|Paizo Pathfinder® Paizo Games|
|About Paizo Messageboards News Paizo Blog Help/FAQ|
You may want to check out:
-Assassins of Porphyra by Purple Duck Games (Imho best assassin base-class)
All of these are well-liked among my players and have seen some extensive testing in my group.
I've written reviews for all of them. If you require more in-depth assistance, feel free to contact me via endzeitgeist.com's contact-tab and I'll see whether I can help out. (Excuse my shameless plug for my 3pp-review-site...)
This free teaser for Hypercorps 2099 clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs left? Right! The organic soap corporation R.I.P.E. has a job-offering - and it sounds simple - but your fridge is empty and highjacking the shipment may be the more lucrative job offer - after the deal with Mr. Grey is concluded, a weird bird delivers a counter-offer (on an old piece of paper, included as a hand-out) and, indeed, however the PCs engage the assignment, they will probably see to much - i.e. a nasty, tentacled THING. If they press the matter, things may end up...unpleasantly...
Urban savages will try to get their hands on the shipment in the employ of hyper-otyugh dealer Bazzik, who may or may not prove to be a rather challenging adversary, with multiple lair-specific tricks...and yes, killing the transported monster is another option, though one that can screw their payday. The brief escort-module does feature 4 sample NPCs and 2 pages of nice full-color maps.
Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Hypercorps 2099's two-column full-color standard with solid full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
This short escort-sidetrek is a great introduction to the over-the-top-flair of Hypercorps 2099 - while the theme may be similar to other cyberpunk games, Hypercorps 2099 is more light-hearted and yes, downright bonkers - and, at least as far as this brief mission is concerned, it works out pretty well. Mike Myler delivers his trademark levity here and the nice player-friendly maps alone make this worth the download in my book - a solid, nice teaser-sidetrek you can complete in about 2 hours, this does manage to interest me further in the setting - and it's FREE, so yeah - a nice, free, sidetrek worth a final verdict of 5 stars - as a FREE supplement, you can't do much wrong here.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here.
This free pdf for the Hypercorps 2099-KS clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The netjacker base class receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one exotic weapon of their choice. They also are proficient with light and medium armors and 1st level netjacker begin play with an installed hyperjack and digiboard.
Netjackers are all about controlling robots - when in combat while controlling robots, they take a -3 penalty to AC, which is reduced by 1 at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. At the beginning of a day, a netjacker chooses either a proxy or drones, both of which are collectively known as robots.
Robots progress with a 3/4 BAB-progression, d10, 6+Int skills per HD, only bad saves, AC-bonuses that scale from +0 to +16, Str/Dex-bonuses that scale up to +6 and scaling upgrade pools and bonus HP for proxies and drones. Proxy upgrade pools scale up from 3 to 26, bonus hp from 2 to 46. Upgrade pools for drones scale up from 1 to 9 and bonus hp from 1 to 24. Proxies act upon your initiative -3, drones at initiative -6. Sharing senses can be accomplished as a standard action -proxies can furthermore act as if properly possessed. Drones, obviously, as less powerful robots, can instead offer more than one active - 1st level netjacker can have 2 active, +1 at 8th and 16th level and possess these drones as well Netjacker receives scaling bonuses to Technology-related skills and at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the netjacker receives a hacking talent. Two sample proxie base forms and two sample drone base forms are provided.
These talents allow for the sabotage of armor, equipment, etc. - personally, I'm not a big fan opposed level checks used - especially since the wording could be read as a fixed value or as an opposing roll - not sure which it is: "The netjacker makes a Use Technology check opposed by a level check (her target's hit dice +1 per 2000bt of the item's value)." - Granted, this is a minor glitch and this a free teaser, so no biggie. Better hoverboarding, becoming invisible to tech - some nice options.
At higher levels, coordinated attacks allow the netjacker to expend actions of robots to grant himself a hyper bonus and further scaling hyper bonuses are interesting. 10th level expands the list of available talents to provide advanced talents and at the capstone, the class gets dual initiative a limited amount of times per day- once in the hypernet, once in the real world.
The final page covers the basic uses of Use Technology.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue array of ambiguities and the minor ones I found can still be streamlined. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard with thematically-fitting artwork and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Mike Myler's netjacker class is an interesting take on a summoner-ish class without overbearing the battle-field - the lack of durations for the drones/proxies mean that the few robots utilmately will not overburden the battlefield and bog down gameplay unduly. Having had experiences with powerful riggers in Shadowrun, I am very much aware how powerful the sharing of senses with drones etc. can end up being, so ultimately, this ought to become a pretty intriguing class. Generally, the framework provided is solid and looks like it'll be pretty fun -but as written, I can only tentatively provide a verdict - I do not have the full rules, obviously, and thus cannot judge whether this'll prove to be balanced in the end - with Hypercorps 2099 aiming for a different power-level than base PFRPG, I also have no valid frame of reference I could compare this to. The only valid assertion I can make is that this class looks like it's fun and like it *may* be well-balanced with regards to Hypercorps 2099 - that's it. Personally, I think robots should cost something to replace and I also think that explicitly stating when and how you get new ones (I assume upon resting...) would be a good idea, but this being a teaser, I won't bash it for this omission.
This being a free pdf, I still can recommend you check it out and look for yourself whether this does it for you or not. It does look like a solid rigger to me and thus, my final verdict will clock in at a tentative 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and posted here.
Part II of my review:
The Shattered Mirror lets you do something interesting - utilize, for example, the atk of the last attack of the foe, dealing nasty damage to the target. Know another thing? The Skill/attack-material here is intriguing - using a skill IN ADDITION to attack rolls to add benefits to strikes? Now that a) makes sense to me and b) is elegant and avoids the easy stacking of bonuses on skills - kudos! A very powerful maneuver would be Equivocate - choose a target: When said target is subject to a power, psi-like ability, spell or spell-like ability, you also receive the benefits - and vice versa. While VERY powerful, this also allows for a vast array of exciting tactics. That being said, it is WIDE OPEN for abuse. You can elect to fail saves, so this one ability makes dragon-slaying pretty easy - establish this one, no save, eat harm and watch the colossus eat it as well - have I mentioned that the effects apply to single target spells and so on, even mitigating invalid ranges. OUCH. This needs some serious nerfing in my book. I'm not a fan of using a craft-check in lieu of a save, but that one will not break the game. Doubling strikes and setting the range at close is powerful - as is a strike that curses a target to receive damage equal to what it inflicts - thankfully of the same type. Still - nasty and also open for abuse, though to a lesser extent. Imho, such a maneuver should have a caveat that precludes AoE-damage from being reflected multiple times. The capstone covers a save-or-suck strike that imprisons the target's soul - yeah, ouch. Cool imagery, though. Shattered Mirror is an odd discipline in that it imposes, much like Blue Mage/Mimic-style-classes, a task on the GM - namely one that should be *very* aware of the potential of NPC/Monster abilities being hijacked. This does not need to be an issue, but it could be one since that type of foresight usually is not required - and yes, I can see a GM walk face first into a brick wall here.
I maintain, though, that integrating a scaling-mechanism into the ability-hijacks would help maintain a balance for less experienced GMs.
Much like Cursed Razor, I really like this discipline - though, once again, there are some maneuvers herein that can, even in Path of War's context need a serious whack with the nerf-bat and restrictions - still, very much more refined and versatile than what I've seen so far and, especially regarding the design-aesthetics, closer to the conventions of PFRPG. This does feel more like an offering belonging to PFRPG for me.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant formal glitches. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' full-color two-column standard and the pdf comes with nice artworks (partially stock) and is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, with a second one being more printer-friendly.
So, I was not looking forward to reviewing this. Path of War was a colossal amount of work and ended up, in spite of me trying to be very clear regarding my gripes and issues with the system, a controversial review. I honestly wondered whether I should review Path of War Expanded at all since the fans seemed to, at least partially, not want any criticism of the system and since the detractors just wanted me to bash it - neither of which ultimately was my intent. In the end, when Dreamscarred Press sent me the file, I admired the company's integrity and figured "What the hell."
I pulled out my copy and scheduled playtests for the material herein. Granted, playtests whose announcement did not elicit much excitement from my players, but when I actually read and ran this one, it turned out to be a thoroughly interesting class - my favorite in the whole series, in fact. The harbinger feels distinct, very distinct - more so than the original Path of War-classes. It is also, thankfully, bereft of any infinite-healing exploits ( with the exception of the Crimson Countess, who can be kitten'd and does get fast healing in blood pool form, but only late in the game), streamlines obsolete mechanics away and instead incorporates the heritage, including mechanics, in a frame that fits more organically with the PFRPG-rules. Chris Bennett and Jade Ripley have, on a formal level, created so far the best Path of War-class out there that has the most refined design-aesthetics. No make-believe damage types, no easy +20 atk.-exploits...nice.
That being said, purists may want to be aware of the very much annoying need to still specify what is "cursed" - which, ultimately, alas, could devolve in the final book into yet another inorganic make-believe term that requires massive revision on part of the GM like the loathsome '*&%§$ that is holy/unholy damage. Let's hope the definition does not go this route. EDIT, since two people have made this observation: Yes, I am aware of Cursed Razor specifying what "cursed" is in the intro-text of the discipline. Alas, there are a couple of issues with that: The cursed condition has no direct effects, which is a violation of how conditions work. Secondly, the term "cursed" is already heavily used in Pathfinder in a context where it does NOT pertain to effects of Cursed Razor, rendering the referring to the "condition" somewhat problematic. In order to future-proof this beast and render it less ambiguous, I'd strongly suggest a fixed definition of the condition set apart from the discipline as well as a new name for the condition that is not already assigned to a plethora of contexts. Or at least very specific referrals towards the condition as specified, as opposed to the other meanings of the word.When e.g. a boost refers to "when you initiate this boost you gain a +1 luck bonus to AC for each cursed opponent within medium range (100 feet + 10 feet per level), up to a maximum bonus of +5." there is no mention of the cursed condition, which creates a gaping loophole.
And yes, much like previous Path of War classes, the optimization threshold for the classes is pretty much non-existent - you *will* get a *very* efficient character out of this without needs to optimize; If you do, you'll get a beast, which also remains one of the reasons I am pretty much convinced that, as much as I like this class, the harbinger will not fit into low-powered games.
The harbinger is a fun glass cannon/controller/skirmisher-hybrid that plays very much like a magus on steroids that specializes in actually effective skirmishing tactics over move-into-melee and kill, something the PFRPG-rules usually discourage. Now yes, the class does have some balance-streamlining issues - the escalated save DCs are NASTY and blow the saves against the maneuvers to a point that is beyond what I'm comfortable with, even in a Path of War context. So yes, I do believe that there is some streamlining to be done here. At the same, I have to applaud that the archetypes actually radically change the playing experience. This pdf, essentially, constitutes very much what I hoped to see from the get-go from the series. Would I allow the class in a regular power-level game? No! The harbinger is a debuff monster that can be very nasty and its overall optimization-requirements are very, very low. But I actually *will* do the work to nerf it for use in my game. Why?
Because I genuinely like the concept of the class and because the new disciplines have some pretty unique tricks I will use for monster special abilities etc. and to make some REALLY nasty adversaries. Plus, I am actually going to use this class in more high-powered games for adversaries, since none of the design-decisions create a frame I can't fix or modify to suit my needs. So yes, this can be considered a good class, one that borders, in the context of Path of War, on the edge of greatness. And as a reviewer, I absolutely applaud what this pdf represents!
At the same time, I still am very much conscious of this class being not for every group - if what you observed in Path of War galled you to no end in components that pertained to balance as opposed to those related to design-aesthetics, then this will still not be made for you.
Now if the minor hiccups are cleaned up and with minor filing off of rough patches to streamline some unbalanced components, this has the potential to be glorious. My final verdict, after much deliberation, clocks in at 4 stars, mainly due to the balance-concerns I still have, even in a Path of War context. Note that, much like the original Path of War, this amps up the power-curve of your game and if you're conservative regarding PC-balance and interaction with established concepts (or if you're playing gritty low fantasy etc.), you should detract a star, though all herein is more refined than the first book. Consider my interest for the series reignited!
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Also: Thanks for the linkage, Insain! :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So, in case you're not 100% sure - yes, this is an April's Fools product. And yes, I'm reviewing it in August. Sad, but better late than never, right? So this begins with a basic, humorous introduction of poles - both in the game worlds and in real life. Let me go on a slight tangent here: If you do not know 10-foot-poles, they are perhaps the source of more anecdotes and prevented PC-death in old-school gaming than any other item. They also are the punch-line of more dirty jokes than rods of lordly might - and in case you're new school and never got see their awesomeness in action, take a look at 2 pages of long (and surprisingly viable!) suggestions on how to use these poles and potentially prevent your character's death - you'll never want to leave your home without your trusty pole.
I'm sorry. I'll put a buck in the groaner joke jar. So, during the years, 10-foot poles, their usefulness undisputed and tried and tested by more adventurers in varying degrees of success, have obviously spawned an array of variants, many of which can be found herein - from butterfly nets with which you can capture those annoying pixies to balancing poles, there are quite a few nice variants to be found - of course, including the 11-foot pole for the customer who goes one step beyond. This also includes folding poles and the combat ladder - an exotic weapon with the brace, blocking, disarm, grapple, monk, performance, reach and trip qualities. Overpowered? Perhaps. But -6 to atk and CMB when using it sober are at least some nice drawbacks. I just wished the basic drunkeness rules of PFRPG were better. If you actually plan on using this weapon, I'd strongly suggest using it with Raging Swan Press' rules for barroom brawls and tie it to the hammered condition featured in that book. Technology Guide-based hydraulic poles, vermin attracting giant toothpicks, stilts - the mundane objects herein, while not always perfectly balanced, generally fall within the purview of being rather well-crafted indeed.
Of course, some poles are magical, they grow when... Ouch. Yes, I'll stop. Sorry. Must be the summer heat BBQing my brain. *puts another dime in the groaner jar* Here, we can find bandolier containing toothpicks that can extend to proper poles; Decoy poles with hats etc. on top that act as protection from arrows. Poles with continuous flames on top; those that behave like a compass needle pr one that can be transformed in a cat with a limited movement radius. No, this pun was not one of my creation! What about a robe containing multiple useful poles? Hej, my clothes...OUCH. Yes, I'll stop.
One step beyond these, there also are cursed poles - petulant ones that refuse to properly modify; magnetic ones...or what about the pole-ka, which is best combined with playing Weird Al instrumentals irl? Yes, the poles here are genuinely funny. What about an intelligent limbo pole that acts as a one-way portal through walls...if you can limbo under it, becoming progressively harder? There even are mythic poles herein, and I'm not talking about...Ouch. *puts another one in the jar*
What about the Staff of Sun Wukong (aka Son Goku?) Yes, cool. The giant stick bug, which may also act as a familiar, makes for a nice additional creature, before we dive into the new bard archetype, the pole dancer. Pole dancers replace bardic knowledge with a battle dance - with the effects only affecting the pole dancer and initiation actions required scaling. They also are masters of fighting with ten-foot poles, gaining dex to atk and damage with them and allowing them to treat the weapons as other types regarding damage. The overall slight decrease in power is offset by an increased capacity to use alluring abilities and the ability to substitute Perform (Dance) for Acrobatics, making them save that skill-investment.
At higher levels, battle dancing pole dancers are treated as hasted and in an interesting way, they may quicken spells by expending move actions while casting spells. Powerful defensive dances that heal damage and moving while making attacks and the capstone nets an attack versus all foes in range during any point of a move. The pole dancer is an interesting archetype I very much like concept-wise. At the same time, it suffers from some issues - it is not clear whether battle dance is gained in addition to bardic performance or replaces it - I assume the latter, since the former would be pretty OP. Conversely, I assume the battle dances have a round-cap akin to performance, but the ability doesn't specify it, which is a pity. Some of the other abilities also sport minor ambiguities that can be problematic, the most glaring component here would be the absence of weapon statistics for the 10-foot pole. I assume an improvised large weapon, but I'm not sure. On a nitpicky side, the archetype also switches genders mid-sentence, which I consider supremely annoying.
Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect - some entries sport font-changes and there are some minor hiccups in the rules-language here and there. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color two-column standard with nice, stock artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a detriment regarding the convenient use of this pdf in my book.
Quite a team has worked on this one: Ismael Alvarez, Jeff Gomez, J. Gray, garrett Guilotte, Kiel Woeell, Taylor Hubler, Lucus Palosaari, Matt Roth, Jessie Staffler, Jeffrey Swank - surprisingly, now, this does not translate to a feeling of disparate voices.
I did not expect much from this book and was positively surprised - yes, this is a joke offering; and yes, not all content herein may be perfect. But this book actually manages to be something only a few roleplaying books achieve - genuinely funny. Beyond this rare achievement, portal limbo poles are a stroke of genius and quite a few other ideas herein a delightful, playful and, best of all - feel magical. Whimsical even. While, alas, due to aforementioned glitches and minor hiccups, I can't rate this among the highest echelons of my rating system, this still very much is a good, and more importantly, fun offering and thus well worth a final verdict of 4 stars - oh, and you can get it as a "Pay what you want"-book, so no reason not to check this out!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
All very good suggestions I'd also wholeheartedly recommend - especially the Book of Monster Templates sees use all the time in my game! There is also no way past Beasts of the Boundless Blue regarding aquatic foes.
- 20 Variant Wordgs & 20 Variant Red Dragons by Rite Publishing
If you're going for a Japanese-inspired setting and want to add some horror, I also strongly suggest you check out Rite Publishing's Kaidan product line. It's pretty much glorious. The #30 Haunts...-series also pretty much still is my reference for haunts.
I agree that conversion to 5th edition *can* work pretty smoothly; as long as you do not have specific mechanical features required by the plot; in my home-game, I convert adventures from all kinds of systems. Would I publish these conversions professionally? No. Because one can always handwave things behind the screen in one's home-group. The same does not hold true once an adaptation hits the shelves. Difficulty-curve is another factor that may not be an issue at home, but in a commercial module, it can become problematic; it doesn't have to, but it can. Imho, the implicit capabilities of PFRPG vs. 5th editions are just as pronounced as those to 13th Age - they are just more subtle. But that's just my 2 cents. :)
However, the question pertained to multi-stat modules and I maintain that everyone is better off with proper conversions done.
Your example absolutely works; I have Achtung, Cthulhu! and Delta Green and I'd argue it only works because they're both a SETTING that caters to two different playstyles:
a) Pulp action with a bit of Cthulhu-painting/theme, as supported by Savage Worlds
b) Brutal horror as supported by CoC.
This dual synergy, however, only works because both systems already support the theme.
I own both CoC's "No Man's Land" and the superior German version "Niemandsland und Grabenkrieg", the latter of which sported actually GOOD wartime Chulhu-modules, albeit in WW I; so war + cthulhu already exists - kind of, in CoC.
That being said, as you know, there is a pretty hard divide between CoC-fans regarding what modules should be - pulp vs. investigative/purist. The system does support both concepts and it uses the same-ish magic, just tinkers with the repercussions. And that's what Delta Green and Achtung, Cthulhu! do.
The problem shows up when one writes a module and thinks one can simply exchange mechanics in system A for those of system B and all works out. A simple example for a *minor* issue would be CoC's sanity vs. ToC's sanity and stability-system. A more major one would be the design-aesthetics of failing forward versus hitting a dead-end in a particular investigation.
I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm saying that it does show issues very fast and makes fans pay for content/word-count they'll never use.
I also think that a multi-system approach pretty much works best with settings and source-books, but NOT with adventures; for the latter, I'd pretty much advise in favor of a proper conversion for each system, especially with rules-intense games like PFRPG, 13th Age, et al.
Now granted, I have not yet read the more complex, newer Achtung Cthulhu modules (for the record, I was not impressed AT ALL by the pre-KS-offerings, which, to me, felt like a complete, thematic mess - unlike the books that came out of the KS...), so you may well have pwn'd me there, but I can't really see the duality of systems work well for adventures in the context of Parsantium for the suggested systems.
The sobering reply is: There are none.
This has a reason, which becomes pretty much apparent when you take a look at the finer details of adventure design for a given system. Not only do the capacities of PCs oscillate between systems, so do the assumption of what they'll be capable of and how the very world works.
Whether it's flight or divination, assumptions when abilities become apparent or even structuring elements of the power of classes and their options, different systems have different design requirements.
To give you a more concrete example:
Pathfinder is pretty much about the nit and grit of plentiful and small options, of grid-based tactical movement in combat. 13th Age consciously gets rid of that, making abilities etc. work completely differently. Level-structure is different. Versatility is different. PFRPG sports quadratic casters, 13th Age (and 4th edition) is closer to being linear.
Utility magic and assumptions of availability thereof differ VASTLY. Same goes for healing and for what magic can or can't do.
Then, there would be general design paradigms - PFRPG's small bonus tracking and mechanics-crafting versus 5th Ed.'s simpler and less math-intense go-play aspects that require less detail-tracking.
This does not necessarily look like a big issue; it is once you start actually designing the finer bits of a given module and the issue is continuously exacerbated with each level anyone gains - be it PCs or NPCs.
The collective of these discrepancies accumulates a momentum that makes it very hard to tell a believable story that works within the rules-paradigms of all systems - even 2 can already be a jarring mess. I've recently read quite a bunch of 5th Ed and 13th Age material, for example - and the systems work differently.
So yeah, I'd *strongly* advise against multi-statblock modules for several systems at once. It's is system-inherently impossible for the quality not to drop. Additionally, you'll have, by necessity, have your customers pay for pages of a system that they neither want to use, nor care about.
Earlier AAW Games' modules had dual stats for 3.5 and PFRPG and even in 2 systems so closely related, there were sometimes issues in the narrative cohesion. Now think of how that would work in systems that are further away -even if thematically linked, a 1:1 conversion between Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu requires modification of the module's assumptions, in spite of setting and topic being the same.
Thinking that one can just cram in the mechanical bits and make it work in all systems may seem like a feasible assumption; in practice, it does not survive contact with reality.
I'd strongly advise against multi-stat modules in favor of full-blown conversions - there, I *can* actually point you towards my favorite conversion EVER:
Kobold Press - Courts of the Shadow Fey. Ben McFarland did a superb job in converting it from 4th edition to PFRPG.
Beyond that, there'd be EN Publishing's Zeitgeist AP, which is dual-format for 4th edition and PFRPG. Surely, an AP I rate this high does work, right? Actually, no.
Why? Zeitgeist cheats. I don't mind that it cheats, but what the AP does is that it tailor-made its campaign-world so that it imposes rules-restrictions that make PFRPG operate closer to how 4th edition works. This is the ONLY reason the AP works and does not collapse under the narrative ramifications of the system-differences. It's logically consistent, but since you branded Parsantium as a drop-in city-setting, I do not think you want to alienate customers by going this route and tell them to modify their cosmology and basic rules.
Just my 2 cents, of course.
Part II of my review is in the product discussion:
My emotional response, as much as I love the sheer smarts of the module, how it plays etc., still considers this somewhat inferior to Richard Develyn's best works. Mind you, that does not say much - Richard's modules have continuously scored my highest possible accolades and even made the number 1 spot of my Top Ten of a given year; I'm complaining here at a level that most authors cannot dream to reach.
Why? Well, while I do not require a breath-taking story-line, it remains a huge plus and this one, with its subtext being so layered, has the main story suffer a bit; if you do not care for semiotics and symbolism, you'll miss out on some of the module's appeal, since the basic plot is pretty simple. Secondly, the subtext and diversified theme of the module ultimately render the encounters themselves hazy, dreamlike - a good GM can make them feature in a manner that will remind you of the logic of dreams, hence also my reference to "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs" before. (If you require a less pretentious allusion: Picture a symbolism akin to the one of the original "Death Bed, the Bed that Eats," only less convoluted, game-themed and skippable via "I attack it." and similar methods.)
Ultimately, Holy Island is, much like its predecessors, an adventure that can be considered art. However, it is an art that may be less accessible in its entirety than previous modules. The non-analyzing way to play this beast, obviously grounded in Silver Age comic-book aesthetics, is something, alas, utterly and completely lost on me, for while I recall my enjoyment regarding that time of my life, I unfortunately completely lack the psychological capability to access this memory through the haze of nostalgia goggles due to my excellent memory.
One could say that the regular way, the standard running and reading experience of this module is just as lost to me as my overblown analysis of the subtext above may be lost on some of you out there. What ultimately makes me still consider this a superb module, in spite of its glitches, is the fact that it can be read, run and enjoyed as nostalgia-driven pop-corn cinema or as an intellectual exercise - or as anything in-between. This module is odd, but I am exceedingly glad it exists.
So if you do check this out, run it before shaking your head and walking off - you may just be surprised in more than one way. My final verdict will, pretty much exclusively due to the quality of the writing here, still clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, in spite of an alarming rate of minor glitch-increases. I've been thinking quite a bit on whether to make this a candidate for my top ten of 2015 - but in the end, I will do so; not necessarily due to me particularly liking the plot or set-up, but due to the achievement in generating a unique feeling, mood and theme that I can sincerely call a jamais-vu-experience. Check it out - it's only 4 dollars, after all, and I'm confident you won't find a module this strange and unique at this price-point.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
This was moved up on my queue at the request of my players.
The prologue-adventure for Legendary Games' Sword and Planet-AP clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial introduction leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
While this module is designed to act as a prequel for the massive Legendary Planet AP, it also easily works on its own. The following being a review of an adventure, the following does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Whether to reclaim family property, at the behest of a seer or due to some other hook, the PCs find that their first journey has brought them to the otherwise pretty unremarkable village of Holver's Ferry (fully mapped, btw.) - but even at the ferry leading into the town, across a swift river leading into lake Shimmermere - alas, the drunken ferryman has no good fate in store: While he tried to quarantine the village, he failed - and he is about to pay the price, as psychotic villagers hack him apart. Oh yes, enter the PCs. Unresponsive and clearly driven mad, the PCs have to defeat the bloodthirsty villagers in a thematic callback that made me remember Resident Evil 4 - in all the right ways. Crossing the river one way or another, the impression that Holver's Ferry has been hit by some tragedy pretty much becomes apparent.
A sense of apocalyptic dread, piece by piece, encounter by encounter, will slowly seep into the consciousness of PCs and players alike, as a depressed widow endeavors to commit suicide, as they explore abandoned houses that look like their inhabitants have simply evaporated - something is odd. Hanged people dangle from the town's sacred oak and child survivors hide from anyone out there. The local inn shows signs of struggle, of desperate defense - and a man who had locked himself in, now just as bloodthirsty and dangerous as the first farmers encounetred. Things have become so bad that even goblinoids have entered the village. The priest is insane and burning undead can be found among the village's houses - a sense of grim doom has come to Holver's Ferry, and as the PCs find the halfling berserker (berserker Zimm - boy did I laugh when reading that one!), the gnome apothecary who retained his wits or draw the conclusions due to the hints left in the sheriff's office - the dread mystery needs to be solved.
This sandboxy horror section is well-presented and offer multiple means to draw the PCs further into the topics, whereafter the trail leads towards the Orphanage of mother Oddle. You see, what has happened here is an unlikely and far-out scenario: An invader from another world has engineered a mind-reprogramming bio weapon, the eponymous assimilation strain. Alas, the targeted viral strain's first iteration proved to yield a temporary, highly infectious burn-out rate and chaotic, terrible symptoms - the ones the PCs have witnessed firsthand in the horror at the town. The dread invader, a vanguard of the planned invasion, has since perfected a better strain of the virus and infected one powerful lumberjack, Silam Oddle - controlled by a disgusting, black tumor-like lump at the back of his neck, the PCs can save him, yes - but perhaps they have to take the poor man down. Beyond that, have I mentioned that his mother's mummified remains still remain in her room? Yes, creepy.
Rexel, the gnome alchemist, in the meanwhile, has probably gone missing, abducted by an adherer made from the remains of the town's erstwhile, missing sheriff. The trail leads towards Arvarenhode Manor's ruins, where the catacombs await under the rubble - provided the PCs can best the deadly creatures inhabiting the upper part of the ruins (the 4 areas of which are btw. the only ones not mapped - the catacombs themselves sport, once again, a neat full-color map). In the catacombs, the PCs may save Rexel, battle the adherer and navigate a complex inhabited by a cool, uncommon selection of adversaries, with thematically-awesome descriptions and rooms. Finally, defeating the xoraphond creature behind the dread conflict ends the jagladine empire's invasion plan, while also providing a first taste of the things to come. The pdf concludes with alien technology (Technology Guide-compatible) and the new creature and two templates provided.
Editing and formatting are very good - apart from some minor typos, I noticed nothing significant that detracts from my experience. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column standard that is still pretty printer-friendly, with copious amounts of full-color high-quality artworks for each major player in the storyline. It should also be noted that the layout does not try to generate more pages by wide margins - there is a lot of information on each page, making the module more detailed and longer than you'd expect from most modules of this page-count - in my playtest, it took my exceedingly fast group 2 sessions to clear this module. About 90% of 32-page modules tend to be finished in 1 session, so yeah - quite a bunch of content. Cartography is beautiful and plentiful - though my only gripe with this module would be that I would have LOVED to see play-friendly maps included; you know, the ones without keys and hotspots so you can cut out the dungeon map and hand it to your players, so you can just take the village map, slap it on the table and ask where the PCs head. The adventure comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Tom Phillips has, slowly but surely, become one of my go-to authors regarding any scenario that provides horror, challenge and mystery - he knows his craft. Add Neil Spicer and the duo has created one awesome, damn cool low-level module that is challenging, potentially a bit disturbing and interesting. With a diverse, uncommon array of enemies that never falls into the bland 1st level routines, a mix of sandbox and dungeon-exploration, this module provides quite a bunch of cool ideas. The best component of this module, to me, is a more ephemeral one, though: The pacing of this module is impeccable. Horror and mystery, both as genres, hinge on timing and means of creating suspense, of build-ups and gradual escalation -and this module gets this component perfectly.
As a GM, you can obviously just spoon-feed the information to your PCs via various proxies, but not only are there multiple ways of unearthing the truth, there are several red herrings - and in my playtest, I kept as much information as possible opaque, making my players draw the conclusions themselves. Now if the players get stumped, you still have several means of putting them on track within the logic of the module. Furthermore, the module has ample instances wherein heroes can be heroes and actually save lives - an approach I always welcome in modules.
I honestly did not expect the prologue to Legendary Planet to be a mystery, much less one that is this good; whether played for weirdness or downright horror, this module makes clear from the get-go that it's not your standard fantasy fare. But only in hindsight. As a piece of advice: Don't tell your players necessarily that this will be a sword & planet module. There are several themes that make for delightful red herrings in the hands of a capable GM, making the realization of what is truly going on have even more of an impact.
The assimilation strain is an excellent module and a furious first in the series, one that makes me very happy I've been able to back the kickstarter. With great production values and content that must be considered awesome, this module is a great way to kick off the AP, one that has me stoked to see what's in store for us. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
As per the writing of this review, the Assimilation Strain is not available yet to the general public - however, you can get it before its public release by backing the post-kickstarter funding of the Legendary Planet AP (and make the final book even more awesome) - here is the link to LG's page and how to get in!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here. Will post it at the product's page in the usual places once it becomes available to the general public.
As for me, I'd love to see:
A Native American-inspired setting. NOT Wild West, but full-blown age of myth.
An African fantasy setting. There is not ONE such supplement out there for PFRPG.
South-American fantasy inspired by Aztecs, Mayans, etc.
All of those, when done right, would be instant buys for me.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are excellent, especially considering the size of this massive book - on both a rules-language and a formal level. Layout is the one component of this book I positively loathe - each page has wide margins left and right, above and below, which also sport colored graphics in the background. Not only does this mean that this pdf takes more pages when printing it out, it also drains more printer. I don't understand why the fragmented artwork, mostly obscured by the main area of text anyway, still remains - it has NO FUNCTION and does not look good: What help is half an elven lady's head o the left side? The only thing this does is distract me from the text and wonder why the artwork has been cropped into the borders. Urgh. On the plus side, you will be hard-pressed to find a 3pp-pdf with such a vast density of qualitatively high full-color artworks: Jacob Blackmon's distinct style is evident in every artwork and renders a sense of visual cohesion to this pdf that somewhat serves to offset the layout faux-pas. So kudos to master Blackmon! The pdf comes fully bookmarked with extensive nested bookmarks for your convenience.
The author-collective/roleplaying think-tank called the The Four Horseman, consisting of Steven T. Helt, Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon have a reputation with me - why? Because their templates rank among the very few monster books that still elicit excitement from me. Let's face it - with over 2000 reviews and most 3.X monster books by 3pps at my place, I've read more monsters than I probably should have. I still have all those second edition appendices and still remember the time when monsters were defined by story, not just mechanics. PFRPG's current development, at least in the 3pp-market, has thankfully moved away from the bland reconfiguration of mechanics towards unique and compelling creatures - but still, at one point or another, you have just seen SO MUCH. You get déjà-vus ALL THE TIME.
Where am I going with this rant? Well, usually it falls to Rite Publishing's complex builds or Legendary Games' unique mythic abilities to provide this sense of the exciting and new to me. This pdf manages exactly this feeling as well. Once you've read a certain amount of books, you get a kind of radar for when an author phones in a creature. You won't find that in here. Indeed, it can be considered stupefying how many unique tricks can be found in this massive bestiary/toolbox- for this is exactly that: A huge kit to render constructs relevant and exciting, a smart book full of inspired concepts that reward brains. Now the toolkit aspect, imho, is also a minor flaw of this book - for as inspired as I consider the monster/item sections, I would lie when claiming that I was blown away by races or archetypes.
The player-centric material, while solid, just does not have the space and detail to shine - from missing FCOs to traits, age, height and weight-tables etc., it is evident that these components are bonuses that have been included to make this a definite resource - and in the end, at least to me, they detracted more from the book than they added to it. Why? Because the other components, from the expanded animated object options to the mythic abstraction golems universally reach a level of quality only seldom seen in a bestiary, much less so in one with such an excellent bang-for-buck-ratio. It is against this backdrop of stellar concepts that anything "only" good seems infinitely less compelling. So, at least for players, this is perhaps not the revelation that it most definitely is for GMs.
The golems and options here are varied, unique and inspired - and were all components of this book as awesome (and the borders not as &%$§$), this would be a candidate for my top ten. As written, it remains one STELLAR, huge book that showcases well the reason why the Four Horsemen have developed a following in such a short time. This belongs in the library of any GM looking to make golems interesting and fun...and, most of all: Versatile. This is one of the best monster books I've read in ages and demands 5 stars + seal of approval - and rest assured in a book of a lesser quality, my rant on layout et al. would have been much more pronounced. Here, though, both that and the aforementioned pieces just are swallowed by awesomeness. Get this!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com'shop.
You and me, Insain. Michael is not only talented, he also has a very open mind regarding feedback and a keen eye when it's warranted and when not.
Also, on a personal level, I have never felt like I was wasting my breath when interacting with him - you don't get inherently flawed arguments when discussing with him. This ability to distance one's self from one's work is a crucial skill of any designer.
Oh, and thanks for the kind words! :)