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The Swamp of Sorrows - Pathfinder

6 October 2017 - 4:26am
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Pyromaniac Press‘ brief sidetrek modules clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


Now first of all, you should be aware that, like all Pyromaniac Press-releases, this adventure sports copious amounts of well-written read-aloud text, with a quality of prose that is significantly above average – the atmosphere evoked in the module is pretty impressive, so if you’re struggling with that aspect of your GM duties, this has your back. Secondly, the excellent full-color map of the encounter actually comes with 3 different iterations: A GM-version with numbers, grid, etc.; a tactical player’s version with a grid and no numbers/SPOILERS on it and a third version for everyone who doesn’t even want a grid on their map. All maps as provided as high-res jpgs, providing full support for guys like yours truly who suck at drawing maps and VTTs alike. Big kudos!! Comfort-level-wise, this is absolutely top tier.


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



..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! A recent earthquake has provided all the opportunity a dryad needed to finally escape the enslavement by a nasty, evil druid – alas, her ordeal has rendered her pretty much crazy…and the earthquake has also brought her domain perilously close to the traveling routes of mortals…which is bad news, considering how she thinks of herself as “The Dryad”, meant to exterminate mankind. Three nice hooks are presented for the enterprising GM, in case a mere roadside excursion does not suffice, providing a rescue angle, for example.


Now, as one glance at the map shows you, there is plenty of water in the swamp, which means that difficult terrain will be a factor – and so is the possibility of drowning, with the rules recapped for your convenience: After all, the water weirds that represent minions here (full stats included) can be pretty nasty. On a minor downside: The attack damage seems to be off by 1 in an otherwise solid statblock.


Within the dryad’s domain, the crucified remains of the dark druid that once enslaved her can be found, attached to the Tree of Woe; a ring of stone pillars, studded with the corpses of fallen bandits, encircles the dryad’s place and generates a surprisingly dense atmosphere of foreboding, and so do the remains of the woodcutters she got her hands on. Even before the aforementioned captured trapper is found, the PCs ought to have realized that this will not be a cuddly walk in the par…ehh, swamp.


A whirling pool contains an elemental…and the dryad herself is no pushover: Accompanied by a dire bear, the CR 6 lady comes with full boss stats – which include a variety of potent and lethal signature abilities: She can fire thorn volleys, is poisonous and her entangling vines crush those that she entangles. In short: She is a DEADLY skirmisher: With the terrain and at-will entangle, the PCs need to be up to their A-game if they don’t want to join the slain hanging around as decorative warnings. Then again: They have plenty warning that the dryad is not to be trifled with. Her statblock is btw. absolutely worthy of such a potent foe and the absolute highlight of this supplement!


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good: Apart from the minor hiccup mentioned before, I noticed no serious issues. Layout adheres to Pyromaniac Press’ two-column full-color standard and is nice; the artworks deserve special mention: We get a cool b/w-piece and the badass artwork in full color on the cover, which is duplicated sans cover etc., hand-out style. Really cool! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography, as mentioned before, is amazing, particularly for the extremely low price point.


Micah Watt’s latest encounter is not a brief mini-dungeon, but rather a complex, multi-layered wilderness locale that can easily play like a multiphase combat or slower exploration. The story takes a slight backseat to the atmosphere here. It is pretty impressive to see how the author managed to squeeze some genuine flavor out of a per se classic set-up. The amazing boss battle in particular represents a challenging, unique experience that, on its own, warrants the extremely fair asking price. At this price-point, I can’t recall any sidetrek of comparable quality regarding the challenge posed and overall presentation– which is why, in spite of the minor hiccup, this receives a final verdict of 5 stars. If your players crave a meaningful challenge, check this out!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Swamp of Sorrows - 5th Edition

6 October 2017 - 4:25am
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Pyromaniac Press‘ brief sidetrek modules clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


Now first of all, you should be aware that, like all Pyromaniac Press-releases, this adventure sports copious amounts of well-written read-aloud text, with a quality of prose that is significantly above average – the atmosphere evoked in the module is pretty impressive, so if you’re struggling with that aspect of your GM duties, this has your back. Secondly, the excellent full-color map of the encounter actually comes with 3 different iterations: A GM-version with numbers, grid, etc.; a tactical player’s version with a grid and no numbers/SPOILERS on it and a third version for everyone who doesn’t even want a grid on their map. All maps as provided as high-res jpgs, providing full support for guys like yours truly who suck at drawing maps and VTTs alike. Big kudos!! Comfort-level-wise, this is absolutely top tier.


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



..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! A recent earthquake has provided all the opportunity a dryad needed to finally escape the enslavement by a nasty, evil druid – alas, her ordeal has rendered her pretty much crazy…and the earthquake has also brought her domain perilously close to the traveling routes of mortals…which is bad news, considering how she thinks of herself as “The Dryad”, meant to exterminate mankind. Three nice hooks are presented for the enterprising GM, in case a mere roadside excursion does not suffice, providing a rescue angle, for example.


Now, as one glance at the map shows you, there is plenty of water in the swamp, which means that difficult terrain will be a factor – and so is the possibility of drowning. The peculiarity of 5e has been properly acknowledged here, using rules analogue to suffocation – kudos!

The water weirds that represent minions here can be pretty nasty, so yeah, the PCs have been warned in more ways than one.


Within the dryad’s domain, the crucified remains of the dark druid that once enslaved her can be found, attached to the Tree of Woe; a ring of stone pillars, studded with the corpses of fallen bandits, encircles the dryad’s place and generates a surprisingly dense atmosphere of foreboding, and so do the remains of the woodcutters she got her hands on. Even before the aforementioned captured trapper is found, the PCs ought to have realized that this will not be a cuddly walk in the par…ehh, swamp.


A whirling pool contains an elemental…and the dryad herself is no pushover: Accompanied by a dire bear, the challenge 6 lady comes with full boss stats – which include a variety of potent and lethal signature abilities, including legendary actions: She can fire lash out with vines, is poisonous and her entangling vines crush those that she entangles. In short: She is a DEADLY skirmisher. The dryad is deadly, but, to put my nitpicker’s hat on, the lady does suffer from a minor hiccup: She refers to the entangled condition, which RAW does not exist – while it’s simple to default to the spell’s effects, it’s still an imperfection that can cause a bit of confusion. I am also a bit puzzled how her skills came to be: At proficiency bonus +3 and Wisdom 16, her Perception should either be +6 or +3, not +4, for example.


Oh yes, dire bear. You see, we actually get dire bear stats herein as well – at challenge 5, this fellow is DEADLY. However, it should be noted that a few glitches have crept into the statblock: At challenge 5, he should have a proficiency bonus of +3, which means that the attack values should be one higher; similarly, the Perception skill should be one lower. I may be missing something, but yeah. Considering how lethal the lady is, this is a bit puzzling.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level. The statblocks themselves sport a few minor hiccups, which unfortunately accumulate. Layout adheres to Pyromaniac Press’ two-column full-color standard and is nice; the artworks deserve special mention: We get a cool b/w-piece and the badass artwork in full color on the cover, which is duplicated sans cover etc., hand-out style. Really cool! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography, as mentioned before, is amazing, particularly for the extremely low price point.


Micah Watt’s latest encounter is not a brief mini-dungeon, but rather a complex, multi-layered wilderness locale that can easily play like a multiphase combat or slower exploration. The story takes a slight backseat to the atmosphere here. It is pretty impressive to see how the author managed to squeeze some genuine flavor out of a per se classic set-up. The amazing boss battle in particular represents a challenging, unique experience that, on its own, may warrant the more than fair asking price. The 5e-conversion per se is nice (big kudos for the dire bear stats), but at the same time, the hiccups in them, while not impeding your ability to run the module, may upset some of the more mechanically nitpicky GMs out there. As such, I cannot go higher than 4 stars for the 5e-iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

101 5th Level Spells (5E)

5 October 2017 - 2:23am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This collection of spells clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was moved up in my reviewing-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons. I did receive this pdf prior to public release in order to allow for a speedy release of the review.


We begin this supplement with massive lists of the respective spells by class, before moving on the alphabetic presentation of spells. Now, obviously, I can’t go through each and every spell contained here, but I’ll try to give you a good idea of what to expect. Let’s begin with the first spell, alter metal. This spell modifies the damage threshold of affected objects and is particularly potent when affecting armor etc. – the spell properly differentiates between attended and unattended, magical and nonmagical and even intelligent items. Kudos. Fans of Diablo and similar franchises will also enjoy a spell, which renders skeletons into ticking shrapnel bombs.


Now damage spells herein generally sport a valid alternative and contextualization compared to core spells. Take e.g. arrow storm. The spell inflicts 8d6 piercing damage to all creatures within 30 ft. of a point in range (150 ft.), potentially inflicting the restrained condition as well on a failed save, necessitating cover or a Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) to end the condition. The affected area may be farther away than e.g. that of cone of cold, but the PHB’s spell affects a larger area, has a slightly superior damage type and, with d8 damage-dice, a slightly higher average damage output. In another example, namely force ram, we have 12d4 damage and an unerring, automatic hit – but also the danger that shield completely negates the spell.


There also are utility type spells herein – or spells that you’d consider to be more relevant for the purpose of the more narrative aspects of the game: The befoul spring ritual can, for example, taint a water source. Bitter vintage can render wine into poison, with the caster gaining several different options regarding which poison to transform the vintage into. And yes, the transformation may be detected by savvy PCs. On a minor complaint regarding the formatting: The “At Higher Levels.” Has not been bolded and italicized properly here. There are spells like blood to sap – the spell deals poison damage on a failed Constitution saving throw and poisons the target for the duration, which reduced the target’s speed and imposes disadvantage on Dex saves, but also provides an AC bonus. Regarding damaging spells that also impose negative conditions, it is nice to observe a lack of save-less spells and the fact that the conditions and their potency receive the respect they should have. The pdf does sport some evocative visuals in the damaging spells it has, e.g. in brimstone cloud.


Campfire lullaby is interesting, in that it allows a character to get the benefits of completing a long rest more than once per 24 hours – the long casting time and duration and the caveat that lets it affect a character only once in 5 days act as good balancing mechanisms for this potent spell, though. There are carpets of fire and options to chastise foes with psychic damage. There is a means to generate circles of moonlight, protection against shapechangers and the undead. The pdf also sports a contingent healing spell, which is neat – and yes, these cannot be stacked…and they can be used offensively versus the undead. There also is a long-range curing spell – which is pretty cool, aye, but considering the impact of long-range healing on the game, it deserves to be noted that it may not be for all groups. Speaking of which: Eternal charm is permanent. Whether or not you like the ramifications of this depends on the type of game you run.


Sifting through thoughts via crystal probe, cursing targets with narcissism…what about changing the look of terrain and hiding it from the prying eyes of enemy spellcasters? There is also a powerful spell to compel targets to deliver messages for you. You can conjure forth earth barriers that bludgeon those foolhardy enough to attack you. Elfhome attunes an area in forests to elves and creatures, providing climb speed and quicker movement. What about first conjuring a tree and then having it fall on enemies? Really cool: Flatten makes you two-dimensional. Guard Dog conjures forth a variant dire wolf with modified stats to guard an area and the knave purge ritual provides a type of magic protection against thieves. Minor complaint – spell-references in the text tend to lack the italicizations.


We can find one-way pain circuits, the ability to travel through stone, several pahnatsms (lichs, nymphs, swarms…) – there are a lot of spells, some of which provide significant changes to the engine: Take remove condition, for example: The spell can even negate instantaneous effects like petrification via magic and may end the attunement to a magic item causing the condition, though curses are maintained. Now personally, I like this for the ability to make more controlled use of items with big drawbacks, but it does remain an aesthetic preference. Speaking of spells I like: Scry reverse does exactly what you’d think it does. I like the tactical option, but I can see some Gms not being as in love with it.


There also would be a powerful spell that requires the willing sacrifice of a mortal being to enhance your powers – suffice to say, that one is evil to the core. Potent songs that suppress spellcasting and magic item use make for amazing tools in the arsenal of bards – really cool. Spell grounding is a very potent defensive option: While within the range of a spell that does not have a range of touch, you may use your reaction to negate the spell, ending all effects and damage. No check, no differentiation between spell levels, no discharging of the spell – personally, I believe that this should have an “At Higher Levels”-scaling for maximum spell level affected and it should also have some wording regarding interaction of enspelled terrain into which you move – which imho should be exempt. While it is clear that this is supposed to work only for rays and chains, RAW, it is much more flexible, depending on your reading of the spell.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very goo: I noticed a couple of missed italicizations and a few rules-language points that could be slightly clearer, but, as a whole, this is a well-made supplement. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports fitting full-color artwork, mostly stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Ed Kabara’s conversion of Steven D. Russell’s classic spells does a valiant job at translating the vast plethora of spells to 5e. As a whole, the balancing of the material herein is pretty tight. The spells generally fit their respective levels. There are some spells that change how some aspects of the game work, which may be a matter of taste. Beyond the few hiccups herein, there is one aspect to be aware of: 5e sports less flexibility with the spells offered than PFRPG – spells have a higher value in direct comparison, often being entwined, availability-wise, with class features or feats as a kind of pay-off. This book does not provide the like or a means to contextualize the spells themselves – it literally only presents a ton of spells. Just putting them all in the game will, by necessity, generate a power-increase, courtesy of the increased flexibility. This is not bad, mind you, but something 5e-GMs should nevertheless be aware of.


As a whole, I consider this collection of spells a good example of how Rite Publishing has stepped up its 5e-content’s quality – of all the spell-collections I have read so far, this is by far the most refined. All in all a worthwhile collection of spells to grab and choose from – my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Star Trek Adventures Quickstart

4 October 2017 - 10:22am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
After a couple of pages advertising assorted Star Trek miniatures, the full rules and other accessories, we get to Chapter 1: Quickstart Rules. This consists of an introduction, basic operations and combat. The introduction provides brief basic details of what the game is about and what you need to play it, then there's a run-through of how a character is described in terms of attributes, skills and so on, and how these are used in play. There's a lot packed in, and as well as providing the detail you need to run the Quickstart could make a good introduction for new players joining an existing game. Finally, there's sufficient information for running a brawl. The concentration is on person-on-person combat, but there's a nice sketch of a Galaxy-class starship showing where all the weapons are located.

Chapter 2: Away Mission 'Signals' contains a short adventure. Apparently a small vessel, a runabout, has gone missing whilst investigating a mysterious signal emanating from the Carina Nebula, and the party's starship has been tasked to investigate. Finding a planet, the characters are beamed down to the surface as an away party, and that's when the fun begins... settlers and Romulans provide opposition, and there's the source of that signal to sort out as well. The notes are full of advice for the first-time GM, explaining how to use the rules to best effect throughout.

Finally, six pregenerated characters are provided: first officer, science officer, medic, engineer, a bridge officer, and the security chief. Amongst this we have a Vulcan, an Andorian and a Trill. Quite a bit of variety for the players to try out.

This presents a good introduction to an excellent interpretation of Star Trek as a role-playing game, with an adventure that captures the spirit of the show well. The illustrations and style of the whole thing suggests The New Era, but it would adapt reasonably to a different era if you insist. It certainly leaves you wanting to play some more of this game!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Star Trek Adventures: These are the Voyages - Volume 1

2 October 2017 - 5:44am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
Visually stunning, with the appearance of a Starfleet computer interface and apposite illustrations, there's a brief Introduction and eight completely-developed adventures to keep your starship crew busy. The Introduction points out that exploration is a major part of Starfleet's role, and that all the adventures are somewhat exploratory in nature. It also suggests that any of the adventures could be used either as a starting-point for a campaign or dropped into an existing one as preferred, and that they are amenable to modifications as necessary to fit in with what is happening in YOUR universe. Reassuringly, each is written without the need for specialist knowledge of any specific movie, era or episode; and while some are intended for a particular era notes are provided to help you fit it to the era you want to play in.

Each adventure comes with a synopsis, three acts and a conclusion... and there's plenty to get your teeth into. The first adventure, A World with a Bluer Sun, is aimed at The Original Series (TOS) era and involves a spot of time-travel. If you are not playing in TOS era, there are some interesting ideas to make it work for any other era. It all starts with a distress call... and ends with negotiations with a new alien lifeform and maybe the odd warp core exploding!

The other adventures are equally exciting, although each brings its own challenges. Border Dispute pits the party against the Romulans in a tense situation that could easily spark a war, Entropy's Demise has them investigation a planet where things get old fast, and in Forests of the Night they encounter a really strange alien vessel. Biological Clock raises issues around the Prime Directive, A Plague of Arias involves the commemoration of a major medical breakthrough that isn't quite what everyone thinks, That Which is Unknown starts off with a weapons-testing task that quickly goes astray, and finally The Shepherd discovers sentience in a very unlikely place!

Resources are good, with suggestions throughout as to what the party could check and what information they can receive, likewise their likely actions are laid out clearly so that even a novice GM should be able to handle task resolution easily, with plentiful complications and even alternate endings to enable you to accommodate player actions. This collection of adventures provides for hours of fun and should spawn plenty more of your own.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dragons Conquer America: The Coatli Stone Quickstart

28 September 2017 - 3:55pm
Publisher: Burning Games
Rating: 5
Dragons Conquer America tells stories of 16th-century New World warfare glazed with a heaping helping of magic, myths, and monsters. Using the RPC25 system to resolve conflicts with a standard deck of playing cards, DCA positions itself as a narrative-first game that offers just enough mechanical granularity to remain tactically engaging.

**Layout**
The beta edition quick start package includes most rules for character abilities and conflict resolution as well as a number of NPC statlines and a simple three-act adventure with which to cut your table’s teeth. All of this is couched in a lovely layout sporting unique a Mesopotamian flair, giving DCA style without compromising readability. If nothing else, the gorgeous full-page art, solid NPC illustrations, and expertly designed layout make DCA a joy to read on its aesthetic merits alone. Fortunately, there is plenty else to praise.

**Basic Mechanics**
The structure of DCA’s conflict resolution system is simple enough: players maintain a hand of cards, representing their characters’ stamina reserves, while the GM flips cards up from a deck to generate numerical thresholds for the players to challenge. Playing cards from your hand as a player is a tactical decision on multiple fronts. A play that corresponds with the situation a hand -- a Conflict card in a sword fight or an Exploration card while scrambling up a stone temple wall -- results in a redraw (and further bonuses besides if that category is also the character’s Affinity).

However, the number of the card is all that truly matters when calculating the degree of success, and so players must choose somewhat frequently between a comfortable margin of success and the loss of a card, or a more narrow margin or even failure but retention of a card. Furthermore, they must decide whether or not to play multiple cards in a conflict, evaluating this decision in both the short and long term as well. This decision point is recurrent, but is just complex enough to add a degree of tactical depth without slowing play down.

Most Abilities and Skills are simple, almost always granting Advantages and Disadvantages to allies or enemies, which function as simple +3/-3 modifiers to the total value compared in the resolution step. This keeps the game’s focus on the elegant card resolution mechanic, rather than miring gameplay down in minutiae and granularity. NPC stats are equally snappy, with GMs merely drawing cards equal to the NPC’s level, adding them up, adding the appropriate Skill value, and presenting the target number.

**Systems**
Magic is simple enough, with only Christian Miracles laid out in the book. Put simply, characters gain Spirit by performing appropriate actions such as prayer, conversion, and (of course) slaying wicked apostates, then spend that Spirit to cast spells, such as Miracles. The Christian powerset for this system has an interesting sub-mechanic of Corruption, wherein priests who draw too deeply from the well of God’s power might find themselves accidentally imbibing Satan’s strength instead. Gaining and losing Corruption in this way will make for a fun side arc.

There is one truly daring mechanic in the game: Prejudice. Player Characters must select a number of Prejudices, such as Xenophobia, Elistism, Classism, etc. at generation and cope with the consequences during gameplay. The authors go out of their way to delineate this system as option, but it’s nonetheless impressive in the simplicity of its implementation: your characters grew up in imperfect environments and must grow as people or be held back by their Prejudices. There is a Skill, Tolerance, that allows one to resist and eventually completely remove these Prejudices from one’s sheet, creating a natural character arc towards tolerance.

**Sample Adventure**
The adventure presented is nothing to write home about. It competently touches upon the major types of confrontation -- Conflict, Social, Exploration, and Divine -- without lingering on any for too long, gives an overview of the Spanish vs. Native conflict, and allows the players several choice points to align themselves with either or neither side of the conflict. There are some good twists and turns in there, but I won’t spoil those -- play it!

**Conclusion**
Dragons Conquer America has great potential for success, and if the editing and mechanics are tightened up to a professional level, it will likely become another indie gem. There are hints of Shadowrun-meets-7th-Sea in here, peppered with a healthy dose of Dragonlance. Give the Dragons Conquer America Quick Start, The Coatli Stone, a try as a one-shot; if nothing else, it’s worth the time just to flex the card mechanic.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

10 Kingdom Seeds: Underground (PFRPG)

28 September 2017 - 2:43am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


Okay, if you’re new to the concept – the Kingdom Seeds-pdfs are basically collections of 10 sample settlements, ranging usually from thorp to village, which are depicted complete with a settlement statblock and a brief summary of the village in question as well as notes on intriguing locales and a few rumors/adventure hooks for each – think of them as kind of akin to Raging Swan Press’ backdrops, but instead of focusing in detail on one locale, we get a few of them in broader strokes. Thing is – this installment not only goes underground – it also changes the formula of these pdfs by splicing crunchy tidbits into the respective entries.


Take, for example, the first settlement, NE Coldwylde, carved into pink sandstone, it is the home of escaped aranea slaves that have managed to create a new magical rope – the fanged rope of entanglement, made from an aranea’s last silk and fangs, it can entangle and poison those that try to escape them – really cool, magical item, with a somber note…and the means of construction have some serious roleplaying potential.


In CE Deepdell, gnomes are working on a mysterious vein of onyx…and it’ll be just a matter of time before they can deduce the power-component-like properties of these gems…. On the other end of the alignment spectrum, Frepond represents an idyllic academy of music and magic that would usually have no chance in the cutthroat underdark – but the singing stalactites and stalagmites in the cavern vastly enhance the options of bards, allowing them to maintain two bardic performances at once –and yes, the rules codifying that are concise and precise, though personally, I would have enjoyed to see a range here – I assume the default range of 30 ft. to tap into such a rock’s power, but I’m frankly not 100% sure.


A blaze of light in the dark is atop Griffonfort – the ceiling of this cavern is illuminated by a heatless flame. The place is haunted by frustrated ghosts of the first settlers, but the dwarven leaders try to make the dream of a perfect fort a reality, slowly releasing the vanquished ghosts under the glow of continual flame, greater, the new spell to supplement this one. Ironwynne was founded by the Ironfeet mercenaries as a supply and support center and as such, has a harsh, militaristic feel – even though the company was shattered. The reputation remains – and so do the mundane, iron boots that make for well-crafted marching utensils…or for percussion.


Joncrest is inhabited by Halflings that herd lizards. They harvest their tails, which regrow. Yeah, that’s pretty damn cool. But wait – Halflings can’t see in the dark! Well, these guys can: We get alternate Halfling racial traits – darkvision 60 ft. in exchange for keen senses and improved natural healing in exchange for Halfling luck, mirroring the hardy reptiles they herd. Amazing one! Narland occupies a huge cavern, which holds multiple towers, each focused on teaching a discipline of magic – cutting edge, these folks push the limits of magic, as represented by a new regional trait that lets you make a concentration check as a swift action to push a chosen school’s spell’s caster level…but at the risk of a magical mishap – which is accompanied by a percentile table with 7 different effects, just fyi. Really cool!


Pryness is situated next to a massive underground river, providing ferrying (and smuggling) services for those that require it; predominantly Halfling, the settlement also the home of, surprisingly non-evil river rat variant wererats that can only infect willing beings – cool! The problem is just…such societies are easy to infiltrate by the REAL wererats…


Silverflower looks like a place littered with dead stems in light; however, in the darkness, the flowers generate a soothing glow and wondrous scent – as a result, the place has a darkvision-only policy…which could make for a decidedly wondrous place to visit. Oh, and the perfume made there can help when navigating the more precarious social situations…though the effect does change, based on lighting conditions. Damn cool! More of a deathtrap: Stonekeep. The CE hamlet inhabited by dwarves can carve tunnels ridiculously fast, using identical, vault-style hyper-secure doors (which evil folks may wish to get for their magic-hampering and great locks…)…but the nasty dwarves have this habit of unleashing a rock troll with adamantine false teeth (!!!), their secret weapon, on those who come calling – this is an adventure just waiting to happen!


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good, I noticed no undue accumulation of hiccups. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports some neat full-color pieces I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks for your convenience.


Liz Smith stepped up to the next level. I don’t know if it’s the guiding hand of Rite Publishing’s new line developer Stephen Rowe, but this blows the old Kingdom Seeds out of the water. The settlements all feature some truly evocative, unique, magical angle that sets them apart, that makes them distinct in spite of their brevity. The added crunch-components for each village amps up the wonder further – even if they’re just small tweaks, they add a sense of the unique to everything. Heck, in some cases, I really, really liked what these humble pieces of crunch do – they help tell stories and furthermore differentiate the series more from Raging Swan Press’ more fluff-centric offerings. For the low asking price, you get some truly wondrous and amazing places to visit and cool supplemental material to boot. What’s not to like?


Easily worth 5 stars + seal of approval and a strong recommendation for the very fair price-point!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Book of Magic: Dragon Spells and Archetypes (PFRPG)

22 September 2017 - 2:25am
Publisher: Jon Brazer Enterprises
Rating: 3
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Book of Magic-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


All right, after a neat introduction, we move straight on to the new spells contained herein – and before you ask: They take the ACG-classes into account regarding their spell-levels, but alas, not the occult classes – particularly weird since we get new class options there later…but anyway, let#s take a look at the spells, shall we?


Death incarnate requires that you’re a dragon and is level 8 and makes you undead for the duration – sans HP recalculation, but with a DR, immunity to cold and electricity, doubled frightful presence range and extra negative energy damage with claws. ODD: “which can used to heal yourself in your undead state as a full-round action” – so, does only the bonus damage heal the dragon? One total or that of two claws? That whole construct is wobbly. Deflect breath weapon is an interesting spell: It sports evocative visuals for both cones and lines and nets massive bonuses to Reflex saves as an immediate action spell – I am a bit torn here: While I like the visuals, the spell does take away from the deserved paranoia and fear that breathing dragons should cause. Cool: Elemental fear causes energy damage to those struck by your frightful presence, slashing if you have no breath weapon. I am pretty sure this spell was intended to be a dragons-only-option, which it RAW is not. Fear focus makes this problem more apparent: It focuses frightful presence into a cone and forces the targets to save – on a success, they become frightened, on a failure panicked. At 3rd level, that is highly exploitable for characters that managed to get their hands on some sort of frightful presence – at this level, there usually is a negate option for successful saves. Also weird: The spell notes as level only sorcerer 3 – does that mean that wizards can’t cast it? Or is that just a glitch?


Heartseeker is a level 1 spell (level 2 for cleric/oracle/shaman) that adds 5 + CL, maximum 15 negative energy damage to a weapon’s next attack. Lure of greed enchants a coin. All dragons within long range, sans requiring line of sight/effect, must attempt to get to the coin and once they reach it, the stand captivated in front of it. The spell contradicts itself: It notes that Will negates, but the text mentions that it requires saves on subsequent rounds. It also doesn’t cover what happens when multiple dragons seek to claim the same coin and at 3rd level, it is pretty low for the powerful compulsion it RAW presents.


Manifest greed manifests a targeted dragon’s greed as an ectoplasmic creature with DR 10/-, one size category larger than the dragon and it has all natural attacks and the target’s armor class and is one size category larger than the dragon targeted. Yeah, that’s not how that works in PFRPG. Okay, what type has the manifestation? If it has a larger size, what if the dragon’s Colossal? Size-increases change stats, AC and attacks. Beyond that, an allied dragon could potentially double its destructive effectiveness, provided the spell worked as it should. Scale lock targets dragons or reptiles: The target becomes automatically grappled and then, you use the target’s CMB to deal damage to it. The target creature can attempt to grapple versus its CMD to be able to move. Two successes are require to break free of the grappled condition. Oh boy. The math here is a mess. Can the scales pin the target? Do two successful checks end the spell?


Shredding scales is a 2nd-level burst that causes slashing damage via your scales. Spell envelope is a cool idea: You create a spell cocoon, into which you place another spell before the end of your next round: SR versus the spell placed is reduced by 5. This is a VERY cool option. However, nearby casters may also place spells in the cocoon, which makes it less clear when the spell in the cocoon is hurled towards the target. As soon as it’s placed inside? On your next turn? More importantly, the effects stack with feats etc. that reduce SR – but which character may use these? Is the caster of spell envelope the guy to check for these feats or the one that placed the spell in the cocoon? Or both? This is a really cool spell, but that aspect needs some explanation. Same goes, obvious, for the greater version.


We also get a total of 5 summon extraplanar dragon spells, which are thankfully relegated to the higher levels. Tainted treasure poisons a hoard and is ridiculous: It deals 1d4 Constitution damage (erroneously referred to as Con once in the text) for 7 rounds to a dragon that touches it. Fort save each round for half damage. Oh, and guess what? It’s not a poison, RAW – no immunity. This has an excellent chance of killing or severely crippling dragons. It’s also a level 4 spell and highly situational. Still, this needs a serious whack with the nerf-bat. Wheeze on the other hand is cool and interesting – it increases the breath weapon reset time by 1d6 rounds on a failed Fort-save. Big kudos! Wounding wheeze adds your choice of either fire or acid damage when the target uses its breath weapon - interesting. Wings of the wyrmling gets rid of age-related Dexterity penalties and improved maneuverability to average. Solid.


We also get some draconic class options herein, the first of which would be draconic implements for the occultist. As a resonant power, we have natural armor increases and the base focus power lets you, as a standard action, expend 1 point of mental focus, conjuring draconic shape that causes fear – the number of targets affected is limited by range, mental focus invested and by the HD of the targets – high HD-creatures in relation to your own HD suffer less. Impressive! The focus power include breath weapon, form of the dragon, better senses, temporary hit points or wings – all of which sport some sort of nice scaling. As a minor complaint, the ranged touch-based conjuring of a spectral dragon maw should probably at least cause force damage – RAW, it is untyped. The option does come with its own spell-list – and as a whole, I’m pretty surprised. I liked this! There is a variant of the enchantment school for the wizard, one that replaces enchanting smile, dazing touch and aura of despair. Sly master nets you a scaling bonus to the social skill checks and as a capstone, it lets you recast enchantment spells of an equal or lower spell-level after saving versus an enchantment spell. Interesting.


The option also nets an aura (that does not specify when it’s gained) that penalizes saves versus fear and mind-affecting effects, with higher levels increasing the range. Dragons targeted with fear or mind-influencing effects gain a bonus to bypass SR. At 8th level, enchantments cast versus dragons get a much higher save – interesting. There are also two arcane discoveries: Dragon wizard lets you target dragons with spells that target specific creature types – I think this should specify one type; RAW, it can yield some weird interactions. The second one nets you further bonuses for bypassing SR. We also gain the dragon spirit for the shaman: Increased movement rate and Nimble Moves, swift action-base sense enhancement, a fear-inducing gaze, a natural armor-bestowing ward and blur. The spirit animal gains natural armor bonus and a minor (or increased) fly speed – that does not specify maneuverability, alas. The spirit abilities net a limited use untyped damage causing melee touch attack (why not type it?) and at 11th level, the shaman treats all weapons as keen. The greater spirit ability yields fire resistance 5 and 3/day a 15-ft. fire breath (1d6 per class level!) with a 1d4 cooldown. In case you’re wondering: Yes, this is a linear improvement over fiery soul. 5 resistance less for an upgrade of 1d4 top 1d6 per level? Yeah, ouch. The true spirit ability yields form of the dragon II and the manifestation capstone nets fire resistance 20, immunity to paralysis and sleep and 60 ft. blindsense.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal, but leave something to be desired on a rules-language level. While there are plenty of examples where the pdf manages to get this right, there are quite a few inconsistencies in the finder details. Layout adheres to a solid 2-column full-color standard with a while background and interior artwork is solid, full-color stock. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Maurice de Mare’s dragon spells and archetypes are an odd bunch: On one hand, they attempt complex and interesting things, offering some evocative and really amazing tricks – on the other hand, they stumble, more than once, in the details…and weirdly, not always in the difficult aspects. Still, this almost feels like the work of two designers or at least, like content created at different stages of one designer’s development. There are some rather problematic aspects herein, but similarly, one can find some gems. Still, this is not enough for a unanimous recommendation. If you’re willing to work a bit with the material, you may find some gems, but this is a mixed bag. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

In The Company of Aberrations

18 September 2017 - 1:53am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company of...“-series of playable monsters clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a MASSIVE 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This review was move up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.


We begin with a letter, framing the narrative that suffuses the pdf in the tradition of Rite Publishing supplements; the letter is one of resignation this time around, speaking of the horrors that were encountered, and indeed, the formula of the in-character description of the race that makes this series such a joy to read, has been modified here, as aberrations are a significantly less unified topic than previous races covered.


Instead, the content is framed as a report by the Voice of the Vigilant – who has basically possessed one of the unfortunates that encountered the aberrant threats, saving the company that encountered these creatures. This whole, strange channeling is a genius way of maintaining the enjoyable reading experience and blending it with a creeping sense of unease that fits the topic perfectly.


Anyway, since aberrations cover a wide field of different creatures, the report begins by roughly categorizing aberrant threats as cosmic interlopers (including noting the flumphs!), hadopelagic ancients, perversions of nature, reality-displaced entities and subterranean nightmares are discussed – as are warptouched creatures, making for not only a nice reading experience, but also serving as an interesting basic set-up to contemplate prior to making a character.


Now, a big problem for some aberrations would be a non-humanoid physiology – as such, it should come as no surprise that the magic item slot question arises in the context of playable aberrations. This is relevant from a mathematic point of view, considering how item-granted boosts are included in the calculations, particularly at higher levels. The imbued metabolism ability allows such aberrations to swallow magic items to gain their benefits. And yes, the rules-language manages to concisely codify this process and avoids cheesing and still features scaling regarding slot numbers, making the mechanic supremely elegant.


Okay, so let’s go through the respective racial traits! Cosmic interlopers get +2 Int and Wis, -2 Dex, a base speed of 5 ft., a fly speed of 30 ft. (clumsy) (5 ft. base speed), darkvision 60 ft., all-around vision, two tentacle secondary natural attacks at 1d4 and interlopers with an Int of 11 or more gain alter winds and whispering wind 1/day as a SP. They also can expend actions to resist vacuum, which is pretty damn cool. While slightly lopsided regarding base ability score modifiers and studded with low-level flight, the bad maneuverability (hovering works sans check, just fyi) maintains balance here and in fact requires some interesting, potentially even hilarious, tactical scenes at the table. There are two alternate traits that provide alternate racial traits: +2 Int and Cha, -2 Str for domination orbs (beholders, minus the closed content IP) – these guys can fire, 1/day, a spell as a ray from their eye. Cool! The stellar ray would similarly cover the classic ixitxachitl (or flumph…) with a proper stinger that deals acid damage as well. And yep, Small size. Instead of air manipulation, you may choose natural armor or sonic resistance (+ save-bonuses versus certain conditions). The all-around vision may be replaced with better Stealth, constant detect magic or a +2 bonus to Spellcraft to identify spells and +1 to atk versus arcane spellcasters. Instead of the vacuum adaptation, you may 1/day choose to roll twice on Bluff/Diplomacy or better tech-use, including decreased glitch probability. Both the vacuum resistant ability and all-around vision can be exchanged for Wild Talent – yep, psionics compatible!


Hedopelagic ancients get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are medium and have a movement rate of 20 ft., swim speed of 30 ft. They are amphibious, have darkvision 60 ft. and +2 natural armor. They get two secondary tentacle attacks and add +1 to the Dc of their illusions and SPs with the pattern and figment descriptors. Those with a Cha of 11+ also gain 1/day hypnotic pattern as a SP. And yes, they are balanced via the slots once again. There are two variants inclided: Deep spawn gain +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, gaining a primary bite and +4 to saves versus poison and diseases as well as a modified slot-list and the ability to make an angler-fish like dancing lights variant. Cool, if lopsided on the physical. The same holds true for reef menaces, who gain +2 Dex and Con, -2 Cha and is Small. They gain +4 to Stealth while underwater and get tangling tentacles as a natural attack, which do not cause damage, but may trip foes. Fully aquatic beings can be made with the Deep One alternate racial trait and you can replace darkvision with deepsight, doubling range for a total of 120 ft., but only underwater. Big kudos: There is a scaling fast healing alternate racial trait that’s reliant on water and that cannot be cheesed – big kudos! Keen underwater scent, an alternative SP, adaptation to water pressure (and cold resistance 5) and an unnatural aura complement this one. This is as good a time as any to voice my utter delight regarding the bonus and natural attack codification here – the rules are exceedingly precise and well-crafted – kudos!


Next up are perversions of nature gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Intelligence, are medium and have a base speed of 20 ft. that is not reduced by armor or encumbrance. They gain the ability to Hold Breath, +2 natural armor, a primary bite, +2 to saves versus diseases, ingested poisons and effects that apply the nauseated and sickened conditions and a +2 bonus to Perception and Appraise to find hidden objects and determine whether food is spoiled. They also always treat Stealth as a class skill. The first of the two variants provided would be the chitined terror, who gains +2 Str and Con, -2 Cha, is amphibious with a 20 ft. swim speed and two claws. Curse-fused yields +2 Con and Cha, -2 Str and gains 30 ft. movement, but s affected by encumbrance and armor. It also gains a climb speed, immunity to magic sleep and a bonus to saves versus enchantments. With Cha of 11+, these folks also gain darkness 1/day as a SP. And yes, these suites are suitably balanced via exchanged traits. The other alternate racial traits net bonuses of defensive casting, a better carapace, carrion sense, better saves versus divine spells, atk and AC-bonuses versus a subtype of humanoid (bred to exterminate them!) and Improved Grapple via tiny grapple-helping appendages, Extend Spell for transmutations 1/day or sewer camouflage complement this section.


Reality-displaced entities get +2 Int and Cha, -2 Str, may compress up to ¼ their size sans squeezing penalties, get darkvision 60 ft, +1 to saves versus mind-affecting effects, two secondary tentacles and Dr 5/piercing. Alternate ability-suite-wise, we get the Small body snatcher, who gains 40 ft. movement and two weak claws. Minor example of a formatting hiccup here: The creature is affected by protection from evil as though summoned and the spell-reference is not italicized. The body-snatcher can crawl into corpses of vanquished humanoids that exceed its size, helping it offset its nigh non-existent item slots while wearing this meat-suit, which is btw. concisely codified in the rules – damn cool. The untethered gains +2 STr and Int, -2 Dex and gain two pincers as well as +1 to DCs of possession, magic jar, etc., representing something closer to yithians. The other alternate racial traits encompass burrow speed, lesser telepathy the SP to 1/day detect thoughts, being naturally psionic or immediate action grapple escape attempts. Precognitive flashes and the ability to send itself or another creature into the future or the ability to sense effects that distort time complement, as a whole, a damn cool array of tricks.


The subterranean nightmares, per default, gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, are Medium with a speed of 20 ft. that’s not modified by armor or encumbrance, darkvision 120 ft., light sensitivity, +3 natural armor, +4 Stealth while underground, stability, a bite attack and roper-like strands – while these inflict Strength damage, it’s only 1 point, has a save to negate and is iconic; moreover, its limits serve to keep it in check even for conservative games. They also get a variant of woodland stride in subterranean regions, but only for natural terrain. The alternate ability-suites include +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int and fly speed 40 ft. (poor), a secondary tail attack and +1 natural armor bonus. Note that the maneuverability and the modified slot-list does help reign in flight, though some campaigns may still consider this to be potent...but then again, you’re basically playing a cloaker-thing! Hungry worms would be the second ability-suite, +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Intelligence, base speed 30 ft., 20 ft. climb speed, +1 to natural AC, scent and secondary tentacle attacks. The alternate racial traits include burrow speed, Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Survival as class skills, better AC versus rays, SR penetration bonuses, hooks claws, -1 to Will saves in exchange to +1 to the DC of mental ability damage/drain-based abilities used, a Cha-variant of the strands or +1 to the DC of sonic effects – once again, neat!


Finally, we take a look at the most “normal” race – the warptouched, who gain +2 to an ability score of their choice, are Medium with 30 ft. movement, are treated as aberrations for the purpose of spells and effects, gain darkvision 60 ft., +1 to Bluff, Disguise, Knowledge (local), +1 natural AC, two secondary tentacle attacks at 1d4 base damage, +2 to saves versus SPs and SUs of aberrations and they may, as a swift action, suppress their unnatural traits, helping them greatly disguising their nature. The alternate racial traits include unlocking class skills, constant detect aberrations, a 30 ft. swim speed, +1 to atk versus aberrations, two favored class options, Wild Talent, a maw, +2 to natural armor and Intimidate versus humanoids, technological aptitude or being treated as +1 level regarding the use of revelations from the Dark tapestry or Heavens mysteries. While age, height and weight vary wildly between all these aberrations, a sample reference table is still included – kudos! We also get a massive FCO-list that includes psionic classes as well as occult classes – no balance concerns or complaints there. Well done!
Okay, so the basic racial traits as a whole are amazing – they are balanced in a rather ingenious way; the options will not break any game and provide meaningful options galore. While I am not the biggest fan of races that grant their ability score bonuses to only physical or mental scores, these make sense here and, more importantly, don’t break any of the races. In short: It’s been a long, long time since I was this impressed with a section of races.


Do the classes hold up? Well, we have a total of four archetypes and, as always, the racial paragon class to cover. Let us begin with the two briefer archetypes, the first of which would be the conduit of the forbidden psychic, who is locked into the dark half or dream psychic disciplines. Instead of detect thoughts, 2nd level causes anyone who seeks to tap into the mind of the conduit to take Wisdom damage and be dazed. 9th level nets 1/day confusion, with the additional option to expend spells to cast it, getting the complex possibility of metamagic feat use in conjunction right. The archetype loses telepathic bond for this. At 17th level, when a confused creature damages itself, the conduit may assume control over it as dominate monster, thankfully with limited daily uses. The second smaller archetype herein would be the Opener of Ways summoner, who gets a modified summon monster list specializing in calling forth void-called beings instead of celestial/infernal ones, with aberrations added to the summon list. The void-called template is btw. also presented here and is, power-wise, approximately on par with the more commonly-used ones. 6th level yields a thought eater familiar that requires being fed spell slots to keep it from roaming, making it an interesting addition that replaces maker’s call and transposition.


A rather complex archetype for the hunter class would be the freak wrangler, who loses all summon nature’s ally spells. Instead of the regular Animal Focus, these guys gain an aberration focus: No less than 16 different foci are presented, basically rewriting the whole class engine with an aberration focus. This also extends to the pet gained: From akata to choker to rust monsters and snallygasters, the archetype features a total of 12 such aberration pets (and yes, rules-wise, they continue behaving like animal companions regarding tricks etc.) – all with their own stats, advancements, etc. big kudos here, this is actually a hunter I’d like to play! A minor complaint: The vampiric mist focus can allow the creature to be healed continuously via feeding it creatures to grapple and bleed dry. Since this is pretty limited and slow, it shouldn’t break the game, though.


Now the racial paragon class would be “That Which Must Not Be”, which, chassis-wise, receives good Will-saves, ¾ BAB-progression, d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level and proficiency with simple weapons. The class, unsurprisingly, can gain natural weapons galore, but only may employ a maximum number governed by level, beginning at 3 and scaling up to 7. Now, ability-progression-wise, we have a massive amount of player agenda: At first level, you choose aberrant power – this acts as a kind of bloodline, which unlocks new abilities every 6 levels after 1st and provides the base ability-suite: Mental juggernaut, for example, nets you at-will instigate psychic duel and builds on that as an engine and also features size-increases. Scion of Madness focuses on causing Wisdom damage and confusion and servitors of the Old Ones gain SPs. So these are the basics.


At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the class also gets to choose an abominable weirdness – basically one of the talents of the class, which, if applicable, has its saving throw DCs governed by Charisma. These include better aquatic adaption, acidic blood, gaining attach with certain natural weapons, reflexive negative energy damage, blood-draining feeding tubes, pulling filaments, extra heads or limbs, etc. Flight is suitably locked, minimum-level-wise, and from fortification-style anatomy to natural weapons and a bit of mesmerist poaching or even a phrenic amplification, we have a very wide and cool array of options here. Wanted to extract brains, illithid-style? Well, starting 12th level, you can. Oh, and yes, toxins etc. obviously can also be found. 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter increase natural armor by +1. 9th level eliminates age penalties and eliminates the threat of dying of old age – strange aeons indeed.


Beyond these, the class gains another option for players to customize it in a wide variety of ways, namely Alien Heritages. These are also chosen at 1st level and similarly act as a kind of linear ability progression – one ability is gained at first level, the second at 3rd and thereafter, every 4 levels unlock a new one. Once again, if applicable, Charisma acts as the governing attribute for save DCs for these. How many do we get? Well, more than 30 (!!!). That is in addition to the impressive talent array AND the 3 aberrant powers that maintain basic usefulness! The theme here are specific aberrations – there is a flumph heritage, one for beholders (minus IP, but you’ll now what’s meant!), Yithians, phrenic scourges, ropers, neh-thalggus (yep, with braincollecting…), mimics, moon beasts (which, at 11th level, heal when inflicting Wisdom drain, save to negate – not ideal, but limited in its cheesability), aberrations sans easily discernible heritage, intellect devourers (with 1st level psychic stab that is kept balanced by concise limitations), hyakume, heikegani, grindylows, froghemoths, driders – basically, all the iconics are covered and the ability array also covers some of the under-appreciated aberrations for weirdos like yours truly. Particularly impressive would be, at least from a design-perspective, the fact that A LOT of the signature abilities you’d expect are gained rather soon and kept viable, but balanced via concise restrictions that prevent nasty cheeses.


At 20th level, the class gains a unique name and title – and when someone, somewhere mentions it…it KNOWS, making it possible to greater scry the hapless fool…oh, and the poor sod becomes more susceptible to the Thing’s tricks. Worse for your foes, at this level, you are extremely hard to kill, lying dead but dreaming…amazing capstone.


“But endy, what if I don’t want to commit to a full 20-level class?” – Well, the pdf has you covered: The final archetype, the aberrant champion, is basically a catch-all archetype that allows the character to dabble in aberrant power, abominable weakness and alien heritage! Oh, and the archetype can be applied to a metric TON of classes: Beyond psionic classes (including, but not limited to the often overlooked cryptic and dread), we also cover the core and APG-options, ACG- and Occult classes AND some 3pp-classics like the warmaster, the taskshaper and hellion. Big kudos!


The pdf closes with 6 racial feats, which include the option to knock foes prone with grapples, gain an extra weirdness, a bonus to atk and damage versus aberrations with a different alien heritage (slightly unfortunate wording there), an upgrade for tentacle attacks, swift, mind-affecting demoralize via telepathy and a more devastating rend, which thankfully is locked and reserved for the higher levels.


Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch: Editor Robert N. Emerson has done a phenomenal job. It’s been quite a while since I read a crunch-book this long that is this precise regarding formatting, types, etc. – big kudos! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks, some of which may be known to avid readers of 3pp-material. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Wendall Roy’s latest In the Company installment is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It excels in writing and rules-language, provides a ridiculous amount of bang for buck and does so with panache aplomb. The multi-attack monster is a hard trope to get right and the sheer breadth of aberrations this had to cover is daunting. The fact that this allows you to play a vast array of aberration concepts via both races and class options, tweak them and further enhance the options makes this absolutely amazing.


I am hard to impress at this point. I have seen A LOT. Add to that the fact that I *also* require races to feel unique and worthwhile enough to integrate them in the first place. Add to that the vast breadth Wendall had to cover. Insert a wide open archetype and a really rewarding racial paragon class with a ton of player agenda and moving parts. By all accounts, this pdf should have stumbled at some point. And I tried pretty hard to find hiccups, flaws in the engine. Apart from the very rare and mostly cosmetic minor glitch, I did not find what I was almost certain would be here. Instead, I found beauty. The options presented herein are potent and tick off a lot of the things I usually complain about, power-level-wise, but when they do, they do so with often subtle, really interesting balancing mechanics to keep them in line.


Beyond being an impressive feat as a writer, this represents an impressive feat as a designer and frankly outclasses even his amazing supplements on dragons and rakshasas, as far as I’m concerned. This is a phenomenal toolkit, which, courtesy of the breadth of options, could carry a whole aberration party. The array of races and wide open archetype, the clever paragon class – this is, in case you haven’t noticed by now, a piece of excellence as far as I’m concerned. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my Top ten of 2017. If you remotely like aberrations, then get this. (As an aside: GMs, this is also pretty much the ultimate aberration-cultist toolkit…)

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Kaiju Codex (5e)

5 September 2017 - 3:47am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of Rite Publishing’s superb Kaiju Codex clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 44 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


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


We all have been there at one point, at least once we have a certain amount of experience under our belt; the point where the tarrasque looks…kinda unimpressive, but when it has actually been done in a campaign. At that point, we are looking for other ginormous creatures of immense power, we’re looking for mythic, impressive, really, really big adversaries. Well, the Kaiju Codex seeks to provide exactly that. Kaiju, much like the tarrasque, are as much plot devices as they are monsters, They are not necessarily made to be vanquished. In the same way that you can’t knock out a hurricane or an earthquake, they are challenges for the most epic of heroes – and frankly, even these may well be outclassed by them.


Now, as monsters of such an epic proportion, it should come as no surprise that the Kaiju depicted herein have legendary actions at their disposal – moreover, they are ridiculously large creatures – Colossal, in fact. Thing is, 5e per default does not have rules for that, so you should be aware of the fact that, by virtue of sheer size, the kaiju featured herein take less damage from most attacks by smaller creatures – half damage, in fact. Only level 9 spells and attacks by similarly monumental creatures still inflict the regular damage value and yes, the kaiju depicted herein can further decrease that amount via resistances and saving throws. Cool: Siege Monster does actually work against them, which is a nice touch in the details. Now, build-wise, the kaiju depicted herein will make some of you who are more mechanically-minded scratch their heads for a second – you see, the attack values and damage values seem to be wonky at first glance – there is a reason for that: If a kaiju’s Constitution modifier exceeds the Strength or Dexterity modifier of the respective creature, it is used instead of these as a governing attribute. I’m primarily mentioning this for the convenience of my readers, so should you endeavor to rebuild these, well there you go.


Now, format-wise, there are obviously weird anime-esque kaiju herein; but similarly, you’ll be able to find ones steeped in medieval mythology as well. All kaiju featured herein come with excellent, full-color artworks. It should also be noted that you are not restricted to use them as Cloverfield-style backdrops/plot-devices – we all know that players want to fight ridiculously massive monsters and the pdf does acknowledge this- via the inclusion of the iron giant. Whether Saber Rider’s Ramrod or the more well-known mega-zords, the Iron Knight takes that role – it is basically a massive mech that is piloted by the collective of the party. There are four key-roles for crewing the mech, meaning that even smaller groups should be capable of using it: Commander, Driver, Engineer and Gunner, though, to be honest, none are required to properly use this massive construct – so yeah, whle not ideal, smaller groups can pilot this massive mecha, though occupying a position also means that the mecha’s effectiveness increases. An artifact, the Star of Daikaiju, btw. allows you to command kaiju – so that would be another option to introduce them in your game; perhaps the villain has it; perhaps the PCs get the artifact and command a kaiju (hand them the stats and watch the PCs go to town with the kaiju – did so once in my campaign and it was epic…), so yes, the book allows for a variety of different uses of kaiju.


The colossal monsters introduced herein don’t necessarily need to be evil or ugly, mind you – there would, for example be a thoroughly cute flying squirrel-style being; the mighty Adam, the Defender; strange quasi divine beings like Inu or the ridiculously massive Hurbun, the big goblin – while the latter is evil, he also represents a trope that more than one player will most assuredly enjoy. Of course, really twisted monstrosities are found within the pdf – from the Beast of the Deepest Depth to Great Charybdis, we have some nasty threats herein that represent the classic idea of colossal creatures lurking in the abyssal depth of the ocean.


Of course, the trope of the dread thing from the stars also is covered – with e.g. Neuros, the Brain between Worlds or “That Which the Stars Rejected”…and there is the “Voice from Beyond”, which should put a BIG smile on fans of the classic Kull-stories; the sentient perfect storm, a natural force of annihilation; a mech designed by the ant-like formians; the dread drainer of giants; Inu and Iruk, which could have jumped straight from eastern mythology…there are a lot of amazing beings within these pages. Xel’unchek, a living diabolical siege engine, and Yssian, the abyssal engine, would make for planar weapons of mass destruction that most assuredly should be more than capable of ending blasé reactions to the forces of the outer planes. Particularly creepy for me personally would be the world-ender-level “Kudzu, the Everblight” (challenge 24 and by far not the most powerful thing herein…), a horrid, nigh unstoppable plant horror… Or what about trying to best the worldshaker, the animate form of the world’s very core?


It needs to be said that this pdf, while a bestiary/monster manual-style supplement, is not a dry read – each of the kaiju featured within these pages comes with a well-written, neat story that elucidates the nature of the kaiju in question, often providing some rather cool ideas to use them in your game.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with gorgeous full-color artworks for the kaiju. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.


So, I’m a sucker for big critters; in fact, the original Kaiju Codex made my Top Ten-list, and for good reason. Brandes Stoddard has done an amazing job at translating the coolness and high-concept original file to 5e. He did not take the easy route, instead going for a translation that is well in line with the system’s aesthetics. The kaiju in question feature the proper signature tricks they should have and his elegant translation of the Iron knight’s mecha-rules also makes for a fun mini-game style bonus – in short: I love this. The only reason this does not get a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of the year is that the original pdf managed to score on that year’s list and I have a policy that prevents the like. That being said, this is an excellent example of how a conversion should be handled and well worth a final rating of 5 stars + seal of approval – this is very much recommended if the concepts of gigantic, horrid threats even remotely intrigues you…and frankly, who’s not intrigued by it? Sometimes, size does matter…


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Everyman Iconics: Taka'shi

1 September 2017 - 2:14am
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Everyman Iconics series clocks in at a MASSIVE 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 5 pages of SRD, 6 pages blank – yeah, something went a bit wrong there, but as long as the preview doesn’t state the false page-count (which it doesn’t) I’m good with this. Anyways, we are left with 34 pages of content, which is still rather massive, so let’s take a look!


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


Making a viable, well-crafted PC or NPC takes a lot of time in PFRPG, even if you’re good with math and as savvy in the rules as many designers or guys like me are. That’s not supposed to be arrogance, it’s just a fact – I’ve been doing these reviews for a long, long time. Still, that may be, as a whole, the biggest drawback of mechanically more complex systems like PFRPG. While there is fun and plenty of joy o be found in making characters like this, the time-factor should not be underestimated…and where OSR systems just let you roll 6 times and you’re pretty much done, spontaneous PC-death can take a player out of the proceedings for quite some time.


This is, ultimately, where this series comes in – we get various iterations of one character, concisely broken down by level, with the whole progression at one glance and all required material – a kind of all in one package if you will, one sporting PC-quality builds. Taka’shi, in case you didn’t know, was originally designed and submitted as a concept by a backer of the Dynastic Races Compendium kickstarter, used and expanded with the blessing of the backer – and why not: Having one’s character immortalized as the iconic for the kyubi, the multi-tailed kitsune racial paragon, is pretty amazing!


Taka’shi’s childhood was not pleasant, for his eight birthday saw the demise of his parents at the hands of a legendary oni…and as a street-kid, he was taken in by a daimyo…blacking out, only to awake in true form, with tattered clothes and a daimyo at his feet, blood staining his teeth…and the daimyo a broken puppet, subject to his every whim. Thus, his ruse continued for years – until he was unmasked when the daimyo was slain. In a panic, he acquired as much gold as he could, venturing forth into the world beyond, with wild-eyed dreams of the wonders of adventuring life. His personality is similarly depicted in a detailed manner and completes the picture of a well-rounded, multi-facetted character.


His base stats, as always, are provided for your convenience, and so are the archetypes he employs as well as traits etc. Taka’shi employs both the nine-tailed heir and wildblooded bloodlines and the kitsune bloodline modified as the kyubi bloodline – those are, of course, reproduced here in full for your convenience. No book-skipping required. The first 5 and final 5 levels of his progression are devoted to sorcerer levels, with the 10 kyubi paragon PrC levels of the immensely flexible kyubi paragon PrC situated between, spanning levels 6 to 15. As always, a handy table makes it exceedingly easy to follow the progression of the feats-chosen, ability-score improvements taken, etc.


Taka’shi, unsurprisingly, uses the spellcasting-centric embodiment of magic of the kyubi paragon class – as always, this is represented within these pages as well (though, seriously, check out the kyubi – it’s an amazingly flexible PrC!). The build itself makes impressive use of this flexibility beyond the basics, sporting a shaman hex and a vigilante talent (also included).


Now, as a spellcaster, Taka’shi obviously has spells – and we get a full table depicting when he chooses which spells from level 1 to 20…and all the spells. Yep, no annoying searching for spells there either! This is one of the reasons this installment is longer than previous ones, but more importantly, the spells make sense from both an efficiency- and a theme-focused point of view.


As always, we get PC-quality NPC-builds, all ready and set to go, for a wide variety of levels: 1, 4, 7, 10, 14, 17 and 20, to be precise. The builds are btw. pretty brutal: When played right, Tak’shi can make for a truly fearsome foe…or ally! As a minor complaint: Unless I am missing something and can’t figure it out, I think that the melee attacks for the two highest-level iterations of the build are off by 2: They should be 2 higher. Then again, if you#re using a non-magical quarterstaff to attack with a primary caster at these levels, you’re doing something wrong, so this gets a tentative pass.


Speaking of which, in the fine tradition of the series, the pdf switches to a three-column standard in the back, providing a go-play PC-build of the character for levels 1, 4 and 7…which represents a minor complaint herein – only one of these levels actually has access to the unique kyubi PrC’s tricks – choosing higher levels for the latter two iterations would have made sense to me, but then again, this is me nitpicking in the absence of serious gripes and should be understood as such. Slightly unpleasant: The melee weapon’s attack is also not correct for the two higher-level builds; unless I’m missing some source of a penalty, the level 4 version should read -1, the level 7 version +1. Not that you’ll use these much, but still. Also cosmetic: While the hit point total of the 4th level PC-build is correct, the (3d6 +6) in brackets is not – that should be (4d6+8). Cosmetic and does not really impede functionality, but yeah.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, with the blank excess pages in the back being the only somewhat odd offenders herein. The hiccups I noticed in some levels are a bit unpleasant, though Layout adheres to Everyman gaming’s two-column full-color standard (excluding the 3-column hand-out-style PC-builds) and comes sans background in a generally printer-friendly version. The artworks by Brandon Chang and Jacob Blackmon are really neat. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


Taka’shi is an amazing character – I’m a huge fanboy of the racial PrC and the character depicted herein is similarly a neat one. I really like the character, I enjoy his story and personality and all the builds are helpful. That being said, the glitches I noticed, from the blank pages to the admittedly less important hiccups in a few of the builds make this one feel less refined than other installments of the series. Hence, I cannot go higher than 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Pugmire Core Rulebook

31 August 2017 - 3:19am
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
Rating: 5
If dogs played RPGs, is this the one that they would turn to? Pugmire is based around the premise that dogs have evolved: they walk upright, wear clothes, speak, and use tools, their front paws having developed to be able to grip them. Take these anthropomorphic dogs and drop them into a fantasy setting from which human beings vanished ages ago... and you have Pugmire. Set in the far future, with most of what mankind built crumbled to ruins, evolved dogs strive to recreate the world of the past, some revering the long-lost humans as deities, others regarding them of beings of great wisdom from whose relics much is to be learned.

After explaining all this, the Introduction goes on to explore the game's theme or central idea, which boils down to 'Companionship as Salvation'. Following the Code of Man with religious fervour, the first tenet is 'Be a Good Dog' - but what makes a good dog? Opinions vary, and - just as with our own pets - a good dog can rapidly become a bad one with a single silly mistake. Ultimately, the decision is up to one's peers - if the other dogs think you are good, then you are! Dogs in this game work together and strive to be good dogs. Then there's the mood, which is one of mystery. Whatever dogs get up to, there is always the question in the back of their minds: What happened to the humans? The fragments of knowledge that have remained lead the dogs to what will seem to us players quite humerous interpretations of what was going on when humans were around and dogs our faithful pets: but to our dog characters these are profound if sometimes confusing truths, or at least, theories. Above all, though, dogs like to explore... and this game provides plenty of opportunities for that!

There's a short list of inspirations - mostly anthropomorphic fiction, plus Dungeons and Dragons - and the usual explanation of what a role-playing game is. It's a very clear explanation, you could use it to explain what RPGs are about to a young child. It ends by explaining that the book comes in two parts: A Dog's Guide to Adventure (for players) and the Guide's Tome of Mystery, which contains information only the GM needs to know. The usual difficulty with 'all in one' rulebooks that players end up buying a lot of book they won't actually need, the GM having to trust players to stay out of GM areas, and of course the assumption that players never take a go at GMing...

A couple of canine characters - Princess Yosha Pug and Pan Dachshund - pop up throughout the Dog's Guide to Adventure with informative comments from a dog perspective as this section works through chapters explaining the world, how to create a character, how to play the game, and how magic works. The first chapter, The Journal of Yosha Pug, describes the world from his standpoint (with some quite scathing comments from Pan...), all in a 'handwritten' font that's fortunately quite clear to read. It starts off with details of the foundation of the kingdom of Pugmire, then talks about some of the interesting places to visit... and a warning, from Pan, never to trust a cat! Then of course there's the world beyond Pugmire, most of which is not as civilised and safe, where bad dogs (and worse) may be encountered. It's all beautifully-presented with a gentle air that makes this a good game to play with your youngsters, yet not so bowdlerised as to make it difficult to progress to more adult RPGs as your youngsters grow and mature (or of course carry on playing Pugmire if it has taken your fancy).

Next up, Chapter 2: A Good Dog takes you through character creation. Six ready-to-play characters are provided if you are impatient to get going, or as guides to what you should do, and there's a full explanation of the process for those who would rather have their own character. You start with Callings (character class). Artisans study and use magic; Guardians fight; Hunters explore, track and fight; Ratters can be rogues and criminals but are good at finding things and information; and Shepards are the priests of the Church of Man, teaching everyone how to be a Good Dog. And then there are Strays, the outsiders.

Then you have to choose your Breed. There are six of these, based on different types of dog: Companions, Fettles, Herders, Pointers, Runners, and Workers, plus the Mutts. Within each Breed there are various families - now these are what most of us would call 'breeds' like Chihuahua or Dachshund. Each Breed confers various bonuses and abilities to go along with what comes with your Calling. Add a Background, then you are ready to get to grips with the nuts and bolts of Abilities, Skills, and so forth. If you are familiar with any Class/Level game - such as Dungeons and Dragons - you will find yourself on familiar territory albeit the terminology is a little different. Abilities (the usual strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) are assigned by allocation of a series of numbers as you see fit, no die-rolling or even point-buy involved. Then you have Tricks to choose from, the things your character can do. Everything is explained clearly and simply, and are based on Calling and Breed.

Character sorted, it's on to Chapter 3: Playing the Game. It's basically a standard D20 system with an interesting quirk. If your character has an advantage or a disadvantage with whatever it is you're trying to do, you roll two D20s. If he has an advantage you use the higher roll, but if he has a disadvantage you use the lower one. You're still trying to get over a target number to succeed, however. Each character also has a Fortune Bowl containing points gained for good play and the like, and may expend these points to help with a roll when they really, really want to succeed. Possibly one of the best illustrations in the whole book depicts a dog trying to scrabble a token out of a bowl! There are other uses for Fortunte as well. The final chapter in the player section is all about Magic and how to use it in the game, along with comprehensive spell lists. If you understand Dungeons and Dragons spellcasting, you will be at home here.

The Guide's Tome of Mystery then continues with stuff that players don't need to know, in fact it may spoil enjoyment if they do root around too much here. There's more detailed background on the world of Pugmire, advice for the Guide (i.e. the GM) on how to run their game, a collection of Masterworks (powerful relics believed to have been left behind by humans), and one of enemies, including notes on creating your own. There's a lot to delve into here, some of which - like what dogs look like now - you'll have to explain to your players. There's a city to explore and various organisations to join, interact with or avoid.

On a more practical note, the next chapter provides some excellent advice for running the game, from explaining the many-hatted roles of a Guide as player, referee, storyteller and often host to looking at how to plan coherent campaigns. It also covers the more mechanical side of ensuring that the rules flow smoothly and support, rather than interfere with, the shared story the group is telling. There's a range of magic items of various kinds to use, and (naturally) a host of adversaries to pit against the party.

Finally there's an introductory adventure, The Great Cat Conspiracy, to get your group going. Even though it's for first-level characters, its scope is vast - the very throne of Pugmire may be at stake! It's laid out quite clearly with plenty of advice that should make it straightforward for even a novice GM to run. Of particular note is the way in which options are discussed: clear recognition that players often don't do what the scenario expects them to, so there are alternatives and suggestions for handling whatever they do decide to do. Very neat!

What makes this game stand out is the overall 'nice' feeling. It's wholesome. It's something you could show to a person who thinks all RPGs are the work of the devil with an actual chance of convincing them that at least some are not going to lead all the players into devil-worship. And it makes an excellent entry game for youngsters. Are you a good dog? Come and find out with this anthropomorphic RPG goodness!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

ASA: Alice in Wonderland #4 PF

21 August 2017 - 3:11am
Publisher: Playground Adventures
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth part of the adventure series for the youngest of players (I’d recommend the series for ages 4 – 6, 8 at most) clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, ½ page advertisement, leaving us with 11.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!


This adventure is designed for 2nd level characters and was moved up in my review-queue at the request of my patreons as a prioritized review.



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The White Rabbit is up to his usual shenanigans – while being late, he panics and inadvertently locks the Duchess out of her own castle! It’ll be up to the players to provide the proper means for the distressed Duchess – who promptly and hilariously collapses into a chair while mumbling about rewards. The PCs have to open the door on the front and may encounter their first trap here – as a minor aside, damage type is not specified for triggering the trap. This, however, remains a minor glitch and the exploration is pretty cool:


From a bouncy step stairs to the gigantic ball pit that hides baby mimics (lavishly rendered in a neat piece of artwork!) and acts as an easy way to teach difficult terrain to players, to a tunnel maze, where you can hone the listening skills of the kids, the challenges are proper and pretty cool for kids. What about a room with teleporting tiles and mirror rays, flying hammerhead-shark like things with reflective skin. The absolute highlight of this evocative dungeon-crawl, though, would be a fun puzzle about tapping bunnies, providing a simple, color-coded puzzle. …too simple? Well, here is what sets this apart from lesser offerings. Perhaps you are one of the fortunate parents whose kids are really far advanced, gifted, interested in math, etc. – an alternate, pretty tough (for a kid’s module) math-based version is included for you! This really, really made me smile! And yes, hints and means to help solving the puzzles are provided.


Oh, and the pdf closes with a cool magic item: An enchanted stuffed teddy-bear that you can put down to attack nearby foes! And yes, its rules have been covered in a concise manner.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting is top-notch, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a GORGEOUS two-column full-color standard with the rabbit and Cheshire cat included as part of the layout. The pdf comes with neat, original full-color artworks and fully bookmarked for your convenience. The dungeon-complex map comes as a cool one-page print-out version that is player-friendly –not even the secret door is spoiled when you use it.


It’s been a while since I reviewed one of these and the waiting has really helped here. This is, by FAR, the best of the modules in this series: Each encounter is diverse, creative and perfect for younger audiences; each encounter has something interesting to offer. J Gray’s puzzle difficulties, hints and challenges herein really work well and each room sports another creative challenge, testing brains and brawns. The optional challenge-increase for truly gifted kids just adds icing to the awesome-cake. This is well worth getting and even if you’re mostly sitting out the series in favor of Playground Adventures’ other modules, contemplate getting this –with a bit of tweaking, this may well work for older kids as well. (Oh, and yes, you can make it a creepy module for adults, though it’ll require being upgraded regarding its difficulty.) This is really, really good – my final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval!


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Into the Breach: The Bard

5 August 2017 - 12:30pm
Publisher: Flying Pincushion Games
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the "Into the Breach"-series clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?


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


We begin, as often, with a variety of new archetypes, the first of which would be the chronicler of blades, who gains a modified proficiency list that includes all the dueling weapons and at 1st level, they get Weapon Focus in their choice of short sword, longsword or rapier - which is a bit odd: Why include exotic weapons in the proficiency-array and then don't allow for their choice via this class ability? 2nd level yields Dazzling Display and every 4 levels thereafter yield a bonus feat, chosen from a generally well-selected array, and uses class level as BAB for the prerequisite purposes. At first level, he similarly uses class level instead of his BAB when making an attack or combat maneuver attempt with a sword for which the archetype has Weapon Focus while wearing light armor and no shield heavier than a buckler. You have guessed where this goes by now, right? Yep, this guy is basically a spell-less bard. Instead of well-versed, the archetype gets +4 (untyped) to learn or remember features of blades, which is pretty circumstantial. Instead of versatile performance, the archetype receives venerable gambit, which is usable 1/day, +1/day at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter. A venerable gambit is a Knowledge (history, nobility or local) check - 1/2 the result is added as a competence bonus to atk or CMB when using a sword. The definition could be a bit clearer here and while the skill-check can be boosted very high, the daily limit keeps this in check - combined with the lack of spellcasting, I can see this work. All in all, a martial bard, most suitable for lower powered games (or even magic-less ones!).


The courtless marvel replaces inspire courage with summon nature's ally, increasing the spell that's duplicated iteration by +1 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter - 5th level would allow for summon nature's ally III, for example. Speaking of which - at 5th level, several fey are added to the potentially called creatures, replacing lore master. And yes, the ability does have a caveat that prevents spamming it or stacking it via dismissing - no performance/summon-cycling and maintaining the creatures requires maintaining the performance. This is pretty interesting and even takes the item interaction into account. Instead of inspire greatness, 9th level provides the option to grant an ally the speed of a quickling, +1 ally affected for every 4 levels thereafter. Rules-wise, this increases all movements speeds and provides concealment.


No complaints. 12th level provides a stunning glance performance, including a caveat that prevents spamming it and a proper range and codification. At 15th level, inspire heroics is replaced with dance of fate: Choose an ally and a hostile creature within 60 ft of each other - if one is affected, so is the other. This is strategically interesting and pretty potent. Versatile performance is replaced with the fey theme, granting at 2nd and every 4 levels after that a spell known from the druid or ranger list. While the ranger-list is potent, it's the only thing I'd consider a bit wonky here. Well-versed is replaced by wild empathy at full level at 2nd level and 10th level provides a massive DC-improvement (1/4 class level, rounded down) to enchantment spells, but also makes the character more susceptible to the tricks of the fey. I really like this one. It has a strong theme, is pretty creative and while it *is* possible to poke small holes in some aspects of it, these won't usually come up in most games and are more something to be aware for the rules-savvy crowd. Still, really like this!


The fabulist employs Wisdom as the governing spellcasting attribute and gains an arcane bond with an animal as well as a domain from a limited list - and yes, they're cast as arcane spells, but loses countersong and well-versed. The "darker" performances are replaced with new ones - unfortunately, e.g. morsel of Wisdom is pretty nasty, allowing the fabulist to make an ally use his Wisdom modifier for all saves, ability checks and skill checks. while the performance is maintained...but the balance here would be that the performance cannot be started quickly and the fabulist can only grant one such bonus per performance, thus requiring cycling and a lot of action economy investment, rendering the power more moderate. Higher levels yield a performance-based planar ally and a capstone atonement, which is relatively fitting. Something that felt a bit weird: The archetype RAW gets a domain, but only specifies getting domain spells, which makes me think that the other crunchy bits are not gained...but I'm not sure there. The ability could be read either way.


The grotesque gets diminished spellcasting and replaces inspire courage with a powerful debuff. Dirge of doom can additionally be used as a variant that causes the sickened condition, rather than the shaken one, and similarly, 14th level yields a variant of frightening tune that can nauseate. The true unique selling point of the archetype, however, would be the disturbing acts - one is gained at 1st level and another one at 5th level and every 5 thereafter, excluding 20th, replacing bardic knowledge and well-versed. These take basically the classic Freakshow tropes and represent them as rules - and they are pretty potent: DR for being pierced by knives is solid, but the more intriguing ones would be the option to eat objects and regurgitate them, being able to initiate bardic performances as a free action after being hurt (and choosing to bleed profusely), the tricks are cool. Not all are perfect or equally potent or well-codified. The bite attack, I assume, would be primary as per default. Fire-spitting lacks a range and compared to it, the option to switch between multiple rings is much more potent. Similarly, the rules-language oscillates a bit, stumbling at basics, while getting, surprisingly, the option to be able to wear swarms and have them as unreliable quasi-pets pretty well done. I have a soft spot for the outcasts and this resonated very much with me - while not perfect, its blemishes can be easily fixed by a competent GM.


The jester is basically an Antagonize specialist who can use Perform (Dance) instead of Acrobatics for movement-related tricks and he also gets sneak attack and the evasions at higher levels instead of spellcasting. The option to use japes to render targets flat-footed on a failed save for multiple rounds needs some nerfing and an activation action, though. The lifeweaver, if the name was not ample indicator, would be the healing bard, who adds some condition-healing spells to his arsenal, while also gaining Lingering Performance (with a cap). The performances the archetype gains center on granting healing tricks to the performances -as well as the option to evenly divide damage among limited allies - which is very potent, but also cool. While the rules-language is very precise, it lies in the nature of this type of ability that it may present some issues to some groups...but at the same, it can make for a great "united we stand"-feeling among PCs and players, but also vastly enhances the value of DR and resistances. Pure amazing for some groups, broken for others...I'm divided on this one. Compared to that. the resistance-granting is less precise and fails to clarify the energies that qualify - does force count? Sonic? Channel energy at 1/2 class level can also be found. I like this archetype, but wish it was slightly more polished.


The matchmaker is really cool: He can choose and coach clients, use serenades to cause infatuation and use bardic performance to maintain matches between unlike beings. Very interesting and flavorful choice! The prop comic can only use Perform (comedy)-based masterpieces and gets diminished spellcasting...but at higher levels, he can designate targets as "lovely assistants", making them the butt of the joke (i.e. the one on the receiving end). At 2nd level and 5th, as well as every 3 levels thereafter, the archetype gets a schtick, which use Perform (Comedy) instead of CMB and have their saves governed by Cha ( 10 + 1/2 class level + Cha-mod), if applicable. Props need to be crafted, have a cost and a limited number of uses. They use bardic performance as a resource and are REALLY COOL. Use Battle Flatus, to force enemies to use immediate actions to move away from the fart-noise, interrupting combos. Use big-wig cigars to cloud yourself in smoke...or stick it in a foe's mouth and have it explode, using dirty tricks. These are creative, cool and really fun - and they include forcing pious characters to attack irreverent symbols. I love these. I seriously do. As an avid Joker-fan, I really want to see MORE of these. For me, this may well be the best archetype the Flying Pincushion crew has crafted so far. Complex, unique, cool. Seriously, one amazing archetype.


The rookery master gains a familiar (thrush or raven) which shares the performance round pool with the character - basically a pet-performance archetype. Simple, yet elegant. The Skirling Adept can use bardic performance to inflict low-range sonic damage via lethal whistles, gaining a familiar as well as the option to use totem spears more effectively and later shatter things or call lightning/wind wall - the archetype may not be as mechanically interesting, but its strong theme makes it a fun and flavorful option. The song bow is a sling specialist who can use slings as wind instruments, bows as fiddles. He can imbue sonic damage in his ammunition and may also fire ammo at empty squares and use it as origin of his performance. Big plus: The rules-language of the complex concept hits home. Sorry, I'll punch myself for that lame joke later...) At higher levels, allies share bonuses against targets hit by rallying shots and higher level options, we have sonic AoE-blasts - and yes, all of this is balanced and the archetype gets some custom spells added. Powerful, but damn cool option. The Squad Leader, finally, would be one of the more complex archetypes - he gets a tactician-like network of allies, the bound squad, and may use his urgent commands to allow for bonuses, teamwork feat sharing, grant additional AoOs - basically, this fellow represents a battle lord-ish commander. Potent and solid.


Now each of the Into the Breach-books has a PrC that aims to make a subpar class-combo worthwhile - this time around, the 5-level Holy Rhapsodist, with d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Ref-Progression as well as 5/5th spellcasting progression does just that for the paladin and bard classes. The class enhances sonic damage of weapons wielded and smite may be turned into sonic damage that is more potent against evil targets. The PrC counts as paladin levels and bard levels for the purpose of lay on hands/mercy and bardic performance-progressions. These guys may expend lay on hands while performing to AoE heal and later even apply mercies and add buffs to allies. The 4th level ability should refer to character level, not class level, though - it's clear from context, but still a bit confusing. Oh, and woe to those that are on the receiving end of the smite of these guys...allies also get a damage boost...Powerful and interesting hybrid fusion PrC.


The mime is an alternate bard class that must be humanoid or a native outsider. The mime gets d8 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves. They do not get weapon proficiencies, but don't take penalties from using improvised weaponry. Their spellcasting is governed by Cha and something special...much like the whole class. Remember Final Fantasy 5 and 6? You see, the basic bardic performance of this class deals with just that: Copying the tricks of nearby allies. Attacks. Defense. Feints....a LOT of tricks can be used this way and the class manages to codify the tricks rather well. I do have a couple of questions here, though: The copycat performance is a standard action, but can be used on e.g. an ally full-attacking a foe - does this also grant a full attack to the mimic? If so, does it have to be executed against the same target as the copied action, if any? Apart from this ambiguity, the class feature is clear, which is pretty impressive. Beyond this copying of targets, the class gets a limited resource 3/day, +1/day at 3rd level and every 2 levels beyond 3rd. These allow for the emulation of class features, feats and even limited item use!! Interesting from an RPG point of view: Mimes have a vow of silence that can be a detriment and roleplaying challenge, but that also has its perks - mimic'd spells are Silent sans spell-level increase, for example. While not perfect (it also has e.g. a non-capitalized skill-reference), the mime is still by far the coolest and most creative alternate class the FPG-crew has made - I really like it. Unique, interesting and well worth making the GM-call regarding copycat.


The pdf then introduces us to fairy plays -these are basically single-use scrolls...but in awesome and fun. Each play has a variety of roles. Within 10 minutes, all roles (each of which must be filled by a different character) must try their task (usually, one has a high DC, the others lower DCs) - the fairy play then takes effect, depending on the number of successes. And yes, these make traveling troupes of even low-level actors potentially a threat. They have a tactical dimension and the more successes you can garner, the better the effects...or, well, actually, the effects differ in creative ways: 1 success: Rain of frogs (poisonous); 2: Make the frog's croaking hypnotic. 3: Veil the performers. Glowing, creepy pumpkins that can float and duplicate dancing lights (not italicized), an alarm-version (they shout "BEWARE!") and the option to detonate them in blinding bursts make this one rather interesting. While guidelines for more are provided, I wish we got more than the 3 provided - somewhere between quirky magic item and skill challenge, these are fun for the group and feel very much magical. I like them!


The pdf concludes with 7 magic items - the flying lion gong can accompany the character and rewards readied strikes for coordinated attacks. Hell's hurdy-gurdy brings out the debauchery in devils, while a mask can fortify against fear while using bardic performance, as long as the character incorporates buffoonish fear in the performance. Moonlight strings heal, while peddler's charumeras can instill hunger or thirst and sylph slippers enhance dances and may carry the dancer across pressure plates and even water. the star here, though, would be the siege carillon. Think Skaven bell. Think war organ. Smack in the middle between instrument and magical siege engine, this apocalyptic device can vastly enhance the power of the bard, his range and durations, charm targets and emit devastating bursts of apocalyptic sonic damage after tolling no less than 23 bells - 1 or 2 may be sounded per round as a move action. This is basically an amazing fight and had me come up with numerous scenarios on how I'll use this monster. It's basically a bardic fantasy tank!! Come on! How cool is that??


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting have significantly improved over earlier installments in the series - they're now what I#d call good, bordering on very good. While some unfortunate hiccups and omissions can be found herein, the most significant improvement pertains rules-language, which now tackles significantly more complex concepts than ever before in the series, with greater precision than ever before in the series. Whatever the Flying Pincushion crew did here, I hope they'll continue to do it! Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard with really nice, well-chosen pictures, which I have not seen previously in other supplements. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.


I couldn't have asked for a more rewarding review to write after my real life-related, brief hiatus. Benjamin Wilkins, Frank Gori, Kris Newton, Jeff Harris (who also acted as editor) and David S. McCrae (who acted as lead developer as well) are back as well and finally make true on what I have always said in these reviews: There is potential here.


While this book began less than spectacular, slowly but surely the gems among the archetypes accumulated; while some have minor hiccups and require a GM-call, they are worth making that call. Instead of going for easy or simple routes, we have complex archetypes here - even the multi-class-y ones sport their unique playstyles and engines and many of them left me wanting more! Moreover, I have never seen an accumulation of this many cool variants for the bard before. The PrC is valid and potent, the alternate class amazing (if you do clarify copycat) - and when there are issues, they are cosmetic or stem from the archetypes aiming for the stars, for the high echelons, regarding their themes, ideas and leitmotifs. There is not a single option herein that I'd consider lame, redundant or filler.


Not all archetypes herein will be for every campaign, sure - but whether you prefer gritty low fantasy, high-powered hijinxs, whether you're looking for an option for a cleric-less game...the pdf offers a lot of really cool material. Oh, and then there are the no-filler, evocative magic items and the woefully short, few fairy plays, blending all-party kinda skill challenges with magic item use, while explaining how those traveling troupes not get eaten after the first bend in that nasty, monster-infested wilderness -so whip out that Skill Challenge Handbook (you do have that, right?), blend them and make more of them ASAP! (And yes, they work sans that book, but I like to unify my systems...)


In short: This is the first "Into the Breach"-review that will not feature a big "but" - this book has heart, passion and made me smile from ear to ear. As a person, I love this and consider it to be one of the best bard-supplements I've read. If you're confident in being able to make some rules-calls and judging which archetypes work for your game, then this is gold. However, as a reviewer, I have to remain fair, my own excitement none withstanding. There are a couple of instances where the ambitious, complex concepts could have used that one sentence to make them perfect, where the abilities needed a teeny bit more, where ranger spells should be available at higher levels, where skills are not capitalized. This is not perfect. That being said, I have always preferred slightly flawed, ambitious and cool concepts over lame cookie-cutters that are perfect. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars. If you want a perfect go-play book, round down; if you're looking for an inspiring toolkit full of joy and style, then round up. I can't award this my seal, but only due to its imperfections. Still, rounding down would be a disservice to the obvious passion, care and heart's blood that went into this. Did I mention the apocalyptic bardic battle tank?? Seriously, if you haven't checked out the Flying Pincushion's work, give this a shot. Now excuse me, I need to plan on which of my villains I'll put on that tank...

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss

21 July 2017 - 10:32am
Publisher: Kort'thalis Publishing
Rating: 5
Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2017/07/adventures-with-venger-asnas-satanis.html

Have you ever wanted to make your own adventures? Do you want to be like Venger and write them like a fucking boss? Well, this is the book for you then. Overtly the book is focused on people writing their own adventures for the first time, but the advice given is so solid that even old veterans like me kind find it useful. Some of the advice is common sense, but never underestimate the value of stating something plainly. There are no groundbreaking revelations here, no paradigm shifts and no occult insights. And that is perfectly fine by me. Adventure writing is not supposed to be Shakespeare, it's supposed to be Poe. The advice given though is rock solid, and it provides easily repeatable to create fun, entertaining adventures that don't feel like a railroad.
Honestly I would package this up with his How To Game Master Like a Fucking Boss to give GMs a full toolbox of advice and tricks to help any adventure; whether they wrote it themselves or grab one off the shelf. Venger really should bundle this with the Character book and call it the "Be A Fucking Boss Bundle".
I have a Trek game coming up. I know what I want to do with it, but I am going to run my ideas through this book and give them a test. So far all the advice has panned out well and I believe that this will be a better adventure because ot it.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Everyman Minis: Yroometji

14 July 2017 - 2:37am
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Everyman Minis-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review. Furthermore, I received an advance copy in order to have the review done on release day.


So, what are the Yroometji? Kangaroo-folk. They gain +2 Con and Cha, -2 Int, are Medium, get low-light vision, +2 to Acrobatics made to jump (and are always treated as having a running start, +1 natural AC and a natural slam attack (cosmetic complaint - you need to resort to default - it does not specify being primary or secondary) at 1d4 bludgeoning and piercing damage and a crit-range of 19-20 when using their feet, or 1d6 bludgeoning damage with the tail. Readied attacks with the tail deal double damage versus charges, as though it had the brace quality. Additionally, they have a pouch that can hold up to 1 cubic foot volume or 10 pounds and if no armor or clothing restricts access to the pouch, transference of an item to or from it requires a swift or move action. Armor that grants pouch access costs slightly more and what constitutes restrictions to pouch access is concisely defined. All in all a solid race that should not provide any problems, regardless of campaign tone or power-level.


Now, as has become the tradition with Everyman Gaming's take on races, this is not where we leave off - the yroometji depicted here are more than what you'd usually expect, with notes on physical descriptions, life cycles, cultures, religion, etc. all being depicted in surprising and neat depth for a pdf of this size. Favored class options for brawler, skald, shaman and druid have been included.


Speaking of brawler: The first of the racial archetypes within this pdf would be the Five-Strike Slugger for yroometji brawlers. These guys reduce their proficiency regarding weapons to simple weapons and may not use monk or close weapons as part of their flurries, but may use their slam attack in conjunction with it and also deliver abilities that require unarmed strike use with it. Nice: Instead of maneuver training, these guys can choose combat or psychological maneuvers from a list and add them to the effects of slam attacks, with 3rd level unlocking the first of these and every 4th level thereafter providing a new one. This ties in with the ability that replaces weapon mastery, namely to gain an unarmed strike or slam attack at full BAB minus 5 after affecting a target with a psychological or combat maneuver. And no, it can't be abused in combination with flurries or the free maneuver added to slam attacks, thanks to an explicit piece of rules-language.


The second archetype would be the ancestral hunter for, bingo, the hunter class. Instead of animal focus, these hunters get to choose from a wide array of spirit foci, ranging from knowing the way to communication, blur, etc. - 8th and 15th level provide upgrades for the spirit choices. 3rd level yields the shaman shapeshift hey, with minutes of spirit aspect being usable to shapeshift, but nice vice versa. Additionally, the companion may be thus transformed into a Medium or Small humanoid while under the effects of spirit aspect. This replaces the bonus feat gained at 3rd level. Flavorful and interesting, rather cool tweak of the hunter class!


The race also comes with a 2-feat mini-feat tree based on Vital Strike: hop on the tail and execute a particularly potent feat slam, with Acrobatics acting as a means to increase damage - but thankfully capping via the weapon damage dice rolled. pretty interesting -while I'm usually not a big fan of this type of feats, it does work rather well here. The follow-up feat, Disembowling Kick, adds Con bleed to such assaults - ouch!


Really cool would be the 2 spells included: Handy pouch makes your pouch act as a variant handy haversack and pouch ally lets you shrink down allies and carry them in your pouch! Amazing!


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features a neat full-color artwork. The pre-release copy I have has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.


Alexander Augunas' yroometji are actually a mechanically interesting race that also comes with an interesting flavor and theme; I haven't seen the kangaroo folk done well before and the visuals of the race are compelling, juggling complex concepts. The spells in particular are gold and I really like the race - in fact, I like it so much I hope it'll get full Compendium treatment with details galore on these unique fellow and their culture. You see, my only gripes regarding this pdf ultimately are due to the format: We don't get age, height and weight tables, alternate racial traits and the like and while we do receive a glimpse at a compelling race, that's all there is, all that this humble pdf can provide - when the race is so cool it deserves more. Don't get me wrong - it is amazing to see how much content and flavor can be found within this mini, but it still left me wanting a bit more and I hope a lot of you will check this out, so we do get a massive book on the race. Still, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 stars for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Game Master's Guide to Kaidan

12 July 2017 - 2:39am
Publisher: Rite Publishing
Rating: 5
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive tome clocks in at 221 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 216 pages of content, so let's take a look!


This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review. Furthermore, I was a backer of the KS that made this book. I was not in any way involved in the production of this book.


However, there is one thing you need to know: I am a Japanophile of sorts and as such, I am predisposed to liking this book.


But what exactly is Kaidan? The short answer, obviously, would be "A Japanese Horror Setting." - This, however, does not really help, so let us take a step back for now and talk about the representation of Asian cultures in most (Western) RPGs. You see, at least if you're like me and really into foreign cultures and their myths and peculiarities, you'll quickly notice that the way in which Asian cultures tend to be blended - influences and concepts from Chinese and (sometimes) Korean myths are blended with Japanese concepts to create a hodgepodge. Now that per se it not something I have an issue with. In fact, I do enjoy, to a degree, this melting pot blending.


At the same time, this left me, at least partially dissatisfied. Beyond modern authors like Murakami or classics like Dazai, the classics, from Genji to the folklore faithfully transcribed by Lafcadio Hearn, the Japanese culture has a truly distinct cultural tradition I adore. Moreover, the mythology and tales offer a vast panorama of adventuring potential far beyond those usually quoted by modern roleplaying games.


Kaidan, then, tries to be very much an authentically Japanese setting; at the same time, it does not fall into the trap of just reproducing cultural texts by different names or a varied emphasis, weaving a myth of a land that is similar, yet also very much distinct. This is more of a feat than you'd think at first glance, particularly considering the way in which mythology and religion has influenced and continues to influence Japanese culture to this date. But let me explain: The history of the islands known as Wa at one point, destined to become the lands of Kaidan, is one of immigration, paradoxically - it is a tale of the human ethnicity of the Anu and their beliefs mingling with that of the yokai, ultimately giving birth to what would develop into the stand-in for Shintoism, the Yokintoism. Kami, shrines, the concept of Mitama - all have been properly represented. Similarly, the second religion that has deeply influenced Kaidan, perhaps more so than Ykintoism, would be Zaoism...but more on that later.


Before we come to the original catastrophe that wrecked Kaidan, we should take a gander at the races featured herein: Anu (human variant, distinct from the Kaidanese), Henge, Kappa, Kitsune, Korobokuru and Tengu are included in the deal: While fans of Kaidan may recall a couple of them featuring in previous Kaidan-supplements, it bears mentioning for the new folks that the balancing of these races is pretty much pitch-perfect - the henge-variants, for example, never are lopsided. In short: The races are suitable for even grittier games and low-powered gaming, also courtesy of their unique abilities and racial traits: Korobokuru, for example, have an intrinsic loathing of violence, whereas the kitsune featured herein may e consummate shapechangers, yes - but at the same time, when in great distress, their concealing magics may partially fail, revealing fox-like characteristics. It is these small tidbits that make the races align more closely with the myths we know - and at the same time, they represent narrative angles and roleplaying potential steeped deeply within the lore of the setting and its culture. It should be noted that this is the GM book and while age, height and weight tables as well as some alternate racial traits have been included, no favored class options or the like can be found - I expect those to show up in the Player's Guide.


The existence of these races beyond the realms of myth is by the way more than window dressing - the races and their unique perspectives on religion, etc. and their interactions with the humans have ultimately shaped the land; they are not only believable cultures, they are deeply entrenched within the setting, with histories of dogmaticism and conflict engendering further a form of isolationalism and distrust towards strangers that not only extends to gaijin. Kaidan is wondrous, but it should not be thought of as a realm defined by being welcoming to strangers.


Which brings me back, full circle, to Zaoism. Zaoism is one of my favorite re-imaginations of basically any philosophy or religion ever. It fills the role that Buddhism has in Japanese cultural development, but does so in a genius way. Why genius? Because, as an atheist and humanist, Buddhism's philosophical teachings, if not the beliefs, resound with me. Kaidan inverts them thoroughly and constructs a take on the concept of reincarnation that is shattered - and it ties in with the famous feud between the Minamoto and Taira clans that most scholar of Japanese lore should be familiar with.


Let me engage in a brief digression here: Kaidan literally can be transcribed as the kanji for "recited narrative" and "strange, supernatural or uncommon occurence"; during the Edo period, telling ghost stories became a kind of competitive endeavor, a past time ostensibly reaching back to samurai testing their will, morale and mettle in an age where enlightenment had not yet vanquished the phantasms of superstition. As such, the tales had a performance character and, all too often, a psychological component - they were not focused on being in your face or startling in the traditional sense, instead building on tension and dread, slowly, steadily - often subverting the sense that the "world was right", if you will. A certain existential anxiety regarding merciless rules of the spirit world or a breaking, unwilling or not, thereof, suffuses these tales and makes them effective, even to this date.


And this is what ties in, once again, with the Minamoto/Taira-feud and Zaoism - you see, the Minamoto, much like in our world, won. However, unlike in our world, magic exists. And forms of malevolence exist as well. And thus, the curse was born: The ritual suicide and curse of the last of the Taira was so potent it severed Kaidan's connections from all but two spiritual realms: Jingoku and Yomi. Mists arose (And here, ladies and gentlemen, would be the OBVIOUS Ravenloft angle - Kaidan works PERFECTLY in conjunction with our favorite demiplane of dread...) and envelopped the lands. Escape seems impossible, with only death seemingly providing release - but not even death can save the populace, for the wheel is broken - the concept of enlightenment through pure living can no longer be attained. Kaidan is an eternal purgatory, represents the horror of perpetual, eternal spiritual stagnation....one represented perfectly by the eternal emperor and his undead daimyo, risen from the waters to reign forevermore over these lands...but then again, at least the undead overlords keep the oni hordes at bay...


This concept and the logical consequence of an undead ruling caste seeking to establish a power base ties in perfectly with the historical developments of the lands of Kaidan and explains in a succinct and concise manner not only the nature of the caste system in place here, but also how it came to be...and why it has been deeply ingrained in the moral fiber of the people living in these lands - the rationalizations and secrets revealed here make perfect sense and give further credence to the pervading sense of authenticity that suffuses this book.


It should be noted, that, from Miko Shrine maidens to warrior archetypes for NPC Sohei, the book also addresses, in quite a lot of detail, in fact, how class options interact with the world - that, for example, most priests do not have the powers of a cleric and instead are experts; that not all religious warriors are the undead-slaying yamabushi paladins...the general sense evoked by these balanced and flavorful class options is that they represent the exception, tying cultural status and a role within the respective social strata into the concept.


Let us reiterate: The web of culture, history, religion, and classes generates a thoroughly sensible and unique panorama, one that is supported by an interesting cosmology indeed. However, the main meat of this book undoubtedly would be the gazetteer-style overview of the fully-mapped regions of the archipelago, including a vast array of settlement statblocks...and secrets. This is the Gamemaster's Guide, after all, so the identity of lords, adventure hooks and the like can all be found herein - and since these would constitute undue SPOILERS, I will refrain from commenting on them.


What I *will* comment on, however, is the wonderful fact that we get whole chapters on life and death of the populace - and yes, if you've been a fan of the Project Zero (aka Fatal Frame) games, you should realize that the amount of truly horrific potential and dark rites depicted in these games make for a perfect fit, theme-wise, for Kaidan. is a land where NOONE is free. The concept of reincarnation, any life after death, has an inherent horror that is used to great effect by pretty much all religions - from the threat of hell to "demotion" to a lesser creature. In Kaidan, it is very much real and the inevitability of the broken wheel of reincarnation just further emphasizes the futility of struggle, the illusion of free will that is, ultimately, the consequence of a life after death - after all, this eliminates the freedom to choose annihilation. In Kaidan, paradoxically, there is no enlightenment - not even the reward, the consequence - instead, we get a karma system to determine player reincarnation one that ultimately comes full circle for even the most potent of nobles. Via magic diseases, as yurei or via other means - there is no end, no breaking of the cycle, a samsaran's ultimate nightmare of a world gone haywire, of a deck stacked against all of the world's inhabitants: As the book astutely sums up: Evil is ascendant, life is hard, the supernatural is hidden, magic is divine, tenmei is absolute and death is not the end.


The book, being a GM book, also elaborates on the types of fear you may wish to evoke and the strategies. Organizations, extensive mundane equipment, armor and weaponry complement the book, and from honor to wealth (and the relative scarcity of metal), there are a lot of different factors - and they, ultimately, all make SENSE. Speaking of which: The traditions of magic and the feeling of the setting, to a degree, is greatly enhanced by the spell-section of all candidates. Steven. D. Russell (at least if I understand correctly), has written a metric ton of power word-spells for all levels, as that is a dominant casting tradition in Kaidan. The effects are actually subtle: At low levels, maintaining health, already important, can become even more vital. Similarly, with options that can cause characters to attack allies or take one out of the fights for a few rounds, the combat requires more flexibility and strategy by the players - and indeed, the spells change the paradigm of quite a few encounters, potentially adding some very iconic scenes to the fray. And yes, condition-power and hit point limits are correlated in a rather well-crafted manner. While I would not allow all of these spells in a high fantasy game, where min-maxing and option-breadth can provide horrid combos, these work perfectly in the context of Kaidan.


Tsukumogami, haunted objects, if you will, are covered in the book with a variety of evocative and cool examples, and so are ancestral relics, magic items that grow in potency over the levels. From teh bones and remnants of the fallen, to enchanting brushes, we also get a couple of nice magic items and some solid feats. Shikigami stats can be found and the book concludes with a great, inspirational appendix as well as a glossary. And while we're speaking of language: Did I mention the dialect rules? Well, now I did.


Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level, though, on a formal level, one can find a couple of minor, typo-level glitches like one of the magic items having a weight of "ZZ" - nothing serious, but notable for perfectionists. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with red headers. The gorgeous original b/w-artworks throughout the book are amazing and thematically consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the softcover is most assuredly a nice book I'm glad to own.


Kaidan's concept was envisioned by Michael K. Tumey, penned by Jonathan McAnulty, with additional writing by the late and sorely missed Steven D. Russell - and all of these gentlemen did a fantastic job here. Kaidan is not a splat-book in disguise - it is an honestly amazing campaign setting oozing with detail; it is a campaign setting that is characterized perfectly by its exceedingly strong leitmotifs, by its internal consistency and the strong authorial vision that shaped the book. This does not try to accommodate Western tropes and mindsets where they don't fit, instead electing to concisely weave together elements into a whole that is infinitely more compelling than the sum of its parts. This is not the book to get when you're looking for high-powered options; the crunch, while solid, is not necessarily the draw here. This is a horror setting with a thoroughly disquieting, subtle sense of wrongness pervading the world, a tome that has tragedy and the creepy hardwired into its very fabric.


It is in the nature of the setting that I can't write "OMG; CHECK OUT THAT CR 40 OLD-ONE!!"; this is not about startling, about escalation - this setting is subtle in its horror, building dread and tension slowly without relying on cheap shocks. I tried hard to convey why I adore this setting the way I do, but it is hard to convey without representing the totality, as, much like in the weaving of real world myths, it is not simply a narrative that exists in a vacuum, but rather an organically-grown complex. It should be taken as a testament to the authors' respective prowess. In short: Kaidan is awesome. It is a great, inspiring read and if you even remotely are interested in Japanese horror, then this is a no-brainer. Even if you have never contemplated checking it out, this may well be a true breath of fresh air for you. As you may have gleaned, I adore this book. It is inspired and inspiring in all the right ways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook

8 July 2017 - 12:52pm
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
Visually, the entire book is laid out as if you were viewing an LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System) screen in the ST-NG era... quite beautiful and distinctive to look at but I always find white text on a dark backround a bit tiring on the eyes for any length of time. It's worth persevering though, the content has been put together by people who clearly love the Star Trek universe and want to bring it to life in the shared alternate reality that is your game.

After a beautiful star chart Chapter 1: Introduction welcomes you to the Star Trek universe and explains what the game involves. It explains that the default setting is 2371 (or perhaps we should say Stardates 48000-48999), but that it's quite possible to run games in other eras, be your favourite captain Kirk or Archer: all you need do is adjust technology and surroundings to suit. Advice is to be found in the Gamemaster material and in promised future supplements. There's mention of the dice and other materials that you will need, and an example of play that should get the idea across for anyone new to roleplaying.

Chapter 2: The United Federation of Planets serves as a detailed introduction to the universe, with particular attention paid to its history. The default is that the Dominion has just been discovered in the Gamma Quadrant, the Maquis are getting frisky in the Cardassian Demilitarised Zone and it's thought likely that the Borg will come back for a second attempt at assmiliating, well, everybody, but of course you can call a pause in the timeline whenever you want to adventure. We read of the major power blocs, complete with atmospheric 'intelligence reports' and other snippets such as diary entries, history lessons from Starfleet Academy professors and more which make it all come to life - and everything's written in a style that makes it suitable for in-character use. It's a neat way to tell the history of the universe.

Next, Chapter 3: Your Continuing Mission provides extensive details about Starfleet itself - organisation, the Prime Directive, the Academy, the sort of duties members undertake and what away teams do. Sidebars include a neat rationale about why uniform colours changed from command wearing gold and operations red in the time of Captain Kirk to the other way around in later years... it was actually due to the implied stigma of a 'red shirt' being most likely to die on an away misson or other dangerous circumstance! The explanation of the different sorts of duties and missions is fascinating and should help inform character creation and indeed adventure design.

Chapter 4: Operations follows. This explains the rules and game mechanics which govern play. As well as d20s and d6s, the system involves a special 'Challenge Die' which bears a special symbol (a sort of 'Starfleet arrow' based on the original series badge). There's an explanation of how to use an ordinary d6 instead - or you can buy Challenge Dice from the publisher Modiphius. We learn about the different things that can occur during play and about a system of Traits - short phrases or single words that describe a thing, a place or a person - which serve to convey what is and is not possible. Traits can be advantages or complications. A Task is a roll to determine the success (or otherwise) of an attempt to do something, and the character brings their innate Attributes and learned Disciplines to bear on the task, with their scores being used to determine the target number for the task (it might have made more sense if characters had been covered first rather than in the next chapter, but it's quite straightforward really). The GM then sets the Difficulty of the task, which tells you how many successes you need to roll to do whatever you are trying to do. A success occurs when you roll equal to or less than the target number. Then you get the dice out - at least 2d20 but you can roll more by use of various additional rules. It may sound a bit complex written out but it's slick in play once you have tried it a couple of times. The chapter goes on to explain various details like having appropriate equipment and other factors that can help or hinder you, how to deal with opposed tasks and so on. If you do exceptionally well in the die roll, you gain Momentum, a mechanic that gives you advantages at the time and/or later on, depending on how you choose to use the points. The GM has a complementary system called Threats. Things called Values and Directives may also come into play. Described properly in the next chapter, Values are statements about a person's attitude and drives, Directives apply to the mission - and hence to the entire party engaged in it.

On then to Chapter 5: Reporting for Duty. This covers a whole lot more than character creation, although that's the main gist of it, using as examples characters from the TV show - hopefully most readers will be familiar with them! Each character has six Attributes (Control, Daring, Fitness, Insight, Presence, and Reason), innate abilities that define them, and then get training in six Disciplines. While a character will specialise in one or more (and so have more points in it), Starfleet expects its officers to know at least something about everything. The Disciplines are Command, Conn, Engineering, Security, Science, and Medicine. Then it gets fun with a Lifepath Creation system that builds the character and his backstory at the same time, showing how, when and where he acquired his knowledge and skills. It does help if you have some idea of where you want to end up before you start, though! There's loads of detail to help you make all the choices required, starting with race and going through environment (the one you grew up in), upbringing, attending Starfleet Academy and subsequent career in Starfleet. All this results in a rounded character who has lived a full life even before play begins. The main focus is on Starfleet officers, but there are notes on created an enlisted character if that's what you prefer. There is also a novel alternate method of creating a character during play, where you part-create a few simple details and add the rest as the game proceeds. Different, but I think I prefer the Lifepath method.

Then Chapter 6: The Final Frontier talks about the universe itself, covering planets, alien encounters, stellar phenomena and scientific discoveries and developments. This is an overview, talking about characteristics and dangers, rather than detailing specific planets or aliens that can be encountered. It includes a delightful article entitled 'Zen and the Art of Warp Core Maintenance' which discusses how the science of Star Trek is either real or has been at least considered to be theoretically possible, and also shows how in-character research can be conducted.

This fascinating chapter is followed by Chapter 7: Conflict. This deals with a lot more than brawling (although combat is in there), covering any occasion in which two parties have different ideas about, well, anything and how the matter may be resolved. It provides a nuanced way to navigate through social conflict using a mix of role-play and die rolls. Naturally, there is extensive coverage of how to deal with situations in which combat breaks out, concentrating on melee (individual against individual). This is followed by Chapter 8: Technology and Equipment, which talks about what is available and how to use it. Should you wish to venture outside the mid-24the century default, this is the area in which the greatest changes will occur. It also covers details like how much people can carry as well as how to develop new items of equipment as and when they are required.

Star Trek is all about travelling the stars, exploration accompanies nearly all missions even if they have another goal, and so Chapter 9: A Home in the Stars looks at where the party might find themselves - primarily starships of course, but starbases and colonies are also examined. There's plenty of detail on starship operation and day-to-day life to help create a believable background. A note on planet-based games helps show how you can make life on a colony just as much an adventure as one based on a starship or starbase. This chapter also includes rules for starship combat and presents an array of Starfleet ships as well as some alien vessels. Combat between ships, as well as the more obvious concepts of manoeuvering and shooting at each other, also includes the management of power aboard ship, an added dimension... and of course there are the perils of warp core breaches and even abandoning ship.

We then move on to material of most use to the GM, beginning with Chapter 10: Gamemastering. Herein is a wealth of advice about running the game, staying on top of the rules and ensuring that the players' characters develop and grow over time. Some is general advice, useful whatever you're planning to run, but much of course is aimed specifically at Star Trek Adventures. There are ideas for adventure, guidance in managing character creation and notes on how to make the rules work to best effect. There's an interesting discussion on how Star Trek Adventures has a slightly different approach from many games, in this universe cooperation rather than conquest is the aim and while fights do break out, Starfleet prefers to obtain its objectives by more peaceful means. Belonging to a large - and hierarchical - organisation is also covered: the characters cannot become pawns following orders... but then, no-one would accuse Kirk or Picard of being a pawn! There's lots on the mix of creativity and mechanics that go into creating scenes, encounters, sub-plots and everything else that's going on, on pacing, and on creating missions, NPCs and the locations in which the action will take place (including a system for designing planets). A thoroughly useful chapter!

Then Chapter 11: Aliens and Adversaries takes you through the various opposing entities - the Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire, Borg Collective, Ferengi Alliance, Cadassian Union and the Dominion - as well as alien artefacts and all manner of beasties. There are example NPCs for each group (and for the United Federation of Planets), and there are nots on how to handle a player desperate to play a Klingon or a Ferengi... as well as details of what happens to those unlucky enough to be assimilated by the Borg!

Finally, Chapter 12: The Rescue at Xerxes IV provides a ready-made adventure to get you started. It's actually the first adventure from the massive 'living playtest' that was part of the game development process, and would make a good campaign starter or a one-off to introduce players to the game. It all starts with the characters in a runabout travelling to their new assignments...

Overall, this is a magnificent beginning to what has the potential to be a fine re-telling of the Star Trek story in game form. Your mission is, of course, to boldly go where no-one has gone before, and these rules will aid you in not only getting there but coming back to tell the tale!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Star Trek Adventures: Core Rulebook

7 July 2017 - 12:44am
Publisher: Modiphius
Rating: 5
Where do I even start? I knew of Star Trek before from some of the movies and a few of the original series and TNG episodes I’ve watched before, but I wasn’t really a fan. So when I got the preview pdf offer from Modiphius, I wasn’t certain I would understand the appeal of the game. But since I was sold on the 2d20 system from my experiences with Conan, I figured it can’t be that bad, right?

Fast forward to now and I’m practically gushing about the game mechanics to my long-suffering wife, who even now nods patiently in understanding while I type this out and she reads it over my shoulder.

**Art and Layout**

Fans of the aesthetic of Star Trek will find plenty to love here, with the layout mimicking the user interfaces of the ships. However, I have to admit that adjusting to reading white text on dark background on screen was a little difficult at times, and I found myself wishing for a black and white version for readability.

There are a few typos in my preview copy, but hopefully those will be dealt with by the time the final product rolls out in stores.

The artwork is pretty evocative, and I didn’t really cringe at any of them. The Starships are probably the highlight of it all, and I did find myself wondering why there weren’t any more images of Starfleet in more relaxed situations. There’s a lot of Starfleet guys running / shooting / dodging explosions, but you’d be surprised at how hard it was to find an image to go with the Social Conflict article.

**Mechanics**

This is a mechanics-heavy game that will take repeated exposure, careful reading and more than a few goofs to internalize. While the basic mechanics are easy enough to grasp, there’s a ton of subsystems to cater for different styles of play. GMs will have to spend a bit of time really studying the system to get the most of it. Hopefully this series of Let’s Study articles can help future GMs learn faster!

I found the ship combat to be pretty heavy, and I’ve yet to try it out to see how things turn out. It promises a lot of explosions and show-appropriate destruction, so I’m looking forward to it.

**Review and Conclusions**

Buy it.

If you can afford the collector’s edition, get that.

If you can afford the Borg Box, then by all means, get THAT.

Star Trek Adventures has made a fan out of me out of the sheer amount of love and care put into creating a game that delivers on the promise of playing through and experience that is true to the series. This isn’t D and D in space in Starfleet uniforms. Modiphius knows what it’s doing whenever it works with a licensed setting.

Every rule exists to enforce the physics and ethics of the setting. There’s not a sign of lazy game design anywhere here, with each rule and subsystem carefully considered before it was added to the final product.

My only concern, if any, would be the fact that it’s a big read with a fair amount of complexity. But if you’re willing to put in the time to go through it and understand the systems, you’ll see the elegance behind it.

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I also have a full review series covering all the chapters of the Star Trek Adventures RPG on my blog. If you're interested, you can read through them here: https://philgamer.wordpress.com/2017/06/22/lets-study-star-trek-adventures-introduction/

There's a handy list of links at the bottom of the introductory post to help you get to the rest of the chapter reviews.
Categories: Game Theory & Design