also regenerates 2 hp per round – good luck trying to destroy it…), but yeah – this artifact’s healing CANNOT be negated.

It gets worse. It doesn’t even have a slot, and weighs 60 lbs. and imposes a whopping -1 penalty to atk and Dexterity-based skills (which makes no sense for the aurunglyd, but isn’t represented in the statblock anyways…) – for INFINITE HEALING. Oh, the weight? That’s seriously NOT a significant drawback. I mean, come on, even in old-school games, any fighter at this level worth their salt can juggle stuff like that.

It gets WORSE. The area the aurunglyd is fought in? It has really nice environmental hazards etc. – which is cool. However, it also has an upwelling pool that grants the aurunglyd fire resistance 10.

Let’s take stock, shall we? Melee pretty much means DOOM and death if attempted; Good luck with your 5th to 8th level fighter/melee dude trying to not get squished and absorbed by the thing, even prior to it spawning servitors.

One of the two improperly functioning means to deal persistent damage to the critter still has fire resistance 10 to overcome. The other is rarer. Beyond this, we STILL have 5 to 7 hit points regenerated per round. Oh, and the thing has AC 26. It’s not even easy to hit.

“But endy”, you say, “this is an old-school module! Combat is a problem-solving exercise!” Yes, you’d be correct. However, the module gives the party the finger for going the burn-it-all-route – it doesn’t work due to the body of water and artifact, even if the GM increases the pitiful damage that natural fires tend to inflict in PFRPG.

Not even a thoroughly optimized party has a good way to deal with the artifact. Worse, the artifact and the part of the thing that holds it? Submerged in the pool. Can you see any party, even the best-optimized murder-hobo 25-pt.-buy party get in the pool and beat this? No? Well, there’s a reason for that. You can run this module with MYTHIC characters and TPK them. I kid you not.

Then again, stronger characters will trivialize all but the final encounter.

Know what this boss fight is? It’s the most brutal DPR (damage per round)-test I’ve seen for the system, and one that is woefully lacking in actual calibration. All the pieces are in place, and yet, the module screws it up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the module is utterly wrecked in a couple of key aspects, which render it unbeatable for the level-range if run RAW. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with nice b/w-artwork. The b/w-cartography deserves special mention, as the presence of player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.

Urgh, this review was even more frustrating for me to write than the one for “Awakenings”, because “Nightstone Keep” (EDIT: This used to read "Nightfall Keep"; that's what I get for listening to Blind Guardian while writing the review...) is even closer to actually, you know, working. Ed Greenwood manages to evoke a sense of slowly creeping dread and dilapidation; I love creature ecologies like this, and I wanted to love this module; I got ready to sing its praises, and was happy – and then, the  final boss fight degrades this module from a Quest of Doom to a doomed quest.

For comparison: Even super-deadly LotFP-modules tend to be fairer: Burning all in “Death Love Doom”? Totally valid. Ridiculous attention to detail in “The Grinding Gear”? Pays off. Here, though, the party can’t win with either optimization or clever play – only by beating the DPR-challenge posed, with RANGED options, mind you. The module explicitly discourages smart play and non-combat strategies, which runs contrary to the spirit of old-school modules.

Now, if your party invested their resources primarily in electricity damage, they might triumph. Might - provided they realize how the fight works from the get-go. Because otherwise, the frontline fighters will die, leaving the squishy casters to their doom. I wasn’t joking when I said that this module can kill off MYTHIC characters.

I’m not sure if Anthony Pryor just botched the conversion, or if the other iterations of the module are as broken as this one, as I don’t own them. It’s evident that this wasn’t playtested, at all, and that nobody checked the math for the level-range.

How to rate this, then? Well, it’s a great, creepy, escalating dark fantasy/horror module – up until the utterly RIDICULOUS final boss DPR-test. It can be fixed and made into a 5 star-experience with relative ease – ignore the frickin’ broken artifact (which should NEVER fall into player hands anyways) and eliminate or slow the regeneration the boss has. Ideally while also tinkering with the ridiculously over-CR’d final boss, rebuilding the statblock for a tough, but manageable CR in the vicinity of 10, with a focus on high Constitution and staying power.

…but I can’t rate that. I have to rate what’s here. And what’s here is a great case for how small errors and a lack of checking of a game’s math can utterly destroy what would have been a great yarn. It can be salvaged, though. And I am genuinely too lenient here. But I can’t bring myself to rate this as low as it frankly deserves. After all, it can be fixed with relative ease…which is the only reason I can justify giving this module 3 stars; mechanically, it’s a 1-star failure, but if you’re willing to fix the finale, you can have serious fun with this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
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Cult of the Green Orb
Publisher: Verisimilitude Society Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/19/2020 06:50:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so this module is intended for 5-7 characters level 4-7, though it should be noted that the module probably works better at the higher level ranges. A plus: The module actually has notes for suggested characters and their levels if created for this module. As for rules, this employs Swords & Wizardry (S&W); it features a very small map of the starting settlement (a large version would have been nice), and a hex-map of the surrounding area and a hand-drawn side-view of the complex – I liked that. The map is also hand-drawn, and this time around, the assigned numbers to the rooms make sense regarding their position on the map. The map comes with a grid, but doesn’t specify grid-size – I assume 10 x 10 feet, but having that noted on the map would have been nice. Speaking of which: It’d have been really neat if we got an actual player-friendly version of the map.

He module begins with a quote of the Heavy Metal movie, but if you expect some outré component, as in the previous modules by the author, you won’t find it here. This is very much a classic fantasy module. The adventure comes with a massive exposition dump-style read-aloud text. Pretty cool: We get handy dialogue snippets as readaloud text for the starting settlement/research there. The dungeon rooms and the like do not have readaloud text, though. Somewhat annoying: the module does not implement the rules-relevant formatting aspects of S&W in a concise manner. Indeed, this module requires whipping out your trusty markers to reliably run it at the table; it’s not particularly convenient, though monster stats are set apart by their stats using a different font.

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

… .. .

All right, only referees around? Great! So, this story is about the eponymous green orb, by name the Loknaar, which had two mighty known wielders explained in the exposition text – a dwarf, and it may also have been wielded by the priest-turned-sorcerer Dretchelich. (Also written as “Dredtchelich” sometimes…) I did not make up the latter name, by the way. Essentially, the PCs are to travel to Azul Rik and determine if the ominous green glow is due to the dreaded Loknaar. The little settlement of Piktown offers a surprising amount of depth for parties that actually bother doing their legwork, which is a plus.

However, the module does suffer from a couple of design decisions: Number one of these would be Kritus, a suspicious old NPC who wants to accompany the party, who can open the gates to the dwarven Azul Rik. The local populace, while offering inconsistent information, does provide warnings here – and indeed, taking the guy with them is a bad call: The module provides a whole array of sabotages that are about as subtle as Gollum whistling “I’m singing in the Rain” or “Row, row, row your boat…” while holding an ill-conceived knife. Essentially, this module assumes that the players take the fellow along, and works best if hey do, but that’s a TALL order. This, already, is a pretty big detriment to the integrity of the adventure, at least as far as I’m concerned.

It also puts this module in a sphere of direct comparison with Frog God Games’ “Cave of Iron” – which had serious issues.

Unfortunately, the same holds true here: Now, I’ll gladly state that the module does manage to evoke, at times, the sense of a dwarven hold – with massive 10K gold doors (no weight given), we have some cool, unconventional treasure ideas. (Just, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t use gold = XP with this module…) This culminates in massive doors of PLATINUM. Heavy PLATINUM doors. If the party doesn’t try to get these out of the complex, they are literally doing it WRONG. Oh, but guess what? The platinum doors do not sport notes on how much they’re actually worth. The module sports pretty significant wealth, though magic item design tends to be rather boring and lacks all formatting: One of the best treasures herein is a “returning axe (+2, 60ft range no penalty, add str bonuses)”[sic!] to give you an idea.

The book also features some seriously sucky mechanical components, worst of all being the TPK pit trap: Touching one particular gem will make the floor collapse into a 500-ft. deep pit, with everything falling down. Thieves and PCs with Dexterity 15+ have an 80% chance of grasping wires to avoid the fall. All other PCs have a 50% chance, and 50% chance to grasp another character. Usually, we’d see a saving throw here. Not a percentile chance. The text also specifically notes that only thieves can find it, when a dwarf should get the customary chance – that’s pretty much a textbook example of where the benefit should apply….and even if you don’t mind the weird execution of the mechanics here, we still have a save or suck, just minus the save. Which strikes me odd indeed.

Anyhow, the complex can’t really field the claim that it makes internal sense or adheres to a kind of realism, but I don’t expect that – I can have fun with a good funhouse dungeon that makes no sense. The thing is that none of the challenges per se that the module offers are actually…well…interesting. This sounds jaded, but it’s all so paint-by-the-numbers. Dre(d)tchelich is trapped in the Loknaar, some lizardmen found it, and now they want to enslave a green dragon (aren’t these usually hanging in forests? Granted S&W Complete doesn’t state as such, but it’s kinda the convention…). The Loknaar is the true villain. There are a few lizardmen rebels (5!), and everything feels so…petty. Paltry. The only good scene herein was a troll head in a chest, sprouting tiny legs to run away and regenerate. Why didn’t it regenerate and burst the chest before? No clue. There are demons and undead and some aberrations left – all very standard, remains of Der(d)tchelich’s experiments, I guess. No, there is no clear baseline of power.

Not that there’s much to do beyond combat here. And sure, if your players are so dumb/naïve that they trust Kritus, there’s a bit of challenge here, and that may theoretically be interesting.

But what party’ll do that? Heck, “Cave of Iron” had issues re map missing etc. – but guess what? It did a better job managing to get the party to take a mushroom person along for the ride than this module does to take the obviously insane, dangerous hermit along, who may well be a legendary evil in disguise. I mean. Seriously.

For newbies, this is too hard, unforgiving and dickish; for veterans, this is too boring. The previous modules by the author had serious issues in some regards; but each at least had this glimmer of potential, of something interesting – of a world that I’d like to know more about! Not so here.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are neither on a formal, nor rules-language level, up to par. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, with tiny hand-drawn b/w-artworks-. The hand-drawn b/w-cartography is somewhat charming, but the lack of player-friendly versions is one big strike; the second strike would be that the village map is teeny-tiny – we’d have needed a one-page version here. The module comes with bookmarks, at least.

Extildepo’s third module is by FAR their weakest; while the previous ones had weaknesses, they also used to have one or two nice ideas, hinting at unique visions and potential that never really made it into the modules themselves. This can’t be claimed to be true here. This module, to me, was aggravating; it felt phoned-in, and I literally have improvised superior, more concise, and unique scenarios on the fly, without prep-work, while hungover and suffering from a splitting migraine. I scoured these pages, time and again, trying to find redeeming graces – and came up blank.

The dialogues are decent; the head got a chuckle out of me; that’s it. That’s all the positivity I can muster here. Know how “Cave of Iron” got a sound beating from yours truly for its shortcomings? Well, at least it wasn’t boring. I can’t recommend this to anyone. It’s not even funny-bad. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars…and since I rounded up for Cave of iron, I am left with but one recourse. Rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Cult of the Green Orb
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Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:46:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Okay, so this review will diverge from my usual format, as I’ve already covered the entirety of the AP. As befitting of a review of the campaign as a whole, I’ll focus on the overarching entity, the AP as a whole, if you will. I’ll also provide some brief commentary on the individual modules in relation to the campaign.

It should be noted that I’ve been a backer of this campaign, and that I backed for PF1e – not because I liked 5e or SFRPG less, but because the pitch of the sword and planet AP using mythic rules really tickled my fancy. As such, the following is based on the PF1e-version of the AP.

If you take a look at my ratings of the AP-installments, you’ll notice that I LIKE this series. Very much. That being said, this doesn’t mean that the AP doesn’t have some issues, so what follows should be taken in context – the AP does many things that Paizo APs suffer from as well, and the dissection of some components to follow stem from a position of someone enjoying the campaign’s individual installments. Still, I can very much picture that some people would have issues with some aspects of the series. This review should be understood as me vocalizing my issues with the entirety of the AP as a cohesive whole.

As such, the following will contain SERIOUS SPOILERS for the entirety of the AP. I won’t go into details per se (that’s what the individual reviews are for), but you get the gist. If you want to play in this AP, please stop reading NOW.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, the first thing you need to know about the AP, is that, while there are two ways to start this, only one of them is actually viable on a narrative level.

One of these was the notion of beginning with “To Worlds Unknown”, with the module starting essentially in medias res. This is per se a solid IDEA, but that’s all it is, as the AP’s main motivation for the VAST majority of the AP is easily the weakest aspects of it – the primary assumed motivation for the PCs is that they “do the E.T.”: They want to go home. I’m so not kidding. If I’d be in the PC’s shoes, I’d be happy. They are thrust into this wondrous, fantastic series of planets, and still, they are assumed to want home as a driving force – only that, at one point towards the end of the campaign, they suddenly are supposed to want to end the threat of the evil civilization to save, bingo, their home. Even if, by manner of outgame party consensus you can get your party to go that route, this very tenuous thread of connective tissue makes no sense when starting with “To Worlds Unknown.” This weak core motivation also invalidates pretty much all the options in the Player’s Guide, which you btw. also should not hand out to the players if you choose the introduction that actually does work:

“The Assimilation Strain” was billed as an optional prologue, when it’s anything but “optional” – it’s mandatory. It establishes the PCs in their own world, ideally with the players thinking that we’re going for a regular fantasy campaign. Then, the Ultari Hegemony and their allied races happen to the world – though that is not evident at first. The Assimilation Strain transitions from cookie-cutter fantasy opening to horror via a bait and switch, and then switches things up once more, as the PCs find the Sword & Planet source and enter the genre properly, if you will. This mirrors the classic trope of the genre, establishes the PC’s home, and also the danger that can befall their home if the Hegemony is not stopped. This prologue thus establishes the tenuous thread that will have to hold for the vast majority of the campaign. Do not skip it.

Ideally, you know your players well enough so you can judge whether they’d like the AP, and pull off this bait and switch – if it works, it works REALLY, REALLY well. Again, do not skip it.

“To Worlds Unknown” begins with the same relatively dark theme and goes for a prison break, while then establishing the largest strength of the AP for the majority of its run:

Its, for the most part, pitch-perfect grasp of the whole Sword & Planet genre. The planets evoke wonder, are marvelous, and add stunning set-piece to stunning set-piece. The sense of wonder is excellent. If exploration of wondrous vistas is what you’re looking for in the AP, then rest assured that this’ll deliver in spades.

Indeed, the first 3 adventures focus on this sense of wonder: “To Worlds Unknown” is the establishing shot; “The Scavenged Codex” is a huge scavenger hunt for an important item, and “Dead Vault Descent’s” tide-locked planet is FANTASTIC in the best ways.

This first third of the AP has few issues – “The Scavenged Codex” forces the PCs to work with a truly despicable NPC early on, and this might rub some people the wrong way; that being said, this railroad can be managed to an extent by a capable GM. “Dead Vault Descent” is a fantastic adventure, but it actually does not progress the story. It’s a clear “You princess…äh…way home is in another castle…äh, on another planet”-scenario. Other than that, I consider the start to be super promising. However, one of the weaknesses of the AP would be that it, like MANY, MANY Paizo APs, lacks unifying tissue and consequence. “The Scavenged Codex” and “Dead Vault Descent” both set up significant consequences for the worlds they take place on – consequences that are of no real concern thereafter. Similarly, like many Paizo APs, one can’t help but get a sense of an episodic structure – the modules aren’t particularly well-linked, nor do consequences between modules carry over particularly well.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Player’s Guide feels oddly tacked on to the AP. It doesn’t do a good job at providing alternate motivations for alien PCs that did not go through the prologue. The alien PC races are pretty darn strong, and as replacement characters, well, that’d work in a way. It’d have been nice to get some suggestions from where such characters derive the unique mythic power that allows for instant adaptation to other worlds, though. Introducing new PCs could have been handled better. Speaking of adaption: I may well be alone with this, but I like survival aspects, so a hard mode where the PCs don’t get this ability to instantly adapt to new planets would have been an awesome addition for groups that enjoy dealing with minutiae, hazards and the like, who want planning matter more. Oh well.

Making the new bodies the consequence of experimentation between Prologue and “To Worlds Unknown”, perhaps with some negative consequences as well, could have rendered the whole “Bring down the Hegemony”-angle more personal. But yeah, if you hand out this guide alongside the prologue, you’re spoiling things, and a player’s guide should NEVER spoil the AP.

These first three installments are what I’d call the “Wonder-Arc” – it’s all about the wonder of these realms, high pulp, high danger, all awesome, all with different themes. “Dead Vault Descent” in particular stands out, its tidelocked planet and challenges eliciting a sense of melancholy, foreshadowing the night to come.

Oh boy. “Confederates of the Shattered Zone” – in hindsight, I should have rated this one lower. It’s a full-blown thematic whiplash. Suddenly, we travel into a quasi-space-Victorian setting that can be best likened to the videogame “Sunless Skies”, save with quasi-Nazis thrown in; it’s oppressive, grimy, and takes some cues from the Pathologic franchise (which I LOVE) in its strangely, yet compellingly-dissonant and anachronistic elements. It’s an industrial age nightmare in space. I should love it to bits, but I really, really don’t. Richard Pett is a fantastic author, and his dark visions are haunting – but here, it simply doesn’t fit the tone of any other part of the AP. At least not in how it’s implemented. The massive module establishes a baseline of factions and implies a long-term game here, but can’t develop it properly; in many ways, this feels like a mega-adventure in its own right, cut down to module size…which really hurts the module and its overall place in the AP. If you run the AP as written, I’d STRONGLY suggest expanding the entire section, so it can actually start to shine; or, well, if you cut any module from the AP, it probably should be this one. Also, because it then adds this weird kyton-fueled Hellraiser-ish angle towards the end, including what should be a cataclysmic event for the PCs, something that should be a huge climax, but which is ultimately relegated to a few paragraphs of text, when it should be a whole sequence of its own, with rules, challenges, etc. – I really don’t get why the finale here is a cut-scene, prefaced with a pretty vanilla dungeon. Cut the dungeon, make the cut-scene-ish finale rules-relevant.

I love this setting, this module’s potential, but its implementation left me less enthused. I really, really dislike it in the context of this AP. It doesn’t fit in either with the first half of the AP (including the horror-ish prologue!), nor with the second half of the AP. It’s this odd middle part of the AP that feels excessive and suddenly dark just for the sake of being dark. Its end also implies consequences that, bingo, aren’t ever properly touched upon again.

Again, I’d love to see an AP in this setting, but as part of the Legendary Planet AP? Well, here, I genuinely think that it suffers from obvious cuts, and/or from ambition exceeding the scope of what the formula can provide. It also reads like it was supposed to have more pronounced consequences on the overall plot, which I don’t really see happening.

Thankfully, the second arc of the AP, which I’d dub “The War against the Hegemony” once more takes up the themes that fit the saga per se better. The war beneath the waves depicted in “The Depths of Desperation” is epic once more in the heroic, wondrous sense; supported by mass combat rules and conflicts with ginormous foes, this is a great turning point in the dynamics; “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” further builds on this: Tim Hitchcock delivers pretty much Sword & Planet themes in a nigh-perfect manner; he gets it. The original pdf release was pretty flawed in formal aspects, felt rushed regarding several rules-components, but these glitches have been dealt with, rendering this a high point of the saga. (Even though I still maintain that getting high-level PCs to engage in a regular dungeon crawl isn’t that smart.) Still, kudos to Legendary Games for making this one shine. I just wished that the last pass had been executed before I had my backer copy of the massive hardcover sent to me…hope this’ll be handled differently for Aegis of Empires.

And then, there is “To Kill a Star” – a milestone of an epic high-level adventure, this finale of the AP very much justifies running the campaign. It’s epic in all the right ways. I’m super happy with this finale in pretty much all ways. It’s a mega-adventure in its own right, and an excellent one that doesn’t try to limit the party, instead working with its vast capabilities. My one complaint with the second arc of the AP is its sequence, not in plot, but in narrative escalation: In “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moon”, we have the high-level translation of themes and playstyle from the first arc: It’s about the wonder of the strange places, brutal combats, and splices in some more epic scales. I love that. The problem is that it follows a module featuring a full-blown war against the Hegemony. We have a war in” Depths of Desperation”, with the PCs taking on armies and huge threats, and the move back towards the wondrous explorer/resistance angle, striking at a key asset of the Hegemony. In some ways, this sequence feels like a scaling back; having the escalation move and build organically from the mostly personal level in Mind Tyrants to the global in Depths to the interplanetary in “To Kill a Star” would have kept the sense of escalation intact.

So, whenever someone asks me whether I’d recommend this AP, I ask two questions: 1) Do you want a strong story, or are wondrous locales more important to you? Because Legendary Planet excels at presenting the sense of wide-eyed wonder that I want out of the genre. The plots WITHIN the modules all work well enough. But its overarching story, particularly considering what connects the modules and consequences that carry over? In that regard, the AP is pretty damn weak. For comparison, I reread a couple of Paizo APs, and saw many similar issues in a lot of them, which, I think, may stem from the fact that the direction of the individual authors needs to be stricter, or more focused, or both. Or, well, someone to actually rewrite the completed AP to tie things all together and make it, you know, a narrative where story-threads matter. While certainly not perfect, particularly in the mechanical aspects (which SUCK!), the Zeitgeist AP, for example, does this a lot better – keeping NPCs and how the party acted relevant. Implementing consequence. Legendary Planet is not good at that. I wouldn’t recommend this AP to someone looking for a captivating story. Villain-wise, the Hegemony is no more or less plausible than comparable villain-civilizations like Star Trek’s borg or Star Wars’ empire; I had no problem suspending my disbelief in how they work, and particularly when they actually become proactive, i.e. in “Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” and “To Kill a Star”, they really came off as supremely dangerous. It’s this looming presence throughout, but, like in many Paizo APs, there isn’t much chance to establish direct opposition early on – however, I didn’t care as much here, because the enemy, well, is the Hegemony. An empire. Not a single enemy, and as such, you’re not expected to create a personal rapport. That’s a smart angle. But back to the second question: 2) How good are your players at PFRPG? Legendary Planet excels, with no doubt in my mind, and beyond what many comparable series offer, in the mechanics department. This AP makes perfect use of potential that only the uneven, wide-open math of PFRPG offers, of all those plentiful options, to provide truly challenging and evocative combat. I can’t reference a single campaign that consistently manages to hit this precarious level of being truly challenging for veteran players without becoming unfair or simply an assortment of save-or-sucks. While the story may not be true impressive, the overall DESIGN of the challenges herein tends to end up in the highest tiers. This is particularly impressive, considering the escalation that mythic gameplay adds to these aspects. You might need to do some fixing on a narrative level; but unlike the Zeitgeist AP, you won’t have to redesign a whole atrociously-bad subengine or fix combats and stat highest-tier, huge monsters. Legendary Planet’s combats are meticulously-crafted for strategy, tactics, etc., and supremely-rewarding in that manner.

If your players tend to curmbstomp through Paizo-APs, then this’ll get that excitement back to the table’s combats. Unlike in most published modules, I only very rarely had to optimize enemies, slap templates on them, etc. – this is, design-wise, one of the best campaigns I’ve seen.

To summarize: While the individual stories told in the modules work well enough, the overarching story of the AP is easily its weakest component. It’s weak regarding consequences that transcend modules, and doesn’t have proper decision-based branching on a micro-or macro-level going on. On the plus-side, the creativity of the wondrous expanses is top-tier, the pacing within individual adventures is great, and the variety of challenges posed is evocative and great. This handles the wonder, the sense of being thrust into unknown worlds, exceedingly well; it hits its genre aesthetics and tropes really well, and in a concise manner. For the most part. (cough Confederates /cough)

If you’re looking for a challenge and can take the AP for what it is, it offers a truly fun campaign. I you want an intricately-woven, intelligent storyline beyond the narrative shortcomings many comparable APs offer, I’d recommend choosing another campaign to run. I can see this AP clock in as anything, ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars for an individual group. Personally, the excellence regarding design components helps me forgive the issues in the narrative. On a plus-side, the flaws in the overall story being not that intricate do mean that AP is super easy to dismantle, expand, and scavenge from – it’s very easy to replace components of the saga, exchange them with your own material or other modules, or elaborate upon an individual chapter.

How, then, am I supposed to rate this AP, as a whole, as opposed to my ratings for the individual chapters? In the end, I think that the weaknesses in the overarching narrative fabric of the AP needs to be represented in some way in the final verdict. To state this once more – for me, as a person, this works well; I can deal with the narrative, expand upon regions, add consequences, etc. If you enjoy the like, then this may well be a 5 star + seal level AP for you.

But I can’t write my reviews based solely with this perspective in mind. As such, my final verdict of the entire saga as a whole, as opposed to individual installments, would usually not exceed 4 stars, but there is another factor to this: Pricing. Considering the amount of content, this AP is a steal. We get art and map folios, and the equivalent 0f 8 (!!) modules, with the finale being a mega-adventure in its own right, for $50 in pdf; $109.99 pdf + print. This is a STEAL. This has more than 700 pages of top-tier content. (Not counting the art and map folios that are super helpful in the age of COVID…) For that price. You don’t have to be a math savant to realize how good this bang-for-buck ratio is. Hence, I feel justified in adding at least half a star, and round up. Oh, and the AP gets my seal of approval. It’s not perfect, but I still love it to bits.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Legendary Planet Adventure Path (Pathfinder)
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Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:22:28

An ENdzeitgeist.com review

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… .. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man, Steve Winter’s scenario deserved better.

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



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

An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Luchador (Pathfinder 2nd Edition)
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