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Star Log.EM-015: Skinwalker
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2018 06:37:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin with a brief introduction to the subject matter at hand before getting a detailed depiction of the Skinwalker races, including a physical description, notes on their home world and the like – and indeed, the race’s history in the Xa-Osoro system is rather amazing: When Blood Space seeped into Eogawa’s atmosphere, the non-native population of the moon was turned into frothing lycanthropes…and yet, by some miracle, those infected while pregnant gave birth to skinwalkers, rising from savagery courtesy of vanara aid! A young race defined by the culture into which they’re birthed, we get notes on different skinwalker relations and yes, as such a young species, they have adventuring pretty much hardcoded into their DNA. Minor nitpick: No “Playing as…”-section is provided. Vital statistics regarding weight, etc. are not included, alas, though one can assume the human baseline.

Rules-wise, skinwalkers get 4 hp, +2 Wis, -2 Cha and add +2 to a physical ability score of their choice. Skinwalkers are humanoids with the human, skinwalker and shapechanger subtypes, are Medium and have a base speed of 30 ft. One animal or vermin is chosen as lineage. Every skinwalker can assume a hybrid shape based on their lineage as a standard action (reversal is the same), granting them a +10 racial bonus to Disguise. Being knocked unconscious and the like is properly covered. In this hybrid form, they get a +1 bonus to AC. They also have low-light vision, gain +2 to Survival and in their hybrid form, they get natural attacks analogue to the Vesk.

At 2nd, 4th, 6th, 12th or 18th level, a skinwalker may choose the Bestial Shapechange feat as if granted by an archetype. When taking the feat, you get to choose one of several manifestations, provided you meet the prerequisites, if any. These include no penalties to damage and atk underwater with kinetic melee weapons, and being able to hold your breath longer. Being able to speak with vermin, magical beasts and animals, gaining a blindsight (type taken into account; it must make sense regarding lineage – this is an important balancing factor, as it prevents taking the more potent blindsight variants), darkvision (can be improved regarding range), quicker shapechanging and gaining two class skills from a brief list complement this section.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard of the series, and the pdf sports a nice piece of artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas provides an interesting race here: Born from a cataclysmic event, skinwalkers allow you to play, in a balanced manner, the classic lycanthrope concept without the infection issues that usually accompany it. The benefits of the feat are weighed and presented in an interesting manner as well. All in all, I consider this to be a well-crafted little racial supplement. While the supplement could have used a tiny bit more material regarding secondary flavor, I consider it to be a worthwhile offering. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-015: Skinwalker
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A Thousand Dead Babies
Publisher: Zzarchov Kowolski
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2018 06:36:04

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Zzarchov Kowolski’s self-published dual-format NGR/OSR-adventures clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons.

So, let’s talk about the pink elephant in the room first. The title is basically a gigantic trigger warning. This module is NOT about killing infants or the like, quite to the contrary. However, it deals with a really sadistic, high-impact conundrum that involves, well, babies. If infanticide by bad guys and the like are not something your group can handle, then don’t even bother. It goes without saying that this module needs to be handled with care, and that it is NOT for everyone. Genre-wise, this is really gritty, really, really DARK dark fantasy, so the title, ultimately acts as a deterrent and as a caveat emptor for anyone contemplating getting this. In that way, the title must almost considered to be a form of fair warning.

Anyways, this is the second of the author’s NGR/OSR dual-statted modules, and difficulty-wise, it is a step up. Some monsters for OSR-games are referred to by being e.g. wraiths, and chances of being heard, for example are presented as e.g. 1/6. Formatting-wise, e.g. magic items are noted as bolded in the text (not as italicized, as in most games), and e.g. some key-NPCs have notes like: “Level 4 Cavalier, Anti-Paladin or Fighter with XYZ strength (not capitalized) and maximum hit points.” If you’re using this module with more classic OSR-games, you’ll need to do a bit of work. For NGR, the book is more precise, noting parts of classes, specializations and the like. More importantly, holy/unholy ground is rules-wise more relevant and noted where applicable. As far as level-ranges are considered, I’d probably play this at the very soonest at 2nd level in most OSR-games, as the adventure can become TPK-y-lethal very fast otherwise.

This can also be found in the new spells: 8 of them are provided in total, but 2 only exist in the NGR-rules – bane of mush’kar, which allows for the storage of a removed tooth of a still living person. When burning the tooth, the spell is cast by the burning being. Breath of the moors is a spell that conjures forth fog, based on the obfuscation spell template. There are three low level (level 1 for OSR) spells for magic-users: One conjures forth a bee swarm, with the OSR version being a bit confused regarding verbiage:”… in a devastating cone with a radius at any given point equal to the distance from the caster.” Cone or radius? The NGR version does not have this issue. Faerie sense lets you smell magical items, and screams of anguish doesn’t generate more than, well, a scream, which can make for a good distraction. In NGR, the scream can slightly increase the difficulty of another spell. At 2nd spell level for OSR, we have a wall of thorns, and the 3rd level spell dire goose makes a goose (which are FRIGHTENING when angered – take it from me, I grew up in the country!) into a massive monster with 3HD, AC as leather and two 1d6 wing attacks. In NGR, the stress mechanics explain the rage of the monster. No, you don’t control it. Yes, I consider that to be funny. Finally, there is a spell to bind extraplanar beings in empty tomes, filling the book with cursed text – in OSR-games, this is a 5th level spell. In NGR, the spell is more interesting, requiring the creature to be defeated briefly after being touched.

There are quite a few magic items to be found in the module as well; even basic items like a +1 dagger of bone that also acts as a holy symbol get their one section, and the book of Aarrrgh (aptly named due to the demon bound within), a scroll made of manleather, a cursed coin, a pouch of teeth and the like provide a surprising depth regarding descriptions and effects for both systems.

One item is btw. also the central fixture and high-impact problem that the PCs will need to deal with, but before we discuss that one, I should note that the module comes with a really elegant layout and cartography (though no player-friendly maps), and that it has consequences for the actions of the PCs, and there is a pretty good chance that things will not end up well for the surrounding area – retaining the status quo should be considered to be a success. Did I mention Old MacDonald’s farm?

All right, in order to discuss further details of this adventure, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, the module is somewhat akin to the first dual-statted module published by the author, in that it takes places in a remote locale, here, the vale of Corroc, named for the settlement of the same name. As in the “Gnomes of Levnec”, we are introduced to the key-NPCs for the settlement, including the yeoman, a local berry-plucker, the village priest, etc. We also get such a fluff-centric write-up for e.g. the cook of the lumber camp, and the settlement New Smithwald, south of the Thousand Acre Wood, houses a potent knight, who has not been punished for not converting due to his stalwart loyalty and reputation.

Converted? Well, yes, for we once more have a situation akin to that of “Gnomes of Levnec”, where a remnants of a pagan cult are competing with Christianity (or its stand-in), but unlike in that module, there is no misguided cult of blithering, violent idiots responsible for some of the odd happenings. Instead, there is but one active human (she does have elven allies) member of the cult of Titania left – in the power vacuum that accompanied the purging of heathens, a dread cult of Baphomet has taken root. Alas, the none-too-smart village priest can’t keep it in his pants, having an illicit love affair. If his deeds are brought to like, they will have dire consequences for the poor maiden engaging with him, but failure to do so will not be helpful in the long run either. The very medieval aesthetic also is represented in the existence of a rather pitiful example of a black library of the church in town, which btw. also houses the crypts of once mighty pagans, where clever PCs can get magic items…or get a blessing from a fountain that may guarantee offspring. No matter the usual physiological hindrances like race or sex.

Anyways, the PCs are most likely here because they heard about footprints of an upright walking goat, and indeed, the dark cult of Baphomet is busy at work: Beyond the cultists in the settlement, there is a very potent black knight and an upright-walking, razor-sharp teeth sporting demonic goat monstrosity that watch over/participate in the grisly orgy/ritual every night…for they have found a mighty juju tree, once sacred. The tree is now afflicted with a demonic fungal infestation, a literal corruption, one that may be dealt wish, provided the PCs manage to stop the cult and water the heart of the tree with blood…provided they can survive the trip into the small dungeon, that is.

But how can a cult generate enough sacrifices? How does the cult manage to keep up all this mystical pressure on the potent tree? Well, the Goat in the Woods has a potent cursed artifact, found after the previous owner has committed suicide, being unable to cope with the responsibility. This vile artifact would be responsible for the module’s name – it’s the stork’s bassinet, and it teleports to its owner (who may only be saved by death or potent magics from ownership) every day. It then produces a single, healthy baby. Every. Single. Day. In the lack of an owner, the babies simply pile up. Are they teleported away from somewhere? Are they magical simulacra? Clones? No idea, but whatever choice you opt for, the consequences will be DARK. In the aftermath of the cult’s demise, it is quite likely that a PC will end up being the owner of the bassinet, which will require a quest to destroy. While it is easy enough for the GM to rule that one of the magic items in the module can destroy it, this is per se not intended by the adventure. This is also the reason why this adventure can really use the title to scare away folks that definitely will be offended – leaving the item or the babies generated anywhere will be a rather bleak and dark move for PCs and players to swallow, and even if you devise an easy and quick way to destroy it, there still will remain the fact that an untold number of these infants were slaughtered. This is not for every table.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, there are a few minor hiccups and, due to the dual-stat nature of the module, the formatting can be somewhat unconventional. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports two really neat original b/w-artworks that could come straight out of Death Frost Doom – no surprise, as Jez Gordon is responsible for both. Same goes for the cartography, where the absence of player-friendly versions of the maps makes for a comfort detriment. The pdf sports a couple of basic bookmarks.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “A Thousand Dead Babies” is, on a formal level, more refined that “Gnomes of Levnec;” the presentation is smoother, and while we don’t get a cool “getting lost”-generator this time around, the module’s presentation and sequence is professional and nice. That being said, where the supplement on the gnomes focused on the weird and genuinely hilarious, this one is pretty much the epitome of super-dark fantasy. There is some subdued quip to be found here and there, but considering the subject matter, this is probably one of the darkest modules I know.

…and, to be honest, I don’t think the module required the shock value. If you tone that aspect done, you water down what makes this module have such a gut-wrenching impact, but you’re also left with a rather well-crafted adventure. Now, I firmly believe that a reviewer should be capable of abstracting being offended and the like, and I do not condone the subject matter; killing kids and infants is one of the few things that I do not tackle in my games, which otherwise tend to gravitate towards the dark. That being said, the PCs ARE the heroes here; they get to end this horrid massacre, and while the consequences may be hard to swallow, I can see this work well for groups seeking to explore the logistic and moral conundrums that arise from ownership of the vile item that made the cult’s atrocities possible.

Would I inflict this module on my players? No. But it is not up to me to decide what works and what doesn’t work for you and your game.

Which leaves me with the craftsmanship of the adventure, its locales, etc. – and here, the module manages to create a grim, captivating atmosphere that feels very medieval, grimy and desolate. Prose-wise, this is impressive. As far as the rules-components are concerned, I’d consider the NGR-rules to be significantly tighter than the OSR-material posed; lack of adherence to a specific system and minor inconsistencies mar that aspect for more common old-school games somewhat.

Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot to like here, and the module is not a gratuitous gorefest; however, it is hard to stomach due to its subject matter, and at this point, you probably already know whether this is for you or not.

Which leaves me with the job of rating this. I won’t lie. I wouldn’t have reviewed this sans the request, mainly because I have a hard time giving this a fair shake, because it’s really hard for me to look past one of the few things that I, as a person, consider distasteful and don’t want to see in my games. As a person, I frankly considered the grimdark topic of the adventure to be…well, superfluous. The base line is similar enough to the “Gnomes of Levnec” to allow for direct comparison, and where the latter went the weird (and hilarious) route in a slightly dark manner, this one goes pitch-black regarding its themes. If you enjoy that kind of thing and thought that Gnomes was too lighthearted, if you really wanted a twisted moral conundrum and shock value galore, if you thought that LotFP’s “Doom Cave of Crystal-Headed Children” was too gonzo/goofy and didn’t provide real grimdark themes…well, then this one delivers in spades.

If you’re not that into super-dark subject matter and want to check out what the author has in store, I wholeheartedly recommend the “Gnomes of Levnec” without any reservations; for this adventure, I am left with a per se captivating dark fantasy yarn that, depending on your preferences, either is enhanced or ruined by the themes presented. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, and I’d ask you to round up if you are interested in the like; if you’re offended, then steer clear. However, the minor imperfections in the OSR-rules and the lack of suggestions regarding the central moral conundrum in the aftermath represent both needless detractors from the adventure; a “solution” or at least some suggestions, would have gone a long way to render this more palatable, at least for me. My final verdict will hence round down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Thousand Dead Babies
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Star Log.EM-014: Eldritch Knight
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2018 06:33:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Star Log.EM-series clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1.5 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, after the by now classic introduction, we dive into the rules, though it should be noted that it makes sense to read this, as the design goal here was to encapsulate, in spite of the existence of the soldier-class, the flavor of the classic eldritch knight.

The eldritch knight archetype grants additional class features at 2nd, 6th, 9th, 12th and 18th level. At 2nd level, we have spell critical, which is a special critical hit effect that you can use instead of that of the weapon. When confirming a crit, you may cast a spell as a swift action, which must include the target among those affected. This does not provoke an attack of opportunity. This is problematic in as much as that the spell does not state a maximum casting time, which is not exactly a smart means of future-proofing this one. The ability should restrict the eligible spell in some way. All other class features provide a fighting style technique from the arcane assailant soldier; rune of the eldritch knight at 6th, secret of the magi at 9th, power of legend at 12th and secret of the archmagi at 18th level.

The pdf also presents a total of 4 new feats to complement the concept: Disrupting Grappler forces foes to succeed a caster level check in order to cast a spell when you’re grappling them, with DC scaling via your BAB. Enhanced Dispel Magic provides a bonus to dispel SPs that work like specific spells and extends the counterspell range to long. Nice! Riving Strike requires Mystic Strike or rune of the eldritch knight, and allows you to render opponents vulnerable to magic, penalizing saves or reducing SR temporarily with a standard action attack. You need to expend a swift action to add this, though. Will save DC scales with your highest ability score modifier and BAB or CL. Nice: A target affected by it can’t be affected again for a day, providing a means to prevent cheesing. Interesting here: Full action-using attacks do not allow for this, courtesy of SFRPG’s action economy, which means that the feat promotes more creative play. Kudos! Finally, we have Spell Severance, which once more requires Mystic Strike or the rune, as well as 1 rank Mysticism, which is really neat: 1/day, you can dispel magic a foe hit with a magic weapon, using BAB as CL. Really cool, though personally, I would have added a means to spend (a lot) of Resolve to recharge it.

The pdf closes with a nice piece of flavor-text regarding eldritch knights in the Xa-Osoro system.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no obvious formatting snafus etc. Layout adheres to the colorful standard of the series and the pdf sports the nice artwork on the cover. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ eldritch knight has a tough heritage – the classic option hasn’t been the most remarkable out there in the first place, and since the soldier incorporates much of the thematic concept, we are left with a solid, if not perfect take on the idea of the eldritch knight that goes as light step further than the soldier, but which doesn’t necessarily feel radically different. As noted, I am convinced that the spell critical class feature should be future-proofed regarding maximum casting time; apart from this one, I enjoyed all of the feats herein, leaving us with a mixed bag that is slightly on the positive side of things. Still, as far as I’m concerned, it’s closer to the 4 stars than to the 3, which is why I will round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Star Log.EM-014: Eldritch Knight
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Everyman Unchained: Bards
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:18:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The unchained bard clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 23 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.

So, the first page, beyond having a brief ToC, summarizes the design-paradigm of this class, and frankly, what’s here sounds feasible – the central focus lies on making the bard more interesting and versatile without requiring archetypes and other modifications, so let’s see how this fellow holds up!

The unchained bard gets d8 HD as well as 6 + Intelligence modifier skills per level – here, it should be noted that the skills are presented in a tidy table, as opposed to the usually cluttered skill-block. I really like this, as it makes looking class skills up quicker. Proficiency-wise, we cover light armor, shields (except tower shields) and simple weapons plus longsword, rapier, saps, shortswords, shortbows and whips. Once more, we have a nice presentation-innovation, as the proficiency-list has a subheader for armor- and weapon-proficiencies. Once more, that represents an improvement in my book. We still have ¾ BAB-progression, good Ref- and Will-saves. The unchained bard retains spellcasting of up to 6th level, and every bard spell has a verbal component, with Charisma as governing attribute and spontaneous spellcasting.

And this is pretty much where the similarities end. On first level, the bard chooses a Muse, gaining skill ranks in that muse’s associated Performance skill for free at each class level. These muses also determine associated skills and denoted the performance components (A for audible, and V for visual; these and the limitations they entail are clearly noted in the bardic masterpiece entry) in their respective brackets, making presentation here once more truly streamlined. 12 muses are presented and range from classics à la strings to keyboard, stage magic, legerdemain, etc., covering even more obscure Perform variants like juggling. What do the associated skills do? Well, starting at 3rd level, a bard can use his total ranks in the muse’s key Perform skill instead for the associated skills; ranks previously assigned to associated skills are refunded. These skills are treated as on the class skill list and also may be treated as though they were governed by Charisma, analogue to the Perform skill, instead.

Bardic performance has been rewired: It now starts a bardic masterpiece, and its effects last 1 round, but the effects may be maintained as a free action, unless otherwise noted in the respective action entry. The decision to maintain a performance must be made at the start of the round, and duration caps at 1 minute per bard level, unless otherwise noted. Performances immediately end upon becoming paralyzed, etc. and performances may be started Charisma-modifier +1/2 class level times per day. Notice something? Yep, the maintenance of performances no longer expends rounds! This means that low level bards won’t run out of juice as fast, and the different ability improvement and metrics mean that high-level bards won’t drown in rounds they can't employ properly.

Now, I already mentioned bardic masterpieces – these are different from the often maligned, yet intriguing feature of the same name that was originally tacked on to grant the bard more unique tricks. The unchained bard begins play with one masterpiece known and gains an additional one at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Save DC calculation is interesting: 10 + ½ the ranks in the muse’s key performance skill + Charisma modifier. If the masterpiece requires that an opponent makes a skill check, the DC is 10 + 1.5 times the bard’s skill ranks in the key Perform skill associated with the muse + the bard’s Charisma modifier. A bard also begins play with a so-called performance bonus, which begins at +1 and increases by a further +1 at 5th level and every 6 levels thereafter. The bonus type depends on to what the bardic masterpiece applies it: Attack and damage rolls gain a competence bonus, saving throws a morale bonus and otherwise, we have an insight bonus. This makes sense to be, both from a design and logic perspective. Starting at 7th level, the action economy of starting bardic masterpieces improves, and masterpieces that required a standard action may be used as a move action, with 1th level allowing optionally to start performances that need a standard or move action to be initiated as a swift action. Presentation-wise, it should be noted that all these aspects are grouped under the same ability-header, with distinct subheaders to set them apart. This presentation-sequence makes sense and renders grasping the mechanics easier. Kudos!

Also at first level, the bard picks a so-called repertoire from a list of 7. Each repertoire covers 4 different skills, and the bard gains a bonus on skill checks associated with them equal to ½ class level, minimum 1. Trained only skills may be used untrained. Starting at 9th level, the bard may take 10 in these skills, even while distracted or in danger, and he may expend a bardic performance use to take 20 instead, in spite of the circumstances, and taking the regular amount of time, not the usual, extended one.

Now, as noted before bardic masterpieces are crucial component to the engine, and the class unlocks new available selections at 3rd, 7th, 11th and 15th level. Muses determine the type of masterpieces you can learn, and area, range, effects etc. are part of the masterpiece’s block. Each performance also comes with a bit of flavor-text, which is nice. Now, the pdf does something really clever: The header of each masterpiece sports one or multiple, self-explanatory glyphs that are explained in a sidebar, though personally, I considered their meaning to be self-evident: The glyphs denote basically descriptor types. See a comic-style text-bubble? Language-dependent. Caduceus? Healing. Skull and bones? Death. Brain? Mind-affecting. It’s simple, but it helps render the rules-language less monstrous, while at the same time retaining the complexity demanded.

These melodies, fyi, accomplish a ton of different things, and some of them provide massive changes to party dynamics. We have to look no further than Ameliorating melody, the very first of these masterpieces. All allies in a 60 ft. emanation heal 1 hit point per performance bonus, and one ally heals 1d8 per performance bonus. Doesn’t sound like much? Well, remember that it lasts 1 minute per bard level – that’s a lot of healing, even at first level! While this sounds like much, and it pretty much is, the design-paradigm is clear here: This is slower, less bursty healing than what the cleric offers– but this masterpiece alone provides, mathematically, sufficient healing to classify the unchained bard as a primary healer. While the sheer amount of healing this offers is pretty massive, it should be taken into account that the bard lacks the spell-healing capabilities. Depending on how gritty you like your games to be and your personal aesthetics, you may or may not like this – personally, I’m not the biggest fan of burst-y instant-healing that returns characters constantly from the brink of death. We’ve all been there: The roly-poly syndrome of PCs falling, dying, being healed and getting back up, falling again…the more spread out healing can be sensible for grittier games that prefer to avoid this. Or, well, there’s also a chance that the sheer amount of healing is something you don’t like in your games. The bard’s healing array will be hard to whittle down via attrition tactics. Personally, I very much enjoy how this makes a group sans healing-cleric more viable, particularly in games that sport a darker aesthetic. The one thing that should be monitored here by the GM is, that a combination of a good healer-cleric AND a bard with this option can be really, really brutal and may be something that can, depending on your campaign’s goal and themes, prove to be very strong.

Soooo, basically the very first masterpiece already provides a rather pronounced paradigm change. Now, it should be noted that masterpieces differentiate between effects that begin when starting a performance, and then maintained; others reduplicate their initial effects time and again, as they’re maintained. Summoning critters, for example is an effect that is tied to the start of a performance, with the maintenance of the summoning via maintenance of the performance. The scaling of this one, btw., is based on half class level. Rendering targets prone via laughing, the classic fascinate and inspire competence, courage, etc. can be found, and raging song is also codified as such – and yes, there is a spellsteal option here as well! At 3rd level, gathering of crowds, condition alleviation, mocking debuffs, sonic strikes (that cannot be cheesed regarding action economy). Minor nitpick: there’s a typo here ” work” should refer to “word”; this is cosmetic, though. 7th level includes the options, among others, to antagonize targets (see Ultimate Charisma; the pdf has a few abilities referring to the amazing Psychology DC and antagonize-rules from that book), provide resistances, reincarnate targets (takes time and a lot of daily uses)…At 11th level, we have the dance of the dead, untyped damage based on type/subtype or wandering star motes become available. Finally, we get a discordant confusion effect (that interacts correctly with conclusion), pied piping and raising the dead (at massive cost of resources), all added to the list to choose from at 15th level. The capstone provides the inspire legends bardic masterpiece that combines two others into one.

Now, this is not the end – at 2nd level, the unchained bard gets a performance flourish, with another one gained every 2 levels thereafter. These behave somewhat like talents and are grouped in three categories: The first bunch becomes available for the choosing at 2nd level, with 8th and 16th level unlocking a new array. If a flourish allows for a save, or prompts a skill check from an opponent, the DCs are calculated in the same way as for masterpieces. There is an option to gain an additional masterpiece, which can be taken up to three times, with 10th and 18th level as subsequent minimum levels and applicable level-restrictions. A couple of them are passive, and allow, for example, for 2d4 minutes of time invested to make armor worn to behave as glamered. HOWEVER, there is more to this ability-class. You see, there also are a couple of them that sport an asterisk. These flourishes apply to a bardic masterpiece, and are chosen upon starting or maintaining a masterpiece, allowing for reassigning etc.. Only one such effect can be applied at any given time and this section includes the classic distraction, countersong, etc., as well as escapist’s jig etc. – in short, what previously were helpful, but for the bard-character, potentially boring actions, now are customizations for the heroic, active stuff he does. Poaching among psychic, oracle or sorcerer tricks, being famous, affecting plants, making allies believing in the same deity count as brandishing holy symbols – we basically have tweaks and more active agenda here. Gone are the times when the bard was required to perform away his rounds to maintain support for allies. Tricking targets into spilling the beans has a hex-caveat to limit the at-will availability. There is another balancing component here, as, beyond the masterpiece ability trees, there are some flourishes restricted to certain masterpieces. Increased ranges and numerical boosts, spell kennings and the like – your heart’s desires and classic tricks may be found here. Among the higher level tricks, we have mass expansions for previous flourishes or the means to absorb and return spells with suitable mechanics, building on spellsteal. We thus have a wide array of significantly expanded player agenda during building as well as at the table.

The engine becomes more complex: At 5th level, the class gets accompaniment: When maintaining a bardic masterpiece, he can start a second masterpiece as a standard action, counting the new performance against the total daily uses as usual. The second one must be one that can be started as a standard action or less, regarding of modifying class features that decrease action economy, and its maintenance is a move action. This second one can only be maintained after the primary masterpiece has been maintained. 17th level further upgrades that to allow for the retaining of a third masterpiece. The maintenance action of the third one, however, is locked to a standard action.

Starting at 2nd level, a bard gets a +4 insight bonus versus figments, patterns, language-dependent effects, sonic effects and other bardic performances – minor nitpick here: While the text and table place this one at 2nd level, the header reads 3rd, which is incorrect.

Now, this is not everything: At 7th level, and once more every 4 levels thereafter, the unchained bard gets a versatility talent. These apply the key Perform skill to a variety of different tasks and circumstances: Here, we can once more learn masterpieces, muses, repertoires or increase the starting attitude of animals, with the added option to use bardic performance uses to duplicate speak with animals. Gaining muse key skill ranks as BAB for the purpose of a combat maneuver, expanding the associated skills of a muse, slandering targets, evasion, becoming harder to antagonize, feint, etc., teamwork feats, etc.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good; apart from minor typo-level glitches and the aforementioned minor level snafu, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming’s new, two-column standard and the pdf sports several, original, gorgeous full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I love Alexander Augunas’ unchained bard. The class has evolved beyond its linear and oftentimes, somewhat bland beginnings. The massive amount of customization available for the class means that players finally have all the agenda they want. The unchained bard manages to not only enhance the choices of the PCs, it also succeeds in making the playing experience as meaningful as it should be. The bard remains a jack of all trades, versatile and unique, but now, the active abilities have been retweaked, have become stronger and no longer require that you need to spend your rounds doing boring stuff. In short, this is the definite bard. The fact that it can make for a good healer is another huge boon, particularly for groups that lack a ton of players or that are bored by clerics. In short, this is a resounding success of its attempted design goals. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Everyman Unchained: Bards
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Creature Components Vol 1 5E
Publisher: Playground Adventures
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:16:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of the massive Creature Components tome clocks in at 60 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review and has been moved up in my reviewing queue accordingly.

There is a further disclaimer to note here: While Playground Adventures generally focuses on child-friendly supplements, this one is aimed at a slightly more mature audience. The idea of this book is to use parts of vanquished creatures for magic, taking a cue from pretty much all real life mystical traditions and those depicted in fiction. While e.g. spell components already feature this theme, I figured it’d be worth mentioning. If young ones are really young and/or super-sensitive, this may not be for them. That being said, this is, as far as I’m concerned, really harmless. If you’re like me and have grown up in the country, of if you’re raising your family there, you should have no issues.

The first thing you’ll notice upon opening this book, is that it is GORGEOUS. I mean it. With runes on the border and an elegant full-color presentation, the tome looks amazing. Furthermore, the books’ aesthetics are wholly in service to the conceit this presents: Basically, we begin with an in-character framing narrative, and then move on through the tome, with copious amounts of artworks in pencil-drawn style, lavishly-created by Jocelyn Sarvida, generating a sense of holistic integrity, and illusion of flipping through the pages of a xenobiololgist’s field journal. In-character parchment addendums add to this visually concise presentation. I love this.

Now, as noted before, the basic idea of these components is tied to the innovation of power components: Basically, we’re talking about optional spell components that can alter the ways in which spells behave, harvested from defeated creatures. This simple idea is amazing, and frankly makes sense on so many levels. It is a nice reason to start adventuring; it allows the GM to reward the PCs for defeating certain foes, and it makes magic feel…well, more magical. I’m a huge fan of the concept. The harvesting process is btw. as simple as we want from 5e: You basically check Intelligence (Arcana) or (Religion), determining what parts of a creature can be used, with the DC ranging from 15 to 30. While this base DC is relatively high for a bottom DC, it makes sense – not everyone should be able to harvest these components, and it should not be too reliable. The DCs are btw. based on creature frequency – the rarer in a setting the creatures are, the harder harvesting gets, as a baseline. It makes sense: Knowledge and exposure on how to deal with a hunter/gatherer-resource generate a more broadly-spread knowledge regarding how to prepare the materials. I mean, many folks can prepare fish, but fugu? Beyond difficulty, it’s a rare craft there – I’d have no idea on how to prepare that properly.

The harvesting process employs the Survival and Medicine skills, and similarly ranges in skill DCs ranging from DC 15 to higher; a harvesting attempt takes 1d6 x 10 minutes, and the check may be retried on a failure, but only if it wasn’t botched by 5 or more. The character gains a single component on a success, with another component gained for every 5 points by which he exceeds the DC. It is important to note that the pdf explicitly states that anatomical limitations cap this – a creature with two eyes can’t yield three doses from eyes, for example. On the other hand, some components can definitely yield more uses: Powdered claws, for example.

A general guideline of challenge, ability DC and suggested market value is presented, and the book also provides precisely-codified rules for attempting to, at the GM’s discretion harvest components sans killing a creature. While nominally, even a successful attempt deals necrotic damage, this damage can by no means be mitigated, which is important regarding undead. Furthermore, the damage this inflicted reduces maximum hit points, not unlike a vampire’s blood drain, representing the significant potential damage. While this can be regained by a long rest, organs removed are gone and remain so. Now, if this aspect strikes you as a bit problematic, fret not, for the book explicitly denotes this as optional. The idea here is, for example, to allow a noble unicorn to sacrifice her horn to save a king, for a stalwart griffon to help the rider – you get the idea. (That aside, if you’re playing in a mature group, you can play this up as gory as you’d like – the presentation here is very much PG 13, but the content and mechanics here can easily be tweaked to account for a variety of tastes.) Similarly, thematic appropriateness of the use of a component remains, as a whole, firmly where it belongs, in the hands of the GM, and the pdf provides a rather helpful section that provides guidance when implementing this system.

But what about e.g. ghosts and air elementals of different beings that lack a physical body? Well, the pdf introduces the essence vial, an uncommon magic item that allows the character to collect the essences of such beings. The pdf smartly discusses the consequences of introducing these components regarding gold value and risk and reward. Particularly in 5e, with pretty low spell-durations, it should come as no surprise that harvesting, due to its duration, can be a pretty strenuous activity regarding PC resources. Still, for GMs favoring grittier games, the pdf alternatively suggests subtracting the value of these from the rewards otherwise granted. Since 5e is less contingent on WBL-assumptions than PFRPG, this should generally not yield issues, and the solutions suggested are solid.

Now, how does the enhancing of spells work? Well, only a single creature component can be used in conjunction with a given spell; however, and this is very important, maintaining such a spell becomes tougher due to the magic unleashed from the components. Constitution saving throws made to maintain the spell are increased by 5. Additionally, the pdf does not just provide means for the GM to use the components herein; instead, we get concise guidelines to determine effects for creature components, as they’re grouped in three categories: Lesser, moderate and greater. These categories are assigned effects, some of which are rather intriguing, for example featuring the extension of a spell’s effects for 1 round after concentration ceases. Limited damage type changes, slightly increased spell save DCs – the modifications to the spell-chassis are solid and take the peculiarities of 5e’s spellcasting engine into account. Nice: The supplement also discusses potential downsides for particularly potent components.

Such creature components, obviously, also make sense for use in conjunction with magic items, with a table by rarity denoting DCs; the book also discusses the use of such components in conjunction with item creation for non-charge-based and permanent items, providing a brief array of rules for formula research – considering 5e’s barebones means for item creation, I enjoyed this brief section, even though it remains, by design, rather basic. Cost reduction in such a context is also noted, just fyi. It should also be noted that the pdf similarly codifies the means to make magic permanent, though, once more, the means to do so remain in line with the rather easy to grasp 5e-mechanics.

Now, I’ve delayed this long enough, so how do these components work? A component is presented with an easy to read statblock of sorts: The entries list the most commonly-used components, and some creatures may yield multiple, different components. The entries also list their potency (lesser, moderate, greater) and then proceeds to note the spells that can be affected. Important: When a spell can be enhanced, so can its derivatives: If you can, for example, enhance restoration, then you can also use it to enhance greater restoration. Beyond those aspects, we have costs and descriptions noted.

It should also be noted that sub-species are taken into account: You can, for example, harvest devil’s blood from all types of devils, but obviously, you can only harvest barbed devil barbs from, well, a barbed devil. Speaking of which: These illustrate rather well the power and coolness of these options: Said barbs can be used to enhance any spell that enhances AC, and when used thus, creatures within 5 ft. of the caster successfully hitting with a melee or spell attack take 1d8 piercing damage per 2 spell levels above 1st. Vrock spores enhance spells that inflict the poisoned condition and add minor poison damage to the effect…and before you think about abuse, even if the poisoned condition does not allow for a save to end it, the ongoing poison damage bestowed by the component does explicitly allow for a save to end it.

Cool: Dragon turtle glands transform fire-damage causing effects into steam, making the spells functional underwater, and mitigating resistance gained due to immersion in water, but ONLY this resistance. Adding a gibbering mouther’s saliva to an acid-based spell can make it blind foes on a failed save…and here, just fyi, a default save for save-less effects is noted. The potency of components also hinges on the power of the spell they supplement, which is a clever trick: Gorgon horns, for example, partially can calcify victims of spells resisted with a Dexterity save. While nominally, this effect causes necrotic damage, it scales with spell potency, and when used in conjunction with 7th level and higher spells, it can petrify targets! It should also be noted, that, while classified as necrotic, the special damage inflicted does affected undead and instead is ignored by beings immune to petrification. Also interesting: The damage thus inflicted does only heal by magical means. A Hippogriff’s feathers can increase the speed of a fly spell to 80 ft., highlighting another component I very much enjoyed here: Instead of competing/superseding the enhancements available via 5e’s spellcasting options at higher levels, the pdf instead focuses on alternate augmentations, adding another level of resource-bound flexibility to the spellcasting engine.

I mean, come on, how cool is it to have your sorcerer draw forth that lycanthrope’s blood, powering enhance ability…but also risking lycanthropy? Wait, what? Yeah, not all of the components herein are safe to use: PCs that don’t exert the right amount of care may, for example, find themselves with a dangerous addiction to nalfeshnee vertebral fluid. (Ew!) Harsh? Maybe. But, you know, using a greater demon’s brain juice? Yeah, that SHOULD carry a risk! Depending on creature scarcity, there are some rather potent tricks here: When using, for example, an oni’s horn in conjunction with alter self, you also get a whopping +4 to Strength and Constitution and a size-increase to Large! Adding a stirge proboscis to a spell imposes a penalty on death saving throws when reduced by one to 0 hit points. Nice, btw.: The book takes care to account for some of the more subtle distinctions of 5e: While in PFRPG, a succubus is a demon, 5e assumes them to be their own type of fiend, and as such, the listing of the creature component also mirrors this decision in 5e – this is relevant due to the general components like demon’s blood, which can, correctly, I might add, not be harvested from succubi.

I should also mention that specific components have different effects: Skeleton dust can, for example, be used to enhance animate dead…or it can be laced into a magic circle versus the undead. The book covers a ton of well-crafted components, though it should be noted that closed IP-creatures could not be tackled. This is no fault of the supplement, but the consequence of how IP works. Beyond the massive array of components, we have 6 new feats. 4 of these represent having angel, demon, infernal or dragon blood in your veins, enhancing an ability score, helping harvesting, and the options to safely harvest certain types of blood. Beyond these 4, we have Component Caster, which increases a mental ability score of your choice by 1 and eliminates the concentration DC-increase for incorporating components. Component Crafter enhances harvesting and, surprise, crafting. All of these feats, power-wise, are in line with 5e’s aesthetics.

The final section of the pdf provides 12 magic items: 2 of these would be improved variants of the aforementioned essence vial, and elixirs that help control specific creatures can also be found. There is a very rare cloak made from blue dragon hide and the means to create a legendary remorhaz forge! A quill that seals objects with a riddle, a super aerodynamic manticore spike dagger, a powerful armor made of the wrappings of a vanquished mummy lord –pretty damn cool selection here! The pdf closes with 4 variant magic items and ends with a nice piece of in-character prose.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on a rules-language level and a formal level. Layout is absolutely gorgeous and adheres, as noted, to a beautiful two-column full-color standard. The artworks, similarly, are mind-blowing, with one single exception: A chapter-introduction artwork depicts, oddly, a solid CGI-type artwork that deviates in style from the others and sticks out like a sore thumb; that being said, the only reason I mentioned this, is that the pdf otherwise adheres to a uniform and tremendously beautiful style. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks that render navigation of the file comfortable and smooth, sporting bookmarks for the individual creatures.

Now, if you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll have noticed that I loved the original PFRPG-version of Creature Components Vol. 1 – it is a phenomenal book, and made my Top Ten of its release-year in 2016. It should come as no surprise, then, that I did somewhat dread this conversion. The systems are different in many key components, and I really hoped that Daniel Marshall’s inspired book would properly survive the transition to 5e. It is my utmost pleasure to note that the 5e-version does not lose the magic and inspired aspects of the original. Indeed, supporting authors/devs Dan Dillon and Stephen Rowe, two authors that are often synonymous with being fantastic authors, have done an excellent job here. To the point where I’d hesitate calling this a conversion – this is a redesign from the ground up, made lovingly to account for 5e’s needs. All imperfections I found ultimately boil down to be truly minor and can’t, in any way, compromise how awesome this supplement is.

Creature Components render magic more magical; they add to the immersion into the fantastic world. Beyond adding tactical depth and a rewarding component to resource management, beyond making previous victories of the PCs matter more, the book succeeds in improving further differentiating the impact of the creatures themselves on a fantasy setting. While, having already qualified in one of its previous iterations as a Top Ten candidate, this supplement is thus disqualified from qualifying again, I consider this to be a truly excellent and highly recommended supplement for your 5e-games, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This should be considered to be on par with a Top Ten-winner, and a must-own offering for 5e, earning this my EZG Essentials-tag, a must have, inspiring, game-enhancing supplement.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Creature Components Vol 1 5E
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The Undercroft #1
Publisher: Melsonian Arts Council
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/11/2018 04:13:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this ‘zine clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 24 pages of content; the electronic version also includes a 4 page cover-file, which sports 1 page front and back cover and 2 pages of maps. I do own the physical copy of this ‘zine, and it is a surprisingly nice, saddle-stitched pamphlet (both electronic and print version are 6’’ by 9’’/A5), with red covers – stark, paper-quality wise nice, particularly considering the low asking price.

My review is thus primarily based on the print version, though I have taken the electronic version into account as well. It should also be noted that this is a LotFP-fanzine, employing the rules of the system, and, more importantly, as such it adheres to a dark/weird fantasy horror-aesthetic, recommended for mature folks. It’s not explicit in any way, but deals with dark themes.

After a brief introduction, we begin with the first article “Rewriting the Cure Disease Spell”, penned by Alex Clements. Okay, I usually try to go neutral review-robot, reserving my opinions to the sidelines and conclusion, but this, when I read it first, was an eye-opener of unrivaled proportions as far as what I expected from ‘zines and what I expect from them. Why? Because the article if pure frickin’ GENIUS. It is ridiculously simple, but it is something that has, at this point, found its way into all my games in one way or another. Yes, all of them. PFRPG, DCC, 5e, OSR-games – it doesn’t matter. I use this. Because it’s genius in its simplicity. The idea is as follows: A disease has an infection vector and a save (which is converted, should you need to, easily enough). Oh, and not all diseases are instantly cured. Syphilis suddenly makes sense in a world where clerical healing exists, for diseases can now have DHP – Disease Hit Points. These denote, in short, the number of times you need to cast the spell to cure it. In more complex games, you can tie this to At Higher Levels, caster levels etc. – or, well, not. There is a minor formatting snafu here, in that spell-references are capitalized, instead of italicized per the LotFP-standards. Similarly, multiple failed saves often come with progressively weirder effects – amazing.

Beyond the genius base system, we get proper, detailed stats for syphilis, Godrickson’s corruption (with its subtable of strange effects – and yes, you can lose your male genitalia, if any, to this horrid magical disease),the devil’s face tumor, sign of conduct with demons…and, obviously, the plague! Did I mention the glorious parasites or an elf-only curse that can render their magic volatile? Damn, I adore this section. This could carry a whole book, and all sample uses of the system are inspired. This one, alone, makes this a must-own.

Master of the Undercroft Daniel Sell does NOT fall behind this quality in the second section: “The Wager of Battle” is brilliant. In Yongardy, the law is followed and much beloved. Why? Because lawyers duke it out to settle disputes! The peculiarities of 6 different types of law are provided before we get a gigantic 3-page d30-table that lets you determine what a lawyer’s known for, a second section and a caveat. The table is one of the best examples of its kind. Estate lawyers (also known as doormen) battle with huge hammers and shields, while King’s law is enforced in plate and with great swords. I love this. It’s inspired.

Finally, the last section of the ‘zine depicts the “Barrow of the Old King”, which seems to be just a jolly old fetch-quest, to retrieve the ring of an obscure king who ostensibly slew giants. The pdf comes with 11 different random encounters, and the maps noted before, sport asterisks that, apart from referee-decision, are suggested to be when you roll the dice. The adventure is nominally recommended for all levels, but it should be noted that it is deadly and difficult. Players that don’t run may die horribly at low levels; personally, I consider this to be suitable, depending on player skill from levels 1 – 6. As a formal complaint, the monster formatting is somewhat inconsistent, with a few just getting HD-values, while others get hit point values. The adventure sports two levels with 29 keyed locales, spanning the barrow and some caves. Being an old-school module, this has no read-aloud text.

The following represents a brief discussion of the adventure and contains SPOILERS. Potential players should skip ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only referees around? Great! So, beyond the lavishly-detailed dressing provided for the locations, which is used in really cool ways (mummified-bear-drawn chariot with a trap-door!), we have salt mummies, and there is a chance that the mighty, eponymous king runs into the PCs. If he does, they better run. At 8 HD, he’ll wreck them. Oddly, pantomiming gold-plated skeletons, Dark Souls II-style tripled zombies, sewn together, visions of the dying king…and yes, dumb PCs drinking metal can die in a nice example of a deserved save-or-die. Blasting crystals, risk/reward for greedy tomb robbers…this makes sense and is fair in its difficulty. There also is a unique, magical mace that gains strange effects when doubles are rolled damage-wise: Each of these are weird and come with their own lines of evocative prose that reminded me of the doom-ladden proclamations in e.g. Bloodborne: “And his heart sang of the deep.” is noted before the effects of one of these, for example. It’s a small thing, but it adds to the overall atmosphere of the complex…and there would be corpse lions, disgusting, deadly insects that make up the weird critters that have entered the complex, getting an intriguing write-up, having nasty gummy resin goo, smells noted and reaction/morale modifications. Size notes “A large dog” here, speed “as fast as a house cat while running” – precise values would have been preferred here. Other than that, this surprised me once more. The set-up is so basic and per se tired, but the creative ideas, detailed dressing and creative ideas elevate the module beyond almost every other module I have seen in a ‘zine. This surpasses many stand-alone adventures.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level are good – there are a couple of utterly unnecessary deviation from established LotFP-formatting and rules-presentation conventions, which somewhat annoyed me. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 1-column b/w-standard, with artwork chosen from public domain in an atmospheric manner. Cartography is b/w and nice, but lacks player-friendly versions. The electronic version lacks bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment.

Daniel Sell and Alex Clements provide a first ‘zine that is remarkable in a ton of ways. The supplement is absolutely inspired, with all articles being excellent. Not a single one is boring or even mediocre. They all are excellent. Presentation-wise, this isn’t as elegant or gorgeous, but if you value substance, quality-prose and ideas over style, then you can’t do better than to check this out. The low asking price makes this a steal in my book. Now, I do have to complain about the minor formatting snafus and the lack of player-friendly maps, but considering that this is a freshman offering, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform, and this also deserves my seal of approval. Excellent indeed!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Undercroft #1
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Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres - Hollow One
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2018 03:54:32

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres-series clocks in at 15, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Note: This is part of the Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres-tome and represents a single stand-alone path from the book.

The series was crafted with an eye towards providing options for some of the more popular 3pp-materials: Psionics, pact-magic-based spirit-binding, temporal shenanigans (Time Thief and Warden), as well as e.g. Rite Publishing’s take of shapeshifting via the taskshaper. The pdf thus provides a lot of synergy if you have these respective supplements. However, at the same time, the book does not lose its value for groups that do not employ there – the mythic paths that help for the respective subsystems are fully viable even without using e.g. pact magic, sporting plenty of options that do not require the use of such a subsystem. In short: While the support is here, the designs within do not force you to employ these systems.

The supplement begins by codifying the origin of power-sources, which is helpful – I have more to say on the origins and structure of magical power, but that’ll have to wait until the review of the big book.

The second mythic path of the lost spheres to have a stand-alone release would be the Hollow One, who gets 3 hit points per tier and is really interesting: One of the base abilities of the path allows you to temporarily assign a negative condition, bad pact (pact magic!), disease of the like and switch it to another creature temporarily. This handling of affliction transfer is pretty tough to get right, and, much like before, the pdf does something smart in that it concisely codifies such terms. I also enjoyed the second of these abilities, which allows you to grant yourself a boon, which scales depending on by how many afflictions you’re affected, capping at tier to prevent abuse. Thirdly, you can use a swift action (SANS mythic power expenditure!) to ignore the detrimental effects of such an affliction. The base abilities already entwine rather well and promise some cool stuff for the path abilities here. The tier 10 option allows you to regain mythic power, allowing you to regain one if affected by two afflictions in a single round.

Among the path abilities, we have access to forlorn feats from that Transcendent 10-installment and a really cool one: Gain Charisma for every curse you suffer from! Similar tricks can be applied to other ability scores, making this a great offering for the angsty, doomed antihero that draws strength from a doomed fate thrust upon him. An aura that renders 1s and 2s automatic failures, ignoring possessions by entities…and the path builds on that: In an AMAZING idea, the path offers the means to tap into the SPs and psi-like abilities of possessing entities! That is frankly glorious! Stealing possessions and curses, leeching off supernatural abilities, gaining sneak attack based on tier versus creatures targeting you with an affliction (should specify that it lasts only for the duration of the affliction), negative energy channeling per affliction borne…or what about making morale or insight bonus granting abilities count as curses? What about reflexive rage or bloodrage? You can tap into the skills of possessing creatures as well. What about delivering poisons that affect you?

At 3rd tier, we have access to an oracle mystery, fast healing contingent on curses borne (not a fan), spreading afflictions in an aura…or, if you’re going for pact magic, bind a spirit OPPOSED to the first one! And that’s only a selection! Gating in an outsider with an opposed alignment that may be heartbound to you is also really cool and rife with roleplaying-potential. Even though I’m not happy with every single aspect of this path, I adore it to bits – this one requires serious system mastery to pull off, but rewards you with as close to playing Many-as-One as I have seen in pen & paper games. Two thumbs up, flavor-wise one of my favorite mythic paths ever.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level and rules-language level can be considered to be good, if not perfect, with minor deviations and rough edges here and there; that being said, considering the complexity of the material presented here, the quality of these components is still rather impressive. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports a nice piece of full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for yoru convenience.

Christen N. Sowards’ Hollow One mythic path requires some system mastery to get the most out of, sure. It’s also rougher around the edges than the godhunter, for example, and may require a bit of oversight and minor tweaking. Formally, this may not be perfect. BUT DAMN, I adore this supplement! I really mean it! Condition transfer, unique mechanics based on afflictions taken, blending of flavor and rules. The possession-mechanics are NOT for every game; no even close. But OH BOY, this guy represents, hands down, my favorite mythic path ever. It’s inspired in the right ways. It is creative, oozes narrative potential, and actually manages to innovate. It is rough, being an earlier release of the company, but oh BOY can it be pure amazing! Now, as a reviewer, I can’t rate this as highly as I’d like to; it is a bit too rough for 5 stars. However, what I can do, is to rate this 4 stars and designate it as one of the few supplements that absolutely are worth spending the time to add a few final polishing flourishes…and add my seal of approval regardless. I love this fellow, and if you enjoyed the ideas noted, check it out!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres - Hollow One
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Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres - Godhunter
Publisher: Lost Spheres Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/08/2018 03:53:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres-series clocks in at 15, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Note: This is part of the Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres-tome and represents a single stand-alone path from the book.

The series was crafted with an eye towards providing options for some of the more popular 3pp-materials: Psionics, pact-magic-based spirit-binding, temporal shenanigans (Time Thief and Warden), as well as e.g. Rite Publishing’s take of shapeshifting via the taskshaper. The pdf thus provides a lot of synergy if you have these respective supplements. However, at the same time, the book does not lose its value for groups that do not employ there – the mythic paths that help for the respective subsystems are fully viable even without using e.g. pact magic, sporting plenty of options that do not require the use of such a subsystem. In short: While the support is here, the designs within do not force you to employ these systems.

The supplement begins by codifying the origin of power-sources, which is helpful – I have more to say on the origins and structure of magical power, but that’ll have to wait until the review of the big book.

This pdf, obviously, depicts the godhunter, who gains 5 hit points per tier and the devour the divine ability, which may take one of three shapes: You can choose to either spend mythic power as an immediate action to add your tier to a saving throw AND gain a reroll versus a divine effect. On a success, you are not affected and instead heal hit points based on tier, which btw., when exceeding your maximum hit points, can partially be converted to temporary hit points. The second option lets you spend mythic power as an immediate action to collect divine remnants, so-called detria. These act as a means to duplicate, spell-storing style, one divine spell or spell-like ability of a creature slain. These may only be used by the godhunter that created them, and require UMD to activate. This one, RAW, does require a lot of spell/SP-tracking and can become pretty potent. Considering the value of mythic power, I have no issue with the power-level this has, and detria cannot be stockpiled as a balancing caveat. The third option represents the means to spend mythic power for a tier-based bonus to atk, and bonus damage versus divine spellcasters and outsiders. The path nets a path ability every tier and the capstone ability nets basically advantage on saves vs. divine spells cast by non-mythic targets, as well as SR versus divine spells.

Now, as far as path abilities are concerned, we have the option to get another one of the aforementioned devour the divine abilities. We have means to prevent teleportation and plane shifting, or, for example, a means to extend the benefits of the aforementioned attack/damage boost to any target currently affected by a divine spell, which is pretty interesting. Making detria behave as potions is nice…but I really like the means to for example steal channel energy uses. The path abilities also include interesting passive abilities – like divine spellcasters needing to save versus their own spells when targeting the godhunter, potentially being dazed for a round. Minor complaint here – the ability only specifically mentions targeting, meaning that area of effect effects not necessarily being included. Extending the benefits of the healing option to allies targeted nearby. Reducing the CL of hostile divine spells to determine duration is also nice – though I think that rounds reduced to 0 should probably cancel out this component; that, or have a 1 round minimum duration. Cool: There is an ability that lets you hijack divine spells. Item-use, transfer wounds.

Among the 3rd tier abilities, we have the means to employ metamagic feats via the burning of detria; imposing basically disadvantage (roll twice, take worse result) on concentration checks is intriguing. Leeching off excess healing in the vicinity. On the nitpicky side, the Hungry Zeal ability, which nets another use of the Zealotry ability, should specify the requirement of the Zealotry ability. Limited domain poaching and becoming immune to a domain of a vanquished spellcaster makes for some cool tricks – particularly since the latter is balanced, once more, by tier, having a sensible scaling. In short, as before, this offers further upgrades, building on previous tricks. The 6th tier abilities include means to hold more detria at once, as well as the option to use detria for Item Creation purposes…or what about tattoos infused with detria that render you immune to a divine spell, with the maximum spell level gated by tier?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the pdf is also significantly more precise than what we usually get to see. Considering the complexity of the material, this is commendable. Layout adheres to a solid two-column full-color standard, and the artwork featured is original and impressive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Christen N. Sowards’ Godhunter is an interesting and long overdue means for mythic characters to depict the foe of certain gods…or, well, all deities! I like this mythic path very much, and while I am not 100% happy with all design-decisions herein, I consider this mythic path to be well worth checking out. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Mythic Paths of the Lost Spheres - Godhunter
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Steelforge: Book 2
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/07/2018 05:41:34

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second book of Dreamscarred Press‘ item-centric Steelforge-series clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 21.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so first thing you should know, is that this supplement attempts to present an encompassing view – that means that it not only lists special item properties from Ultimate Psionics in its appendix, it also features the crown of chaos, dancing robes of Sharatwan, disruptor, dissonance, groundscorn boots of the twice-loved, heartstaff, helm of the hydra, Moldev, Severis and the Tempest’s Blade from Ultimate Psionics – basically the whole psionic items of legend series.

In case you’re new to the concept, here is the gist of it: Items of Legend are special magic items that level with their owners, but which also require a specific set of prerequisites to properly use, unlocking new abilities and combating the disposable-item-syndrome, sporting unique and evocative abilities. Many of the items have new artworks, and there is something that makes this section be more than a rethread: Unlike in Ultimate Psionics, we now get values for the respective items. That legendary item with 3 of its powers unlocked? It has a GP-value listed, which makes WBL-determining much easier on the GM. Depending on how nitpicky you are, this alone may make this worth getting. Each of these items also has its own full color artwork, which is nice for sure, though I wished the pdf used a less pixilated version of the artwork of the heartstaff. This is an aesthetic nitpick, though, and will not be taken into account regarding the final verdict. So yes, this section can be considered to be a success and helpful due to this inclusion.

On the player-facing side of things, we get the 5-level forgelord PrC, who gains up to +3 BAB-progression and Fort- as well as will-saves, no new proficiencies, d8 HD and 4 + Int skills per level. The PrC begins play with a bonus equal to class level to the crafting process’ related skill checks, as well as the ability to use the Master Craftsman, if you have it, to qualify for any Item Creation feat – essentially, this allows you to use class level as CL for all of them, instead of just for Craft Magic Arms and Armor and Craft Wondrous Item. At 2nd, 3rd and 4th level, the PrC nets access to class features of a previous class prior to entering the PrC, retaining its viability for classes that require the progression of their base features. The key ability of the PrC would be item attunement, which allows the forgelord to spend an hour in meditation with a magic item in order to attune to it. This grants the Least item attunement bonus for that category of item. At 3rd level, the forgelord may attune two items one of which also gets the associated Lesser benefits, while the other only has the Least benefit. This improves with 5th level, the ability providing the means to have up to 3 items attuned at any given time, one of which may also bestow the Greater benefit, with another only granting the Least and Lesser benefits and the third granting just the Least benefit. If an item would fall into more than one category, then the forgelord gets to choose in which category he’ll apply the benefits.

Okay, regarding the benefits: The Least benefit of weapon attunement grants Weapon Proficiency as well as Weapon Focus while attuned; the Lesser one increases critical multiplier by 1 (not a fan), and the Greater one increases the enhancement bonus of the weapon by +2, explicitly allowing the raw boost to transcend +5, the total to transcend +10. I am not too happy with the latter one either; mathematically, it basically offsets the BAB-progression of the class, upgrading it to full, which isn’t a problem, but the breaking of hard limits imposed upon item bonuses further tilts an already offense-biased system further in favor of offense, with the critical multiplier enhancement an angle that already is problematic in PFRPG’s base chassis. If you’ve ever seen the PC and boss-ending capabilities of x4 weaponry in the right builds, you’ll know what I mean. The armor section, on the other hand, is amazing, providing bonuses to AC, reduced armor check penalties, and increased maximum Dexterity bonuses, with Lesser providing DR and the Greater one sporting something unique: You no longer count as wearing the armor if it would be beneficial for you! This is pretty damn cool and allows for e.g. armor-wearing monks to retain their class features. Here, the boost of defensive capabilities is very much appreciated.

Spell-in-a-can items increase CLs and UMD to use them is easier (minor nitpick – Use Magic Device). The Least option is cool: If the item has limited charges/uses per day, there is a 10% chance it won’t expend a use/charge. The Greater version allows for Metamagic/psionic addition to the effect, at the cost of a longer casting duration. Finally, disposable items begin with a 10% chance of not being expended as well as a Use Magic Device bonus. Expendables reappear in your hand, potions refill, etc. while ammunition does not explicitly state that – it just isn’t destroyed. This is a smart verbiage, as it prevents reloading confusion. The Lesser boon increases CL of the items, while the Greater one makes the DC scale based on ½ character level + highest ability score modifier. Really liked this one!! Finally, wondrous items allow for quicker activation, no longer occupy their slots (But nota bene regarding item stacking restrictions! They still apply!) and the Greater power allows them to continue working when suppressed for any reason, provided they succeed a Fortitude save versus the effect. The DC begins at 15, and increases by +2 for every subsequent round.

At 2nd level, the forgelord may 1/day as a standard action bestow one temporary charge to a charged item he’s attuned to, which lasts for one hour before dissipating. The ability gets a second daily use at 4th level. Also at 2nd level, once epr class level per day, non-instantaneous or continuous item effects with a duration may have their duration doubled, but only when replicating a spell or power with an effect to not exceed 3rd level, and only when attuned to the item. At 4th level, once per day when using the ability to extend an effect thus, the forgelord may choose to make it last 24 hours. Kudos: No sleep-cheesing here: Using the ability again before the previous one has run its course cancels the first use. At 5th level, we get a cool capstone: We get to create a lesser artifact, with some general guidelines provided that do not restrict creativity unduly, but which still provides context.

I really like the wide-open forgelord and the universal appeal it can have. The benefits are potent, and while I am not a fan of the weapon tweaks, I get the ideas behind them. All in all, I consider this to be a successful PrC.

While we’re on the topic of artifacts: The pdf provides 3 of them: Liar’s Quill is amazing. This item is subtle, and if you write something that is currently true, the quill changes what it writes. It can’t predict things, but as a research tool, it is great. This is a simple premise, sure, but using it in clever ways can be downright glorious for investigations and the like. (And yeah, sure, it also helps lying through writing, but the concept’s the star here.) The Incinerator Cannon can be programmed daily with a single sentence of no more than 20 words. When a target fitting that definition (which I assume may not be a named target, but which needs to be general…spelling that out would have been nice) enters range, it fires an empowered disintegrate at the target, with +20 atk. Oh, and it can be folded into an ioun stone-like orb that blasts foes nearby that fit the definition. Here’s the thing: Beyond programming, there is NO control of the artifact possible. This can be a great extermination-level weapon for PCs, but it can also be a rather dastardly liability when manipulated by smart villains. The final artifact would be the chessboard of the astral army, which comes with a full set of a new item type, the chess pieces of the astral army: These are different-level astral constructs, with precisely-codfied menu choices. The board has its full set and may store them, and when drawing the pieces from it, it enhances them. This one has a really cool means of destruction, requiring basically besting it n speed chess. And yes, the pieces are basically astral constructs in bottles, powers-in-a-can, but I maintain that this is how you make items and item classes interesting. Kudos!

Now, as you all probably know by now, I am a pretty big sucker for legendary items – I adore the concept, and I really love them; in fact, in may game, every PC end up with at least one of them. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that the chapter I’m most interested in here, would be the new legendary items. As in the revisit to the previously-released ones, we get GP-values for their respective levels, allowing for easier WBL and treasure-calculations. A total of 4 such legendary items are provided, with the first being the city in a bottle. This one increases its power in 5 steps and basically combines bag of holding with Leadership and settlements that increase in size! This is conceptually amazing and super-useful for mega-dungeon campaigns, if you’re going for a less survivalist take on such mega-adventures.

Razor, the warrior’s weapon (written by Erin Heck) is a glasslike weapon made of magical force, and increases its powers in 10 steps. The weapon is basically a devouring blade that can consume other magic items, somewhat akin to e.g. the swordmaster or the bladebound magus. Values for fed and unfed statuses of the blade are provided. The weapon also becomes intelligent and Quick Draw, returning to the owner’s hand, uncanny dodge, 1/month true resurrection and changing properties complement an item, which btw. takes bladebound magus into account. Love this one! The ring of the grand vizier is a ring of protection with scaling improvements, occupying the ring chakra, enhancing the UMD skills of the character. The item also enhances Aid Another, insight bonuses and as a capstone, adds least akashic catalyst to all chakras. Finally, there would be twisted gambit, a 10-step improving glove (which oddly, does not specify occupying the proper slot in what I assume to be an oversight) that enhances your skills regarding gambling and Sleight of Hand, as well as the ability to use Sleight of Hand instead of Stealth. Gloves of storing function, the means to upgrade the gloves via gambling winnings, a luck pool for rerolls, calling for high or low rolls (with bonuses for right calls, penalties for wrong ones), high-level swift action teleport (with Stealth synergy), limited consumable creation…once more, a potent and cool item!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level: The pdf juggles complex concepts and manages to blend concepts and the rules that represent them well: The gambling item, for example, requires that the player gambles for a few of its tricks. I like these blendings. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press’ elegant 2-column full-color standard, with a blending of original and old artwork in full color, of varying quality. The pdf comes with a second, more printer-friendly version – Kudos! The pdf has basic bookmarks, but not ones for every single item.

Jacob Karpel and Patrick Miller deliver a great booklet of complex items. The GP-values for the psionic items of legends make this book much more useful, and the new material, as a whole, must be considered to be all-killer, no filler. Furthermore, while I am not happy with all design-decisions, and while I have noticed a precious few minor hiccups, none of them really impede the functionality of this supplement’s content, and I’d rather have amazing, ambitious material with VERY few minor blemishes, than bland perfection. In short: This is still on par with Dreamscarred Press’ high track record of complex, high-quality crunch. Highly recommended, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval for this cool booklet!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Steelforge: Book 2
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Legacies: ToS1-05 Path To Ambition
Publisher: First Ones Entertainment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2018 11:11:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page record sheet, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreons as a prioritized review.

Now, this is an adventure for characters level 3 – 8, intended for use with the Tyrants of Saggakar living campaign, and as such, the pdf comes with 2 pages of patron notes, depicting briefings for factions. A pretty big plus: The module also features a wealth of different handouts – no less than 7 player handouts are presented, and while they are laid out like a regular page of the module, with the big “Tyrants of Saggakar”-header at the top and no parchment for letters etc., we do get, for example, a “Wanted”-picture, which is a nice touch.

The module sports two GM maps, but no player-friendly versions of the surroundings. Location-wise, this module takes place in Onero, the City of Sin, an interesting location, where, in contrast to the rest of the setting, folks are enslaved by a metaphysical concept, rather than potent beings of social strata – it is a sin defined by its vices, its greed and apathy, a place of decadent, ruthless splendor, if you will; for more detail, you can refer to the sourcebook depicting the city and its vicinity, though this supplement is not required to run the module. The settlement statblock is btw. included.

Now, on the formal level, the pdf is actually surprisingly detailed: We get copious amounts of read-aloud text, as well as a finely-grained degrees of success/failure: DC-checks regarding lore etc. oftn have plenty of different lines for different values, which is a rather nice touch and something I’d very much enjoy seeing more often.

Rules-wise, the pdf presents minion and mob-rules, as well as the relevant NPC statblocks for APL 3, 5 and 7.

Now, in order to discuss this module, I need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great. So, Onero is a free city state in a world of tyrannical houses – and so far, it has managed to evade the notice of the Great Houses, but this has changed when an agent of House Faremhi managed to intercept a letter between rebels and Onero’s council – worse, this news leaked, and now, the great houses sense easy slaves for the taking. As is wont in such cases, assassins were deployed, with one of these professionals, a man named Argoth, being quite successful indeed – two of the 6 senators of Onero have already fallen to his blade and the powers of his dark folk allies. Once again, as a professional, he does not leave loose ends…which makes a certain dark stalker and his kin a good scapegoat…and if a proper Patsy can be added, even better…

As hinted at before, the pdf comes with a remarkable amount of lore, like word on the street, etc., which can make for a nice reward for PCs doing their legwork. We join the intrepid adventurers, as they visit The Cage on the aptly-named Bloodsport Street. Yeah, told you the place was decadent, right? It is testament to the module’s details that PCs can actually challenge the champion – they have to remain just 5 rounds standing. Yes, this will not be easy…

Anyways, they are contacted by none other than Mayor Bani Mito, who hires the PCs to bring her the head of the assassin that has killed two members of the High Council so far – the City Watch’s stumped (and/or corrupt), so the PCs will have an investigation on their hands that will influence the course of Onero’s destiny. The details regarding word on the street and evidence retained remains and the pdf does provide guidance for the GM regarding questions that can be expected to be asked.

The investigation, as such…is remarkably interesting: There is a somewhat dark and interesting item that can help, the blood compass, but it is not strictly required to solve the module; during the course of the adventure, we visit the House of the Autumn Moon, a brothel with geisha-house aspirations, and the PCs may well get the item noted…or, well not. This sequence may be brief, but it is an interesting and atmosphere-wise nice section that reminded me of e.g. The Alienist, From Hell, etc. – urban, grimy and fun.

The trail, ultimately, will lead the PCs to the former keep of Tar Silfdar, five miles out of town, where a campsite speaks of occupants, where poisoned tapestries, traps and undead await. Cool: The Dark Folk can actually be communicated with, and the module sports quite a few, detailed lines, analogue in detail to the previously-noted investigation aspects. The leader of the dark folk, Moncius, may be negotiated with if defeated…did I mention the fungus farm? Oh, and the pdf ends with a great cutscene, wherein the killer has eliminated the Mayor…to be continued!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a pretty printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, with the Tyrants of Saggakar and FOE Entertainment logos as touches of color. Artworks are public-domain/stock pieces, but are pretty well chosen. As an unnecessary comfort detriment, the pdf lacks bookmarks.

Onero, as a city supplement, did show potential and was interesting, but did not manage to transition to awesome. This module, however, is different. The read-aloud text is an example of well-crafted prose, and it, in conjunction with the EXCESSIVE amount of lore information that capable players can unearth, make the atmosphere, the city, come to life. To the point where I really wanted to see more! As far as I’m concerned, the investigation through Onero could have been much longer, but yeah. Author Randy price delivers a creative, cool and atmospheric module here: This is grimy, glorious dark fantasy that feels almost Lankhmar-esque. As far as I’m concerned, this module’s prose is to be commended. However, the brevity of the investigation is somewhat lamentable, and the exploration of the dungeon-locale is imho slightly less compelling, though once more, the read-aloud text manages to convey more atmosphere than many comparable modules.

Now, this is only the first part of the Price of Ambition-series, but even if you’re not interested in running a series, it makes for a great adventure that can be run in a decadent city. As far as I’m concerned, it managed to make me excited for the series! The only downsides here would be the brevity (when the investigation could have carried so much more!) and the lack of bookmarks. Still, even with these detriments, I consider this to still be an inexpensive, well-crafted module – for the low asking price, you certainly get your buck’s worth! My final verdict will hence clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Legacies: ToS1-05 Path To Ambition
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Adventure Avenue: A Nightmare Awakening
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2018 11:07:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Purple Duck Games‘ Adventure Avenue-series clocks in at 59 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 55 pages of content, though these have been laid out for pamphlet-size (6’’ by 9’’, or A5), which means that, provided your eyes can handle small text, you can fit up to 4 pages on a given sheet of paper when printing this.

Now, first things first: On a formal level, the module sports two maps: One full-color regional map of the Burroughs of Dunmark, basically a horror-themed region of Porphyra, and a b/w-map of the dungeon featured herein. Unfortunately, we do not get a player-friendly version of the dungeon-map, which constitutes a comfort-detriment. On the plus-side regarding comfort, the module sports something that more adventures should have – namely, a list of treasure with selling value and rooms, if applicable, noted, and a second table that lists the XP-values of the threats faced within. Kudos for this nice GM-helper!

The pdf does, however, come with a bonus files penned by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, which depicts the hagiographical drake, a CR 7 critter that breathes poisonous fire and which also gets speed bursts. Nice one!

Back to the module: If the title and cover art were not ample indicator, this is a dark fantasy/horror adventure set against a fantasy backdrop; if you’re not playing in Porphyra, then it should be easy enough to integrate this into most campaigns. As the module makes use of the themes of Dream and some mythos-themes, it should easily fit into, for example, Fat Goblin Games’ Shadows over Vathak-setting, or adventure-sequences with dream- and cosmic horror themes. The encounters and locales sport brief read-aloud text sections, fyi, so yeah, this is very much helpful for GMs that have a problem improvising compelling descriptions.

In order to discuss this module in more detail, however, I will need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. The pdf sports a couple of nice full-color full-page artworks, btw.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! The PCs, via one of multiple hooks, are tasked to investigate the strange disappearance of Alra Vyrsmak and thus pick up her trail near the isolated and xenophobic village of Nirun’s Hillock. Already suspicious of outsiders, the climate of the village has not been improved by ill winds and strange dreams. The village gets its own village statblock, and the module here takes an event-driven form, using encounters to generate a growing sense of unease – the local shrine, for example, is creepy and features iconography associated with the Great Old Ones, and watching the strange worship may well show that some villagers are becoming pseudonatural! The night is also haunted by a nightgaunt, and dreams of the mythic kingdom of Iskandar beset those dreaming. Ultimately, the PCs will need to retrace Alra’s footsteps past the many branches of the Little Wander River, where remnant of fight with river folk have attracted leshy to the corpses, witchlights can lead the PCs into the hungry embrace of carnivorous plants, and Alra’s abandoned campsite has been taken over by Zoog. The next of aforementioned nightgaunt, strange and unearthly, would be an odd further place. Nice: these sections allow the GM to slowly establish an atmosphere of ever-growing apprehension, which culminates in the dungeon that makes up the main meat of the module.

You see, the complex that Alra’s trail leads to would be the Dreamer’s enclave, once used to control a vast swath of the region. The arrival of hapless Alra has resulted in the Dreamer awakening, taking a form imitating the sought after shade of Iskandar. The complex itself is rickety and multiple potential partial collapses must be contended with; partial flooding and cool haunts complement this section. The choice of monsters is nice and there even is a small bit of roleplaying interspersed here. Ultimately, the PCs will hopefully find Alra. Whose mind has been subjugated. Subduing the sage can provide a redemption-angle for the PCs to help with, which is a nice touch – but in order to actually triumph here, the PCs will have to collapse basically a kind-of-overlap/transition to the Plane of Dreams, and defeat the dreaded “Shade of Iskandar” – who turns out to be a rather potent nightmare lord mi-go! The pdf comes with all relevant stats; the original layout file was lost, though, so one comment sports a replacement creature – I don’t mind, as the proper replacement is valid and nice, but I figured I should mention that.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, I noticed no serious accumulation of hiccups. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard with purple highlights and is printer-friendly. The full-color full-page artworks of monsters sported herein is Nice. Cartography is solid, though the lack of a player-friendly map is a bit of a bummer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Matt Roth’s “A Nightmare Awakening” is an unpretentious, well-crafted swamp-expedition with a mythos-angle; it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it is tight in its representation of the tropes and themes we expect from the genre. The convenience of the tables and generally solid use of haunts, traps, etc. mitigates somewhat the absence of player-friendly maps. The star here, what elevates this module above many of its brethren, would be the smart use of unique terrain in conjunction with the previously-mentioned complications. The module does not feel sterile, and the dungeon manages to feel dangerous not by virtue of throwing tons of enemies at the PCs, but by means of its features. That’s a big plus for me. If you want just a dash of cosmic horror/dark fantasy with a mythos bent, then this delivers – it does not swamp you in hopelessness and does not require a plethora of subsystems to generate tension. This is not a brutal purist’s module, and, while not easy, it will not leave the PCs crippled or gibbering. In short: This is a nice piece of genre-writing, and as such, it deserves a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Avenue: A Nightmare Awakening
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Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/06/2018 11:05:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Advanced Adventures-series clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front- and back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This adventure is intended for characters level 8 – 10, 4 – 7, to be precise. Well…I honestly think that twice that number may be more realistic, with a well-diversified group being of tantamount importance. Sans at least one character in the core 4 classes, this is essentially unbeatable.

So, an order of planes-exploring wizards has mounted an assault into basically a region of Hell that behaves akin to a pocket-plane. We’re talking about a desert here, just fyi. Okay, first thing: We’re talking about an order that can field excursions into Hell. This requires, for many settings, an introduction of such a powerful force, which is not exactly nice. That being said, the planar-angle, which otherwise doesn’t really come into play, serves as a justification for the extensive, elaborate background story: Basically, the good god Meneptah (stats included) led his civilization into battle against an evil civilization, resultin in his capture, and in the aftermath, destruction of his captors. How is this relevant to the plot? Well, it’s not. It’s a needlessly elaborate backgroundstory that makes adding the adventure sans the planar angle problematic. So, story-wise, you’re left with a) the option to introduce a super-powerful magic-user order, or b) introduce not one, but two fallen civilizations. Both are needlessly tough on a GM’s lore regarding the world and both ultimately have no bearing whatsoever on the plot. This verbose and extremely detailed amount of backstory is perhaps the one thing that you can consider to be a strength regarding the module, but ultimately, it is NEVER relevant for the PCs and cannot be unearthed

Oh, I wished that this was the main issue. I am “spoiling” the module in this review, and I won’t even bother with the usual warning apart from this, as the module does not warrant it.

Anyways, know how one of the things that make OSR-modules often stand out, is that the authors can focus on lore, creating cool scenarios, and less on stats? Because OSR.mechanics are so simple? Well, the pdf is sloppy in that regard, referencing weapons not featured in OSRIC’s tome.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The PCs basically enter the region, and begin with an overland exploration. There are some nomads (camp not mapped), some wilderness encounters and travel times noted; among the random encounters, we focus on desert monsters. Motivations for the encounters are pretty simplistic, but solid. From here, we move to the ruined capital of the evil Muhatian nation that imprisoned Menptah. The city’s ruins are not mapped, and enemy encounters are undead. Vanilla, bland undead. No unique abilities. Odd: The palace of the king is several hexes away from his capital, and mapped as an 8-keyed encounter region. That’s fully of the same, generic undead. It is also here that a nasty trap can be found – magical foodstuff that actually strengthens evil treants nearby. If the PCs are smart…that doesn’t matter. 20th level non-detection masks the alignment of effects and the illusion featured here. This kind of screw-job, alas, is a leitmotif throughout the adventure.

This becomes more evident in the Tomb of Zoser, which is a straight and linear dungeon exploration. (As in: Super-linear: 15 keyed locations, pretty much in a straight line.) Here, the elemental princes f ice and magma are imprisoned, sitting on their thrones, waiting for the PCs to stumble in. No, I am not kidding you. There is also an airship here that must be used to navigate basically to the end of the complex – no bypassing possible, with a combined Strength of 112 required to open a door otherwise. Indeed, this module is dickish. As in: Beyond “Tomb of Annihilation”-levels dickish. As in “What were they thinking???”-levels. Need an example? The gates to the tomb are poisoned – touching them nets you a save-or-die. And know what’s “fun” – it’s contact poison that ignores wearing gloves. Why? Because the author said so. It’s just not fair. I don’t object to save or die, but it should be earned, the result of the player’s actions. This is just dastardly, random, bad fiat.

Basically, you’ll note pretty soon that there are a couple of things that the module does:

You play this module EXACTLY how the author intended, or not at all. Alternate problem-solutions are not taken into account and actively discouraged. Creativity is punished. Constant “A Wizard Did It”-syndrome – I mean it. All the time. There is no rhyme or reason or theme to anything. The author tries to paint over this with lore. It doesn’t work. Overabundance of undead and ghosts. Guess what happens at the end of the little dungeon? Bingo! Punishment of exploration. The dickish nature of the dungeons and scenario as a whole penalizes the PCs for exploring, when their mission is to do just that. You murder-hobo EVERYTHING. You can’t skip/bypass encounters. Kill, kill, kill.

These are but the first issues. The next, similarly optional dungeon, is a 6-keyed locales temple may be the highlight of the module, with demon lord shrines and a lamia + demon-lover making for something unique…but again, no chance for the PCs to truly learn their extensive background story. The hackfest continues.

And then, we get to the prison, which MAKES NO SENSE whatsoever. The prison is NOT designed in any way to keep a deity imprisoned; it is crafted as a “test of worthiness” for the PCs, which makes NO SENSE, even if you buy into the backstory. The main-dungeon of the module, the one non-optional locale, is just DUMB. There is a sequence of rooms that is crafted to challenge the respective member of the 4 core classes. One for magic-users, one for fighters, one for thieves and one for clerics. There is also a fifth sequence of rooms that requires so-called puzzles to solve; depending on the equipment your PCs carry, they may not be able to pass here. Don’t have a bolt that you can bless? First room can be a dead end. And yes, ALL of these paths must be explored to enter the final room and free Meneptah. This dungeon is utterly ATROCIOUS and represents a great callback to everything that sucked about old-school adventures. If you need your nostalgia-goggles taken off, look no further.

All right, so first of all, know how PCs at this level have divinations? And how good modules incorporate their required use into their challenged? Well, none of them work in the complex. Why? No idea. Furthermore, teleportation, bypassing of rooms, etc. is strictly prohibited…for the players. The beings in the complex, the monsters etc. can use them wily-nily, which once more reeks of GM-fiat. Speaking of which: A room with a wall to scale…prevents flying. At this level. Why? Because the author wills it so. There is NO means to reward tactics. Smart players are stumped by doors locking, combat ensuing – attempts to prevent the like are met with the equivalent of a bad PC game forcing your wizard to open the door and stare right down into the minigun. This is scripted and strips the PCs of any meaningful agenda. Let’s return to our list and add:

Nerfing of earned Player character-capabilities to ensure that the module is played “the right way”, i.e. as the author wishes it to be played. Fiat and inconsistency regarding monster-capabilities – the PCs should have, at the very least, some way to unlock their powers. Living creatures placed sans rhyme or reason, waiting for the PCs. Constant sabotage of any player-agenda and clever use of PC-resources.

Wanna know what’s also pretty much the epitome of “fun”? A mirror of opposition at the end of the respective challenges that duplicates the respective class and has a chance to petrify EVERYONE else. This type of save or suck repeats for ALL of them. Also lulzy: There is a lever of an obscure puzzle that penalizes PCs that get it wrong (we get Myst-levels of hints) with no less than THREE different save or die/petrify-beams. Sounds like fun already? No? Surprise. If by some sort of masochistic drudgery, your players manage to get to the end, we’ll have a boring 2 demon-final boss fight that, after this complex, is all but guaranteed to wipe out remaining PCs – a balor and a nalfeshnee. At this level. After a dungeon of non-skippable save-or-die crap. This leads me to the final point to be added to the list:

Generic, bland enemy-selection, from start to finish. If it’s not generic, it makes no sense.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are pretty good, though the deviation from OSRIC’s formatting style somewhat galls; on a rules-language level, the pdf manages to get rules-aspects wrong, in spite of the system’s simplicity. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with a couple of b/w-artworks that range from solid to okay. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The b/w-cartography is functional, but lacks player-friendly versions.

Alphonso Warden’s “Prison of Meneptah” has no redeeming qualities as far as I’m concerned. I try hard to see the positive in any supplement or module I review, but here, I got NOTHING.

This module is HORRIBLY designed and commits pretty much all cardinal sins you can imagine. It is a needlessly cruel and linear, nonsensical meatgrinder that punishes players for not thinking like the author. It’s less like playing a pen and paper RPG, and more like playing a horrible, badly-designed RPG on your PC or console. You know the type. The game that forces your wizard main character to open the door to the obvious death trap, because he’s the main character. That breaks its own rules for monsters and NPCs. The game that you can only win by making copious use of Quick Save/Load. This module is the pen and paper equivalent of such a game.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like tough as nails killer adventures and meatgrinders. But they need to be fair. LotFP has a couple of super-deadly modules I absolutely adore; and even in them, save-or-die must usually be earned and is the consequence of player-actions. This book hobbles and nerf PCs and then punishes them, constantly, for not playing by rules that the players and characters CAN’T KNOW. I ADORE puzzle-dungeons, and the final dungeon herein is pretty much a perfect example why they have a bad reputation – the challenges make no true sense and don’t fit into a prison. They are arbitrary and sloppily designed.

From the fluff that is needlessly hard on the GM regarding integration, to the lame enemies, linearity and mind-boggling blandness of the encounters faced – there simply is NOTHING to salvage here. I wouldn’t GM or play this adventure if you paid me for it. This has not seen contact with any semblance of reality at the table, and feels like a novelist’s attempt to write an adventure sans any understanding of how adventures actually work in practice. This lacks any semblance of foresight and, once you take away the lore, which has no impact on anything within and can’t be unearthed either, you’re left with the module that is pretty much the epitome of every single design-sin from the days of yore. There isn’t even nostalgia to be had here, courtesy of the super-generic and arbitrary challenges posed. This is not even “so bad it’s funny”-bad; it is just abysmal in every single way I can conceive.

This module has the dubious honor of being the single worst adventure I have read in the last 5 years. 1 star. Steer clear.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #4: Prison of Meneptah
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Sanitarium - Adventure 4 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2018 06:26:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The much-anticipated fourth installment of the high fantasy horror AP by Micah Watt clocks in at 80 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page KS-backer-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 74 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As before, we get a selection of pregens, 5 to be precise, should you choose to replace a fallen PC or dive right into this. However, I do recommend playing the series; while deliberately slow in the beginning, the third module remains one of the best haunted house modules I know, and if this one can retain that level of quality, then we’re in for a treat!

Now, on a formal level, it should be noted that, like the previous adventures, we get EXTENSIVE map-packs: We get versions of the maps in b/w AND full-color, with and without grid, and with and without background parchment – where relevant. Smaller, room-sized maps come in player-friendly versions in full-color, accounting for the fact that they’ll be used by klutzes like yours truly that can’t draw, or by folks using VTTs. Seriously, though: Big kudos, particularly considering that Pyromaniac Press is a small and relatively new outfit – this sort of support should be standard!

The module, while intended for 6th level characters, sports scaling advice for 5th and 7th level; medium advancement track is assumed. Particularly when running this as intended, as part of the AP, it becomes important for the GM to note dynamics; system-immanently, at this point NPC-allegiances and the state of the metropolis Anduria can begin to diverge rather greatly due to the sheer number of variables. As such, the series no longer assumes certain things to necessarily hold true, which is a good thing in my book – freedom is preferable to being shoehorned into one story.

As far as rules-relevant content is concerned, the pdf is generally really solid, though there are a few hiccups: There is no unholy damage in Pathfinder, and it’s “Resistance 10”, not “resist 10” regarding the formatting of resistance in text. Oddly, in spite of being, according to the 5e-version, written originally for PFRPG, there is also a reference to a Dexterity saving throw that should reference to Reflex saves instead. These are the exception to the rules, though – as a whole, the module is solid and easy to run, and even the rare few glitches should not stump any GM.

There is another note: The AP, while NOT grimdark or particularly bleak, does feature mature themes. While I think that kids in their puberty should have no issues here, it should probably be noted that this is not a happy-go-lucky adventure. As before, the adventure provides ample and well-written read-aloud prose, so if you’re one of the GMs who has an issue with improvising text on the fly, know that this offers some guidance.

Now, the following discussion contains SPOILERS for the module and some aspects of the AP. I strongly recommend not reading further if you plan on playing in this adventure. Players should move to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! Massive spoilers ahead! So, the Healing Hands are an order of monks devoted to healing in a godless city; their organization, though, does hide a horrid secret – you see, their powers stem from the divine essence of the fallen god Aether, used to cling to the ever-eroding power of the once mighty guild, left behind in the wake of progress and wealth. Alas, the overuse of Aether’s essence has had catastrophic effects on some of the best and brightest of the guild…and worse, the Seekers of Asmodeus have found out, putting the scandalous secret as a cocked gun to the proverbial head of the order…and thus, the power of a fallen god now lies within the hands of hell’s servants...this far we know as the GM, but in a nice way of unobtrusive exposition, this knowledge about the “alliance” of the two guilds, if not previously unearthed, is recalled by proximity in the opening scene: As the PCs are exploring the great market in the trade ward, they’ll bear witness to a seeress suffering from convulsions, tended by monks of the Healing Hand, while Seekers hold her down – it’s a small detail, but it’s this attention to the small details that shows the care that went into this.

PCs may well insinuate them, depending on the previous modules and their standing with e.g. the guard, into the investigation...or just notice a suspicious book while in presence of the convulsion-plagued, delirious seeress…and an old friend is not well. Thaddeus, previously plagued by prophetic visions via the medium of paintings, has produced something in his rather…dilapidated apartment atop a giant leech-restaurant: A picture of an angel and a devil hugging, which once more represents a type on unobstrusive, symbolic foreshadowing I very much enjoyed. Really cool: The artwork has been reproduced in the module and can be handed out to the PCs…and yes, it does represent a stained glass window. Both of these initial encounters can point the PCs thus to further trails – the book was purchased from the Faculty of Arcana, and a brief investigation should yield the clue that the scion of the noblehouse that produced the rather scandalous and heretical stained-glass window depicted in the painting actually has purchased the second, recently sold book. In golem study, the PCs can touch base with Adam, and just as they’re exploring the place, a detonation will rock the chemistry lab, with a couple of mephitis and an animated robe making for a light-hearted encounter.

In the aftermath of the investigation at the faculty, the PCs should have a good pretense to visit the Clayver manor – namely the fact that, in spite of William’s erratic behavior, tomorrow’s party is on track and, well, the place to be. The social event of the party will indeed be well-attended – Eria, Triast, Radiant Soul – this is a great way to catch up with allies and roleplay to your heart’s content. William, surrounded by vapid cronies, will at one point begin his demonstration, walking those interested past the security cordon to the sub-basement, where an old crone will “aid Wilton”, who, bereft of talent, seeks to sacrifice his brother in a ritual most foul! Any blood spilled will finish the ritual generating an unstable rift to R’lyeh! Being close to the nexus of the rituals, the PCs and those present are spared the hallucinations, as they hopefully stop William and the wicked witch that has used the foolish young man’s ambition and frustration for her dark ends…and the PCs should preferably succeed sans the emerging Gug slaying them all. In the aftermath, PCs can potentially escape the place, and yes, the module remembers the promise that Cthulhu et al. remains optional – the section has a note that allows for the removal of mythos-themes.

Having prevented Thaddeus’ dire prediction, the PCs may wish to return to their ally – but he I nowhere to eb found. Signs of struggle abound. The abduction was NOT a quiet one, and the locals will note that the monks of the Healing Hands and the Seekers were responsible. The trail, obviously, leading to the eponymous sanitarium! This is where the story kicks into high gear: The module accounts for a variety of PC inquiries and involving of key-NPCs in the subject matter; Virgil, a brother of the healing hands, may well provide his keys and note how to get to the restricted section of this place; Triast gets a massive character-development, as the PCs may well witness a rift between him and the High Seeker, who, according to Triast, has become tempted by the power of the Machine, losing sight of the goal of the Seekers. Triast is promptly imprisoned, which can, obviously, change the dynamics of the relationship with the PCs.

As the PCs infiltrate the Santarium, the PCs will find the extent of the corruption of the monks ever more apparent, with foreboding scribbles already telling of the dark shape of things to come and e.g. guildmaster Redgrave, insane, tending a garden of fleshy polyps of blood and viscera (represented by an amazing artwork) being testament to the level of corruption that the monks suffer from; exploration of the place will also yield the chance to break Triast from his Seeker-affiliation, obviously, and the horror of a magical drug and use of the mad god’s body (which may well be destroyed by the PCs!) will make for rather…well, interesting changes, with the components of the machine and a mad doctor and his golem making for bosses. Did I mention the sea-caves-level as an optional means to gain access?

You see, ultimately, the watch will come, and thus, the climax of the module will see a massive trial of the organizations, with the PCs are key witnesses in what amounts to a nice montage-style trial, suffused with a couple of rules-components and notes for reputation systems, if any, taken into account…The Seekers will be stripped of their de-facto watch-privileges, and the most trusted guild of the city will lie in tatters, though the mistreatment of the patients will be hard to prove. Still, the social structure of the city has been shaken to the core…and that is but a glimpse of the shape of things to come…

The pdf closes with notes on the magic items and the bestiary of the critters used.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the pdf sports a few hiccups, but nothing truly glaring – it can be considered to be good, bordering on very good there. Layout adheres to an elegant, nice two-column full-color standard. The adventure sports quite a few nice, original full-color artworks and the adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is nice and, as mentioned before, the extensive support of different versions adds a big plus here.

Micah Watt’s Sanitarium is clever – I can see what the author is doing here. The adventure is setting up a lot of the themes and does so in an unobtrusive way, sans page-long exposition dumps. The massive changes to the social strata of the city make for a great twist and provides consequences for the actions of the PCs beyond what we usually get to see. As a stand-alone adventure, this is less focused than #3, but even if you are not interested in the AP as a whole, you could easily cut the module in 2 or 3 sections and scavenge these for your own purposes.

That being said, the adventure, particularly after playing the previous modules, makes for a compelling continuation of the unique themes and flavor that the series offers. With mechanics making use of terrain and smart foes on the mechanics-side, and also sporting a ton of roleplaying opportunities for players, the adventure can be considered to be a success, with various degrees of success and failure possible throughout. In short: This is, in spite of the difficult task this presents to the author, a well-crafted adventure that manages to be versatile and interesting. The few hiccups do not tarnish the structure or fun you can have with the module, and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sanitarium - Adventure 4 What Lies Beyond Reason - Pathfinder
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Sanitarium - Adventure 4 What Lies Beyond Reason - 5th Edition
Publisher: Pyromaniac Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2018 06:24:16

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The much-anticipated fourth installment of the high fantasy horror AP by Micah Watt clocks in at 81 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page KS-backer-thanks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 75 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As before, we get a selection of pregens, 5 to be precise, should you choose to replace a fallen PC or dive right into this. However, I do recommend playing the series; while deliberately slow in the beginning, the third module remains one of the best haunted house modules I know, and if this one can retain that level of quality, then we’re in for a treat!

Now, on a formal level, it should be noted that, like the previous adventures, we get EXTENSIVE map-packs: We get versions of the maps in b/w AND full-color, with and without grid, and with and without background parchment – where relevant. Smaller, room-sized maps come in player-friendly versions in full-color, accounting for the fact that they’ll be used by klutzes like yours truly that can’t draw, or by folks using VTTs. Seriously, though: Big kudos, particularly considering that Pyromaniac Press is a small and relatively new outfit – this sort of support should be standard!

The module, while intended for 6th level characters, sports scaling advice for 5th and 7th level. Particularly when running this as intended, as part of the AP, it becomes important for the GM to note dynamics; system-immanently, at this point NPC-allegiances and the state of the metropolis Anduria can begin to diverge rather greatly due to the sheer number of variables. As such, the series no longer assumes certain things to necessarily hold true, which is a good thing in my book – freedom is preferable to being shoehorned into one story.

There is another note: The AP, while NOT grimdark or particularly bleak, does feature mature themes. While I think that kids in their puberty should have no issues here, it should probably be noted that this is not a happy-go-lucky adventure. As before, the adventure provides ample and well-written read-aloud prose, so if you’re one of the GMs who has an issue with improvising text on the fly, know that this offers some guidance.

Now, as far as conversion goes, this is an interesting example: On the one hand, I could nitpick one instance of “Sense Motive” remaining, which should refer to Insight instead, and “Intimidate” in some statblocks should refer to Intimidation instead. Similarly, the statblocks, while bolding abilities etc. properly, do not italicize attack-names, for example, as well. So yeah, in the formal department, we have some unnecessary deviations. On the other hand, it is rather interesting to note that advantage and disadvantage are used properly, and that, by virtue of 5e’s design-aesthetic, the benefits that clever roleplaying may yield are more pronounced, which is a big plus for me. In direct contrast, I’d prefer how this version handles things. It’s a bit more challenging as far as I’m concerned. The rules-relevant components are per se well-crafted, with damage thresholds noted and damage types, as a whole, well-translated, though a few of deviations can be found regarding the paradigms can be found: There is no unholy damage in 5e and Wisdom damage is something that is quite scarce in 5e. That being said, these deviations are the exception, not the rule – poison and the poisoned condition, for example, are used properly. All in all, this is a well-made conversion, if not a perfect one.

Now, the following discussion contains SPOILERS for the module and some aspects of the AP. I strongly recommend not reading further if you plan on playing in this adventure. Players should move to the conclusion.

..

.

Only GMs around? Great! Massive spoilers ahead! So, the Healing Hands are an order of monks devoted to healing in a godless city; their organization, though, does hide a horrid secret – you see, their powers stem from the divine essence of the fallen god Aether, used to cling to the ever-eroding power of the once mighty guild, left behind in the wake of progress and wealth. Alas, the overuse of Aether’s essence has had catastrophic effects on some of the best and brightest of the guild…and worse, the Seekers of Asmodeus have found out, putting the scandalous secret as a cocked gun to the proverbial head of the order…and thus, the power of a fallen god now lies within the hands of hell’s servants...this far we know as the GM, but in a nice way of unobtrusive exposition, this knowledge about the “alliance” of the two guilds, if not previously unearthed, is recalled by proximity in the opening scene: As the PCs are exploring the great market in the trade ward, they’ll bear witness to a seeress suffering from convulsions, tended by monks of the Healing Hand, while Seekers hold her down – it’s a small detail, but it’s this attention to the small details that shows the care that went into this.

PCs may well insinuate them, depending on the previous modules and their standing with e.g. the guard, into the investigation...or just notice a suspicious book while in presence of the convulsion-plagued, delirious seeress…and an old friend is not well. Thaddeus, previously plagued by prophetic visions via the medium of paintings, has produced something in his rather…dilapidated apartment atop a giant leech-restaurant: A picture of an angel and a devil hugging, which once more represents a type on unobstrusive, symbolic foreshadowing I very much enjoyed. Really cool: The artwork has been reproduced in the module and can be handed out to the PCs…and yes, it does represent a stained glass window. Both of these initial encounters can point the PCs thus to further trails – the book was purchased from the Faculty of Arcana, and a brief investigation should yield the clue that the scion of the noblehouse that produced the rather scandalous and heretical stained-glass window depicted in the painting actually has purchased the second, recently sold book. In golem study, the PCs can touch base with Adam, and just as they’re exploring the place, a detonation will rock the chemistry lab, with a couple of mephitis and an animated robe making for a light-hearted encounter.

In the aftermath of the investigation at the faculty, the PCs should have a good pretense to visit the Clayver manor – namely the fact that, in spite of William’s erratic behavior, tomorrow’s party is on track and, well, the place to be. The social event of the party will indeed be well-attended – Eria, Triast, Radiant Soul – this is a great way to catch up with allies and roleplay to your heart’s content. William, surrounded by vapid cronies, will at one point begin his demonstration, walking those interested past the security cordon to the sub-basement, where an old crone will “aid Wilton”, who, bereft of talent, seeks to sacrifice his brother in a ritual most foul! Any blood spilled will finish the ritual generating an unstable rift to R’lyeh! Being close to the nexus of the rituals, the PCs and those present are spared the hallucinations, as they hopefully stop William and the wicked witch that has used the foolish young man’s ambition and frustration for her dark ends…and the PCs should preferably succeed sans the emerging Gug slaying them all. In the aftermath, PCs can potentially escape the place, and yes, the module remembers the promise that Cthulhu et al. remains optional – the section has a note that allows for the removal of mythos-themes.

Having prevented Thaddeus’ dire prediction, the PCs may wish to return to their ally – but he I nowhere to eb found. Signs of struggle abound. The abduction was NOT a quiet one, and the locals will note that the monks of the Healing Hands and the Seekers were responsible. The trail, obviously, leading to the eponymous sanitarium! This is where the story kicks into high gear: The module accounts for a variety of PC inquiries and involving of key-NPCs in the subject matter; Virgil, a brother of the healing hands, may well provide his keys and note how to get to the restricted section of this place; Triast gets a massive character-development, as the PCs may well witness a rift between him and the High Seeker, who, according to Triast, has become tempted by the power of the Machine, losing sight of the goal of the Seekers. Triast is promptly imprisoned, which can, obviously, change the dynamics of the relationship with the PCs.

As the PCs infiltrate the Santarium, the PCs will find the extent of the corruption of the monks ever more apparent, with foreboding scribbles already telling of the dark shape of things to come and e.g. guildmaster Redgrave, insane, tending a garden of fleshy polyps of blood and viscera (represented by an amazing artwork) being testament to the level of corruption that the monks suffer from; exploration of the place will also yield the chance to break Triast from his Seeker-affiliation, obviously, and the horror of a magical drug and use of the mad god’s body (which may well be destroyed by the PCs!) will make for rather…well, interesting changes, with the components of the machine and a mad doctor and his golem making for bosses. Did I mention the sea-caves-level as an optional means to gain access?

You see, ultimately, the watch will come, and thus, the climax of the module will see a massive trial of the organizations, with the PCs are key witnesses in what amounts to a nice montage-style trial, suffused with a couple of rules-components and notes for reputation systems, if any, taken into account…The Seekers will be stripped of their de-facto watch-privileges, and the most trusted guild of the city will lie in tatters, though the mistreatment of the patients will be hard to prove. Still, the social structure of the city has been shaken to the core…and that is but a glimpse of the shape of things to come…

The pdf closes with notes on the magic items and the bestiary of the critters used.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the conversion is at once solid regarding the details and aesthetics, while sporting a few references that are relics – like a reference to Will saves that should refer to Wisdom saving throws. Layout adheres to an elegant, nice two-column full-color standard. The adventure sports quite a few nice, original full-color artworks and the adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is nice and, as mentioned before, the extensive support of different versions adds a big plus here.

Micah Watt’s Sanitarium is clever – I can see what the author is doing here. The adventure is setting up a lot of the themes and does so in an unobtrusive way, sans page-long exposition dumps. The massive changes to the social strata of the city make for a great twist and provides consequences for the actions of the PCs beyond what we usually get to see. As a stand-alone adventure, this is less focused than #3, but even if you are not interested in the AP as a whole, you could easily cut the module in 2 or 3 sections and scavenge these for your own purposes.

That being said, the adventure, particularly after playing the previous modules, makes for a compelling continuation of the unique themes and flavor that the series offers. With mechanics making use of terrain and smart foes on the mechanics-side, and also sporting a ton of roleplaying opportunities for players, the adventure can be considered to be a success, with various degrees of success and failure possible throughout. In short: This is, in spite of the difficult task this presents to the author, a well-crafted adventure that manages to be versatile and interesting. The conversion is at once rather interesting and made with care, and on the other hand, sports a few unnecessary relics that could have been caught. This is what costs this version half a star, for a final verdict of 4.5 stars. That being said, in spite of these minor rough spots, this is still very much worth checking out, and flow-wise, I actually enjoyed this version a tad bit more – if you can look past them and have the means to choose versions, I’d go for this one, in spite of it being slightly less refined. Oh, and yes, I will round up for this one as well – this is well worth getting and rendered me absolutely stoked for the next adventure!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Sanitarium - Adventure 4 What Lies Beyond Reason - 5th Edition
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Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
Publisher: Red Moon Medicine Show
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/05/2018 06:23:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of this OSR-zine for LotFP clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of introduction/editorial/recommended reading/watching, 1 page advertisement/back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, laid out for pamphlet-size (A5, 6’’ by 9’’).

The reviews of this series of ‘zines were requested by one of my patreons.

The first thing you’ll notice past the introduction is a black background, with white letters – this stark contrast ties in well with a visual element depicting a white, smeared ankh, which also is an indicator that there is an entry to the mythical ghoul market nearby, a means to access this strange hub of dark transactions, where players may not only purchase magic items, but do so by permanently lowering their ability scores – the concept noted here is “essence”, and while the pdf comments that it’s a good way to get rid of excess Charisma for power, for example, though, if your game is like mine, that may be a bad idea. The article also sports a sample stat-array for ghouls and mentions a couple of interesting pets/beings to purchase, including wind whales and ego raptors, which come with prices noted properly in silver coins, but without any mechanics to accompany e.g. the nice idea of ostrich-like egoraptors, which can “fly in short bursts. Faster than a horse.” Okay, specify. Alas, the pdf does not do that.

Nice here: The place also sports dirgists, four-armed bards that play dissonant bagpipes of ghoul bones, offering services as fortune tellers. Salves also may be purchased, and the write-up also notes fairy amber, which can be attached to items to render it magic, stacking with itself, though every subsequent addition has a chance to render the item nonmagical. This…can be kind of problematic for LotFP’s more story-driven aesthetics, rewarding lucky players with a bonus-extent that is not necessarily assumed by the math underlying the system.

Anyways, one of the coolest aspects here would be the skinsmith, a corpulent cyclopean demon that can be found here. This entity gets its own article, which no longer sports the black background. The demon hearkens to Diablo’s butcher in a way, but actually offers some services that include reviving the dead, adding replacement/additional limbs, etc. The additional limb aspect could have used a bit of clarification – does an additional arm provide an additional weapon wielding capability, for example? If so, there would have been nice ways to balance that advantage via LotFPs rules, but we don’t get this. More crunchy would be that the demon’s services to revive the dead may come with a list of 12 sample mutations/grim alterations. Cool and elegant (and studded with proper rules), the being can also carve magical tattoos, which allow for the 1/day casting of a spell as if it were regularly prepared; it may also be cast 2/day, but the second time is burns the user for minor damage and loses its potency. Only magic-user spells qualify – thankfully! Anyways, I like this, though I do believe there should be a stated limit on the amount of such tattoos a given character can have. His final service would be the preparation of artisanal cadavers.

The next article depicts Vespero, the antiquarian, who receives a surprisingly amazing b/W-full-page artwork. This fellow is basically a magic item peddler bearing the accoutrements of a plague doctor, which is pretty damn cool imagery. He also comes with a handy GM-work-sheet to track stock, and his presence interacts with how settlements behave regarding purchasing opportunities – no complaints here, I really enjoyed this fellow. While we don’t get stats for the vendor, considering his role, I’m good with that.

We once more return to the black background with a white text, with a one-page article depicting Luminari, Lady of the Golden Lamp, a deity that resembles a firefly with human arms; lamp maidens follow the bidding of the being, and it is said, she can guide you into the dark recesses of the forest. This brief article comes with stats for a being that may be a servant of the entity itself…and it is creative, sports great use of evocative prose and is really fun to read. I can see her, coming down to drink the fire… Really potent stuff.

Next up is a brief low-level adventure, “Brahnwick is dead”, which takes place in the fully mapped thorp of Sylvan Lake. Huge kudos: We get a player-friendly map here!! That is a big plus, so you actually can print out one map. Heck, the houses of interest similarly are fully mapped, going beyond what I expected to find here (though here, we don’t get a key-less, player-friendly iteration). The module is basically a mini-sandbox that takes place in a village in the throes of madness, where looting goes on a damn has burst. It is a nice, free-form setpiece that is easy to integrate without much fuss. It didn’t blow me away, but the maps mean that it’s easy to quickly prepare and spontaneously run.

The next 4 pages sport a fantastic artwork on one page and use the remainder of the space t conduct an interview with Chris McDowall, creator of the “Into the Odd”-game (review forthcoming). The final article is a DIY manor – it’s fully mapped with a keyed, but no key-less version, and sports a worksheet that you can quickly fill out. Handy!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, I noticed no glaring formal issues, though the rules-language components for some of the evocative concepts could have been tighter. Layout is definitely remarkable. This magazine looks surprisingly professional and the artworks and impressive maps make this one of the best-looking ‘zines I’ve read so far. That being said, I had issues printing this with 3 different printers, until I finally caved and reviewed it basically from the pdf. That was a bit of a bummer. Speaking of which, the pdf, alas, sports no bookmarks, which is a comfort detriment.

Clint Krause’s first VRA-installment is a pleasant surprise, as far as I’m concerned. It is a very stylish, neat little installment that sports quite a few fantastic, dark fantasy/horror-ish elements that are pretty evocative. The prose, as a whole, must be considered to be an impressive feat, though I couldn’t help but feel that a slightly tighter focus would have benefited the pdf. I wanted to see more on that butchering demon, more on the ghoul market, more on luminary… you get the idea. I do enjoy that this is unpretentious and irreverent in that it suggests stuff to hack and references other books, mirroring the DIY-aspect of OSR-gaming sans compromising presentation-quality. As a whole, I consider this to be a success, and the installment is available for PWYW. And know what? This is very much worth leaving a tip for. While it’s somewhat brief, it’s worth taking a look at if you enjoy dark and weird fantasy. It’s not necessarily a milestone, but even if you dislike all of the content, I wager you’ll still appreciate the surprisingly nice cartography. All in all, I consider this to be worth checking out, and taking PWYW into account, I consider this to be well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vacant Ritual Assembly #1
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