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This Pay-what-you-want-optimization guide clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so what exactly do we get here?
Firts of all - this is exactly what it says on the tin - an optimization guide. In case you're not familiar with these, usually, a color code of Red, Green, Blue and Purple is applied to skills, feats, spells etc.pp. to denote at a glance the feasibility of options available.
That being said, personally, I'm not too big a fan of optimization to the oomphteenth degree, mainly because some of my players *are* into it - adhering strictly to these can get in the way of making a character rounded, if you adhere too strictly to a guide. Those little touches like your PC being a baker's boy - they don't contribute to the combat capabilities and thus are often left by the wayside. Rogue Genius Games proposed bonus skills per level for exactly such "non-relevant" skills and introducing this house-rule into my game helped quite a bit.
That out of the way, the more pressing question on your mind will probably be "Why play a commoner?" And the pdf delivers answers - in brevity, here are *my* answers, for I have actually already pulled off this stunt. 1) The challenge. My players are extremely capable and taking away all those class features makes for a very challenging game-play less based on system mastery and more on guerrilla warfare and player smarts. 2) Get a perspective. I do like my main campaign (the non playtesting one) gritty and beyond 15-point-buy, players are wont to forget *why* those commoners keep on buggering them to kill threat xyz - even 15-point-buy heroes are exactly that - HEROES. This means they have so much more capabilities to deal with threats than average joe. Playing a commoner can make that apparent and drive home the reason why those guys don't deal with threats themselves. 3) Go for a tactics-high game. Every item, every purchase in a commoner game is relevant - each little bonus precious. 4) A change of pace. The PCs have been captured and those guys they saved time and again may now be their only hope - as an alternative to a TPK, the "PCs are captured"-scenario that has the players save their characters via commoners is better because the adversary not necessarily has underestimated the PCs, but failed to take those nameless, faceless losers into account - and that, ladies and gentlemen, is rather easy to justify and believe...
So these are my basic suggestions, so what does the pdf offer - well, essentially an optimization break down of attributes, core races, skills - one by one, with feasible and well-thought suggestions. It should also be noted that general combat styles (as in not-style-feats) receive their break-downs - suddenly those light crossbows and halfling slingstaffs don't look so bad anymore, don't they? Fascinating, what a few lacking attributes, feats and proficiencies can do...
It should be noted that even non-recommended styles d receive concise break-downs of options to make them work. Traits mainly are glanced over, with highlights pointed out.. Beyond these options, advice on granting at least a bit of starting gold, weapon-selection and magical/mundane items rounds out this pdf.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Misfit Studios' two-column full-color standard with artworks ranging from b/w to full-color and being stock as far as I could tell. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
This is intended as a teaser and first introduction to the matter at hand for author J. M. Perkin's "The Adequate Commoner" kickstarter to making commoners not suck...so much. As an optimization Guide, it does a decent job and is actually a good read, though you should be aware that it does not go through all options available at the level of detail found in some guides online - it can be considered a basic optimization guide that is well-written and actually fun to read. It offers smart advice for truly low-power-level gaming and as such can be considered a well-crafted book. This being a "Pay what you want"-file, it can be obtained for free, though I do suggest some sort of donation. But how much? Basically, this guide is good at what it is intended to do - it's a teaser, a help, an introduction and does that job well. If you have expected a full-blown, ultra-detailed 100+page guide of covered options, well, then this pdf does not deliver - surprise.
What it's intended to do, it does well and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 pages, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
This one's very close to funding and what I've seen so far is rather cool - and most of all: unique. As in "Can't mention another setting that is like this unique. While still being plug and play. I'd love to see this book happen and the dead tree-buy-in is very low...so consider this a bump and an endorsement! I'm hoping very much this funds!
Part II of my review begins with SPOILERS. Players should jump ahead one paragraph to the conclusion.
All right, still here? After a short gazetteer of the fully mapped Grassy Spur (which includes a half-pneumatic cat with a nasty temper -who receives a great artwork, that is unfortunately slightly blurry), the PCs are contacted by Mayor Wyatt to foil an anarchist's plan and after a short investigation and a stand-off at the cathedral, the PCs will have to flex their investigative muscles to prevent the bombing if a railroad bridge and a steam wagon finishing the job. Worse, the anarchists have a second team inside the train, so the PCs will have to navigate the train and defeat the remaining bombers on the train, as it hurtles slowly, but steadily towards oblivion.... As a nice mechanical innovation, there are so-called exploits provided - these represent temporary buffs for achievements that are just cool or bonus XP - neat!
Editing and formatting is surprisingly good - especially for a book of this size, by a new company, the relative lack of rules-ambiguities, punctuation errors etc. is astounding - the editors did a good job. Layout (by Jameson McMaster)adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous, two-column standard with full color-borders, but not background. The tome features a vast array of different artworks in b/w - Mates Laurentiu, Alejandro Lee and Chris DeHart have all managed to adhere to one uniform style that provides a unique and cohesive look for the book. It should be noted that almost all NPCs, archetypes, vehicles, etc. and beyond receive their own artworks, all original. That's impressive indeed and rest assured that only one of the artworks (in the module) is a bit blurry - all other artworks are crisp indeed. Speaking of which, cartography goddess Alyssa Faden (& Robert Altbauer)'s maps are awesome as well and fit in perfectly with the tone set by layout and artworks, though I wished there was a key-less version of the adventure's map. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover is a solid book crammed full of content to the brim - the spine feels a tad bit small for the book, but binding is solid and the paper is thick and high-quality - nothing to complain there.
When I backed this book as a KS back in the day, I never expected to see the book. A new publisher, sans new work, asking for a significant sum? Pff. Yeah right. And then, suddenly, this hit shelves. I postponed reading it, admittedly, mainly because crunch-intense books are a huge workload at this length and because I didn't think the inexperienced ICOSA Entertainment company had much to offer. I am glad to have been proven wrong.
Adam Crockett, Brennan Ashby, Davin Perry and L. James Wright have crafted an array of options I consider truly impressive - the Chaplain in particular hitting my soft spots VERY hard - I'd love to see expansions of that one. The Gearhead's contraptions and class design also proved to be much more watertight than I anticipated and the system introduced there is fun indeed. The setting itself is compelling, intriguing, and offers inspiration and fodder galore as well. That being said, once one takes to analyzing the content, here and there some rough edges show up, some of which I highlighted in the review. While these are in the minority and their scarcity being impressive at a book of this length, they still are there. Aloe, though, they would have not been enough to be considered a true detriment, which should be considered a testament to how utterly professional this tome is crafted in all regards. That being said, personally, I think the interaction magic/technology and the conversion of magical into technological items could have used more room, more peculiarities to grow - the touched upon "batteries" of these items, codified in rules or a direct opposition à la Amethyst Renaissance would have been cool to see - as written, that chapter proved to be a relatively conservative reskin.
The crucial, one issue of Pure Steam is a different one - the book does not really know whether it wants to be a core-book or a campaign setting. Much like Alluria Publishing's Cerulean Seas, the setting-information feels more like a tack-on than it should, especially since here, the focus on the setting is much more pronounced. It is my firm conviction, that separating this into two books, one for all the crunch (and more than 3 paltry chaplain organizations, more than 3 gearhead specialties) and one containing a full-blown, detailed campaign setting, would have benefitted both components of the book - on their own, the respective parts are awesome, but both leave you feeling that you only have an incomplete picture of what is going on, of not getting the whole. It should be at once deemed a testament to the virtues of this book that both crunch and setting left me wanting more, and as the crux of it trying a bit too hard to be both massive core tome and setting-supplement, landing somewhat between the chairs.
It is more this, than the relatively scarce glitches, that keep Pure Steam from receiving my highest honors - this book is currently THE definite steampunk resource for pathfinder, with production values of the higher echelons and great ideas galore. It should also be considered a first step into the captivating world woven, one that hopefully will see supplemental material in the years to come. My final verdict will clock in at a heartfelt 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 and a must-buy recommendation for all fans of steampunk.
Reviewed first on Endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
On a personal note - this is review no. 1700 here on Paizo, so thanks to all designers and all the people who actually read what I have to say. I do this for you people. *bows*
Why are mythic creatures great for DMs in non-mythic campaigns? Because they're any easy way to make challenging bosses for players bored by default difficulty (like mine - they consider most parts of Rappan Athuk none too hard...); Because they allow you to create easy distinctions between a regular being of a species and a mook - and because they allow you to set up bosses with elaborate back stories, whose legends the PCs can unearth to stand a fighting chance.
I'm honestly surprised not more modules have been using them - so far, only 4 Dollar Dungeon's superb Journey to Cathreay is the only one I could mention from the top of my head....
(And if anyone want my advice for Mythic bosses in non-mythic campaigns, feel free to drop me a line via my site.)
This installment of the Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So what is the Verse Arcanum? In one sentence, I'd describe it as "ye old fantasy setting" - elves, dwarves, magic galore, curses, prophecies and adventurers - fey and miles-long wyrms (true dragons in the most lethal, city-leveling sense...) and just about all other things and creatures you know from these settings can be found in this UNIVERSE (not just world!). Rainbow bridges? Check. Nasty Umbra-worshipping subterranean dwarves that specialize in unmaking magic? Check. Dual-natured elves that are at once light and dark elves? Yup.
Now of course, in the context of Lords of Gossamer and Shadows, the Verse Arcanum works differently - each Lord (or Lady) may erect one tower and said tower acts as his/her domain - no total control to be gained here. The influence of the tower and the respective ruler is felt via the demesne, or domain of said tower, in which the respective ruler controls the land. Now logically, this is not something most locals are keen on - and adventurers questing to take down the wizard's tower, annoyingly self-righteous paladins...here's the chance to hurl all those characters back at the players...
Beyond world trees containing whole worlds and civilizations, wizard academies and the like, the Verse Arcanum offers potential galore for a more meta approach to fantasy gaming.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's full-color two-column standard for LoGaS-supplements and the pdf comes with glorious, thematically fitting original pieces of artwork. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked, which is nice to see, even at such a short length!
Matt Banach's Verse Arcanum is at once very conservative and one might argue, not as unique as some of his other creations. On the other hand, it could be seen as creative by its trope-inversion, by its essentially post-fantasy-gaming perspective on traditional fantasy tropes and as such, has quite some merit. Now one thing that personally didn't wholyl gel with me would be the focus of this Gossamer World - it's a universe, I get it. But why not devote a larger source book to it? The wyrms, for example, being the awesome beasts that they are, could have used some stats in the context of LoGaS and the dualistic nature of elves, dwarves etc. almost begs for an array of unique cantrips, spells etc. to learn. The tower defense angle is also rather awesome, but more concise effects on the demesne et al would have been awesome.
Don't get me wrong, this is a great book, but it also is essentially a teaser-level pdf that can only go into so much detail for an idea that is slightly too much for the constraints of the pdf. Unlike other Gossamer Worlds, this is more about the twists on fantasy in the context of LoGaS, not about playing grounds, and it just doesn't follow up on the ideas with proper effects.
Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 due to the low price point and awesome production values.