Let’s get into the review of The Demolished Ones by Brian Engard.
The first thing, and always great in importance, is the front cover. We have a suicide, in between the heads of two investigators, male and female (good to see equal representation, top marks there), a backdrop of cultists, one sporting a billy club and a grim top-hat man looming over them. This has my attention; the details are crisp and the woman, judging by her expressive eye, seems sorrowful. The blood from the next of the hanged victim/suicide cuts through the browns and greys on the cover. It is a good start, and yes, I am impressed (always a good early sign).
Inside we find the publishing info, but also a charming dedication of Brian to his wife. Great partners assist their partner in expression.
The Table of contents presents five chapters, a map, five handouts and another copy of the character sheet. Checking over the handouts first, I love the care that has gone into them. Pen and paper gaming has long put a lot of past effort into these little tidbits for the players to hold, and it is good to see this practice continuing after being quiet for a number of years.
Page 1 and 2 sets up the situation the player is in as the game starts. It does this by posing a series of questions to draw players in, and immediately there is a mystery to solve and questions to be asked.
Chapter 1 gets into the rule system. It seems easy to grasp, it is not a terribly complex system (which works, since mystery games should be about the mystery, story, interviewing and investigation, and not complex rules systems). I like the shifting ladder of success for making checks, and it reminds me of Fudge (don’t know the fudge and systems like them until you have tried it).
The breakdown of the four core actions was really logical, and I think new players would benefit from this clear presentation of what is possible—overcome, create or discover advantage, attack and defend.
Chapter 2, character creation. The game doesn’t have hp, it has health and composure. Everyone loves a variant sanity system, and damage leads to “taking consequences”. Where is my healer? That sounds scary.
Moving on we arrive at the skill list, and they are well named. It is good to see some new names for various types of skills, like rapport, but alas “stealth” finds its way in and something more original is not chosen.
Skills are introduced in an interesting way, in that the skills are chosen but awakening with no memory, they are steadily unlocked through scenes. I like this as an introductory mechanic. It can allow someone to grow into the character that starts without memories, and they build what they want from the ground up, but won’t be able to do everything.
From skills there are also some supernatural abilities, but I am not going to ruin those, suffice to say I think they can be well-used to move along scenes or get an advantage.
Chapter 3 is on the setting, the story, the map, scenes and acts. It is extremely clear. I like encountering good writing that won’t trip up players or the gm.
There is exploration, the chance to fight police, the mysterious Jacks, and sanity checks (as a Cthulhu player I like to see those, ha ha!).
I don’t want to reveal too much more of what is in the adventure, but it gets grim, creepy and a bit twisted.
The third act is also left open-ended and up to the players. Top marks for avoiding railroad and giving the space and story to set something up for each game group, but for the players to make the call on where to go for act 3.
Chapter 4 adds more info on key characters, their abilities, broad factions and locations.
Chapter 5 talks about the setting of the Victorian world and noir-ness. Of course this story is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and it discusses the meanings behind the story. Nicely cerebral, without going overboard. I sense strong editing.
The fillable character sheet of the demolished ones (fillable on your pdf reader that is, paper sheets are usually fillable) was compact, a little creepy in fitting with the setting and perfectly does the job. I also like it when the character sheet of a system indicates this will not take ten hours of book study to understand. It looks simple, even welcoming. There are not twenty boxes.
I truly like this product, I look forward to running it, I couldn’t identify any major flaws (even the art is good) as it is clear, creepy and intriguing. I’m giving it a max score, as some products do deserve this, and saying it is worth the coin (and it doesn't even cost much).
I generally review truly excellent products, or terrible tomes that should not be. This, is most certainly the former. There is a lot in the 226 pages of The Secrets of Adventuring, and I will try to cover a lot of it.
The material inside, the plentiful archetypes and options, is intended for the Pathfinder system. The nine chapters first involve the divine channeling, luckbringer and the taskshaper chapters. From this follow the tactical archetypes, then four chapters on the gunslinger, inquisitor, magus and oracle and a final chapter on combat maneuvers, a difficult topic and one discouraged by the PF system.
The channeling chapter opens with a short story, and it is weighty and long chapter with plenty of options. It is mainly about clerics and divine magic, and right off the bat adds a new base class: the divine channeler. It is a risky choice to open a text with a variant cleric class, as clerics aren’t considered the most exciting of classes, but the channeler looks to be able to fill their role quite well. Some new feats are provided for this class and other divine channeling classes. Then we arrive at domain channeling, and the offensive combat, charm and out of combat options for a channeller. I was intrigued, and the special abilities have a lot of flavor, like Sun’s Kiss, and Song of Confusion and It’s a trap to weaken enemies with paranoia. This shows that through the options of this book, it isn’t all about DPS, which I heartily approve of as a DM and player.
As I continue through and into the various concepts and class variants, I can’t help but notice the number of new feats in this tome. There are plentiful, and I think most would be worthy in a game. Some might be difficult to use or get a lot of use out of, as in the feat Family man. This gives a bonus to interacting with children, but I think it should also grant a bonus to interacting with mothers of a community, in that you are known as a good sort, trusted, and a decent person in the community. Any of these fluff feats could be altered to fit with a game.
To the luckbringer, and this reminds me of the 3.5 Scoundrel book. Here it is a class all on its own, and quite new. It seems a sort of rogue variant, but it has a range of special abilities, good saves and a nice skill list. The special abilities are where the luckbringer shines, allowing a player to mess with a roll for their advantage and to be able to make a roll to avoid a crit. These are just a sample, and a lot of thought has gone into the luckbringer. Rather than provide a range of luck feats as per 3.5, this makes a lucky character that is simple to use (and simply lucky), you don’t have to use feats to unlock special abilities (although there are luck feats added, and archetypes). Being able to cause dead griffons to fall from the sky and cause damage to enemies is a fantastic special ability. Top marks for the luckbringer! May Griffons rain from the skies.
This book also has a number of neat magic items hidden amongst its pages. I do like the auspicious sword, which could be a perfect quest item for low level adventurers, or as a part of a larger campaign set piece (find the Eight Luck Swords of Legend). There is a lot of items and spells waiting to be thrown into games here.
The taskshaper is not what I expected. It is a body warping class, which is all about the beast shape change shape, moving around abilities and mimicry. Quite an interesting class, and the feats take this class into the heavy and powerful role. Growing in size or causing deformity with a touch. I haven’t tested this class, so I am not sure if it is OP, but it looks exciting. Like the luckbringer, a lot of work went into this, but it is also acknowledged the taskshaper has a lot of bookkeeping.
This review is already lengthy, but I will say that the number of archetype variants in here is astounding. The peltast provides a good variant fighter focused on throwing weapons, the pious sentinel is a variant cleric that mixed with bardic abilities. The war scholar presents a monk that is better at attacking and combat maneuvers than the standard monk, they can even temporarily get a damage bonus. Just what the monk needs. PF has needed a book like this for a long time.
I also liked the new options in the secrets of combat maneuvers, and it is good to see garrotting make a return. Tiring options and dirty tricks are good ideas to include if a game has a lot of combat between humanoids.
With all these merits, it makes the mediocre background art of the cover a strange inclusion. The half-lizardfolk harpy is pretty good, with a mixed look of coy and murderous, but the adventurers behind that look cheap and computer produced. With the cover being so important for any text, it is a bit odd to see a lack of polish there.
In the interior, there are a range of pictured used by varied artists, including the use of historical art pieces. It generally fits together well, and the black and white or blue and white pictures give the text an old AD&D feel. Some will dislike this, those that are used to newer art, but I found it charming, appropriate, and pleasantly quaint.
I give this product 4/5, on account of excellent class variant and new class material, a lot of options, plenty of depth for settings, new magic items and spells, but a discouraging cover.
It starts with the origin of magic for humans, the first light spell cast by druids and then darkness, perverted and developed by a devil.
The story is quite grim and inky in tone, which I like, with sacrificed adventurers thrown into the blood of a slumbering devil lord and a new monster race born.
From this, the growing threat of dark stalkers, creepers and keepers is explained. The good can be sacrificed to increase their numbers, and they have a purpose--to release the ancient devil via four very specific items (hence why the dark folk are so interested and focused upon identifying and seizing magic items).
Also covered are tactics to use against them; the dark keeper is added as a new monster (I like their very useful staff), and the Darkling language is also mentioned and the difficulty in speaking it for non Darklings.
The folk make some good low level opponents, I'd pair them with devils and traps (damaged magic items ready to explode?) to really give some adventurers a hard time. Alas the terror turkey and other monsters from tricky owlbear must come first before I bring in the dark folk as dm.
I didn't really like vegepygmies much, or really use them with any frequency. This product changes that a bit.
We have a great little low cr enemy with some dr and not many weaknesses (plants). There is a story on their origins featuring for once kobolds, variant rules for vegepygmies becoming stronger in sunlight, a new mold bomb item, and topping it off the vegegyant, a huge monster that protects large vegepygmy nomadic settlements. The Gyant is pretty strong with some fine special attacks involving blasting and trapping.
The only flaws I can see are that russet mold's stats are not provided here for ease of reference, and the mentioned chieftain pygmy is not here either. Both are in Tome of Horrors Revised edition.
In summary, I enjoyed it and give it four stars. Since my players are underground and in a damn area, a vegepygmy settlement with lots of russet mold just opened up ahead of them.
A worthwhile pdf for those (old?) dms that like ropers, and for those that want to get new more deadly variants to the standard roper, on the cheap.
It opens with a story about protecting a community and rallying slaves against the roper menace. With alien gnawing horror, magical travel to places of despair and monsters plotting to expand and enslave peoples across space and time, it certainly had a Lovecraftian feel which I appreciated.
The stats for a roper are provided, and the best that this offers for our games are the six variant ropers. Some of which are very deadly and all have a tricky concept behind the variant. The puppet and mind masters are my favourites.
We also have three magic items that can be crafted from dead ropers. They are fine ideas, but the strength draining whip has a very low dc, and should run closer to the ropers actual dc since it is only usable for a short time.
Ropers are dangerous to parties that would venture underground, thus they and these new variants can be used for many games. Four stars!