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Douglas Muir 406's page

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It's true -- Fezzes are cool

*****

It's a collection of magical hats and headgear, and it's really quite good. Several of these items made me think "aha -- I'd like to try that in my campaign". And what more, really, do you want from a book of magic items?

One nice touch: the "Behind the Counter" text boxes that explain how they designed and priced some of the items. Nice to see the reasoning laid out. I'd give this five stars anyway, but this is a pleasant bonus.

If you're looking for more magic items, you can't do much better than these collections.

Doug M.


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This is just wonderful

*****

It's a planar adventure for second level characters. Without spoilers: it's a demiplane that consists of twenty separate encounters, each one an independent "room" of its own. (Interactions between "rooms" do happen, but are fairly limited.) So it's a free-form extraplanar sandbox that the PCs can wander around. If you like more structured, goal-oriented adventures, you might not like this. Me, I thought it was great.

Most of the encounters are level-appropriate, CR 2-4. Four of them firmly are not. However, two of the four will ignore the PCs, the third can be avoided with just a bit of care, and the fourth is basically an intelligence test -- will the PCs pick a fight with the obviously much too powerful opponent? If not, then nothing happens. (Except that the PCs get a pleasant sense of having avoided a TPK, which is always nice.)

The encounters are mostly well thought out and show a lot of imagination. The footnotes are delightful.

At four dollars, this is really an excellent value. Highly recommended.

Doug M.


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At last -- a dungeon of your own!

*****

This module is pure high concept, and it's just great. The premise: you're a group of evil PCs. You must take control of an abandoned dungeon and then hold it against all comers for 222 days, until you have completed an blasphemous ritual to summon a powerful evil outsider. Your first visitors will be a group of poorly trained low-level adventurers from the nearby town -- easy meat. But as word gets around of what may be happening, ever more powerful parties will be heading your way. You must persuade, enchant, or entrap monsters to serve you, build traps and pitfalls, and place and manage these resources intelligently. In short, for this module you run the dungeon and the DM tries to break in, kill you, and take all your stuff.

This is not a new concept -- some of you may remember the Reverse Dungeon from Second Edition -- but it's done exceptionally well here. Author Gary McBride gives DM and PCs lots of possible toys to play with but doesn't get too bogged down in describing each one. (Though there are a few delightful twists to the standard monster stats and roles. For instance, there's a broken golem that you can try to repair. If you manage this, you gain a powerful servant... but with a little quirk that can complicate things considerably.)

By itself, a well-done "PCs run the dungeon" adventure would get four stars. What puts this over the top for five is McBride's sheer brio. There's just so much here, and most of it is so well done. There's another party of evil NPCs who are supposed to be your allies, but are really... well, let's go with "frenemies"; you really need to work with these guys, but you must carefully decide how much to trust them. There are minions with varying levels of competence, obedience, and power. There are powerful Good creatures trying to reconnoiter your dungeon and figure you out. And three times per day, rain or shine, someone has to go upstairs and perform the evil ritual...

Then there's the climax. As Zero Hour approaches, the forces of good and order will become increasingly frantic in their attempts to stop you. Meanwhile, allies and minions will turn treacherous as they scheme to gain control of the prize. And nature itself will turn against you, as the evil magic of the ritual causes various bizarre and dangerous phenomena. If your PCs survive and pull this off, they will really feel they've accomplished something. (Something horrible, to be sure. But still.)

This is an adventure that you can make relatively simple, or really, really complicated, depending on what DM and players want to play. I like that a lot.

One of my criticisms of the first module was that, once you got past the novelty of playing an evil party, it was mostly familiar territory -- a dungeon crawl, dealing with NPCs, etc. It was different from a standard module, okay, but not /that/ different. This module, though, is the real deal: you're going to do some fairly horrible things (the ritual requires several human sacrifices, for instance) and you're definitely going to feel the difference in terms of gameplay. There are some serious advantages (ruthlessness, most obviously) and some equally major disadvantages: allies and minions can't be trusted, and your Good-aligned antagonists will work together if you give them the opportunity.

That leads to one possible concern: I suspect that if a DM plays this strictly as written, it could tip towards lethality and TPKs. If you don't kill the Good-aligned antagonists, they will not only retreat and regroup, they'll make contact with other Good creatures, join forces, and gang up on you. That makes perfect in-game sense, of course. But handle with care.

Oh, and there's a boss who is truly alarming. Good-aligned dragons don't get much play time as antagonists. This one is intelligent, cunning, and righteously pissed, and he comes with instructions on how to run him so. I'd expect him to be a major PC death risk in his own right.

Finally, the back of the module includes a pretty good gazetteer of the nearest large town, with various NPCs and organizations the PCs might interact with, and a very interesting set of rules on developing an evil organization. Want a bunch of minions and mooks to do stuff in the background while you're fighting off the paladin and his friends? This will let you do it.

Is it perfect? No. There are a certain number of typos -- nothing major, but noticeable. There are too many story awards for my taste, though YMMV. There's a subsystem that's fairly pointless (basically it rewards good dungeon management with xp). Oh, and there are a couple of pages on alternate evil parties (the all-cleric party, the all-dwarf party). This was mildly interesting but IMO not really worth the page count -- I'd rather have seen another couple of well-crafted NPCs or evil magic items.

But the question here is not "is it perfect?". The question is, "is it awesome?" And, you know, it really is.

Totally worth ten bucks, and highly recommended.

Doug M.


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Seriously helpful resource for GMs

*****

I'm giving this five stars even though there are some negatives, because it's just so incredibly useful.

Three times now, I've needed a party of evil, rival or antagonist NPCs in a hurry. At mid to high levels, this would take me a significant amount of time! But three times now, I've just grabbed the Rival Guide. A tweak here, a quick reskin there, and boom: NPC party, ready to go. I can't overstate how handy this is. And the book gives them some personality along with intra-party dynamics, goals and ambitions, and some quick notes on likely tactics in combat. It's just great. If you are a GM, good chance you will want this book -- and if Paizo writes another one like this, good chance I'll buy it.

And, oh yes, the artwork is lovely. Most of the NPCs look like people you'd want to meet, fight with, or play as PCs of your own.

So, overall, a fine piece of work and highly recommended.

Now the negatives. First, as another reviewer has already noted, the character builds are somewhat standardized and often suboptimal. And I don't mean "suboptimal in a cool way", but suboptimal as in "why has this character dumped this important stat," "why is this character using this crappy weapon," or "whatever is the point of this feat". It's not a huge deal, but if you're going to give a 7th level character an AC of 13, then don't give that character feats that would suggest she'll be in melee.

Second, the book has a lot of new items, feats and spells. Every single party has several of these. While it's nice to get new items and new feats, it's actually slightly overkill in this context. There are so many different options in the currently published books that it is totally possible to make ten original NPC parties, every one unique and different, without ever once needing special new spells or items. The new things are cool and all, but they take up valuable space and are, frankly, distracting. As a GM, I have enough going on running a complete party of NPCs without having to pause and think about how cockatrice grit works, whether sheet lightning is a good spell for the sorceror to throw right now, or whether the Pendant of the Blood Scarab is something I want my PCs getting their hands on. (It isn't.)

I'm not saying Paizo should avoid new spells, feats and items -- but treat them like salt, please: a little bit will go a very long way. They're not what we're here for.

Anyway, great product, please feel free to do another.

Doug M.


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Great high concept adventure

*****

When I first bought and read this, I had a lot of questions and some quibbles -- see the discussion thread for details. But when I actually ran it, the result was a bunch of guys saying "wow" and "best session ever". This module had my players alternately awed, cowed, and doing high-fives over the table.

I ran it as a disaster movie -- can the PCs rescue the civilians? WHO WILL SURVIVE?!? And it worked really well.

Congrats to Ben McFarland and Cubicle 7 -- well done.



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