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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

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