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This installment of the chronicle of the gatekeepers campaign serial clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 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, only GMs around? One of the most unique races of NeoExodus would be the Cavians - rat-like humanoids that are all psychics...and that differ radically from any other race by one crucial fact: The race sports a hivemind, which renders them unique and alien in an uncanny way. Large-Biter has news - a group of cavian monks is nearby and may prove vital intelligence on the Vespan's work and the flare of activity of the Nexus gateways. It should soon dawn upon the PCs that there are some racial tensions here - indeed, even before they venture forth towards the Cavians, they'll be confronted by villagers warning them in no undue terms - tensions are flaring and, indeed, this module is about the two disparate groups.
The module tracks every little interaction between both groups, so here's the deal: Teryth's natives are pretty hostile towards the Cavians and thus, each interaction, each wrong word, may provide a mob point; the interaction with the Cavians may yield Diplomacy points alongside information and the PCs better take heed - upon their return to Teryth from the trip to the Cavians, the local populace seems awfully interested in the details of the Cavian's strength, numbers, etc. - and yes, here the PCs better ought to remain unspecific. Now the cool thing here is the following: The points ultimately determine how the final showdown between the two groups turns out - and there are a lot of different, fine-grained results here, with the non-bloodshed ideal case being pretty hard to achieve...but not impossible.
The module also sports one cavian magic item, just fyi.
Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to LPJ Design's elegant 2-column full-color standard for the series and the module comes fully bookmarked and in a second, slightly more printer and mobile phone-friendly version.
Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr. provide one extremely elegant sidetrek here: Focusing on Diplomacy, this humble little module offers a welcome change of pace from the usual adventuring fare, with interesting supplemental rules that render running this one pretty easy. Additionally, this module rewards Diplomacy and bring heroic (i.e. not kill-happy) - it's ideal solution is that no one gets hurt. More importantly, while there are ample skill-checks here, many of the actions and actual points the PCs get depend on roleplaying as opposed to simply rolling a die - a fact that further improves this already cool set-up. I am seriously impressed by this cool, little sidetrek - it is different in all the right ways, fun and a great chance for actual roleplaying to shine. Barring any proper complaints, I can wholeheartedly endorse this fun, uncommon sidetrek, since it exemplifies what you can accomplish with even limited space. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module for 13th Age clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page blank inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This was moved ahead in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, honest review.
We begin this module with a briefing and a selection of the icon patron for the PCs - and, let me state this from the beginning, this section is very detailed: Each of the patron icons and also, each of the antagonist icons you can choose to frame the narrative in, changes the subject matter in subtle ways - though arguably, I'd suggest involving the Dwarf King in some way - you'll note why when reading the module.
And this is the extent to which I can get regarding the module without delving into the SPOILERS. From here on out, only GMs should read on - seriously, even when playing another system, you may want to move on to the conclusion.
All right, so it should come as no surprise that in a highly magical setting like the Dragon Empire, there sooner or later emerges a genius. In the case of the 13th Age, this Leonardo DaVinci-style super-genius would be Inigo Sharpe. However, the brilliant man takes "problematic" to whole new levels. What do I mean by this? well, the man has made a living out of solving (partially) the issues of an Icon and then getting the hell away, leaving shambles and large bills. Yes, he is not a nice guy and while the concepts his inventions would have had for the respective icons are massive, none work as intended/are completed - instead, this brilliant man elected not to put even more power in the icon's hands.
This does not, however, change the fact that, at some point, Inigo had to jump ship time and again - and then, he vanished. At the behest of their patron icon, the PCs have to track down Sharpe..with the only good trail leading to Silver Cove and a burned former partner of Sharpe left to clean up one of his messes. Indeed, the mage Frigin's dome soon comes under siege by some hoodlums, showing the PCs that they are not the only ones on the hunt for Sharpe. The annoyed and frightened mage does have a means of tracking down Sharpe, though - a concealed, magical boat that always returns back to its port of origin, to be activated via a peculiar song.
Thus, the PCs board the vessel, sing...and on it goes. The magical boat brings them right into the ocean, to be more precise, to the eponymous strangling sea. This would be a tightly-interwoven mat of Sargasso, fungi, wrecks and worse, all clumped together to form a floating, unstable place. Navigating the strangling sea's less than reliable: One false step can see you crash through the ground and into the sea that's teeming with lethal predators...and then there would be the inhabitants: The strangling sea features a tribe of degenerate, xenophobic goblins on the verge of becoming something wholly different and these beings, with their psionics-inducing parasites are just one issue. The other factions contain a group of shipwrecked people and a huge metal box, which is an experimental dwarven ship of metal. Oh, and there are, obviously, deadly parasites and flesh-eating fungi to be found here as well in one of the most unique iterations of this trope I've seen in ages.
Finding Inigo here is hard - particularly, since neither the paranoid, hostile dwarves, nor the other factions prove to be friendly: The PC's arrival changes the strangling sea's power-dichotomy, with their boat being a grand prize to be wrestled from the PCs...and the desperation and paranoia of the locals makes sense. Why? Because the strangling sea houses a malevolent, chthonic intellect that drives its inhabitants into desperation, paranoia and even suicide. Yes, darker than you thought, hmm? The brilliant rules-representation of the Strangling Sea, though, is what makes it shine even more: Basically, the Strangling Sea gets a kind of evil relationship die that can further influence PCs in ways most unpleasant. I expected the neat rules for swimming under the sea - I did not expect this awesomeness.
Better yet, the fully mapped sea (player-friendly, just fyi) retains the modularity promised by the set-up: You see, Inigo can be freely placed...and there's a reason for this. The PCs won't simply find the eccentric inventor - unless they are smart: You see, Inigo's "death" was not just perfectly faked...he kind of died. However, he downloaded his personality and mind into a steampunky replacement body...of which only the head remains. So yeah, the goal here is to escape the strangling sea alive, sanity mostly intact, with a severed and still very conscious (and talkative...and extremely abrasive) head of a century's genius... whether their ship is stolen or not, whether they reactivate the massive dwarven ship or not - one way or another, the PCs can hopefully return - to a final encounter that amounts to rugby/American football with Inigo's head. And yes, this encounter, like each and every one in this book, has several cool, unique factors that make it more unique.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, i noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's printer-friendly, elegant 2-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are copious and nice and the strangling sea's map is neat. The electronic version is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover version comes on glossy, thick high-quality paper.
All right, let's cut this short: GET THIS! This is the 13th Age introduction-module you always wanted: Beyond the absolutely awesome location, the icon-related customization options and the story, this awesome sandbox offers unique, cool encounters galore. Even if you're not playing 13th Age, the creative and well-written module practically demands to be converted into other systems: Robin D. Laws has executed a firework of high-concept awesomeness in these pages that render this a joy to read and the playing experience actually surpasses this still.
The unique use of 13th Age's rules and the diverse selection of foes and scenarios render this sandbox one thing: Superb. If I had one complaint, it would be that I would have loved the module to be longer, for there to be even more madness and time in the Strangling Sea...so yeah. I literally couldn't get enough of this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and a must-own recommendation for any fan of 13th Age.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
This free supplement clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, so let's take a look!
We begin this pdf with a one-page introduction of the origin of the class. The baleful sorceror gets d6, may not wear armor and are proficient with daggers, short swords, sickles and scimitars. They may also use poison as a thief of the same level and may rebuke, command or destroy undead as a cleric of the same level. This sorceror learns one spell of a higher level every level, though more power can be gained via trafficking with dreaded Tsathag'Kha, putting that control in the GM's hands. The sorceror may also try to cast more potent magic than he can, requiring a save. If he fails, he takes the Constitution-drain of the magic himself and is whisked away by Tsathag'kha's servants to be looted and/or forced to sign a pact in blood.
This power obviously needs some balancing: Baleful Sorcerors of Tsathag'kha can never acquire a familiar, multi-class or be lawful/good. Upon death, his soul is forfeit and there is a 7% chance that the sorceror rises as a lich after dying. These guys do not require spellbooks. Aforementioned Constitution-drain either is equal to the spell-level or as noted in the spell's description, but these may be relegated to willing and unwilling targets, provided blood was drawn by the sorceror, and no more than 1 hour prior to the casting. Constitution recharges at 2 points per hour of uninterrupted rest, but characters below Con 3 must save to avoid systemic shock and subsequent death from the recovery.
The spell-list runs the gamut from magic detection (rolling a bunch of spells into one) to infernal conducts, blackish-purple tentacles, green, ichorous infernos and insta-kill at level 9. I wished the spells had more detailed casting/duration-infos, but ultimately can live with what's here.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf has a damn cool b/w-artwork in addition to the full color cover.
Venger As'Nas Satanis provides a solid, nice character kit here; by virtue of the rules being designed to work with several iterations of OSR-rules, the crunchy parts are a bit less precise than what I personally enjoy, but ultimately, the class works with a minimum wok required - and that is pretty impressive. Oh, and it is FREE. FREE is hard to beat indeed and hence, I will award full 5 stars + seal of approval in spite of this minor nitpick for this pdf - well worth the download!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
[Legendary Games] A new direction for Mythic Monsters! What myths do you want to see made monstrous?
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the book sports numerous, gorgeous b/w-artworks of the highest caliber. The book's print edition is a nice softcover with glossy covers and high-quality paper. The pdf-version is something I would recommend only to a lesser extent: The lack of bookmarks the electronic version sports constitutes a significant comfort detriment, particularly considering the more spread-out presentation of the rules.
Robin D. Laws' Fear Itself is, and let me state that loud and clear, an EXCELLENT game. At the same time, the GUMSHOE system as depicted herein also represents the most disjointed of the presentations when compared to the other books I've covered and minor rules-ambiguities can be found here and there. While this does not cripple the book, it does detract a bit from its user-friendliness for novices to the system - which is a pity. Why? Because the Fear Itself, as a system, lends itself, like the horror movies it emulates, works best for brief campaigns and one-shots: The lethality of this iteration of GUMSHOE and the scope of the system is geared towards this...or towards prologue/first chapter-style gameplay.
The perfect way to use this book, at least in my opinion, is to lead into a longer campaign: The hapless PCs witness the horrible things about to happen and there we go: After several encounters, they are recruited into the OV, properly trained and now use Esoterrorist-rules, supplemented by some from this book. (And yes, in this instance, I'd slowly unlock the more action-packed spy-rules from Night's Black Agents as the PCs become more and more professional threats to the creatures of the Outer Dark and the vampiric conspiracy...)
Beyond even this use, one can also look at Fear Itself as the ultra-gritty version of GUMSHOE: Want to play a truly low-powered Esoterrorists-game or a Dustier-than-dust-mode Night's Black Agents-game? Scavenge the fleeing rules and the power-level. Even beyond such a model, the psychic powers may be a great addition to your game and the sources of stability/risk factor-mechanics offer A LOT of inspiring material that works just as well in more pulpy contexts. So while the presentation of the rules may not be as refined, the actual rules themselves are inspired in all the right ways.
The 2 monsters, the implied and extremely compelling Esoterrorists-world and the SUPERB scenario included herein also constitute excellent reasons to get this book. Fear Itself is a thoroughly compelling, excellent book, though one that is slightly more flawed than its brethren. Still, I wouldn't ever want to miss this book and its contents among my library and can whole-heartedly recommend it. While incapable of being able to rate this the full 5 stars due to the slightly confused presentation and the electronic version's lack of bookmarks, I can still rate this 4.5 stars + seal of approval, rounded up...However, only for the print version. The electronic version's lack of bookmarks exacerbates the aforementioned issues and should be considered only 4 stars and loses the seal of approval.
This installment of the Knowledge Check-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So, this is something different. As you all may know, I'm a bit obsessed with languages and sociolects - I've been pretty vocal in my love of the inclusion of slang in Fat Goblin Games' PWYW Carnival of Sinners. This inexpensive book provides essentially a number of words you can use to make your underworld feel more unique. While some of the words are pretty obvious ("bene" meaning "good", for example), there are quite a few intriguing slang words herein: A "Holy Lamb" is, for example, a thoroughly despicable villain; "Jibber the Kibber" is the practice of using a horse and a lantern to make ships run aground. Oh, and "lacing" something means to beat someone.
While some words herein are simply that, others inspire regarding the practice to which they refer: "leggers" e.g. sell low-quality goods, purportedly smuggled goods, and thus avoid repercussions for the bad quality of their merchandise. Knowing about "Hangman's Wages" may also prove useful within the consistency of your game-world.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is sparse, but fitting.
Richard D. Bennett provides a damn cool little dictionary here - the practices and words herein can inspire and certainly help you make your depictions of the seedy underbelly of your campaign more exciting. What's here, is certainly awesome, particularly for the low price point. At the same time, I really wished this was longer and that it had some invented, new fluff to account for the different reality of most fantasy settings - words for halflings, goblins, magic and sorcerous pursuits would have been much appreciated, at least by me. What we do get here is a nice glimpse at real world thieves' cant for a low price and as such, this is a nice book - my final verdict hence will clock in at 4 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
@Neil: I downloaded the map folio as per the link I was sent before I checked the module and revised the review - hence the shout out to the map-folio in the first place. The map-folio's maps, at least in the version of the pdf I got, do show noticeable pixels. This is complaining at a high level, but if something went wrong, you'll at least now know about it! TWU is scheduled for playtest, btw., but the Player's Guide will be reviewed before that one. :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This book clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!
All right, so let's get this right out of the way - this one will be brief - why? Because this is a player's guide and it's the school of book that is all about the fluff: We thus begin this player's guide with the PCs entering the city of Endhome - a massive settlement and one of the key locations of the massive "Lost City of Barakus"-mega-adventure. As befitting of people arriving at such a place, the PCs hire a guide, Corlius, who then proceeds to show the PCs the sights and introduce them to the dynamics of Endhome, relevant places and the like: After an extensive and well-written tour through the massive city (including a nice, schematic map of the place), the PCs will find themselves in the King's Road Inn, the place most likely to cater to the adventurer's profession.
As such, here, the PCs will not only be introduced to some crucial NPCs, they also will hear quite an array of rumors that may result in them going forth, checking them out - within the frame narrative of these conversations, the PCs get to know about several of the dangerous and intriguing areas beyond the confines of Endhome's walls - without spoiling the achievement of discovery when the PCs finally explore Barakus - kudos for going this route!
That's not all, though: Players will certainly appreciate the run-down of the places that offer shopping opportunities, a list of notable key persons and even a page of common knowledge and obvious rumors.
Editing and formatting are very good, though one header has a formatting glitch with a relic <n> and a header that is regularly sized. Apart from that, no complaints. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard with nice b/w-artworks and hand-drawn, sketchy schematic maps that spoil nothing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though I'd advise in favor of getting this book in paper (the print-version being glossy with high-quality paper) - perhaps one for each player.
Why? Because Vicky Potter's player's guide is not only a good read: This is perhaps one of the most useful player's guides I've read in a while. You see, I played Barakus back in its 3.X-iteration and while I loved this gigantic sandbox, it took a lot of time to set-up: You've probably experienced this yourself: Until the players and PCs have a grip on a wide open sandbox, you'll be doing A LOT of exposition, when everyone at the table would rather be adventuring. This is where this player's guide comes in: Simply hand it to your players, have them read it and there you go - all exposition right out of the way, and in medias res, you can start the discussion of what they want to check out first. This book makes getting to the meat of the module so much easier - sans SPOILING any crucial details. Oh, and it's also a compelling, fun read AND a good reference book for players forgetting the names of important NPC XYZ. This is pretty much a glorious Player's Guide that does its job exceedingly well. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, the submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here. Cheers!
This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!
What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.
So, this time around, we're looking at the Aldori Swordlord - in case you're not familiar with the issue: "Aldori" is closed IP, which means that dueling sword etc. obviously refers to the respective sword. The swordlord as presented here gets full BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, 2+Int skills, proficiency with all weapons (+ the exotic dueling sword) and light armor and weapon finesse at first level. Second level nets Dazzling Display, 3rd Dueling Mastery. 2nd level provides bravery (which means synergy with Bravery-feats - yeah!) with 5-level scaling. Deft Strike is also part of the deal from 1st level onwards and third level nets Steel Net, which is reimagined as a scaling dodge bonus.
4th level provides some bonuses for performance combat and better Dazzling Display-synergy, while 5th level nets better dueling sword specialization that increases every 4 levels thereafter, extending this to maneuvers and the defense against them. Disarming Strike is relegated to 6th level. The original PrC's Steel Net's ability to decrease the penalty for defensive fighting gets fixed - it now also applies to Combat Expertise - kudos here!
9th level provides a cool ability that adds demoralize injuries to crits and maneuvers and even suppress the target's morale bonuses - awesome new ability! Even cooler that, at really high levels, they may negate even more bonuses! Using immediate actions to grant himself 25% chance to negate crits would be unlocked at 10th level (upgrade at 16th level)
Level 11 lets them maintain Dex while using Acrobatics/Climbing alongside from decreased AoO-provoking when standing up from any creatures hit while prone. The class also gets an ability that represents adjusting tactics to an individual foe and counterattack is gained at 15th level.
The highest levels provide DRs and auto-confirms of crits, the latter, obviously, as the capstone.
As always, we get favored class options for the core races and a sample NPC at level 1, 5, 10 and 15 - but we also get advice on making alternate sword lords! Nice!
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.
Carl Cramér has done it here - as you all may know, I'm a huge fan of Dreadfox Games' Swordmaster class as a dex-based martial. However, the class is complex and not suited for everyone. Here, Carl Cramér has taken a mediocre PrC with some neat ideas, balanced it tighter and woven a thread of crunchy gold through it - from level one, this one is unique and its inspired tricks continue to evolve throughout the whole class. Balanced and fun, this is the beginner-friendly-duelist class that effortlessly mops the floor with its component PrC -this is inspired and awesome and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, a perfect example of the potential of this series.
Part II of my review:
Editing and formatting are nowhere near to the standard I expect from Rogue Genius Games - or any 3pp, for that matter. Formally, the text is okay, but a serious lack of grasp of rules-language essentially destroys this whole book for me. There are simply too many deviations, hiccups and issues. Layout adheres to a solid 2-column standard with pretty broad borders that sport a pale version of an artwork, needlessly draining your ink/toner if you print it out. The pdf sports numerous nice full-color artworks - that's a plus! It's also excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The hyperlinks are the sloppy kind, with each mention of e.g. iron will, whether it refers to the feat or not, referring to the feat.
I HATE writing reviews like this. Apologies to Ken Shannon, Doug Herring, Andrew Troman and Hal Greenberg. I'm honestly sorry. I tried liking this book. Fall of Man could have been good and the remnants of what Gothos was can still be seen here and there. I hear the setting was pretty nice. Alas, there's not much left. The variant rules used would have required fixes and a solid foundation - the pdf does not offer them. Name the glitch, it's in here. Name the issue, it'll crop up. Rules-wise, this is pretty broken.
Worse, it's also thematically broken - or at least, advertised falsely. If I had to sum this up in one sentence, it would be: "Amethyst Renaissance, but not as smart, concise, well-presented, compelling or diverse." And yes, I am aware that Amethyst's PFRPG-conversion very much is influenced by its 4th edition version - I still consider it to be vastly superior. Fall of Man tries to be post-apocalyptic, but alas, in that component, Sneak Attack Press' Broken Earth mops the floor so hard with it, it's not even funny anymore. It is billed as "Gothic Horror" and I have NO IDEA WHY. This has NOTHING. NOTHING. NOTHING AT ALL to do with gothic horror. Psychology? Monsters representing repressed desires? Labyrinthine buildings as metaphors for the psyche? Nope. The only analogue I could find was Castle of Otranto plus Satan's Maul - and that one is VERY thin and stretched.
The grand issue of this book lies in the fatal flaws in the rules-language, coupled with a highly schizoid thematic identity-crisis that makes the theme of the book feel like it's all over the place: As a rule-book, this fails. As a campaign setting, it fails even worse, since this book left me with next to nothing regarding the world after the fall - unlike Amethyst Renaissance, where a vast array of details and complex issues were negotiated, this, at the best of times, glances over them. Where Thunderscape provides great magitech rules, Broken Earth provides all those cool post-apocalyptic rules and this one...just fails in all components. Add to that remnants of 3.X design-philosophy and we get a wreck of a campaign setting, a book, which, much like the setting it champions, feels like it was birthed from two books, smashed together, with neither of the original books intact - both lack crucial information and refinement. I read this book 3 times, combing through it, looking for nice things to say - this review is the result. After finishing it, I let it simmer for 2 more weeks. I reread it. No change.
I cannot recommend this book to anyone - not even for scavenging purposes. There's not even enough fluff to make this a good purchase for those only interested in reading fluff/about the world. In the *VERY BEGINNING* of the system's iteration, this may have been 2 stars - by now there are so many infinitely better takes on ALL concepts herein, it's just sad. This book has the dubious honor of being the very worst campaign setting I've reviewed so far...and the dubious honor of being the worst post-apocalyptic crunch-book I've reviewed so far.
My final verdict will clock in at 1 star. Get Broken Earth, Anachronistic Adventurers, Thunderscape, Pure Steam and combine rules there with e.g. Vathak, Obsidian Apocalypse, anything, really - the result will, even in the hands of a novice GM without any decent grasp of finer rules-interactions, be probably more refined than this book's contents - and has the benefits of utilizing an actually concise setting.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here and d20pfsrd.com's shop.