|Paizo Pathfinder® Paizo Games|
|About Paizo Messageboards News Paizo Blog Help/FAQ|
Rise of the Drow is a Mega-adventure/AP taking PCs from level 1 - 20, published by AAW Games. It imho mops the floor with Second Darkness (but could easily be enriched with some components from SD).
Here are the links:
I wrote extensive reviews for all of them, so yeah.
The drow are the classic, evil antagonists (including spider-theme and riding lizards), however, there is an option to establish an alliance with particular drow in the module. Personally, I wouldn't suggest going "good drow" here - the saga takes much of its wonder from upperworlders venturing into the wondrous underworld. Just my 2 cents!
Edit to make it clearer: "Slay em all!" is not wise - so no, not always CE, but drow are not nice people.
I wrote this glowing review mainly because I used this in actual game-play and it works..OH SO WELL!
My main campaign uses mass combat, downtime and kingdom building (though it's more "taming the frontier", focus-wise) and so far, the respective systems did not gel well together. I had to wing rules for leadership influencing components etc and constantly stumbled over some rough edges. LG's upgrades helped make these less jarring, but did not address the leadership component at a character level.
That's the one problem of many cool Paizo-sub-rulesets: They are created and then exist in a vacuum. This blends them together. My players *ADORE* this book and yes, not all roles receive perks - that's why I wanted MORE. I'd definitely love a second book with more perks!
Btw.: Last Sunday, one of my players, a badass pact-magic half-orc-barbarian one-man-army'd an army of goblins, while the PC's cohorts and followers were running the operations.
Finally: I really enjoyed your review, Chemlak! We need more concise, well-founded reviews like yours!
Amen. Races guided towards subsystems tend to suck in many cases. As much as I love psionics, for example, I consider 4 races of the base psionic races good...the rest. Well.
As an idea, especially for e.g. the atlan's - why not codify pact magic's racial bonuses along the lines of alternate racial traits for certain races? Or as a kind of ethnicity/cultural-template?
I add to that my personal favorite desert-themed metal-song The Pharaoh.
Flame of the Nile - Fire in the Darkness to swallow the light...
Still gives me the shivers.
And the bridge:
Don't you see that it's coming, it's near
The wise man died and the seance went on
I've been using it a lot. Crits become much more interesting and versatile. One downside: I *really* want book 2, so that energy/magical/alchemical/etc. crits are covered as well.
Also: Unlike many similar systems, extremely fast/easy to use.
So no, as far as I'm concerned, I think you have not wasted your money. ;)
Depends on what you want. Modules? Crunch? Setting supplements? GM help?
In case you just want to browse 3pps, may I humbly suggest my website, endzeitgeist.com? I have *a lot* of 3pp-reviews there and am currently at ~1800 reviews of 3pp-products in total.
I have a series on my site called EZG Essentials - these pdfs are the bare minimum at my table, what I expect all my players to be familiar with, so that would be a starting point.
Otherwise, just ask what you're looking for and I'll recommend something. :)
Yeah, I followed the whole debacle. I just hope that whatever is ailing him or those close to him will be history one day.
I've seen quite a few great people struggle through hardships in this industry, but usually, whenever they were open with their struggles, people were accepting and understanding - supportive, even.
I still may be proven wrong, but until that day, my thoughts are with him and I hope he manages to surpass this crisis, whatever shape or form it may take.
I don't condone the silence on the matter, but I can understand it, though at some point, *some* kind of acknowledgment NOT of the delays, but of the lack of meaningful communications, would certainly help stop the accusations, which, at least for now, are not true.
Conclusion of my review:
Editing and formatting are good, but not perfect - here and there, the wording's flow could be improved, especially among the feats, which feel like 2 versions of rules-language collide for a section that is more confusing than it ought to be. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes bookmarked, though not extensively so. The pdf does come in two versions, with the second being more printer-friendly.
Okay, after reading this review, I'd really love to know what you think follows next. Admittedly, the vizier, to me, has a very much WiP-feel - the wording of essence-regaining/veil-redistribution could be clearer, feats feel a bit over the place regarding the system they utilize and one of the 3 paths is not only much more boring than the other two, it is also significantly weaker. So that would be the downsides.
On the plus-side - this MOPS THE FLOOR with Magic of Incarnum! The vizier is so much cooler than the incarnate, it's not even funny anymore. Seriously, it's so much better, it's not even funny! The fluff is better. The execution is better. The math is more elegant and if the wording issues are ironed out and there's no ambiguity left (especially re item interaction), this will be a total and utter blast. I honestly did not expect to like this due to several factors:
1) Fluff. Done. Not only is the new fluff cooler, the writing actually dares to be funny once in a while in an unobtrusive manner. Take this one: "Binding this wicked veil to your Shoulders chakra makes you slightly less cuddly than a rabid dire porcupine." Win.
2) Item-slot issue. Resolved.
3) Massive combo-potential requires plenty of foresight and solid math to prevent ridiculous abuse.
Number 3...oh, how I dreaded you. I had never before read a book by author Michael Sayre. Know what? This man knows his math. The vizier turned out to be a strong class, yes, but it is not overpowered - it requires continuous resource-management, is highly customizable and manages to maintain the gestalting capacities of the original system. Bonus-types are applied consistently. Options are cool, unique and fun. I did not expect to like this pdf to this extent.
The good news here is: Michael, you are talented indeed and I'm stoked for future installments of the series, though they are a colossal pain to review. The issues this pdf has can easily and quickly be fixed and boil down to wording, flow and making mechanics more explicit by establishing a slightly more concise terminology. For example, 24-hour-essence-storage = binding essence to; otherwise: investing essence into x. Simple, easy and once established and explained, prevents a lot of confusion and allows for easy streamlining of feats etc. and may actually save space regarding word count!
So yes, this pdf has some WiP-level rough patches. But its potential is GLORIOUS and exceedingly fun. The flexibility provided is glorious (and on par with PFRPG's versatility - no two viziers need to be alike!) and the veils are fitting and unique. Combo-potential galore rules. Were it not for the glitches and rough patches I complained about, this would be a no-brainer 5 star+ seal of approval file. The glitches would usually make me harp on this harder than I did here, probably for something around the 3.5 star-area. BUT: They can easily be fixed, mostly boil down to requiring slightly more precise wording and do not reflect badly on the system provided here. After using this and analyzing it, I can't, not for the life of me, bash this as something even remotely mediocre. It's not. This pdf is fun and I am stoked for future Akashic Mysteries and a cleaning of the glitches that still haunt this. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, with an explicit recommendation for everyone who likes complex, customizable classes (and, of course, fans of incarnum!) to check this out.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
I officially want more of this system and consider it a potential system to become a permanent fixture in my home-game once the rough patches have been ironed out. Impressive freshman offering, Michael!
Thank you, Greg.
One of the reasons I love FGG (yes, even more than NG back in the day) is that you guys don't rush things and still get them done - I'd rather see any and all projects delayed than compromise in that regard.
I am waiting on a couple of projects and all of them started *way* before SoA, so in the meanwhile, I'm happy to read SoA.
Also: Northlands Saga + Blight, plus the options you hinted at to only get the new material in upcoming KS...you, sirs, are awesome.
Jep, ran it. Beginning is pretty simple if your players are competent; There are some minor bottlenecks for the DM - at one point, the PCs can (and should) enter an alliance with a dubious person, which might not gel with paladins if you have the lawful stupid kill em all fanatic type in your home campaign. Generally, good PCs should have no issues in that regard. Suggested leveling by area can be found in the product discussion. Middle part is a huge sandbox - so if your players are only accustomed to linear, story-driven parts, that may be a bit overwhelming; that being said, as a DM you can easily get them on track. The final module is HARD. Not unbeatable, but not something for the faint of heart; The finale is damn epic and pretty much one of the coolest drow-related modules I've read. The Epilogue...is a brutal meat-grinder/war of attrition and optional; if your layers are bad at puzzles, that one may be frustrating - that being said, the final boss of that one has super-boss qualities and is a true beauty to behold. The prologue is fast-paced and deadly, but damn cool - I'd suggest playing it and adding some small modules to supplement it if your PCs are overwhelmed by it.
I dd write reviews of all of them, so if you have any precise questions, feel free to ask.
@DragoonWraith (And every one else who felt this way):
I did not wish to antagonize or marginalize any gamer or tell anyone he or she is "doing it wrong". There is no wrong way to game. If you felt attacked in any way, that was never my intent and I *did* compliment PoW in various instances, in quite high notes, actually.
I tried to provide a balanced, neutral review of PoW, including where it shines and what its issues are. If the issues I mentioned do not apply to your game, you can easily ignore them and continue reading the review.
That being said, you've mentioned that "I don't get it" etc. - well, I *do* get it. I just happen to have a different opinion. I tried very hard to write a review that made very clear how divided I am on this book and everything that is in the review should be enough for people to judge on their own. Your hostility towards me as a person and my reviews is your free right to express, though I am not sure how my review could have elicited your ire to that extent.
I'm bowing out and happy belated New Year, everyone!
I sincerely wish all of you (including those among you who don't like my reviews or opinions) a wonderful time; may everyone who reads this have a great time in the circle of beloved people; may you receive wonderful presents and may, should you write, the creative juices continue to flow.
Have a great time!
Part II of my review:
Kickstarter backer Alexander W. Corrin has granted us the etherfuser, a class that can generate a fusion pool by reducing the maximum EP available on a point by point basis, allowing you to essentially trade the regenerating EP for the non-regenerating FP in the form of ether jelly. This gooey stuff can be used to create etherfusions that are treated as etherspells of the highest manifestation level known with a range of 30 ft., etc., but unlike etherspells, they scale with levels in an additional way - they unlock modifiers over the levels. The fusion that nets temporary hit points on a round by round basis can thus e.g. be increased to provide more every round and/or also net minor DR. What about curing ability damage and freely diving the points cured among damaged attributes? Defense buffs? Setting targets on fire?
Well, things get better - the archetype receives a unique, FP-enhancing philosophy (accessible only via a feat, alas - the general class feature is not gained!) AND learns a variant of lay on hands powered by ether jelly AND even the option to learn mercies (and duplicate the effects of cruelties via an etherfusion...), modifying even extra mercy et al. to properly work with this unique new take on healing. Essentially, these guys are ethermancers that can spontaneously reduce their pool to provide healing for their allies - damn cool concept and glorious execution!
Next up would be the Herald of Creation, essentially a specialist of alteration and genesis etherhearts, complete with increased EP-regeneration while under the effects of alterations, 2 unique multiuniversal philosophies (one of which allows for alteration-blankets at increased costs a limited amount of times per day) and thus also two new capstones - essentially the first of what I'd call specialist-archetypes. The second would be the Herald of Madness, who receives access to gifts from beyond, with some overlap with aforementioned mad evangelist, but also quite an array of exclusive gifts that help the different playstyle - hanging on walls, better touch attacks - rather cool options, including a +2d4 initiative boost, which may see you staggered on a roll of twice the same number - rather nice gamble! The archetype receives an exclusive philosophy for more gifts, the option to lace his bestow etherspells with confusion effects, but also makes the spell mind-affecting. Then again, bestowing is so much easier with a handy tentacle growing from your body... Oh, and the capstone has a confusion-causing aura as well as an aberration apotheosis. The final Herald would be the Herald of the Void, who is a specialist of greater manifestations -but more on that system later. The interstitial philosopher then would be an ethermancer who forgoes greater blasts, aberrant physiology and aberrant form in favor of more multiuniversal philosophies and feats for massive flexibility.
The third base-class in the book would be mine, the Etherslinger, so let me explain to you the basics of the class - essentially, I noticed that gunslingers don't play particularly versatile or interesting. I love a bunch of the design decisions of the class to death, but especially in low powered campaigns and low levels, the action economy penalty, the costly ammunition, the inability to use guns with stealth - all these conspired to make the class less interesting than it should be. On a design perspective, at high levels full BAB touch at close range makes hitting ridiculously easy and the auto-granted deeds, while cool, do not allow for much customization - per default rules, there's not much variety between gunslingers. This class is designed to get rid of all of that and more. The class thus receives d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons and firearms and light armors and bucklers, the latter sans spell failure. Etherslingers receive class level + cha-mod EP and EP-regeneration equal to 1/3 class level, rounded up. The etherslinger's caster level is equal to 3/4 her class level. Her blasts only scale up every 4 levels, but has no etherheart at 1st level - so what does she do with the EP? Well, the class receives a linear set of base abilities called etherslinging that improves in a linear way over the levels - up to cha-mod EP can be spent per round in etherslinging abilities. These allow the etherslinger to expend EP for skill-bonuses, bonuses to her next attack...and more importantly, make the use of firearms more versatile. How?
Well, first of all, the etherslinger can repair her starting gun with ether clear as an EP-costing standard action - no more "damn, I botched, now my gun is done for the battle"-crap. (Oh, and it can be further hastened by also expending grit - more on that later!) Additionally, the etherslinger may stabilize the gun to decrease misfire rates. Now at 3rd level, the etherslinger may directly generate etherbullets and propellant in her gun - these do not cost anything! No more annoyed eye-rolling at the slinger for the expensive ammunition and bullets. These ephemeral bullets, though, at least at low levels, dissipate beyond the second range increment, thus not invalidating regular bullets. At 9th level, they increase their range and at 17th level, proper sniping with these bullets becomes possible. Better yet, the action-type required to reload them can be lessened by the expenditure of EP and grit and at higher levels, free action reloads can be executed. Have I mentioned the ability to select damage types at higher levels, including elemental damage-types starting 13th level? Additionally, the etherslinging allows you to treat your guns as if they had an increased capacity for etherbullets - capacity +1 at 5th level, +2 at 15th level.
An etherslinger also receives a grit pool of up to wis-mod points of grit that follow the usual rules, but do not apply to deeds - instead, the etherslinger, beyond the ways to expend grit via etherslinging, has several unique tricks that require at least one grit or that require the expenditure of grit. Speaking of which - while the etherslinger needs guns to cast etherspells (now that's gun-obsession for you...), the class can also gaze 1/day as an immediate action at her gun to regain 1 grit, +1/day at 10th and 20th level. So, instead of grit, etherslingers receive etherslinger talents - one at 2nd level, +1 for every 2 class level after the 2nd. These talents range from passive gains of abilities while she has a minimum amount of grit available to special, active tricks that let her combine the casting (or duration-extension) of an alteration manifestation with a ranged firearm attack. What about shooting targets with the firearm and transporting the otherwise woefully short-ranged bestow etherspells to the target? Beyond that, there are quite a few unique things this class can do: What about shooting haunts and determining their destruction conditions? Making your guns water-proof and functional for that underwater adventure you've been dreading? Wrapping allies in bestow effects while you put bullet holes into the opposition and spontaneous doppler dodges? Etherslingers can also cushion their own fall by shooting at the ground, cause misfires of opponents? I also made a couple of Lucky Luke-talents that allow the etherslinger especially fast draws of the weapon, particularly compelling for those planning a lot of ambushes.
Slightly increased damage output for blasts, using grit to temporarily boost your EP-regeneration rate provide a distinct array of options and builds. A pet-peeve of mine can also be eliminated - know how a firearm-user on board wrecks any infiltration? Well, talents for the etherslinger allow them to actually participate in scenarios like that, silencing their bullets - yes, these guys can go full-blown hitman with magical silencer! Like those movies or books, where special ammunition is prepared? Well, etherslingers can do just that - against creature types and even specific creatures, with increased damage output. The cost for stabilizing guns can also be permanently reduced by talents and causing flashes of light, ricochets and the like do sound like fun don't they? Indeed, the class can also learn to treat the target of the firearm as the origin of an etherspell (relevant for shaped blasts). But, as you may have noticed, the class is not primarily about damage output - it's about terrain control, versatility and non-crippling firearm use and both the blasts as well as the talents support that - but I have failed to mention so far the exceedingly cool option to shoot bullets into unoccupied squares, creating essentially Schrödinger's bullets - as soon as a hapless fool steps in the square, the bullet is unleashed, allowing you to generate either short-lived traps or, if you choose to select a couple of talents, energy-damage dealing minefields. In playtest, mining dungeon corridors for escape or for holding positions proved to be ample fun indeed, not to speak of the nasty ambushes you can make with these short-lived pocket-dimension bullet-mines. High-level etherslingers may also destabilize their guns, increasing misfire and critical threat range and yes, making ether facsimiles of her gun is not beyond the capacities of the etherslinger - nasty surprise for those bandits that caught and disarmed all of you...
Oh, and then there are the capstone talents...what about e.g. the one that lets the etherslinger know when an intelligent creature willingly utters here name and means her, allowing her to teleport to the target? Yeah, there are quite a few of tricks like that here...have I mentioned that the class receives access to all non-class-exclusive etherhearts? Now I know this may look very powerful on paper, but MAD, small power pool, etc. result in a balanced overall contribution - most importantly, though, one that is versatile and fun. I am extremely proud of this class and I guarantee it's playing style is much more rewarding if you prefer variety over repetition and a certain level of complexity and tinkering.
One final note for the WuXia-aficionados - yes, there is a feat in here that grants you a grit-powered ki-pool (and the option to spend that ki on spontaneous bonuses to AC), opening quite an avenue of even further tricks if you want to use books like "Heroes of the Jade Oath", "Dragon Tiger Ox", etc.
(Feel free to tell me about your etherslinger's exploits via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab - I'd love to hear how my baby is doing out there! One last piece of advice - stay out of melee...)
We also receive a whole slew of new feats, which have since the original ethermancer-pdf's inception been redesigned and vastly expanded - from vastly improved base-feats to glorious feats that allow etherslingers to gain a small time-manipulation genesis manifestation to changing voidblade damage to your etherstrike etehrspell's energy type, the vast array of feats allows for some damn cool combinations indeed - including casting a limited array of alterations as spell-like abilities a couple of times per day!
Now the manifestations - oh boy! Not only are there * a lot*, they also are exceedingly flexible, from temporary EP to energy-damage buffers to reflexive damage and even tricks to convert energy damage into ether - the amount of fine-tuned and expanded alterations is awesome to see, especially since the choices that before were sub-par for the ethermancer now definitely work well for the ethermagus and etherslinger!
It should also be noted that especially alteration and bestow have received quite an array of damn cool options, many of which could be considered exceedingly interesting - what about e.g. making the target a conduit for madness - potentially spreading confusion to those nearby? Or what about trapping a target creature in dream combat with a deadly shadow of the subject's mind's own making? What about becoming a haste-like hyperspace beacon that can extend its benefits to the closest ally? What about linking two creatures with quantum indeterminacy, allowing them to swap places? Ever wanted to enable your allies to blast foes as with batteries of comets? Yup, now you can! Or what about making your allies into laser batteries that pummel foes with potentially blinding rays of light? The heretofore rather underrepresented greater blasts by now have a whole array of unique manifestations that can only be added to them. What about e.g. bouncing blasts? Yeah - damn cool. Speaking of which - genesis has also seen quite an array of new, cool options. Take e.g. the option to generate an anti-gravity (or gravity) well or making a blade with a stored blast etherspell inside? (And yes, the well allows you to use the rope of teh well to pull buckets of gravity from it...I laughed so hard when I read that...) Or perhaps you fancy a sand-filled hourglass wristband that allows you to increase your actions, but have time take its toll thereafter - pretty cool! Speaking of which - making ephemeral copies of objects can be quite helpful when playing investigation-heavy scenarios. Or how about making a book of ether that stores your knowledge-skill for you, allowing others to benefit from it, but at the cost of not having the knowledge available for yourself? What about a short-range beacon to which to teleport back to?
The voidmeld etherheart, completely new, has a vast array of new tricks at your disposal - from fishing crits to power lesser blasts to breaking the +5 enchantment limit (and yes, the math checks out and is NOT broken) and receiving a non-kitten-able hit-healing trick are part of the deal. And you know you always wanted to hit something with the force of a black hole's event horizon...right?
Now I mentioned Greater Manifestations - these are an optional system you may elect to ignore, but in my opinion shouldn't - two options are provided: 1) An ethermancer may lose a manifestation and a multiuniversal philosophy slot to learn one of these. Option 2) opens them for all classes, including ethermagus/slinger via a feat - whether you allow limited access, full access or none - all left in your hands -and that is awesome. Greater manifestations can be cast 1/day and essentially constitute the true "OMG, did you see that?" hard insta-death, crowd-control etc. tricks - 5 feats can be taken to enhance them/learn them and yes, the aforementioned multiuniversal philosophy also comes with an apotheosis. And greater manifestations are damn powerful -reducing the next etherspell's cost to 0? Yep. Black Hole? Check. But the very cake is taken the new and advanced Clockwork Universe: You choose a sun and planets that provide varying passive and active effects as you craft a miniature galaxy - and yes, inhabited planets in this galaxy may send forth motherships to destroy your enemies whenever one other satellite in your clockwork universe is destroyed or consumed by throwing it at your foes. Oh, and, of course, desert planets (one of the various additions to this already brilliant manifestation) have especially high capacities for mother ships...Have I mentioned moon bases and their capacity to fire teeny-tiny-planet-cracker missiles at your foes? This massive greater manifestation was a beauty before - now it is just one gigantic, splendid piece of awesomeness. Insta-kills, maximized numeric effects - don't get me wrong, I love the other manifestations, but this one is just too cool. What about erasing all energy-affinity from a creature? Speaking of which: HAMSTER BALL OF DEATH. Okay, It's called Firmament, is made of crystal and protects you from just about every damage, but it also allows for particularly devastating charges, hamsterball style. I *love* it! And yes, +3 manifestations for utterly massive blasts can also be chosen, as well as granting allies a taste of ether magic and a small, temporary pool. Oh, and yes, one may even resurrect creatures thanks to the powers of white holes!
Editing and formatting were top-notch even before I went over it and by now, all potentially game-glitch issues are gone and wording should be fitting- at least I found none. Layout adheres to a damn cool, unique, 2-column b/w-standard with original b/w-character artworks and thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf is rather printer-friendly and excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Even before, ethermagic was awesome - but it suffered from being the playing ground of just one class and not all options being made for it. Then this book came. Jason Linker's Ethermagus' concept of godblades and lead designer Bradley Crouch's new and *vastly* improved ethermancer, with all their awesome ideas and tricks, their combos, their glorious fluff and crunch - these two alone would have carried this book. Well, I am admittedly biased towards my own etherslinger class - however, I have received quite a lot feedback - from both my players AND complete strangers how much they love this class. So there has got to be something going for it, right? ;)
Kidding aside - this system makes resource-management fun. It lets you blast or magic-slice...or shoot ALL DAY LONG without breaking the game. Each and every class and archetype herein is unique and has something to offer - this is literally an all killer, no filler crunch book of awesomeness and ever since I have it in my hands, it has become a permanent fixture in my games - as indispensable as psionics or pact magic. Have I mentioned that its system could easily be used for the representation of the force or similar scifi-themed power-sources by just changing fluff? Yeah. For me, this is an EZG Essential, a candidate for my top ten of 2014 and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. This is, even without anything I added, the best crunch-book I've seen in ages - innovative, fun, complex and yet, pretty easy to grasp. (And if you need explanations/advice or just want to tell me about your experiences with this book, don't hesitate to contact me via my hp's contact tab.)
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nertrek, Lou Agresta's RPGaggression and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
To satisfy the cliché:
Whatever you do, don't go down the well.
One hint: Craft-feats? VERY useful in RA.
Do you have a character with good trapfinding/disabling skills? If not...well, you should have one of these guys around before tackling the main-dungeon. So far, you're in Rappan Athuk light. The beginner's dungeon, so to speak.
Good gaming and good luck!
First of all: Thank you to Brad for drawing attention to my predicament and to everyone else commenting in this post.
I'd wish to extend my gratitude to any 3pp who has employed me in any function. You are ensuring, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury, that the show does go on.
Now here are the harsh facts:
I'm struggling to make ends meet with my real life jobs.
How bad are things?
Well, they're at the point where I can't even afford to buy the RPG-supplements I want; that is, the ones I don't receive as complimentary copies from the publishers who value my opinion and hard feedback. The last couple of KS I managed to back have been paid for mainly by my freelancing (and selling some books) and secondly by affiliate sales, because I wanted to give something back to the community, thus rendering that particular avenue a zero-sum game - not that it would suffice for either rent, gasoline, insurance or anything like that in the first place.
Without GMS magazine and Paco's support, there quite frankly wouldn't be an endzeitgeist-hp. Without the complimentary copies I receive from OBS as a featured reviewer and the publishers who directly send them, there wouldn't be half as many reviews either - kudos especially to the latter. It takes guts to send me a product and not complain/whine/etc. about reveiws that don't end up like you wanted them to be - while I try to remain constructive and positive, I'm also aware that I'm pretty hard on you guys, so thank you for keeping the average quality infinitely higher than during even the best of 3.X's days.
I included a paypal-donation system and promptly received quite some flag for it; I *do* wish to extend my gratitude to EVERYONE who donated even a few bucks. Every time I receive a donation, I grin from ear to ear and am truly happy, feel like my reviews mean something to someone out there. You, ladies and gentlemen, make my days, you keep the spark alive.
The cold hard matter of truth is, though, that I simply do not receive many donations. It's a busy month when I receive 2. And we're not talking about hundreds of bucks.
Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to continue doing reviews in this manner and frequency, I have to face up to the growing need of setting up a full-time 9-5 job; I'm just tired of being utterly poor and not even being able to attend UK conventions or the like, much less fulfilling my dream of coming to Gencon to play with all my American friends. 2015, things need to change, one way or the other.
So yes, I talked to some people about this and, no matter how I put it, I'm honestly ashamed and not particularly content with the situation. I would love to continue doing all this work for free - because I *love* it. I really do. Alas, I don't even have a family's financial net to fall back on, meaning that I'm facing very real poverty if I don't get something done soon.
Why no KS?
The issue with a KS, which I've contemplated doing, is simply that I'd be dependent on 3pp-products donated for it and receive a one-time boost, then...nothing. And yes, I'd love to be able to go to Gencon, have wanted to go there for as long as I can remember. But the flight alone is a massive expense far beyond my current grasp. And there's the shipping issue. Patreon would allow one to set up a monthly support, which would probably help me out more and render judging how much time I can devote to reviews much easier.
So here's the result of my ruminations - I'm going to set up a patreon. I'll continue reviewing either way, but the amount of time I can devote to the process...well, that will be in the community's hands. Now I don't expect the patreon to net a lot, but my situation does demand that I re-evaluate spending x hours per week writing these reviews.If no one cares enough, I'll put them on the back burner behind real life, design, etc.
On another note, should my financial situation improve to the point where I don't have to fear for my livelihood due to a day-job that does pay enough to cover the basics such as energy, gasoline, insurance, food, etc., I'll shut down the patreon again after fulfilling any remaining commitments.
This is a long shot, I am aware of that - consider it a wild stab in the dark, one shot of capturing lightning in a bottle.
(And yes, if by some miracle enough comes together, I'll start saving for gencon and potentially go full-time reviewer - but that realistically won't happen.)
As always, I'm open to suggestions; Critique, development etc. are definite possibilities regarding higher patronage levels. We'll see.
Thank you for reading this.
Part II of my review
On the plus-side, counters to shed negative conditions, for example, make sense to me - so kudos there! Steel Serpent still suffers from a discrepancy between poison fluff vs. poison rules, but I can live with that. Generally, Steel Serpent, Solar Wind and Thrashing Dragon exist and what I complained about in previous reviews mostly still holds true. Veiled Moon's counters still make evasion and even mettle go home to cry - stealth in lieu of saves etc.
Now this review is already long, so let's go through those archetypes on fast forward, shall we? The judges ambiguities have been cleared up; Final judgment has been moved to level 15, where it actually works. Divine Abolishment's targeted greater dispel strikes are still quite powerful, too much for me personally, but still: Kudos for cleaning this guy up! The Soul Hunter now has a kitten-caveat of nothing below 1/2 HD...but why not tie it to the soul hunter's level? This way, I'll have to take an advanced kitten with me; Still does not work. The Dervish Defender now need to actually dual-wield to use the two-weapon defense, which is neat. On a flavor-side weird would be that the archetype still does not receive the improved/greater TWF-feats for a massive hidden attribute/feat tax. Granted, this is a cosmetic gripe, but still - if the high-level ability mentions "mastery of TWF", you'd expect the archetype to know the feats. The ranged Hawkguard Warder has been cleaned of a wording issue and both Sworn protector and Zweihänder Sentinel are okay. Bannerman and Steelfist Commando for the Warlord are okay. The defensively-minded Vanguard Commander with his option to break the immediate action-limit a limited amount of times per day still feels a bit too strong for my tastes.
Now as new content, we receive two archetypes that allow psionic characters to wilder in PoW's systems - one for the psychic warrior, one for the soulknife. The Psychic Warrior Pathwalker learns up to 13 maneuvers, 7 readied, 4 stances, of up to 6th level. Each discipline receives its own psychic warrior path and...oh boy. Expend psionic focus for full attack at the end of a charge - yep, that would be free pounce. Urgh. Balancing between the respective paths is...strange, to say the least. The War Soul Soulknife receives the same amount of maneuvers and trades psychic strike and the 10th level blade skill for them. Interestingly, they have a mechanic to regain maneuvers upon the defeat of foes that actually manages, via HD and int-cap, to defeat the bag o' kitten issue - nice. The new blade skills provide the necessary mind blade customization. The option to throw mind blades and combine it with maneuvers, though, needs a heavy whack with the nerf-bat, analogue to the maneuvers that allow you to do this.
We also receive the awakened blade PrC - 10 levels, d10, 4+Int skills per level, full initiator level progression, new maneuvers known at every even level, additional maneuvers readied at 3rd, 6th and 9th level, +1 stance at 3rd and 8th level, 8/10th manifester progression and full BAB-progression, 1/2 will-progression. They also receive an omni-buff-focus, may expend the psionic focus to use an additional counter per round and at 6th level, any semblance of balance that could be achieved via action economy shambles away and whimpers, as psionic focus and maneuver regeneration become tied to another. Worse, by expending a readied action and the focus, these guys may grant themselves standard or move actions to be used as part of the counter, allowing them to add a strike, a cast, movement - you name it - to the game. This is essentially taking the one limitation of counters and throws it out the window. The capstone makes the powerful super-stance of the PrC effectively permanent. Urgh.
Okay, quick run of the PrCs - have they been repaired or are they still on the level of the supplemental content pdf? Battle Templar: Reach of the divine nerfed down to powerful, but okay - kudos!!! The same cannot be said for martial healing, which STILL nets the Battle Templar and his allies INFINITE HEALING. At this point I ragequit this PrC and move on to the next. The bladecaster's bonus damage is still untyped, the stance still broken, though a tad bit less so than before. The Dragon Fury is still nice, still fails the kitten-test. Mage Hunters have been somewhat streamlined, but still receives what boils down to evasion for all 3 saves. The capstone, which eliminates the option to cast defensively, is the other nail in the coffin for this class - Knowledge (Martial) DC 21 to realize it before hand? Nice, only casters don't get the skill as class skill, rendering that one just unfair. At least the infinite heal exploit is gone...it's now only infinite temporary hit points. The Umbral Blade would be my shining light (ironically) at the end of this PrC-tunnel - this one has been salvaged and is the one PrC I can't find it in me to complain about - indeed, the PrC serves as a nice example what can be done with the PoW-system -scaling class-specific NON-BROKEN stances, cool imagery. Two thumbs up -were the whole book like this, I'd be singing a whole different tune!
We close this pdf with 6 organizations, so-called martial traditions, to include in your game and advice for creating and adapting these traditions. I generally liked these, though I would have loved organization/fame-rules for them.
Lead designers Chris Bennett and Andreas Rönnqvist with codesigners Jade Ripley and Sabrina Bennett have managed to write the worst emotional roller-coaster ride of my "reviewer-career." Alternation between cheers and resigned face palms to this extent has never been so frequent in a series. But how does the final book fare?
Path of War is better than the Book of 9 Swords. It is more refined, less jumbled together. Alas, it also chooses to inherit some of the worst traits of its predecessor and reintroduces them to PFRPG, when the base system purposefully got rid of them.
The explicit design intention of Path of War is to bring martials up to casters in power-level, to "give fighters nice things." I applaud that. I want that. Only problem is, PoW overshoots the target it set itself. Before you start booing and hissing, let me elaborate. We all have been there - wizards get the fireball and suddenly can clear whole groups of enemies while the fighter diddles his thumbs. DMs have seen this since the beginning of our hobby, through all iterations. When did this become a problem? Well, as soon as player-entitlement started to set in - suddenly, players started whining if they couldn't rest after every 2nd encounter to regain their nova-capacity and in a strange quirk f fate, DMs everywhere didn't tell them to plan better, to conserve their resources, but rather obliged. Thus, the 5-minute adventure day was born and with it, fighters and martials grumbled even louder. Now PoW does bring up the new martial classes up to the damage potential of casters - this is correct and should silence the whining on that front. So everyone's happy, right?
The problem is: Spells are not Maneuvers. Maneuvers are an infinite resource, whereas spells are a finite resource. Spellcasters can be bled of their resources...fast. And then they are the crappy, fragile dudes and ladies that can't do jack. The strategy of resource-conservation falls right of the edge with maneuvers - arcane pool, ki pool, rage rounds - all pales before these tricks, not necessarily by potential, but by the sheer fact that unlike all resources against which I can compare these, maneuvers are infinite. Yes, they have less AoE-oomph than spells, but their power-gain still is not limited in any way. This fundamentally changes the power-dynamics not only between classes, but of the whole game. Non-martial melee classes and their interaction with PoW receive next to no consideration apart from a paltry feat-tree, when especially the introduction of one PoW-class into a regular group quite probably will invalidate them. The high-AC fighter will never, ever even come close to the warder, the rogue (even talented + rogue glory-update) will pale terribly before the stalker and a paladin's smite turn ridiculous fast when compared to the tricks a warlord can pull off.
So is PoW balanced? Not in the traditional sense of PFRPG. If you had issues with psionics or pact magic or similar subsystems - well, this one amps the power-curve up far beyond these. Whereas usually, it requires a degree of system-mastery and tricks to produce strong, very powerful characters, the PoW-classes already have an above-average competence built into their relatively linear frameworks, even before maneuver selection.
Now this sounds awfully negative when it shouldn't - PoW's classes do many things right and offer interesting mechanics and some damn cool ideas. While personally, I don't like the stalker's crit-fishing, the warder and warlord make for interesting options. The maneuvers are stylish and breathe an aesthetic of anime martial arts and over the top fighting styles you may enjoy.
PoW is, to me, more divisive even than even the Book of 9 Swords - on the one hand, I consider the balance within the frame of PoW okay, on the other, I don't think it works well with its casting brethren or any other class. So I went ahead and tested. And know what? All of my above assertions proved to be valid... and my martial PCs had no more to do than before in any situation that was NOT a battle. Granted, their attacks were more diverse, mobility increased, foes melted like butter in the sun - but beyond combat, when spellcasters cranked out the utility and research/investigation tools...they still encountered lulls where twiddled their thumbs and grumbled about limited skills/non-combat tricks.
PoW enforces a certain playstyle that is implicit, but unfortunately, not explicit in the rules - very high fantasy. Rogues, monks, fighters, cavaliers and potentially (depending very much on your take of them, how many resources you allow, etc.) even potentially rangers, paladins and inquisitors have imho no place in a campaign with Path of War. They are utterly outclassed unless the PoW-class is in the hands of a novice and the regular martial class in the hands of an experienced player. If a campaign is on a Dragon Ball level of power (and that is NOT meant as chiding or belittling, so put away the torches and pitchforks!), Path of War will be just what the doctor ordered. Many of the abilities herein just ooze rule of cool and should provide a lot of entertainment and "did you see what I just did"-moments - I absolutely understand why PoW has fans. A part of me belongs to that camp. DMs should take heed to ensure that the casters are not overshadowed completely, though. As a DM, to enjoy PoW, you have to have no issue with the infinite maneuver regaining and the inability to bleed your PCs dry. If you are okay with that and are looking for truly high fantasy, this may just be what you want. If comet-throwing, dragon-solo high fantasy is what you're going for, then Path of War will fit the bill perfectly.
Now if you are an old-school player, enjoy the challenge of 15-point-buy and less over the top fantasy, if you like your fantasy low (or rare magic) and gritty, then avoid this like the plague -this is very much anime-style fantasy, not "A Song of Fire and Ice." or Conan
So far, both playstyles do not help finding a final verdict, though. So on to the mechanical execution - and again, things become difficult for me, though less so than I feared. On the one hand, quite a few of the very worst examples of broken %&/ have been eliminated and fixed - the content herein is superior to the one on the WiP-versions in every way. However, it has not been universally fixed - especially among the interaction with other systems like spellcasting and psionics, the horrible ways to utterly break the system can still be found. While the majority of the content herein is streamlined, aforementioned 3.X-relics taint quite a few maneuvers and if I can enhance particular attack-negating counters with massive bonuses beyond what any buffs to regular attacks would render possible, we have issues. An adept of veiled moon plus invisibility (+20/+40 to stealth...), +5 to perception for 2,5K...the buffing options of skills are simply too much, too easily gained for my tastes. Still, these, I could still chalk up to "increased power-level."
Worse, there are options for infinite healing. Multiple ones. These constitute the ultimate in design sins for me - they render all WBL-assumptions utterly ad absurdum and break in-game logic harder than a dragon crashing into a wall of force midflight. Another, though comparably minor thing the playtest did show would be that the disciplines not necessarily are balanced perfectly among themselves. While not in the realm of "useless vs. imba", damage + condition-dispersal was not always on one power-level.
"So steh' ich hier, ich armer Tor - und bin so klug als wie zuvor." I love PoW, it's ideas, some of its mechanics...more so than many, many pdfs I've read. I also loathe it for what it fails by a margin to deliver. With a tighter balancing, proper advice for non-initiator classes, a little bit of fine-tuning of classes and maneuvers, a cleaning up of relics, utility-options beyond combat and perhaps (sacrilege!) an alternate rule for maneuvers that are expended and remain expended until rest, like spells, this could have been the martial arts book everybody, me included, always wanted.
Only you, dear reader, can decide in which camp you're situated - cool or crap, it's, more than with any other book I've reviewed, a matter of perspective. One half of me want to smash this to pieces as it constitutes the worst power creep I've seen in ages with 1 star, while another parts just loves it to death and wants to slap 5 stars + seal of approval on it. In the end, I do consider multiple infinite healing tricks and options that are way too powerful even within PoW's context 2 strikes against the book, but not enough to condemn it utterly. Had this no issues beyond the relics and outclassing old martial classes, I think I would have gone 4 stars with it.
In the end, I urge fans of high fantasy that want to dive headfirst into this to check it out; I also advise fans of low (or even medium) fantasy to steer clear and avoid this like the plague. I urge any DM to carefully consider allowing this book. Read EVERYTHING very carefully and ban the broken pieces. My final verdict will clock in at a very close, borderline 3 stars - the pieces that are good, are too good to dismiss.
Over 5K words in this review alone...so many hours. I'll put the book aside for now. Unfortunately, it won't make its way into my regular game, but I may one day pick it up again for crazy one-shots, until I have some time on my hand to rebuild this from the ground up to be balanced with barbarians, paladins etc.
Thank you for reading this 10-page monstrosity of a review, whether you agree with me or not, I hope I have given an adequate impression of the series and provided enough information for you to decide whether his is for you or not.
I remain yours truly,
P.S.: Published first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Thank you, everyone, for the kind words and encouragement - you don't know how much all of this means to me.
@Thanael: Daniel J. Bishop has written some SUPERB dark fantasy/weird fiction/pulp-style modules for the DCC-ruleset. They rank among the few modules I actually convert to other systems. They're too good to pass up.
His Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores ("Prince Charming, Reanimator", for example) and e.g. "Silent Nightfall" or "The Folk of Osmon" are BEAUTIFUL.
Oh, and ladies and gentlemen, while I have your attention - it is thanks to Thanael you'll see a Deep Magic review. I was utterly broke when the KS ran and he jumped in and pledged for me until I could scrounge the bucks together. *bows*
My dear readers,
while I am no American, I do think that Thanksgiving is a wonderful idea - so here we go; I hope you excuse my indulgence in hijacking this tradition, so here we go:
I am thankful to the following 3pps:
-Rite Publishing: Steve, you gave me my first complimentary copy. I probably wouldn't be reviewing without you and most Rite Publishing books still tend to land on my "must play"-pile. Love your work both as a publisher and writer. Also: Thank you for the spot in Pathways!
-Rogue Genius Games: Owen's company taught me *A LOT* about good crunch, ingenious design, etc. I have no other 3pp that has so many allowed PC-classes in my main campaign. That and talented classes rock my world. Also: Owen, thank you for your professionalism.
-Frog God Games: You people are not only professional and nice, you keep on creating the awesome, big and gorgeous mega-tomes I want. It goes without saying that I'm extremely happy about all of them. When I read the "thank you"-shout out in Slumbering Tsar back in the day, I teared up a little. Also: YOU MADE RAZOR COAST HAPPEN. Thank you.
-Raging Swan Press: When I'm burned out on crunch, when I don't want to read another module, I turn to Raging Swan Press - no other 3pp has made my DMing so much better and easier. Although I still have to translate the tables, villages etc. on the fly, the go-play aspect of your stuff is awesome. The Dressing-books changed my whole DM-style for the better. I salute you folks.
-AAW Games: Thank you for allowing me to be a part of Rise of the Drow, a Pathmaster-judge and for the support ad continued friendship - you are class acts! (Especially considering how I bashed your earlier, less refined modules!)
-TPK Games: Thank you for providing the crit-system I know and love as well as gritty, dark fantasy goodness. I'd also like to thank you guys for allowing my insane designs within your book.
-Interjection Games: Thank you for making some of the most beloved base classes at my table - without them, our game would be poorer. Also: Thank you for making me a part of the design-team for Strange Magic from the get-go. I learned *a lot* about complex class design and work has been an awesome experience.
-Purple Duck Games: Thank you for making some of the coolest, most underrated classes and supplements out there and for making legendary items work properly. Also: Thank you so much for introducing me to Daniel J. Bishop's superb work!
-Legendary Games: Thank you for all the great plug-ins, for making mass combat as deep and rewarding as it is and for providing all the mythic rules I need!
-Dreamscarred Press: Thank you for psionics and being class acts, even in the face of diverging opinions. I look forward to seeing what you create in the future!
-Radiance House/Everyman Gaming: Thank you for Pact Magic - without it, my games would be so much poorer.
-Kobold Press: Thank you for making Midgard and providing source-books that breathe this tangible spirit of the fantastic!
-LPJr Design: Thank you for making gorgeous, inspired and downright weird pdfs; I find my campaigns enriched by the cool ideas you bring to the game.
-Little Red Goblin Games: Thank you for providing my "And now for something completely different"-setting, Necropunk. I love what you have done and achieved there!
-Forest Guardian Press: Morgan, thank you for the Direlock - it's my favorite gish-class and sees *A LOT* of use at my table! Your Savage will join ranks here, I presume.
-Misfit Studios: Thank you for making me a part of Bite Me! back in the day!
-Mór Studios: Thank you for making a surprisingly captivating saga so far; I'm looking forward to seeing where this goes!
I'd also like to thank Abandoned Arts, ICOSA Entertainment, Fat Goblin Games, Zombie Sky Press, Storm Bunny Studios and every other 3pp I have forgotten who has sent me complimentary copies of pdfs at one time or another and taken my criticism to heart without being rude! Thank you for your patience! (I know, I'm slow...but catching up!)
I'd especially want to thank those 3pps who went the extra mile and sent me a physical copy at one point or another - you guys rock! (Even though sometimes, I wished I could have rewarded that with a better rating, I know you value integrity and sent the books nevertheless. And that is just awesome.)
But most of all, more so even than to thank all the authors and publishers, many of whom I'd call friends, I want to thank YOU. Yes, you. The person sitting in front of a screen, clicking on reviews. The guys and gals who read my ramblings. I want to thank all of you who dropped me a comment at one time or another, telling me I made a difference. You can't fathom how much that means to me, how often it has elevated me from a place of doubt back to high spirits. And when the rare complete stranger surprises me with a random act of kindness with a donation of a file, a book, or just plain money, that is when I realize I have much to be thankful for - and it is all due to you.
I also want to thank everyone who has corrected one of my mistakes in the past - I'm not perfect, but you ladies and gentlemen help me on my continuous quest of self-improvement. So thank you. As per the writing of this post, my official review-counter stands at 1750 reviews. To anyone who has ever read even ONE of them, even if you disagreed with me and/or consider me a dumb, annoying doucheback - thank you for your time.
Have a wonderful day and see you, hopefully, tomorrow, with 3 new reviews!
Fun fact - while general consensus seems to be that run is pretty weak, *a lot* of my PCs tend to get it. Why? Well, better survivability. I guess it says something about my campaign, but I've seen run being pretty strong in the right hands and circumstances. Sure, you won't kill the BBEG with it, but your PC may survive as the lone one the Almost-TPK...
Long ramble short - this is a great book, people, check it out!
This massive book of expansion-levels for Rappan Athuk clocks in at 165 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page back cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 159 pages of content, so let's take a look...
...but before, let me say one thing - this review is my Razor Coast. This review crashed and burned (!!!) times, with all data gone; Once on my laptop, once due to my mobile HD being stolen and once due to my desktop PC's HD crashing. I've literally written this review 3 times, only to have it crash before I had the chance to back it up. So let's get this posted before my desktop PC dies...again.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Got that?
So, after a brief introduction we receive the first of 4 new wilderness areas, Castle Calaelen. Situated west of Zelkor's Ferry and north of the mouth of doom, this locale makes for a good starting adventure in case your players are not hardcore enough for the dangers that lurk below the surface - the base of operations for a few goblins and their gnoll mercenaries. The castle itself sports relatively meager defenses and breathes a sense of a world that has turned onwards, that has left its heyday behind - with grim traps like trapped goblin tea parties, an infernal raven and finally the option to save an innocent gentleman (of half-orc stock), the level did remind me of the starting modules of old and is probably as close as Frog God Games gets to providing an easy introductory module. Bits and pieces that can turn nasty are here, but overall, the castle probably is the easiest thing to have been released under the Lost Land-banner. And generally, I wouldn't complain here - it's a nice place. When compared to the challenge that Crucible of Freya (nowadays collected in the Stoneheart Valley-anthology) posed, the attention to detail with light sources, shifts etc., I can't help but feel that this castle is meant to ease new players into the feel and playstyle. What I'm trying to say is - don't expect this chapter to challenge your players too much.
The second new wilderness area would be Hell's Hamlet - and scarcely has a moniker been so fitting. The town of Mitchrod is firmly in the hands of the forces infernal, with multiple examples of devils existing among the predominantly hobgoblin populace. Now here's the catch - no one like apocalyptic demon cults, not even the devils. Hence, this village may be tackled in two ways - on the one hand, your players could well opt to scourge the opposition, rooting this taint from the land. On the other hand, less scrupulous characters may well opt to throw in their lot with the village - after all, legendary Demonbane was wrought in the smithies of hell... Personally, I consider non-hostile interaction to be the more rewarding option here, mainly because this city and its inhabitants and guardians are unique in all the right ways - from the delightfully odd tin-man guardian golem to the kyton that may very well resurrect your allies to hallucinogenic mushrooms, there is a lot cool stuff to discovered - and in the vast depths of Rappan Athuk, there are plainly enough creatures for your PCs to jab their pointy sticks into...a bit of social roleplaying won't hurt them, especially if sprinkled with a healthy anxiety at the practices of their...hosts?
The third "encounter" is perhaps the oddest herein -assuming the PCs venture towards Rappan Athuk by sea, their vessel is attacked and they, by some means or another, are deployed into pirate captivity, only to be able to escape their bounds and into the wilderness. This may sound some alarm bells - and indeed, as the introduction acknowledges, this section may well seem contrived and forced if not handled properly. However, the good thing here would be that the main meat of this section is NOT about the somewhat railroady event, which imho can be potentially skipped, but rather about the survival action in the middle of a vast forest - from odd food to a variety of disturbing daemonic entities with unique tricks, guided by a malevolent will, the PCs will have quite a lot of exploration to do to toughen them up before they can return to the "safety" of civilization. That being said, while I do really, really like this survival aspect, the encounters, scavenging tables etc., I have to admit that I consider the tie-in to Rappan Athuk, both in theme and execution, to be almost non-existent. My advice is to run this as a stand-alone - it probably works better than beating PCs expecting a dungeon-campaign over the head with such a module. It's a good module, though not a perfect one and the glaring tactical errors the evil entity executes, while explained and rationalized by the author, might come off as DM-fiat to some players - experienced DMs can pull this off and make it very memorable and awesome, though.
The 4th wilderness encounter/following dungeon levels would be the Tunnels of Terror, situated in a ruined keep and guarded by bandits - and believe me when I say, these levels are on par with what one would expect from Rappan Athuk - the first level's map spans three whole pages. On its own. Level 2C and 3D would be the extensions of this massive dungeon. (Well...massive in relative terms when compared to other FGG-dungeons, but you get what I mean...) If you want to mince no words, make no false pretensions of Rappan Athuk being anything but deadly - well, here we'd have a neat example why a dungeon like this ought to be feared. Stone Ropers at CR 6, level 7 priests (yes, the channel energy WILL kill the party if they are not VERY careful...), death traps - while not as nasty as big ole' RA itself and terrain-wise, relatively conventional, this place is a challenge. On the downside, at least in my opinion, it does not add that much to the overall myth of Rappan Athuk. Hidden very powerful demons? Tsathar, bandits? Yep - you know the drill and unlike other examples of the Tsathar being their awesome, froggy selves, they may be the lesser of the evils in this case...which somewhat detracts from and diminishes their antediluvian demon-god/great-old-one crossover flair...but that may be me just being a fanboy for them. The tie-in regarding actually working for them may make for a hideous twist of fate near the end-game...after all, FGG has a module called "Against Tsathogga..."
Level 2C, as mentioned, contains the second level of the tunnels, and is not smaller - the temple of Tsathogga, blind albino frogs, magic mirrors - a nice example of an evil temple underground, though honestly, I considered the temple to be somewhat disappointing regarding terrain - some more unique hazards, flooded passages, unique traps etc. would have helped setting this temple further apart from all the Orcus-temples in main RA: The level also contains the Rainbow Vault and its riddles - pity that a tie-in/synergy with the Hall of the Rainbow Mage has been omitted here. One note - while I do love the puzzles on this level, I'm not a fan of ROYGBIV being a part of a puzzle's solution - that's mostly meta-gaming convention and knowledge and furthermore makes me flash back to Sam & Max Season 1. (The game, not the animated series..) Note that this is me being nitpicky, though - after all, there are the prismatic spells.... Speaking of puzzles - the final section of this level sports multiple statues that can be turned. to turn them, though, certain pillars have to be unlocked and rotated, but there also are pillars that activate traps - THANKFULLY, a massive sidebox explains this puzzle. As much as love complex puzzles like this, I do not advocate the way it is presented - it's a matter of taste, but I'm not a fan of Myst-style puzzles where you have a complex mechanism and then essentially guess what you're supposed to be doing. While not absolutely required to progress in the overall scheme of things, a general, cryptic clue, a visual abstraction of the level, which then can be identified by the players if their mapping-skills are up to par - some clue where and how to tackle this one would have been appreciated by quite a lot of players. Now don't get me wrong - in my book, we need challenges like this more often...but some hints to prevent trial and error would be more than welcome.
The final level of the tunnels contains another temple of Orcus (One more? So what does this one do if you deactivate it?), which generally feels a bit out of place. Oh well, at least the opposition, making ample use of Tome of Horrors 4, is pretty unique and the option to save a djinn is nice as well. Also a pity - this place is supposed to be created by an advance force from Tsar - so where's the optional tie-in to that place? Lost chance here. And yes, I'm complaining at a high level here, I'm aware of that. Now the second section of this dungeon-level is once again up to grisly lethality - golems, vampires, uncommon undead - all you'd expect from Rappan Athuk, yet still in a fresh guise. Nice!
Level 6B would present the PCs with perhaps the most lethal of adversaries possible - adventurers. undead ones at that. In their home-turf, with plenty of servants. And unique puzzle-creatures that are smart...and a nice nod towards Silent Hill 4's ghosts. Have I mentioned the friendly undead dragon wishing to chomp on your PCs? GLORIOUS.
We close this pdf with various encounters/NPCs to be inserted at your whim into your game, as well as an appendix that depicts the Disciple of Orcus PrC and the new monsters.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard, with plenty of neat cartography and high-quality original artworks, though there are no player-friendly versions of the maps, which constitutes a detriment in my book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. Inexplicably, an index listing at one convenient glance the danger levels and exits/entries of the respective individual levels has been omitted - a pity, since RA already requires a lot of book-keeping on the DM's side and help like that would have been appreciated.
Bill Webb, Alex Clatworthy, James Redmon and Skeeter Green have woven more Rappan Athuk...but can it hold up to the original? Yes...and no. On the one hand, this tome is an example of excellent old-school adventure-craft - each and every piece of content breathes the spirit of what is great and awesome about old-school modules. On the other hand, though, the different voices show. I've been struggling quite a while with myself for this one. Why? Because I am honestly not sure whether it's just me. It might be very much possible that I'm burned out on Orcus-priests and their undead minions after Slumbering TSar and Rappa Athuk. On bandits occupying a ruined fortress as well. I can't be sure. It does feel like, at least partially and at least to me, though, as if I've seen some of the tricks herein done better before....in Rappan Athuk. Does every level herein have some part of that old-school magic? Yes! How could one NOT like gold-pooping, purring, fungus-shaped dwarf-affine pets that pose as rocks to avoid detection by certain races? How could one not like actual riddles that challenge one's mind beyond just rolling dice? This compilation offers quite a few examples of what is awesome about old-school adventuring.
To give you an example, the wilderness-survival module, in spite of its problematic beginning, is modular enough, with all its cool daemonic critters, to incite one's imagination. The puzzles are glorious, if not always perfect in their hint-distribution. Evil undead adventurers groups? Heck yeah! On the other hand, getting YET ANOTHER shrine of Orcus (sans bearing on the metaplot), getting a Tsathar domain that simply isn't as alien or partially, as interesting, as it could be...feel disappointing on a very high level. This expansion is best in the cases it truly enhances Rappan Athuk - by providing social encounters, a whole hamlet to interact with, by its distinct challenges. Alas, not all of this expansion is devoted to that - there are examples I'd consider derivative of the main module. This may be intentional. Perhaps it's just me after reading and purchasing 3 iterations of the dungeon + Slumbering Tsar...but it takes more to wow me than a couple of named NPCs, acolytes, undead and demons on a level devoted to Orcus to blow me away. Is it thematically coherent when it happens? Yes. Is it stellar? Alas, no.
Heart of the Razor - while not perfect, provided thematic, culturally relevant expansions to the main book. This one does so as well...in a couple of cases. In others, it fails to deliver them. In the superb wilderness module, for example, some kind of permanent boon would have most definitely been appropriate. Is this worth being purchased for Rappan Athuk? Yes. As a stand-alone? Yes. Is it required or perfect? No. This is a fun book, a good book, but falls short of the level of quality delivered in the new levels of PFRPG's iteration of RA - the level of awesomeness of a certain level with planar awesomeness as an organic, fitting change of pace, is absent from the book.
I really like components of this book, ESPECIALLY the fact that it demands that your players use their brains. But it also has some components that left me underwhelmed at a very high level. In a context that was not Frog God Games, I'd probably be singing praises on how this module is almost on par with Frog God Games' mastery of old-school modules. So what's my final verdict? Honestly, I've been somewhat underwhelmed by a couple of levels, but at the same time, I've really, really liked several ideas herein - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars - a good compilation to have, but not a must-have.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on Lou Agresta's RPGaggression and on d20pfsrd.com's shop.