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Other comments left for this publisher:
Underworld Classes: Psilocybist
by Martin T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/16/2014 11:29:03
The idea of a Mushroom based Prestige class was an interesting one and this class certainly adds to the abilities of someone who has the Mushroom Domain (which the character must have to take the class). The new Mushroom Domain spells are interesting, if slightly weird, and would certainly surprise PCs who came across an NPC who can cast them.

However buyers of this book should be aware that half of the book is an exact copy of the Mushroom Domain/Mushroom Golem sections of the ... Underworld Races - Funglet ... book and so purchasers of that book are effectively getting just 8 new pages of material (all about the new Prestige Class). Because of this I give the book only a 2 rating, even though if purchased by itself it would have a 4 rating.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Classes: Psilocybist
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Publisher Reply:
We would be remiss not reprinting the mushroom domain, given that it is so integral to both the psilocybist prestige class and funglet race! We\'re sorry you didn\'t think the artwork in the book was worth a few more stars, but are a bit confused; if this book is being bought by itself (we don\'t have a package deal for this and the funglet PDF, but we may soon!), why are you reviewing it in combination with a book from another series? Also, we are excited to hear what you think of the funglet book—please add a review for that as well! :D Thanks!
B20: For Rent, Lease, or Conquest
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/08/2014 06:26:38
Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/10/08/tabletop-review-for-ren-
t-lease-or-conquest-pathfinder/

With third party releases for Pathfinder, the bad tends to outweigh the good. Because so many companies just throw out things for Pathfinder without any sense of balance or quality control, the really good third party releases can get lost in the shuffle. This is doubly true for release with a sense of humour. They’re rare enough as it is, but to find a comedic adventure for Pathfinder that is also exceptionally well done, well, the old “needle in a haystack” cliché is more than apropos. That what makes me so glad I found and picked up “For Rent, Lease or Conquest.” The adventure is a lot of fun, it is as funny to play as it is to read through and it really shows that there is still originality and cleverness left in the Pathfinder market instead of a bunch of adventures that are little more than derivative dungeon crawls. For Rent, Lease or Conquest isn’t just one of the best Pathfinder adventures I’ve experienced this year, but it is one of the best adventures, regardless of system.

For Rent, Lease or Conquest is for four to five Level 7 characters. It is also compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and a few other OGL systems and as such it contains stats for both primary variants. The adventure is a direct sequel to a previous release from AAW Games entitled, Death & Taxes. I have neither read nor played that one so I can’t comment on its quality but I can say that For Rent, Lease, or Conquest is perfectly standalone and you do not need the previous adventure to make it work. The adventure contains multiple maps and all the antagonist/monster stats you will need to run the adventure, making it a rare Pathfinder product where you are not prompted to look through or purchase three or more other books besides the core rulebook(s). I love this. It’s a nod to how expensive and overwhelming Pathfinder can be and also keeping costs low for the potential purchaser of this adventure. Because this piece doesn’t require more than the core rulebook and the adventure itself, it’s a wonderful way for newcomers to experience Pathfinder. They get to play a mid-level character and see that not every adventure is “enter a dungeon, kill things for loot and repeat until dead or the mission is over.” This is exactly the type of piece I would use to introduce someone to Pathfinder, especially if their previous RPG experience was with a more thinking/less hack and slashy system.

For Rent, Lease or Conquest is a lot of things rolled up into one fantastic adventure. First it covers the issue of a guildhall or place for the adventurers to rest their feet. I remember when I was a kid, the biggest challenge in AD&D 2e was not playing the game, but what to do when you character leveled up enough to have followers and/or a keep to maintain. Sure it’s cool your Ranger attracted a Basilisk ally, but where will you guys stay when you’re not murdering dungeon inhabitants. You can’t live in hotels forever! In the case of this adventure players are given a simple hook. There is a large and impressive looking house in town that may be haunted. The local real estate agent wants it off her books for tax purposes. She can’t sell the thing, so she offers the PCs a deal – clear it out and it is theirs for free! Everyone wins. Of course the adventure won’t be that simple…

The second aspect of the adventure is that much of the piece mirrors the typical “haunted house” style dungeon crawl. These tend to work better in games like Ravenloft, Chill or Call of Cthulhu but that’s because those houses tend to actually be haunted with something. In the case of For Rent, Lease or Conquest, the house isn’t actually haunted. It’s filled with some unusual squatters and it was built by an eccentric sorcerer so it’s understandable by the local peasants assume something spooky dwells within the manor. Half the fun of the adventure is the house and its different denizens. What I really liked it that the focus isn’t on the usual hack and slash rigmarole that turns too many OGL adventures into generic trash. Sure combat is potentially plentiful, but the adventure is more about exploring and encounters. Most of the encounters can be solved by talking or using one’s wits instead of a blade. This is absolutely fantastic and a wonderful alternative that more adventures should offer. After all, the Bard’s gift of gab and the Paladin who put on their skill points into Diplomacy and other talking based skills are just going to waste otherwise! The inhabitants of the house are amusing, charming and memorable and are a wonderful example that not all sentient races look or think alike. The end result should be one that has players wistfully remembering this piece for months or years to come.

The third part of the adventure that I absolute love is the climax. After the PCs have solved the problem, some thugs have come to claim the house for themselves. After all, it’s worth a lot of money and property always goes up in value, especially when it is built by a famous architect. After all, you never know what inflation is going to do to those electrum pieces you’ve been storing under your bed AND there isn’t much of a concept of interest banking in fantasy RPGs. Now the roles reverse as the players can use the magic nature of the house (and its inhabitants) that once stymied them against the GM. Indeed, the roles of the PCs and GM switch at this point with the PCs configuring the layout of the house and its abilities to stop the invaders while the GM acts as the adventuring party, guiding the ne’er do wells through the house until they meet a gruesome or comedic end. This is such a wonderful breath of fresh air with this piece and it will surely be a highlight for everyone who plays it.

I think it’s pretty obvious that I can’t say enough good things about For Rent, Lease or Conquest. It’s original, innovative, imaginative and most of all – a lot of fun. This adventure shows you can have a good dose of comedy in a piece and yet still have it be something the players and their characters can take seriously. It’s smart, self-aware and is a perfect response to all the usual reasons people say they don’t enjoy Pathfinder. I can’t recommend this highly enough and it really is the best Pathfinder adventure of the year. Every third party company (and even Paizo to a degree) should consider this required reading on how to write an adventure that captivates rather than relying on standard tropes and generic dungeon crawls. Definitely a must have for any fan of the system.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B20: For Rent, Lease, or Conquest
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Underworld Races: Drow
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/08/2014 03:52:40
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!



We kick off this installment of the Underworld Races with a general subterranean origin-myth for the races that inhabit the lightless depth of Aventyr - which can, coincidentally, be introduced with relative ease into other settings. Now part of this myth is the origin of the most famous of subterranean, evil races - the drow. The dichotomy and splitting of the elven races takes a more classic turn in the example of Aventyr than in Golarion's take on being drow. The association with spiders and poison in the prominence of the Goddess Naraneus, a matriarchal society -all classic elements one may or may not like are in here.



In a nice twist, female and male drow receive different minor modifications to their skill sets and the favored class options provided are nice as well, though personally, I would have loved to see a gender-divide there as well. In a slightly problematic formatting decision, there are no new racial rules immediately following the header that announces them and we instead follow up with information on new equipment - either something got cut out here or the formatting is problematic.



Now drow receive some rather awesome alchemical items that massively influence the fighting styles of drow - from web shackles to webbing that may attach weapons via webbing to arms (great versus disarming or after throwing weapons) to the special ink and paper drow use make for cool options. Shadowy water that increases the potency of the stealthy drow, soldier's rations and mage hand-utilizing gloves.



A total of 6 racial feats provide drow with further tricks -requiring less sustenance, receiving bonuses versus a specific target who managed to elude your wrath, a grudge-feat versus surface elves and one to master feinting with drow weapons make for nice ideas - especially arachnid acrobatics is cool - for an acrobatics-check, the drow temporarily receives a climb speed - yes, spiderman would be jealous.



The pdf also provides a new domain, the drow domain - the domain abilities allow the cleric to sheathe weapons in negative energy and take damage to improve the senses of the cleric - which per se is a cool ability. Taking damage for improved sight is cool...alas, as soon as a drow is undead, this ability has the unintended consequence of being a free, unlimited, if slow, healing option. Granted, since the duration of the improved sight is tied to the damage taken, the sight component becomes nigh useless, but who'd care?



This domain also provides a grand total of 9 new exclusive spells that allow you to render targets flat-footed for one round, clothe yourself in shadow or step through the shadows and even provide some protection against light-based attacks. What about making high-level undead that retain some of the capabilities of the deceased's capabilities while they still had their mortal coil. The level nine spell is particularly nasty in the negative energy, ability damage and regular damage the spell deals - still (with leeching), the amount feels somewhat less than what I would have expected at ninth level - especially since the ribbons require touch attacks.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though a couple of bolding and similar minor glitches can be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The plentiful original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Mike Myler & Julian Neale's drow-sourcebook provides some nice options and especially the items herein can be considered truly awesome. The information on the society, items and some of the tricks the drow offer here are universally compelling and cool...but that being said, the domain just isn't inspiring. It's not bad, but neither is it glorious. While greatness can be found here, e.g. in the weapon webbing, the arachnid acrobatics etc., the pdf is a bit on the short end and for that; I do think that e.g. a glorious beast like the dvergr's underminer or similar truly mind-boggling content would have helped this pdf. As written, it is a good, if not particularly remarkable book on drow and well worth a final verdict of 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Races: Drow
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Underworld Races: Ahool
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/30/2014 05:56:12
An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This supplement clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We kick off this installment of the Underworld Races-series with an extensive history of the underworld's genesis -a subterranean origin myth, if you wish - from the banishment of the infernal forces of HEL in earth's core to the forging (and splintering) of the dwarven races to the rise and fall of the dracoprime and the arrival of the colloid (the contribution of your's truly to the lore of Aventyr) , we get an interesting, well-crafted origin myth here, one supplemented by a full blown-table of age, height and weight tables not only for the ahool, but for all underworld races.

After this general overview, we delve right into the write-up of the Ahool -so what are they? Demonic interaction with mortal races tends to spawn new species -and thus, the Ahool were born and from these did spawn the ahooling -a race of blood-drinking, vampiric humanoids. Ahoolings get +2 Str and Cha, -2 Int, are monstrous humanoids, SR 6+class level, darkvision 60 ft, resistance 5 to sonic and cold, a natural bite attack at 1d4 as a primary weapon, get +4 to fly-checks thanks to vestigial wings (which can become full-blown wings via the racial paragon class) and suffer from light blindness.

Apart from their moss caverns, the race also receives a significant amount of favored class options, which generally tend to be rather cool and cover most of the classes. However, a glitch has crept here in the option for the fledgling ahool racial paragon class: The FCO specifies that the race receives +2 ft. fly speed, which needs to be increments of 5 ft to work - so far, so good. But weirdly, the FCO mentions that there's no effect if it has not been selected 5 times, which contradicts how the FCO works movement-rate wise - so which is it? Minimum increments totalling 5ft or 10 ft.? Clarification would be required here.

We also receive two so-called racial archetypes, which essentially constitute of a select array of alternate racial trait-kits that can be applied to the ahooling - the Terrestrial and the Aquatic Ahooling - both receive change shape effects and alternate movement rates. Most interesting, though, would be the modularity that seeps into the racial paragon class - the racial archetypes influence the apotheosis granted by the class.

Now I've been mentioning this 5-level PrC, which nets full BAB-progression, good ref- and will-saves, d10, grants and increases fly speed up to 60 ft., 2+Int skills per level, +3 natural armor bonus and the class allows the race to learn to blood drain, receive claws as secondary attacks and also learns to unleash obscuring mists, gusts of wind and finally receive a kind of apotheosis towards being closer to a full-blown ahool. They also receive a couple of appropriate proficiencies and the option to unleash a limited amount of sonic blasts on foes..

The ahooling may also opt for the Ironsinger PrC, which nets a 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 fort-save progression, +5 natural armor bonus progression and also DR 4/- over the 10 level-progression. The class also receives d8, 4+Int skills per level and increase the damage output of the sonic blasts granted by the fledgling racial paragon class. Beyond an array of thematically appropriate spell-like abilities, dazing and staggering sonic attacks and a capstone that lets them force targets to save multiple times to evade the lethal sonics.

Beyond these options, we also receive a total of 7 racial feats to improve bite attacks, flight and swoop down on foes, inspiring terror or reading information from the blood of those they consume. Speaking with bats and gaining fiendish familiars is also covered here.
On the glorious side, a moss rope and net and bloodflow staunching moss make for cool alchemical items, whereas 3 magical items and 3 spells add further, nice options - throwing darts of obsidian that damage those without natural armor trying to use them, or the cool ahool crown make for neat items.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from some italicization errors. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Mike Myler and Julian Neale deliver a great race that is high concept and intriguing - but alas, one that partially falls short of the great promise of the race's concept - the revised edition has completely cleaned up the confusion of the ahooling's flight and while the FCO-glitch persists, this greatly enhances one's ability to use this race: First of all, unassisted flight no longer is generally available for the base race. Beyond that, while I do consider the base race's racial traits a tad bit too strong, with especially the low SR being unnecessary, the fact that the race can't lower the SR makes the playing experience interesting. We have a significant improvement over the first iteration of the pdf and while the race is a bit on the strong side, it is not broken per se. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Races: Ahool
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Underworld Races: Dvergr
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2014 08:33:28
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let's take a look!



We kick off this installment of the Underworld Races with a general subterranean origin-myth for the races that inhabit the lightless depth of Aventyr - which can, coincidentally, be introduced with relative ease into other settings. Now part of this myth is the genesis of the dwarven races, of which the dvergr would be one - to be more precise, the race is most in line with the dueragr base race, though it is modified further with some minor skill modifications.



The dour, aggressive dvergr also benefit from quite an array of diverse favored class options, quite a few of which utilize an interesting distinction in that they represent the xenophobic frame of mind of the dvergr by being explicitly efficient against the Upperworlders. The FCOs, all of them, actually are rather neat - no complaints here.



Beyond these, we receive perhaps one of the most ambitious archetypes I've seen in quite a while with the Underminer cavalier archetype. While the archetypes' first columns lack the bolding of some ability-names/restrictions. The archetype per se is all about dire badgers and similar burrow speed utilizing mounts - now the great thing here, would be, that the archetype actually may not only carry the underminer cavalier below the surface, the archetype also provides an interesting mechanics to cover carrying passengers with the cavalier on the bumpy ride - so yeah, the tunnel may collapse soon after, but this class makes for some glorious scenes...and if you can't imagine a scenario where this will be awesome, drop me a line and I'll give you some ideas. Burrowing trampling and erupting from the ground as part of a charge (including rather painful potentials for being caught in mini-cave-ins), generating difficult terrain and yes, even concise rules for wrecking structures can be found among the arsenal of these badger-powered subterranean tank-like beasts.



We also receive quite an array of cool of items with aerodynamic picks, special grappling bolts and the deadly ambersticks (essentially alchemical dynamite) and 6 new racial feats allow dvergr to dwell in their xenophobia and further enhance their hatred for upperworlders. Special tricks to avoid ending up in a bury zone and options for throwing picks for a unique fighting style between melee and throwing.



Goggles that help underminers and similar characters with the tremor sense they grant and darkvision/x-ray-vision granting spyglasses can also be found within these pages, as can a spell to detect dwarves, one to escape to the surface by following gleaming motes of light and one that generates a superbly effective collapse.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches, though a couple of bolding and similar minor glitches can be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous two-column full-color standard with rocky borders and awesome graphic elements, making this a beautiful, if not very printer-friendly pdf. The plentiful original pieces of full color artwork throughout the pdf are nice. The pdf also comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Miek Myler and Julian Neale's Underminer is one absolutely glorious archetype and the items, alchemical and magical plus spells make for a great supplemental material. The dvergr's origin myth and glimpses into their xenophobic society make for a great read - and the top-notch production values make this a gorgeous pdf to read. That being said, while there are a couple of minor formatting glitches, this would still qualify for the highest of ratings, but on the downside - we could have used more information on dvergr society...and generally, more content. If you strip away the general myth you may know from other Underworld races-pdfs, one has to concede that a couple of more pages of content would have been nice indeed. Due to the relative brevity and the cosmetic glitches, I'll settle on a final verdict of 4 stars - if the archetype even remotely interests you, be sure to check this out.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Races: Dvergr
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B19: Tower of Screaming Sands
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/11/2014 08:39:27
A simple and straightforward adventure: the party comes across an old abandoned tower deep in the desert and venture inside to loot it... or is it so simple?

The book starts with the adventure background, detailing how the tower - bored within an obsidian monolith rather than built stone by stone - came to be and telling the story of the deranged yet powerful wizard who made his home and last refuge here. Whilst the nature of the adventure is such that it can be incorporated into any suitable desert journey, several 'hooks' are provided to get the party headed in the right direction if you prefer that approach.

First, of course, they have to get there. Deserts are not safe places to travel in what with the heat, natural hazards and hostile wildlife... and some good advice is provided for running desert journeys which you'll want to hang on to for any time your players take it into their heads to have a desert trip. It's recommended that you use a mix of random encounters as well as the three provided, and that you keep the players interested by keeping time fluid, glossing over the long hours of plodding and highlighting encounters. Do not forget that the environment can be as much of an enemy as any monster - heat, thirst, the weather and the lack of landmarks can all take their toll on even well-prepared parties.

The encounters provided (by the way, there are THREE encounters, don't get confused by two of them being headed 'Encounter Two'!) give a good mix of excitement: with natural hazards, monsters and a nomad tribe to deal with. It's not all combat, interaction and thinking things through also play their part.

Provided the party survives mostly intact, they will eventually arrive at the tower. It may be by chance, or they may be here because of one of the hooks - or even after talking to the nomads during their journey. Here, there's a wealth of information to aid you in running this, the main part of the adventure - including two options that make things decidedly more stressful and potentially deadly for the characters.

The place is full of traps! Now, the background makes it clear why this is so, but it will not be obvious to the party - as some players do not care for lots of traps you may wish to consider if this is the right adventure for them, but you know your group... Many are deadly, so beware. There is loot to be had, so many groups will find it worth the risk.

The tower boasts three levels, and as well as the traps there are plenty of other threats, mostly undead. If run as a one-shot, having a cleric and a rogue in the party will be advantageous. The top level is the lair of the original creator of the dungeon and provides the scene for the climactic battle... one which must be won if the party is to escape alive.

The usual high standard of presentation from AAW is displayed, with copious amounts of information well-organised in colourful blocks that make it clear what's what: read-aloud text, information, trap mechanics, monster notes, skill checks and so on. This makes the adventure very easy to run, although like most some study beforehand would be a benefit. Appendices provide the mechanics for encounters in detail, using both Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rulesets.

Overall this is a good 'classic' dungeon crawl with lots to do and see, a good challenge for the intended level of party with the focus mostly on trap-solving and combat. An exciting time should be had by all!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B19: Tower of Screaming Sands
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B18: Three Faces of the Muse
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/30/2014 06:47:11
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 51 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 46 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Before we begin, I should mention that this is an adventure review and as such contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.



All right, still here? Okay, first of all, all you history and art-buffs out there, especially those with some knowledge in Renaissance art and the greats will have a field day here: Imagine a vast cathedral, where an artist called Michello, known for his superb magical crafting prowess died while making his epic fresco. Remind you of something? Yeah.



Now in a fantasy world, that wouldn't be too big of an issue - alas, the cathedral has since been haunted by strange phenomena and the artist's soul remains lost. Enter the PCs, as they explore the massive cathedral - fully mapped and coming with player-friendly maps, btw. And these renaissance-style drawings reminiscent in style and execution of DaVinci's famous drawings are simply AWESOME, even for the high standards of AAW Games.



Now while the goal is clearly defined in the resuscitation of Michello, in order to succeed, the PCs will have to brave the cathedral, which proves to be surprisingly deadly - choirs of madness-inducing allips (complete with sample insanities) and various, cool foes make for a challenging if not exceedingly lethal first part. Where the module becomes thoroughly awesome is with the second act - turns out, an asura called Aprame-Vara-Dharme, muse of Michello, has (kind of) claimed the artist's soul. Via some detective work and clues, the PCs will find that taking the pigments and completed brush of Michello to finish the fresco.



Upon completion, the PCs have to venture into the thus opened demiplane in one of the most iconic scenes I've read in a while and brave the dangers of the Elysian fields and vanquish diverse, weird threats and finally the asura to free the soul of Michello. The module also provides an xp-per-encounter run-down and a new item as well as statblocks for both D&D 3.5 and PFRPG for the challenges herein.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a drop-dead, gorgeous 2-column full-color standard, testament to Joshua Gullion's prowess and talents - they will be sorely missed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks and the cartography by author Michael Allen is superb and fits the module's theme.



Wow. Even by AAW Games' standards, this module is one glorious blast - the encounters are inspired, the theme is uncommon, the hints and nudges towards real life are there, but unobtrusive and not distracting at all and the added twist of the fate of Michello and the cool villain make for an overall cool experience. Now if you've read "Gallery of Evil" - this is essentially superior in just about every way. It's smarter, the encounters are more diverse and the second act is just weird in all the right ways. Author Michael Allen delivers in spades here - this is a great module and worth every cent. We need more unique modules of this quality - 5 stars + seal of approval: A module not only for art and history buffs, but also for everyone who looks for a thematic change of pace and truly iconic imagery.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B18: Three Faces of the Muse
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Rise of the Drow
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2014 02:56:46
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive tome of a module is 494 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page designer signatures, 1 blank page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 5 pages ToC,2 pages of SRD, 2 pages of backer-lists, 12 pages of advertisements (all in the back), 1 page back cover, leaving us with 469 pages of content...that's A LOT, so I'll better get going!



First, let me preface this review with a disclaimer: I reviewed the original Rise of the Drow-trilogy back in the day, and it already was a very good array of modules then. When this kickstarter happened, I was asked to be a stretch-goal and I agreed. I did receive compensation for my contribution to this book, small as said contribution may have been - an ecology (I'll point out in the review) was penned by me, but I had no influence over any other part of this book. I do not consider my judgment in any way compromised and if you've been following me, you'll have noticed that I'm just as adept at criticizing my own work, so yeah - this book, if anything does not get an easier standing with me. Still, full disclosure in regards like this is a necessity to maintain my integrity. If you are still in doubt, feel free to check my original reviews for the trilogy, posted quite some time before even the announcement of the kickstarter that made this book to verify this.



Next up, since this is an adventure-review, here's the warning - the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should definitely jump to the conclusion.



Still here? All right!



If you're familiar with "Descent into the Underworld", Part I of the original Rise of the Drow trilogy, then you'll realize one thing from the get go - you get your money's worth in this tome. The AAW crew has NOT skimped on the art budget, quite the contrary - from a one-page panorama of the starting village of Rybalka to the copious amounts of artworks in lavish detail (and color!), this is more than the sum of its constituent parts - take the keep the PCs are to investigate in the beginning - its whole surrounding area has now been properly mapped and expanded to include some gruesome remnants of the ancient fields of battle - including a couple of rather deadly creatures stalking the place...Have I mentioned that chaotic remnants of magic infusing the area (in case screaming skulls and diseased, mad treants did not drive home the point that this is unpleasantville...) or the rather problematic new residents of the keep?



From a panicked "prisoner" (you'll see...) to the exploration of the creepy place, the PCs have a neat array of threats ahead of them - and intelligence to gather. Rather nice here would be the module actually taking into account that the PCs probably will (and should!) regroup at the village sooner or later - if only to do some legwork. The exploration of the dungeon beneath the keep has also been upgraded with a much needed (and useful!) place - a kind of teleport nexus (hard to use, but players probably will find a way...) of a cabal of drow/undead, the so-called ossuary collaborative. Here, people knowing the original trilogy will look a bit puzzled: Yes, Yul, the nasty drow mhorg can still the "boss" of this dungeon - but the AAW-crew took one of my gripes with the original trilogy, the relative weak tie-in of the first module with the rest, and slew two brutes with one stone - the PCs receive powerful gifts from a mysterious drow female as they explore the complex - the lady Makinnga seems to be looking for an alliance and her extremely powerful items indeed are nothing to scoff at...plus, this alliance may be a shadow of the things to come for your players.



Exploring successfully the dungeon beneath the keep, the PCs are next off to a trip into the bowels of the earth, the wondrous realm called underdark. Or rather, in AAW Games' setting Aventyr (Norwegian for adventure, btw.), the world called underworld - and no, you won't (yet!) find Lethe or the like, but seriously - this is a world in itself. One of my grand disappointments with most 2nd and 3rd edition underdark/world-supplements of our game and, to a lesser extent, Pathfinder, is the lack of claustrophobia, of wonder, of strange horizons unconquered. The good ole' Dungeoneer's Survival Guide, one of the best resources I've ever read, is a rare exception to this - and the second module of the series garnered high praise from me initially, trumping the whole Second Darkness AP in one fell swoop. So AAW could have just left that alone. They didn't - they vastly expanded the whole section. Not only do we get tables of underworld hazards the players will have to adapt to, random and special encounters to face while the explore the vast network of tunnels - this time, they get to save a dwarven caravan from drow raiders and then, explore the vastly expanded dwarven city of Embla. Studded with crystalline Gonjolas, fully mapped and vastly expanded to provide a vast political panoply for exploration, interaction etc. - all while maintaining believability. What do I mean by that? Fungus farms, trade routes - the city feels alive, realistic and still thoroughly fantastic. Embla was great before, but ultimately only a grandiose backdrop - now, it's a vast sandbox to expand, develop and play in - complete with a creation myth, prices for beard-jewelry and trimming (YES!!! Now if that ain't dwarven, what is?), notable NPCs, different stores, taverns, banks and even a recipe for dwarven bread. Now, if your players don't bite, you can guide them through the story-threads rather easily here, but I literally, for my life can't imagine a group of players who wouldn't at least be intrigued by this strange place.



Beyond Embla, a short primer of some interest for the city of Stoneholm (tangential to the module - just there if your players want to check it out - now that's detail!) also can be found herein. While in Embla, the PCs will have to thwart an assassination attempt on the ruling council of the mercantile dwarves (after they've been thoroughly introduces into the intricacies of dwarven hospitality) and then, follow one of three paths to pursue in the aftermath of the drow's cowardly attempt at destroying the back-bone of the dwarves. Or at least, 3 paths are assumed and depicted - overall, the whole chapter is mostly written as a sandbox and thus offers quite an array of tough choices - two of which, though, have dire consequences: Returning to Rybalka to warn the village will see Embla fall to the drow and the PCs consequently will have to navigate either the ruins of the gorgeous city or avoid it altogether - sample encounters and the like are provided. A direct assault on the city is also possible, especially if your players are all about kicking the door in, murder-hobo style - and the battle indeed will be epic. The most detailed of the 3 paths, though, and the one the players should imho choose for maximum enjoyment, would be the one to Holoth's back entrance.

This choice will also change the final adventure in the trilogy, mind you. But back to the exploration trip through the wilderness. This trip, in the original, constituted the very best in underworld wilderness I've seen in ANY Pathfinder module. That was before the addition of the dreadful underworld dragon Nidh-Cthon and his demesne Jorumgard. And before the addition of Venthin's Hold, a truly despicable, extremely dangerous city hidden in the bowels of the earth, where no appetite, no matter how depraved, may be satisfied or the caves of the bat-like humanoids, the ahool. This would also be a good time to mention that the settlements get full settlement statblocks. And then, a gorgeous one-page illustration of a fungus jungle starts with what can be considered a herbarium of giant fungi of the underdark - what for example about a giant fungus that makes perception checks easier when adjacent due to its funnel-like shape? What about moonlight-like-radiance emitting mushrooms that imbue powers to e.g. reverse gravity to those drinking parts of the shrooms in alcohol. Especially impressive here - all fungi and molds herein get their very own full-color artworks (most including a humanoid figure as a frame of reference) and beyond these plants and wondrous hazards, mycelosuits are also introduced. These suits can essentially give you a mushroom suit that coats most of your body, rendering you weird, but also providing some very cool bonuses.

Plus: Seriously, how awesome is walking around covered in a weird suit of fungal fibre? Especially if the fungal suit constantly ejects tendrils and he like to propel you forward in e.g. forested environments? Oh, and then there would be the mushroom domain - one of my favorite domains currently available for Pathfinder. Why? Because you learn to generate explosive caps and kill your foes with force damage dealing mushroom caps. Not cool enough yet? What about entering shrooms and exiting through the same species? Or about the array of exclusive spells introduced? What spells? Well, what about fusing your legs with a mushroom and ride it? No, really. There's a spell here that fusing a hopping shroom to your feet, making you ignore difficult terrain and nigh invincible against most combat maneuvers, but also providing a severe hindrance to your spellcasting? Yes, picture it. Glorious. Especially if you evoke carnivorous shrooms erupting from the floor to eat foes?



What about special weather conditions like fungi sweat and spore storms? Yeah - and then there would be the new, superb map of the fungal jungle and the already by now (at least in my game) cult mushroom harvesting mini-game, with a cool makeover. Oh, and the jungle itself has MUCH more going on inside as well... This section of the module was great before - it's stellar now. Here is also a good place to note one of the smartest layout decisions I've seen in a while: Each of the 3 parts has its own, distinct, unique and gorgeous layout in full color. And I'm not saying the following due to Joshua Gullion (also known as fellow reviewer KTFish7 and a true friend) being responsible: The layout in this book is friggin' Paizo-level, depending on personal preferences even beyond that. Each of the various styles used just is stunning, complements well the full color illustrations and is just downright gorgeous. My girl-friend is professionally involved in layout and LOVES what he's done here - even though she usually has only complaints regarding my RPG-books. Better yet - the herbarium gets its own distinct layout - and in the context of this vast tome, that means if you just want to use the fungal jungle rules, you can immediately see where the section starts - flip it open, done. The same holds true for the 3 modules etc. - rendering this tome rather user-friendly. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I say that the layouts used here are among the most beautiful I've ever seen.



That out of the way - I know what you want to hear about - the vast drow city of Holoth and what is going on there. Well, let's start with a cohesive and concise gazetteer to the city - including detailed houses, power-structure, produce etc., allowing a DM to portray a very vivid depiction of the place. Each noble house (including two shadow houses)gets a full write up to inspire DMs further/expand the place, while each member of the main antagonist-house of Gullion actually gets a massive, full background story - making them come alive and potentially offering smart PCs way to use/trick/defeat the opposition. Speaking of which - roleplaying opportunities to strike deals with demons or devils, staging a slave revolt against dinosaur-riding drow taskmasters.



Chaos reigns in the city of Holoth, as the drow and the vidre wage war around the central fortress containing the dread artifact Vidrefacte - and to stop the threat once and for all, they will have to navigate the spider-shaped temple of the drow and enter via the temple Tolgrith tower. Here, the level of detail has once again been upped significantly - what about a 1-page table of quasi-magical herbs, all with different effects for one or 3 doses? Favorites like the mosaic tile golem or the book golem also make a triumphant return to form here. And the PCs better hurry, for each effect of the vidrefacte demands the power of souls to fuel it - and life is cheap in the underdark. Literally every day the PCs dawdle costs between 200 and 500 HD of creatures their lives...Yes, these drow are capital "N" Nasty genocidal megalomaniacs... If the PCs are smart, though, they'll return to an alliance with the undead-affine Makinnga that, via her magic and items might have helped them time and again (and is a great way to keep players on track): She proposes an alliance to destroy the vidrefacte: If the PCs can get 3 personal items from each family member, Makinnga can use her talents to distract that family member...and delay the collapse of the tower upon destruction of the artifact. The PCs have to essentially create their own ticking clock in the end and are responsible for what happens - greed for magical items versus survival instinct - brilliant. And the PCs better damn well heed this advice and alliance, unless they're buffed up and maxed out to the brim. Why? Because the tower and its foes are BRUTAL. We're talking Frog God Games level, mixed with TPK Games-style boss battles. What do I mean by that? Navigating the tower is brutal in itself - but in order to stop Matron Mother Maelora, the PCs will also have to escape the friggin' demplane of venom (now fully depicted and containing one of the most iconic boss battles I've seen in ages!) and final defeat the mastermind of the genocidal drow in a massive, chaotic free-for-all that lets them reap the benefits of their deeds and puts them in direct confrontation not only with the matron mother, but also her strongest allies and the dread vidre in a deadly free-for-all of epic proportions. A round-to-round breakdown helps the DM track all the complex interactions here and then, the collapse of the tower makes for a truly deadly escape - and, as for magic and the like - unlike most high-level modules, this one actually takes teleportations, flying and similar escape tricks into account and provides sensible explanations why the PCs should better damn well run on their own two legs...



Escaping from a city in chaos, the PCs will probably never, ever forget how deadly those damn drow are...and if even my players did so with PCs either fallen or severely battered and bruised, they still talk about the original module in reverent tones. This one is even better. So go figure! Different results, different end-game scenarios...all provided here...though, if you're like me, you want to go for the high-level epilogue module next!



Beyond the epic modules (at this point, we're on page 394 of the book!), we get the ecology of the enigmatic vidre, written by yours truly. I'm, of course, biased as to how this turned out, so feel free to tell me whether you liked it and why/why not! (And yes, I managed to point towards Rogue Genius Games great research rules in this one as an optional rule...) and also have a strange affliction and power components (inspired by Rite Publishing's 101 Special Material and Power Components) in here, though you need neither book to (hopefully!) enjoy the article.



Now not all is great in here - I'm e.g. no fan of the new drow domain - I consider its crunch somewhat flawed - gaining sight-based powers for negative energy damage falls apart with undead casters immediately and the other spells provided here didn't blow me away either - so this one is a definite "pass" for me. Then again, there is the gloriously whacky (or disturbing, depends on how you play it!) mushroom domain, so one flop, one top evens out for me. We also get a handy page of general drow traits for both 3.5 and PFRPG for the DM and then are off to the crunchy bits, i.e. the statblocks of the creatures and NPCs herein, provided for both Pathfinder and 3.5, each with its own index for convenience's sake and easy navigation - nice!

.



Here, let me go on a slight tangent: AAW's modules provide statblocks for two systems that are related, but distinct and different - and both have in common, that their details eat up space. 60 pages of 3.5 stats, 64 PFRPG-stats. This means that you probably won't use the stats of the other system, right? Well...it actually depends. Personally, for example, I HATE how PFRPG weakened the Demilich. I'm taking the 3.5 statblock of that one over the PFRPG-equivalent and make a conversion of it - and having the statblock already done helps here. Perhaps that's just me, but I actually like how this results in alternative builds available for a minimum of work. Plus: Take a look at the page-count. Even sans using the statblocks of one system, this tome still clocks in at a massive 400+ pages. That's a lot of material.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch - while any book of this size will sport a lonely glitch here and there, the overall book is surprisingly error-free. Now I've already gushed about the drop-dead gorgeous, superb layout. I'll do so again - It adheres to beautiful, stunning two-column standards and each of the different styles used is beautiful in its own right. Then there would be the artwork. I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that this is one of the most art-intense 3pp-books I#ve seen so far, with quite an impressive array of "show, don't tell" full-color pieces that are simply stunning and, at one glance, help immerse the players in the epic. The pdf comes with a vast array of bookmarks, indexes for statblocks and the different layout styles further help with navigation. Kudos! Now, as you know if you've ever purchased an AAW-module, the cartography by Todd Gamble and Jonathan Nelson, quite extensive and improved from the already great original pieces, is simply stunning. As per the writing of this review, I don't yet have the hardcover in my hands, so commenting on the quality of the binding, paper etc. is not yet possible. HOWEVER, I do own quite a bunch of AAW-print modules and they have in common that they use high-quality paper, glossy covers etc. - production values of a top-notch level beyond what I usually get when purchasing print.



When I reviewed the original trilogy and when the kickstarter was announced, Jonathan Nelson and the whole AAW-crew told me, they'd make this book a full-blown 5-star + seal of approval beast. Big promises indeed and, to be honest, I was somewhat skeptical - the original trilogy worked well and had its glorious moments, but it also had some severe weaknesses regarding tying the modules together and some minor logic bugs. These are gone. Now you may not realize this in the beginning, with the start being rather slow and relatively linear, but this is not only a huge, sandboxy module, this is the most expansive underworld/underdark-sourcebook I've read in ages.



The second half of the "Second Darkness" AP, back in the day, felt somewhat soulless to me - yes, the underdark depicted there was strange, had deadly creatures and cool hazards and the finale rocked. But it, at least to me, felt like a big kind-of-dungeon. It didn't feel like a cohesive, huge world, with its own rules, culture, flora, politics. Yes, it was a HUGE step up from 3.5's exceedingly boring slugfest "City of the Spider-Queen", but still - to me, it fell short: Of the level of detail I expected, of actual believability. Perhaps that's just the scholar in me, but there are many components to making fantastical settings work and the underworld should elicit wonder, this slack-jawed awe, this feeling you're not in Kansas anymore and have entered a world governed by strange rules and convention different from the surface world.

Rise of the Drow manages to pull this off. The AAW-crew has an uncanny knack for crafting believable, unique cultures, social norms and the like and the places and their inhabitants depicted herein adhere triumphantly to this tradition, with the guest-authors Brian Berg, Christina Stiles, Jason Stoffa, Joshua Gullion, Kevin Mickelson, Mike Myler, Owen K.C. Stephens, Will Myers, Chris Bayes, Curtis Baum, Justin Andrew Mason, Michale Allen, Rory Thomas, Todd Gamble and Steven Helt (and yours truly, at least I hope so!) bringing their A-game to the table and add their talents to the basic frame crafted by Stephen Yeardley and Jonathan Nelson. Most surpisingly here - the narrative cohesiveness of the voices of the narrative and the book - too many authors ften result in disjointed prose, something thankfully absent here. Oh, and take a look at this list - notice something? Yeah, that's pretty close to a veritable who's who of great game-designers, with several publishers among them.



As a vast module, Rise of the Drow manages to weave a vision of drow as efficient, deadly adversaries to be feared indeed, with so much going on, so much additional material and level of detail, that I can almost guarantee that no two groups will play this vast module in the same way. Want to go linear, run this like an AP? No problem. Want your players to explore and truly get into the meat (or rather: rhizome!) of the underworld and go full-blown sandbox? No problem either. Your players start experimenting with magical spices? There you go, full blown table of unique effects. In fact, the only module that came close to this in structure (but not in detail) would be the legendary, unavailable closed patron project "Empire of Ghouls" by Kobold Press, then Open Design, which reigned supreme since I managed to get my hands on it as my all-time favorite underworld module. Where I'm getting at is: I can't, with all the modules I've read, for the life of me, mention a single underworld-module in any iteration of a d20-based system that would be on par with this beauty. Mind you, that from someone who is actually rather sick of the drow as adversaries.



Now don't get me wrong, this book surely isn't perfect. here and there, certain magic items or effects could have used a slight streamlining and not all supernatural effects the PCs will encounter have the crunch detail to e.g. dispel them...but personally, as much as you'll be stunned to hear his...I like this decision. Why? Because thinking of 2nd ad 1st edition, there were so many cool terrains, weird magical effects, strange phenomena - all not codified with caster levels and the like. And honestly, in some cases I think the game is better off that way. Magic, when pressed in too tight a corset, ceases to be magic and becomes a science, something you can study and predict. Now, before prospective adventure authors start grinning: No, I have not lowered my standards, for where it is necessary, where it is feasible (i.e. in the vast majority of cases), the module actually uses spells, effects etc. and provides all of this information. And personally, I don't think I need harvesting DCs or a check to but mushroom fragments into a bottle of alcohol and dissolve it. This beast of a sourcebook/module is exceedingly detailed, but in a matter that makes sense. It leaves room for the strange to be strange. And overall, the crunch felt more refined than e.g. the at times problematic supplemental crunch used in e.g. Razor Coast.



It also offers a cornucopia of uncommon ideas, one of the best final fights (and penultimate bosses), a glorious mini-game, takes the capabilities of the high-level PCs into account, offers freedom sans losing its track. And while I probably won't run the saga again now, I will do one thing - scavenge the hell out of this book. The impressive amount of improved and new content makes this a great purchase even for those that own the original trilogy. I'm going so far as to suggest this being a truly worthwhile purchase even as a kind of regional sourcebook to plug and play in your game- you won't find an underworld-sourcebook of this quality anywhere else.



I already went into the pricing (this book is not cheap), but honestly, one look at the page-count (even minus the statblocks of the system you won't use) shows you why I still consider this great: To give you a relation - Razor Coast, another massive premium content sandbox, has a rather ill-fated, ineffective "build-your-own-AP"-chapter that confused me and almost ruined the whole experience for me. Said chapter of Razor Coast took up 100 of the 500+ pages and some less-than-perfect crunch ate more pages from the otherwise superb tale of colonialism and dark fantasy pirate-mega-module. What I actually used in both Rise of the Drow and Razor Coast is approximately on par, with Rise of the Drow even winning by a margin. So yeah, in relation to one another, I think the price for this massive, full-color premium book is damn justified.



So let's sum up my ramblings: This is the best currently available underdark sourcebook to scavenge ideas from, a glorious sandbox, an epic module with a furious climax and extremely high production values in the layout, art and cartography-departments to boot that fuses the sense of old-school underworld-exploration wonder and level of detail with a pressing, action-paced new-school approach and manages to please both my old-school sensibilities and my craving for cinematic, epic new-school scenery. This is a massive accomplishment and the measure by which all future underdark/underworld modules will be judged. It also is a no-brainer 5-star+seal of approval-book and a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014 - no matter whether you run this or just scavenge its pieces: This verdict holds true even if you never want to run this and just take components for your own game. Once the print copy arrives, it will get an honored place next to my copies of Slumbering Tsar, Rappan Athuk, my Midgard Campaign Setting and Coliseum Morpheuon as one of the books that defined Pathfinder modules for me. Have I mentioned I really, really don't like drow anymore?

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow
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Rise of the Drow Epilogue: The Commander of Malice
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2014 02:53:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The ultimate finale of Rise of the Drow clocks in at 69 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement (in the monster statblock sections - annoying if you print them out), 2 pages of SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 61 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



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



All right, still here?

The war against teh drow is over, matron mother Maelora defeated. Oh those villains...so high level, yet so stupid...Or not. Sometimes, evil mastermind have something called "backup plan", as befitting of their mental attributes. So does the Matron of House Gullion. In order to defeat her, the PCs will have to track her down in her deity's home turf, the demiplane of venom. The module kicks off with an interesting little puzzle to recreate the portal before the module kicks off - and it will strike the PCs as weird - PCs just won't die. They stabilize at -9 hp. If they die and are lft behind, they return mysteriously, find strange healing draughts...but this all part of the master plan and is tracked by the DM via a specific table. More on that later.



The first arrival area is still relatively straight-forward, with a relatively simple puzzle to escape the section - which becomes a very interesting beast indeed, as Maelora escapes through a cube-like teleport maze full of deadly adversaries and no respite - to vanquish this extremely deadly place, its vast array of new creatures (which include btw. venom demons, colossal advanced spider zombies with more than 700 Hp and the dread spite spitters and venomwights...) and sheer endless onslaught of deadly foes, the only way for the players is to use their brains in a rather unique piece of abstract thinking - which personally, I love. Have I mentioned the fact that the venomous water slowly sears and saps away the PC's strength alongside the war of attrition of the adversaries. It shoudl also be noted that the planar labyrinth, which remains rather complex, gets individual maps for quite an array of the rooms to follow - why? Because these areas are complex, as are their challenges - titan bards with bad poetry, cannon golems, Despairs (the remnants of powerful adventurers defeated on a plane foreign to their alignment - and potentially the fate of the PCs...), a mighty drow malefactor (see TPK Games' great class, all necessary information included)/ warped-weaver in 3.5 and finally, vanquish Maelora, transformed into a spider-like dark angel hyper-monstrosity of no less than CR friggin' 23. Worst stat: 20. Yeah, ouch. Rather awesome - mind-blowing bad-ass one-page handout-style artwork of the mistress.



The encounters have their own index and just about all new creatures get their own full color artworks.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color 2-column standard and the module come with copious pieces of great original full-color artwork as well a a ton of cool cartography. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Stephen Yeardley and Joshua Gullion's "Commander of Malice", is a slug-fest (and no, I don't mean that in a derogatory way) and an epic war of attrition - all those artifacts, items, wands, potions your PCs have - they better start hoarding them, for even with suggested WBL and smart planning, the module can whittle down the considerate resources of high level PCs. That being said, the module, by design, will evoke hate from your players. The relentless onslaught of powerful foes, the strange terrain, the slowly creeping realization that something is fundamentally wrong. The sadistic requirements to the thinking faculties of your players...this is a module that carries bragging rights for beating and is one of the most difficult modules I've seen in ages. The sense of accomplishment in the end will be vast indeed and elicit cheers and high-fives. Still, by its very design, this module walks a very fine path, namely the one that your players, even with the catch that should prevent premature death, should be frustration-resistant and have joy while slogging through (literally!) endless waves of foes. If they don't have a healthy resistance to frustration, a mindset that they have to work for their triumph, then this is not for them. If they do, though, they'll have a truly unique experience.



Now one thing you should be aware of beyond that - this module's text is short - the statblocks, as is the wont with high-level modules, take up a lot of space and that's not something to complain about. Still, minus the creatures etc., the module is "only" 27 pages long - which looks insultingly short. And I won't kid - personally, I would have preferred more details, less war of attrition. That being said, you DO get your money's worth here - the mazes are damn complex and actually *running* this beast as opposed to just reading it, takes A LOT of time. It took me longer than the Prologue and the first Part of RotD combined. So yeah - this beast is definitely not for everyone, though if you're an aficionado of high level foes and builds and require foes to pit against the PCs but don't want to make them yourself - even as a statblock collection and only to scavenge, this has something going for it.



Now that out of the way - I do have to say, I still consider it the weakest part of Rise of the Drow, not due to being bad, but due to having a much narrower appeal than Prologue and main book - this module is a challenge to be beaten and should make the old-school crowd and fans of truly brutal modules exceedingly happy, but if the regular RotD already tested your group to their breaking point, then be cautious - this is for pros indeed. I won't hold it accountable for its brevity or its design choice, for it succeeds well at what it does, but I still think that a tad bit more versatility would have improved this beast. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow Epilogue: The Commander of Malice
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AaWBlog Presents—Wonders of NaeraCull Brochure #1: Sunny Southern Shores
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/12/2014 11:05:24
Making good use of the creativity displayed on the AAW blog and collecting thematic material neatly together in one place, this is the first of a series talking about NaeraCull: the Hungering Jungle, part of the 'house' campaign world of Aventyr.

Extensively hyperlinked to the blog (and indeed the rest of their website), this first issue includes monsters, a magic item, a neat piece of gear, a haunt and some legends... all with a piratical theme. Worth a look if you make use of pirates and other such sea-dogs, wherever the seas they terrorise might happen to be!

The magical item - a seadog's eyepatch - is interesting and not overpowered, while the piece of equipment is quite innovative - called a triggersling, it hurls rocks when tripped and makes a neat mechanical trap. It may have been invented by pirates, but once word gets out all manner of folks will be wanting to use it.

This is a nice concept, if only that delving through blog posts can be tedious, especially as they get displaced by newer ones and you only half-remember an older one which you now want to use.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
AaWBlog Presents—Wonders of NaeraCull Brochure #1: Sunny Southern Shores
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Rise of the Drow Prologue: The Darkness Arrives
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/12/2014 05:22:31
An Endzeitgeist.com review

So this is the prologue for AaW Games' massive mega-adventure Rise of the Drow...let's take a look! Page-count wise, this module clocks in at 129 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 122 (!!) pages of content, the first page of which would be an introduction by the authors before the first part, Jonathan G. Nelson and Stephen Yeardley's section of the module begins.



I won't waste much words here, so here's the obligatory SPOILER-warning. From here on out, players should jump to the conclusion. Got that? Great!



Only DMs here? All right! We start our scene at the lavishly detailed frontier's town of Rybalka, studded in AAW Games by now trademark blend of unique cultures, in what can be considered the equivalent of a longest night/Lucia-style folklore ritual, when fellow adventurers barge in and the ceremony must be maintained - against hunters acting obviously under some sort of compulsion, trying to extinguish the light - or rather, set fire upon the cathedral (and quite possibly, themselves) - thus requiring non-lethal means to subdue them. This is a great way to introduce local color and characters, while under the threat of the opaque, shambling beings outside and hinting at the shape of greater things to come - a full-blown assault by elemental spirits, turned archons, ghoulish goblins and all manner of other weird creatures - thankfully, the DM isn't left alone with this chaos, as the PCs try to keep the cathedral intact, calm people and prevent the theft of the mysterious moonshard - alas, even if the PCs can end the chaos in the cathedral, even if mysterious warnings by as of yet not fully corrupted vampire spawns are heeded - after that, the chase is still on - against drow hunting parties heading off for the Dark Wood, with quite a bunch of Rybalka's congregation in tow. With help from the fellow adventuring party and by now, tested to their breaking point by engaging the drow, the PCs have completed the first part of this module with a furious bang.



After the singularly most disturbing full-page drider artwork I've EVER seen (yes, better than any WotC or Paizo-rendition), part 2 (written by Steven T. Helt) begins with the PCs on the hunt for the drow in teh Dark Wood - and, push coming to shove, things get eerie....fast. The eclipse Naraneus Shadow, which swallows starlight, moonlight, sunlight - everything, is upon them and thus, the already creepy forest more than deserves its moniker...and worse, the eclipse JUST DOESN'T END. The PCs are on for a trek through one of the most feared forests, while no light permeates the gloom in a dread and surreal overland chase/tracking game - and believe me, the wilderness and its inhabitants (including btw. a glorious map of the area) are not to be taken lightly in the slightest - the challenges are quite profound and a skilful Dm can evoke a rare sense of dread via the smartly chosen adversaries here -even before the furious finale (including a battle-map style map).



In the ruined castle Adrik's Folly, the commanders of the drow await - and the final part of the module can be considered a MASSIVE infiltration scenario: Schedules, castel population, short fluffy descriptions to keep even characters with the same statblock apart, a massive map, several suggested means of accomplishing their goals - Michael McCarthy, author of this final section, in no way rests on the laurel of his co-authors. The infiltration is detailed, fair, difficult, organic - including, thankfully, even a harrowing escape with the enslaved townsfolk and a last stand at a country manor are distinct possibilities - let's hope the PCs were smart enough 8and wilderess-savvy9 and kept the populace from eating those funny, cramp-inducing, slowing berries...



We also get concise lists of drow traits and even an encounter index.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous, very easy to read two-column full color standard on a purplish-dark background, which translates relatively well to grey-scale in my experiment, but in the end, I'd still go full color - mainly for the great maps and at times simply glorious and copious full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and provides full stats for all creatures in 3.5 and PFRPG.



I was skeptic about the separation of authors/parts, to be honest - it's easy to lose the thread of a cohesive, narrative voice and assume different things. Thankfully, the team of authors has done a great job that caters to their strengths - we got the knack for tradition and ritual, the uncanny grasp of what makes a society distinct and believable from AAW's core author-team, expanded by Steven T. Helt's sense for one eerie, cool wilderness trek and finally, Michael McCarthy's strength for cool, organic complexes (as showcased before in e.g. Incandium's Eruption) for a module that is greater than the sum of its parts.



This module does an awesome job at establishing the Drow as a cool, competent and damn frightening force of foes (the implication that they can DARKEN THE SUN, when driven home right by the DM, should make the PCs VERY afraid...) and the module offers infiltration, defense, wilderness - over all, an eclectic mix of challenges that should ensure that no PC is left bored. That being said, this module is something I'd recommend to experienced DMs. Here and there, suggested resting/leveling places, precise overland movement charts and the like would have made this module a bit easier on the DM - as written, while not VERY hard to run, it does require some preparation and competence to not get swamped in it. Don't get me wrong, this *is* a stellar module still, but it definitely is aimed at competent players and DMs - novices might require extensive help by the second adventuring group as DM-proxies to make it through this alive. Then again, that sort of is the point - the opposition is numerous, smart and lethal and beating them should be an accomplishment. As a final piece of advice- I'd suggest establishing Rybalka via one of the other A-series modules before this one - it makes the local color and emotional impact more effective. Still, one furious tour-de-force and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow Prologue: The Darkness Arrives
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Rise of the Drow: Player's Guide
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/12/2014 05:17:26
An Endzeitgeist.com

This supplement is 18 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



All right, we kick this off with a discussion of AAW Games' two major human ethnicities in this part of the Aventyr setting, the Klavekian colonists and the native Vikmordere - both coming btw. with basic skill-based modifications of the standard human standard racial traits that are applied in addition to the regular traits, with the Vikmordere getting to chose between 3 sets even. Now if you expect a Tulita/Colonists-dichotomy à la Razor Coast, rest assured that this one takes a more balanced approach - neither are glorified. What are the Vikmordere? Well...think Native Americans crossed with Vikings. Yeah. Awesome. One of Aventyr's dwarven ethnicities, the Dweorg, is also depicted in detail, including once again a bit of minor crunch-modification - and yes, the races come with nomenclature, take on religion etc.



A short primer on underworld races is also included here, including a pointer towards the upcoming Underworld Races-books by AAW-games. The same goes btw. for the Underworld Classes-book that is referenced hereafter - essentially, the following nets players a break-down of some of the odd classes they will potentially encounter (from the latter book) and whets their palate for them - without giving away their respective crunch and nasty tricks. Or at least, the pdf makes it seem like this is what's going to happen. Unfortunately, that's not what happens. The Player's Guide already is rather short. The classes and races noted (with minor exceptions race-wise) here do not feature among the opposition faced in Rise of the Drow's antagonist builds. Players, upon reading these short, fluff-only lists, will expect to be able to use these classes or at least kill NPCs using them. That does not happen. This may be harsh, but what this is, is essentially a form of advertisement - nothing bad there, but it's also false information since the classes don't feature in Rise of the Drow. Why not instead provide some advice what characters should be able to do, which concepts would work well etc.? You know, PROPER player-advice? What about some legends about the underdark the PCs have heard during their stay in Rybalka? Wasted space and wasted pages here. Why not hint at the things to come, with legends helping PCs à la "There are rare mushrooms down there, glowing like the moon herself - I've heard you can do fabulous things and travel to the moon when imbibing them with alcohol under the starry sky." (Partially true, btw. - you'll see when you read RotD...)



Next would be a short player-friendly gazetteer on the town of Rybalka, with not only a neat one-page map, but also a stunning 1-page full color illustration of the place as well as an in-character prose piece that expounds the blacksmith's take on the subterranean city of Embla, which will feature in Rise of the Drow.. It should also be noted that the section contains rumors and whispers galore and a list of basic underworld exploration equipment, complete with gp-prices and weight. The pdf also offers a primer that explains types of caverns and phenomena in the underworld as a means of immersion.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two column standard and the pdf comes with quite an array of beautiful full color artworks - the maps and art combined with the layout make this pdf truly beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



The AAW-crew Stephen Yeardley, Mike Myler and Jonathan G. Nelson have created a per se neat pdf here - a mostly spoiler-free resource that introduces players to the dynamics of the mega-module and its setting, all without spoiling significant portions of the things to come - in that regard, it can be considered an accomplishment. It should be noted that, if you expect a player's guide to deliver new mechanics or offer advice on how to create a character that perfectly fits (e.g. favored enemy/terrain advice etc.), this pdf does not deliver that, instead opting for a mostly fluffy introduction to the things to come in RotD. As a reviewer, I also feel obliged to mention that the list of underwold classes/archetypes might be considered minor SPOILERS for DMs or teasing/advertisement, so be aware of that.



If you don't mind that, though, you'll get awesome prose, a concise introduction for players and generally, top-notch production values here. The disappointed expectations regarding the classes and races teased here might prove frustrating though, and personally, for me sours the deal significantly. All in all, this player's guide is nice, if not 100% required or for everyone, and hence my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, whether rounded up to 4 due to the low price and high production values or down to 3 due to essentially providing quite a bit of advertisement (for class/race books to come), ultimately depends on the reader and what one expects from such a book. If you're looking for a crunchy type of player's guide, this won't deliver. For me, the fact that the teaser may result in expectations of fighting certain classes not being fulfilled weighs heavy and could more than annoy some customers, hence I will round this down to 3.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow: Player's Guide
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A23: Twin Crossings
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/03/2014 12:28:03
An isolated township eagerly awaiting the annual supply/trading ship which doesn't arrive owing to an unfortunate encounter with a sea monster, two trading houses eager to capitalise on the high prices to be commanded by what items do make it over a difficult mountain pass and a chance for the party to make some money as well as a name for themselves by pioneering the mountain crossing... what more could you ask for in an adventure that embeds the characters in the everyday lives and excitement of the setting?

The action starts with the party arriving in the isolated township and getting swept up into the forthcoming celebrations. There's plenty of detail provided to get them embroiled quickly so that they, along with the townspeople, will really feel the loss of the expected ship when the news arrives. Along with a sidebar concerning likely effects of over-celebrating the festivities.

A neat idea is several 'adventure flowcharts' - this is a very freeflowing adventure and it will help you keep track of not only what the party is up to but what others involved are doing as well. There's a lot going on and it all adds to the flavour, but it does have the potential to get quite confusing. The party can get confused, but it is best if the GM does not! Speed is of the essence here, and there are some neat mechanics to help you assess how well the party - and their rivals - are doing. Lots of details are provided to help you run an adventure where the journey itself is the adventure, rather than something to get you to the adventure. Hang on to them, they'll make running future journeys easier yet more exciting as well.

During the mountain crossing there are all manner of hazards: natural ones, the local wildlife and deliberate attempts to slow down the party or prevent them making the crossing altogether. Then they'll have to round up a caravan of goods and make the return trip... whoever said the life of the adventurer was an easy one?

A good thing about this adventure is that it brings the world of commerce to vivid and exciting life in a way rare for fantasy games. Even if the party is not bitten by the trading bug, they will get a real feel for what is going on in the world of trade whilst they're off killing monsters and looting their stuff - something that increases the reality of this alternate reality that you and the players share. Recommended.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
A23: Twin Crossings
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Underworld Races: Ahool
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/28/2014 12:15:30
In a few pages great sweeps of cosmology and background myth are presented, the current understanding of what is going on in the underworld of the Aventyr campaign setting, rewriting concepts of plate tectonics and establishing how the various subterranean races came to be in four massive events driven by the very gods themselves. There are many different races, and a summary chart is presented showing their ages, heights and weights... but the real focus is on the Ahool.

The Ahool are the primeval beastmen of the endless caves of the underworld. Here we learn of their history, background and society, along with physical descriptions and the details necessary to create Ahool characters to play or as NPCs. There are racial archetypes (aquatic and terrestial forms) and new equipment and feats for them. Naturally they have their own magical items and spells available to them.

In appearance they are a bit like humanoid bats, although they do not fly nearly as well. They do have a vicious bite, however, and live on blood... giving rise to some obvious if erroneous comparisons. A racial class and a prestige class are provided, ahool can also take a regular character class if preferred.

The explanation of how the underworld races came to be is fascinating, and the ahool themselves a novel race to introduce into subterranean realms.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Underworld Races: Ahool
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B17: Death & Taxes
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/03/2014 02:31:34
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 46 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page ToC (plus settlement statblock), 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



This being a review of an adventure module, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.



Still here? All right! The city of Hordenheim is a dangerous place - situated at crossroads, everything from nasty humanoids to power-mad wizards and pillaging armies makes its way through the area. Maintaining a careful neutrality, the city has been plagued for some time by its often violent guests - oh well, at least the location means the town is profitable - that does account for something, doesn't it? Pollard Varice, burgomaster of Hordenheim has a shrewd sense of business and made an...interesting move. He appointed known upstanding citizen and practicing necromancer Findle Stirr the high sheriff. Now tax season is approaching and the PCs are hired to act as tax collectors since three particular problems have haunted the besieged burgomaster - first of all, whole neighborhoods are in open revolt. Secondly, counterfeit coins have appeared and thirdly, members of the tax assessor's guard tend to turn up dead with a disturbing frequency.



In the streets, the PCs will encounter rats here and there as they investigate the thieves guild - which is easy to find...and innocent, at least regarding the recent crimes. In case you don't want to put the PCs in medias res, an encounter with a necromancer and his zombie guardsmen should also serve as an apt introduction to the uncommon police-force of Hordenheim: Speaking of which - the city comes with a surprising amount of local color - from smoke shops with fine cigars (and potentially pot) to the guild of sweeps, we get some exceedingly awesome ideas here. What is the guild of sweeps you ask? It's a guild of people who have prods with alchemical salts that use these prods to herd slimes and oozes through the streets, thus cleaning them fast and efficiently. Is that awesome or what? But back to the module - the burgomaster deputizes thus the PCs and sends them off with the obviously xenophobic, nasty necromancer-sheriff to the Trots - a blue color neighborhood, where hard-working centaurs, satyrs and even minotaurs await the PCs - their rebellion can be ended by navigating the urban labyrinth and finding the ringleader - hopefully taking the minotaur alive or using their social skills to convince him to come along. The second task, ending the counterfeit ring, has the PCs interrogate an illiterate mute (have fun!) and then investigate the temple of wealth, where, after some snooping, they'll find a group of leprechauns - including the high priest, as culprits of the counterfeiting.



The final issue has the sheriff accompany them to the high assessor - a prissy half-orc with an aururumvorax kit as pet. The man's guard has been decimated at night and hence, guard duty is up next to apprehend the assassin - which turns out to be harder than anticipated. Via red herrings, the help of a pseudo-hag and an uncommon elixir (which should get a range limitation or not be featured beyond the confines of this module), the PCs can track the culprit - which turns out to be the kit#s mother. Whether they return her child or slay the golden-furred creature - the threat is ended. Celebrations are in order!

...

On the next day, the PCs won't be paid. The tax-bloated treasury has been cleared. Completely. In order to get paid, the PCs will have to find the thief - the thing is, who or whatever was the culprit, he/she/it is long gone and was careful - no obvious leads. Just as the PCs start to get frustrated, they'll get a letter from aforementioned Pseudo-hag, who implores them to visit her. Turns out, that the city's rats have been all but exterminated - they are afraid and have just one bastion left. Hopefully, the PCs smell that something's fishy here and investigate - that way, they can defend rats against swarms of undead rats. If the rioting populace doesn't get them first, that is. The swarms of undead rats were created via a ritual that ahs them all point back towards the ritual's origin and astute players should realize that an army of undead rats makes for excellent thieves - thus explaining the complaints of the poorer folk that the thieves went over quota.



The trail leads to the station house, where deputy necromancer properly park their zombies and similar fun hijinxs ensue as the PCs confront the sheriff, who is smelting the gold into his own golden undead monstrosity, designed to purge the non-human inhabitants of Hordenheim once and for all. Defeating him and his beast ends the module, which btw. also includes the simple gold-leafed template that allows you to fortify undead, constructs and outsiders with gold at CR+1.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to AaW's nice 2-column full-color standard and the pdf's artworks are partially full-color stock and partially original, but fit style-wise well together. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with player-friendly versions of the two full-color maps.



Colin Stricklin weaves a yarn that is thoroughly exciting - slightly tongue in cheek, though never to the extent that it would break immersion, full of fun oddities, local color and great ideas, the city of Hordenheim comes to life in these scarce few pages in an extent that speaks of the author's mastery in concise writing. Unique characters abound, non-lethal problem-solving, interesting terrain - this reminded me of the best instances of 0onegames' Great City or Kaer Maga, to the point where I definitely wouldn't object to a massive, full-blown city sourcebook. Yes, that intriguing. The module's prime achievement would then be that it manages to cram the city information AND a compelling, sandboxy investigation into its page-count without losing its appeal. This is a glorious module that has me wanting more of Colin Stricklin's offerings. If you like aforementioned city-settings or have a soft spot for uncommon locales, then don't let this one slip by.



Final verdict? 5 stars +seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B17: Death & Taxes
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