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City Setting: Salt in Wounds - The bizarre, evil mega-city fed and powered by the perpetual butchery of the Tarrasque (Now Live on Kickstarter!)
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.
[Rite Publishing] EZG reviews Lords of Gossamer & Shadow: Icon Deck and NPC Icon Deck (DICELESS / system-neutral)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
And now for something complete different!
This was moved up my review-queue due to me receiving a physical copy of the product in question.
From the get-go, I was positively surprised - not sure if it's due to a change in policy on behalf of OBS or not, but the cards I received arrived in absolutely pristine condition, contained in hard-shell plastic cases, which prevented any creases or other unpleasant surprises.
Beyond that, this deck of cards is massive and contains a selection of US Poker-Size 2.5'' x 3.5 '' cards with round corners. The card-stock paper is high-quality and employs a 305 gsm matte and the cards are UV coated. The cards are sturdy enough to deal well with shuffling, bending them, etc.
Beyond these technical details, there may be a freak accident...there may be something wrong with me...but unless I've begun sucking harder at basic counting of cards than an amnesiac, the description of this product undersells this deck HARD. EDIT: So, I totally blundered and didn't get that there were two decks - one for the NPCs and one for the Icons. I basically took a look at both and the artwork quality for either is SUPERB. Still, even taking this into account, I counted more cards than 104, so this does overdeliver, even when looked at individually!
That is NOT a complaint or a bad thing, though it is something that you should definitely bear in mind - as far as I'm concerned, these decks overdeliver pretty hardcore. And yes, I've checked the cards more than once - no doubles, at least in the deck(s) I received -there is zero overlap between the two decks...so yes, bang-for-buck-wise, I'm really surprised at the quality! Kudos!
The back of the cards sports the "Icon Deck" logo employed in the review/product description and there is another thing I really appreciate - each of the artworks is credited on the card at the central bottom of the card, giving credit where credit is due to the hard-working artists. Better yet, in spite of being easily readable, said credits do not intrude unduly upon the gorgeous images depicted on the cards, which similarly is a huge thing for me: When I get gorgeous color cards, I damn well want them to look the way and this delivers.
Now, regarding themes, this deck covers a ton of ground: Within these cards, you can see a gorgeously-rendered Mulan-style warrior-queen in front of a Chinese dragon; you can see a horrific, cthulhoid, yet humanoid entity that has a horrid, resin-like textures. The dwimmerlaik, both warriors, philosophers and more are depicted in absolutely stunning pieces on the cards...and then there would be the awesome and weird: Like the walrus-headed huamnoid in Imperial Cuirass, the guy that looks like a winged, badass tattooed survivalist with Jesus-hair, the lich-like undead bathed in green fire...and, for those who know where to look, there is also the tribute to Owen K.C. Stephens, immortalized in one of the cards as a kind of Patrician-looking mastermind.
The planes/world-hopping diversity of focus and themes is eclectic and befitting of the central virtues of LoGaS, with e.g. an admiral who sports a rifle that obviously can fire radioactive grenades, alien plant-beings, Tokyo-school-girl lookalike mistresses of arcane might (or rather, eidolon/umbra), dazzling ladies in Flamenco-aesthetic with pet-dragons, tattooed Yakuza, grizzled post-apocalypse survivors or people that may well have been famous planeswalkers like Urza is the aesthetics of their depiction. The styles of the various artists never clash unduly and, while distinct, there is a unifying theme that ties the artworks together - that being quality - LoGaS has been excellent regarding the consistency of the amazing artworks routinely employed and this can be pictured as an excellent showcase.
In fact, it is my contention that the usefulness of this deck transcends LoGaS - this is just as amazing when used for The Strange, a full-blown planes-walking campaign or similar environments that thrive on receiving an array of eclectic and stunning artworks.
In short, being an icon deck, this excels in pretty much all the ways I could ask from it: The material is excellent, the artworks are superb, the artists are properly credited...there is nothing to dislike about this deck and thus, it receives 5 stars + seal of approval.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The 5e-version of the first of the Tavern Tales mini-adventures clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Wait, before we do: This mini-adventure can be pretty easily employed on its own, but its intention is to be run in conjunction with one of the taverns featured in Tangible Taverns: A Trio of Taverns, namely Blackberry Bill's. In case you're not familiar with it: Think former, gruff dwarven adventurer obsessed with blackberries who has a hidden location where they grow like crazy. The cast of characters, while depicted in sufficient detail to work on its own, is significantly enhanced if you do have the Tangible Taverns-installment, since the characters receive significantly more detail there.
Speaking of which...it's time to dive into this one and, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great!
The PCs become witness to a little dispute, as famous eating champion Pie-Eating Pete is rebuffed by the server Braybin and blackberry's stern gaze - once the pies are out, they're out. The bully consequently storms off. The next day, Braybin finds the preserves missing from the tavern and, barring trails of a break-in, she suspects that someone has stolen her keys. This section feels a bit too autopilot/railroady for my tastes - who not let the PCs discover that themselves?
Anyways, Braybin has two obvious suspects, the local scoundrel, her ex or Pie-Eating Pete, who has been hanging out with a local thug named Clyde. Pete's room indeed contains one of the respective jars, but not the preserves, which, to me, makes no sense. If you move the preserves, why keep the jar after it's emptied?
Alas, this also extends to other components here - it is intended for the PCs to try to break into the Clyde's place, which alerts the guards...which poses an issue. One, why not just ask the guards to check? Two: PCs are notoriously capable, so why is there no chance to evade setting off the guards?
Inside the flat, only a nice (and sensible trap). Whether or not the PCs turn over Pie-eating Pete to the local authorities, his stats have been provided (commoner 7, just fyi!).
Editing and formatting are decent on a formal level; there are some typo-level hiccups like "intimated" instead of "intimidated", "track" instead of "trap", "Pie Eating Pete" once with hyphen and without...you get the idea...the like. In contrast to the PRPG-version the 5e-version's DCs are more consistent, though there is still an example where the respective check is not noted properly. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artworks, but needs none at this low price-point. The pdf has no bookmarks, but also needs none - it's only 2 pages, after all. If you want the cartography of the tavern, you need to get the Tangible Tavern-installment.
I Like Kelly Pawlik's story here. It could conceivably easily be run for kids and the change of tone from the usual fare is refreshing and nice. As a stand-alone, it does lose a lot, though not all of the charm the tavern evokes - in either way, plot-wise, it is a nice diversion. Let me correct that - I like the *idea* of the story here. Additionally, the conversion of the main antagonist and general checks/DCs have been done well...however, this does nothing to make the module flow better.
At the same time, from a narrative point of view, this, alas, fails. The module tries to cram an investigation in two pages, which is hard; while AAW Games has successfully done this before, this pdf, alas, does fall into the trap that came from the obvious lack of space...excessive railroading.
The actual investigation is basically taken care of for the PCs. There is nothing to be uncovered and, much like small kids eating pie, they are spoon-fed each detail; the two suspects are there from the get-go, really obvious and make the module, alas, feel like the equivalent of one of those annoying busy-work quests from computer roleplaying games: Walk to A, talk. Walk to B, talk. Stuff C happens. Challenge. Done. There is no internal variation and no player-agenda here, it's a railroad in the worst sense, one that will make some players just say "Do it yourself!" to the NPCs. After all, they just have to walk over there and already know what's up!
The charming component of being a rather wholesome module further exacerbates the issue: When it could have been a light-hearted diversion, it instead feels like mundane busywork...even for kids.
When used in its intended way as a companion piece to the tavern, it is a passable, railroady sidequest...though honestly, I can improvise a better, more open structure than what this offers. Ultimately, the use of this mini-adventure lies in its supplemental character for GMs who didn't have time to prepare. The low price point also helps salvage this at least somewhat. Still, considering the high standards to which I have held similar mini-adventures in the past, I cannot go higher than 2 stars for this.
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.
[Playground Adventures] EZG reviews After School Adventures: Adventures in Wonderland #2 - Down the Rabbit Hole (5e)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The second module in the Wonderland-inspired series of mini-modules for the youngest gamers clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This being an adventure-module, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Young 'uns - sneaking a peek here can spoil your fun - don't do it, okay?
All right, so the PCs have chased the white rabbit through the forest in #1 and this module begins as the players fall down the rabbit hole...wait, no, they are not...they basically are floating, with no means of propulsion and the sides of the tunnel too far away to reach. As the PCs ponder their predicament, a blue dictionary will float over...you know, it's hungry and wants to be fed with words from A - Z. This little vocab test, including an Intelligence or Wisdom check to help them for the more difficult words, is a fun start. Then, things get more difficult with the letter "I": The next array of words needs to have the letter AND two syllables. Once the PCs reach "R", they will have to work backwards from Z to S. Oh, and the read-aloud text of the dictionary is intended to be sung to "Pop goes the Weasel" and rhymes appropriately. And yes, I had to look the tune up. XD
As the party finally floats down, they will reach a table with a drink and a cake...and we all know what these do, right? But there's a twist: A) If the PCs are itching for a fight, the table will happily oblige. And B), the doors open to show the peek-a-boo - a unique monster that has the proper key to pass...and it teleports to other doors when the PCs try to take it from its mouth. Here, multiple strategies help: Making the creature laugh, guarding doors, using logic, making it cry - oh, and the module does use this chance to teach the players about using attribute checks to determine information about creatures - which, however, sports a minor hiccup - it refers to Intelligence (Lore), which should probably be (History) or (Nature) instead.
Bypassing the friendly creature in this game concludes the adventure for now and should see the PCs reach level 2.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no issues apart from aforementioned little hiccup. Layout adheres to Playground Adventures' beautiful two-column full-color standard with Cheshire Cat on top and all. The pdf's art is sparse, but similarly child-friendly. Spells etc. are hyperlinked to the PRD for your convenience. In spite of the module's brevity, it features bookmarks - nice. This time around, the module has no cartography, but it doesn't really need maps for the encounters herein.
J Gray's second Adventures in Wonderland-module is more rewarding than the first: Where the first module focused its efforts via a boardgame-like playing field on teaching the very basics of roleplaying, this one focuses a bit more on the actual roleplaying aspect and problem-solving skills of the kids that play it. This renders the module more palatable for older kids as well. The content herein is btw. appropriate for kids ages 4 and up (with my suggestion being that players ages 8+ will probably start having less fun with this due to its cute tone) and even the most scaredycat, sensitive child will not be frightened by this one; this is pretty much the definition of wholesome and harmless, with literally each encounter focusing on unobtrusive engagement of the mental faculties of kids rather than just rolling the dice and defeating foes. Even the optional combat is not something anyone would consider problematic.
So yes, this very much achieves its goal; it has versatile challenges, nice visuals and is a fun romp. My one complaint would be that a hard-mode version for the challenges would have been nice for particularly smart kids, but then again, one can easily improvise the like on the fly, based on the material that is provided here. (The syllable angle can be easily expanded; I had them actually spell the words...but only do that if the kids are already reading a lot and capable of spelling...you know your audience best, GM!)
So, how to rate this? As mentioned, I consider this to be better than the first module and while older kids won't have as much fun with this as the young ones, for the target demographic, this is awesome indeed. The unobtrusive educational angle's here and the locations are unique. The small hiccup and the fact that the conversion of the creatures is a bit more conservative than I like is all that costs this version the seal of approval, leaving me with still a final verdict of 5 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
In all brevity, since I'm currently on vacation:
Darakhul: Perfect fit for Geb, Ustalav, as a subterranean empire just about anywhere (particularly if you can get your hands on the patron-only Empire of Ghouls module!).
Dragonkin: Either make them Hermean Übermenschen (dawn of a new age!) or go for the flying cities route; Hyperborean, isolated society might work as well. Or have the whole empire come from across the sea - after all, so far we don't know all of Golarion!
Gearforged are great fits for the Manawaste, obviously. Alternatively, you could make them the fruits of labor by Kalistrade's prophets (immortality through money!) or some new scheme by Razmiran's faux clerics. Or just make them a new way for Taldan nobility to continue their decadence and further strangle their empire.
Jinnborn are perfect fits for both Qadira and Jalmeray; as elemental-themed beings, they could work well for liaisons of the Ruby Prince's throne.
Shadow Fey fit perfectly with Nidal and basically can be a great expansion to Zon-Kuthonite druids and nature clerics and the whole darker nature aspect.
Tosculi: Southern Garund sounds fitting; other than that, they may be allied with the Red Mantis (they are in my game!) and use their enclaves as a kind of strange Zerg-like base to transport/teleport large contingents of Red Mantis killers via the living hive-city-hearts.
Trollkin: Obvious Lamashtan experiments! Wherever there are Lamashtans, these guys may prosper. Similarly, the depravity of ogres could breed them anywhere. As an alternate theme/fluff, making them the representation of the giant-blooded trope of northern mythology works well in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and similar places.
Werelions, to me, could go LOTS of places; Vudra and Qadira/Osirion being obvious choices; among the shoanti (or kellids - think white, blue-eyes snow lions...), they could also prosper. Basically any nomadic culture could easily cover them.
If you require more need, feel free to directly ask me or post here; once I get back, I'll be able to answer the question in more detail, should you require it!!
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive expansion-book for the sleazy space opera RPG Alpha Blue clocks in at 80 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 72 pages of content, so let's take a look!
All right, before we dive in: This is designated as Mature Content. It is the expansion book for a rules-light RPG that reproduces the aesthetics of scifi-porn-satires, so if you have a problem with sexuality, dick/vagina/boob-jokes and gender stereotyping for men and women, this may not be for you. While the males and females I played this with considered it hilarious, that must not necessarily hold true for you or your game. Artwork-wise, this book's artwork contains full-frontal drawn nudity and also features artworks of orgies that involve tentacle-aliens that look like gricks - the artwork is significantly more explicit than in Alpha Blue - where Alpha Blue was softcore, this one's artwork is hardcore.
And the artwork and content includes...vagina sandwhales. That says it all right there. This book is not for people who take themselves too seriously and can't take a dirty joke. If your impulse to such behavior is "unbecoming" or "puerile", this may not be for you.
All right, this out of the way, we begin with the author's signature array of extensive tables to provide dressing and random features, beginning with general scifi-aesthetics, a total of 30 unique alien features...and then things become interesting: Relative experience in space with 6 entries actually has significant influence regarding mechanics, netting you unique benefits. 8 alternative careers are also included. Finally, there would be Zedi - yep, Jedi-parody. Their abilities are usually rolled with 2d6, but when a character only very rarely uses his powers, it's 4d6, which is a nice idea. However, the respective powers are severely lacking in precision. Stopping an energy weapon in mid air is cool...but can it affect ship weapons? What range does it have? What does "Boosts a zedi's luck in games of chance." actually do? No idea. This is basically not functional and requires copious amounts of GM-fiat. And no, just because it's supposed to be rules-light, this does not get a pass for this one. Not good. Also problematic: The dark templar's death curse, while a cool idea, nets a target only a 2 in 6 chance of survival, which pretty much begs to be abused, but can at least not be spammed or the like.
A total of 30 archetypes (basically tropes sans mechanical repercussions) can help customize the character and the book contains a hilarious "And now for something completely different Monty Python"-event table. A table to determine what happens to PCs between games is neat and we also get a table for sexual vibes and a massive 5 column, 20 row weird sexual fantasies and fetish creator: You could end up with " Pineapple, pom-poms, ferns, mazes and severed toes" - yeah, not kidding about weirdness. Reactions of females to unsolicited advances, random clothing articles, hair and body, physical beauty, profession and names, 100 peculiarities of women (and 20 of men - hey, we're simple critters!) an random "O"-face-generator, a random table to determine orgasms, Stockholm Syndrome, random pawn shop items, and a hangover "What the f!$@ did I do last night?" table add a lot of weirdness to the game.
Sample Alpha Blue NPCs, Noir-ish sample characters, small talk topics, using Spaghetti Western Tropes in space (*cough* Firefly */cough*), blaster duel rules, technology glitches, planet generators, ship to ship combat (that actually runs smooth and is pretty deadly) and additional fuel sources are included.
Okay, but this also contains adventures - or rather, adventure-set-ups. Basically, the pdf walks you through the process pretty well, but do not expect read-aloud texts galore, cartography of the locations and the like - however, even more of the copious tables are included in the book's modules.
Note: The following takes a look at the module section, so potential players should jump to the conclusion to avoid SPOILERS.
All right, still here?
The first module is basically a parody of a combination of Blade Runner and a twist on the exploitation classic; hence the module is all about Ilsa of the SS - basically a Slut Series sex-replicant that has lived too long and developed sentience. By means of contracting a bio-engineered STD, the PCs are press-ganged into hunting her down, but not all is as it seems. And yes, the hunt for her will lead the PCs to a planet that contains aforementioned vagina-whale sandworms as well as washed up legend Bubba Fatt. Oh, and killer sex-bot moves.
The second module treats the PCs after the Ilsa-incident as basically loose ends and involves the PCs in a political set-up between a power-struggle in another planet's monarchy/an escort mission with a princess in disguise. Can you picture how that'll go. Yep. Similarly, winning the lottery may see a whole galaxy snuffed out. There is also the plot of amazonian slavers, a sex-enhancing drug...and then there would be the titanic colony ship, captained by Black Helmet, aka Moranis...or the space-sheikh's harem...or the escape from the penal planet destructo...and have I mentioned the outline that is an homage of the genius Life of Brian? Saving a space-cheerleader from a slaver is also a pretty nice one.
The book concludes with excellent maps - the Barstar D and no less than three ships (one with strange tentacle-studded organic components, all in full-color and spanning two maps, provided testament of cartographer Glynn Seal's talent.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-level, the book oscillates between great and some instances where it is lacking. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the b/w-artworks throughout are glorious. The pdf contains the glyph-font that you can translate to lewd sentences. The cartography is stellar and the pdf is fully bookmarked. I do not have the print version, so I can't comment on that aspect.
One of the issues I had with Alpha Blue as a base book was that it didn't go the whole way - to use an appropriate terminology, it got stuck in the heavy-petting phase. This one goes all out - so kudos for that! For the most part, this book contains an excellent array of awesomeness regarding the supplemental material for Alpha Blue, but there are some serious hiccups in here as well: The non-functional Zedi are disappointing and regarding the "modules"...I don't know. Less would have been more here. Don't get me wrong, the two long "modules" here are pretty cool, fun and evocative.
The other encounters/module-set-ups, in contrast, feel like afterthoughts and usually have this one cool idea, but don't do too much with it. It may be just me, but I really would have preferred a more precise take on the big modules, more fodder, more details, maps or the like over these sketches. Why am I using quotation marks for "modules" here? Well...apart from the longer two, the others are basically what you'd read in an adventure-synopsis. They need you to fill in all the details and while I don't mind too much, I still feel that their respective cool concepts could have been boiled down to a paragraph and replaced with more detailed material for the big ones - which are similarly a bit sketchy. This, as a whole, is pretty weird, for Venger As'Nas Satanis has shown that he can write more precise modules. On the plus-side, what is here tends to put a smile on your face and inspire, even if it does require some work on the Space DM's side.
In the end, this is a good expansion, but one that falls a bit short of what it could have been. My final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
Always glad to help! It's weird - while I'm not the biggest fan of hunting, I come from a family of hunters and hence know how it works, so the "elk spotted, runs away"-thing felt pretty normal to me.
If you want a more action-centric and less realistic take on hunting elk, I'd set the encounter distance to 2d6 x 10'.
Cheers and all the best!
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.
@Donkey Shot: The regular elks aren't the "meat" here - it's the megaloceros that actually moves towards the PCs when nearby. What you're missing regarding the normal elk is that they can only be considered to have escaped after they have had their turn. Much like in a real life hunt, the critters are fast and once they spot you, you have about 1 or 2 chances, tops, to take them down. Additionally, the default set-up has no surprise round, yes; but if a PC *does* have eagle eyes due to magic (or floating, invisible eyes to scout ahead) they suddenly have a very real chance.
So, if PCs can act before the elk, they can shoot it, obviously. Similarly, good riders can potentially make the melee distance.
Also, there is the Stealth component: The "no surprise round" pertains regular marching through the woods, so Stealth and related magic is very much an option.
Finally, the hunting strategy of the PCs can use a bit of frustration here - in my game, the PCs failed (Elk shows up 600' away, PCs see it, shoot once, it runs away.) quite a bit and then realized that they need another strategy and split into two group to hunt with pincer movements, which would put the elk between PCs groups and potentially allow for a the like. My players also started laying traps in hexes.
Anyways, pretty much all of this elk-hunting mini-game is just a backdrop set-up for the boss fight, but my players enjoyed the component. Hope that helps! :)
Hej Bardess! As someone with 3 talented barbs (one with pact magic homebrewed in, one insane MPD gladiator and a stonewarden/dwarf hyrbid tank - my players really like the engine) in one of his current games in may perhaps help...
Re the totem question:
It says explicitly that a barbarian with the edge cannot have skinwalker or any rage (or as rage counting, which includes rage) edge until he has reached 5th level. So no totems at 2nd level, as far as I'm reading it.
As far as the revelations question is concerned, I think it's supposed to be talents. Owen's reply above did address a different issue. Otherwise, the edge would unlock *A LOT* of easily accessible revelations, which would be pretty powerful and something that, balance-wise, I'd eye rather wearily unless used in a very high-powered game.
Just my 2 cents and I may be wrong, but I'm pretty confident I'm right. ;)
[Purple Duck Games] EZG reviews Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Vol. 1 - Choices, Context, and Consequence (DCC)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The first of the Dispatches from the Raven Crowking collection of blogposts, miscellanea, new material and the like for DCC clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 48 pages of content, so let's take a look!
We begin this book with an essay that discusses roleplaying games under the criteria of the eponymous three Cs, but not before making clear that, what follows, is not intended as a cure-all or as a universal truth - it's been a while since I've seen a subjectivity clause in a GM advice section and I won't lie - I consider its inclusion refreshing and professional. Anyways, the following essay can be pictured as a concise and pointed breakdown of the three Cs, so let us begin: Ultimately, more so than in our daily lives, roleplaying games are exercises in free will and choices; much like our reality and social structure imposes a certain degree of rules upon us, so does a given roleplaying system. Once you realize the importance of choice, it becomes pretty apparent why both highly codified games like PFRPG and those that feature a minimum of rules enjoy their popularity: Either by means of simply providing a huge and fine-grained array of diverse options or by requiring none of them, choice is facilitated. However, this is only the system; the practice of roleplaying similarly is informed by choices and this extends to fudging - or not fudging, dice, a theme covered in a separate essay, but one that I feel ties directly into the 3 Cs.
The pdf makes a pretty vehement stand (unsurprisingly) in favor of letting the dice fall as they may and point a single fact out: If you roll the dice and disregard the result, why roll at all? At first glance, this may generate some anger or seem infuriating, but there is an intriguing meta-point here: If the module/system/engine you utilize features a choice and you decide via the dice, what does it say about the game when the results are ignored in favor of an optimum narrative? The pdf does take a stab at the design philosophy of 3.X here and, to a certain degree, I concur: As soon as you do not emphasize challenge, but rather a fixed and relatively likely success and then proceed to streamline deviations from said behavior away, you eliminate not only your own choice, but that of the players as well. More importantly: If a module or given supplement's options feature a lot of information that is bound (and assumed) to be ignored in favor of an ideal scenario, what does that say about the design? The problem here directly taps into the consequences of actions and the impact and severity they ought to have.
At the same time, I think the argumentation does undervalue the aspect of context - herein, context is defined as the world and the game itself; i.e. the environment in which the respective rolls are made. A context depicts the framework in which choices are made and making no choice is a choice in itself - to use the tired old quote "Sometimes the only way to win is not to play." - Replace "win" with "choice" and you have the paradox, for not choosing is a choice.
Here, the pdf imho could be a bit clearer: It identifies a crucial, immersion-hampering issue with quite a few roleplaying games, but fails to draw a truly helpful conclusion from it, instead opting for an enumeration of virtues of DCC and a more hardcore gaming aesthetic. A distinct issue that more codified roleplaying games have featured time and again lies in a sense of entitlement that has crept into the respective systems: Players demanding certain results; XP after this many encounters, levels after Y more, an availability of certain options because they are "official" (never mind how sucky many of 3.X's official WotC-splatbooks were...) and at the same time discouraging 3pp material. The second paradox in this development is, ultimately, that the people demanding such design-philosophy deprive themselves of the option to be surprised in favor of a streamlined experience; similarly this idealized streamlined experience needs to be reflected in "official" modules and supplements. This necessarily implies an ideal structure and sequence and as such, the fudging of dice to not deviate from this scenario suddenly becomes significantly more appealing.
What do I mean by this? Well, I have nothing but the highest respect for Paizo's module catalogue as a whole. There is a significant array of creative and downright brutal modules out there for Pathfinder that, if you do the math, will grind PCs, even minmaxed ones, when played properly. To have the industry leader put there out is a refutation of the premise that the adventure design philosophy is solely to blame. Instead, think carefully whether and how you fudged dice to spare a player making yet another character with complex rules, not wreck your metaplot, etc. It is, at least upon closer examination, not the module's fault or the fault of a design philosophy, at least not alone - it is a mindset, a capitulation before an internalized entitlement by both players and GMs that drains away subtly the achievement of having bested some of the more lethal modules. And I know, that even though I pride myself on being a killer-GM, am tempted to fudge the dice once in a while. But the clumsy lich, the TPK, the multi-criting halfling monk...perhaps the weirdness and uncommon quirks of fate that arise by virtue of the dice, deserve to be heard, deserve not to be fudged over. Perhaps GMs, just like players, have become a bit lazy and don't want to go off the rails anymore.
And I understand - unlike the text, my personal observation pertaining the issue stems from a deep love of both OSR-gaming, PFRPG, GUMSHOE, 13th Age and a ton of games more and in some of them, character generation is significantly more work than rolling 3d6 6 times and be done with it. Fudging is not bad per se. So let me propose an experiment: Get CoC or a similar rules-light system...and play a module with the distinct, purist mindset that everyone will die or become insane or worse. Play it. Let the dice fall. If you're doing it right, your players will have fun. Then return to your regularly scheduled game and play...and when next time the context is right and you're tempted...don't ignore that die roll. It doesn't have to be the infamous deck of many things...but still. Let the BBEG die ingloriously as the rogue backstabs him with a lucky crit; let the paladin be eaten by that gelatinous cube. If anything, there is fun to be had in failure and chaos as well.
And yes, this may have deviated quite a bit from the thesis of this pdf, but I considered it important to convey, for these observations and their clarity ultimately resulted from me reading the book and finding myself both agreeing and disagreeing - and this type of thought-provoking dialog, in lack of a better term, is exactly what I expect from such a book.
Another essay herein pertains the epic endgame - and the considerations you should make when planning the like: Why has no one else attempted it? The risks involved, etc. - think of it, both from a player and villain perspective: Every Bond-villain ever? Thwarted in the endgame. Throwing the One Ring in Mt. Doom? Endgame. By thinking about the scope and implications, one can lend a better sense of the stakes and gravitas involved to the proceedings. Beyond this, there is also an expansive Appendix N-section, which talks about Edgar Rice Burroghs, Sterling E. Lanier's Hiero's Journey and the impact both can have on a given campaign.
There is more than game theory to be found herein, though: If you are looking for an intriguing environment, you will find one with Shanthopal and the background provided for the Golden City, breathing the spirit of the fantastical blended with sword & sorcery, breathing an evocative spirit that only made me wish to hear more. Kudos!
On the utility-section, DCC judges will be happy to realize that the advice articles herein are useful indeed: Both regarding 0-level funnels and the transition to 1st level and the use of patrons within the game (and the modifications/expansions the author has brought to the concept) are discussed alongside relatively extensive lists of books to consult and check out, both released by Goodman games and 3pps. Similarly and more importantly, the emphasis to end the "generic orc/haf-dragon/etc."-syndrome, how to capture the weird and fantastic and slowly generate a DCC world and aesthetic are covered in quick, precise and well-reasoned terms, showing the author's understanding of the themes of DCC.
Alternate rules-wise, spontaneous spell learning with a significant risk factor is provided, though personally, I'm not the biggest fan of that one...however, that may be due to aesthetics. To me, in particularly in DCC, magic needs deliberation and study or help; unlocking, even a risky spontaneity in that regard makes it feel cheaper to me and thus, less magical. Your mileage may vary, obviously.
The pdf also features several creatures - namely statblocks for ammonites for DCC: Swarms in three sizes and single, larger ones from Small to Huge size can be found in the book. Additionally, we are introduced to R'yalas, lord of the drowned one, a powerful ammonite wizard and thus closes the pdf with an adversary worthy of our good ole' Cimmerian friend.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly b/w one-column A5 format (6'' by 9'') and the pdf features some solid b/w-artworks. I'd suggest getting this in print, since the pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment for the use of the electronic version.
Daniel J. Bishop's first collection of dispatches is an intriguing little GM-handbook, in particular for the weird fantasy and the sword & sorcery aesthetic, both of which I really like. His writing is precise and while I cringed HARD when reading Mother Theresa listed alongside people you'd consider heroes in examples for epic endgames and their achievement, that does not take away from the fact that I took something away from this pdf.
The writing herein is certainly opinionated, but it deserves being replied to in as far as its content manages to elucidate several not necessarily apparent conventions and structures pertaining our games. As a person, I think the WotC-bashing component is not always justified and the prospective buyer should be aware that this is very much written from a DCC-perspective; the more complex tasks more rules-intense systems demand make the subject matter more complex than the book manages to depict or even acknowledge. This remains the crucial one flaw of this book's formal essays: While it extends its reach beyond the confines of DCC and provides a valid opinion piece that certainly is thought-provoking, it does exhibit a certain ignorance, whether willful or not remains irrelevant, regarding the different requirements and dynamics of systems with a higher degree of complexity and the ramifications that result from these complexities.
It should be noted that this does NOT mean that this is a bad pdf - far from it; it just means that it oversimplifies a rather complex topic when reaching beyond the primary comfort and application zone of DCC and OSR gaming. Within the chosen paradigm and primary target audience, this should resonate; beyond these confines, it can improve the game, but requires some deliberate and thoughtful consideration of the theses and their consequences.
Or you just don't care about all of that and just are a DCC judge who wants some nice essays, monsters, ideas and GMing advice for your favorite game. In that case as well as in the above instances, I'd recommend this booklet, for you'll certainly find some nice inspiration and intriguing thoughts herein. In the end, considering target audience, scope and quality, I will settle on a final verdict of 4 stars.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/foreword, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 1 page of content, so let's take a look!
So, what do we get here? In short, we get abilities you can add to specific NPCs to grant them a more unique flavor, some tricks to set them apart, if you will. Distracting Allure, for example, lets you add your Charisma modifier to Dexterity (sleight of hand) checks. As a minor nitpick, rules-language, while functional, is not 100% according to the standards. Additionally, it does imply attraction and lacks a caveat to represent other critters - RAW, it would apply to creatures not attracted to the character like sentient oozes or worse.
Also problematic: Fearful Insinuation allows the character to deliver threats without seeming threatening. If successfully intimidated, the creatures suffers disadvantage on the next attack roll or saving throw...which implies combat use...and no action to activate is given. The ability also lacks a tie to the intimidating character or the mechanics to notice the intimidation while observing it. Another ability nets a reputation so stellar, it requires a hard task, a DC 20 Charisma (persuasion) check to make any creature believe bad things about the target - which is cool...but why is the DC fixed here, when usually DCs of character abilities scale? Where's the scaling?
Making an ally ignore the frightened condition for Charisma modifier rounds is cool - but where's the activation action? Does it require one? How many allies can be affected at a given time? being a local celebrity has its perks - but what constitutes a "city" for the purpose of the ability? Similarly, I love the ability that lets a creature move with a grace that renders targets incapacitated on a failed save...I really enjoyed that in the Tangible Tavern from which it's taken...but as a general ability, it lacks a save. And in the context, it works - the ability was featured by the waitress/maître d' and makes sense in the context...but can it be used in combat? The ability as presented here does imply the like. Also: No save scaling? There are nice ones here as well, including the means to thwart persuasion. Weird: provoking Words does have a scaling saving throw, making that component of the pdf inconsistent...but hey, I'll take it. On the downside, once again, I am not sure regarding activation action - sure, a regular action can be assumed, since reactions are their own category here, but some abilities feel like they could/should be bonus actions.
Speaking of reactions: 4 are provided. They lack the "use your reaction"-wording-component. One ability lacks a "to"; getting a Charisma save versus frightened or stunned at a fixed DC ( as opposed to the original DC) feels wonky to me. There is also a short rest healing ability that lacks a range and does not interact with maximum healing based on HD or spells, making it clunky and breaking the hard cap imposed on healing.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are nice, but on a rules-level, we have some serious issues. Layout adheres to Dire Rugrat Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has neither artworks nor bookmarks, but needs none at this length.
Kelly & Ken Pawlik's second collection of advantageous abilities suffers unfortunately from the same issues as the first: These abilities are NPC-only, so don't expect balance-guidance or the like herein. The rules-language employed unfortunately also leaves something to be desired: While the fixed DCs in monster statblocks make sense for the general monster, as soon as you start applying them broadly via generic abilities, there should be differences here. The abilities are intended for mostly humanoid, civilized NPCs, which makes this somewhat odder still. In short - the pdf is less flexible than it should be.
Here's another issue: The pdf does not really distinguish between passive abilities and those that require actions to use, making how precisely the abilities work, particularly in combat scenarios, opaque. Whether you get anything out of this pdf depends highly on how you want to use its content: As window-dressing-abilities for the GM, this delivers, but I question the value of it as such; the draw of many of these did stem from the characters to which they were assigned and the social context from which they originated. In that context, they make sense. In a general pdf, divorced from their context, their rules fall apart and render this significantly less useful than I hoped it would be.
My gripes for the first pdf in the series persist here and, if anything, are exacerbated by the relatively loose framework of combat/social interaction of 5e; particularly in such contexts, it is important to know when an ability can be used and how, drawing clean and concise lines in the proverbial sand of rules-language. As written, in spite of the low price, I cannot go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down for this one.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/foreword, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 1 page of content, so let's take a look!
Dire Rugrat Publishing's 5e-conversions are a joy to behold in that they add unique abilities to the respective NPCs. A total of 14 such abilities are included herein for your convenience. Barroom Brawler lets you ignore difficult terrain generated by bars. Below the Belt nets advantage on attacks versus foes that suffer from a variety of negative conditions...and it is here things get a bit weird - you see, the ability explicitly works for incapacitated, restrained and stunned targets...and those conditions already net advantage. Beyond that, even the argument of just listing the conditions for convenience's sake is moot, since paralyzed and petrified are missing...so yeah. Wonky.
Close-quarters melee shooting is very strong, allowing for shots in melee-range sans disadvantage. Using verbal jabs to dishearten foes is nice...but oddly, the save does not scale and remains fixed at DC 13 - no proficiency bonus scaling, no Charisma mod, nothing. Yes, I know that monsters adhere to this formula...but we're talking about general plug-and-play NPC-abilities here! Same DCs for vampire queens and hunchbacks? Weird... Rerolling 1s with fire damage is a cool idea and delivering spells through nearby familiars should help in particular with some conversion issues GMs may encounter....but why doesn't that work for eldritch invocations as well? They are technically not spells and thus RAW can't be delivered, when they probably should offer synergy. Motivating minions, the drawback of a peg-leg...nice.
Not so nice: The poisoner ability, which nets an infinite amount of weak poison the character can add to weapons. Weak, yes...but still. Infinite. Speedy reload as bonus action and chandelier swinging are cool. The pdf also features two reactions, both particularly suitable for BBEGs - swapping places with minions to let them take the hit and a reflexive teleport both make sense. The pdf offers nice designer's commentary on a couple of these abilities.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no formal glitches that would gall me. Rules language is a different matter. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no artwork or bookmarks, but needs none at this length.
Kelly & Ken Pawlik's collection of advantageous abilities for 5e-NPCs is interesting in concept, if flawed in execution. While I would have loved some notes on use for players, it is pretty evident from the get-go that the majority of these should not get into player-hands: They work well as special abilities and guidelines, but aren't that carefully balanced. Generally, this is a pity, considering the fact that drawbacks and boons would allow for an easy point-based customization: Nasty drawback? -1 (-2 for a class that will encounter it often, +0 for a class that isn't really hampered by it). Solid boon? +1. The framework isn't hard to set up and would add a whole different dimension to the pdf.
Challenge-adjustments for using these cannot be found, should you be looking for that. The abilities generally make sense and add color and flavor to the NPCs, but some of them are lacking in precision and could use some clearer boundaries/definitions. This isn't that important when used only to supplement a given NPC, but as soon as you make the abilities the main meat of the offering, you'll be looking at an issue. Basically, by divorcing the abilities from their context, NPCs and situations you need to offer significantly more precision than this pdf offers. The oversight of not properly distinguishing between passive abilities and those requiring an action is a huge issue that pretty much sinks this pdf for me - we need to know whether and how these abilities work in combat, get concise refresh-info and potentially ranges, if applicable.
Similarly, if you're looking for abilities specifically designed for orcs, goblins, gnolls - the races one most commonly associates with "humanoids", you won't find those in here. The pdf technically is correct, since the abilities apply to characters, but the emphasis here is humanoid, not the implicitly implied savage humanoid most of us associate with the term in a roleplaying context. That being said, this particular gripe will not influence the final verdict, but is still something to be aware of.
So yeah, while I do like some of the options and still consider them extremely flavorful and while the pdf is inexpensive indeed, the brevity does also make the flaws weigh harder upon this than usual. The lack of context for these greatly diminishes their value and makes their issues pertaining opacity, somewhat alleviated by context, stand out like a green hat with an orange bill. While the passive abilities work well, the NPC flavor-tricks were not translated well into the hard, cold world of crunchy abilities in this pdf. I can't go higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.