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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This first installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now, one of the aspects in my home-game that came from my deep love for the Sword & Sorcery-genre, it would be unique ability-score arrays and racial traits for different ethnicities - thus, I am pretty happy to see this pdf add mechanical relevance to a culture. The culture depicted herein would be the Brynnyn, who have carved a civilization from the valleys of the central continent. A hardy folk, their rules-modification provides a bonus of +1 to Fortitude saves. Personally, I would have preferred that to be typed as racial, but oh well. We do receive information on nomenclature and appearance of these folk, though both could have been a bit more pronounced in depth, as far as I'm concerned.
The Brynnyn's society is patriarchal, with the Cythean culture and local barbarians mingling to give rise to this ethnicity. As such, familial feuds and grudges carry weight, but similarly, theater is cherished here, though not nearly as much as in the Cythean culture, whose heroes Gran and Brynn ultimately make up a significant aspect of the Brynnyn's lore and identity-constituting myths. With wood being a central pillar of the economy, the culture does tend to embellish woodwork is aesthetically pleasing ways. Said trade has allowed the signature scale mail and preferred weapon, the rhomphala, to gain traction - these folks had to withstand the Dragon Kings, after all. Speaking of said weapon: 2d4, x3 polearm that can inflict either slashing or piercing damage and has its relative power with brace and reach counterbalanced by also being fragile. As a complaint - the weapon does not specify its type: Simple, martial or exotic, though martial seems to be the most likely candidate.
The pdf does feature a total of 10 traits, which are properly codified by trait subtypes. These include bonus damage with the aforementioned weapon (including proficiency) or dodge bonuses versus giants. +1 to Diplomacy (+2 vs. non-humans) and more language make sense, considering the fact that trade with non-humans allowed them to retain their independence. Beginning play with a brynndell steed alongside minor benefits to a skill chosen from a list and better resilience towards diseases and poisons or 1/day fatigue/exhaustion-ignoring make for an overall nice array of options here. It should be noted, however, that the traits do not employ the trait bonus type, which they should.
The prosperous kingdom of Brynndell, with its treaties with the dwarves and mighty riders generally makes for a nice brief introduction to the lands of the Brynnyn, with Brighton, known from the PWYW-supplement, getting full settlement stats here. One of the most popular gods of these people, the Grey Maiden, does get her own write-up next: A goddess of death, earth and law, she is LN and the mistress of psychopomps in the lands of Celmae, overseeing the balance of both life and death, with holy symbols usually being crystal owls or skulls and her favored weapon being the flail, though daggers do have ceremonial significance as a divine focus etc. The caves, judgment, psychopomp, souls and solitude subdomains have been reproduced for your convenience here, though, oddly, psychopomp is no longer associated with the repose domain here. Intentional?
It is a matter of taste whether you enjoy the presentation of the two "religion traits" (should be "Faith") after the deity write-up instead of as part of the trait-chapter, but they generally are solid. It should be noted, though, that the Knowledge (religion) skill is not correctly formatted.
Editing and formatting aren't bad, but neither are they impressive - there are some avoidable hiccups, particularly in the formatting of some rules-relevant components. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard. The full-color artworks are solid. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, but doesn't need them at this length.
Robert Gresham's Brynnyn are a pretty nice culture per se - the pdf is unpretentious and presents a hardy people that will probably qualify as the "default" human race of the setting. There isn't that much to set them apart as a culturally distinct or particularly remarkable entity here, but that seems to be the intent and we need a baseline like this. That being said, the pdf's reprinting of the subdomains ultimately, to me, feels like space that was wasted - in this section, more detailed information on customs, marvels of land or people, economy, etc. would have done a better job providing a more pronounced and distinct look at these folks. In the end, this is a solid first installment for the series, one that hints at plenty of potential. If you're looking for a particularly crunchy supplement, this is not for you, but if you're looking for a brief sketch of a human ethnicity with some decent, if not perfectly presented trait to supplement it, then this may well be for you. I will rate this on its own terms, as primarily an introduction to a culture, not as primarily a crunch book. My final verdict, due to this as well as due to being pretty much the first book of this series, will clock in at 3 stars, though people looking for a detailed survey or a very crunchy interpretation should look elsewhere.
Part II of my review:
Editing is top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level - in the instances where I took apart a statblock, I noticed no serious hiccups. Formatting-wise, some very minor aesthetic hiccups can be found - there are instances where the first paragraph of the flavor text is formatted like a statblock ability....hey, come on, I'm trying to find something to complain about, all right? Layout adheres to an absolutely gorgeous two-column full-color standard with borders that employ graphic elements coded as Norse. The artwork by Mates Laurentiu is absolutely stunning and makes this one of the most beautiful bestiaries I have seen any 3pp put out. Each of these critters could, quality-wise, be found in a Paizo/WotC-book - the artwork alone is worth getting this...and yes, I'd advise in favor of the softcover: The fact that you can show the one-page monster-illustrations sans spoiling the statblocks to players means that you'll spare time and effort printing the art as handouts. The fact that they all have one style adds a great unified visual identity to this book. Oh, and yes, the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Justin Andrew Mason and developer Stephen Rowe are both names that I associate with quality; in this instance, however, they delivered something that exceeded my expectations. You see, I get to see a metric ton of monsters. I'm spoiled beyond belief by Legendary Games' mythic monsters and bestiaries and my expectations at this point are VERY hard to meet. This book surpassed them by the sheer value of consistency. There is something I consider great (not "good", not "very good", "great!") in every single critter within this book.
Let me elaborate: When we boil it down, monster-design is both an art and a craft: You can string together numbers and components like feats; no problem. The artistry is when it comes together, when you add those unique abilities and give the mathematical construct its own sense of identity, its own story. In the best of cases, though, it does not end there. Take Kobold Press - the Midgard-setting they made is pretty much defined by the mythological resonance it evokes. I do not use the excellent setting lightly as a frame of reference.
We, as human beings, have a rich tapestry of myths that are, if you believe anthropology, to a significant part extensions of our conditio humana, our shared experiences. It is thus that you can find parallels between different cultures and their animism, religion and myths - they serve to illustrate facts, concepts and experiences - often in an anthropomorphized form. These tales continue to evolve with our lives; much like the changed experience of the industrial revolution gave rise to fresh incarnations of horror, much like Web 2.0.'s slender man and similar creepypastas, we are defined by our mythweaving, by the incarnations of truths and symbols we inherited, by the complex constructs that generate a shared frame of reference to communicate.
One way to excel at monster design lies in mastering mechanics and artfully making the unique; another, less often seen, lies in tapping into this shared frame of reference, into the mythological sphere, and employing the powerful resonance it evokes within us all. There is a reason for that: It's hard. You see, the very first thing we usually do when running games is to take that frame of reference and apply it. Thus, straight adaptions feel old, stale, been there, done that to us. The genius of this humble bestiary lies in tapping into the shared frame of reference, the cultural resonance shared, and employing it in a creative and new manner that makes it a cohesive, unique entity.
A cynic may accuse me of over-intellectualizing in this review; my response would be that me actually pausing and analyzing to this extent is not something I do lightly or by accident; one creature that manages this feat is a happy accident; two are a tendency - a whole book full of them, however, is intentional, deliberate craftsmanship and artistry. This book represents one of the best bestiaries I have read in quite a while and its creatures will make plenty of appearances in my games. This is a steal, an exercise in excellent, unpretentious (in spite of my analysis - this is very much a bestiary, not a lecture in academia!) design - and oh boy do I love it to bits. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and this is furthermore a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Get this!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, AAW Games' shop, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 29 pages of content, so let's take a look!
After the obligatory and well-written introductory prose, we begin with a brief recap on the subject matter at hand - while masks in the beginning acted as primarily ceremonial tools, as our societies evolved, so did our use of them. We began, ultimately to employ these in a variety of ways - from art that evolved from ceremonial practices to the military and utility purposes in, for example, the context of medicine, masks have undergone a grand diversification process. The pdf recaps, among other things, the colombina, the comedia dell' arte (and yep, I do own a plague-doctor mask!) and generally provides a great introduction to the matter at hand -cultural ramifications and all, the section is as well-written and inspiring as the best in the series.
It also doubles as a means to introduce and contextualize the mundane masks featured herein - these include, as always, a selection of masks from previously released books and new ones, collecting them all in one place for your convenience. Beyond the filter hood and the hoodwink cowl, new masks would be, for example, the expensive filter masks, a technological item with proper construction requirements, as well as protective masks, which help prevent critical hit confirmations at the cost of slightly impeding sight. The mundane masks presented here are mechanically relevant without being overbearing, making them nice examples of their respective item class.
As always with these books, we then go on to collate magical mask in a similar manner - this makes the section your one-stop shop destination for these and prevents bookswapping. For our convenience, the table listing them by price does make the distinction between minor, medium and major masks. The masks do also include several new pieces, which include, for example, burn masks - these allow kineticists convert a limited amount of burn per day, depending on the type, to damage that can be healed. Cool: When taken off before regenerating burn, it inflicts burn on the character, thus preventing cheesing! Kudos, even though the pricing feels a bit too lenient to me!
Hatemonger's Hoods would be basically magical KKK-hoods, allowing for the preaching of hatred against creature types and making that mask predisposed for use by despicable villains. The luchador's mask rewards using Acrobatics to move through opponent's squares, while the class of samurai masks (6 of which can be found) features charges that can be expended for active benefits, while also rewarding holding the renewable charge with passive benefits. On a nitpicky side, the most potent of these allows for communication in magical silence, but does not clarify the interaction with verbal spellcasting -I assume it's supposed to work in an unimpeded manner, but I am not 100% sure. Interesting - the oni-mask, for example, nets a surge-like dodge bonus of 1d6 to AC versus a single attack as an immediate action. I can see that being really rewarding! Similarly, I like an inexpensive mask that enhances Reflex saves versus splash weapons and the sycophant's bridle prevents you from saying anything negative and makes lying actually painful. That represents an intriguing item to contemplate - in a world where such an item exists, how would it be used? I am pretty positive you can find your own answers to that.
The pdf also contains 2 cursed masks - the first of which overrides the identity of the wearer with that of the person depicted, while the second fakes healing of magical diseases...only to re-afflict the wearer, which sports ample adventuring potential! That being said, the latter has an italicization missing. There is also an intelligent social mask - the roleplayer's adornment, which nets the wearer access to medium spirit powers - alas, with the potency determined by the Perform (act) skill check results - which may not be the wisest scaling mechanism, considering the easy means to buff skills. Adding a minimum level for the more powerful aspects would have made sense to me.
The mythic masks of this installment would be the conspirator's visage is basically the Guy Fawkes/V-mask that enhances alchemical explosions (NICE!!), while the forgettable face duplicates the immediate change social talent, but also modifies the memory of those witnessing the change, with only those familiar with both identities receiving a save to resist the scrambling. Mythic power can enhance the DC by the surge die. The pdf also features two artifacts - the crusader's cowl is basically a Batman-mask that can generate darkness and make the wearer more imposing, while also granting blindsight. The secret commander's mask is a combo helm of telepathy and amulet of proof against detection and location, while also enhancing the wearer's ability to see through lies and deception.
The pdf also presents a new gunslinger archetype, the outlaw, who may expend grit to create a short-lived dual identity for 1/2 class level +1 per Wisdom modifier minutes, replacing gunslinger's dodge thus. Instead of gun training 1 - 4, they gain a gun-based 30 ft.-range sneak attack-like bonus damage, which increases every 4 levels after 5th. 7th level doubles this range (replacing targeting) and 11th level allows for the expenditure of grit when using such a shot while masked to stun the target temporarily. Decent one, though I wished it had more things tied to the mask - as written, the archetype feels a bit disjointed. The pdf provides PFU-style variant multiclassing for the vigilante.
Then, things become interesting: Masked Intrigue would be the name of the game; seeding audiences and the use of masks in the context, masked individual influence and the ramifications on social combat are discussed here....and next up would be something between a set-piece encounter and full-blown module, with a masquerade intended for level 5 characters: A total of no less than 7 characters are provided with masks, true identities, appearance, introduction, biases, personalities, relevant skills and saves and entries regarding analyze and weakness. Obviously, influence, events associated and benefits are similarly covered for the individuals. While I won't run the masquerade as written (it's free-form anyways), this very much represents a nice scavenging ground for similar events n one's game, rendering this a useful chapter indeed.
Editing and formatting are good, bordering on very good; while I noticed very minor hiccups like missed italicizations and the like, as a whole, the book is well-crafted. Layout adheres to Fat Goblin Games' two-column full-color standard and the artworks provided are nice and complement the theme. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks for our convenience, but not individual bookmarks, so if you're looking for something particular, you may need to search a bit.
Jacob W. Michaels' second CtA-book pertaining masks is significantly better than his first. The masks are generally more interesting, their rules are more refined and the new content often employs interesting, fun rules-operations. The masks themselves are simply more interesting and the intrigue/mask-sequence is neat indeed. Similarly, I loved the sample personalities for the massive scavenging potential. That being said, there are a couple of minor hiccups here and there, and I frankly believe that the masquerade-intrigue concept could have carried more. The archetype feels a bit lackluster and like it could have used a tighter connection of gunslinging and dual identity. As a whole, this is not a bad book, but it doesn't manage to reach the loftiest heights of some of the installments in the series. In the end, 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.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 44 pages, with about 1/2 page being devoted to the editorial, leaving us with 43 1/2 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pdf is made with the assumption of A5 (6'' by9'') booklet-size. I printed out 4 pages on a given A4-sized page. While this is possible, I only recommend this option to people with good eyesight - the pdf is crammed to the brim with text and thus, my dead tree iteration became somewhat strenuous to read. If in doubt, print it out regularly.
While intended as the companion book to the "No Dignity in Death"-adventures, the content herein is useful beyond the confines of OSR-publications and frankly, can fit into pretty much any game, from GUMSHOE to Castle Falkenstein to traditional fantasy.
So, in order to talk about the content of this pdf, we have to talk about Pembrooktonshire. The eponymous location is a settlement, isolated between labyrinthine hills, noted for being remote and the source of absolutely superb craftsmanship. It is also pretty advanced, compared to most fantasy settlements, with printing press and the like existing in it. Conversely, it is not haunted by evil monsters or the like, nor is it routinely ravaged by dragons, tarrasques and similar critters, thanks to the secret (nope, not gonna spoil that here - it's cosmetic and easily replaced anyways) of the surrounding environs.
It is still my contention that it represents perhaps the most succinctly depicted hell-hole I have read, settlement-wise, in all my years of GMing, perhaps because the satire this represents is cutting, precise and delightfully dark. Let me elaborate: Pembrooktonshire is not a bad place to be for adventurers per se, but the eponymous people that live here render it horrific to me in a most palpable manner: This pdf depicts the most camp, hilarious and at the same time nightmarish depiction of tradition and "proper" behavior I have seen in any roleplaiyng book ever.
Pembrooktonshire is governed by a complex set of social rules from which the PCs, being outsiders, will always be excluded; laws and pretty much name and everything else are, somewhat like a dark comedy of manners meeting a dystopian suppression apparatus, exist to benefit those with the proper name, family tree and status - i.e. not you and me. This level of codification of behavior extends to nomenclature, public face, religion and commerce. If you've grown up in a status-conscious environment or ever felt ostracized by a clique of your peers - this is that, the quintessential high-school clique you are NOT part of, blown to the n-th-degree, coated with the lacquer of a pseudo-Victorian obsession with etiquette and doing things comme il faut.
Sounds horrifying? Well, yeah, it is - not in a blood-and-guts-way, but rather in a subdued manner that slowly grows and grows, as the PCs inevitably wait for the fall-out...which may never come. If this sounds grimdark to you - it's actually not. Why and how? Well, at the same time, pretty much EVERYONE (and I mean EVERYONE) in this supplement is a ridiculous caricature of camp, often hilarious adventuring potential.
Let me give you an example: It would obviously be improper to purchase fur abroad, so what's a good Pembrooktonshire lady to do in light of the absence of the dangerous animals that would yield such goods in the vicinity of the town? Well, Anthony Alford, the furrier of the town's answer is simple: Rats. Squirrels. Chipmunks. Stray kittens and dogs. Yes, the ladies will parade these around town, claiming their value as exotic pelts. No, he has no idea how to work with actually valuable fur. There would also be the bored corn farmer, who has built a gallows in his field, reasoning that, as soon as it's there, it'll be sued sooner or later.
There is a nod towards Delicatessen in here; there is a prodigy-level sculptor here...though all his works look like him to non-Pembrooktonshireans. There is a delusional child who thinks he's invisible. Some members of the great families have a standing bet on driving a local trull insane. There is a butcher whose wife at least provides 4 kids...and his funds are running out...and there would be a lamplighter, whose sarcasm is constantly interpreted as truth, granting him the reputation of a sage.
In the absence of proper sources of oil, troll blubber is used by one enterprising businessman...but if it is, against advice, stockpiled, it spells a recipe for regenerating disaster...Basically, each and every of the NPCs featured herein has his or her own angle that often manages to blend the surreal and camp with the darkly hilarious. Think of the cadre of NPCs herein as this NPC your PCs have developed a fondness or dislike for due to an almost surreal quirk of personality or some way in which you present the guy; the NPC that suddenly becomes more important in your game than it should be from the default book. Each of the NPCs herein has the potential to be just that guy or gal - laden with adventure-potential galore.
One more thing: While never explicit and generally PG 13, this does skirt some dark topics and probably should be used with care when playing with sensitive kids.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills, art-less 1-column b/w-standard - this is basically text sans graphic elements or the like, with names and occupations bolded for your convenience. The file comes with a b/w-cover artwork that doubles as a back cover, so yeah - printing it out and using it as an envelope works. The pdfs, both cover and actual pdf, come in two iterations - one for the standard US-letterpack paper-size and one optimized for European A4-paper. Nice! Not so nice would be the fact that the pdf has no bookmarks. If you want to use this, you better print it out.
It's hard to properly contextualize the dark humor that suffuses this collection. Delicatessen would be one frame of reference, obviously; but more fitting would be some of the non-protagonist characters from the classic Brazil...or, if you're familiar with the British series "Little Britain" (early seasons) and "League of Gentlemen" (not, not the extraordinary ones) - that would hit the nail on the head. Perhaps it's the environment I grew up with, but this rural nightmare, this anti-villanelle and the snide look at the characters of Pembrooktonshire feels, in spite of its almost surreal accumulation of horrific things that could happen, as one of the most amazing collections of NPCs I have ever seen. Basically, just adding one of these surreal characters as an adventure hook to any settlement should keep your PCs busy for a while. As such, the pdf has maximum scavenging potential and makes good use of its system-neutral presentation.
If you combine all of these grotesque characters and use them in one town...well, then you'll probably have the at times most disturbing, but also most hilarious collection of weirdo-NPCs you can think of. The pdf can also be pretty educational in the hands of the right GM. If a player has never suffered through an environment of rigid etiquette and exclusionary practices (or was always on the other side of the fence), then this may well present a superb, satirically overcharged insight into how it works. My own experience of the book was basically that of a collection of NPCs that conveyed the same notion as the camp British series or Osamu Dazai's Ningen Shikkaku, though in the latter case in an infinitely less depressing manner.
But perhaps I'm over-intellectualizing this book. What you have to know is this: This little pdf contains a treasure-trove of absolutely amazing, weird, sometimes disturbing, sometimes tragic, sometimes comic characters that often are all of these things at the same time. How a few lines of text manage to evoke this level of concise oddity stands testament to James Edward Raggi IV's talent.
It is my firm conviction that, even when not using the modules, this remains a handy book to add spice and peculiarity to any drab settlement. I adore this book, more so than the minimalist presentation and annoying lack of bookmarks made me deem possible. This is excellent and if you have a stomach for twisted, dark humor and scathing satire, this will deliver in spades. 5 stars + seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This collection of 3 loosely-linked modules clocks in at 38 pages, front and back cover are contained in a separate pdf and so are the 4 pages of maps and the 2-page handout (more on that below). It should be noted that the page-size assumed would be a5 (6'' by 9'') and that you can, provided you have good eyesight, jam 4 pages on one A4-page when printing this out.
All right, so, the 3 modules herein are set in the capital letter ODD town of Pembrooktonshire; while the companion-book depicting a gazillion of weird and strange characters is not required to run these, it does add to the general experience...but also, by virtue of the strength of the NPCs, can put the PCs of trail - so an experienced referee is required in such a case. Speaking of which: The pdf is very much a pretty sandboxy affair, which means no read-aloud texts or the like. This is obviously intended not only for experienced referees, but also for experienced groups. Indeed, one could argue that novices will not *get* what makes these modules unusual.
Situated in the backwater Pembrooktonshire, mired in the ostracizing behavior towards anyone not "proper" (Read: Anyone not from a long line of distinguished local families.)common here, PCs are wont to be subjected to in the xenophobic place, the PCs will begin their exploits in the Last Stop Inn and already notice that the townsfolk consider e.g. running around armed and armored to be problematic. Oh, and if the town's guard is not enough to reign the PCs in, a wandering Knight of Science is in town, including his entourage. these guys are basically monster hunters with a self-importance that will make most paladins blush. While hardliners, they nonetheless represent kinda-good guys.
Yeah, and that is pretty much as far as I can go sans diving headfirst into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! So, it is my contention that these are pretty much post-modern adventures in that they subvert and systematically negate assumptions and preconceptions of players, with entertaining results, fulfilling thus the aspect of 4th-wall-engagement. This is not yours truly over-intellectualizing these, mind you: The introduction pretty much already states as much.
As the PCs enter the fray, the daughter of the prestigious local bookbindery, known primarily for the Bumblebee Bandit romance-novels (a complete list of which are provided -and the handout sports a hilarious drawing and excerpt from one), has been found murdered in the aftermath of her wedding -and the local travelling folk have been summarily rounded up for execution. Thing is: While a romanticizing lot and not "proper" according to the asinine views of Pembrooktonshire, while deliberately depicted as suspicious, the module proceeds to undermine this stereotyping process: For one, the characters depicted, including the fine Pembrooktonshire quasi-nobility and the knight's retinue, as just as suspect on closer inspection...and indeed, when engaging in this bit of brief and none-too-complex free-form investigation, the PCs will, if they play their cards right, unearth the Bumblebee Bandit obsessed squire of the Knight of Science as the true culprit for the murder. More than the relatively simple plot and its ticking clock, the module serves as a nice way of establishing the Janus-facedness of the local population.
Module #2 further builds on the previously established sense of estrangement the players and PCs should by now be experiencing. Titles "The Great Games", it is centered on a rather strange local tradition: The most esteemed families have young couples chosen to compete in a series of weirdling competitions and while being chosen to participate is pretty much tantamount to retaining one's family's high standing in local society, winning is not something people look forward to. You see, there is a threat of death in each of the games and only the males participate. The first male to die (which can, should the referee require it, be determined randomly) is deemed to be the winner - and his bride is moved up to the nearby mountain-range, as a tribute to the local dragon. The increasingly ridiculous and lethal games are depicted herein, yes - but PCs will probably not participate in them, considering their lack of social status. Indeed, sabotage will probably be on the mind of quite a few groups to stop this barbaric practice...but ultimately, a bride will be chosen for the dragon, be brought into the windswept mountain range, where a massive blast of flame heralds the dragon's presence...only, it's been dead for ages.
Investigating the cavern, the PCs will find a makeshift alchemical, stationary flamethrower. All those sacrifices...have been made to a dead dragon, incapable of claiming them. Instead, the hidden overlords of the mountains ( a nation of isolationalist, xenophobic dwarves) has maintained the ruse to keep the locals out of their territory. The brides, so far, died from exposure or the dangers of the mountains...not the hungry teeth of a dragon. Now here's the thing: The PCs can actually save the bride, but must tread lightly: Pronouncing the truth to Pembrooktonshire will result in war between the dwarves and the locals...so yeah, the actual "meat" of this module happens in its aftermath and the depiction of the strange festivities. Granted, this may make the proceedings feel a bit like a prolonged cut-scene and stymie players...but again, this is by intent, cultivating basically a notion and awareness of having to wait for the right time to do the right thing.
Adventure #3 would be the first where PC-death is actually likely: "A Lonely House Upon a Lonely Hill" has an organic lead-in via the strange proceedings of module #2; if the PCs seek to find the truth of the mountains and dig hard in Pembrooktonshire, they will hear about one Konstantin Kuznetsova: Adventurer and agent, he supposedly found riches, namely a diamond in the hills, only to vanish due to the anger of the spirits (of whose existence the PCs will be, after module #2, not be convinced) - he was last seen exploring the haunted O'Shaunessy manor - and arriving there will put an intriguing conundrum before the PCs: Supposedly, the region is geologically stable, but there is plenty of steam arising from the crags of the house and itself - enough, in fact, to render communication inside impossible. Inside, it's hot, steamy and the house is a wrecked ruin...though inside, the PCs can find a picture of Del Murrow O'Shaunnessy and his elven bride. Del Murrow has since moved away, but after the sudden death of his elven bride, the area was supposed to be haunted. Guess what? It is.
If you have some sort of experience with REALLY nasty critters, you'll know what to expect and gulp. Confined within the grounds, the spirit of Shelagh Cori O'Shaunnessy still roams - and she's a friggin' banshee. Yeah, at that level. Turns out that shutting off those REALLY loud valves throughout the mansion may NOT be a good idea. In fact, finding and returning her wedding ring from the ill-fated spelunkers in the caverns below the complex only has a 33% chance of fixing the banshee-haunting...and may even strengthen the dread entity, depending on the roll of the dice and the cruelty-level of the referee/desire for further adventures - in any ways, the exploration of the grounds very much feels like a REALLY nasty survival horror experience. Oh, and guess what - that steam? It comes from the dwarven city below's primary forge...these guys are who broke the deal with Del Murrow and poisoned the elven lady...or, well, you could make that an entry to hell or any other strange place - the module focuses on the experience of getting through the experience alive and potentially ending the grisly haunting.
No matter what happens, chances are that inquisitive PCs, provided they survived the death trap that is module #3, will either want to leave the place asap...or *really* unearth what's going on...so a referee has his/her work cut out.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills, 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports several nice, atmospheric pencil-drawings. The cartography for locations where it becomes relevant is serviceable, though no key-less versions are provided. The pdf (and its cover-file, map-file and handout-file) come in versions optimized for both US-letterpack and A4-paper-standards, which is nice to see. Unfortunately, the pdfs have no bookmarks, which renders electronic navigation annoying. Print these out.
James Edward Raggi IV's trilogy here can either be an absolutely phenomenal experience...or a total dud. More so than many comparative modules, this trilogy requires a deft referee with some experience. It's not that the modules are hard to run, mind you - quite the contrary. It's that the little peculiarities require some serious GM-panache to pull off: Number 1 requires the flexing of one's acting muscles - it works perfectly, but only if you manage to depict all factions in the same, high-strung manner. #2 requires the referee to engage the PCs over a couple of days wherein they are basically witnesses to proceedings as grim as those in the classic Wicker Man. Finally, #3 is just EVIL.
Which brings me to the next component: These modules are intended for veterans. They deliberately take tropes of the art of adventure-crafting and flip them on their head in various ways. In short, the enjoyment of these modules stems in part from knowing the meta-conventions of adventure-structure and being surprised by how they are twisted here. Adventure #3 can, and probably will, kill at least one character, possibly more - but at the same time, it is clever in doing so and may see jaded veterans actually applauding the demise of their characters. Hint: If you can't take a character-loss, then this is not for you. If you can, though...and if you're jaded, cynical and bored by many of the narrative conventions employed again, and again, and again...then this will be a breath of fresh air, particularly when combined with the absolutely brilliant "People of Pembrooktonshire"-sourcebook and the horrible and strange folks therein.
What I'm trying to say is that gamers and referees that only know "new school", who want CR-appropriate challenges, who want a clear three-act-structure, will probably not find this to their liking.
Then again, if you're looking for something different, a change of pace, a series of modules that requires flexing of your GM/referee-muscles, if you're looking for something that's actually hard to survive and complete successfully...then this may well be worth looking into. More so than most modules, though, I can see these going horribly wrong in the hands of referees not up to the task...or for groups that just aren't used to something as evil as adventure #3.
Personally, though, I had a total and absolute blast playing these 3 modules. Call me RPG-hipster, but oh boy was it rewarding to see the WTFs on player-faces once again, on hearing the laughter during module #1 turn slowly into a growing sense of unease over the course of subsequent sessions. Ultimately, the module all are one-trick ponies; they all have this one twist - it's an excellent one every time, but that means they can be hit and miss, depending mostly on referee-prowess to deliver their punchline, if you will...which is why I'll settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars. Only you referees out there may decide where the modules fall for you and your groups...and while personally, for me as a private guy, I'd round up, the lack of bookmarks does hurt this a bit, which is why my official reviewer's verdict will round down.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This mini-adventure, intended for use in conjunction with the Delectable Dragonfly-installment of the Tangible Taverns-series, clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 3 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? GREAT!
Edwin Scrumple has turned his life around - gone are his days of gambling and overindulgence in alcohol...but this does not change the fact that he has lost his mother's ring while gambling. Said ring now graces the ring of the draconian wife of his erstwhile drinking buddy, one Eva Lurancree, who not only constantly complains, but also has an uncanny ability to hit others with her barbed, snide comments where it hurts most. In short: She is a wholly unpleasant woman.
Unfortunately for the PCs, she also does not entertain much, is pretty keen-eyed and rarely leaves her mansion - which means that their best chance to actually get the ring would be infiltrating the delectable dragonfly, which Mme Lurancree visits twice a week - once for a massage and once per pedicure. Entering the place, though, is not that simple: Prim, the place's mistress, is keen-eyed and hard to fool and she runs a tight ship - oh, and since her build is radically different from PFRPG, even her racial references have been retooled...and her lair actions similarly have been reproduced. for your convenience. Unfortunately, the inspiration-wording glitch I noticed in the Tangible Tavern-pdf has also been reproduced in her statblock.
Similarly, Eva Lurancree's build can sap the will of those it is directed against - once again noting points of inspiration, when it probably should be dice.
That being said, the free-form infiltration does allow for various avenues for success. Both Eva and Prim come with stats, though it should be noted that this very much requires the Dragonfly-pdf to pull off: Not only for the dressing, but also for some avenues like impersonating other staff-members. The benefits of actually going the whole way with the charade and coming up with a good plan is more pronounced in 5e, which renders the task slightly less difficult.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the inspiration wording guffaws. Layout adheres to the no-frills printer-friendly b/w-standard of the series and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The map of the place is provided for your convenience.
Kelly Pawlik's tea house caper is an enjoyable little heist scenario for character levels 2nd - 3rd, though it can be used for higher or lower levels by modifying the alertness of the characters featured herein. It is an unpretentious, fun little module, though one that suffers slightly from wording hiccups in the unique abilities of the characters. As a PWYW-companion piece to the delectable dragonfly, this most certainly is worth leaving a tip for. While it is a bit free-form for my tastes and could use a bit more guidance for novice GMs, I ultimately am stretching here. In the end, this is well worth getting. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars - and I'll round up due to this being PWYW and my policy of in dubio pro reo.
There are precedents for SUs used as pretty much every type of action - there is no strong case for a default ruling for the activation of an ability. I actually erred on the side of the pdf here, for wasting a standard action to activate the shield of truth, a resource already limited by the PrC, makes it less interesting from an action economy point of view; there are several precedents where such an ability is swift or immediate.
The bonus types are a MESS. They not only invent multiple bonus types, they don't even get that done in an internally consistent manner: Does a "divine truth" bonus stack with a "divine honor" bonus? No idea. I could have gone into the details of picking abilities apart further, there are more wording issues....but frankly, I didn't want to. It depressed me.
I love the concept; I'm a huge fan of the fluff...but the PrC needs serious handwaving and isn't operational from a rules-language or -balance point of view, not without GMs/players handwaving issues away.
I'm actually using the concept of the class...but as a reviewer, I have to call such issues out.
I'm glad it works for your game. :)
And yes, I so hope this gets a proper polish/update at one point.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page blank, leaving us with 37 pages of content. Not included in this page-count would be the two full-color maps on the inside of front and back cover and the front/back cover.
This review was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving the print copy of this module in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Additionally, it should be noted that my review is based on the print copy exclusively.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! This module takes place in the town of Ockney's Hold. The place's moderate wealth derives from the export of azurite over the meandering Oriana River. The local baron, one Oliver Reinson, has recently, quite weirdly, changed his behavior. His interests are changed, the chamberlain has taken a more proactive role and the former captain of the town's guard has been replaced by a half-orc with a nasty temper, one Drast Grimbank. This has significantly changed the atmosphere of the town...and High Steward Braxton Tavaras has determined that something is SERIOUSLY going wrong in town...which is why he meets the PCs in a dingy tavern...though it should be noted that town and tavern-establishing shots/background information are provided with extensive read-aloud text for your convenience...and briefing itself has a lot of interesting components in details - perceptive PCs may, for example, note a pin on Tavaras' sleeves that denotes him as a member of a cadre of beings devoted to the ideals of good government - a kind of benevolent kingmakers/maesters, if you will. The whole module has these small tidbits that make the scenes feel more alive, those little informational nuggets that make it feel pretty organic.
Anyway, Tavaras' task is that the PCs are NOT to engage the baron, but should definitely find out what is amiss. We begin thus with an interesting premise: Thanks to Tavaras' connections and recommendations, the PCs enter the service of the Baron. It is here I can comment on the cartography of the module; apart from the aforementioned full-color maps in the front/back-cover, the internal maps are b/w pencil-drawings and there are a lot o them. The tavern? Mapped. Mansions? Mapped. In the latter case, the map is very detailed and actually makes for a nice handout, in spite of being keyed. In the former, a secret door's included, which means that you'll have to draw a player-friendly iteration. So no, alas, no player-friendly iterations.
Where was I? Oh yes, the PCs are by now in the service of the baron, giving them an inside look of the baroness Helda not being too excited about the change of personality the baron has been exhibiting. The keep is not mapped, but that is due to the relatively brief stay here - you see, the PCs will pretty soon have a chance to save the baroness in the middle of the night from a mimic, of all creatures, that has made its way somehow into the keep. Perceptive PCs receive a direct hint regarding means of egress to the baroness' chambers that may put them on track for the next sequence of the investigation, but smart players are not necessarily reliant on this - the similarly changed Chamberlain Brice would be the next suspect - brusque and uncooperative, shadowing the chamberlain may put them, after some legwork, on trail towards a refinery aptly named the Brick, where the PCs can listen in on both chamberlain and owner of the refinery - and it seems like they have a conspiracy afoot, as a nebulous mastermind is mentioned...of course, they may well be caught and have a fight up their hands, having to deal with the unpleasant master of the refinery...who btw. has his own unique ability to set him apart.
It should definitely be clear after that, that investigating the Brice Manor would be the next step - and btw., the garden is anything but safe, containing several carnivorous plants from 5th Edition Foes, reprinted herein for your convenience. The inside of the manor has btw. a response team of capable individuals, one led by Thaldar, a VERY powerful adversary...and the chamberlain does react with appropriate indignation to the invasion of his home. Here's the thing, though: Smart PCs will want to interrogate the folks...and thus deduce that the captured chamberlain has been replaced by a doppelganger...who, true to convention, when caught, can spill some serious beans.
It seems like a nasty syndicate known as the Ceaseless has driven its claws into the town - you see, the aforementioned primary export of the region, azurite, actually acts like a drug to creatures of certain...anatomies. Namely brain-gorgers, which are basically illithids stripped of closed IP. Yeah. OUCH. Now the ceaseless may have underestimated the impact of addiction to azurite by putting just such an individual in charge of the operation, which is directly a reason the otherwise pretty subtle operation became noticeable, thus drawing in the PCs. In order to save the baron and the town and break the brain-gorger's hold on the baron, the PCs will have to make their way towards the copper mines, provided they manage to survive the response-team sent to deal with them...
The 3-day journey through the wilderness has, just fyi, keyed encounters for each day and interesting things that happen, so yeah - more than a sequence of simple encounters....and then, the PCs will have to navigate the mines and finally deal with the brain-gorger. Wait. At what level? 1 -3? Well, yeah, but guess what - thanks to the addition of said villain, the PCs actually have a fighting chance.
Beyond stats for all monsters employed, the module closes with a nice 2-page gazetteer of the town.
Editing and formatting are very good. I noticed no grievous glitches in formal or rules-language departments. Layout adheres to a crisp two-column b/w-standard and the pdf's b/w-art is nice, as is the cartography. The cartography may not provide player-friendly iterations, but generally is high-quality. The printed softcover comes with glossy cover, thick, nice paper and is generally well-made and doesn't feel cheap - so yeah, if in doubt, I'd recommend print.
This is, to my knowledge the freshman offering of Gamehole Publishing and author Alex Kammer and it hits all my sweet spots. Its descriptive text if evocative. It assumes competent and smart players. It has pointers for GMs for the dialogues; it sports a variety of thematically diverse creatures...and it's not a module that hands you victory on a silver platter. In fact, I consider this to be delightfully old-school. If your players don't act smart, they'll DIE. Horribly. The bosses herein are BRUTAL. The module offers investigation, combat, dungeon- and wilderness-exploration and a captivating, fast-paced plot/unearthing of a conspiracy. In short: This very much reads how I tend to design adventures for my own campaign. Including the challenge it poses. If you're a pampered player who is not used to modules being actually hard to succeed, then this may come as a shock...but victory is EXTREMELY gratifying. You can pretty much play this as dark fantasy, as high fantasy or anything in between - whether it's Oerth, the Forgotten Realms, Golarion or another world, the module will fit in.
Theme-wise, it makes a perfect fit for the Borderlands Region of Frog God Games Lost Lands or, with an emphasis on more horror and a slight reskin of some humanoids, a great fit for Ravenloft. Why? Because its design-aesthetic is so damn beautiful. I know, I know. Call me hypocrite, but most commercial modules for the big systems (exceptions do exist by the spades, mind you) feel a bit too easy for me. I've always been a GM and player who WANTS challenge. I want my choices to matter and make a difference and I want character death to be a possible component of the game. It is here. Now, at the same time, we actually did not lose a character playing this one. By a hair's breadth. But no, this is not, I repeat, this is NOT a meat-grinder. It is not a nega-dungeon either. It is just a thoroughly well-crafted little gem that pits the PCs against brutal odds and a powerful opposition, but has ample in-game rationale why they can triumph.
My one relevant point of criticism pertains the lack of player-friendly versions of the maps, you know, sans key and secret doors etc. That being said, this is one of the most impressive first books I've seen a publisher and author produce in quite some time, and I do have a policy of cutting such first offerings at least a bit of slack. So, while usually the lack of player-maps would cost this my seal of approval, for once, I will retain it here. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and as far as I'm concerned, I'm stoked to see the sequel module hinted in the aftermath of this one.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here, on rpg.net, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This little expansion-pdf for the ranger class clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!
After a brief page of introduction to the matter at hand, we get a total of 3 different ranger archetypes, the first of which would be the Lantern-bearer. At 3rd level, these guys get a weaponized brass lantern, which inflicts 1d4 bludgeoning damage and acts as a finesse weapon. As a purely cosmetic gripe, while by now finesse weapons are unanimously 1-handed, for future-proofing purposes I would have specified that. The lantern-bearer may expend ranger spell slots to inflict bonus fire damage when attacking, starting at 2d6 for a 1st level spell, +1d6 for every spell slot beyond that, to a maximum of 5d6. The fire inflicts +1d6 damage versus beasts, monstrosities or undead. Additionally, the character can place the lantern on the ground or put it on a hook and expend spell slots to enhance the healing capabilities of those resting within its glow, grant resistance to necrotic and cold damage and advantage on saves versus the frightened and charmed condition. And no, the two abilities do not allow for cheesing.
At 7th level, the archetype gains Shadowed Paths, which can be used only once per rest-interval - two benefits can be chosen: Dispelling obscuring effects of targets hit or bonus action teleport to the lantern's bright light radius' edge while in an obscured area both make for cool effects. 11th level increases base damage of the lantern to 1d8 for both fire and mundane damage. Additionally, creatures of aforementioned types now take damage while within the glow of a placed lantern. 15th level lets allies with channel divinity or healing spells ignore the range limitations of the healing effects while within the placed lantern's light and yes, it does take care of AoE-healing as well. Okay, I'll admit it - as a Ravenloft/Dark Souls/Darkest Dungeon/etc.-fanboy, this had me pretty soon. I love this archetype.
Archetype number 2 would be the stormcloak and at 3rd level, this one has a similar ability like the lantern-bearer - spell-slot expenditure for bonus damage, this time around your choice of either lightning or thunder damage. 7th level provides resistance to both lightning and thunder and when you suffer either damage type, you may use your reaction to absorb part of the damage for 1 round, adding +2d6 damage of the type absorbed to damage; +1d6 if used in conjunction with aforementioned spell-slot expenditure ability. 11th level is a bit weird - when you inflict damage with two weapons in a single round, you add +3d6 thunder damage to one target damaged. 15th level increases the potency of the weapon-imbuing trick, adding 10 temporary hit points (or those suffered, whichever is less) that last for 1 minute. While these persist, you may spend the bonus action to fly up to your speed, but you do fall if you don't end the movement on solid ground.
The third archetype herein would be the Thornguard, who begins third level with snare mastery, which allows you to create a deployable trap during a long rest (only one may be in effect at a given time) - these can inflict the blinded, poisoned, pushed, restrained, stunned conditions and may be deployed as a bonus action. The Wisdom (Perception)-DC to notice it is equal to your save DC, and conversely, said DC is what's required to disable it via thieves' tools. Traps can be sprung as a reaction to an enemy standing in them and deal a basic 2d6 piercing damage, with spell-slot expenditure being possible to increase the damage inflicted. Interesting: Thus magically laced traps can inflict other damage types (lightning, poison, thunder) and disarming not triggered traps is covered as well.
7th level increases the area of effect your snares affect, though the magic enhancements aren't as potent here and, oddly, RAW, does not allow for a similar damage type choosing; the bonus damage is not perfectly codified this time around. The ability also nets your resistance versus damage incurred by traps or glyphs of warding. 11th level rewards dealing damage to one foe per round twice in a single turn, moving hostile creatures and imposing disadvantage on saves versus traps on the target. The base damage of the traps is also increased. 15th level lets you store a second snare when completing a long rest and allows you to reassemble them after 1 minute after combat. This may be a bit late - snares being the unique selling point here, I do think that at least the +1 snare being moved down to 7th level may be sensible.
Editing and formatting are very good, though the italicized sections of sub-feature lists are, formatting-wise, not smart. While we have no spell-formatting confusion this time around, as a whole, that could happen. Still, no issue. Layout adheres to Tribality's nice 2-column full-color standard, with fitting full-color photography as artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but at this low length, I can live with that.
Brandes Stoddard's ranger archetypes are generally solid - with one very minor hiccup, the rules-language remains precise and we get one damn amazing archetype with the lantern-bearer. The other archetypes fall slightly short of that one's awesomeness, but as a whole, they're not bad either and make for nice options. The stormcloak would have benefited from an ability that is more than a more flexible tweak of a part of the lantern-mechanic, but that's just me being a spoiled SOB. As a whole, this is worth the fair asking price. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up by a margin due to in dubio pro reo.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Lost Lore-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1/2 page blank, leaving us with 4 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Muir is one of the ancient gods that has waned, but still suffuses the lore of the Lost lands - from Abysthor's Tomb to Slumbering Tsar, the deity's influence is still felt and the PCs may well find one of the perished spirits of champions or priests to ordain a justicar! So yeah, prestige class with an emphasis on PRESTIGE. Justicars need to be lawful good and must have a minimum of 3 paladin levels; additionally, most chosen levels must be paladin and the last level taken prior to taking the class must similarly be paladin. These guys also need to undertake an arduous quest and ordination, as mentioned before, may be quest in and of itself. Apart from that, only 14 ranks in skills are required, with one making sure that the PrC can be taken no sooner than 8th level. Justicars may never have cohorts or henchmen, must reject own lands or property and must also reject all property beyond modest means - magic item-wise, only arms and armor may be possessed. Potions and scrolls may only be created by adherents of Thyr or Muir. They may neither lie, nor disguise themselves and evil beings may not force them to fall by imposing a violation of these tenets upon a justicar. In short: Justicars are old-school, hardcore GOODER than GOOD paladins. They get 1d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level , full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and full spellcasting progression.
At 1st level, they receive a celestial falcon as an animal companion at full druid level as well as a "+2 divine bonus to attack and damage rolls" versus evil-aligned undead and outsiders. There is no such thing as a divine bonus - that ought to be sacred. They also get Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword). Yay? As embodiments of truth, the gain +4 to saves vs. illusions and may cast zone of truth 1/day as a SP. At 2nd level, they gain 1/day discern lies as a supernatural ability, +1 daily use every 3 levels thereafter. While CL-info is provided, I don't see why this is not SP instead. The 3rd level shield of truth falls apart: It lacks an activation action and grants a "+2 divine truth bonus" -whatever THAT is supposed to mean. The additional properties of the shield are cool, but it simply doesn't work as written. 4th level nets mark of justice as an SU, 1/day, though here SU makes sense and is correct, considering it can be placed as a standard action. 5th level nets blanket immunity to illusions allowing for SR.
At 6th level, they get another "divine" bonus to atk and damage and doubles the threat range versus all evil creatures. OUCH. At the same level, the character gains the sword of courage, which grants a "+2 divine courage bonus" and once again lacks an activation action etc. - it's the shield all over again. 7th level nets true seeing 1/day (classified as SU, oddly) and 8th nets the armor of honor...and guess what? Yep, it grants you a "+2 divine honor" bonus. 9th level nets Cha-mod times/day holy word and as a capstone, his anti-evil prowess is further enhanced while also providing a special benefit when using the 3 non-functional signature abilities in conjunction. A total of 13 feats are also included - they offer boosts to divine bond-granted mounts, increases of aura of resolve AoE combined with ridiculous bonuses to charms (Cha-mod +4...WTF?) for allies and using lay on hands as a move action for expending 2d6 (healing application only), the feats are okay, if not mind-boggling; some good, some bad.
This is based on original Necromancer Games material, with additional design by John Ling; in spite of his best intentions, this age does show. The justicar, flavor-wise, is pretty much one of the most amazing holy knight takes I know: I mean, you not only become the champion of good, you become the champion of HARDCORE GOOD. Actually becoming this guy is a feat in and of itself - ordinance and everything. I *LOVE* this. I really adore pretty much the whole flavor of the prestige class. In fact, I will use the flavor.
Alas, that's the only thing I'll use. This may sound harsh and unwelcoming, but this PrC has not aged well. At all. It desperately needed a complete rewrite as far as I'm concerned. Yes, the justicar is pretty strong, bordering OP, but it damn well should be! If a PrC is this hard to get, it should better be worth it. And this is the crux: The PrC isn't worth getting. The signature abilities are flawed to the point where their mechanics don't work properly and the class is filled with bland numerical escalations and SPs. It doesn't have enough unique tricks to make it stand out as a concept and the "be better at killing evil stuff" component is as old as it can get. Where are the inquisitor-tricks, the mesmerist-style gaze that hurts liars, the ability to turn the companion into a swarm of celestial eagles to rip out the tongues of liars and betrayers? From a mathematical point of view, the justicar starts falling apart as soon as he becomes available: The magic item restrictions mean that the PrC can't use the save/AC-improving items that most martials are expected to have at these levels without gaining any means to really make up for it. In short, in spite of the power of some options, I frankly can't see anyone taking this PrC for the mechanics, even if you're willing to ignore the issues. When 3.0 came out, this would have been decent - not great or good, but okay. Several years into Pathfinder, it frankly fails from a mechanical point of view.
I love the fluff. I'll gladly use it and the guidelines and restrictions are evocative and cool; the flavor is here. It is this flavor and narrative potential that constitute the only proper saving graces of this pdf. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars, rounded up to 2 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The 8th installment of Rite Publishing's spiritual successor to Dungeon magazine clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 50 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This book was moved up in my review-queue due to being prioritized by my patreons. Additionally, I received an early access iteration, which allowed me to complete actually testing these modules prior to release - one of the reasons you're seeing this review so relatively close to AQ #8's release, in spite of the issues that have haunted real life for me in the last couple of weeks.
We begin this installment, as always, with an editorial by Robert N. Emerson - and it is here, I'd like to echo his sentiment: The former commander of Rite Publishing, a great friend of mine and a visionary author, Steven D. Russell was taken from us this summer. It is his wife, Miranda Russell, who has taken the reins of Rite Publishing and done so with an aplomb and grace that is, frankly, extremely amazing. It is my firm conviction that Steve would be proud of the "Rite way" of gaming not being lost.
Anyways, you know the drill - this book contains modules and as such, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! We begin with Haakon Sullivan's "Race for the Cage", intended for characters of 4th level. The small village of Kingsden was terrorized in the past: A strange entity was killing people - then, a witch came and the murders stopped, her endeavors obviously successful. Thus, this unpleasantness sank into history's obscurity. Now, as the PCs happen to travel through town, the murders seem to have resumed - the first victim being a poor dwarf, but why him? Well, there is a good reason for that and the PCs will soon be pointed towards the truth, an abandoned wizard's lab, which may, according to a local poem, contain the dread beast. After this brief intro (which took about 30 minutes of asking questions and the like), the module proceeds to...well, take no prisoners: Two paths lead towards the goal within the complex: And one is collapsed by the death cultists, who are on a sacred mission to once again unleash the beast that stalks these realms.
From here on out, the module becomes a race: The PCs have 6 minutes to reach the end of the gauntlet of traps, puzzles and challenges - plus 1 minute of out of game discussion per room, at least that's the suggestion. If you enforce this hard time-limit, then rest assured that the sequence of interesting obstacles will push the PCs hard: In one room, for example, a flesh golem remains - a foe beyond the capabilities of the PCs to defeat...but it is still connected to tubes and wires...perhaps the PCs can use those funny-looking levers to defeat it...If the PCs do lose the race, they'll have a hard time - a vampiric spider would be the insane beast the cultists seek to free, but once again astute observation can help the PCs prevail against this overwhelming boss. Success in the race (surprisingly difficult, mind you!) renders the finale pretty simple, obviously...but frankly, if you're a bastard-GM like moi, you may well choose to spring free this boss still...
A highlight since the inception of Adventure Quarterly, at least for me, would be the post-modern mega-dungeon-crawl Ruins Perilous: This complex was created by Questhaven, city ruled by adventurers, and progress within this dungeon can actually enhance your status and increase your standing within the city's strata. As such, the complex has a very unique feeling, both one of a supremely dangerous obstacle course and one of a constructed dungeon that is a dungeon for a dungeon's sake -and still retains the feasibility and internal consistency you'd associate with such an artificially created dungeoneering environment. #7 sported one of the best levels in the whole run, so let's see whether Mike Welham's 6th level of the complex, the Test Lab, can maintain this level of quality!
I was speaking of internal consistency - and indeed, there is more to the adventuring life than murder hobo-ing through scores of hapless dungeon dwellers; as such the Dungeon Dragon in charge of this complex has made this level a proving ground for adventurers that focuses on more than just "I hit it with my weapon of choice" - the theme here is the solution of problems with both brain and brawn. With passwords, pure strength, skill or willpower, the PCs can enter the first section of the level: And, indeed, there are 4 wings that lead to the final challenge: Each wing requires a different skill set to complete: One for physical exertions, one for stealthy tricks, one requiring willpower and one that rewards keen wits.
The respective challenges in each wing are intriguing and creative...and slightly more deadly than you'd expect, for a cadre of disgruntled ratfolk of the groundskeepers ultimately made the level even less pleasant. Now, if your players are REALLY good and if you are similarly an experienced GM, I'd suggest making each wing only available to the respective, fitting characters. While this eliminates the otherwise really pronounced replay value of the dungeon, it also lets you experience the totality of the level...and frankly, it's so damn good it's worth it. Beyond the potential to use the disgruntled ratfolk as combat encounters, the place, as a whole, is simply an inspiring experience to play through. Taking the leitmotif one step further, actually activating the guild forge requires the use of a complex, evocative machinery. Frankly, I could rattle off the challenges the PCs will face, but that would do the genius of this glorious level no justice.
The third module herein would be the Vault of Shaju, crafted by Craig Campbell and none other than Ben McFarland, is intended for 9th level characters and the chronicle of the love of an unlikely pair: The necromancer Viuslethiem and the rogue Shajuyumil - who found true love. To thwart death, Shayumil would place his soul within the confines of a sword of transcendent quality, thus allowing him to stay with his love even after she ad ascended to lichdom. The PCs, then,a re assumed to have been hired by lore master Pickwendy to guard his expedition - but upon arrival, they happen upon giants that have decimated the camp - Pickwendy only wants the artifact, the aforementioned rapier - and yes, the module actually has notes for GMs who do not want such a powerful tool in their game. Alas, as mentioned before, Pickwendy and his ilk have met their fate - it is thus sans competition of the like that the PCs will sooner or later happen upon the complex, where an ephemeral voice accompanies their exploration, pronouncing, surprisingly, not death, gloom and doom, but rather sensible challenges. Indeed, this whole complex, this whole gauntlet, proves to be a test of both mettle and character, which leads ultimately to the powerful rapier Shajuyumil, who only asks to be reunited with his love - this vow alone is required to claim the powerful item once the PCs have reached it...though reaching it is anything but simple: Both the unique combat challenges and the obstacles presented, including an intriguing moral dilemma, can test PCs in creative and intriguing manners.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's beautiful 2-column full-color standard for the series. The pdf sports several nice, original pieces of artwork. Deserving of a special shout out would be Tommi Salama's absolutely stunning full-color cartography and the fact that this comes with player-friendly maps...including high-res versions.
Haakon Sullivan delivers the best module I have read from his pen herein, finally making the leap from very good/good to awesome. Mike Welham is one of the best 3pp-authors out there, so it should come as no surprise that his module frankly is phenomenal - he should write more of these! Finally, Craig Campbell and Ben McFarland's third module falls in no way behind the quality of the first two: In short, this installment of AQ is all killer, no filler. There is not a single module herein that is content with just spamming combats; there is not a single dungeon herein that does not have its copious sparks of brilliance, its unique challenges. Add to that the superb cartography and we have a module here that frankly transcends the generally exceedingly high quality the series features anyway.
So yes, this installment is worth its more than fair asking price; I'd even go so far as to claim that the modules herein are good enough to warrant conversion if you're playing a different system! Unsurprisingly, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval for this glorious book.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This colossal TOME clocks in at 535 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial/introduction, 1 page advertisement/product checklist, 3 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page obituaries, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 524 pages of content.
Yeah, I know. You expected Northlands Saga first. Well, while I was digging through THAT massive tome, I was asked by several people to cover this monster first. So I listened, put Northlands Saga on the back-burner (its review should hit site early 2017) and instead started devouring this massive tome. So consider seeing this first to be basically me listening to the vox populi.
Ahem. Let that page-count sink in. To call this book "enormous" or by any other name than "TOME" in allcaps, does not do it justice.
All right, but frankly, there are enough big city sourcebooks that simply weren't that good. Is Bard's Gate different? Well, we begin with one component often ignored in city sourcebooks, namely the fact that they do not end at the city's wall. Thus, bard's gate, as presented here, does not exist in a vacuum - the valley of the lyre, situated in Frog God Games' Lost Lands, is where we first turn our gaze upon opening this vast book: Within this context, we are introduced to Bard's Gate's suzerainty before getting a recap of technology levels found in the Lost Lands. Beyond the copious amounts of information pertaining unique places and adventuring potential, the book follows the precedence of the Borderland Provinces and the legendary Sword of Air in that it provides a vast array of random encounter tables by area and goes beyond that.
In stunning full color, we receive the local map, both as part of the over-arcing region and in a more detailed, iteration - from the valley of shrines and the region first featured in the by now legendary Tom of Abysthor (available for PFRPG in the Stoneheart Valley-book) we move towards the mining operations of the vast metropolis, learn about entrances to the underworld, abandoned villages now held by gnolls and barrows containing unique undead barbarians. Forests that are haunted by undead treants, the fully mapped citadel of griffons (and yes, other citadels have different maps) - there is ample of adventure to be found beyond the confines of the city.
It is only natural, then, to assume that the place obviously features more than a few individuals to defend its interests. From the lyreguard (Harpers, anyone?) to more mundane agents of law enforcement, navy, etc. to the various guilds, the book proceeds to acquaint us with the power players of the region: From coopers and shipwrights to solicitors and barristers and wheelwrights, the attention to detail provided is impressive; more impressive than the level of detail, though, at least for me, would be the fact that even these seemingly mundane organizations maintain a density of adventuring potential and story hooks that adds perfectly to the general notion of a world wherein the downfall of society's structures may be one adventuring group failing away. In the time-honored words: "Evil watches, evil waits. Goodness stumbles, evil takes."
This is not supposed to mean that this is a grimdark supplement; quite the contrary. It just means that there is enough for adventurers of all level to do. If you, for example, have been intrigued by the underguild, first featured in "Vampires & Liches" and updated to contemporary systems in "Quests of Doom I", then you'd be in the right place.
It should also be noted that this book, in spite of its copious level of detail, is very much cognizant of recent developments in the game: We can find, for example kinteicists or similar classes among the numerous NPC-builds. Similarly, from masked guilds of assassins to an order of female paladins, plenty of beings with whom to interact.
Now, as you may have noted if you've been following my reviews for some time, you'll notice a certain proclivity for details, for politics and intrigue: Well, rest assured that notes on the latter components indeed are provided and should keep groups busy for pretty much any time-frame you wish. More important in an age wherein kingdom building, downtime rules and the like exist, would be the fact that the pdf actually provides property values and taxes by district - including costs of upkeep! I absolutely adore this often-neglected component that no other city sourcebook, at least none I have recently read, covered in this way.
Speaking of aspects that made the simulationalist GM in me smile from ear to ear and jump up i my chair: Know how I commented on The Lost Lands in the Borderland Provinces books as a region that felt more plausible, more believable than in pretty much any other setting I had encountered in a while? Well, there was one aspect so far only Midgard got right (though it could have been emphasized more) - in earlier ages, social class was significantly more important than even today. Well, this book acknowledges a great catalyst of both adventuring and roleplaying and provides DETAILED rules for determining social class and wealth: Beyond class, race and ethnicity as determinants, rules for gossip, drops for in- and decreases in social status make for an amazing section, also since starting attitudes are determined by class - so yes, in this book and the Lost Lands in general, there may actually be a good reason to send the rogue to deal with the homeless, the paladin to deal with royalty. This may not sound like much, but I've been playing with my own homebrew social class rules and they have been a superb catalyst for roleplaying.
But this is a city sourcebook, in spite of the copious coverage of material beyond the city: As such, it should be noted that each and every district of the city can be found within these pages: From the tent city and stable row to the market district, each of the districts not only provides statblocks for local beings and notes on remarkable places alongside detailed maps of the respective environments, we also receive notes on local characteristics.
Beyond the glorious full-color artworks of the respective chapters depicting the districts, it ultimately would be the people that populate the city of Bard's Gate that render it evocative: From strange mages to notorious doppelgangers, the city presents a strange amalgam of mythological resonance and the fantastic established within the canon of the world: From the pied piper myth to the shapeshifting Grandfather; numerous fully mapped temples (including bacchae) , vampire hunters on the run...there are so many fully statted NPCs and hooks within this tome that even attempting to list them all would frankly be an exercise in futility. Just rest assured that, no matter your preferred themes, chances are you'll find their representation within the pages of this book.
The city, though, is something else: It can be read, provided you know where to look, as Frog God Games' love letter to the amazing community that supports the company, that supports the hobby: If you know where to look, you'll not only find the names of publishers and authors herein; you'll also find Tenkar's Tavern, the amazing old-school site's representation here. And yes, a humble medium that, coincidentally shares some traits with yours truly, can also be found within these pages. I won't lie - reading that entry was indeed humbling. To be immortalized in a book of this caliber is indeed amazing. (So yes, if you ever wanted to kill me by proxy in your game - there you go!)
More than 20 pages of NPCs, from the general to the specific, are featured in the first of the appendices, only to be followed by exceedingly detailed random encounter charts (including charts to determine attitudes of drunken folks!). New magic items galore as well as the spider domain and its associated spells add further material for those of us craving crunch. Speaking of which: Beggar NPC-class, baby! Oh, and a killer PrC, the disciple of orcus archetye and two racial variants can be found herein: The street dwarf and the wood elf. Both races are well-crafted, though the absence of age, height and weight tables for them constitutes one of the few gripes I could field against this book.
Even after all of that, we have barely reached page 387 - so what do we get beyond that? Well, adventures, obviously! And I'm not talking about the usual half-assed back-of-a-setting-book modules...after all, this is Frog God Games we're talking about. We're also not talking about 1 module...we're talking about 7.
All right, since to cover these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory, from here on out, I'd ask potential players to jump to the conclusion.
All right, the first one would be Crommlen's Ghosts, intended for characters level 1 - 3 and is about a mysterious group of raiders harassing the tent city district of the city, doubling basically as a means of introducing the PCs to the region. Via various rumors and interaction and, ultimately, their brawn, the PCs will have to deal with these dread raiders in an old salt mine...and in the course of events unearth the leitmotif of "all evil needs to triumph is ignorance/a lack of empathy."
A matter of faith, intended for characters level 3 - 6, puts the PCs on a trail of missing kids from the poorer sections of town, and in the process of the investigation, confronts them with the vast evil of a horrid child-slave-ring that needs to be purged...but how to go about said business? The schism between factions of an otherwise good church can potentially lead to a whole campaign worth of follow-up material. Have I mentioned that Dropsy the clown makes one of the most disturbing villains I've seen in a while or the cool gondola chase?
"The Over and the Under" would be a change of pace from politics and social issues. Intended for 5th to 7th level PCs, the adventure is basically a heist that is surprisingly well-structured regarding its preparation options; think of this basically as Ocean's 11 in a fantasy casino. Yes, I liked that...and, if you want to, you can make that also a nice module to send the PCs off to riches beyond belief (read: untimely deaths) in Rappan Athuk.
At the same level-range, we receive a cat-and-mouse themed module that centers around retrieving a magic item and sewer/tunnel-crawling as well as rescuing a captured priest of Bast...which coincidentally means that it would also fit pretty much perfectly within the Southlands-context, but that as an aside.
A fully-depicted black market basement would be up next (it doubles as basically a mini-module, if you choose to run it as such), before the level 8 Gnoll Fortress follows up on the gnoll raiding party featured in "The Stoneheart Valley" and gives them their proper due: And do NOT believe that these threats will be easy to eliminate: A lot of individuals sport class levels and with ettins etc. included in the mix, dealing with this constant threat to the region is most assuredly a task that will not come easy to the PCs.
"The Hidden Huscarl", for characters level 8 - 10, would be an amazing bridge from the city of Bard's Gate to the frigid regions of the Northlands Saga. The module focuses on finding a missing Northlander captain, who has crossed a powerful crime lord of the city...promptly dropping the man in his personal oubliette, a dungeon wherein not only ossuary golems, but also a vampire torturer need to be bested to win the freedom of the missing captain. (Which, coincidentally, also puts them on decent terms with a powerful jarl...)
"Slip-Gallows Abbey", intended for 10th+ level characters, deals with the exploration of the eponymous place: The result, among other things of the hubris of mortals believing they'd be capable of screwing over the dread entities of the city of brass, it is a highly-lethal dungeon-crawl through the cursed and shadow themed place.
Now the maps of this book deserve special mention: Full-color and gorgeous, they come with regular and key-less, player-friendly iterations of both the massive city, its environments, AND the locales featured in the city's write-up and the modules, providing maximum usefulness to the city and its environments.
Editing and formatting are truly impressive for a book of this size - there is neither an accumulation of typos or the like, not an excess of rules/formatting hiccups to be found here. The book is precisely crafted. Layout adheres to a neat 2column full-color standard that manages to cram a metric ton of text upon each page: This book, in a less efficient layout, could have doubled in size. So yeah, there is A LOT in this book. The artworks provided for the tome are gorgeous and full-color...and yes, they are original pieces. While a few are used more than once herein, I am certainly not going to complain in the aesthetics department, particularly considering the HUGE amount of absolutely stunning full-color maps. Speaking of which: While I couldn't afford backing this massive beast of a book, I do believe that the colossal map of the city in print out to be something to look forward to. I wouldn't comment on the print copy since I do not have it in the case of any other publisher. However, Frog God Games have, at this point established that their massive hardcovers stand the test of time by virtue of their quality. So yeah...if in doubt, I'd try to go for that version.
Casey Christofferson, Matthew J. Finch, Skeeter Green and Greg A. Vaughan, with additional material by James M. Spahn, deliver something that exceeded my expectations by a long haul. Let me elaborate:
3.X was, among many unpleasant things, also the golden age of amazing city source-books: With particularly the scarred lands delivering some of my favorite places ever and with the Iron Kingdoms Great City, Ptolus and Freeport adding to the fray, I still count quite a few of the cities from that age among my favorites. Paizo has equally done an amazing job of crafting evocative, unique settlements since. However...as much as I love Necromancer Games, the original 3.X Bard's Gate will never be a book I fondly remember. It should have been a milestone and featured the worst editing of the NG-era, felt disparate and confused and lacked a cohesive, unique identity. It is a book I buried deep within the confines of my collection and never looked fondly upon.
This obviously meant that I could have been more excited to t review this book. To be quite honest, it is only my faith in Frog God Games that made me give this a go in the first place. After showing with the excellent Borderland Provinces books that the cadre of authors and designers can craft superb sourcebooks, I felt a glimmer of hope for this supposed lynchpin of the Lost Lands, hoped that it would finally bring justice to this massive city. The sheer scope of this book is frankly daunting; the fact that it actually manages to be that lynchpin, however, is what makes it amazing: This is the central puzzle piece around which the other aspects, all the extensive canon, is situated around...and it *FEELS* like it: From the humble small modules to the classics, from the old to the new, Bard's Gate manages, with almost encyclopedic aplomb, to connect a vast network of narrative threads and weave them into a cohesive whole that doubles as a compelling, meticulously planned city.
More importantly, it is now actually a place the PCs will want to protect: There is everything to be found and gained within bard's gate, everything to be lost as well. It can be a glorious place and a hell-hole at the same time and ultimately feels like an organic, breathing entity of a city you could wander through, managing to bring an attention to detail and a diversity of scopes from the mundane to the epic to the table that makes it a milestone of a city. Bard's Gate isn't a weird city, though it features such themes; it is not a grim city, though it can be. It is both decidedly fantastic and down to earth at the same time and manages to convey a sense of historicity you won't find in most fantastic metropolises. In short: This book's existence makes the previous iteration of the book as obsolete as humanly possible and doubles as one of the most compelling city sourcebooks I have read for PFRPG. The only other city sourcebook which has, by virtue of page-count, even the remotest chance of standing up to this juggernaut would be Freeport and I don't have that book since its first PFRPG-foray back in the day disappointed me.
In short: Bard's Gate stands very much as a class of its own, with in particular the acknowledgment of social classes being one of my favorite aspects within. Add to that the great prose, the winking love letters to the community and the creative, challenging modules and we have a book that oozes passion and heart's blood from every page. It should come as no surprise, then, that I consider this to be one fantastic tome, well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval as well as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here. Will post it in the usual places as soon as the book becomes available there. :)
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page foreword/how-to-use, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 27 pages of content - these pages are formatted for A5 (6'' by 9''), which means you can comfortable fit 4 of them on one A4-page, should you elect to print this out.
So, what do we get this time around? In contrast to the first Roll XX-book, this one has a more limited scope: In general, the questions and answers are framed by an aesthetic that could be summed up as dark fantasy. The general formula has also evolved, if you will. Take a look at the first first question, innocent enough: "What's on the banquet table?" You roll a d10 for a first dish and one d10 for the sides. You'd for example get "Mortrews and peas with saffron." However, that being done, you may elect to roll another d10 for the "However..."-part of the respective entry. These caveats range from the innocent "the food's old and rotted away" to the creative ("The food's actually not food but parts of a gelatinous cube, properly carved and dyed into appetizing shapes.") and finally, the horrific - in the latter instance, guests have been gutted, their entrails looped around plates and tureens.
Now not all of the entries adhere to this formula: There are questions that feature only 10 replies to choose from, sans meta-modifications like this: When deciphering ancient, dwarven runes, you may for example stumble over a PC's name, generating paranoia via the insinuation of the PC being a liar...or one can find out that the current hero of the Northern clanholds has actually fallen in battle...a long time ago...so who's on the throne?
Thing to find in dust-shrouded sepulchers can carry unpleasant side-effects are nice and the effects of sprung traps similarly are neat...though e.g. a reference to manticore venom somewhat puzzled me, considering that the majority of fantasy games I know off do not feature poison amid the builds for these beings, mythologically-correct though the reference may be. These fluff-only quick and dirty trap effects certainly can help an experienced GM, though personally, I think that the system-neutral formula here works a tad bit less well.
More fun, at least for me, would be a quick "new threat"-generator, which can yield results like: "It's the Plague Minotaur which increases its strength in direct proportion to the extent of its injury." Origin-lands of demons and the things you can find on corpses as well as an amorphous blob-generator make sense to me.
The pdf also contains a monster generator, which sports 10 sample names, 10 descriptions, 10 patterns, 10 victims and 20 appearances that can be combined with one another. Beyond these cosmetic aspects, 10 appendages and 10 abilities, 10 defenses and 10 general attribute (armor, health, intelligence) are featured - all in all, a nice way for a GM looking for a unique threat, but starved of time and creativity to get the creative juices flowing.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches. Depending on the length of a given d10-array, you either have a 1-column or 2-column standard in layout, sometimes mixed on one page. The pdf is b/w and bereft of artwork, but does come with extensive bookmarks, which allows for quick navigation of the electronic file.
Adam Burke, Rafael Chandler, Mason Deming, Matt King, Jim McCann and Jon Schweitzer have delivered a fun little GM's helper-type of tool...and better yet, it is actually PWYW! This means you can literally check this out sans risk and leave a tip you'd consider appropriate. Personally, I firmly believe that this is worth getting; there are some nice ideas and dressing-components to scavenge from this, even though the file does stumble a couple of times over its system-neutral aspect. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform due to its PWYW-nature.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive book clocks in at 103 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,3 pages of ToC - leaving us with 98 pages of content. The pages themselves are designed for an A5 (6'' by 9'')-standard and if you print it out, you can easily fit 4 pages on a given page.
So, this is one of those books that you don't think you need - but sooner or later do. It is, in short, a massive GM-inspiration/dressing book, but unlike most: Where usually, you get pretty generic dressing to generate details, this book deals with questions and their answers: Basically, you look at one question, roll 1d20 and there you go. Or, well, you just read all and choose, you know?
The questions generally range from the generic to the specific: If you ask "What's in the treasure chest?", you may find prophetic poems, written in blood, profane copper, starving blood ants, Vecna's OTHER hand, Pan's Flute...you get the idea. Other questions herein pertain, for example what else may be required for a certain potion; what the orc chieftain is wielding, etc.
Now here is the catch: This book is not solely devoted to the fantasy genre, in spite of the impression elicited by the front cover: In fact, this is not only system-neutral, it also covers a lot of bases: Beyond the first chapter, devoted to fantasy, we have one for superhero RPGs that provides replies to the burning question where the villain's secret lair might lie or what apparently-useless-her-powers may do.
Aficionados of science-fiction similarly may enjoy a whole chapter, wherein starship passengers, malfunctioning equipment and the like are covered. Personally, I am very much partial to horror, so the table containing cryptic anagram clues alone made this well worth getting: Fans of CoC: How long do you need to solve "I've misery: red mists"? Great and useful: Reasons why you (or someone else) can't see the horrible entity. The horror-chapter is pretty extensive and this, for me, is great news.
But perhaps your tastes are more aligned with modern gameplay - so if you need some notes for modern gameplay, rest assured that this pdf delivers those as well: What's in that duffle bag? What is that sentry babbling about? What's that bottled liquid? From the mundane to the majestic, the pdf delivers a broad spectrum of notes...and you obviously may, at any time, simply only print out the genre of choice you need.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a no-frills b/w-1-column-standard and the pdf comes with excessive bookmarks - each question gets one, which means that using the pdf via an electronic device if comfortable and dead simple - a must for a book like this.
Adam Burke, Rafael Chandler, Mason Deming, Matt King, Jim McCann, Gary Bowerbank, Bill Collins, Keith Keffer, ASH LAW, Tony Love, C. W. Marshall, Brianna Sheldon, Stuart Templeton and Graham Walmsley deliver one amazing, useful GM tool. Oh, and two things: It's completely open-source and it is PWYW. You can pay whatever you can afford for this neat book and frankly, it is worth getting; it is worth leaving a tip for this nice toolkit and I encourage you to download it and see for yourself; more often than not, the entries can actually inspire their own narratives and plots. All in all, a fun pdf, well worth getting - 5 stars.