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Star System Set: Salutian (FULL SET)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:27:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Okay, I’m going to deviate slightly from my usual formula, due to the unique structure of this series. The Star System series by AAW Games is customer-friendly, in that you can get the whole star system, or just the component that interests you: Just want a new race? You can get just the race and ignore the rest. This is made possible by a card-like presentation akin to what we know from the company’s super-popular mini-dungeons series. You can just get one card, or the whole set.

Each star system consists of 6 different such cards, meaning you’ll get a page-count of 12 pages. In order to facilitate posting the reviews for these component pdfs without having to rewrite my review time and again and losing time to cut-copy-pasting etc., I’m going to structure this review of the complete set accordingly.

Since I will base my reviews on the collected sets, I will provide an overall conclusion etc. at the bottom. This star system was written in its entirety by Michael O. Holland.

The star system components are:

Planet:

As always, we get a neat artwork that shows all planets and their relative location in the sun system, with the star in question f this system being a yellow dwarf. The planet closest to the sun is super hot, and the one farthest from the sun has a poisonous atmosphere. The Main seat of life here, though, would be Mien, the world of the Lamertans. The surface and jungles of this world are surprisingly deadly, and the lamertans haven’t yet learned the importance of keeping data close to your chest. 4 brief sample fluff NPC-write ups and 2 hooks complement this one. I like the notion of a race recently “abandoned” by their masters, but I can’t really picture Lamerta settlements and the like – they don’t seem to be on the surface, but a bit more detail here would have been nice.

Solid, if not super-exciting. 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Race:

The new race presented within this star system set would be the Lamerta, who are Small, 4-armed humanoids with low light vision and a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics, Computers and Engineering. They also can move unimpeded through nonmagical difficult terrain in jungles and forests, and if they have two free hands, they get their land speed as climb speed. The comparative power-increase the latter represents over e.g. the kasathas is offset by them getting only 2 HP. Ability-score modifier-wise, we have +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con. The race seems to have been engineered by the mysterious Saltu, and the write-up per se is solid. They come with a solid artwork and all sections you’d expect, minus the “Playing a Lamerta”-sidebar that core rules races would have offered.

All in all, a decent race, if not one that really intrigued me. 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Character Options:

Here, we have a new theme, the lawman, which nets +1 to Con, reduces the DC of Culture checks to recall law enforcement/judicial facts by 5 and lets the characters choose Diplomacy or Intimidate as class skill. 6th level nets +2 to Perception checks as part of a criminal investigation, as well as +2 to skill checks of skills in which you have no ranks, provided you undertake the check as part of an investigation. This explicitly does not allow for trained-only skill-use. 12th level lets you 1/week call in a favor for one item or expert service, of up to an item level of your character level +1, and you’re expected to return the goods/reciprocate. Nice one! 18th level lets you 2/day mull over the details or clues of an investigation to regain 1 Resolve Point; this takes 10 minutes and doesn’t qualify for regaining Stamina. One of the cooler themes out there

The second page of this card contains new spells: bio-blast is a level 1 mystic spell that nets a 2d6 acid cone, which leaves a short-lived residue of acidic sludge. Leap is available as a 1st level mystic and technomancer spell, which lets you execute horizontal or vertical leaps up to twice your size sans running start or Athletics-requirements. Technomancers can cast the 2nd level plasma whip spell, which nets you a burning monowhip that you’re treated as proficient with, inflicting scaling fire damage. At 3rd spell level, technomancers can cast energy aegis, which nets +6 to EAC, later upgrading to +8 and +10, at 9th and 18th CL, respectively. Phase shift is available as both a 3rd level mystic and technomancer spell nets a +10 bonus to Stealth and concealment, making this a kind of cross between invisibility and displacement, but at a lesser degree. On a design-perspective, I think that phase shift’s bonus should be tied to the four states of awareness mechanic. Not the biggest fan here.

Verdict: 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the theme. The spells alone would have been closer to 3.

Equipment:

We have three new ships here: We get the Seria tier 1 Tiny fighter, a tier 7 explorer and a tier 9 bulk freighter. Liked these. The section also comes with the wingsuit, which is basically a base-jumping suit, at mk 2 with thrusters (neat!) and defoliant grenades in 4 levels make sense in the jungles of the system. The card also provides a neatly-illustrated hybrid item, the stealth cloak, which does what it says on the tin.

Solid selection. 4 stars.

Monsters:

We get two new monsters here: At Cr 3, the Large , green and delightfully-illustrated grunk worm, who sports acidic bile…oh, and hitting it with kinetic damage may splatter slimy blood full of larvae on targets. The worms also get grab. Nice critter, like it! The second critter, also beautifully illustrated, would be the CR 5 Axarak plant. It is superb at camouflage, but emits a telltale methane scent. The plant can roll its own, dead leaves in bizarre leaf-bombs and may root/uproot itself. Damn cool critter!!

Neat array! 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Mini-Adventure:

This mini-adventure is intended for 4 level 3 PCs, and comes with a nice full-color map. No player-friendly version is included. Really cool: We get two variant/unique-y creatures that are NOT featured on the monster-card! Kudos for going the extra mile here.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, a shuttle has actually crashed on Mien, and it’ll be up to the PCs to mount the rescue! As the PCs scan the region and zoom over the jungle, they’ll soon note the wreck – and that the survivors have fled. And the PCs will be in a place to meet the fine specimen that caused the survivors to run…to a temple of the Saltu, where the PCs can find ancient tech, deadly enemies, and finally free the missing crew members. The terrain/temple per se is a bit less remarkable and the final encounter is a bit out of left field, but the bonus critters rock.

Solid mini-adventure. 4 stars.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, at least for the most part. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the collection sports quite a few rather nice artworks – particularly the monsters get neat art. The pdf version of the collected set has, unlike Querritix, no bookmarks for each card.

Michael O. Holland’s Star System is interesting regarding a lot of its premises, though it probably does suffer a bit from the race’s culture not coming across as that interesting. This is somewhat mitigated by the cool critters, but as a whole, I consider this to be slightly weaker than Querritix. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian (FULL SET)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Welcome to the Jungle (Mini-Adventure)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:26:11

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Mini-Adventure:

This mini-adventure is intended for 4 level 3 PCs, and comes with a nice full-color map. No player-friendly version is included. Really cool: We get two variant/unique-y creatures that are NOT featured on the monster-card! Kudos for going the extra mile here.

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

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, a shuttle has actually crashed on Mien, and it’ll be up to the PCs to mount the rescue! As the PCs scan the region and zoom over the jungle, they’ll soon note the wreck – and that the survivors have fled. And the PCs will be in a place to meet the fine specimen that caused the survivors to run…to a temple of the Saltu, where the PCs can find ancient tech, deadly enemies, and finally free the missing crew members. The terrain/temple per se is a bit less remarkable and the final encounter is a bit out of left field, but the bonus critters rock.

Solid mini-adventure. 4 stars.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Welcome to the Jungle (Mini-Adventure)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Grunk Worm & Axarak (Monsters)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:24:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Monsters:

We get two new monsters here: At Cr 3, the Large , green and delightfully-illustrated grunk worm, who sports acidic bile…oh, and hitting it with kinetic damage may splatter slimy blood full of larvae on targets. The worms also get grab. Nice critter, like it! The second critter, also beautifully illustrated, would be the CR 5 Axarak plant. It is superb at camouflage, but emits a telltale methane scent. The plant can roll its own, dead leaves in bizarre leaf-bombs and may root/uproot itself. Damn cool critter!!

Neat array! 4.5 stars, rounded up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Grunk Worm & Axarak (Monsters)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Lamerta Wingsuits & Ships (Equipment)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:22:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Equipment:

We have three new ships here: We get the Seria tier 1 Tiny fighter, a tier 7 explorer and a tier 9 bulk freighter. Liked these. The section also comes with the wingsuit, which is basically a base-jumping suit, at mk 2 with thrusters (neat!) and defoliant grenades in 4 levels make sense in the jungles of the system. The card also provides a neatly-illustrated hybrid item, the stealth cloak, which does what it says on the tin.

Solid selection. 4 stars.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Lamerta Wingsuits & Ships (Equipment)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Lawman & New Spells (Character Options)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:20:33

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Character Options:

Here, we have a new theme, the lawman, which nets +1 to Con, reduces the DC of Culture checks to recall law enforcement/judicial facts by 5 and lets the characters choose Diplomacy or Intimidate as class skill. 6th level nets +2 to Perception checks as part of a criminal investigation, as well as +2 to skill checks of skills in which you have no ranks, provided you undertake the check as part of an investigation. This explicitly does not allow for trained-only skill-use. 12th level lets you 1/week call in a favor for one item or expert service, of up to an item level of your character level +1, and you’re expected to return the goods/reciprocate. Nice one! 18th level lets you 2/day mull over the details or clues of an investigation to regain 1 Resolve Point; this takes 10 minutes and doesn’t qualify for regaining Stamina. One of the cooler themes out there

The second page of this card contains new spells: bio-blast is a level 1 mystic spell that nets a 2d6 acid cone, which leaves a short-lived residue of acidic sludge. Leap is available as a 1st level mystic and technomancer spell, which lets you execute horizontal or vertical leaps up to twice your size sans running start or Athletics-requirements. Technomancers can cast the 2nd level plasma whip spell, which nets you a burning monowhip that you’re treated as proficient with, inflicting scaling fire damage. At 3rd spell level, technomancers can cast energy aegis, which nets +6 to EAC, later upgrading to +8 and +10, at 9th and 18th CL, respectively. Phase shift is available as both a 3rd level mystic and technomancer spell nets a +10 bonus to Stealth and concealment, making this a kind of cross between invisibility and displacement, but at a lesser degree. On a design-perspective, I think that phase shift’s bonus should be tied to the four states of awareness mechanic. Not the biggest fan here.

Verdict: 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the theme. The spells alone would have been closer to 3.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Lawman & New Spells (Character Options)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Lamerta (Race)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:19:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Race:

The new race presented within this star system set would be the Lamerta, who are Small, 4-armed humanoids with low light vision and a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics, Computers and Engineering. They also can move unimpeded through nonmagical difficult terrain in jungles and forests, and if they have two free hands, they get their land speed as climb speed. The comparative power-increase the latter represents over e.g. the kasathas is offset by them getting only 2 HP. Ability-score modifier-wise, we have +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con. The race seems to have been engineered by the mysterious Saltu, and the write-up per se is solid. They come with a solid artwork and all sections you’d expect, minus the “Playing a Lamerta”-sidebar that core rules races would have offered.

All in all, a decent race, if not one that really intrigued me. 3.5 stars, rounded down.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Lamerta (Race)
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Star System Set: Salutian -- Mien (Planet)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2018 10:17:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

Planet:

As always, we get a neat artwork that shows all planets and their relative location in the sun system, with the star in question f this system being a yellow dwarf. The planet closest to the sun is super hot, and the one farthest from the sun has a poisonous atmosphere. The Main seat of life here, though, would be Mien, the world of the Lamertans. The surface and jungles of this world are surprisingly deadly, and the lamertans haven’t yet learned the importance of keeping data close to your chest. 4 brief sample fluff NPC-write ups and 2 hooks complement this one. I like the notion of a race recently “abandoned” by their masters, but I can’t really picture Lamerta settlements and the like – they don’t seem to be on the surface, but a bit more detail here would have been nice.

Solid, if not super-exciting. 3.5 stars, rounded down.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Star System Set: Salutian -- Mien (Planet)
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Tip of the Tongue
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/15/2018 11:34:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This is a high fantasy adventure for characters level 7 – 8, and takes place in a town steeped in magical academia – the city Bellek. We get a proper settlement statblock for the town, and the magical nature of the place is emphasized throughout: A whole list of magical alcohol for the obligatory starting tavern, for example, has been provided. As a minor nitpick, there are a few inconsistencies in their rules, though these remain largely cosmetic and don’t impede functionality. (Electrical instead of electricity damage, for example.) The starting angle has a couple of hooks provided, and the module does not come with cartography for the town or locations visited. The module pretty heavily references the NPC Codex for less crucial foes/NPCs, so having that, or the SRD-pages ready is suggested. If you own the Liber Influxus Communis, you’ll be interested to hear that the mnemonic class features somewhat prominently in this module. If you don’t have it, fret now, for all relevant information is provided.

All right, you know how this goes – from here on, the SPOILERS will reign, as I discuss the module in detail. Potential players should definitely jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? As the PCs arrive in town, they’ll spot the guards sweating in winter armor – and indeed, as they explore the spire of knowledge, they’ll have an…interesting time, as anything short of a DC 10 Stealth check will be met with shushing sounds – and the PCs may well be escorted out of the place after 5 failed consecutive checks. This can be hilarious for your group, but be careful when running this RAW, as it could similarly frustrate players. Anyways, at the top of the spire, the PCs get to meet Hirsli Aptal, a mindchemist who may have a brilliant mind – but also has puzzling news: obviously, the keenest minds, particularly nobles et al., have recently been struck by an odd wave of amnesia, and Hirsli is beginning to suffer exactly the same slips of memory. Something is amiss, and PCs willing to investigate the matter get a badge that should help during the investigation. (Btw.: Attacking her is a bad idea – book golem…)

Investigating Aptal manor, the PCs can find a secret passage in the treasury that leads into the tomb of Ipo Aisun-Aiji, a mnemonic from days gone past that sacrificed himself to end the threat of a horrid entity – Mitk’. Alas, as often the case, Mitk’ wasn’t destroyed, and has since found a mad apprentice/prophet of sorts in the eleven oracle Kit Mha, who has placed clues that allowed Hirsli to break the cipher of the Kitabu Mitk’ – a grimoires now hidden below, ready to be unleashed upon the adventurers. The tomb of Iso Aisun-Aiji is btw. a magical labyrinth full of yithians and the like – now maps or puzzle helps solve the maze, which is a bit of a downside – particularly since failing a skill check and traveling willy-nilly can cause ability score damage. As written, this is a clear example of PC skill over player skill use.

Returning the book to Hirsli, she creates a concoction that cures the amnesia – and that’s it, right? Wrong. The PCs do get to meet King Halfviti (lol), and in the aftermath of a feast, an assassination will be carried out – hinting that not all is well, and indeed, a mysterious killer named Kurtaric manages to (probably) get away. Thing is, there is an invasion looming, and 3 nearby settlements, and thus, the PCs are sent out to gather armies, while the old killer attempts to strike if an opportunity presents itself – but not all is as it seems: The old warrior finally opts for parley, and just as he talks, he is struck dead – and with his death, his ritual fails: the old mnemonic attempted to isolate and contain the spread of the idea of Mitk’, eradicating the idea the PCs helped to inadvertently spread.

The game is on, as Mitk’, as a deadly idea of sorts, now has reached critical saturation – a war for ideas, fought with mass combat rules, against the gruesome vergeten –and, obviously, Mitk’! Ultimately, the PCs may, courtesy of special (and seriously potent for the level) weapons, triumph – these special weapons, oddly, have no value, but instead use a charge-like mechanic and quickly decrease in power. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on.

The pdf comes with extensive statblocks and army stats.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect. I noticed a couple of minor hiccups, though no game-breakers per se. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with few colors and a white background – the module is pretty printer-friendly. The interior artwork is a blending of nice original pieces and fitting stock art, in full color and b/w, respectively. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. No cartography is provided, which is a slight comfort detriment.

This module, penned by Mike Myler and Christopher Kugler, is per se amazing in many ways – the ambition and story is grand, and particularly the climax can be amazing – if you draw the battle-field, etc. The module also suffers a bit from its scope and what it can accomplish in it – this feels like a trilogy of adventures, jammed together into one: Act I, the investigation and dungeon – the latter of which is pretty much glossed over and could have used a more rewarding solution. Act II, as the gathering of forces – the traveling and locations could have used more time to develop the threat amassed…and thirdly, the showdown, which has all the makings of an epic finale. The third act works best here, but even it could have used a bit more room to shine. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this module, but it does require some serious fleshing out by the GM to truly realize its potential. And I really, really wished it didn’t rush things like it did. As provided, the narrative weak points are the exposition dumps at certain stages, which, to me, felt like a necessity for the sake of remaining briefer than the material would have warranted. This module is not bad, not by a long shot – but, frustratingly, it has all the ingredients of being a great epic, condensed to a briefer presentation form that slightly hurts the module.

That being said, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. If you don’t mind doing lots of fleshing out, then this might make for a grand and rather epic experience for you and yours!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tip of the Tongue
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Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/15/2018 11:32:42

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The first 7.5 pages of this supplement depict the region of the Skathernes and the village of White Dragon Run – and yes, this section is identical to what we got back in the first Advanced Adventures-booklet, leaving us with 9.5 pages of new material. The suggested levels have been raised to 2 – 5 for this return to the Skathernes to account for the challenges presented by the new environments. Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded – most of the time. I did notice instances where they’re italicized instead. A smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended, and PCs and players should know when to run. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

If you hoped that this would be a true sequel, and adventure that would build on the events and areas featured in the first White Dragon Run, well, then I’ll have to disappoint you.

In case you haven’t read my review of White Dragon Run, here is the breakdown of the wilderness region and how it operates. If you have read my review of White Dragon Run #1, skip ahead.

----------Begin of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

“White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. It should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

----------End of Hexcrawl/wilderness-discussion-----------

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS – from here on out, I will proceed to discuss the new set-piece environments found within this supplement. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, this adventure states that it has 4 new encounter-areas. To quote the description:

“White Dragon Run II contains four new locations in the Skathernes: The Sane Hermit, The Rainbow In The Dark, the rare and unusual Ambulatory Tower, and the deadly Temple of the Snake God.”

That is simply incorrect. The first one is a non-hostile ex-adventurer half-elf druid. You can meet him. That’s it. That’s not a full locale or encounter-area, that’s an NPC.

Yes, this really pissed me off.

That being said, this NPC can tie in with the first of the new locales, the so-called “Ambulatory Tower.” This tower sports a really cool idea: Basically, it’s part of a planes-spanning structure that is kinda-alive; a type of feeding tube that is a heat sink of sorts for the quasi-alive structure – the presence of undead in the area is thus explained rather well, and an influx of zombies can make for a neat hook to get the PCs involved. The creatures encountered within are consequently not quite right, representing an immune response of sorts of the entity: First, they will be grotesque and less potent, but with each subsequent sojourn into the tower, its guardians will improve, losing penalties and gaining bonuses. A wandering monster table is provided, and each room has a leitmotif of sorts that the GM can use as guidance for potentially changed challenges and the like. This makes the tower an interesting place to explore – but I wished that this was also represented by the dungeon itself: Prohibitively short, it only spans 8 rooms and is super-linear. There is but one way, and while terrain-use and themes are strong, the same can’t necessarily be said for the overall structure. The facsimile of the dragon as a final boss here is certainly deadly. On the plus-side, the “heart” of this tower may indeed be destroyed by clever PCs, even without the high-level options it’d usually take, though chances are good that they may need to stock up…and return. Which, of course, means facing new and tougher foes! Even if the tower is vanquished, escape is interesting: The players have to, with closed eyes, describe their way out! Even though it is this linear, I found myself enjoying this small dungeon much more than I expected to. It’s fun, challenging and interesting.

The second new mini-dungeon presented within would be the “Rainbow in the Dark”, a cavern with 4 keyed locations that is currently inhabited by a tribe of rather potent bugbears (and a currently hibernating cave-fisher, for an extra chaos infusion) – inside, there is a magical quartz that, once per day, is hit by a beam of light, creating magical light that can grant permanent boons! Pretty cool! As an aside, I do think that this amazing premise could have carried more, but I digress.

The third mini-dungeon is the longest one: 17 keyed locations can be found, which once more are thoroughly linear. Utterly baffling: The random encounter chart for the Mountains of Xur is included here, in the back, instead of where it belongs, in the front, next to the others. As an aside – the table is, even for the White Dragon Run-wilderness, a deadly challenge, and should be handled with care. I’d suggest level 5, and even then, things can go haywire pretty badly. Then again, at this point, the PCs have had some experience with deadly wilderness encounters. This third mini-dungeon is called “Temple of the Snake God” and features two “new” monsters – serpent-people called “Serpentians” (distinguished as lowblood, high blood and chosen) and shadow weirds, a snake like life-form from the plane of shadow that attempts to paralyze targets and rag them into shadow pools. The dungeon has two easy riddles I’ve seen before, a fountain that changes color (Why? Because, I guess.), snakes, and new magic item-wise, there is a spell-in-a-can ring (boring) and arrows that cause additional damage via poison and that turn into harmless snakes upon being fired. You may well call me hipster, but I’ve seen the snake-men angle done so many times, it’s hard to impress me with it – and I’ve seen it done better rather often. In the absence of Sword & Sorcery themes around White Dragon Run, you may appreciate it if you’re more of a genre-fan than I am (And I love me some Sword & Sorcery…), but personally, I did not feel like it fit into the area particularly well. It feels like a foreign object to me, and not in a good way. It’s a challenging dungeon, I’ll give it that much, but it’s less interesting and atmospheric than the other mini-dungeons herein or the Gray Temple from module #1.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the classic two-column b/w-standard of the series, and the b/w-artworks are nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney, Joseph Browning and Joseph A. Mohr returning to White Dragon Run could have been so much more. This could have expanded and further developed the themes in the first module, it could have been a true sequel. Instead, it feels like a parallel version. The Mountains of Xur random encounters being in the entry for a mini-dungeon did annoy me to an extent; similarly, I think the module’s advertisement is false, as there are only 3 true encounter-areas/complexes – adding a single NPC camping in the wilds does not for a new location make. Encountering a pretty generic retired-adventurer-druid in his camp is not a “location”, particularly if there is no map, no adventuring, no interaction points to be had. It’s basically a random encounter. Heck, the module suggests using him as such.

That being said, 2 of the three new locales are really interesting, cool and sport potent challenges and unique visuals. I wish I could say the same about the third, which feels like it just jams a pretty unremarkable execution of a classic Sword & Sorcery trope I usually enjoy into a region, where it doesn’t necessarily fit. I sincerely wished that the first two locations had received the page-count spent on this one instead. I should also note that the absence of an easier dungeon, with all 3 of the new ones being tougher, de facto renders this suitable for level 4 – 5 characters, for the most part. The only content suitable for lower level characters would be running into critters in the wild. Not sure if that qualifies for you or not.

How to rate this, then? Honestly, if you already have White Dragon Run, you may want to think twice before getting this. The two cool mini-dungeons that I really enjoyed span a grand total of 4 pages plus one paragraph; the rest is reused content from the first White Dragon Run, and the underwhelming final mini-dungeon. Honestly, I’m kinda sad for the 2 cool locations – had they been in #1, or had the Gray Temple been featured herein, we’d be looking at a much stronger offering all-around. As written, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this one – I paid full price for this, and beyond the advertisement being patently false, I also consider the suggested level range problematic. Dear authors of the ambulatory tower and the rainbow in the dark – I liked what you brought to the table! Consider your parts of this module to be good and worthwhile.

That being said, if you already have White Dragon Run #1, you’ll probably want to skip this. If you don’t own #1, then you may want to get it – provided you have some ideas/modules that can bring the PCs to levels 4 – 5, as White Dragon Run II has nothing but reprinted wilderness encounters to offer for levels 2 – 3.

How should I rate this? Well, ultimately, I’d usually rate this akin to its predecessor: The inspired locations, put together, almost reach the same keyed encounter count as the rather lackluster final one, offsetting that one somewhat. However, the challenges posed are more on the higher level range and offer less for lower level PCs than in the first module, so I’d detract half a star for a 3-star rating.

That’s what I’d usually do. But this module falsely advertised that it offered 4 new locations. I can stomach almost half of the module being a reprint from #1, no problem. I really HATE it when a supplement’s advertisement and description blatantly lies to the customer. Hence, this loses another star for a final verdict of 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #38: White Dragon Run II
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Monster Menagerie: Draconis Arcanus
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/14/2018 10:25:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive installment of the Monster Menagerie-series clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 52 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, so, if you’re like me, you can never have enough dragons. In my games, dragons are extremely deadly, rare, and my players try to avoid them at all cost – with my staggering array of supplements, supplemented by home rules, I have made these fellows true forces of nature. It’s a matter of aesthetics, but I’m very much in favor of using dragons very consciously of what they should signify for adventurers. This notion has ultimately led me towards considering pretty much every dragon as its unique entity – whether I’m using metabreath feats, the vast amount of templates, Legendary Games’ Path of Dragons or other supplements, I try to never have two dragon encounters feel alike.

As such, it is very helpful to get a whole bestiary devoted to a new type of true dragon – here, that would be the draconis arcanus; the collective term that peasants may butcher to instead be “spell dragons” – basically, these fellows are organized by magic schools, with each of the types of dragon receiving its own age category table, rules, and 3 sample dragons already statted for you. Much to my joy, none of these sample statblocks are devoted to the low levels, where any GM worth their salt can nowadays stat a dragon – instead, the lowest CR-iterations of the sample statblocks tend to clock in between CR 7 and 9, while the most potent ones run the gamut from CR 16 – 19. We get a sample young, adult and ancient dragon for each of the types of draconis arcanus.

As a new type of dragon, we do begin the pdf with universal rules for these dragons: These dragons can counter spells with any spell of the same school. They may freely learn cleric and sorcerer spells, and any spell from a school that corresponds with their type, regardless of spell list it’s from. As an immediate action, they can increase their CL for a spellcasting attempt by using Spellcraft, with the option to attempt for more potent overcasting by beating higher DCs. All dragons get the Spell Focus feat, with the adult age category also providing Greater Spell Focus. They add Charisma modifier and age category to checks made to overcome SR, get 11 + CR SR, and add their age category to their SR for the purpose of determining its value for spells of the school associated with them.. Interesting: These fellows get the ability to manipulate raw magic, either in the shape of untyped blasts of destructive energy of the dimensions of their breath weapon, or t heal themselves or other creatures – this is but one of the plethora of aura-altering abilities within. The latter, the healing aspect, is a gamble of sorts, though – for the spell dragon does take Constitution damage for using raw magic. Finally, for 1 point of Con-damage per spell level these dragons can attempt an immediate action counterspell. As beings of magic, all spell dragons are susceptible to antimagic effects, which actually hurt them – from dispel magic to mage’s (formerly Mordenkainen’s) disjunction, damage values for such effects are provided – and woe betide spell dragons trapped in a magic dead area.

The theme here is pretty obvious – dragons as incarnations of magic, as perhaps their source, would be a theme that these very well could provide. That out of the way, we begin with the massive array of draconic tricks that this pdf offers, and there are quite a few gems here that will make your PCs fear these majestic beings. Let’s take the Abjuration dragon: Usually neutral, these fellows have adaptive energy resistance, and at age ancient or older, they actually can become buffed by being attacked with magic weapons, leeching off the enchantments temporarily. That mighty +5 dragonbane holy avenger? Not so holy or dragonbane-y anymore…here, let me snap this metal twig for you… Oh yes, this one goes there: Players will fear these fellows. I mean, we all know that dying in honorable battle with a dragon is something many a player will brag about…but first having all magic items wrecked? Now that is plain mean…and I love it. Have I mentioned the 1/day 500 ft. disjoining pulse that wyrms get? Oh, the delicious tears… XD Kidding aside, I love how nasty these fellows can be. Did I mention the great wyrm prismatic scales – these are a dragon hunter’s worst nightmare, right after their disjoining pulse…And no, you won’t be doing a lot of fancy porting around these fellows…Love them!

Now, you may have noticed something – the abilities of the abjuration dragon don’t look very template-y; i.e., they can’t simply be exchanged for the “spell school xyz”-equivalent. This notion is proven true when taking a look at the conjuration dragon, who gets the ability to use free actions to layer metamagic feats on conjuration spells (no, he doesn’t have to know them!), and it can modify the duration of such effects, and retroactively layer metamagic effects on them – oh, and they can redistribute targets in line of sight. Know what’s conjuration? Teleport. Healing…oh BOY, will PCs and players look dumbfounded when first encountering one of these fellows. And yes, they get frickin’ unchained eidolons. Better summons…and great wyrms get a gate breath. They can transform their frightful presence into an undead debuffing healing aura…and what about mist-auras? Or ripping parts from other planes here for planar trait fun? This is gleefully creative, and yes, before you ask, these dragons do think with portals…and these portals actually are only visible for these dragons and those having true seeing…That they get a summoning breath should, at this point, be taken as a given.

Divination dragons get plasma breath (excellent: Rare damage type properly explained in breath weapon entry) and they add Int-mod to initiative and all saves as well as AC (at juvenile+ age category) – and at later stages in the life cycle, these guys get further defensive tricks. Their breath can trap targets in a flood of visions that may confuse them, and these fellows may exert massive control over nearby divinations. Free ation 1/round Int to a d20-check, scrying tricks, and seeing past and future, the dragon may strike traumatic fear in the hearts of his adversaries. Oracular scales…and did I mention the ability to get a more flexible true strike-y bonus that may be distributed among allies nearby? A massive disadvantage aura (roll twice, take worse result) is nice, but the capstone is the genius thing here: Great wyrms may utter a word after observing a target – this can change even an outsider’s alignment, make priests lose their faith, etc. – functionally, it can be insanity, and, ina cool touch, the ability states that making the save equals “forgetting” what the dragon said/not processing it. This one is frightening in all the right ways.

Enchantment dragons, as befitting of their school, are masters of the creatures they defeated, gaining a sonic breath weapon that may confuse foes, and control over an emotional aura that has several different modes. A paralyzing gaze, infectious suggestions and the ability to call forth minions charmed or dominated…nasty fellow. Oh, and attacking these guys? Not so easy, courtesy of their majesty ability. With subliminal commands and subtle suggestions, these dragons make perfect puppet masters behind the scenes.

Know what’s not subtle? Evocation. Neither are the dragons. They can (and will) absorb energy-based attacks – and yes, this includes sonic and even force effects and have these fuel their breath..or provide healing. Oh, and they can do one thing at age old or older that should make them frightful. If you’ve, in the 3.X days of yore, played with a lot of obscure 3pps, you’ll know the notion of chained spells – a concept that, by definition, never was balanced well…but it’s cool. Well, guess what? For an old dragon, chaining spells together makes a ton of sense and can provide one super-deadly, nasty surprise. These dragons can cause their energy effects to be admixture, charge objects with destructive force impulses. Speaking of destruction: Great wyrms can enter the aptly-named “Devastation” energy form; and adult or older evocation dragons cause all damage dealing evocation spells and SPs to be both Empowered and Maximized, with unique effects for the various damage types – basically, debuffs are heaped on top. Ouch. Nitpick here: This ability should REALLY specify a range – I assume here that aura range was intended, but not specified. Did I mention the sundering capabilities of their breath? The option to make wall-breath effects?

Illusion dragons get a vulnerability exploiting breath, the ability to create illusory servants and create projections which it may then inhabit. Subtle and smart, they are naturally greater invisible, and get phantasmal killer auras, shadow duplicates, a breath that traps PCs in a fantasy utopia…while the latter allows for a Will save to end, here’s an idea: The dragon can peer inside the PC’s visions, and thus could modify their memories, so what if you seed odd occurrences, and when you’re fed up with the current story/region – have the PCs wake up, facing the dragon! Just an idea, obviously – though not one that’s so far-fetched, considering that these fellows may indeed alter reality…

Necromancy dragons get an animating aura, the ability to use astral projection at will at age very old or older, acid breath weapon (laced with diseases, for extra fun!), blood drain…and the dragon may lick targets (EW!), and for the next 24 hours, drain physical attributes from targets licked. This is…awesome. “Sure I’ll help you, little ones…I just want to…lick you.” shudders A fear-based gaze, freely interacting with incorporeal targets, a fatiguing touch and a banshee-style howl can be found – oh, and their breath can cause frickin’ lycanthropy! Their blood is diseased. They can generate clouds of rotting skin flakes. Those slain by their bite are almost certainly, barring wish/miracle, lost…oh, and they get a kind of sub-bloodline with unique benefits and associated undead. Did I mention that great wyrms actually dim the sun in the vicinity, getting the full-blown dark overlord vibe? Soil becomes deadly, water toxic…and just uttering the name of someone allows great wyrms to curse them. This is just super-nasty and cool! I’d have loved to see this lair-style ability feature notes on how it can affect a kingdom, but oh well.

Finally, there would be the transmutation dragon – these fellows get electricity breath, the usual control over their associated spell school’s effects, the options to blink around, fabricate materials…and what about a mist that can haste the dragon or slow foes? What about a venom that deals massive damage due to dininetgrate-ing you? As masters of transmutation, these dragons have a serious amount of control over their own bodies, chosen from their own list. Potentially polymorphing breath, the ability to create reverse gravity traps or to control the sizes of their foes – and what about gaining the traits of a subtype? A transformation aura nonlethal damage + Strength and Dex damage via touch attacks, making anthros, temporarily reincarnate-ing targets…and yes, the great wyrm ability is, no surprises there, a time stop-tweak. Here, the rules are a bit odd, as the ability basically represents a target-lockdown, not the ability to step out of time and prepare, so the spell-reference doesn’t make much sense here.

This is not where the pdf end, though – instead, we close the pdf with 10 different templates that allow for e.g. oracle or witch ability pouching, basically presenting quick to implement ways to further customize these dragons.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. While I noticed a few missed italicizations and similar formatting hiccups and a few glitches in some abilities, these are few and far in between. Layout adheres to the grimoires-like two-column full-color standard of the series, though, after each dragon-type/subchapter, we have pretty big sections of blank space. The artworks within are original pieces and in full color: Dan Houser certainly has a unique style that some may consider to be a bit goofy, others delightfully charming. The front cover should give you a good idea there. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The pdf comes with a second version that is more mobile-device-friendly.

Sam Hing’s draconis arcanus, for me, started off as a concept I honestly was not excited about. AT ALL. Well, I’m happy to report that I was wrong in this instance – the dragons themed around spell schools actually work. Even better, they dare to be NASTY. They dare to be deadly and brutal – you know, like dragons should be. The ability arrays presented render these dragons potent adversaries that offer both brains and brawn as far as their capabilities are concerned. While they share their school mastery as a leitmotif, I was pleasantly surprised by how distinct from one another they ultimately turned out to be. They play differently, have radically different abilities, and more than one could be its own story twist. That evil empire with the enslaved evocation dragon bolstering the battlemages, the conflict of an enchantment, illusion and divination dragon, an epic game of chess and maneuvering…there are some seriously inspiring components here. Now, the pdf is not perfect, granted, but it’s a surprisingly captivating offering that actually made reviewing it fun. If I were to nitpick something, then that would be that the pdf could theoretically make more use of PFRPG’s subsystems, but then again, this may be a feature, not a bug for you and as such, won’t influence my final verdict. Even after all these monsters I’ve covered over the years, these dragons managed to elicit a sense of excitement – and what more can you ask for? While I did not reverse-engineer all stats within, I did check out a couple of them, and they are solid. All in all, I definitely consider this to be a worthwhile purchase and a great addition to the GM’s arsenal. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Menagerie: Draconis Arcanus
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Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/14/2018 10:23:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Advanced Adventure-installment clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.

Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded. The adventure is intended for level 2 – 4 characters, and a smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.

That being said, “White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.

Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.

That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. No random encounters table is provided for the Mountains of Xur, and it should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.

While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.

The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.

I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.

One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.

As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.

The last 5.5 pages of the module, then, do present two more detailed locations – small dungeons, if you will.

In order to discuss these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should hjump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! The first of these would be the “Gray Temple”, and abandoned edifice to the evil god Gaevud, a ruin of a granite structure somewhere in the Skaths. Today, vermin nest there, and this is represented by the random encounter table provided, which features giant lizards, giant rats, huge spiders and giant ticks, as well as a couple of humanoids. Indeed, the outer chapel, pretty much the first encounter-area of the temple, already has the potential to have the PCs surprised by no less than 8 giant spiders. If you haven’t learned to be careful via the dangerous wilds, this will drive it home. All in all, this is basically an exploration of an old ruin – though there are plenty of mundane pieces of equipment to still be scavenged herein – which is great for the notoriously-broke low-level adventurer…oh, and particularly perceptive PCs may well find a hidden room that hasn’t yet been looted and found…though, alas, the undead occupants may well object to it being looted… I liked the sense of dilapidation that this complex sported – it is something we don’t get to see that often. At the same time, I do feel that this would have benefited a bit more from some details regarding the long-vanished religion; more details for the iconography etc. to be spliced into the ever-present ruin….but that may have been intentional here.

The second complex presented would be The Forgotten Outpost – an underground complex that once served as a waystation for the Count’s men. A decade ago, it was overrun and sacked by humanoids, and today, it acts as a haven for a particularly vicious band of brigands. Clearing them from the outpost to potentially make it usable once more could really help the PCs getting Sir Kallan’s favor. Bandit HP are provided in a way that makes it easy to check them off, and the complex itself is a straight-forward extermination mission, unburdened by much in the way of hazards or the like…for the first 12 rooms, that is. A slight criticism would be that the bandits remain comparably pale – they don’t really have a proper response strategy or the like – compared to Advanced Adventures: The Curse of the Witch Head”, that aspect is weaker than I hoped it’d be. The interesting aspect of this complex is one that the PCs can potentially miss – there are quite a few rooms that haven’t been found by bandits, hidden by secret doors. Here, a forgotten, undead menace looms, and a room that is haunted can make for a rather creepy experience. I did like this (and the option to find a significant weapon cache) here, but as a whole, the complex still is basically something most GMs could improvise.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level, with the by now almost traditional formatting deviations. Layout adheres to the old-school, two-column b/w-standards of the series that evoke a proper, old-school flair. The artworks within are b/w and rather nice indeed, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.

James C. Boney’s “White Dragon Run” is a challenging little hexcrawl that can provide a surprising amount of game sessions. Courtesy of the danger of the wilderness, there are quite a lot of stories that will simply happen organically. And chances aren’t bad, particularly if you tackle this at 2nd level, that one or more PCs…or groups of PCs, will find their grisly ends in the Skathernes. The challenge is a central part of the appeal here, and indeed, the village is also well-presented. While I would have enjoyed a bit more conflict-potential to be baked into the settlement, as presented it makes for a point of light, for a fragile haven, and fills its role in that regard nicely. The hex-crawling section of this module, in short, should be considered to be a success, particularly for those among us that enjoy a down to earth and somewhat gritty aesthetic. I like that not everything is cluttered with magical things here – it grounds the experience and makes encountering the fantastic more remarkable.

That being said, the two mini-dungeons provided in the back of the book fall a bit short of what I have seen the author produce so far. The first dungeon does succeed at its goal, and while it’s not the most remarkable of places, it turned out to be enjoyable. In direct comparison, the second mini-dungeon feels like the less inspired, low level lite-version of his really enjoyable and cool “Curse of the Witch Head.” With a defense strategy for the adversaries, and perhaps a slightly more meaningful impact for finding the less obvious parts of it, this could have been a much more compelling expedition. So yeah, in direct comparison, the two brief dungeons did not exactly blow me away.

How to rate this, then? See, here things get a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the settlement and rather deadly wilderness, the two mini-dungeons included are simply less exciting. And when compared to other adventures that have received 4 stars from yours truly, this simply isn’t wholly there – it needed that little bit, that extra oomph in the dungeons, perhaps a couple of mini-quests in village and wilderness, to truly shine. As such, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – a solid release on the positive side of things.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #13: White Dragon Run
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Future's Past: Paying Forward (2 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:27:14

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement (somewhat to my annoyance in the middle of the module), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It should be noted that, as before, the module does come with expertly crafted monsters with glyphs denoting their general role. The module starts pretty much immediately where Part #1 left off, and, as before, has proper stats for pretty much everything, read-aloud text where you’d expect it to be, etc..

The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the end of the first module in the series, as well as for the entirety of this adventure. As such, I STRONGLY urge anyone wo wants to play this adventure to skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, things look pretty hopeless for the PCs: They are stranded on Edge Station in Druune space, probably infected by Druune cells that will probably mutate them into disturbing Necromorph-like monstrosities enslaved by the Druune, and their powerful Central AI has deserted them. The final orders of the AI were to destroy the prototype timemachine the Druune developed – and it’s up to the PCs to decide on whether to follow this suicidal command and martyr themselves, or attempt to use it.

Indeed, an extremely dangerous mission has just become outright suicidal, as the PCs are bereft of Central AI’s exceedingly potent guidance – but in its stead, something else has taken the place of a global effect: You see, across infinite realities, the PCs have perished, failed, died. Again and again and again…until one of them got through, sending a part of the PC’s consciousness back through time, allowing the PC to have limited control over the time-stream via visions, ideas, etc. Set against the backdrop of Druune-cells subverting the consciousness of PCs, this should not simply be a form of fate favoring the PCs (and a means for the GM to help out, if they get stuck), but also represent a constant source of paranoia. This is incredibly clever from a narrative point of view. I adore it! Better yet: If the PCs figure out what’s going on, they can use this to a somewhat chaotic, but utterly unique effect – thematically, it’s a great continuation and escalation of both in-game and meta-game practices of module #1…and I could well spend another page extolling the virtues of how much sense this makes. Suffice to say, I love it. And yes, Druune infection is ALSO part of the atmospheric themes going on here.

The most sensible reaction for most PCs will probably be attempting to simply take their space ship and get the hell out – but Central Ai has hacked the docking station’s module and sent their craft hurtling into space. Worse, the outside of the station is covered in Druune remnant swarms, one of the new monsters within.

Whether they want to heed Central AI’s suicidal commands or use the time-machine, the PCs will have to dive deeper into Edge Station, and indeed, the pdf does note information that the PCs can glean by doing their legwork here. Leaving the lab-section, the PCs get to deal with the offices of the now Druune-enslaved populace – full of hazards and a dark theme reminiscent, once more – at least from a player’s perspective, of the fantastic space horror that the first Dead Space game managed to evoke. (You know, before EA made the franchise a sucky action-game that no one wanted…) Genuinely creepy whispers from victims in various stages of Druune transformation, a rudimentary and imperfectly-sealed hole that may suck PCs into vacuum…and yes, the Druune infection can be transmitted by some of the traps found within. Horrid gestalt things, a technogolem spreading Druune-infection…the atmosphere is pretty much pitch-perfect.

Clever PCs can find experimental Druune weapons, a 3d-copy machine…and yes, copies of creatures may be made…with potentially…öhem…interesting consequences. It is in the depths of the complex, past all of that, where things take a turn for another one of the games that really blew me away: SOMA. You see, the Druune have found a way to transfer consciousness between beings (yes, PCs could use that to, e.g., lose their Druune-infection-ridden bodies…but it’d trap the consciousness in that body…so yeah, anyone up for doing some nasty things to the duplicates you may have made?

Oh, and ultimately, the PCs will reach the Druune, see the PC that made it – the one that helped them get so far, that proceeded to kill himself to avoid assimilation by the Druune, and thus presented the chance the PCs took: A vision takes a hold of the time traveler PC, one that explains a lot, one that actually sent shivers down my spine. I am not exaggerating. This reveal, which I deliberately did not spoil in my review of module #1, is just brilliant. After this, we get the final boss fight, including unique temporal distortion effects, – and then, a travel back through time. To another body, as the PCs can only project their consciousness back through time. It’s 3 days before first contact with the Druune. Time’s ticking.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a bunch of truly amazing, original full-color artworks. The cartography is in full-color as well, and comes with player-friendly versions, ensuring that you can use them as handouts and VTT-functionality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

And here I was, thinking that Stephen Rowe, a masterclass designer and storyteller, had delivered an excellent adventure in #1 of this AP. It’s baffling. It really is. After a module that was exceedingly hard to follow up on, this actually manages to surpass the first module. The craftsmanship and artistry is just as amazing as before, but it’s the extremely efficient use of paranoia, with distinct science-fiction themes, that is frankly, a class of its own. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that this module, in its pages, manages to tackle more exciting themes than many whole campaigns. Blending questions of transhumanism and what constitutes identity with time-travel, adding a complex and truly intelligent plot, and topping it off with a reveal that WILL leave your players slack-jawed and truly stunned/mind-blown? This module does it all, and is a perfect example of quality over quantity. This is master-class storytelling and adventure design. 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. It’s this good. If the AP can retain this level of brilliant writing, then we’re looking at a masterpiece for the ages.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Paying Forward (2 of 5)
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The Conjurer's Handbook
Publisher: Drop Dead Studios
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:25:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The supplement begins with the by now traditional flavor-centric introduction before diving into the crunch. This time around, we begin with something rather interesting: Upon gaining a Conjuration sphere companion, you may now choose an archetype for the companion, which follow the usual restrictions. I.e. you can have as many as you’d like, provided they don’t change or modify the same features. 8 different such archetypes are provided and allow you to get an aquatic companion, for example. A companion with a bestial intellect (who does get a free (form) talent) and requires Handle Animal, a familiar-style one, and we get one that makes your companion a kind of mage-lite. Mindless or puppet-style companions are also included, and bipedal companions may become basically warriors. Much to my joy, there also is the Martial Companion option, which allows for synergy with the fantastic Spheres of Might book. All in all, this section is an all but required modification and broadening of options.

Now, this does not mean that the pdf doesn’t offer archetypes – for example, there would be the alter ego vigilante: Instead of a vigilante identity, the alter ego trades places with an extraplanar allay until it’s time to resume social activity. Instead of assuming the identity via the vigilante’s usual rules, the archetype instead makes use of the Conjuration sphere, using class level as caster level, stacking with other CL-sources. The companion can’t have an Int of below 3, and the combined archetypes applied may not have an increased spell point cost. Basic awareness is shared between them, and Link/Greater Link apply, despite planar boundaries. Alter egos begin play with a single bonus (form) talent, and conditions/effects are not shared – when switched out, they run their course, so no poison-cheesing etc. However, once switched out, the other part of the team is otherwise safe. Vigilante talents only apply to the alter ego companion, and social talents may only be used by the character, not the companion. This replaces seamless guise and vigilante specialization and modifies dual identity and vigilante talents, but archetypes that alter the latter may explicitly be combined with this archetype. The companion may cast by taking Con-damage to use Call of the Departed, if any – this is not ideal. Speaking of which: The vigilante appearance-ability sequence leaves me puzzled in conjunction with this archetype – does the alter ego gain the benefits, the companion, or both? I have no idea. Since we now have two entities, these would require clarification to make the archetype work RAW.

The second archetype is the awakener armiger, who requires the use of Spheres of Might. This one receives only 2 customized weapons at 1st level. When customizing weapons, these guys also forge a connection to a spirit. As a full-round action, the awakener can make the spirit manifest, which acts a s a Conjuration sphere companion with the martial companion archetype applied and a CL equal to the class level of the awakener. Thankfully, only one such weapon spirit per awakener may be kept in play, and once summoned, they can’t be called again for 1 hour, preventing abuse by spirit-cycling. The ability also tightly codifies dismissal. Weapon spirits get an additional (form) talent at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additional customized weapons are gained at 11th and 19th level. Instead of rapid assault, the awakener may expend martial focus as an immediate action upon successfully damaging a creature or executing a successful combat maneuver. Unfortunately, this does allow the awakener to ignore the 1-hour cooldown, which ultimately means that I need my bag of kittens to beat up…As at least a minor drawback, this does render the awakener staggered for a round, but still. On the plus side, action economy of a spirit thus called is properly codified. At 10th level, 1/round when dealing damage to a creature with a customized weapon, the hit creature draws an AoO from the weapon spirit. At 15th level, the weapon spirit may instead execute an attack action against the target, which allows for fearsome martial combos! Cool! 20th level renders the duration permanent until dismissed or another spirit is called, and lightning assault no longer requires martial focus expenditure. There also are 3 unique prowesses provided for better weapon spirit flexibility and mental links or sharing a spirit’s knowledge. Apart from the slightly wonky cycling issue that should imho have a longer cooldown, a cool archetype.

The knight-summoner mageknight replaces resist magic and the 1st level talent with the ability to summon a pala/cavalier-ish mount, as codified by the Conjuration sphere. Mystic combat is replaced with a (form) talent for the mount, which may be exchanged as a kind of wild-card trick. At 11th level, this may be used quicker, with spell points as a means to even use it as a free action. Mystic combat’s benefits aren’t wholly lost, though – instead, marked is replaced at 7th level, allowing for the sharing of mystic combat benefits between mount and rider. 2 archetype-specific mystic combat options are also included. The pact master thaumaturge does not gain the casting class feature, nor magic talents from class levels, though his class levels do count as casting class levels for Counterspell etc. Instead, the pact master forms a pact in an 8-hour ritual, granting a pact companion, which may then be called forth with a 1-hour ritual This functions as a companion with CL equal to class level, with CL not stacking with other sources. The pact companion remains for 24 hours and gets a bonus (form) or (type) talent at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, though a companion still can only have one type. (It should be noted that Undead Creature has been retroactively declared a (type) talent. While within Medium range of the companion, the pact master gains a CL equal to class level, and a magic talent, plus another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A pact master may retain up to three pacts, and it is suggested that talents granted should correlate to the nature of the companion. This replaces occult knowledge and basically makes the class behave more like a witch/warlock from folklore, one that draws strength from the proximity of otherworldly allies. Extensive adveice for building pact companions is provided, and instead of forbidden lore, the companions can channel energy into the thaumaturge, boosting CL. Cool: Instead of the percentile mechanic, this causes the companion to take Constitution burn – a more elegant mechanic than that employed by e.g. the awakener. The archetype does come with pact invocations to redirect damage to them, share forms, etc. – rather extensive and interesting archetype!

The twinsoul elementalist modifies the elementalist class (D’uhh) and replaces weave energy with Conjuration and Destruction access. The interaction with pre-existing spheres is properly noted, and the companion is known as elemental conduit, who gets the mage archetype and the destruction sphere locked into the chassis. Instead of 2nd level’s combat feat, we get the destructive capacitor ability, which is pretty cool: The twinsoul elementalist can charge the conduit, who then receives temporary spell points and more powerful blasts. Neat one! Favored element is replaced with bonus damage from such charged shots. Cool, meaningful engine tweak. The void wielder armorist replaces summon equipment with a special weapon, the void blade, which may retain the essence of up to two creatures – whenever a creature is slain with it, a fragment of their essence remains in the hungering blade. The void blade may meditate an hour on such an essence, calling forth a duplicate of such a slain being, which behaves as a companion, with CL stacking with other sources. This companion only remains for 1 round per HD of the original creature sans concentration; for 1 spell point, it’s one minute per HD instead. Minor nitpick: Should have a “minimum 1 round/minute”-clause. Other than that, I do consider this to be a flavorful one, as such duplicates can impersonate the original creature rather well…3 signature arsenal tricks allow for further customization, for example for an additional essence stored, harder raising of those you’ve slain, etc. Nice ones!

Beyond these archetypes, we get an arsenal trick to have summoned or bound equipment appear in the hands of a Conjuration companion, and we have a mystic combat for banishing strikes.

The most important aspect of the book, though will probably be, at least for a significant amount of folks, the new base forms. Huge plus: The avian form does not break the low-level flight assumptions! Ooze and orb form are also interesting – particularly since the latter has a distinct and different means of preventing low-level flight exploits. Huge kudos for going the extra mile there and making these feel distinct and different. Finally, there also would be a vermin base form added. We do get a total of almost 30 new talents for the Conjuration sphere, which provide a diverse array of customization options many a player had wanted: There is one that lets you spend an additional spell point to choose another base form for the companion when calling it. There is a means to re-summon vanquished companions with negative levels. Camouflaged companions, granting feats…pretty nice. In a pretty obvious glitch, the Climbing Companion (form) talent does not have its name properly formatted. You can have your companion explode upon being defeated; you can have constructed companions, ones that have adapted to extreme environments. You can have companions with diseases, Mounts (as could be gleaned from the archetype), companions with ki points and monk-y tricks, ooze companions, planar and plant creatures, companions with minor rage, you can bestow swallow whole, increase companion Int, have blood-related companions, companions that act as spell conduits…what about ones with SR or those that come with magical quarterstaffs? Superior senses? You get the idea – this greatly enhances companion versatility. Furthermore, the pdf expands the companion progression table to the lofty heights of 40th caster level!! I know quite a few folks who enjoy super-hero-esque/gestalt-y gameplay that will love this extension.

A total of 8 advanced magic talents can be found as well, with size changes to Fine or Colossal potentially possible, for earth creatures with earth glide, better companion fast healing, summing more companions, having ones that regenerate, and, much to my joy – swarm and troop companions! That being said, these talents are well-placed in the advanced section, in a good example that shows awareness of the different playtsyles and power-levels that the spheres of power system attempts to cater to.

To my further joy, we do get a cool summoning diagram incantation, as well as the summon extraplanar being incantation, both of which certainly retain their usefulness beyond the scope of this book. The pdf also includes, of course, a rather extensive array of feats – Advanced Circles builds on the Diagram advanced talent to quicker diagram creation. (As an aside: Here we can find one of the, alas, couple of instances where formatting isn’t perfect – in this case, a skill-reference is lower case’d.) Very potent and reminiscent of some of the more interesting psionics tricks would be the feat that allows you to pass concentration on to a companion. Destruction specialists may modify their exploding companions with blasts (now this does make for some messed up villain ideas…) and e.g. quicker manifesting for shadow creatures, substituting casting ability score for Cha when determining outsider DCs and haggling with them, companions with poisonous blood or better poison DCs…some cool stuff here! The sphere-specific drawbacks are also rather cool: Not gaining the summon ability, being locked into companion archetypes, requiring concentration for companion presence to be maintained – these allow for some specific and really cool flavors and sharing HD, for example, is another one I really enjoyed. These are fun and evocative – cool enough to make players choosing them for how they fit the themes. The pdf also includes two solid traits and a page of alternate racial traits for the planetouched races, kobolds and snake-blooded races (nagaji vishkanya, etc.). – nice. The equipment section provides a new item class, foldable circles, which do pretty much what you’d expect them to.

Kudos: Since conjuration is one of the notoriously trickier aspects to GM, the pdf does provide some GM advice…and for your convenience, an appendix reprints the more complex and often lesser known swarm and troop subtypes.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed a couple of hiccups regarding formatting and the like, and a few of the components could have used minor tweaks to make them a bit more precise. Not to the point where things stop working, mind you, but yeah. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the artworks within are mainly color-artworks by Rick Hershey – if you have the Close Encounters: Hyperspace Fiends supplement, you’ll be familiar with the majority of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Andrew Stoeckle’s take on the Conjuration sphere is one that leaves me torn at a very high level; one the one hand, I consider this pretty much to be an essential expansion for the Conjuration sphere. On the other hand, there are a few hiccups in the admittedly high complexity of the design here, and companions/pets can become rather potent, rather fast. That being said, the engine tweaks presented often do rather interesting things; the drawbacks are intriguing, and there is plenty to love here. If anything, this book had to provide a rather significant amount of material that one would have expected from the base sphere, but couldn’t get due to page-count concerns. As such, the book, as a whole, provided for the most part what I expected to see, and provided the means and flexibility I expected to find. As a whole, I ended up enjoying this pdf, and it may not be mind-blowing, but it is very much a book that Spheres of Power-games using more than basic Conjuration will all but require in the long run. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Conjurer's Handbook
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Saving Saxham: A Dungeon Age Adventure (5e)
Publisher: Dungeon Age Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 12:24:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This module clocks in at 24 pages of content , 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of which is the SRD, leaving us with 21 pages of content.

This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a printed copy of the adventure.

All righty, this is an adventure for characters level 1 – 3, with well-rounded groups being the preferable target demographic, as often the case. This is a one-man operation, with the maps and artworks provided by the author as well. The cartography in b/w is solid, but does not provide a grid/scale or player-friendly, unlabeled version per se – however, it is cleverly constructed in a way which allows the GM to print it out and cut out the map section sans the labels, making the maps functionally player-friendly.

Let it be known that this book looks very professional from the get-go: Read-aloud text (which is flavorful) is clearly set apart from the text and color-coded, and important key words are bolded – whenever they point towards a locale, an item, etc. that has its own description/section, we have the information in brackets. This may sound like a small thing, but from an information-design perspective, this renders running the module surprisingly easy for the GM.

Indeed, in spite of being basically an investigative sandbox, this adventure can be run with minimum prep time, courtesy of its smart presentation. That’s definitely more forethought than I expected from a freshman offering. This is even more evident when it comes to room/locale descriptions – below the read-aloud texts we actually get helpful bullet-points that list items of interest/interaction points, rules-relevant information, etc.

The pdf also provides quite a few helpful minor magic items – for example a helmet that provides advantage on saving throws versus being stunned. Here, I need to nitpick their formatting a bit – no item scarcity is noted and “Attunement.” is bolded, when it should be both italicized and noted in the line for item scarcity. That would be a cosmetic hiccup, though.

EDIT: And this is where this module deserves a re-evaluation: Where previously, we got barely functional stats, the revised edition now features abbreviated statblocks in the front, where they are relevant, and full statblocks in the back, in case you need to look up some obscure rules-interaction. This is a VAST improvement for the pdf!

Coupled with the fact that even e.g. a goblin gets some personality, his own agenda and responses to news and the like, we now thus have the proper mechanics to supplement narrative class: We get dialogue options, guidance and this super-neat presentation; heck, even mundane, interesting items such as letters get detailed descriptions – in the fluff department, this totally excels.

But to properly explain what’s sets this module apart, I need to go into SPOILERS. Players REALLY should skip ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Reading on will thoroughly SPOIL the adventure, and you don’t want that.

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Okay, are only GMs left? Are you sure? One more time: I will spoil this thing! Big time! So, “Saving Saxham” begins as generic as it can be – there is a small village called Saxham, established by the wealthy Sax family, courtesy of the grist mill. As the adventurers arrive in the town, they will be puzzled indeed – a curse seems to have taken a hold of Saxham – houses are dilapidated an overgrown, weeds are all over the fields, and, as a boy tells the PCs en route, monsters are in the woods. All of these observations, save one, are correct – in the woods, there indeed are monsters – and as the local elves have come to investigate, there is a similar problem – the forest seems to be suffering a mysterious blight. Strange variant zombies, so-called clayskins (things of clay) and woodwalkers (basically woodzombies with green berries for eyes) lumber through the forest, with the former evolving into the more deadly, second form over time.

If this sounds like something that could have been taken straight from a Witcher-game, then you’d be right – the premise does not disappoint: There is no gizmo responsible. There is no evil necromancer with the cliché shadow boss. There is no standard evil humanoid tribe responsible. Nope, the solution is actually much more amazing. The surrounding area, NPCs and small dungeon, all detailed in intriguing ways, does hold a secret most delightful in its implications: You see, the buildings and fields aren’t cursed. Neither are the villagers. 30 years ago, the plague struck Saxham and wiped it out, making it a ghost town – and now, the ghost of the town cleric has risen, and in her despair, raises the villagers, successfully, I might add, from the dead. Okay, they need to shamble a bit around as beings of grave clay…and then as dangerous wooden monsters…but after that, they’ll come to their senses, stumble naked back into town, and have no recollection of what happened. The life-source required is drawn by the undead from the flora of the region. Bound to the cemetery, the ghost requires its minions to dig tunnels – and she is draining trees from below. If the adventurers don’t interfere, the blight will spread, but a town that has died will be repopulated…though, obviously, the elves wouldn’t stand for such a perversion of the natural order…

This is a fantastic and clever conundrum, a great twist, and frankly renders this one of the coolest first level modules I’ve read in a long while. I absolutely love it!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting, on a formal, and now also on a rules-language level, are excellent; the combination of easy to use shortened statblocks and full stats in the back is amazing. The pdf comes laid out in a two-column full-color standard with b/w-artworks and cartography, and a low-res version as well. The pdf does not have bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment – I strongly encourage you to print this out when running it.

Joseph Robert Lewis’ “Saving Saxham” was a HUGE surprise for me. First, I enjoyed the presentation and clever way in which the scenario handles information. Then, my spirits sank as I saw the statblock issue –an issue, which, as per the writing of this review, is no more!!

I read this...and my reaction was: "Oh boy!" “Saving Saxham” is a fantastic, slightly weird fantasy-ish/dark fantasy module that provides a truly tricky moral conundrum, a clever story and evocative prose. This feels like a module I’d run in my home-game; it is clever, smart, and yes, fun. It has a very distinct narrative voice and is more creative than a TON of modules I’ve read. This is a true winner, and as a person, I LOVE it. If you have similar tastes, then do yourself a favor and check this out!! Better yet, its revised edition now provides the rules-integrity to supplement the amazing angle, making this pretty much one of the best modules for PWYW that you can get. My final verdict for the revised iteration will be 5 stars + seal of approval - get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Saving Saxham: A Dungeon Age Adventure (5e)
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Future's Past: Edge Station (1 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2018 05:47:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

First things first: In a rather helpful notion, the pdf does feature icons to designate the type of NPC/monster faced with helpful glyphs – a neat plus. As often, the module works best for a well-rounded group, and as far as implicit setting is concerned, the module does assume the presence of a galactic coalition of some sort. This component is vague enough to make integration into the ongoing game simple – you can run this AP in pretty much any scifi-context.

This module begins with the PCs tasked to embark on a reconnaissance mission to the eponymous Edge Station, a facility studying rifts in space-time, deep in enemy territory, where the disturbing Druune exist, carrying a potent boon with them: Hybrid items called nodes, which contain a fraction of the potent Central Artificial Intelligence. Each node specializes in two skill checks, which the node enhances. The ship bringing the PCs to the setting of the adventure is fully statted as well. The adventure features read-aloud text for all keyed locales and key moments.

A HUGE plus would be that the adventure does clearly state the rules under which the time travel assumptions that are an integral part of the plotline operate

And this is far as I can explain what happens without going into SPOILERS. Potential players will want to skip ahead to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! During the travel to Edge Station, the PCs experience strange phenomena like a closed loop, random ship system disassembly and the like – these establish tone and help the PCs get accustomed to their fellows, and research/information to be unearthed about the station is also presented…oh, and the Druune? They store information on a cellular level instead of in a central nervous system, are capable of rewriting DNA, and are practically immortal. They can infect targets for horrid consequences, and indeed, Druune infection, a disease with its own custom track, is a serious danger the PCs will encounter. But thankfully, Central AI is a potent ally: 1/round or 1/out of combat minute, the AI can give a PC perfectly-timed advice that allows for the reroll of a d20 roll. It’s just odd that sometimes, a weird déjà-vu event accompanies this whole thing – but then, that’s a great tool for the GM to show the PCs a brief vision of how they would have encountered catastrophic failure.

Anyhow, the approach to Edge Station can be as varied as gaming groups – from force to Disguising the ship to Stealth, there are quite a few cool means of entering Druune space. As an aside – the artworks within this book are stunning, depicting Druune-tech in an almost Giger-esque blending of tech and organic components that shows that they are beyond the Coalition – but their general scavengers and druune-enslaved footsoldiers should not prove to be too much of a hindrance for the PCs. Indeed, the one association you will have nonstop, is that of Dead Space’s Necromorphs – the artworks presented for the Druune-forces are as disturbing as they are inspired.

This is not to say that Edge Station is not one cool environment to explore, mind you: The station, you see, stretches across multiple dimensions, and as such, the PCs will be traversing multiple dimensional rifts, which can have a pretty wide variety of effects, with a table offering 10 different effects, all with meaningful mechanical consequences. Note that these are the effects of traversing the rifts – the respective labs make good use of this cool premise by employing a variety of planar traits and unique options to keep things fresh. It also bears mentioning that the station feels alive, in as much as going on High Alert will make things tougher for the PCs. Similarly, the complex does have cool traps that can be disabled via a variety of means, that have the proper EAC/KAC/HP-values, that can be destroyed and bypassed…neural nets and the like make for fitting obstacles, considering how smart the Druune actually are.

From the PC’s perspective, though, Edge Station will be a horror show; humanoids turned into oozes in the attempts of the Druune to elevate the, from their collective intelligence-perspective, horribly stupid humanoids, resulting in clones and the nightmare-fuel-style servants…this will work perfectly as a space-horror adventure. Add planar traits like subjective time to the fray, and we get one damn cool adventure….that can potentially end with a bang. The node realizes that the druune defied Central AI’s predictions – a prototype temporal consciousness teleportation device is in the facility. The node comments that it must deliver this data to Central AI. Then it states that there is a non-zero chance that the PCs are infected with druune-cells. It tells them that they cannot be allowed to leave and forbids investigation of the druune tech, issuing a final task, to destroy the prototype, before going dark.

The Central AI abandoned them. The PCs may be infected, slowly turning into Druune slaves. The node is initiating its self-destruct sequence…and they are stranded in a Druune facility. Now if that’s not an amazing cliffhanger, what is??

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sport a lot of absolutely amazing original full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography deserves special mention: The PC’s ship and the Druune ships they encounter are fully mapped in full color, and the complex they explore similarly comes with a neat full-color maps. Better yet, we get unlabeled, player-friendly versions of these maps, making the module really VTT-friendly and allowing for the use of maps as handouts et al.

Okay, I did not tell you, not even in the SPOILER-section, what made me cackle with glee. For the GM, who will get one crucial piece of information in the beginning, this module takes on a whole different dimension that makes it much smarter than it would seem from my above elaboration of its plot. From a player’s perspective, this is one utterly creepy, amazing dark scifi module that really drives home how alien the Druune are, how strange – it oozes Dead Space-y themes and atmosphere, condensing the best of said franchise down in a surprisingly efficient manner. In spite of the seeming brevity, this module has quite a lot of content to offer, and NEVER, not even once, presents a standard encounter or boring design-piece. Here, you can see why Stephen Rowe may well be one of the best designers currently working in the d20-realm: Beyond being a gifted author, he also is an exceedingly talented designer, and it shows here – the blending of mechanics and flavor is seamless, organic, perfect. This is as amazing an introductory scenario as you could expect from an AP and represents a phenomenal kick-off for the series. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Edge Station (1 of 5)
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