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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover/editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so what do we get?
Well, first of all, we begin, as always, with a bit of flavor-text and the history of the "bigger on the inside" idea that has accompanied mankind from Santa Claus to Doctor Who - and it shows awareness of a possible reason for the initial introduction of the classic bag of holding into the context of the games we know and love.
I feel obliged to go on a little digression: As you may have noticed, I can be a bit of a stickler for encumbrance, carrying capacity etc. - it just helps my immersion in a given game and I am very much what you'd call a simulationalist GM. I want to know where the weapons etc. are. The problem here, is, alas, that tracking a ton of items can become tedious and time-consuming...but ignoring packing, carrying capacity etc. them altogether (like many a game I witnessed do) rubs me the wrong way. Similarly, I have spent literally whole sessions of players just buying equipment for a massive wilderness trek, haggling with the merchants and the like - and I *enjoy* sessions like that...most of the time. Sometimes, I just wished the system had a means for characters to be "crazy prepared" and just draw an item from the pack...within reason. Unfortunately, most of the time, takes on the crazy-prepared mechanic simply don't work as smooth as they should. This pdf approaches this conundrum by introducing the practical pack mechanic.
The mechanic itself is dead simple: There is a chance a character has stored an item away in the practical pack, assuming the item is under a set weight and cost. Determining whether the item is stored inside is handled via an associated skill-check (or Int/Wis, if you have no ranks in the associated skill) - characters with ranks in Climb are more likely to have packed tools for climbing, for example. Now thankfully, the pdf does not leave you alone to associate skills with items: A massive table does that work for you and should you desire to extend the mechanic from the mundane and masterwork items to e.g. weapons and armor, you'll find some guidance herein as well.
Such practical packs are usually containers of some sort - and from the bandolier to saddlebags, a lot of different sample containers (including volume information) allow for more precise takes on what can potentially fit in such a container - an no, as written, specific keys to locks could not be duplicated, though lockpicks could - which is nice in my book. How does filling the pack work? Well, you determine a value and go shopping. When you draw an item ex nihilo from the pack, the item's price is detracted from the value used in shopping - unlike quite a few "crazy prepared"-takes, no chance of suddenly drawing forth odd items when finding treasure. No single object in the pack can weigh more than 1/4 of the weight of the pack and total weight cannot exceed the weight of the pack, so cheating encumbrance via these can't be done efficiently either.
How to draw items from it? Well, the skill-check is a simple DC 10 + cost in gold of the world. Less than 10 Copper means DC 10, silver is rounded up to 1 gp. Common items reduce the DC by 5; uncommon items increase base DC to 15, rare ones to DC 20. You also reduce the base DC for each factor of 10 the item is less than the value of the bag. As an example: A 40 gp alchemist's kit would be DC 50, but if the practical pack has been filled with 400 gp or more, you'd calculate 40 gp/400 gp, arriving at a DC of 14. If the value of the pack were 4K gp, you'd instead arrive at a DC of 11 - 10 base, +1 for a value exceeding 1 sp. If this sounds complicated to you at first - it really isn't; in fact, in practice, it can be done fluidly on the fly. If you botch the skill by 5 or less, a GM may allow you to draw forth a substitute, adding in degrees of success/failure - a design-notion I really enjoy!
If you require multiple items of a type and wouldn't usually carry multiples, the pdf has you covered as well, providing concise rules for that as well. Some items, like flint, a non-combat knife and similar tools are codified as always available and rechecking for similar items is also possible.
Very important: If you're one of the GMs or players who hates minutiae like this - the pdf does offer a simplified version of this system as well. They are based on bag quality (4 steps) and fit comfortable on half a page, covering all bases. Now this is accounting for table variance!
Okay, so this is where things get even more interesting: Rather than rehashing the ole' bag of holding rules, the pdf continues to develop the aforementioned rules and applies them to magic bags: There are, for example, mercane bags: You drop items in for the mercane to sell, but may, yourself, request magic items from the mercane by putting your hand inside...and yes, this easy reselling of loot is thankfully balanced via market value modifications. Two particularly nasty cursed satchels are provided as well - the bag of devouring that tries to eat you and your items...and there is a bag into which you can throw items...only to get worthless junk back.
Really fun: The evil, demonic and intelligent chomper, a devouring bag that not only is malevolent, you can swing it at foes to bite them. Cool visuals! The helpful steward of the bag is intelligent as well and could be visualized as a bag of holding with an integrated butler that lists all objects inside. The mythic bag of needful things takes a bow before one of Mr. King's better books and can generate objects. Finally, the artifact of this installment of Call to Arms would be the doorknocker to a private sanctum - basically a doorknocker you can affix to any door, open it, and enter your very own private demiplane...which can btw. be altered, in case you were wondering.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports nice artworks in full color by Rick Hershey. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Lucus Palosaari's magic satchels...are BRILLIANT. I'm not even going to try to slowly lead into this. Magic Satchels as envisioned here are exactly what I always wanted - this book pretty much looks and feels almost like it was written for me. This streamlines the extensive shopping trips and planning required in simulationalist gameplay without sacrificing the need for planning in advance; this provides almost the ease of GM-handwaving encumbrance and actually creates suspense: The cheers when players draw forth the third stake they needed on a hard skill-check...is glorious and adds actually a fun, novel component to the gameplay...and all without falling into the innumerable pits and traps this type of design sports: From weight to scarcity to even a simpler system, this book covers ALL basics in its deceptively few pages.
The page-count may not sound impressive...but if you're like me, you'll celebrate this system for its grace and elegance, for its innovation and seamless integration in gameplay as well as for speeding up the game sans losing the threat and excitement of e.g. prolonged wilderness trips. Oh, and the simple alternate system is great for less detail-oriented games, providing supreme support for different table types.
This is a truly brilliant little pdf that will feature in each and every one of my campaigns from now on. I adore this book. Its final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and it receives EZG Essential status: If you love your details, but want an truly elegant way of speeding things up sans breaking your game, get this!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Most work-intense review of my career, no kidding. And I'm thankful for the drafts etc. - without them, the review would probably have hit sites sometime in October... ;P
In 1977 (paperback 1980) - a year previous to Wilson et al.'s study (also titled Necronomicon) - one L.K. Barnes and the self-professed adept known as Simon released unto the world a volume also bearing the simple title Necronomicon. The reader will soon realize that this Bares/Simon Necronomicon takes the millennia-old Sumerian tale of the war between the forces of the leviathan sea-goddess Tiamat and the warrior-god Marduk, and casts it as the struggle between the Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods. Tiamat stands on the side of Chaos with Cthulhu and his clan, while Marduk's forces - Anu, Inanna, Enlil, Enki, Shamash, and the rest of the gods of Sumer - are the civilizing, protective forces of Order. It is presumably Simon's contention and literary construct that this is the original version of the Tiamat/Marduk story; that the beings Lovecraft would later adopt into his tales made their first appearance in human literature in this pre-Christian Era epic, and that the version with which we are more familiar has been edited to remove all references to them. This train of thought has been applied broadly throughout Lovecraftiana and has representations in both linguistic structure as well as themes and mythological structure; it is hence I called these deities "Lovecraftian," since ultimately, the symbolic charge and contextualization here are distinctly lovecraftian.
+1 to everything Anguish and ladydragona said.
Additionally, and this cannot be overstated: Have the writing at least mostly done, UNLESS you already have veteran writers that always deliver on time. Scratch that, have the writing at least 80% done -I could rattle off a couple of delayed projects that didn't take that into account that are severely delayed. (Stretchgoals not counting.)
We all want more content, but don't stretch yourself too thin: Jeremy Smith, one of the head-honchos of the highly respected Dreamscarred Press once posted that too much stretchgoals can be highly problematic - so make sure the goals are aptly priced so they don't sink your calculations.
Also, make sure you STAY active during the KS. On social media, the boards, KS itself. I saw a KS fund 3/4s in 2 days...and then go dark; authors etc. go incommunicado. It stayed at exactly that amount...and then evaporated. Go to all blogs, sources, magazine you can find...and ask them fr links, coverage, etc. Visibility, especially for small 3pps, is key.
Finally, if you ever want to run a KS ever again, well, then stay communicative after it has funded. There is a certain 3pp company that was in exceedingly high regard and critically acclaimed, had a KS and...well, to this day only delivered ~1/3 of the content we backed for. Sans explanations, plan presented to deliver the goods or the like. Months on end sans update or visible progress. Behavior like that is not only bad for one's own business, it can be bad for the 3pp-scene as a whole, so please, provide at least bi-monthly updates, even if there is nothing new to report.
Just my 2 cents, of course.
This Pay What You Want April's Fool-release clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The first new archetype herein would be for the currently-in-playtest discipline-using class, Medi...and it's called Ambu-Lancer. These guys get Ride as a class skill and a mount with light armor proficiency at first level. When riding said mount, the ambu-lancer takes no armor check penalty to Ride skills and killed mounts can be replaced sans cost after just 1 week, analogue to the cavalier. Medic's expertise is replaced with Mounted Combat and in an interesting twist, maneuvers that have a movement component may be used with the mount's movement instead of the ambu-lancer's - basically, it replaces the animal companion's usual share spells with discipline-related movement sharing. Similarly, the triage ability may be used in conjunction with the mount's movement.
Absolutely hilarious: At 4th level, instead of +1 triage use, the archetype gets a Stealth-WRECKING minus 30 Stealth when activated siren that grants Improved Overrun when attempting to move somewhere to use triage - MEDIC!!! XD Instead of 5th level's medic's expertise, the archetype may drag allies healed atop the mount! Pretty cool archetype...and hilarious.
The Edge Lord harbinger had me laugh so hard, I had to stop and go outside for a second - the archetype gets proficiency with simple and martial weapons and the katana, but not with any armor or shield. Discipline-wise, they replace Riven hourglass and Scarlet Throne with Unquiet Grave and Mithral Current. At 1st level, the archetype gets Quick Draw and dons a leather coat of black or red leather that provides Int-bonus to AC (+1 dodge bonus at 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter) - this ability replaces accursed will and is called..."Become So Numb." Starting at 4th level, the edge-lord may teleport a limited amount of times per encounter before or after initiating a strike. This is called "One Step Closer." Come on, now you've got it, right? It's friggin' Linkin Park-the-class. XD Instead of elusive shadow, the archetype gets immunity to emotion effects and replaces sorcerous deception with Mixed Combat and Weapon Focus - X-Ecutioner Style. If you didn't grow up with these, you may not consider this as funny as I do...but boy...I could throw myself away right now...Increased crit range via Papercuts and the option to teleport crited foes unwillingly complement this very well - basically, if you ever wanted to play Dante or Vergil from Devil may Cry...yeah, that's a pretty good way to do that. Two thumbs up!
The Madman monk may not use class features with monk weapons, only with unarmed strikes. This archetype...is basically an exercise in how M-A-D you can make an archetype - all saves are governed by two attributes: Str and Con for Fort, Dex and Int for Ref, Wis and Cha for Will. For the lulz, his unarmed strike attacks use Int and Str to atk, but Con and Cha to damage rolls. And no, this cannot be changed. They deal bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage at once via unarmed attacks. Dex-based skills are enhanced by Str. Cha-based skills are enhanced by Wis. The MADman may substitute psychoses for attacks in his flurry, with save DC being equal to 10 + 1/2 class level + highest attribute modifier + lowest attribute modifier. In case you haven't got that yet - no, you can't choose anywhere and yes, negative modifier decrease the efficiency. So what's a psychoses? Well, it's basically the talent array of these fellows. They get one new psychosis at each odd level, with later levels unlocking new ones. Now here's the mechanically interesting component: The more successful psychoses (success/failure-conditions provided individually), attack and maneuvers the madman has performed before in a given flurry, the more potent becomes the specific effect. And yes, these include reality-bending stunts like flying (for as long as the flurry persists...). Also interesting - high level psychoses have powerful effects - when executed AFTER 5 successful prior attacks...otherwise, they have no effects. And yes, the archetype does have multiple capstones to choose from. This whole archetype is basically a meta-joke on the monk...and it still kinda works. While perhaps the least serious-feeling component herein, the archetype sports several impressive and cool ideas. with the psychoses and flurry-combo-idea in particular being worthy of closer examination.
Next up would be the Daring Hero 10-level PrC, which sports Elan's (The OotS-character, not the race) Razor Wit as a prerequisite bonus feat. The PrC grants d10 HD, 6+Int skills per level, 1/2 Ref- and Will-save progression and full BAB-progression. Every even level, the PrC provides +1 maneuver known, chosen from Mithral Current, Scarlet Throne and two previously available disciplines, chosen upon taking the PrC. PrC-levels count as full initiator levels and 3rd level and every 3 thereafter add +1 readied maneuver. 4th, 6th and 10th level provide +1 stance. The PrC allows the character to substitute Charisma as initiation modifier for all mental attribute modifiers for all class features and maneuvers - which is pretty OP. Additionally, this enhances Razor Wit and provides benefits for soulknives. Dramatic Entries, better starting reputation...okay. Using counters sans expending immediate actions 1/encounter at 3rd level, +1/encounter every 3 levels thereafter, is pretty powerful. At higher levels, the plot armor stance can be used and these guys get gold for the fanfiction written about the. As a capstone, the hero can't die anymore...unless it's fittingly climactic.
Next up would be the Drowmedary-race,a combination of drow and gamla - these folks get a full age, height and weight-table (with a minor grey-line-formatting glitch) and are humanoids with the elf and akashic subtypes. They have normal speed, +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, get +1 bonus essence and get poison spit that scales with the levels - usable 1/minute, range 10 ft. The spit can stagger foes and even knock them unconscious and essence can be invested in it as though the ability were a veil - essence invested increases reach and DC. Personally, I think the DC-increase is a bit excessive here - in my game, I'd rather increase the reach-increase from 5 ft. per essence invested to +10 ft. Also, since the alternate, difficult-terrain-causing class feature that spits webs instead is rather outclassed by this one. Drowmedary also get a teamwork bonus feat they can share for Cha-mod rounds with all allied drowmedaries within 60 ft.. See, this is one of the abilities that looks fine in a general adventuring group - but when all players play the race, it gets ridiculous fast. I'd strongly advise in favor of a daily limit or similar factor to prevent this getting out of hand. Instead of this, they can also get climb speed via spidery legs.
The pdf has one more thing to offer, namely the gelatinous cube monster class - HD d8, -4 Dex, +4 Con; Ooze type, speed 15 ft., acid immunity. The cube is considered intelligent, blind, has blindsight, can't be tripped and gets 2+Int skills per level. They get a slam attack and transparency at 1st level. Their class spans 4 levels, has all bad saves, 3/4 BAB-prgression and nets +4 Con on every level but the 1st, but also -2 Dex per level. Paralysis potency increases every level, 3rd provides +1d6 acid damage and 4th level nets size-increase to large as well as engulf. The write-up also sports two racial feats - one that nets you a pseudopod and a second feats allows the cube to assume humanoid form. If you really want to go cubey, I'd also suggest checking out Rite Publishing's "In the Company of Gelatinous Cubes", their April-product last year.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules level - the wordings are generally tight, though some minor glitches can be seen here and there. Layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' full-color two-column standard and the pdf has no artworks. It does, however, have bookmarks and it comes with a second, more printer-friendly version.
Anthony S. Altovilla, Forrest Heck, Jacob Karpel, Jade Ripley, Jeffrey Swank and Kevin Ryan provide some hilarious options here - with a wink, sure...but functional nonetheless! While I am not sold on each and every design decision, I do love a lot of the components herein - the Edge Lord made me laugh so hard and the drowmedary are similarly fun. (2 cents if you play one dual-wielding scimitars...) Yeah, yeah, endy has to complain about blabla... but guess what? I don't want to. This is a pay what you want product that offers significantly more great ideas than many commercial releases. Sure, I don't consider all perfect - but you can literally take a look and then tip the authors...and seriously, you should. The material is worth it, particularly for Path of War-fans, for whom the majority of content herein is intended. This may not be perfect in formal criteria or balance-wise, but it's fun and there is no component herein that will truly break anyone's game. Taking that and the PWYW-aspect into account, I arrive at a final verdict of 5 stars.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Part II of my review:
Vessels can replace the 2nd level omen with an expanded spell-list and replace a limited amount of omens with oracle revelations from limited mystery-lists when choosing to take the fatespinner archetype. The Messiah archetype receives the psychic spells of the psychic class modified by the sorc/wiz necromancy (aging) and transmutation spells (the subschool can be found in the highly anticipated Grimoire of Lost Souls) and the archetype also gains the native outsider type in addition to his original type. 2nd level provides a phrenic amplification and 1/2 level phrenic points, while 6th level provides the option to use grace to cast spells not known from his spell-list, replacing the 8th level omen. I get the balancing here, but I do think gaining an ability at 8th level would have been nice - as written, 8th level becomes pretty much dead for the archetype - +1 spell at 3rd level, that's it.
The planar scribe replaces the omens gained at 2nd, 8th and 20th level with bardic performance and associated omens - these allow the scribe to e.g. learn masterpieces and unlock progressively better bardic music abilities, including options to use grace to enhance the DC of abilities gained - an interesting hybrid archetype. The witch class also sports two archetypes - the bookbonded replaces a witch's familiar and the 1st level hex with a spellbook as the wizards uses, which, at 3rd level, will double as an implement, with additional schools being unlocked at 8th level and every 6 levels thereafter. The chosen school of the implement can be reassigned daily; this ability also nets the base focus power and 1/2 class level mental focus., replacing 2nd level's hex. 4th level allows for the learning of focus powers instead of hexes and 10th level provides the means to make the book count as acting for two implement schools at once. The song-hexer receives a fixed list of bonus spells in lieu of patron spells and basically can be considered to be a witch/bard-crossover archetype that pay for the bardic tricks with hexes - all in all, a nice one.
The two new classes also sport a ridiculously detailed list of favored class options - beyond core races and the usual "sexy" races à la aasimar, drow, tiefling, etc., from vanara to undine to gathlain, we extend the options to dragons(!!) and even ghorans, kasatha, lashunta or traxians and even androids are covered - kudos for going the truly extra mile here! Better yet, the favored class options ALSO provide the highly intriguing and modular everyman class options-selections for vessel and shapeshifter - kudos!
The feat-section provides the usual extra x/class- and archetype-enhancer feats, though better synergy with family-members via a teamwork feat and means to stay conscious when nonlethal damage exceeds your current hit points, the section does sport some rather cool tricks - two well-crafted traits can be found here as well.
Monster-wise, there are two templates that allow creatures to gain shapeshifter and vessel tricks (Cr +1 or +2, depending on HD) and there are new creatures herein - to be more precise, a new subtype, and it is absolutely GLORIOUS: Born from the rotten blood of the elder deity Leviathan, the Levialogoi are unique in various ways - namely that the subtype makes them actually capable of standing before even mythic adversaries sans immediately evaporating in sprays of foul blood: Beyond massive resistances, DR and Regeneration, they can assume shapes, have an affinity for templates, SR and lethal natural attacks - basically, these beings made my jaded players scream "WHY WON'T IT DIE??"...and yes, they actually died for once! Don't get me wrong, these monsters are balanced and unique...but the impressive component is frankly that they have defenses that make them viable, lethal foes against even high-level parties - the wonderfully disturbing artworks for them (3, btw.) emphasize this...oh, and the sample creatures provided clock in at CR 20 and CR 25. I absolutely ADORE them and hope we'll see more of these delightfully brutal foes!
Now if you're a fan of Supernatural, the occult rituals will make you smile: Drawing a glyph to banaish specific outsiders? Check. Message by blood? Check. Crossroads-devil summoning? Check. Outsider blood as psychic power? Check. Finding objects/persons via a ritual on a map? Check. Also awesome: Shrinking foes down (Microsized Adventures-synergy), swapping minds, absorbing memory in quicksilver solutions, permanent creature transformation and a twisted ritual to extend one's life or cheat death by consuming souls are awesome and allow for recreation of the often inspiring imagery used in the series - and even if you dislike it, rest assured that these work in every campaign.
The book closes with a small 2-page chapter, primarily useful for less experienced GMs, detailing how to set up a basic paranormal investigation adventure. The advice provided is sound.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, if not perfect - there are a few of minor cut copy paste hiccups, as mentioned above. Layout adheres to Everyman Gaming's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork-wise, Jacob Blackmon delivers some of the best pieces I've seen him draw, with particularly the Levialogoi being downright...creepy. The constant presence of the quasi-Winchesters as drawn characters herein is nice as well if you're familiar with the series; if not, they'll still be neat pieces, with big chapter-introduction artworks standing out particularly.
Alexander Augunas' Paranormal Adventures is a thoroughly impressive book - if you need a good reason why there are precious few crunch-authors out there that show up often on my top-ten-lists, here's a very apt example: Quite frankly, few sport the same level of mastery regarding the construction of highly complex systems with a rules-language this PRECISE. better yet, he has a firm grasp on balance and tends towards more complex and novel mechanisms - much like Bradley Crouch, Alexander Augunas pushes the boundaries - from a mechanical stand-point, the shapeshifter presented herein is a thoroughly impressive feat regarding the operation of rules-syntax and semantics...and in unique balancing mechanisms, for the item-based balancing of the class, while problematic-looking on paper, is frankly brilliant. This is perhaps the most versatile, unique shapeshifter of the "morph into full-blown animals"-type I know. (Bradley Crouch's Animist works alongside this one, since its focus is Wolpertinger-style-morphing.)
Similarly, the Vessel sports a unique playstyle, with the HP-powered abilities actually working - exceedingly well, if I may add! I tend to be extremely wary of these types of mechanics, but here, they work perfectly - the vessel class also is now allowed in my games and both classes should work sans modifications in a very wide array of games, from gritty rare magic to high fantasy. While the feats provide pretty much what you'd expect, the archetypes once again run a relatively broad array of options and sport not a single boring or filler-type - each radically changes the options available. And then there would be the massive, unprecedented favored class options, the supremely awesome Levialogoi and the cool rituals...which simply rock, no matter how you look at them - even if you hate Supernatural, these will work rather perfect in your games and deliver a truly unique flair to the proceedings.
Yes, there are a precious few minor hiccups in this book (I commented on all that truly galled me...so yeah...emphasis on "few"), though if Alexander's track record is any indicator, these should be purged sooner than later...but know what? They pale beyond the sheer awesomeness contained herein. Beyond the complexity and challenge to design this material, the book oozes practically the passion and heart's blood that went into it. If you're a Supernatural fan, you absolutely NEED this book...and even if you dislike the series (or consider it by now more of a guilty pleasure), this book's rules, aptly-written prose and overall package is simply exceedingly impressive. Considering the top-layer difficulty of crafting these rules and balancing them, the sheer number of flawless components and the comparably almost non-existent glitches, this book still receives my highest accolades - as mentioned time and again: I'd rather read a complex, daring, novel book with one or two hiccups than reward retreading conservative and bland designs. Paranormal Adventures contains some of the most impressive crunch-designs I've seen all year and is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and the status as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
1) Immediate replacement; no cool-down like animal companions etc.
2) Add the crafting pool value of level 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +...etc. until level X for new characters; Crafting pool is effectively free gold to craft that can be saved. And in resource-tight campaigns, this can be pretty strong.
3) The class pretty much already works for Iron Gods; no reason why you can't combine construct-crafting with technology. I'd either replace the construct crafting in favor of technology-tricks (basic archetype) or limit the crafting pool/construct modifications and instead allow for technology-synergy (complex archetype).
Just my 2 cents, of course! :)
For *classic* settings...Ravenloft will forever be my one first true love; Planescape will be my perfect exotism - fun, creative, different and versatile; Dark Sun is the wonderful rough and alien;
For 3.X-settings: Midnight and Scarred Lands. Have everything for both; both are mechanically deeply flawed, but GLORIOUS settings.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 2 pages of editorial, leaving us with 53 pages of content, so let's take a look!
I received this module prior to public release and playtested it. It was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.
The premise is pretty much fantasy modern day: In a world that is pretty much like our own, monsters and the like are common and pose a significant risk to the populace. The government has two choices for the truly dangerous creatures out there: Submit to a painless death or be confined and become property of the state for scientific scrutiny in one of the Infinity Directive's hidden prisons. The PCs are agents of 7th level and the module assumes a medium XP-track and get Exotic Weapon proficiency (Firearms) as well as Technologist.
...and this is as far as I can go sans SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
So, the module begins with a detailed introductory briefing - the agents are told that a certain secret prison facility, Facility X, has been compromised: While the dimensional barriers are intact, the neurotoxin to pacify the powerful inmates has not been released, evacuation protocols are in place. The facility is on lock-down and no one knows what's going on in facility 10 - so yeah - there you have it. On the plus-side, there is only one way to enter or exit the facility, so no huge amount of powerful inmates will scour the land...for now. The agents receive dossiers for the most powerful of inmates - and they are awesome: Handouts, fully realized each and every one of them, they bring the agents up to what to expect...and it sure ain't pretty. Urdefhan death cult leader. Intelligent frost drake. Quickling con-artist. Vampire. A soul-bound mannequin called Experiment 42...hag sisters...a psychotic efreet...yeah, this will be fun.
Shaped cylex explosives may prove to be important - and thus, the agents are off to deal with the situation. Below a storage tank, the PCs can enter the sewers - and they'll have a brutal welcome committee: For one, they will encounter cranial crabs. Think of them as headcrabs with laser torches that detonate, but instead of killing you, they try to render you helpless and implant cranial bombs in your skull. Fun. Even cooler: Swarm-version included. Once this module is over, PCs will HATE them. Oh, have I mentioned the cyborgs? I should mention the cyborgs. For example the cyborg scrags with chainsaws for hands. And yes, the artwork makes them even more awesome than I can convey here. I mean, come on: Scrags with chainsaws for hands. YES.
More importantly, the actions of the PCs pretty much matter from the get-go, for the peculiar location of the complex makes flooding a VERY real option/potential problem: The maps of the complex(based on the modular dungeon-maps by Gaming Paper) come with an easy codification that lets you track flooding of the prison.
Because we know that cranial crabs and cyborg brineborn marsh giants and the rogue's gallery down there isn't yet enough of a challenge, adding flooding to the mix makes things even more interesting...oh, and yes, the overseer robots are compromised and dangerous...and the traps spread throughout the complex are nothing to sneeze at either. Oh, and guess what? The true mastermind behind the incident has a timeline - the longer the PCs take, the more creatures/villains from the rogue's gallery will come under the gray eminence's control. Have I btw. mentioned the barghest serial killer or the werewolf? The prisoners shot chock-full with drugs?
Agents progressing far enough will also be harassed by doom-pronouncing whispers and it soon becomes apparent that simulacra pose a significant risk. Speaking of risks: Laser tripwires. Gravity mines. EMP...and there is a fission reactor the PCs better stabilize...oh, and that pesky permanent gate must fall...it may non-functional for now...but for how long? Oh, and yes, the final confrontation (no, not spoiling against who or what) is downright delightful and brutal!
(And here's to hoping that none of the high-profile prisoners got away...otherwise, the agents will have their next assignment cut out for themselves...)
Editing and formatting are good - while I noticed a couple of typo-level glitches, the overall presentation is solid and well done. Layout adheres to Gaming Paper's elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports 11 glorious dossiers for the villains as hand-outs. The artwork provided is surprisingly copious, in gorgeous full-color...and here's the kick: See that front cover? The internal artwork is the same, high level of quality - and visualizes perfectly quite a lot of the adversaries herein. Showing the players the artwork really works well here - kudos! Cartography is based, as mentioned before, on Gaming Paper's modular rooms, which per default are player-friendly. The pdf sports no extra player-friendly maps beyond that, but I won't hold that against it. Unfortunately, the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes an unfortunate comfort-detriment when using this sans printing it out. (Which I strongly suggest you do - the dossier-hand-outs alone are worth it!) Still, this is a pretty big downside.
Stephen Rowe knows how to craft absolutely awesome adventures - this one basically reminded me of a glorious, classic Marvel storyline, wherein Venom instigated a prison break in the super villain prison. The module does practically everything right: It sports unique adversaries, does a great job of blending modern day concepts with fantasy and scifi-elements sans making things awkward, sports cool new critters, is challenging, has options for social encounters, environmental hazards and also features smart foes. If anything, this module made me wish it was more than a one-shot, that it had a whole 300-page book of setting information and delightful prisoners/villains, SCP and/or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.-style. This is an extremely entertaining modern module with generally awesome aesthetics. Even the lack of bookmarks can't hurt the module when it sports so many downright awesome components and ideas, with the handouts being the icing on the cake - so yes, Stephen Rowe once again proves that yes, he can write very good crunch...but oh boy, is he a master of writing brilliant modules! This is absolutely inspired and will leave you asking for more!
My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Personally, I consider the following campaign settings pure awesomeness. Only settings with multiple supplemental products/continued support count.
Relatively traditional (but thoroughly awesome) settings:
Midgard by Kobold Press - Dark fantasy goodness with a Germanic/Slavic focus and excellent adventures and supplemental material.
The Lost Lands by Frog God Games - Home of legendary books like Slumbering Tsar, Sword of Air, Raüüan Athuk, Northlands Saga...and a superb darker tone of fantasy.
Aventyr by AAW Games - Somewhere between Northern aesthetics, fairy tales and the like, Aventyr has continuously been shaped by the great modules and has seen A LOT excellent modules set in it.
More far out (and also glorious) settings:
Necropunk by Little Red Goblin Games - Necromantic transhumanism, social oombat and absolutely glorious cultures.
NeoExodus by LPJr Design - Babylon 5 as a fantasy setting, with uncommon races and superb adversaries; the revised and expanded core book is coming soon.
Thunderscape by Kyoudai Games - Basically, a cataclysm has rocked the world; now the magitech/steampunkish world is recovering/trying to stem the tide of weirdness.
Veranthea Codex by Rogue Genius Games/Mike Myler - Post-modern fantasy with steampunk, WuXia and Dieselpunk. Yes, that actually works and is interesting.
Lands of Porphyra by Purple Duck Games - Best patchwork-style world I've seen; exemplary for the vast amount of races organically supported.
Settings with less books released/hiatus/no core-books to come:
Shadows over Vathak by Fat Goblin Games - Lovecraftian dark fantasy; had a rough start, but since John Bennett took the reins, I'm very excited about the upcoming new releases!
Obsidian Apocalypse by LPJr Design - The good guys lost, the world is done for; Do-it-yourself toolkit that allows you to make your own apocalypse, though each also works as an iteration of the setting. Think of it as a campaign-template that could be applied to all other settings or run as stand-alone.
Kaidan by Rite Publishing - Japanese Horror setting; I'm eagerly awaiting the core-books; the modules and supplements released so far have been excellent
Lands of the Jade Oath by Rite Publishing: Rite's WuXia setting. Superbly written supplements, but not too much support. I'd combine it with Little Red Goblin Games' Dragon Tiger Ox's crunch to run such a campaign.
Questhaven by Rite Publishing: Pretty much every book by Rite that is not part of another setting is tied in with this one. A city run by adventurers that makes sense is the goal and I've been eagerly waiting to get my hands on a full setting for ages...
Third Dawn by Dreamscarred Press: So far for Pathfinder only represented in the first modules of the AP. Interesting psionics-only setting. I wished the AP had a more frequent release schedule.
Suzerain Continuum by Savage Mojo: World-spanning collective; basically, a planes/realmswalker-approach. Pretty excited to see what comes out of the planned conversions of the unique worlds contained in this meta-setting.
I have yet to read the Player's Guide for Drop Dead Studios Skyborune. Pure Steam also deserves mentioning, but so far, there's only the core book out and it alone is a bit meager regarding setting info. I reviewed most of them, should you require further information. (And if I haven't reviewed them yet, I will do so in the future...)
Part II of my review:
The wild magic rules, with 20 different effects, are pretty interesting and well-crafted, though personally, I would have loved more effects. I did mention magic in Urethiel and its interesting balancing, so what did I precisely mean? Well, 45% of the population gains spell-like abilities over the levels, depending on their character and determined by the GM, putting firm control where it belongs. 45% gain scaling Spell Resistance instead...which leaves 10%. 5% can absorb and redirect magic as an immediate action, though only spells targeting them - which probably means that AoE-spells that happen to include the character can't be absorbed...though a bit of clarification would be in order here. The final 5%...are immune to magic. As a golem. And get bonus hit points...but can't benefit from most magic items and enhancements, healing, etc. Now what this does is that it makes magic significantly less reliable - sure, you still can throw those deadly spells around, but there is a decent chance that some guys will resist or downright ignore what you throw at them to then proceed to smash you to smithereens with your own spellbook. I was pretty skeptical about this component, but it works exceedingly well in playtest and adds significant narrative potential to the fray.
There also are spellcasting traditions based on calligraphy brushes and ancestor worship that make sense. The pdf also introduces the Pilot skill and simplified vehicular combat rules, with mecha penguin-robots and dogfighters (aptly named Explodicus...) emphasizing that. The race-chapter is interesting: It fixes broken components like 1st-level Strix-flight, makes goblins less lop-sided (instead of +4 Dex, +2 Dex and Int) and generally make those work better. At the same time, the feylves (small fey-ish elves), half-doppelgangers and disgusting leugho are anything but balanced (the latter even gets crit-immunity...)- and presentation-wise, they deviate completely from the formatting established for races...which is a bit odd, since the playable mongrelmen work just fine and are well-crafted. Similarly, the rock-like Pantako are a unique and fun race I can't complain about, though I do wish we saw more about their culture, race-relations, etc. There also are variants of dragon-men (Uh, novel, didn't see those coming, hmm?), the dragonii.
Gaining a +4 bonus to one attribute, they are per definition lopsided. They also get pretty powerful additional abilities, including a Style-based racial feat-tree, which I liked in concept, if not in conjunction with the race itself. However, there is one race I was more than a bit positively surprised by: Sun Gryphons. Quadruped gryphons you can play. And yes, they are balanced, don't get 1st level flight AND sport a nice 5-level racial paragon class as well as feats for aerial maneuvers, taking a cue from Rite Publishing's excellent "In the Company of"-series. As a complaint regarding balance: 3rd level of the paragon class is pretty OP: You get both Fly AND Pounce - Pounce should be gained later (very strong) and flight is usually considered appropriate at 5th level, so yes, that one I'd modify. The pdf also sports a reprint of the Conduit-base-class first featured in Amora Game's excellent "Liber Influxus Communis." Beyond that, we receive a significant array of archetypes, but covering them all would bloat the review even further. Suffice to say, for the most part, they are intriguing and awesome, with the Attack-On-Titan-PrC I mentioned before being one of my favorites.
There is also a variant PrC for followers of dread Boris, a goblin-biker archetype...and an interesting archetype that basically is a paladin that requires gold for healing and starts off as nice...but has a built-in heel-turn...which is unique and something I haven't seen an archetype do before. And channeling capitalism's magnetic effects are hilarious. The scientific innovator, who can duplicate magic via SCIENCE!! would be another one I rather enjoyed. There is also a summoner who gets a swarm-eidolon and, obviously, there are some feats and class options contained in this chapter as well.
Okay, but even after all of this rambling, I have *STILL* not covered all this book is. Yeah, I know, right? The final section of this tome is devoted exclusively to characters and statblocks: Basically, you get a metric TON of statblocks for the APG-classes, the Magus and Ultimate Combat classes, spanning the CRs - while we don't get statblocks for each CR, we get a LOT of them...and the pdf does sport sample character backgrounds for the respective builds, which btw. also sometimes feature archetypes. Build-wise, they are nice and make sense - so part of the grand question's answer is that this book also can be considered to be basically a huge expansion of the NPC Codex, a treasure trove of statblocks GMs can throw at players. And yes, this does contain sample eidolons and multiple simple templates as well as sample random encounter tables.
This does still not properly answer the question, though.
Editing and formatting are impressive for such a huge book - while there are some minor hiccups, the whole can be seen as an accomplishment of very good editing - kudos! Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with each chapter sporting a different color-scheme. Artworks are more than numerous - there is a piece of artwork on almost each two-column spread. The artworks range from gorgeous original art to public domain stock and is for the most part in full-color. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but unfortunately the book does not sport an index, which is a bit grating when looking for a given component. The print version has, on a nitpicky side, the title etc. not in the center of the spine. I have the premium-paper-based PoD-version and the matte paper and gluing are solid, though I am not 100% sure whether the massive book will stand up to the test of time. If you're not 100% excited, I'd recommend getting the pdf first to see whether you enjoy this massive book.
Michael Allen, Luis Loza, Michael McCarthy, Brian Wiborg Mønster, Julian Neale, Colin Stricklin - these are the talented authors that contributed to Mike Myler's magnum opus and know what? I ended up liking Veranthea Codex, more so than I expected to, so, all of you: Good job!
This review was framed by the question of what this book actually is - and indeed, the focus on basically three wildly different continents as well as the NPC-Codex-like collection of statblocks makes this book extremely ambitious. I expected, quite frankly, to be disappointed by this colossal tome - a focus this diverse surely would dilute the focus of the book, right? Well, THANKFULLY, the page-count blew up. Due to the colossal size of this book, the respective components do have enough space to properly shine - barely so, if you're like me and a stickler for detail that usually grows themes and leitmotifs from the small scale to the global. Veranthea Codex manages to, surprisingly, present just enough on the respective continents to make them working settings for campaigns intrigued in the high-concept approach it takes.
If that sounds negative, rest assured that it should not be taken as such: If anything, the exceedingly high-concept locales, more often than not, could well provide enough material for 60 -90-page gazetteers each - and frankly, I'd love to see books like that. Thankfully, once again, the first expansions for Veranthea have already been released, so I'm positive we'll see more.
So is this book perfect? No, there are quite a few components I do not agree with, some instances of design-philosophy I consider less refined than others and there are components I'd love more details on (just about everything)...and I probably won't do a full-blown default setting switch based on this book alone. But Veranthea Codex is more than that: Due to the rules and ideas herein, in both crunch and evocative prose, the Veranthea Codex can be used pretty much as a perfect scavenging ground for rules, concepts and countries, society and gods - and as such, this book can be a pretty great toolbox.
The most important component of this book is one I haven't even touched upon yet: Veranthea Codex does one thing, in my opinion, the crucial thing, right: It is an honest jamais-vu experience. There is literally no setting like it. From Grethadnis' subdued un-steam-y steampunky elements and emphasis on uncommon themes (Jabberwock-war!) to Urethiel's fantastic WuXia that does not simply duplicate the tropes to the gloriously balls-to-the-wall weird Trectoyri and the unique take on the Forever Dark... Veranthea is unique. In a hobby, where we get x post-apocalyptic setting, countless fantasy worlds with diverging magic-levels, where I can count the dark fantasy/horror-settings and pseudo-vampire/Ravenloft-y settings, Veranthea is a thoroughly UNIQUE vision of the fantastic, one influenced y our current sensibilities. This is basically the current Marvel superheroes-movies' aesthetic applied to fantasy, with booms and blasts and unique, stunning locales, high-concept vehicular combat and nods to nerd culture, Veranthea Codex feels like a fresh wind, one that has left me wanting to know more about this evocative setting. When a book manages to actually provide fresh impulses to my game, when its concepts are evocative enough for me to actually scavenge the hell out of them, it does receive a heartfelt recommendation from me.
Veranthea Codex manages to provide an array of interesting options and paints, in broad strokes, a picture of a unique world as well as sporting a collection of neat statblocks. Granted, I wished each continent, each component had a book of this size, but thanks to its massive size, this book does manage to provide something unique for just about every game I can imagine.
So what exactly is Veranthea Codex? My final reply is this: Veranthea Codex is a massive, huge book that covers disparate elements and forges them into a cohesive collective; it is a thoroughly evocative, creative and refreshingly different campaign setting with a ton of high-concept crunch and even more intriguing ideas to scavenge. It is a book far removed from Tolkien-esque fantasy, a setting suffused by gamer-sensibilities and nerd-culture that plays with the tropes with one eye winking while being dead serious. Veranthea Codex, to me, is post-modern fantasy - and I love it for that and hope there will be more supplements in the future. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Real life is full of larger than life civilizations, right? El Dorado, Albion, etc. - there are a lot of "mythic" kingdoms in our own mythology.
However, in kingdom building (and downtime) there currently are no rules for truly unique, exceedingly high fantasy concepts - what if e.g. a RotRL-group wanted to take on Xin-Shalast on a kingdom-level? Wouldn't Xin-Shalast have nigh infinite resources, special tricks far exceeding paltry mortal realms? Protect armies? Have special buildings? Be, in short, a mythic kingdom? The rules, so far, do not cover lands like this at all. Sure, Legendary Games Ultimate Rulership, Battle an War expanded the kingdom-building rules in superb ways for regular kingdom Building/conflicts that take fantastic elements into account - but so far, we have no means of detailing legendary realms taking on more conventional kingdoms...or perhaps the PCs carving one good realm from a world suffused by darkness - i.e. one good, mythic nation, versus a world of evil empires. I think a crossover of mythic rules and kingdom building could be exceedingly awesome if handled right.