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@Christopher: Get Akashic Mysteries. It is superior to Incarnum in EVERY WAY there is.
I'd love to see From the Deep completed, but more than that, I want to see more occult/psi-stuff of the quality of Living Legend (with the Occult Adventures design aesthetic) and more akashic mysteries material. Akashic Mysteries is simply mega-amazing, with its precise and beautiful to behold balance between power, flexibility and usefulness for all game-types.
Interjection Games has done Truename Magic VERY, VERY well, so I'm not that excited about that project; I'd rather see DSP make an amazing Shadow Magic; not with the crunch from 3.x (that sucked), but the flavor.
Just my 2 cents, obviously. :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This collection of races clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Ah, Midgard and the Southlands - Midgard has been one of my favorite fantasy settings ever and the absolutely legendary Southlands setting book made my Top Ten of last year for a reason - and if you haven't check it out, dear D&D 5e fans, you will want to: While designed originally for Pathfinder, the book has a MASSIVE array of evocative, amazing content that is system-agnostic and makes it an excellent purchase for 5e as well.
Anyways, this book would be the one that takes the unique races that can be found in the Southlands and converts them to 5e...but how do they hold up? Well, after a brief introduction to the subject matter, the first of the races introduced would be Kobold Press' take on the aasimar - these guys, in Midgard, are significantly closer to the mighty passions f the nephilim than to the default celestial-blooded connotations they usually evoke. As with the Midgard Heroes-pdf, this one's write-up does feature some evocative prose for the respective races, though we do not get an assortment of sample names for the respective races. Since the race already exists in 5e, we instead receive 3 variant aasimar: Airy Spirit nets you 1/day gaseous form at 5th level instead of daylight. Alas, the ability does fail to note which attribute is used for the casting of this spell- The second ability replaces resistance to necrotic and radiant damage with fire resistance and the third one nets you blindsight 10 ft in exchange for daylight and darkvision. Heaven's Wrath nets you guiding bolt instead of lesser restoration and daylight - both of which have not been properly italicized and the ability does not note spellcasting attribute used. Divine Splendor nets enhance ability (Eagle's Splendor) at 3rd level with a range of Personal and at 5th level, you also receive Owl's Wisdom's benefits when using this ability, though the ability once again fails to denote the spellcasting attribute employed. This once again replaces lesser restoration and daylight.
The second race introduced would be the gnoll, who increases Strength by 2, is Medium with a speed of 30 ft., darkvision 60 ft. advantage on Wisdom (Perception) employing smell, +10 ft. speed when using Disengage and proficiency with spear, shortbow, longbow, light crossbow and heavy crossbow. Gnolls are craven cowards at heart and thus, as bullies, they are considered proficient in Charisma (intimidation) when dealing with weaker foes and add twice their proficiency bonus to the check. However, at the same time, their cowardice means they suffer from disadvantage on all saving throws to avoid the frightened condition. Gnolls have two "subraces" - civilized gnolls increase Constitution by 1 and add the same "double proficiency bonus"-mechanic to Charisma (Persuasion) skill checks dealing with foes that are bigger and more powerful. Savage gnolls instead increase their Wisdom score by 1 and are considered to be proficient in Wisdom (Survival) when scavenging for food, once again doubling their proficiency bonus to such checks.
The lizardfolk presented herein increase their Strength by 2 and their Wisdom score by 1, with a speed of 30 ft. and a swimming speed of an equal amount. Their unarmored AC is equal to AC 12 + Dexterity modifier; this may be used in conjunction with shields. They also have proficiency with a 1d6 bite, the Stealth skill and may hold their breath for Constitution score minutes. Instead of subraces, there are a variety of alternate racial traits to be chosen from: You may replace your swimming speed and hold breath with proficiency in Strength (athletics) and double proficiency bonus to climbing; alternatively, you may replace these traits with advantage on Stealth-checks when not moving (or carrying items). Not cool - for the same exchange, you may gain 40 feet flying speed (no hovering) and no falling damage. The option to dig through dirt or sand at 10 ft. per round would eat swimming speed (but not hold breath). Some lizards may, instead of a bite attack, spurt short-range jets of blood from their eyes, potentially frightening foes. Instead of the predatory tricks and the natural armor, some lizardfolk get increased healing, adding twice their Constitution modifier to hit point regeneration when spending an HD.
Regenerating limbs slowly is also possible, but incurs exhaustion. I exchange for natural armor, swim speed and hold breath as well as bite, you may gain a poisoned bite. This replaces the regular bite, but fails to denote the damage the poisoned bite inflicts. Instead of natural armor, they can have advantage on saves versus poison and disease and an alternate ability array (+2 Dex, +1 Wis) with Small size can be chosen. I am NOT a fan of this array. The base race is already pretty strong and some of the abilities here exacerbate this. Finally, here would be as well a place as any to denote that it's "proficiency bonus", not "proficiency modifier."
The pdf also contains a lizardfolk class archetype, the ambush predator (assassin) - instead of the regular bonus proficiencies, this one maintains proficiency with poisoner's kits and the option to use Cunning Action to apply poison to a weapon. At 9th level, you receive advantage on saves to avoid falling asleep/exhaustion, provided you do not move and engage in light activity while stationary and still receive the benefits o a rest, replacing infiltration expertise thus. At 13th level, you do not automatically reveal your location when attacking while hidden, provided you are at least 10 feet away - instead, you compare Dexterity (Stealth) with Wisdom (Perception) of those looking, replacing imposter thus. Not the biggest fan.
I already talked about the minotaur race in my review of Midgard Heroes - they have been reproduced here (or the other way round) - either way, I'm not the biggest fan of the overlap here, particularly considering that the southlands race Jinnborn is missing from this pdf. The next race would be thematically one of my favorites, the odd and alien tosculi. Hiveless tosculi, the only playable ones, have been translated thus to 5e: They may choose one physical and one mental attribute and increase each by +2. However, they also must choose one attribute to decrease by 2. Yes, this allows for the cancellation of one of the increased attributes increase. Tosculi are Small with a walking seed of 30 ft, an AC of at the very least 11 + Dexterity modifier, claws that inflict 1d4 slashing damage with which they are proficient and gliding wings that net a flying speed of 40 ft and cancels out falling damage. Additionally, they are proficient at Perception and Stealth. They may also select up to 4 alternate racial traits: A spittle that immediately hardens and restrains the target, with scaling properties, is cool and may replace the proficiencies. Also instead of the proficiencies, they may gain a 1d6 bite that allows for the grappling of targets as a bonus action (and +1d6 damage at 11th level). As a complaint here: Bites in 5e usually do piercing damage, not slashing damage. The third option nets message as a cantrip that is declared to be psionic and thus not subject to interference by e.g. a silence spell and at 3rd level, detect thoughts becomes available, but only once per rest interval. Both fail to denote their spellcasting attribute and this replace Gliding Wings. Instead of the gliding wings and regular AC, some tosculi may have a carapace of 11 + Dexterity modifier + Constitution modifier, allowing in theory a level 1 unarmored AC of 19. Which is pretty insane.
The tosculi also receive two supplemental options for the druid class - the first of these would be the circle of the hive as a variant of circle of the land, who receive appropriately insect-y themed spells as well as immunity to disease and poison at 10th level as well as the ability to ignore movement restriction caused by webbing and advantage on saves versus being restrained instead of Nature's War. The circle of the swarm would be an alternative of the circle of the moon, who may only wild shape into insectoid shapes, receiving a modified list of eligible creatures. 10th level allows for the use of two Wild Shape uses for the transformation into a bullette (heh?), chuul, phase spider or umber hulk instead of going elemental. Weird choices there. Tosculi rangers that adhere to the beast master archetype may elect to become hivemasters instead, gaining either a blood hornet/wasp (flying snake stats) giant crab, giant centipede, giant wolf spider or swarm of insects. You may note that some of these options are decidedly weaker than others...but I get what this tries to do. Telepathic communication with the targets...well, yeah, that's kind of nice.
The final race would be the werelion, who increases Wisdom by 2 and Strength by 1, is Medium, has a speed of 30 ft., darkvision 60 ft.. They are natural shapechangers and may assume lion or hybrid form as an action and remain thus for 1 hour or cancel the transformation as a bonus action. Hybrid form increases speed to 40 feet and nets both claws and bite, each of which deal 1d4 damage (slashing and piercing, respectively). You have proficiency with these and also receive advantage on Charisma (Intimidate) and Wisdom (Perception) checks reliant on smell while thus transformed, but also suffer from disadvantage on all Intelligence and all other Charisma checks. In lion-shape, you employ the panther's statblock as if you were a druid using wild shape. At 8th level, you instead use the form of a proper lion. For very high-powered games, the optional lycanthropic resistances and vulnerabilities have been included, though thankfully with sufficient warning caveat - the race already has enough oomph and silvering's expensive in 5e.
The werelion comes with a new sorcerous origin, the lycanthropic one. The pdf has a bit of a layout hiccup that blends this header with 1st level's hybrid form benefit together. Hybrid form follows the basics of that of the werelion, but allows for the selection of bear, rat, wolf or great cat. Each choice nets a thematically relevant ability and some sort of additional benefit - rats may squeeze through confined spaces, for example. At 6th level, you may expend sorcery points to increase the damage die of natural weapons by one step when in hybrid form and add either magic or silver to the attack, with the benefit lasting until the next shapechange. Additionally, you speak with animals of the chosen beast's form. As a nitpick, the ability does not state the action it requires to activate. I assume it can't be stacked. 14th level nets the option to expend 3 such points and assume a more powerful form (like brown bears, dire wolves, etc.) - one issue: The beat forms have significant differences in potency that are not really offset by the additional benefits gained: Giant rats are weaker than dire wolves, etc. At 18th level, beasts attacking you need to succeed a Wisdom save or choose a different target and you may expend 4 sorcery points to dominate beast, with additional point expenditure allowing you to increase the spell level.
Beyond these racial options, the book also contains a wide array of evocative, well-written backgrounds - the child of the divine, the temple slave, the siwali traveler and two variant soldiers: The quartermaster and the groom/squire. All of these have in common that their features are relevant and well-balanced, their fluff being nice as well - no significant complaints here.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, though not perfect. On a rules-level, the pdf is generally nice as well, though not as refined as Midgard Heroes. Layout adheres to Kobold press' two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports several absolutely amazing full-color pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Rich Howard and Rodrigo García Carmona's Southlands Heroes have an unfair disadvantage...namely that I'm reading the book back to back with Midgard Heroes and Unlikely Heroes. While Dan Dillon has taken on the development task here, the book ultimately shows that it preceded Midgard Heroes. This is not a bad selection of 5e-options...but it is one that is less refined than aforementioned offering. Indeed, one of my central gripes would arise mainly in direct comparison: Where Midgard Heroes managed to perfectly translate even powerful races in a balanced manner to 5e, where it had impeccable design, this one is not bad by any stretch of the word...but it somewhat overshoots the target in my book, at least in some cases. The presence of this many alternate racial traits as opposed to subraces also means that there's more minmaxing to be had here - and indeed, internal balance in both racial options and class options is not as impeccable as in Midgard Heroes - there are generally options that exceed the power of others, which is, ultimately, not the best sign here. Reading them back to back, the difference in a esthetics, rules language precision and system-mastery can be felt. In short: This feels a bit like D&D 5e has been infiltrated by some PFRPG design aesthetics. Not by much, mind you - this is still very much 5e, though and through...but the nagging feeling is here.
On a formal level, I am also pretty bummed to not see a proper take on the jinnborn in the book.
That being said, this is by no means a bad book; it is, however, one whose class options won't necessarily blow you away and GMs will want to take a close look at the races before allowing them. The payoff of strengths and weaknesses simply does not reach the perfect equilibrium of Midgard Heroes. How to rate this, then? Well, as mentioned before, this is by no means a bad offering, though, as a person, I am significantly less impressed by this book. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. And while, as a person, I will round down (I'm pretty big on maintaining a system's design-aesthetics), my official review will round up due to in dubio pro reo.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
So, there's been a bit of a discussion pertaining the lack of efficiency of review-copies on FB...which is why I created a Reviewer's group for proper, proven reviewers.
Thing is...I frankly don't know that many and Eric Hinkle and Malwing, to name two, are not on FB under their aliases...so peeps, if you are/want to join under a dummy account, hit me up.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor hiccups like a superscript "B" that was not properly formatted, as a whole, this book adheres to FGG's high quality standards. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read b/w-2-column standard and the book sports numerous gorgeous b/w-artworks. The electronic version sports numerous bookmarks for your convenience...but frankly, if you can somehow afford it, get this in print: With high quality binding and paper, this book's physical version is just so much more awesome to hold in your hands. The b/w-cartography is nice and the presence of player-friendly maps is amazing.
Matthew J. Finch, with additional content by Greg A. Vaughan and Bill Webb, has created something special here. When I heard about this book for the first time, my reaction, to some extent, was bewilderment. While I could see e.g. Rappan Athuk and Endhome occupy the same general geographic region, while I saw the more conservative aspects working in perfect unison, it is the weirder, the darker and subtle aspects of the modules that stumped me as to how this could ever work as a whole.
You see, setting-books of this size face an almost impossible catch-22-situation. Too much detail and you wreck their adaptability for a given round; not enough and the thing becomes too opaque and some jerk like yours truly starts complaining. If you add the excessive canon this unifies, you have another issue: Bastards like yours truly that have too much fun contemplating and considering the ramifications of the presence of creatures, the political landscape, etc. - i.e., sooner or later, unless you *REALLY* think it through, internal discrepancies will creep into the game and someone will find them and have his/her game ruined by them, as immersion comes crashing down. On the other hand, if you take the reins too tightly, you only generate a free-form adventure with a restrictive metaplot, not a sourcebook. You need to maintain consistency, yes - but if you overemphasize it, the book becomes a dry enumeration of facts and densely entwines facts - and not everyone wants to read such a book.
It is against these challenges that I have read this massive tome...and it holds up. More than this, however, the achievement this represents lies within not only succeeding at maintaining internal consistency and fusing a gigantic array of disparate files into a thematically concise whole - it also maintains its efficiency as a gaming supplement: Much like the Judge's Guild books of old, certain wildernesses and city states, this very much represents a sourcebook that does not require preplanned adventures or the like - instead, you just throw your PCs inside and watch them do whatever they please...and if you do want a module, well, the region provides a vast array of mega-adventures that gain a lot from the proper contextualization within the region. In fact, I frankly wished I hadn't played some of them, since their context herein adds significantly to their appeal.
I have not even managed to scratch the surface regarding the number of things to do and experience within the borderland provinces and that is intentional, for I have so far failed to explicitly state the biggest strength of the book: Perhaps it is the internal consistency of the book and its lore...but I experienced something while reading this tome I have only scarcely encountered: A sense of Fernweh (think of that as the opposite of being homesick), of a wanderlust for a realm that does not exist, of a world so steeped in lore, vibrant and alive that this book managed what only a scant few have accomplished - I actually managed to dream lucidly a journey through these fantastic realm in a sequence of dreams of several days. This peculiar experience is usually reserved for books of the highest prose caliber, books that manage to generate a level of cohesion that is so tight my mind can subconsciously visualize it. A prerequisite for this, obviously, would be some desire to do just that, meaning that ultimately, the book in question must have caught not only my attention, but provided a sort of intense joy beyond the confines of most books, let alone gaming supplements.
To cut my long ramblings short, the prose herein is absolutely superb and exhibits the strengths of the exceedingly talented trinity of authors, making the reading experience of the book a more than pleasing endeavor. Moreover, the significant attention to detail regarding the actual use of the book as a gaming supplement ultimately also deprives me of any complaints I could field against it in that regard. While this review is based on the PFRPG-version, it is my firm conviction that even groups employing systems beyond the 3 for which this has been released, will have an absolute blast with this book -even without any of the book's gaming utility, this is an excellent offering and hence receives the highest accolades I can bestow upon it - 5 stars, seal of approval and nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016 - This makes the Lost lands truly come to life and I can't wait to see the next massive sourcebook of the world. if the Frogs can maintain this level of quality and consistency, we'll be looking at my favorite fantasy setting among all I know. Get this - you will NOT regret it!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, OBS, tabletoplibrary, etc.
I'm surprised this blows up now. This pdf's been up for ages and Dreadfox Games hasn't put out anything in years. (Still waiting on the swordmaster expansion.) Not sure anyone from the company's still around.
Anyways, for less terminologically problematic and better balanced card-based spellcaster, consider Interjection Games' cartomancer. ^^
Everyman Unchained-series by Everyman Gaming for Unchained support (also has an unchained ninja)
Advanced Races Compendium by Kobold Press for Kobolds
Legendary Rogues by Legendary Games for the best Rogue/Ninja-book
Best Assassin/Ninja/Rogue-class out there: Assassin by Interjection Games
WuXia, Ki, etc:
Ultimate Options: Ninja by Rogue Genius Games
Samurai of Porphyra review is scheduled for next week; before the month's over, I should have Vigilantes of Porphyra and Vigilantes of Skybourne reviewed as well.
Book of Monster Templates by Rite Publishing
Re Large races: AAW Games' Funglets are cool and Large.
Lost Lore: Eminent Domains by Frog God Games
If you require more guidance, don't hesitate to contact me with specific requests/questions. Cheers!
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Who is Krel? Well, the half-orc barbarian (not archetype'd) is the unwanted progeny of an orc-raid: Born in misery, he has learned to hate his orcish half as he grew up in slavery, served on a galley...and when he helped defend the vessel from a pirate raid, he was made a free man...which is where the game comes in. Krel is intended as a go-play type of PC character - as such, his wealth exceeds that of NPCs, increasing his CR by +1. Point-buy-wise, he is a 20 pt.-buy character that favors melee with massive weapons over ranged combat. He also is pretty much the stereotype of the half-orc regarding his attribute array, favoring the physical excessively over the mental: With Int 7, Wis 10 and Cha 8, he is pretty much a dumb brute. It is somewhat surprising that his skills, Intimidate, Perception ad Survival, do not really make use much of the galley-background.
Presentation-wise, each of the iterations of Krel comes with sufficient space in an hp-column to write down the current HP below the maximum; similarly, a handy assortment of rage round counters allow for an easy striking away of expended rounds. As soon as he branches out to also include a bow in his equipment, a handy arrow-counter is similarly provided. Each of the iterations of the character does come with a minor statblock-adjustment while raging, providing the convenient "while raging"-stats. A bit of a lost chance: The pdf does not provide an unchained barbarian-iteration of Krel's build.
As a nice piece of flavor, each of the respective iterations of the character (1, 5, 10, 15, 20) comes with a nice piece of flavorful background, deeply steeped in the lore of the Lost lands, to explain how he got the levels - in Krel's case, he obviously has been to the Tomb of Abysthor and Razor Coast, making his base in later years in Bard's Gate. The downside here, obviously, pertains the fact that these legendary modules may have been played by the group already... As a minor complaint regarding the progression of the character - some advice to scale him up by a level or two from one of the default statblocks provided would help...but oh well.
On the plus-side, and this is a pretty big deal, the pdf does come with Pathfinder Society Organized Play modifications suggested - one look at the handy sidebar and some minor modifications later you'll have a PFS-character ready.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring issues. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' full-color 2-column standard for the series and the b/w-artwork of Krel's mugshot is nice indeed. On a downside, since this is pretty much intended as a go-play character, printing out the colored background feels like a bit of an unnecessary drain on the printer. Anyways, the pdf has no bookmarks, but does not necessarily require them at this length.
John Ling's Krel is a solid character. The rules presented don't leave much to be desired and he is, frankly, as subtle as a greatsword to the face. Krel is an efficient brute, susceptible to mental assaults and pretty much the epitome of the "XYZ-SMASH!!!"-type of barbarian. Which is both a strength and weakness of the file. You see, Krel is pretty much a great way to hand a novice player a functional character and have them join in the fun. Granted, such novices could use a bit of discussion regarding tactics or roleplaying angles, but oh well. At the same time, veterans will have seen this character before. His name may not have been Krel, but he is pretty much the straight barbarian. You know the kind. Heck, I don't know a single group that has played d20 for longer than 5 years and did not have a half-orc barbarian at some point. The lack of archetypes or surprises there mean that Krel is efficient yes. But it also means that his archetypical, as opposed to archetype'd, nature makes him a predictable concept.
Much like the elven ranger. The dwarven fighter. Fluff could have provided an angle from a flavor-perspective here; crunch from a build-perspective...but this pdf does not really emphasize either. Since both are absent, we ultimately get a pretty blank slate half-orc barbarian. The target demographics here would then be new players and groups that have not yet seen this type of dude done to death, but for these groups, a bit of additional lore and the like would have, ironically, helped this installment of lost lore to shine more. The inclusion of advice on PFS-adaptation is a big plus, on the other hand. And while Krel left jaded ole' me pretty much unimpressed since I can build this type of character sans hassle, it does have a raison d'être. It may not be a file you get to be blown away...but it can be useful. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here and on tabletoplibrary.com
You'd basically lose nothing; it's a different experience, but rules-wise, the two versions do the same job. Combats will be less tactical in S&W and skills will be instead handled more directly via RPGing since S&W isn't this precise with the minutiae. It's a matter of taste and aesthetics, at least in my opinion.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive rule-book clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction/ToC, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 78 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Ahh, childhood. Most people look back with nostalgia-tinted glasses at theirs. I'm not one of these persons, due to a variety of reasons. So this is about playing kids - and as such, there is a lot to consider. But why play kids? Well, for kids playing kids, there are two angles, both valid: One, kids want to play adults. I was that guy. Two: Kids playing other kids for easier identification. While I was not one of these kids, the success of the Harry Potter franchise, the "growing" with the readers, is pretty much proof for the validity of this approach. Or, well, you want a change of pace and tone...or play a complete heroic journey, beginning at childhood and then moving through a full life. (There are rules for old and venerable characters by the Four Horsemen, after all...)
Whatever the reason, there is a lot of untapped potential in such adventures and the narratives you can weave - from establishing leitmotifs and resonant happenings. However, there is not much distinction within the child age category - the first step this pdf takes to make childhood adventures more rewarding is to apply a finer filter: The age categories infant, toddler, child and youth, with mechanical and role-playing notes provided, allow for a cleaner and more concise presentation of the early years of a given character. Now we all know from experience how important size is to the child - thus, growth of characters is covered - this is determined via a simple system that accounts for trauma potentially suffered (alas, pretty likely for adventuring individuals), growth phases and spurts and the like. The aforementioned trauma rules, in particular, deserve special mention - from ability score damage to disease, magic and poison to malnutrition, massive damage and psychological issues, the system presented is as concise, precise and fun as we've come to expect from Everyman Gaming. Unfavorable conditions and environmental traumas similarly are covered and the pdf does not stop there - instead, atypical body shapes, from dwarfism to giantism, over- or underweight can be found...and from Conan to pretty much every fantasy series, we can note some worthwhile character that is partially defined by such deviations, right? Currently, at least, Tyrion Lannister may well be the most favorite example.
The process of aging similarly undergoes a deliberate and evocative process of closer scrutiny; to be more precise, the effects of mental aging, whether limited or instantaneous, allow for immediate spurts of maturity...perhaps, the PCs, at one point, need to sacrifice their innocent, wide-eyed perspective to defeat the evil threatening the land... So yes, the mechanically-supported components that pertain the basic essences of being a child already provide an excellent lead into the book, but it does not stop here; instead, the book then goes on to talk about life as a child in a fantasy context - not only teh core races are covered with expanded, detailed notes on age, height and weight in the early stages of life - no, the pdf actually also takes a detailed look at kitsune (no surprise there), samsarans, nagaji and wayang - often in a rather fun way. Wayang kids, for example, tend to be skittish, gangly and easily frightened, which made me chuckle a bit. Beyond the detailed examination of an upbringing within a fantasy context, one should not expect the book to stop there: Instead, the heroics for the respective age categories come fully into focus and the pdf does not stop there - quite the contrary: It takes several aspects of the psychology of the child and elaborates upon them and the, often unjustified, portrayals in media. Whether it's the notion of binary emotions or an inability to grasp emotional turmoil - the pdf takes a deep and concise look at these and elaborates upon them in a thoughtful manner, really surprising me. In hindsight, I always thought I was a bit of a weird kid, since I never could properly relate to most depictions of kids in mainstream media, but considering these aspects...well, probably not so strange. Anyways, the level of detail provided within this massive book is fantastic - from adventuring as a family to portraying a child, the amount of guidance provided is staggering. The pdf, as you may well expect at this point, does not shirk the difficult issues that may arise from adults playing kids and the potential issues that arise from depicting, even in an innocent manner, flirtatious behavior at the table in a context where kids are involved- while most tables will probably handle the like in a sensitive manner, the matter of fact that the issues are addressed would be something I applaud. I am usually a guy who is impossible to offend in a gaming context and my game would classify as hard R...or multiple Xs...but even I draw the line here and the depiction of gruesome things happening to kids is something that definitely should only happen in rounds that universally state that they have no problem with it. It is sad that we have to have disclaimers like this, but the inclusion here very much is something I applaud. Thank you.
Now the pdf goes one huge step further - beyond aforementioned age category classification, the pdf goes on to examine animals, aberrations and similar monster types - and yes, there are distinctions made between bestial, humanoid or oozy aberrations, for example - the level of detail here is, again a truly impressive one - from degenerate dragons to timeless fey, fringe cases are taken into account, providing, as a whole, a truly well-rounded experience---but this is Everyman gaming we're talking about and thus, the book contains a significant array of character options: We begin with 4 arcane discoveries that include unorthodox spellcasting (harder to identify), sheltering your life in a phylactery-like familiar, becoming ageless or siphoning off vitality via your aging spells. The order of the terrier, particularly effective versus those larger than him and tasked with defending the weak, receives Dazzling Display via Bluff and adds Cha-mod to Tactician's uses and generates bonuses to most rolls for allies when he vanquishes adversaries. 4 nice investigator talents (including quick and vivid memorization) and local connections can be found here as well. The kineticist may choose the spatial kineticist, who is locked into aether as first element and telekinetic blast as first simple blast. He replaces the 1st level infusion with extended range and the telekinetic finesse utility talent and 2nd level's elemental defense is replaced with kinetic guard, gaining a scaling AC deflection bonus, with the accepting of burn for further bonuses that thankfully cap, preventing abuse. A dirty trick-based and a reposition-based (level 2, burn 2) substance infusion as well as one that enhances forced movement emphasize the soft character control angle of the archetype.
The foundling oracle receives a signature curse of unluck, courtesy of their brushes with the fey, but the revelations, from pixie's arrows to bursts of nymph beauty or sprite forms make for a nice changeling-style concept. The purehearted champion paladin uses his touch to deal damage to evil-aligned dragons or outsiders as though they were undead and instead of mercies, they receive offensive purities; basically, a more offensive tweak of the paladin engine. Higher levels provide continuous protection/magic circle against evil and at 11th level, the blood shed by the pala may be used in conjunction with a special lay on hands based AoO to retaliate versus foes...cool! Not a bad archetype.
Now where I was grinning from ear to ear would be with the personal memento options for the occultist: These can be adopted whenever the occultist gains a new implement school, granting bonus focus implement powers...but the raw emotional attachment to the memento causes a -2 penalty for 1 round after employing the focus power from the respective memento...oh, and a minimum of 1 mental focus must be invested in it at any given time and no other implement may carry more mental focus than the memento. They are amazing. Creepy playthings that unnerve foes via an AoE debuff versus fear /that may even eliminate immunity at higher levels!), dangerous toys that can generate telekinetic projectiles, practice blades that may become blades, emblems that can generate secret hideaways - pure narrative awesomeness, supplemented well by the evocative rules. Phantoms may select the bravery emotional focus now, providing buffs to allies via encouragement and learning by doing. No less than 3 ranger styles, well-crafted and selected in the power of feats complement the options, with harrying, slings and underfoot styles allowing for feasible, rounded tricks. The vigilante class similarly receives new social tricks - age impostor (Why yes, sir - I am old enough to enter this establishment!), terrain mastery and slipping under the radar of others make sense. The street urchin rogue, adept at escaping and hiding in crowds, is cool and a total array of 5 different rogue talents allow for the option of employing Combat Antics (more on that later) and similar options.
The phantasmalist summoner may draw from sorc/wiz spells and his eidolon is basically a imaginary friend born from unfettered imagination, with called creatures being similarly partially real. Neat. The feat-section introduces feats with the Child-descriptor, which, guess what, can only be taken by kids and youths and the character will lose these upon reaching maturity in favor of other feats - this is noted in the Maturation-section of the respective feats, providing sensible progressions of the lighthearted flavor of the feats to the adult, no-nonsense take on adventuring. From holding oversized weapons to being an Arcane School Dropout, having a Childlike Innocence, being a Coven initiate, having a Feral Upbringing, being a Noble Scion...you get the idea - the feats are generally neat indeed. The pdf goes one step beyond just new feats - I did mention "Decry" before and probably elicited some raised eyebrows there, right? Well, decrying is a new psychological combat maneuver (as premiered in the amazing Ultimate Charisma book) and in its own way, no less crucial than antagonize - it basically denotes the option to make a target look nonthreatening. The maneuver can be used rather well in game and may be further enhanced by various feats. This option, alongside some of the class options presented before may make this book interesting even for those of us who are not interested at all in playing kids...but the book does offer something else that may well transcend the appeal of the focus of the book.
The next chapter is called "mischief & antics" - its basic premise is founded on a mischief pool equal to 1/2 character level + highest mental ability score modifier. Similarly, save DCs if applicable, are 10 + 1/2 level + highest mental attribute modifier. Unless otherwise noted, spending mischief is no action, but cannot be undertaken while stunned, dazed or unconscious. Mischief points, when reduced to 0, cause you to be fatigued, but can be regained on a 1-per-minute rate when you do not suffer from negative conditions or exert yourself (no physical checks, only either move or standard actions - kind of like a short rest in 5e). Mischief points can either be gained per the default feat access or as a universally available subsystem; the respective antics that you can utilize are based on specific class features - more damage for unarmed strikes, skill boosts, movement boosts, etc. Via feats, minor mischief regains for companions that crit via natural 20s can be gained. The system not only extends to class features, though - a rather wide array of feat-based antics can be found: Those with Improved Dirty Trick can attack Below the Belt; using Kinetic Leap, you can expend serious amounts of mischief to substitute Acrobatics for Ref-saves. With Improved Grapple, you can now Dog Pile on foes...the options are quite diverse and also extend to skills, though here, the skills in question require a certain amount of ranks as well: To antagonize foes better with antagonizing jeers, you need at least 5 ranks in Intimidate, for example. Drawing all eyes on you similarly makes great use of the Psychology DC mechanic of psychological warfare. The system does go one step beyond even this when it introduces spell-based options to employ mischief - like using a readied flare to harry attacking foes, their spellcasting of the like, ray of frost to numb fingers and the like. Very cool! The system is creative, detailed...and frankly could carry a book of this size on its own. The rules presented add a degree of neat flexibility to the proceedings and are, mechanics-wise, concise and well-presented, though, by virtue of the broad spectrum to which they can be applied in theory, they are nowhere near exhaustive in the potential for flexibility. While the aforementioned may sound slapsticky and that is the flavor presented, the abilities nonetheless are one reskin away from working pretty much universally in games that want a subsystem to add a bit of options and diversity. In short: The system is nice as presented, though, considering the breadth of PFRPG-options, I hope for a broader assortment of tricks to complement the base-line presented here - the system deserves the expansion.
Speaking of expansion - if you've been following my review for some time, you may have noticed that I am pretty enamored with the rather inspiring Ultimate Charisma and the leadership perks featured therein: The options that extend to kingdom building and mass combat can use more material and this is happy to oblige: From a band of misfits to new loner perks (Alone in the Dark fortifies you versus fear) or celebrity status, gaining a phantasmal friend eidolon or social tactics, the options presented are powerful and evocative. Two thumbs up! The pdf does present, as hinted before in the very beginning of the class option array, an assortment of age-altering magics represented via spells: Bewitchingly compelling childhood toys, temporarily kindling the flames of youth, hiding from adults (give that fey...), regressing targets mentally, magic-induced tantrums... the spell-array feels generally well-placed in the context of the respective spell levels. But the pdf goes beyond that: With occult rituals. The Bloody Woman in the Mirror would be a take on the Bloody Mary/Candyman myth. Another ritual can slowly change you into something else, while joyous dreams of the pixie's flight allow for quick and expedient overland travel...but if bad thoughts creep in, the participants may crash and glide towards the ground..."Cross my heart and hope to die..." - the binding promise as a ritual is amazing and the exchange of years between beings as well as the repair of time's flow constitute amazing rituals to perform.
The massive book also features magical items - from the feather of tickling to the pauperizing pacifier to rings of chronological stability and yes, cursed poppets, there are some nice objects here. The pdf also features hobby traits, family traits and social traits - and here, the notion of a universal language shared among babies also gets a nod...oh, and there are some appropriate drawbacks to chose from as well.
Editing and formatting are top-notch: In spite of the rules-density of this massive tome, I encountered no undue array of glitches...kudos! Layout adheres to a colorful and friendly version of Everyman Gaming's two-column full-color standard and the pdf contains a vast amount of neat original pieces of artwork by Jacob Blackmon, lending a distinct and unified style to the tome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though oddly, at least in my version, they start with the rules-systems. Since this is what you'll look up anyways, I won't penalize the book for it.
Alexander Augunas, with support from BJ Hensley, Monica Marlowe, Andrew Marlowe and Matthew Morris, has crafted one ginormous book of lighthearted options that deal in a succinct way with the notion of playing kids in our fantasy games. The advice and considerations presented here apply beyond PFRPG's confines. The book neither infantilizes, nor is it condescending in its presentation: This book can be read by adults and kids alike; the tone is very much child-friendly, with an emphasis on wild creativity via the mischief system and rules geared towards fun and slapstick...this, unlike many a tome with at least a part-kid-demographic, does not treat the reader as idiots. Childhood Adventures treats kids with respect, both as characters and players and I applaud it for exactly that.
So if you were looking for that, well, then this delivers. At the same time, the book does have a significant appeal beyond this scope. Frankly, you can easily make this book HORRIFYING. I mean it. Much like many an innocent 80s kid-flick, you can just emphasize the components differently in play: Make fey use antics. Emphasize the child-centric feats and items, put a dark twist on it; add a sprinkling of fey mischief and you get something that can be emasculating and downright horrific for adult characters. Not because the book's creepy, mind you - but because it evokes the tropes we know from our childhood and with the right spin, these can resonate. This book depicts innocence. This does not keep the GM from twisting that, though! Why am I saying this? Frankly, none of my groups, including my kids, are that keen on playing children. I kept reading this book and drew inspiration from it, tested and tinkered...and the sudden realization of how far beyond its theme it can be employed hit me rather hard. With the AMAZING personal mementos and all those little pieces combined, we ultimately receive a truly valuable toolkit, one that can enrich any game, even if you consciously seek to de-emphasize the importance of kids and associated themes.
In short, this book even holds up if you use it in completely different ways - and that, in combination with its capacity to inspire, is a sign of a great book, as opposed to only a good one. My final verdict will hence clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Seriously...get this.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here...mainly because I couldn't find the product anymore. It just vanished after I wrote the review. If/when it'll resurface, I'll post my review there.
Part II of my review:
I'm rambling, I know. I'll break my format for a second here, mainly since it's Paizo we're talking about - on a formal level, the one thing that haunted some previous books, namely editing, is excellent herein. The fact that the artworks are AMAZING and copious, that the binding's nice, the paper good, the layout awesome - you all already knew that. Production-value-wise, this is a glorious tome and yes, index-wise, it leaves nothing to be desired.
Designers Logan Bonner, Mark Seifter and Stephen Radney-MacFarland, under the auspice of Jason Bulmahn, with authors John Bennett, Robert Brookes, Ross Byers, Adam Daigle, John Compton, Jim Groves, Thurston Hillman, Eric Hindley, Brandon Hodge, Ben McFarland, Erik Mona, Jason Nelson, Tom Philips, Thomas M. Reid, Alex Riggs, F. Wesley Schneider, Robert Schwalb, Ross Taylor and Steven Townshend have created an awesome, amazing to me that represents a development in PFRPG I wholeheartedly support.
You see, from the very beginning, there always were weird and occult themes in Pathfinder adventures; it's what drew me to the game. That being said, I sometimes have the impression that my own playstyle, particularly for my campaigns, is a bit more cerebral and roleplaying focused than that of many groups and I do believe and understand that Paizo needs to cater to that demographic. In fact, I do have players that itch for fights when there's too much talking involved. I get the wargame-aspect and appeal of the game and enjoy it tremendously...but at the same time, making room for the ROLEplaying aspect of the game is very important to me.
An example (ROTRL-spoilers ahead!):
When I ran RotRL, my pathfinders were agents of the lodge and had the task to prepare Sandpoint for becoming a halfway-station for agents. Each faction had a representative in town and PCs had to juggle adventuring, faction duties and a political balance, while I slowly seeded hints for them to pick up and slowly meld together. I created a rune-language for Thassillion for them to find and decipher, a task which would bring them to the frigid North as well and had them establish a frontier outpost against the bitter cold and dire threats looming at the top of the world, all while having them research the strange languages and customs of various tribes, from Shoanti to Vikmordere to ultimately, slowly put the pieces together that the war with the sudden influx of green-skins and the sieges were due to the machinations of the BBEG rune lord. Alas, I redesigned their magic to be an intentionally OP version of truename magic, coupled with soul magic and in order to have a fighting chance, the PCs would need to decipher the esoteric rules that govern this evil and radically different way of using magic. It is only via similarly involved contemplation that a certain dungeon could be found...and I'll stop rambling here. What I tried to illustrate was that, while the AP itself can be run as pretty straight-forward, its concepts and themes are already steeped in the occult. In fact, I only extrapolated concepts that were already there - whether it's the Shamballah/Eldorado-aspect of the finale of the AP, the notion of there being power in strange writing, even in characters...or any other component. The seeds are already here and just require watering to grow into a fully developed thing of eldritch beauty.
The fact that Occult Adventures hardwires serious roleplaying, research, investigative tools, the mystical and the non-combat-centric into the very mechanics of most options herein, on its own, is a huge deal for me. I get the fun behind optimizing, mind you - but in the end, a character is more than a sum of his numbers. As a publisher, you can go the power-creep route and do just fine; heck, for ages, that was the business model of MTG...but it also was what disenfranchised me from that game. The story and game took a step back. Similarly, one can play Pathfinder pretty much as a wargame and there's nothing wrong with that; you can do so with occult adventures material and still have fun...but to me, this book reads like a rebuttal to the claim, often posed by rules-light advocates, that crunch-heavy games can't tell a good story and get in the way of roleplaying. Don't get me wrong - I love rules-light games just as much as crunch-intense monsters and each exist for a reason. But I do believe that their individual iteration is what makes the difference - it's not the system that hampers the story - it's the story-teller. Rules-light systems empower the GM and players by leaving blanks; rules-heavy systems empower them by providing new means or direct inspiration - it's leadership by leading or by omission - both have their pros and cons...but neither are responsible, provided their rules are solid, for getting in the way of a story set within their intended field of reference.
Pathfinder does tactical combat exceedingly well; with the advent of this book, we can see a focus in design on breadth, rather than depth. Instead of generating escalation, the focus here lies in making a more holistic array of class options that allow for the depiction of unique and rewarding heroes - whether from a roleplaying or rollplaying perspective. You can still optimize here and it is a rewarding experience...but it's not the sole goal of this book. It's about the story - of the campaign, of the world, of the characters, of their tools, tricks and allies.
Let me emphasize that: After I had almost given up on Paizo's non-bestiary hardcovers, occult adventures has risen to become my favorite book of such options they ever made. At a point where I thought that the golem may have lost his mojo regarding such options, the talented cadre of excellent writers has proven me false without any doubt. For me, as a person, this is better than Ultimate Magic and Combat and ARG and ACG combined. There is more I not only use, but love within the pages of this book. There is more storytelling potential here. And if you like the subdued, the strange, then this will be a revelation for you as well. I'm going even so far as to say that the design-paradigm shift this represents is very healthy for the game we all know and love...and that this book surpasses the Advanced Player's Guide. There. I said it. If I had to choose one Paizo hardcover for Pathfinder and get rid of all else, I'd choose this one. From the haunt-expansion to the classes, feats, skill unlocks - you name it. I adore this book. It may not be perfect, as no book of this size is bound to be perfect - but it gets as close as I haven't seen any rule-book get in ages. Heck, quite frankly, I want to see occult-only or mainly occult APs that give justice to the awesome framework we've been granted here.
At a time and place where I did not expect anything in that department from the golem anymore, but almost exclusively focused on the options/expansions brought forth by 3pps, this book has renewed my faith in the system and its potential...and it, honestly, is a courageous move from Paizo: This represents an expansion of themes regarding the type of game you play with Pathfinder beyond the confines of the Tolkienesque, towards shores of the imagination where fresh ideas, modules and campaigns loom, towards a type of cooperative storytelling that does not necessarily rely exclusively on the rolling of the dice - it's still important and won't go away - this is Pathfinder, after all - but the book, as a whole, dares to tread new paths to an extent you would never expect to see from an industry leader.
Dear authors - feel hugged for this book. Dear readers: If you were starting to feel disenfranchised with the system or have, like I did, mostly moved on towards the creative and fresh impulses of the 3pp-circuit, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out this tome. This provides the customization, cool classes you want, the novel themes you crave and the design-cohesion you require. In short, this is a resounding affirmation of the system's strengths and an utilization of its better aspects in a truly masterful fashion.
To spell it out for you: I consider this book a masterpiece, 5 stars + seal of approval...oh, and make that an EZG Essential, if you will - this book is absolutely required for any campaign I will ever run with PFRPG.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine, posted on amazon, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module taking place in the Southlands of Midgard clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! right outside the absolutely amazing metropolis of Per-Bastet (one of my favorite fantasy cities of the last 5 years...), there supposedly lies hidden and sunken Anu-Asir, which has recently emerged from the sands and became a kind of hub...and not far from it, there is the eponymous Tomb of the self-proclaimed god-king Tiberesh. The PCs are hired as an archaeological team by the Golden Falcon Antiquities (GFA), an organization which looms over the frontier-expedition outpost. The module begins with the negotiation of the exploration of the tomb, though the offer itself is actually rather generous. A total of 3 sketches for alternate lead-ins into the module can also be found in the pdf, should you dislike the angle, though, as we'll come to see, I'd strongly suggest running with the GFA-angle.
The tomb of Tiberesh's exploration would be up next and the small dungeon does feature a side-view of the pyramid and a rather evocative full-color map (2 such maps are provided), though they only come in 1/2 page size, which is a pity: Considering the rather beautiful renditions and their details, one-page hand-out style maps sans keys, you know, that you can print, cut up and hand to the players, would have been a great type of icing on the cake.
But back to the subject matter: Unlike quite a few modules with a similar angle, there is actually a lot of indirect storytelling about the fish-headed pseudo-deity Tiberesh going on in the exploration of the complex and the place even features alternate means of ingress, which is a neat touch. Similarly, the PCs will not only meet the forgotten - they will meet intruders, find rooms used to extract venom for medicinal purposes and test their mettle against gnolls...and nkosi in stasis. What are Nkosi? They are challenge 1/2 feline hunters and shapechangers and get their own, gorgeous artwork reproduced for your convenience herein.
The interesting component and what makes this a good example of a tomb exploration, si due to the fact that aforementioned indirect storytelling can be employed by clever PCs to deduce the sequence required to e.g. open a specific sarcophagus via a unobtrusive puzzle. Similarly, there is a classic "seal itself"-room trap that features some seriously nice teamwork options required to survive it once it is triggered. In order to find the true heart of the tomb of Tiberesh, the PCs will have to brave another puzzle that blends knowledge of symbolism with what the PCs have learned exploring the complex.
Once the true heart of the complex is unlocked, the tomb turns decidedly sinister - the weird iconoography is one-upped; color and symbols become more threatening...and ultimate, the PCs will stumble into the alabaster hall, which seals itself with fire, to face of against the unique mummy (stats and artworks provided) of the man who thought himself a godking and his retinue. At challenge 3, he is a powerful adversary and the pdf does feature no less than 4 magic items that are generally well-crafted.
Regarding the finale...well, GFA, as per default, is actually seeking to reanimate Tiberesh and thus won't be too happy, providing an unpleasant surprise...but the alternate means of concluding the module, while brief, make for nice alternate means. One further gripe I have: The leaders of the GFA do not get stats in this module, when at least two of them may be part of the epilogue encounter.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous, absolutely amazing full-color artworks, which, fans of Midgard may recognize from previous Southlands books, though. The pdf's cartography is great, but I would have loved 1-page, player-friendly versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Jerry LeNeave's Tomb of Tiberesh is a great example for an unpretentious, nice tomb-exploration that does its indirect storytelling rather well. It has some highlights regarding the things you explore, both regarding combat, traps and flavor and the progression of its layers is nice. The relatively easy puzzles and the nice retributive hazards for failing as well as the cool boss make for an overall rewarding tomb exploration. Apart from the epilogue encounter and the lack of player-friendly maps, there is not much to complain about here - and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
The akasin may also use an essence-burn-powered raise dead, thankfully with a daily limit at 10th level - oh, and it has a no-negation caveat. 13th level provides immunity to blind and dazzled and provides a daylight aura that can be resumed or suppressed. At 16th level, I am not complaining about taking essence burn of up to class level to add as bonus damage that ignores all resistances and DRs, though factor 5 is NASTY. I think adding a daily cap would be in order here for reasons of preventing (relatively inefficient) one-strike-builds. Now this *looks* much worse than it is in game - it is spam-proof. See, that's why I playtest these classes - this one looks much more powerful than it is. So yes, I like the ability, though I believe it could be one that will sooner or later end in undeserved pointed fingers. Finally, 19th level nets at-will teleport between light sources
The sineater philosophy is somewhat problematic - it allows for the regain of essence burn via attacks of gentle touch when used against targets with an Int of 3+ . The ability also allows for the reflexive burn of essence to negate damage that would bring the guru down to below 0 hp - interesting, since the amount of damage negated is significant and would be overpowered, were it not for the restriction, thus making the guru a good candidate for last man standing. While the Int-caveat avoids failure of the kitten-test, I'm still not 100% sold here - though the rest of the philosophy is balanced against this - limited DR and limited fast healing/regeneration for essence burn make sense regarding the established, steep costs while allowing the guru to work as a functional tank. Burning essence to increase the damage dealt to evil outsiders, aberrations and undead on a 1:5-basis at 7th level is brutal and allows for damage outputs that dwarf paladin smites, but only on singular attacks. So yeah, the guru is brutal here. 10th level provides atonement and 13th level nets Grab that can be applied to larger sized creatures depending on essence invested, while also increases the grappling capacity. 16th level provides AoE unarmed attacks and 19th level nets a paralyzing attack for Stunning Fist expenditure that also restores essence burned one a failed save. It now has a hex-style caveat, which is neat.
The third philosophy would be the Vayist, who would be the agile trickster to the sineater's tanky playstyle - via 1 essence burn, they can tie themselves with aether to foes, penalizing them and gaining bonuses against them...and targets thus affected that miss him result in essence regain. He can have one aether tie in effect at any given time, +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. These ties last for Wisdom modifier rounds, which, by action economy and the power of math, makes kitten-ing the ability not a smart move. At 4th level, vayists may use essence burn to increase the range-increments of ranged weapons or blur or mirror image themselves. 7th level nets essence burn for getting back up as a free action, even when it's not his turn (nice ship around of the free action ambiguity!). 10th level nets alter winds, air walk and river of wind and is solid. 16th level features the option to make at-ranged whirlwind attacks with weapons teleporting back and 19th level provides a continuous freedom of movement. Significantly tightened concept-wise!
All in all, in every way superior to the previous iteration of the class!
Onwards to the vizier, shall we? The vizier receives d6, 2 + Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, bucklers and simple weapons. The class has 1/2 BAB-progression and, uncommon for a full caster, but not unheard of, good fort and will-saves. The vizier's veilweaving is governed by Intelligence and follows the 10 + essence invested + Intelligence-modifier formula for save DC calculations. The vizier's levels count as arcane caster levels for the purposes of qualifying for feats, PrCs, etc. Viziers may invest essence in wands, staves or wondrous items that use charges, with the usual essence capacity limit modified by improved essence capacity (+1 at 3rd, 11th and 19th level - note that save DCs for veils also increase by the same amount at these levels) at later levels still applying. Essence thus assigned is considered to be bound and may not be redistributed, but the essence does act as charges for the item in question, though 9th level spells may not be activated with it. Items with essence invested in them do not require UMD-checks to utilize. Still not 100% sold here.
What do I mean by this? Warning: Nitpickery afoot. Surprisingly, I'm not complaining about items with few charges being left as treasure to have some "smart bombs" here; What I'm not sold on is simply the flat-out "no UMD"-section AND the non-scaling nature of this ability. What if the players find a wand with precious few charges or a unique staff and can just flat-out use it? I am aware that these are fringe-cases, but it would theoretically allow the vizier to utilize charge-based items beyond his level's capacity (if the DM foolishly drops them into the treasure...) - and there is a pretty easy solution that prevents the issue: Just make the highest spell level of the item the governing factor for whether or not you have to UMD and make it scale with class level progression, by e.g. tying it to twice the character's essence capacity. Now, yes, the base ability isn't broken, but I maintain that such a solution would be much more elegant and prevent fringe-case abuse.
A 1st level vizier begins play with 2 veils and 1 essence and increases that to a total of 11 veils and 30 essences at 20th level. A vizier may invest up to character level essence in a given veil or receptacle.
Viziers receive instant access to all veils on the vizier's list. Chakra binds are gained at 2nd level in the progression of Hands, Feet, head, Wrist, Shoulders, Headband, Neck, Belt, Chest and Body. The vizier does gain access to a unique veil slot: The Ring slot, which is unlocked at 9th level; at 15th level, viziers may bind and shape up to two veils in the Ring slot. At 3rd level, viziers gain veilshaping and may use a move action that provokes AoOs 1/day to unshape and instantly reshape an existing veil, though the rehsaped one can't be bound to a chakra until the vizier has meditated for 1 hour. At every 4 levels beyond 3rd, one additional veil may be reshaped and the ability can also be used an additional time per day.
The capstone allows for at-will instant veil-reforging via aforementioned veilshaping - and whenever the class uses the veilshaping ability, he regains 3+Int temporary essence that lasts for 3 rounds and may only be used to power the veils just formed.
Viziers also receive a kind of bloodline-ish linear ability chosen at first level - a total of 3 are provided. These are called paths of mystic attunement and they very much define how the class plays.
The Path of the Crafter grants a bonus equal to 1/2 class level on all skill-checks made as part of the crafting process and may bypass crafting requirements by increasing the DC. That is *pretty* powerful. Allies within 30 ft. that activate a magic item to cast a spell, treat the caster level and DC of the activated item as +1. That is nasty, but will also make the vizier rather popular with his adventuring companions. Okay, where things get rather unique would be in one particular ability - transfer the essence. This allows you to meditate on items and exchange their bonuses and special abilities. - Found a cool weapon, but don't have the proficiency for it? Just exchange the enchantment with those on your trusty sword. I applaud the fact that you can't cherry-pick abilities and really like this component. Now, on the other hand, wand/staff charges can also be exchanged if the items have the same highest spell level - a fitting restriction, but one I'd suggest to be supplemented with an analogue caster level (or lower) restriction to prevent spells that increase their potency with caster level having their charges cheaply upped by using charges from items that do not scale with CL. Once again, not a bad glitch, but rather one that can easily be fixed. The ability does feature a caveat that prevents use with artifacts or cursed/intelligent weapons, though. The path also grants item creation feats and a decreased craft-price at higher levels.
The path of the ruler is all about granting a scaling 30 ft.(60 ft. at 9th)-Will-save/Sense Motive debuff aura, with selective exclusion of up to Intelligence modifier allies, who also get a bonus instead. Enforcing a reroll at high levels is nice, but when compared to the benefits granted by the other paths, the path of the ruler feels pretty bland to me.
The path of the seer increases movement of all allies within 60 ft. by +5 ft, +5 ft. more at 9th and 17th level - neat. Now the interesting part comes next - the seer learns teamwork feats and for each point invested, the class may share ALL teamwork feats granted by this ability (1 is gained at 1st, 5th, 9th and 13th level) with one ally within 60 feet. Additionally, veils tied to Hand or Feet may be shared alongside with allies, who may invest essence in them, but not benefit from veil bind in the shared veil and they neither gain the benefits of the seer's invested essence. High-level (17th) seer-viziers may freely retrain the teamwork feats. See, that one is a competent, powerful commander-style path and once again, mops the floor with the relatively uninspired ruler-path.
Once again, some nice revisions made here.
***End Base Class Section***
One crucial difference that sets apart Akashic Mysteries from similar alternate magic systems is the sheer wide openness as a central factor of the design - this system was made to allow for dabbling, gestalting and similar processes and as such, this book does contain a lot of options for classes beyond the 3 I have covered so far, so let us dive in and take a close look, shall we?
Okay, so the first class covered would be the psionic aegis, who gains 2 1-point, 4-point and 3-point as well as a 4-point customization: Beyond the obvious chakra bind and veil shaping, there are some cool mechanic twists here that make me really grin; contemplation, for example, lets the aegis expend power points to make receptacles or veils counted as though they were invested with essence, providing a nice game of resource management I enjoy. Making essence via the ectosuit similarly is a neat concept. Speaking of cool: The Buraq animal companion (yep, you read right!) archetype basically replaces several of the usual tricks with some veilshaping, emphasizing the instinctual and universal nature of akasha: Two thumbs up!
Barbarians looking to tap into the power of akasha will like the rageshaper, who replaces 5 of his rage power with veils and temporary essence while raging, which also makes for a great representation of the trope of the hero who can only tap into supernatural powers while raging (as seen in a gazillion anime). The resonant song bard replaces the base performances with the Hands of the Bard veil and 1/4 (min 1) class level essence. Now here is where things become interesting: At higher levels, the veil separates from the bard for a kind of spectral, externalized threat. The psionic and criminally underestimated cryptic class replaces the enhanced disruptions with veilweaving at -3 levels and a fluid realignment of altered defense tied to his veils as well as a power point/essence-interaction akin to that shown by the aegis. Once again, this makes for evocative gameplay and interesting tricks. The swarm master dread gains the pretty awesome vizier's veil-selection (at a lower progression, obviously) as well as the Pestilence Cloak veil, which, once again, he can utilize in utterly unique ways, separating from the dread and even becoming real! Oh, and swarm form at higher levels! Heck YES! The hashasheen gunslinger can cling to walls, generate akashic bullets (somewhat similar to my own etherslinger) and fire on the run - apart from the class I wrote myself, this certainly now ranks as one of my favorite gunslinger options. The akashic warrior fighter is the first archetype here I don't really like - it basically replaces bravery with an akahsa-based variant and allows the character to invest essence in armor or weapons, but ultimately, the archetype doesn't add much beyond at least some numerical flexibility. Better than the base fighter, but not as amazing as most archetypes herein.
The snake charmer magus is a whip specialist who blends arcane power and spellcasting, losing spellstrike, spell recall, etc. - however, for arcane pool points and essence invested in the whip, he can generate cool defenses - a neat take on the whip-wielding, quick magus. The adaptive gunner marksman gets the cool contemplation psionic power/essence-combo game and uses the amazing Hand Cannon veil, getting even a unique style to interact with that one, which lets him doe amazing psionics/veilweaving-combo-stuff, like combining both cannons into one when expending the psionic focus for increasingly devastating blasts. The mysterial monk once again features a complex and evocative game of resource-management that is based on the interaction of veilweaving and ki as well as featuring a neat array of veilweaving in lieu of e.g. slow fall. The yaksa caller summoner binds lesser daeva (the entities associated with the daevic) instead of eidolons - said beings have veilweaving and said yaksa may bin essence in the caller, enhancing spell slots and veil sharing is also part of the deal. Pretty neat veilweaving summoner variant. Fans of Path of War may enjoy the veiled lord warder, who regains essence when performing gambits as well as limited number of day veilsharing with allies - beings affected by this that crit, generate temporary essence. All in all, neat.
The book also contains 13 talents for rogues, investigators as well as slayers that provide a neat array of tricks to dabble in veilweaving for these characters. Note something? Like the lack of complaining about them? Yeah, the options here are damn cool! The pdf also sports 2 PrCs, the first of which would be the 10-level Amplifier, who gains 1/2 BAB- and Will-save progression, d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level as well as full spellcasting/veilweaving progression - the amplifier basically is a akasha/spells-theurge...and if you've followed my reviews, you'll note that I'm usually not too impressed by these guys. However, for one, he works with psionics as well and when spell and veil descriptor match veils, the class gets some cool benefits to choose from that scale with the levels, providing a cool game of mechanical interaction that actually makes the PrC interesting to me.
The second PrC covers 5 levels and gets 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-progression, d8 HD and 2 + Int skills as well as full veilweaving progression. These guys gain touch attacks that deal 1d8 per class level + Con-mod, which also grants temporary hit points and temporary essence. This temporary essence can, at 2nd level, be used to create debuffs zones. Thereafter, the PrC learns to render those it defeats into zombies, poison the essence of foes (unique mechanics) and finally, create undead via his tricks. Neat!
The pdf also contains new races, the first of which would be the amazing gamla you can see on the cover - yes, camel folk. Yes, they are cool. These guys get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Dex, are Large, have a speed of 30 ft., use undersized weapons (nice balance), gain desert strider, endurance, gain +1 bonus essence and a sickening spittle usable 1/minute. A powerful race, but still within the acceptable frame and one that gets a wide array of core class/akashic class and warder FCOs. The race also supports two alternates, the Alqarn (rhinofolk), who gains +2 Str and Con, -2 Wis (making them more physically lopsided than I like them), but slow and steady does somewhat diminish what would otherwise, thanks to ferocity and gore, be too close by the barb-race. Feelkha get +2 Con and Int, -2 Dex, are similarly slow and steady and gain a trunk that can be used, much like the rhinofolk's horn, in conjunction with essence more effectively.
The second race would be the reptilian sobek, who gain +2 Str and Cha, -2 Wis, slow and steady, water adaptation, +2 to Stealth in certain environments, a natural bite attack at 1d6 that can be enhanced via essence and a sweeping tail. Once again, we get FCos for the core classes and the akashic ones. The nameer and sohofaat are alternates here - the tigerfolk nameer are warmblooded, have regular movement and camouflage in other environments and the race does have essence-enhanceable claws. The solhofaat (turtlefolk) get +4 Con, -2 Dex and a shell that can be enhanced via essence, a bite that can't be invested with essence, but a shell that can be. I usually tend to hate +4 as racial modifiers, but considering the slow swimming speed as well as the fact that Con does not allow for a lot of abuse/powergaming, I'm mostly good with this and leave it with my usual "Take heed!" warning for GMs of low-powered games.
The suqur get +2 Dex and Int, -2 Con, 20 ft. land movement, low-light vision, 1 point of bonus essence and may glide. They gain talons and investing essence in the gliding wings lets them fly, which represents an investment I'm willing to give a pass; obviously, this can cause problems in low-level modules, but the totality of the race's traits is sufficiently subdued to make this work for me. Once again, we get nice FCos and the race comes with two alternatives: The Hibkha (Ibisfolk) get +4 Int, -2 Str and Con, has 30 ft. movement and ignore non-magical difficult terrain, which makes the Int-powergaming more ridiculous. Not getting anywhere near my game, this one may be the first thing in the book I actively dislike. The Nisr vulturefolk get +2 Dex and Con, -2 Cha and may fortify their iron stomachs with eseence to resist poisons and diseases and eat about anything. Age, height and weight tables are included for our convenience. Favored class options of the new classes for the core races (minus half-orc/half-elf, plus orc) can also be found.
Alright, but one of the main draws of Incarnum back in the day was the relative ease by which other characters could dabble in its tricks - a component akashic mysteries translates masterfully to PFRPG by not only aforementioned class options, but by the vast array of feats. Basically, you can learn to access chakra slots via these and, as hinted at above, feats with the Akashic-descriptor can be invested with essence for greater effect, fortifying the body, spells, enhancing charges...Building on Deadly Aim, rage, studied strike, channel energy - basically, you name the class feature and there will be some unique trick that you can enhance with these feats - the handy table covering the feats alone is 1.5 pages long. Essence-based, less boring variants of Toughness that count as Toughness for purposes of prereqs are neat. Unfortunately, there is also some problematic content here: Life Bond, for example. This lets you basically transfer hit points via touch to allies. Solid, right? Well, for each essence invested in the ability, you increase healing by +5 hit points, which means that two or more folks with this healing each other can generate infinite healing. It'll take a while and probably won't break the game in most rounds, but I know that I'll put hard cap on this feat in my game...but consider this just a tentative complaint, since otherwise, the array of options presented herein are evocative and make for a LOT of tinkering options - the chapter adds a massive tweaking strategy to everything, considering that most feats grant essence!
Now, the veils...this massive book contains basically ~20 pages of these and they are, ultimately, what makes of breaks the system...and they are amazing. No, seriously. Unlike many an alternate system, Michael Sayre has provided a significant array of unique benefits that you otherwise never get to see - like vorpal-immunity. I also mentioned the friggin' handcannons, right? What I can't really possibly hope to convey is the nature of these: Take a veil that grants you a tail slap - so far, so boring, right? Well, for essence, it also nets swim speed and for chakra bind, we gain 5 ft. AoE-trip as a unique attack! Even relatively conservative skill-boosters get such unique tricks, with one providing very high-level viziers a means to become truly frightening rulers, commanding up to 100 HD of creatures...Dr and Ac-granting defenses, temporary hit points that slowly regenerate, gauntlets that deal "electric" (should be electricity), sonic and cold damage, miss chances, spell-interactions for chakra-bound veils, mantles of insects. A nice touch: even the veils that employ veilweaving level instead of BAB have a rationale for how viziers and daevics can end up at the same potency when using the veil -it may not be much, but it is these nice little touches that show how much the authors care about a sense of in-game coherence. Oh, have I mentioned the Spiderman-style spinnerets? Now, personally, I'll add a cooldown to the dragon-like breath-weapon-granting veil, since I really don't consider infinite AoE-damage, even in small cones, to be something I like, but this is, again, a rules-aesthetic decision, not one based on me considering the veil OP. Oh, want veils rather by slot than alphabetically? Guess what: Second table included. Breaking each of these down in their components would exceed the frame of this review, considering that I already talked about quite a few of them in my review of the previous books; just note that no infinite healing exploits sprang right at me, though healing options are included.
A total of 3 weapon special abilities, akasha-enhancing catalysts, blood chakra-interactions...these items generally work well...but are only half the deal. You see, the mirrored property I mentioned before? It's included herein. As are a selection of spells and material that act as reference material to avoid annoying book switching. Kudos and thank you for that.
Where was I, oh yes, beyond the items, we get two new monster subtypes, the akashic and daeva...and new monsters, including a new akashic dragon! The monsters sport amazing artworks and, as many are daeva, provide gorgeous, original artworks that evoke unique twists on Hindu-deities and other, lesser-known mythological creatures, like the Yaksha. These monster builds can generally be called "challenging" and range from CR 5 to 22, sporting unique tricks even before the whole veilweaving thing comes into place. This brief bestiary, if anything, made me want a whole bestiary of such creatures and should be considered a worthy closer to this book.
Editing and formatting are a bit hard to talk about here; you see, this review is not based on the "this will go to print version" of the book, but rather on the pdf-version prior to that. The positives first: Considering the length and density of the material herein, I am pretty excited to note the precision of the rules-language. Formal glitches are also pretty few and far in between, with e.g. the first "Alignment"-line in the book being one of the exceptions. One of the most prevalent issues would be that, unlike all "finished" Dreamscarred Press titles, I noticed quite a few formatting hiccups, like non-italicized spells and minor internal incongruencies regarding some of the material. These are universally not game-breakers, though. Dreamscarred Press has a history of cleaning up their books before going print, so I'm willing to give the company a pass on that for now; it's just something to bear in mind when you're expecting to dive right i. In my usual qualification, this would be situated between good and okay in that regard. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a second, printer-friendly version - kudos for providing that! Artworks are a mix of stock art and original art in full-color and particularly the original art deserves being mentioned as high-quality and amazing. Srsly, making the camelfolk look cool is truly great! The pdfs come with excessive, nested bookmarks that render the use on electronic devices very easy.
Lead designer Michael Sayre, with assistance from Andreas Rönnqvist, Andrew Stoeckle and Jacob Karpel has created a monument here. Yeah, I know, sounds like hyperbole? I'm not kidding, though. When I think "alternate magic for PFRPG", akashic mysteries is now right up there with psionics, pact magic and the numerous systems crafted by Interjection games' Bradley Crouch. The overhaul the classes got in comparison to the previous releases shows a quickly improving grasp of mechanics of top-tier complexity and the ability to sift through feedback to garner the gems amidst the complaints and invalid bickering - the final book presented here blows its WIP-components straight out of the water. The beauty of the mechanical tweaking and math underlying the system is impressive and the reason I adore this book more than quite a few options out there: It doesn't matter if you're playing a low-powered 15-pt-buy or nigh-superhero 25-pt-buy; it doesn't matter if you're going for low/rare or high magic - the akashic system supports a vast selection of playstyles and is ingenious, smart and just rewarding.
Beyond that, it may be one massive array of exceedingly dense crunch, but it is one that doesn't leave other classes behind. Finally, the system actually manages to evoke, in spite f the scarcity of fluff, a unique thematic identity that you may easily reskin/eliminate, yes - but you can also roll with it. The number of components I'd consider problematic herein are TINY considering the density and size of this book. Oh, one more thing: I *HATED* the fluff of Incarnum. I *hated* its execution and only used it for gestalting back in the day; this one, I love. It is refined, strong but still balanced and one gigantic beast of evocative material. This will become a staple in my games for years to come and establishes Michael Sayre as one crunch-designer to *really* watch, as one in the highest echelon.
If anything, I want the expanded and augmented sequel book now and a full-blown bestiary and NPC book to boot. Yes, I actually like this that much. The fact that the system, in spite of the vast amount of moving parts, doesn't crumble under its own weight is impressive indeed. I'm rambling. What I'm saying is: Get this, you won't be disappointed! It's not (yet) perfect, but it is one of the most inspired crunch-books to land before me in the last couple of years. My final verdict will clock in at unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval and denote this, even sans improvements, as a candidate for my Top ten of 2016 and an EZG Essential. Now excuse me, I have *a lot* of tinkering to do...
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted on OBS, here, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 44 pages,1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial/introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Knowledge is power. This sentence has become a bit of a cliché. Okay, it *IS* a huge cliché. It is true nonetheless. From Latin to runes, language as a means of transporting knowledge in a written form is exceedingly powerful and ideas, ultimately, are the most powerful weapons of all.
As has become the tradition with the Call to Arms-series, we thus begin the pdf with a complex array of ruminations on the nature of text, its functions and components, not shirking e.g. the issues of copying and translation. (And anyone who has ever compare e.g. Shakespeare, Baudelaire or Goethe translations with the original will certainly attest a cringe-worthy quality that can result here...) In a fantastic context, the concept is similarly important, if not even more so: The pdf does mention Chambers' classic The King in Yellow, which may well have provided an initial spark for Lovecraft and others...as often, the idea cuts deep.
One of my central gripes with Pathfinder as a system has always been the fact that tomes basically suffer from a rather niche existence; when compared to e.g. the Witcher games, where knowledge is the most valuable good you can have in combat with the weird creatures of the earth, it is significantly less important in our games and has less mechanical repercussions...and this one tries to fix that. The pdf collates, collects and expands the mundane tomes released so far, introducing arcane school reference books, chronicles etc. - rules-wise, these generally grant bonuses to associated checks when referencing the book or studying it. 3 new types of spellbooks (and two classics) can be found within these pages as well. The pdf also features two spellbooks with preparation rituals. (one for magus and one for the investigator.)
Beyond that, the pdf also collects all types of intriguing books herein - from the golem manuals to the summoning extenders and manuals that increase your attributes, grant combat feats. Very cool for sorcerors: Pages of Spell Knowledge. These pages contain a single spell; prepared casters may expend a spell slot of the appropriate spell slot to cast the spell on the page. A writ allows for instant atonement benefits, but requires longer hours of studying to maintain the benefits. As always in the series, we get a cursed tome and an intelligent item: The latter being A Young Person's Phantasmagorical Primer, which contains fairy tales and allows persons featuring only NPC classes to gain the training required for PC classes and the book's illusory realms are interesting, to say the least. Beyond that, we also get a total of 3 mythic books, one of which enhances a character's capabilities when dealing with extraplanar creatures and another nets cruel jokes. Finally, another book allows for reincarnate. The book also contains 3 artifacts - the classic book of infinite spells, the codex of the lower planes and a take on the mother of all evil books, the intelligent necronomicon, including an advanced soul eater that may come for you. (CR 15, just fyi.) And yes, the book is cursed.
The pdf does contain two different spells, one that translates a book perfectly into ancient dwarven and one that animates a quill to copy writing. As always, though, we do receive a couple of variant rules, the first of which would be modifications for Linguistics to account for time-related changes in dialects, handwriting, translation qualities, if applicable, etc.
More importantly, the pdf does feature rules for forbidden knowledge - studiyng texts like this may result in corruption and the more thorough you study the texts, the harder it will be to resist the nasty effects of the respective tomes. Certain actions will trigger corruption saves and on a failure, the character gains a corruption point - all pretty simple. Here's the cool thing, though: Tehse points can be used as either mythic power, hero points, as sanity...or a combination of them all, depending simply on your own tae on the subject matter, with proper synergy with the much-anticipated new Shadows over Vathak campaign setting book. A total of 3 such tainted tomes end this installment of Call to Arms on a high note.
Editing and formatting are good; while I noticed a couple of typo level glitches and would have loved slightly modified wording here and there, as a whole, the rules-language remains sufficiently precise to not result in any issues. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin games' two-column full-color standard and the pdf has some neat full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Richard D. Bennett's revised take on Tomes of Power is a fun offering, with in particular the variant rules herein being an inspired array of modifications. The book, as a whole, is a fun offering and delivers what it promises. In contrast to some of the other Call to Arms-books, though, it does feel a tad bit less evocative: A lot of the options here in the book are pretty conservative in the items represented - the more powerful items, for example, are either classic in concepts or, in the case of the mythic books, pretty weak. Apart from the evocative intelligent book and the awesome forbidden tomes, I simply wasn't as blown away here, since I already knew a lot of the concepts here. This does not make the pdf bad, mind you, but it does deprive it of a place amid the best of these books. In the end, this is a good book - and well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine, posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment in Raging Swan's Village backdrop-series, converted to 5e, is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 5 pages of content for the village of Wellswood, so let's take a look!
In this installment of Raging Swan Press' critically acclaimed series, we travel to the village of Wellswood - which is aptly-named: Situated in the midst of a gorgeous forest, the settlement sports numerous wells - both natural ones and those crafted by dwarven hands, for the settlement sports a significant dwarven population, who faithfully serves the local dour and somewhat greedy, but none too unpleasant lord Ilmari Issakainen.
The uncommon occurrence of a forest-bound dwarven clan also results in a surprising amount of fortified stone buildings jutting forth from the massive forest. While secure, the rather significant taxes imposed are not to be trifled with, though merchants and travelers won't have too much of a problem paying them. No less than three inns (all coming with information on accommodation-prices and food) are detailed within these pages, as befitting of a village under the auspice of a church of travelers - which btw. includes a brief deity-write-up. And yes, the domains actually point towards proper 5e-domains. Industry-wise, the local lake with its fishing (requiring permission of the lord...which is, again, taxed) is based mostly on the massive influx of travelers passing through.
Oh, but I've failed to mention the interesting component here: You see, aforementioned lake, much like the hold of the dwarven clan, is subterranean and heavily regulated - though that does not mean that there are no means of getting down there sans the lord knowing...if you know whom to ask. Yes, the subterranean lake actually writes adventures of itself, considering the plethora of potential dangers there and the mere presence of it makes a potentially cataclysmic earthquake all the more dangerous. Plenty of development options are provided here, from the local color (the village sports notes on nomenclature, clothing, etc.) to more massive storylines - after all, there is a reason the dwarves are here - but to know that, you'll have to travel to Wellswood yourself! As a minor complaint, I think tying the unearthing of village lore to an Intelligence check not that elegant; Why not go history, or perhaps allow for the proficiency bonus to be added for dwarves or certain backgrounds? But I am nitpicking at a very high level here.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out and sports a great artwork of a fishing trip on the subterranean lake.
Creighton Broadhurst's Wellswood is a compelling settlement that manages to strike a precarious balance: On the one hand, it is a pretty pleasant place that, in itself, is not yet an adventure and the lack of a central conflict means that you don't have a streamlined narrative cut out for you. However, unlike many a supplement with such a broad focus, Wellswood still manages to retain a sense of holistic integrity, a feeling of concise options, ready to be explored at any time. From politics to potential threats, whether as just a waystation or as a new home for the PCs, the village manages to support and accommodate threats both significant and trivial. While the supplement does not achieve the highest echelons of the series, it remains an excellent book that does offer a significant, tight array of interesting options for GMs and players to explore and, more importantly, a tight and unique place to visit that loses none of its draw in 5e- hence, 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, etc.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports copious amounts of thematically fitting stock art. The pdf features bookmarks for the chapters and tables (for e.g. the robe of many-things-like runes), but not to the individual runes.
It is pretty hard to convey the fascination this system has provided for me; you see, the runesmith, make no mistake, is a caster; yes; but at the same time, the class obviously has a completely different feeling than just about all casters I know. Similarly, it is easy to see the appeal regarding an utility/tools character, but that would not take the magical capabilities into account. The appeal it has also does not lie within the engine, for while it like the mechanical framework underlying these guys, it is not my favorite of Brad's engines.
The best picture to exemplify what these guys do I can come up with is that of the rune-savvy skald (not the PFRPG class) in literature; the rune-casting Pict banishing the giant golden slug-thing in Conan (kudos if you know that one!), the soldier who knows some magical runes in a magical quartermaster-style way; the wise and mystical philosopher-calligrapher in a WuXia-setting or the primitive runecaster in a savage culture - runesmithing represents all of these and does a better job at that task. Better yet, the framework and how it works is *really* simple. The system itself is complex and allows for great tricks, but as for difficulty to play and build, the runesmithing options here are easy to grasp and implement, easier to grasp than e.g. the kineticist, if you need a direct comparison. Runesmithing makes sense in a traditional fantasy context as well as in a more savage or sword and sorcery-esque scenario.
That still does not properly enunciate what I love about this class: Runesmiths are a trickster's option; an utility (or blasting) option...and they have a very unique feeling. After digesting and testing the options herein, this pdf did not only leave me with the wish to implement the content in my notoriously hard to get in main campaign; it actually made me come up with campaign ideas that focused on it as the primarily available means of performing magic for the PCs. Whether it's one set in a medieval/stone-age period of our own world, a savage trip through hyperborean realms of ice or early Malazan-like struggles of elite units in a war in a fantastic world - runesmithing, as a system, feels like it could carry a setting. The expansion potential for new runes and tweaks of the system is huge and I do believe that crossovers with e.g. truenamers or similar more caster-y spellcasters would actually work...but for now, I'm content. This book seems to be pretty successful and Bradley Crouch has been consistent in his class support for the classes that have an extended audience. In this case, this is excellent news, for the whole concept of runesmithing as present here has nigh infinite expansion options on its own. Similarly, no or rare magic (items) campaigns could easily use the framework posited here and modify/scavenge it to replace magic items in a world that simply doesn't have as much and somewhat mitigate the issue of PFRPG's math falling apart without them.
So yes, runesmithing works impressively smooth, is pretty easy to grasp and has a ton of potential... and I'll put a campaign using these instead of more traditional types up magic up for a vote when we decide on the next main campaign to run. That's a pretty huge deal. This is a truly inspiring little book and well worth 5 stars + my seal of approval as well as being nominated as a candidate for my top ten of 2016.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no accumulation of significant issues; both on a formal and rules-language level, the book is neat and the statblocks I did reverse-engineer sported no significant issues. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games' printer-friendly two-column standard with purple highlights. The different artists used this time around work to the book's advantage: While there is ONE artwork I didn't care for in the book, from Jacob Blackmon's signature style to old-school paintings and truly horrific pieces for the nastier critters, the artists complement the creatures in question very well. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked for your convenience.
Main authors Perry Fehr and Mark Gedak, with additional monsters by Russ Brown, August Hahn, Julian Neale and Todd Stewart have crafted one massive book here. But let me take a step back first: Mark Gedak has a patreon that has by now produced this book; the second of the massive Porphyra bestiaries. Book 1 was good; a fun and well-written bestiary and a quality-wise neat tome.
Against the usual trend, Monsters of Porphyra II blows its predecessor clean out of the water. Are you looking for mechanically creative abilities that provide a unique combat experience and tactical challenges? there are creatures for that inside. Want something owlbear-goofy but also cool? Included. Some creatures drawn from more exotic folklore? In here. Utterly unique creatures and cultures, campaign-endbosses, puzzle foes? All inside. No matter what you're looking for in a bestiary, from the wholesome to the horrific, from the fantastical and purist to the off-the-walls weird, this one delivers.
More importantly: There is no suck inside. I did not find a single creature that felt tired or bland; It's either the artwork, the unique signature abilities or the combination of both that add a sense of the "want to use" to these critters. I mean, it actually makes one of the most tired concepts ever, the ice worm, feel pretty creative. Similarly, when creatures from obscure 3.X OGL-books were upgraded, the upgrades often include twists and different flavors that render them fresh and distinct. The lore sections, prose and the like help render the back-to-back reading experience more fulfilling as well.
I have no formal complaints. There are some very minor hiccups here and there, but they are so few and far in-between and don't influence the functionality of the critters. For a book of this size, that is a true feat. Oh, and consider the fact that this one was made sans a huge KS-budget, instead thriving on continuous, dedicated work. It's one thing to have a burst of inspiration; constantly generating creatures with this level of quality is a feat. Magical beasts feel magical, dragons feel draconic; folklore beasts are close to their source-material or make it cooler than in our mythology. Animals and vermin feel effective and pretty realistic and like they make sense. In short: This is an absolutely stellar bestiary for a more than fair price point.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of the bestiary formula; I prefer my creatures with a ton of back story, ecologies, etc. Blame it on my old-school origins. Most bestiaries I end up liking thus have a lot of flavor text. Monsters of Porphyra II does have a bit of it..but still is a bestiary. And guess what? It's probably as close to "I love everything" as a monster book of this size is ever bound to get. This is one of the best monster supplements out there in the 3pp circuit, with more inspiring creatures in it than I would have expected. As noted, book 1 was already very good...but it is here that the authors take a huge breadth of themes and topics, mechanics and go full-blown all-out. To me, not a single one of the critters herein felt phoned-in; they all feel like they were made with a passion that translates very well from the pages. After reading this book, I found myself sketching a sequence of adventures featuring a ton of the critters herein - and that is something that only rarely happens as far as bestiary books are concerned.
So yes, get this! Monsters of Porphyra II is a phenomenal resource of creative critters of all types, shapes and forms and deserves the highest accolades. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Purple Duck Storeroom-series clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So, what is this? If AAW Games' critically acclaimed Rise of the Drow has taught me anything, then it's that modern gaming had lost some of its sensibilities; when the saga took the wonder of the 2nd edition's Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and the general notion of believable environments and infused it right back into the subterranean realms, I was ecstatic. The underworld hadn't felt that alive, that wondrous, in a long, long time.
So, this little pdf can be considered to be something of a mini-dressing file: The idea is as follows: The things in the underdark need to eat, right? Well, fungi grow below and so, the pdf does contain subterranean spore groves for your perusal. in power-level, they are rules-interaction-wise mostly at the lower scale and the pdf works as follows: You have 12 entries to determine weird fungi; then, you determine the size of the grove with a d12, which also modifies all subsequent tables, so yes, size does matter here.
Next up, you determine the food value to be scavenged from the grove...and then the effects. Sure, the shrooms might be poisonous...but there is similarly a chance that one of 8 strange effects may kick in upon consumption. These range from mild hallucinations to bonuses to Cha or medicinal properties, and while slightly more precision here pertaining conditions, bonus types and the like, the basic functionality is there. A sample hazard table modified by the number and CR of PCs is included, with hazards and foes ranging from CR - to 7. A little table to determine fungal themed monsters is next (15 entries strong and pretty much what you'd expect) and 12 non-fungal sample monsters (standard underworld fare) can be used to include here.
The pdf concludes with a sample hazard - the CR 3 cyan fungus, which sends discus-like projectiles towards anything nearby when subjected to light. The fungus is awesome, though the rules-language for the attack and damage is a bit jumbled.
Editing and formatting is very good on a formal level; on a rules-level, there are some minor deviations, but none that break the material. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' 1-column, printer-friendly standard in A5-size (6'' by 9''). The pdf has a nice one-page artwork of a vegepygmy in full-color. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Perry Fehr's little pdf has the heart at the right place: The visuals are nice and while it does not reach the level of evocative wonder of RotD's fungal jungle, that's not the goal - this is a great fungus fields generator and it does not purport to be more than that. The new fungus is pretty cool and something I'll definitely use.
All in all, this little pdf is a fun addition to subterranean gameplay and particularly lower-level underdark adventuring will benefit from the quick and easy food generation tables here; for longer or survivalist treks through the lightless depths, this can be a boon indeed, though I found myself wishing it had devoted more time to the fungi and provided slightly more in that terrain, less to the pretty generic sample creatures encountered tables. In the end, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars - an inexpensive, fun and very useful little pdf, but one that falls short of what it could have been. Still, whether it's Second Darkness, Rise of the Drow or the quasi-defunct Throne of the Night - subterranean campaigns will enjoy this one.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to NErdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
The last information I had as a fellow ardent fan of Kaidan is, that Rite's operation will continue for now, so there is a definite chance you and me will get the final book. I'm not sure if it's being worked on right *now*, and I think there is a very real chance we'll get to see this. having talked to a couple of Rite freelancers at the con, I am pretty positive you'll get to see this eventually.
Part II of my review:
All right, and here's the final section of the book - the bestiary. These critters were penned by Russ Brown (of Rusted Iron Games), Matt Duval, Joe Kondrak, Thomas LeBlanc, John Lessing, Mark Nordheim, Kendra Leigh Speedling and Jeffrey Swank, illustrated by Becky Barnes, Lynette Fetters, Michael Jaecks, Chris L- Kimball, Adam Koča, Danny Hedager Krog and Dionisis Milonas.
We begin with the CR 1 blood sapling - grown from a corpse buried to the head in soil, this twisted plant creature feasts on nearby bleeding and dying creatures and may spray a blinding sap at foes. The beautifully rendered gaint knifewing dragonfly at CR 3 is a surprisingly cool vermin, with functionality and "realism" suffusing the flavor as their wings cut foes to ribbons. The Ferrywight can dip its oars in the water, making it enervating, which is kinda cool - though I've seen the undead ferryman too often by now...for me as a person, I'll stick to big bad Charron. Similarly, the CR 6 Hearth Wraith is a trope I am pretty familiar with at this point - while by no means a bad build, it falls short of the CR 12 river raken that can run vessels aground and even move on land - much like real krakens can. A heartfelt kudos to the artist that provided the artwork for the CR 12 predatory sandbar - what could have been a solid ooze is rendered significantly more captivating by a glorious artwork. Now yes, I know I have bashed the aforementioned wraiths a bit - but there are some concepts that work for me: The Cr +2 river wraith with its unique ability array may also be a familiar trope, but I feel like it does its job slightly better. The Tsemauis at CR 6 look like a log with protusion from the top - below the surface, though, they are basically a magical variant of a particularly nasty orca, hell-bent on eating PCs. Oh, and though they only are CR 6 - one failed save after their gore and they have bisected you. Game over. Yes. I know. Massive damage would make more sense. Unfair. Yadda-yadda. I'm a killer-GM. I don't care. I like that they actually are lethal as all hell. Their artwork is also pretty impressive an thus, we end this book on a definite high note!
Editing and formatting, both on a formal and rules-language level, is significantly better than in many a commercial publication I have reviewed - that is to say: Very good. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard that is easy to read. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and features a TON or gorgeous original artwork by: Becky Barnes, Catherine Batka, Darran Caldemeyer, Snow Conrad, Jeremy Corff, Liz Courts, Andrew DeFelice, Jess Door, Lynnette Fetters, Silvia Gonzalez, Michael Jaecks, James Keegan, Chris L. Kimball, Adam Koča, Danny Hedager Krog, Alberto Ortiz Leon, Mike Lowe, Dio Mahesa, Dave Mallon, Jesse Mohn, Dionisis Milonas, Alex Moore, Beatrice Pelagatti, dodeqaa Polyhedra, Basil Arnould Price, Tanyaporn Sangsnit, Kristiina Seppä, Carlos Torreblanca, and Todd Westcot.
Beyond these artists, the following authors have contributed to this issue: Charlie Bell, Landon Bellavia, Charlie Brooks, Russ Brown, Dixon Cohee, Chuck DiTusa, Matt Duval, Robert Feather, Benjamin Fields, Aaron Filipowich, Nikolai Geier, Spencer Giffin, Amy Goodenough, Garrett Guillotte, Bran Hagger, Kiel Howell, Dana Huber, Joe Kondrak, John Laffan, Thomas LeBlanc, Jeff Lee, John Leising, James McTeague, Jacob W. Michaels, Brian Minhinnick, Tim Nightengale, Mark Nordheim, Kelly Pawlik, Matt Roth, Jeff Sexton, Elliot Smith, Kendra Leigh Speedling, Jeffrey Swank, Ian Turner, Brendan Ward, Steven Lloyd Wilson, Alexander Wreschnig, and Scott Young. Cartography was provided by none other than Liz Courts and Alex Moore.
There is a lot of love that has gone into this magazine and it shows everywhere - from superb artworks to great ideas, there are some true gems to be found here. While not all pieces of content may be perfectly polished gems, there is an exceedingly high chance you will find something astounding and useful herein...and if you're playing Kingmaker (or in the River Kingdoms or a similar environment) this suddenly becomes pretty much a must-own, non-optional supplement to your game. Even if this was a commercial enterprise, it would rate highly in my scale; considering that this very much is a labor of love and FREE is staggering and humbling; to the point where I'd honestly recommend getting the print for this one, provided you can afford it. And if you're not sure...well, you can just download it.
This is a labor of love and a testament to the health and commitment of the community I love. It is my utmost pleasure to rate this 5 stars + seal of approval. Download this ASAP; now. It is worth every KB, ever MB on your hard drive.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here!