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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This adventure for Esoterrorists clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page references, leaving us with 22 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! Our take centers on the machinations of two individuals, namely George Bingham and Fred Seymore, Ulster Loyalist Defense Force loyalists who seek to re-incite the hostilities in Northern Ireland by means of terrorism. With their group recently losing most members due to disillusionment, the two have killed the son of an IRA member, one Jeremy O'Leary - and act that has shown a gulf between the two, for George seems to not mind, whereas Fred was less enthusiastic. Alas, even that semi-botched hit (which included a car crash) was not enough to make the terrorist goals work - it is here that George, in his desperation to see his cause fulfilled, met one woman named Deborah McArgill - who is an esoterrorist. She introduced George to the ritual to call forth torture dogs to carry out acts of terrorism, requiring "only" the sacrifice of a loved one and 4 children per torture dog. The ritual was carried out in a slaughter house and was successful, leaving Deborah and George in charge of 5 of the hellish beasts - and they plan on using them, as Deborah has secured a job at a hotel where the North Irish Catholic delegation is hosted.
After a brief flow-chart illustrating the structure of the module is helpful and the module is particularly designed to allow for scene-skipping, which makes it pretty well-suited for convention gaming etc. The OV agents begin their investigation with the aforementioned slaughterhouse (which comes with a VERY basic, schematic b/w-map) - it is here that the PCs will find the body that gives this module its name - in case you didn't know: "Six Packed" is a non-lethal form of punishment, in which someone is shot through the feet, ankles and hips - oddly, though, the man has thereafter been killed, which is very weird. It should be noted that the rules-nomenclature has changed since this was released, so that is something for the GM to bear in mind, but yeah. PCs will notice that the blood under the body is too plentiful for one being, which may point the PCs towards the meat-grinder, where the remains of the immigrant children used in the massacre can be found.
At the scene, the PCs may question a Polish girl working at the plant and the chef of the meat processing plant - though oddly, one of the bullet points in Jenny's write-up lacks the results for spending some points, which is weird. Vince can potentially identify the thugs that borrowed his facility - which points towards the Alexis family...but further investigation of these notorious persons does not yield the suspect, but does net the information that Fred and George were those that rented the facility...and may also note that the family is NOT amused by having the facility "blow up" - and thus no longer be any good for future...problems. As an optional encounter, this may result is a bit of combat, as the Alexis family sends a hit team after the PCs, with a car-chase/fire fight. The consequences for a veil-out here could have used a bit more guidance.
At Fred's apartment, an old lady may yield the clue that Fred was seeing a girl (that would be Maggie)...and indeed, both her and Fred's laptop (in her possession) yield the information that he was planning on leaving the ULDF - it is also from the old lady, Maggie, and the laptop that the PCs can piece together that George and a mysterious lady were cooperating...and that they are prime suspects for the dread massacre that cost Fred his life. At this point, the PCs will probably have a lead on a mediterranean catering service...and it is here at the very latest that the PCs can find out the final location of the intended hit, as Deborah, with a new hire (George) has left for the Ancient Farm Hotel housing the delegates.
Here, things take a turn for the dangerous: Deborah and George are armed with silenced weapons and are driving away - a hostile altercation may send the MI5-operatives running...but nonetheless,, stopping the esoterrorists may be worth the harder veil-out...but the timer's ticking: The drugged torture dogs have been brought inside the hotel and the PCs better hurry...the drugs will soon wear off and the PCs have a veil-out to think about. Torture-dogs (which come with a glorious, twisted b/w-artwork) have btw. an integrated drill, toxic spikes that generate a sensory link between the creature and the PC and telepathy...yeah, OD entities are not there to cuddle.
Weird: The veil-out doesn't even mention the potential car chase and killed esoterrorists, though the process in the hotel has some basic coverage, though it is not very detailed, making it an afterthought at best.
Editing and formatting are good, though not as good as in later offerings by Pelgrane Press. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf has 2 nice b/w-artworks and a stock photo in color as artworks. Cartography is as basic as it gets black lines on white, abstract and pretty rudimentary, but functional. The pdf does not have any bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort-detriment.
Paolo F. Bongiovanni's "Six Packed" represents a linear, quick to play scenario that makes most sense as an introductory scenario, for the plot itself is pretty much the atomic esoterorrist storyline. The hotel could have used more details regarding people present, infiltration methods and finding the ODs, making it pretty evident that this section is intended to be glossed over in favor of getting quickly to the final confrontation. This is not bad, mind you, but neither will it blow any experienced GM away. It hasn't aged that well and while the low price makes it still a decent offering, it is not something that will blow veterans away. How to rate this, then? Well, as a first scenario, it works well and I will rate it as such - 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. If you're already into your Esoterrorist game, have experience with ToC or NBA, round down instead - players experienced in GUMSHOE games will waltz through this. The one exception to this would be convention gaming: For a convention, this may be worth getting and rounding up, as its simple structure allows for quick modification if time concerns are a factor.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
In my games, there is no common. Taldan is a kind of lingua franca in many parts, but most people from "dominant" cultures speak their own languages. Problems? Zero. Plusses: Makes Linguistics and several skills matter. Ethnicities like Varisians and Shoanti speaking their own languages makes for a more compelling cultural interaction. Also nice: You can easily craft hooks and rules for e.g. related languages that kinda-sorta are similar, but not really. Think Spanish & Portugese, for example.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 34 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page b/w-version of the cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 28 pages of content, though these pages are A5-booklet-sized (6'' by 9''), which means you can fit about 4 of them on a given sheet of paper, provided your eyesight is good enough.
This review is based primarily on the print-version with new layout from 2014, though I took the electronic version for reference purposes.
So, first things first: This is intended as an introductory module...perhaps not necessarily for gaming as such (more on that later),but for LotFP's distinct style of design. What do I mean by this? Well, this module is suffused with numerous designer's notes that elaborate on specific design decisions and rationales, helping the referee understand why and how certain things are the way they are. At the same time, if you're expecting copious read-aloud text or the like, you're at the wrong place here. If you expect mercy or a gradual learning curve, then you'd be similarly in the wrong place. This module is pretty much sink or swim for referee and players alike.
The hook is as simple as it gets, intentionally so, and the dungeon is very much a contained and relatively static environment, making that aspect "easy" - but only that aspect. The story's simple: There was a wizard known to gaze at the stars; his tower remote and removed from the nearest civilization. People talked about him in hushed whispers and his only lackey took care of most things pertaining paltry mortals. It's been a long, long while since anyone saw the wizard. The intrepid group of victi...ehrr, I mean murderhob...ehrr, I mean "valiant adventurers" has decided that the tower's rife for the plucking.
....and this is about as far as I can go without going into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
Only referees left? Okay. So...know how I consider both "Grinding Gear" and "Hammers of the God" hard but fair? This one...makes sense in a similar manner, but is mean. Logical and methodical in its meanness, but yeah. We begin in the field before the tower: Iron spikes rise from the ground equidistantly, ringing it and the open ground between the spikes and the tower is a blasted ruin, where lightning bolts keep striking. Do the PCs carry long poles? Metal armor? Then they should hurry and get inside. Between the spikes and the tower, there is a percentile chance to be hit by lightning...something a level 1 character is not likely to survive. In order to get in the tower, two options present themselves: A knocker and a handle. The knocker makes the doors open themselves. The handles are shaped like serpents...and touching them makes them come alive. Bite the touching character. Save vs. poison or DIE.
That may sound harsh, but when you think about it, it makes sense in-game: Guests should knock when visiting an evil wizard...and the handles are serpent-shaped. The detail *is* there...and this is a level 1-module in a relatively rules-lite system. It also serves a purpose of establishing a design-paradigm: Details matter and internal consistency is important. In fact, the whole module can be seen as a conditioning, a teaching experience if you will...one that is gleeful in some of its more sadistic moments...but never one that can be considered to be thoroughly haphazard. There are some moments that are nasty, though: There would be wine as treasure, for example: Well, one bottle has gone bad: Drinking it will cause...bingo. Death. The wine's worth something, so with some ill luck, either a PC or a client may die there...which can spark further adventures, sure...but considering the lack of options to detect the spoiled one, it feels cruel.
Speaking of cruel: You see, the aforementioned lackey of the wizard's been gone for many a year, frustrated by the constant misuse by his cruel master...whose spell he sabotaged, trapping the wizard in a circle of salt. The PCs can find the old stargazer. He's been standing, upright and still, confined in the circle, for more than 50 years and his mood is foul...but he does try to put on a benevolent Dumbledore-act...and if the PCs buy it, he asks them to go. If they refuse, he drops his act and becomes threatening. But as long as the PCs don't do anything, he can't do jack. It's the choice and consequence paradigm.
At the same time, the wizard tower depicted here feels very much magical: Within these halls, one can find a levitation shaft used to navigate it, a frozen storage containing vials of blood (which animates and becomes aggressive) and a ghost custodian of the eldritch section of the wizard's library. This ghost challenges the PCs to a game: Select chess, darts, anything you have that can engage your players and potentially is over quick to not stall the game...if you're too good at chess, for example, and doubt that your players could beat you...well, then don't play chess. Why? Well, if the PC fails, the ghost is freed and the PC dies, taking its place. There is no salvation for the eternal guardian here.
One highlight of the exploration of the dungeon would certainly be the wizard's workshop, where an acidic pool of liquid contains strange fish and a complex telescope-like device allows for the opening of the tower's roof...and perhaps the most hilarious, amazing and mean part of the module: All this arcane machinery pertains the wizard's studies: He's been obsessed with other planets and wanted to learn to get there.
Unless the PCs were VERY thorough with their research, they may be in for a surprise: Looking through the telescope, they can see strange entities on another planet. With some serious experimentation, item-use and the like, they can use the device to fire a transport-beam t the planet...but unless they have VERY carefully done their research (unlikely), any PC foolish enough to try to use this beam will be transported to that planet...his molecular consistence changed to something that is considered a delicacy there...and he'll be eaten/drunk/slurped up. (And yes, there is an artwork of a view of the entities...) This whole procedure requires A LOT of effort on part of the PCs, is mean and memorable and pretty unlikely to happen...but it exemplifies to a degree the philosophy of magic being very dangerous, demanding respect.
Oh, and regarding internal logic: It makes sense. Traps and dangers are where intruders shouldn't be. When the PCs find a corpse, sewn up with gold thread in the basements and loot the thread, they'll be attacked by the animated organs inside - deservedly so, I might add! Another aspect I'd consider haphazard in its design: Several magic mirrors provide either significant benefits...or suck in a character, consuming his soul after 3 days, with no means of saving him: Breaking the mirror kills the PC. Sure, anyone who's read Kull-stories knows that gazing into wizard mirrors is a bad idea...but still. Somewhat akin to a deck of many things in its randomness, without the warning the item carries. There is no way to determine the function of mirrors before, btw. - no reward for being smart or observant. Such unfair sections are what tarnish this module in my book, which is a pity, for the atmosphere evoked is cool indeed: In which other module can the PCs find a 16-armed skeleton in a cell...complete with artwork...and have it have no function apart from sparking the player's imagination? The dressing and details are great and evocative.
Heck, the module even has a puzzle - a simple one, but yeah: The treasure chests are contained beyond damaging force fields and the PCs will have to manipulate a console and try to find the right combination to lower the force-fields and gain access to the significant treasures contained in the wizard's vault...provided they don't panic and run into them when they're separated by them...you see, if your PCs believe they can smash their problems away, they'll be in for a rude awakening that is bound to be pretty terminal: There is a very real possibility of the whole tower blowing up in a devastating nova if the PCs try to use brute force to solve the problems of e.g. the workshop. I get it. The angle here is to cultivate a consciousness for when to tamper with something and when not to...but, at least in my opinion, Grinding Gear and Hammers of the God did that job much, much better.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a nice and easy to read two-column b/w-standard. The b/w-artworks provided herein are amazing, particularly for showing weirdness rather than the usual suspects of monsters, rooms, etc. - they show stuff when it matters that it has an artwork. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover booklet is printed darker than the pdf, being mostly grey-black...which, ironically, enhances rather than detracts from the artworks...though the cover is pretty much a mush of black, the stairs nearly imperceptible. Cartography is detailed and functional b/w, with furniture etc. included. there are no player-friendly maps included as a cut-up handouts or the like.
James Edward Raggi IV's "Tower of the Stargazer" is actually a well-written crawl through a wizard's tower - as in: The ideas and environments are amazing, the things that can be found are interesting and the emphasis on player choice refreshing: The more greedy the PCs are, the higher is the chance they'll die horribly. And, for the most part, the module is fair in its risk-reward-ratios. For the most part, for there are a couple of scenes, some save-or-die-sections, that can only be described as dickish and completely out of left field.
Where Hammers of the God rewarded deliberate exploration and meticulous respect for the environment and its story, where Grinding Gear's whole set-up required care, precision and a keen mind, this one has this tint of haphazardness not only within the roll of the dice, but within its underlying structure. It feels a bit like an "You must be this tough to play here."-sign that exaggerates subjective flaws (or merits, depending on your perspective) and clichés some folks attribute to old-school gaming. In short: This was obviously written, at least in parts, as a kind of proving ground highlighting some of the best, but also some of the worst aspects of old-school gaming. As a whole, this feels, at least to me, like the weakest of the early LotFP-modules. It showcases the aspects that made the other modules stand out and has the very distinct narrative identity, but, both in comment and design, it also requires you to buy into a certain mindset of capriciousness when it comes to the lives of PCs that contradicts the paradigm of successfully letting PCs dig their own graves, so perfectly exemplified by the telescope, the animated organs, etc..
I like this module, but as a whole, I do feel like it undermines its own point regarding the way to game it tries to teach. Then again, perhaps I'm overanalyzing this and the module's playtest ran too smooth, requiring a couple of middle-finger save-or-sucks. I don't know. If you enjoy HARD, brutal and unforgiving modules, if you don't mind a very real potential for a sudden, not entirely deserved PC-death, then this makes for a great, challenging and atmospheric dungeon. If you firmly adhere to the "reap what you've sown"-school of GMing, I'd suggest getting Grinding Gear or Hammers of the God instead. How to rate this, then? Well, this is not a bad module, but neither did it blow me away. For groups that like the dark and weird that consider themselves to be hardcore...this is worth checking out. As for my final verdict...well, while for me as a person, this is closer to 4 stars than 3, as a reviewer, I can't round up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The first pdf depicting the diverse cults of the Celmae-setting (also known as Shattered Skies), clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The believers of the Ashen King's creed hold the conviction that the cataclysm that shattered the lands of Celmae, the central, original catastrophe of the setting, was but a means of staving off a yet worse apocalypse. Worshiped, unsurprisingly, by the duergar and similar underworld-dwelling creatures, the creed of the Ashen King, fully reproduced here, begins with the words: "We follow the shadowed path of He who destroyed the world and saved it." - yes, this is indeed an interesting duality.
The aforementioned beings receive further coverage and, if you will, contextualized origin-myths: Adherers, for example, once were leper-bandits, transformed by their worship of this deity. Similarly, the kobolds also receive a brief history of their interaction with the deity...and we hear of the hell-candle of Brynndell, where strange dust rendered miners sick, hellish lights began dancing in tunnels and ore containing the undead make for a nice set-up for a high-concept mine-crawl. Finally, orcs whose skin has sloughed off, with sinew and muscles turning gray, represent a nice take on the classic creature with a distinctly Ashen King-like flair.
The Ashen King is depicted as a Lawful Evil deity with 4 domains and subdomains and two favored weapons: Pick and scythe. As always with Celmae-deities with multiple favored weapons, that leaves me to question how this interacts with class features and proficiencies pertaining the favored weapons of the deity. A deity of fire and ash as well as of rigid principle, the write-up manages to evoke a resonance with the Dark Souls-series in themes, which is a nice touch as far as I'm concerned.
The pdf provides 3 fully statted servants of the Ashen King - a deep dwarven (duergar) warpriest at CR 11, a rogue (charlatan) at CR 11 and an adherer dread mummy cleric at CR 9. I'd be significantly more well-disposed to using these fellows if their statblocks were properly formatted: There is not a single italicization in sight, which renders running the statblocks more tiresome than it should be. Also annoying: One ability of the mummy uses the second person instead of the third, making it quite obvious that the ability was just ccp'd. On a more positive side-note, 3 complex and relatively detailed adventure-hooks are included.
The pdf also features a selection of spells, namely 3: Ashen King's Gloom is cloud that imposes fear-based effects on those inside and may even panic those trying to dispel/disperse it from the inside. Lava Ball is just a renamed Giant Lava Ball from Rite Publishing's 1001 Spells. Similarly, Sphere of Disintegration is just a transparently renamed Disintegration Sphere from that book. You know, I don't mind this type of borrowing, particularly of good pieces of content, but the renaming without any flavor additions is odd and does look a bit to me like to me like obfuscation, since the spell-names are not closed IP. Generally, I consider it a sign of courtesy to denote when one is borrowing another person's design, beyond the confines and demands of the Paizo-standard books/OGL. I won't penalize this book for it, but it also shows as an inconsistency in the spell presentation, with the first spell's formatting being incorrect in several cosmetic details.
The pdf introduces the gloom helm, which can duplicate aforementioned spell, enhances Intimidate versus said targets...and gets a per se cool trick that allows for a premature end of the cloud, as it draws towards victims, heating their equipment. All things that should be italicized....are not. Also: +4 to Intimidate versus targets affected by the spell plus a 1/day spell-in-a-can with a unique modification feel a bit underwhelming for the massive price of this helm: 28 K.
We get a specialized summon monster-list for the servants of the Ashen King and also, and that is quite nice, an Inner Sea Gods-style write-up of the deity, with full-blown obedience, evangelist, sentinel and exalted boons. These are, for the most part, nice, though adding disintegrate to an attack should probably be SU, not SP. The option to truly dissolve corpses in sticky soot, preventing the return to life is nice, though, once again, the formatting of abilities is slightly inconsistent here.
Editing and formatting are better than in previous offerings by Wayward Rogues Publishing, but formatting in particular is still off in several immediately obvious ways that could and should have been caught. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a solid blend of original and stock artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes a serious comfort detriment.
Jeff Lee, Robert Gresham and Ewan Cummins deliver a nice deity write-up here; the ashen king tapping into visuals that have been popularized by the souls-franchise certainly generated some interest on my end. That being said, if you're expecting notes on a cult or religion's structure, fame or prestige benefits herein, you won't find them - so if you're accustomed to e.g. Fat Goblin Games' "Final Phase", you'll consider this to be a bit barebones. I do know now about several of the servants of the Ashen King, but not much about an agenda, modes of operation or the like.
The flavor that is here is nice, though: In particular how adherers have been fitted with a cool origin story makes me consider them more than just a lame twist on mummies, so big kudos for this one. There is quite a bit to like in this pdf, but at the same time, the flawed formatting of the pdf, its inconsistencies that become even more obvious when comparing material that has been ccp'd and renamed from other sources...that aspect is really, really rubbing me the wrong way and further decreases the oomph the pdf offers.
Don't get me wrong, the fluff herein is pretty nice and has some cool ideas, but mechanics-wise, I found myself less than impressed by this. If you're just looking for mechanics, consider this a 2-star-file. However, if you do not mind the reprints and are in it primarily for flavor and ideas, then this may be something worth checking out and closer to 3 stars. Since I make it a habit of trying to see the positive in a given book and since this is primarily intended as a flavor-book on a cult, I will rate it as such...though honestly, as much as I like the ideas here, I still feel that the whole religion and its structure are pretty opaque to me. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo, with the aforementioned caveats.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages for this module for 6th-level characters, so let's take a look!
This module is intended to be run in Midgard's Southlands, though arguably, it can be transported with ease into just about any desert-themed environment that can feature a lost tomb. Even the desert-fluff can arguably be eliminated by refluffing the module.
All right, you know the deal - this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still around? Great! So, this module begins pretty much with the PCs hired by one Wasil al-Jayib as hired muscle as the arrive and explore the ruined temple of Anu-Akma that contains the entry to the tomb of fabled Menet-Ka...and the first combat, which features, among other things the rotting wind creature deserves mentioning as a nice first taste of the leitmotif and things to come. Oh, and it should be noted that both the new creatures and Wasil feature their own, absolutely amazing artworks.
You see, the inside of the tomb not only has geomancy glyphs...it also locks down behind the PCs: From a junction, the PCs can witness a crackling flame powered by a gas reservoir and decipher glyphs in order to follow the correct path through the dungeon, in the footsteps of Menet-Ka...so yes, this module manages to perfectly emulate the feeling of exploring ancient, dangerous ruins and presents a level of internal consistency that is impressive indeed.
I mean, I could talk about one of the best examples of a "sand fills everything" trap I have ever seen in roleplaying games...but I'd still be tiptoeing around the one thing that makes this module pure, adrenaline-filled amazingness. Know how I mentioned the tomb sealing? It's airtight. Every single action, every minute, the timer is ticking down. That gas-powered flame? Consumes air. Wasif's habit of hookah-smoking when stressed? Kills air. Flaming monsters? Consume air. Dismantling that highly complex trap? Air's running out. Each wing has its own supply, mind you, and helpful reminders littered throughout the module help you keep track of them, making running the module surprisingly easy! And yep, the module employs 5e's great exhaustion-mechanics for the final stages of lack of air...
Oh, have I mentioned that the dungeon is littered with choices for smart PCs? Regarding the elimination of flames, regarding the conservation of the precious oxygen...and they'll need to be SMART. After all, in order to escape, they'll well need to find a broken tablet and decipher both halves....and finally dive down in a labyrinth-like section, flooded by holy Nuria Natal (if they blindly dove down there, then whatever deity may bless their souls...) and there, duke it out with a water weird and the ghost of Menet-ka himself!
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' two-column full-color standard. The artworks herein are absolutely fantastic and the cartography in color is just as glorious, though I wished the module had player-friendly, key-less versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Dan Dillon's "Last Gasp" may not sound like much on paper and I am firmly convinced that my review does not do it justice, but I tried. You see, this can be played as an adventure...sure. But its mechanics and traps make it an amazing hazard-book as well, even if you're not at all interested in the module.
Ahem, let me spell that out for you: You DO want to run this. Heck, you probably want to run this even if you're not playing 5e! For one, this is a defiantly, dauntingly old-school module in all the right ways: Much like e.g. LotFP's "The Grinding Gear", this represents a truly phenomenal dungeon that rewards player intelligence more than simple luck. It presents a dungeon that is as much a character as any adversary, one suffused by lore and flavor in every single room...and it represents a dungeon that rewards the players and PCs for engaging it, for thinking, getting invested, getting into the mindset of the place. If you run into this, expending to easily crawl through it, you'll die horribly. And that's how it should be.
This is NOT an easy module. Don't play it as your first 5e-module unless you're already a veteran of RPGs. It is, however, the most rewarding 5e-module I've read so far, one that dares to refuse to kowtow to the assumption that players aren't smart enough. Sure, if that's how you roll (for once, yes, I do judge...), the module does have an easy-mode suggestion, but my contention is...why draw the fangs of this majestic beast of a module? That's like playing a point and click adventure with the walkthrough open without even trying. This module is hard, yes, but it is a difficulty that is both FAIR and EARNED. This is a module that challenges players more than it challenges PCs and in this day and age, that is absolutely AMAZING. Each combat, each interaction, each trap - everything is carefully and deliberately-crafted with a craftsmanship and artistry that manages to stand by the best of Midgard-modules, evoking a sense of consistency rarely seen in modules for current rules-system.
In case you haven't figured that out yet: I consider this module to be a masterpiece that is significantly better than its humble page-count would suggest. Whether for convention purposes, to bring some respect or challenge to your games or to simply experience this shining jewel of a module; heck, even from just a scavenging-perspective, this is worth every cent of its asking price thrice. Seriously, get this. Even if you usually only play OSR-modules. Even if you play a different system in your main campaign and only are cursorily familiar with 5e, this is worth converting. I am baffled by the fact that the first module by Dan Dillon I've read is this damn good. If this is any indication of what he's capable of, then let the man write more adventures! I'm so not kidding when I'm saying that we NEED more modules like this. I've rarely had this much fun with a short module. This receives my highest recommendations, 5 stars + seal of approval and it qualifies as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine, posted here, on OBS, amazon, kobold store etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the "I loot the..."-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so what do we get?
Well, the first dressing table herein contains keepsakes and sports no less than 100 of them: From small stones taken from invaded and destroyed castles to pointed fangs that ostensibly may have once belonged to a vampire to stuffed kid's bears and miniature urns...or betrothal tokens, there is a tint of sentimentality and storytelling potential inherent in these, making them fitting and, as a whole, a well-crafted table that can tell little stories and provide hooks to further develop.
Table number two features 100 entries as well. Minions have a hard lot in life and they often live where they work (commuting to evil mastermind's base of operations tends to be a deadly endeavor with all those hydras, undead and traps...) and thus, their backpacks or chests contain a diverse collection of miscellanea to bring some sort of relaxation to their lives...or hint at ambitions beyond their employ. From engraved pewter tankards to ship's logs, romance novels, bones sufficient to complete a human skeleton (why?), badly forged writs of safe passage, collections of mismatched forks - from the surreal to the mundane, from the eccentric to the desperate, these are interesting, in that they may actually make the PCs look for a particular minion - if the minion wishes to escape, for example, that may be an angle they can work!
Table number 3 deals with the contents of pouches minions may be carrying around - once again, the total selection is 100 entries strong and allows for some nice characterizations: A poppet with pins stuck inside; vials of squid ink; charms said to enhance fertility, stolen city watch insignia... the table continues the tradition of the previous two ones in that it manages to add depth to the faceless minions, in that it may make them stand out and receive some sketches of a personality. What more could I ask from this?
Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions: One optimized for the printer and one for screen-use. Kudos for that!!
Kat Evans delivers big time in this cool, evocative supplement - which is difficult: After all, minions are pretty much defined by being the faceless legions. Any pdf managing to add depth to them with the roll of but a single die deserves applause in my book. Now, this is very much identical to the "PFRPG"-version in that it does not contain crunch or system-specific items, but unlike in my review of said version, I can't well complain about that here, right?
Well, yeah...but, as it turns out, the series has reached a very high level of quality at this point...and compared to some other installments, this feels like one tiny step below the apex...so I'll settle for 5 stars for this one as well, just short of my seal of approval.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the "I loot the..."-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so what do we get?
Well, we begin with a massive table of 100 entries that covers armor and outfits that add an AMAZING depth of detail to the respective entries: From bulky bronze armor weighing a whopping 150 pounds to holy symbols emblazoned on the respective armor to seashells added, from armor fashioned to look like hezrous, the diversity or theme is here. The amazing mechanical options some of these entries had in the PFRPG-version have been eliminated here without compromising the vision of the respective entries: There still is resilient glass armor, an armor with tubes that can be filled with a cooling agent to allow for operation in hot climates, etc. - just sans all the pathfinderisms. Chainmail that pinches, gliding capes, armor made from a tar-like substance - there is some serious imagination at work here.
This extends to the second 100-entry-strong table, which features scabbards in need of repair, gel staunching bleeding wounds, helms that have a mouthpiece as a free action that lets them spout and ignite oil, badger pelts bundled with rat pelts (an easter egg), helms that can "bite", tripwires, boots that provide a bit of protection versus electricity...oh yes. This is me smiling from ear to ear right now! Have I mentioned the hilt that generates a new weapon each day, which then proceeds to vanish again? That's basically a minor magic item in one entry. Have I mentioned the buoyant shield? Yeah, this table is great.
The third table would deal with pouch contents: Twigs used for lottery (one short than the others), debt ledgers, wanted posters showing the PC's mug, sheets of paper making fun of wizards...or what about the book that reads "instant fortress"...and is a pop-up book? I totally laughed out loud here! Insect repelling pipes, stick-human-figures made of chicken bones...This wonderfully dry sense of humor suffuses some of the entries...and there are incredibly spicy peppers to be found among letters, wigs and entries like "This orange good is repellent to insects as well as traveling companions." That's one sentence that exemplifies perfectly what I mean with humor and excellent writing. What about the platinum coin that accurately answers a yes/no-question to then vanish?
Editing and formatting are excellent, I noticed no hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions: One optimized for the printer and one for screen-use. Kudos for that!!
I can count the number of pdfs that I did not consider excellent penned by Mike Welham on one hand. His prose is excellent, his imagination amazing. Boy, oh boy, this pdf pretty much shows how I came to hold him in such high regards: Not content with simply providing a diverse array of options full of flavor and different tones, he goes one step beyond. While this version of the pdf obviously is system-neutral, it manages to still retain the glorious panache of the PFRPG-iteration: The items do not lose their magic, their diversity and the quality of the prose is not diminished in any way. In short: Even in the system-neutral version, this loses nothing of its splendor. 5 stars + seal of approval.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The briranor, prior to the Shattering, were an isolated people, dwelling on the Emerald Isle (fully mapped in full color!) - a tribal people fighting as much amongst themselves as with the orcs. When the Shattering tore Celmae asunder, they faced titanic beasts and had to retreat, in unity, to the newly unearthed cities of ruins opened to the sky by the now floating landmasses. Occupying the remains of this erstwhile civilization, they tried to rebuild...but soon had to come to grips with not being alone: The majestic behir and the briranor, after a tentative first contact, entered into an alliance that persists to this day, an alliance that allowed them to reclaim their lands. Initially reluctant to mingle with the strange new race they found in their once homes, the briranor soon mingled with the new elven race - and thus was born a race that could be summed up as Celmae's half-elves...though I prefer briranor. Why? Because, perhaps for the first time in ages, I feel that the hybrid race has a concise and distinct identity. Massive kudos!!
The nation of briranor receives its full write-up - with massive mountains and fey-haunted forests, the nation has plenty of adventuring potential and the sample settlement Baitha is a nice addition. The second nation depicted herein would be that of the Gallfaen - and yes, if you recall the Brynnyn, these fellows would be the ardent foes of Shub-Niggurath's cults and the dread titanic creatures unleashed upon the world, a tribal people. (They also gain +1 to Intimidate checks.)
The supplement then does something remarkably different - something I applaud: It takes a deeper look at the lands of the Briranor, covering all major settlements to be found within this region of the world, including settlement statblocks and lore galore and copious adventure hooks contained in the vivid prose. This made the region, at least to me, come to life more so than any before in the series. As a nitpick, the gold values in the statblock marketplace sections have been italicized, when they shouldn't be, but that's, as mentioned, cosmetic.
The gazetteer also covers the emerald pull, the fey-territory mentioned before. The pdf also sports crunch, though - in this instance, that would be the behir rider, who receives d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression and good Fort-saves. The PrC can be taken at 8th level, provided you can meet its criteria, and has a cool flavor requirement (two thumbs up) - namely that the prospective rider must have single-handedly defeated a behir. Ouch! Love it!
The PrC begins with a young behir companion (proper animal companion stats included!!) as well as behir empathy, a behir-centric-version of wild empathy. The base behir companion is powerful - and has a great catch: If the behir rider has another mount, eidolon or familiar, the "behir will kill and eat it". That's so deadpan...I love it. It made me actually laugh when I read it. 2nd level nets behir's stance, which provides a +1 bonus to CMD versus trip attempts, which increases by +1 every even level thereafter. 3rd level nets natural armor +1, increasing this every odd level thereafter. At 4th level, the PrC receives combination charge, which nets the behir a free bite attack when the rider is charging. 8th level allows the behir to execute the breath weapon at the end of the charge (with a caveat to prevent recharge abuse!) and as a capstone, we have a decrease of the recharge time for the breath weapon by 1 and immunity to electricity for the rider.
The behir companion begins play with 8 HD and increases these to 15, has good Fort- and Ref-saves, increases skills from 8 to 15, natural armor from +6 to +12 and increases Str and Dex by up to +6 over the course of the 10 levels of progression. During the class advancement, the behir also receives 7 bonus tricks. It begins play with link, with 2nd level providing devotion (+4 to Will-saves vs. enchantment) and grab, 3rd level providing evasion, 4th constrict, 6th rake, 9th improved evasion and 7th level breath weapon. The 10th level provides swallow whole. Powerful, yes, but ability-dispersal-wise and considering the relative dearth of good abilities in the base PrC, more than justified. Now, there is one baffling oversight: The second page of the behir's rules-text...is completely italicized. It's a cosmetic glitch, but one that even casual inspection could have caught. Still, as a whole, my favorite class-design in the series so far!
Next, we are introduced to 4 new deities (all with their own full color symbols) - there would be Ametus, the creepy deity with the needle-pointed fingers that wrested the secret of undeath from the Grey Maiden (Vecna, anyone?), Lyria, patron of sun, passion and art, Reata, dual deity of love and lust as well as war (which makes a lot of sense to me!) and Wyre, master of dreams, magic and knowledge. Now these deities do have a couple of minor issues: Ametus and Lyria have two favored weapons, which makes the proficiency question and interaction of favored weapon mechanics problematic - do both weapons apply bonuses, if any? Lyria also gets one subdomain more than the other deities.
The pdf sports 3 domains: Art, Dream and Passion: Art allows you to temporarily make regular items masterwork and 4th level allows the character to take bardic masterpieces, substituting spells known with spell slots...which sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, bardic masterpieces require the expenditure of bardic performance, which means that the domain...doesn't do anything there, unless you have somehow access to the bardic performance class feature. The movement subdomain lets you touch a target 3 + Wis-mod times per day, forcing them to move gracefully away from you (nope, does not provoke AoOs). This one should have a save to negate. The sound subdomain provides basically a weaker version of inspire courage. Not blown away.
The dream domain nets you the option to 2/day to apply a +5 bonus to AC or Ref-save of a companion. The wording makes me think that this should have an immediate action activation, but the ability does not specify one...so yeah. 8th level lets you scry while sleeping...and nope, the spell's not italicized. The Passion domain lets you touch another to grant them bonuses to Perform, while 8th level provides immunity to non-magical fear effects and a bonus to saves versus magical fear.
The pdf concludes with a new material, azure luster: The material is used for weapons exclusively (being to malleable for armor) and increases the damage of the respective weapon by one size category, but are ALWAYS treated as broken. The material also ignores the AC or shield bonuses granted by iron or steel armor (explicitly just these - bronze, mithril, etc. are good!) and may not even damage these materials - iron creatures would be completely immune versus these weapons! The cost, at +5K gp, is pretty low for the benefits...but then again, I LIKE it. It provides a great in-game reason for making armor and shields out of strange materials, for getting that bone armor...you get the idea. It feels a bit rough, but offsets that by being imaginative, ending the pdf on a high note.
Editing and formatting...are not that good. I noticed several typo-level hiccups and formatting in particular, while better than in previous installments, sports some very obvious hiccups that should have been caught. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and artwork consists of a blend of nice full-color original pieces and stock art. The pdf has no bookmarks, which constitutes an unnecessary comfort detriment.
Jess Carson, with additional writing by Robert Gresham and Angel "ARMR" Miranda, delivers the by far best Cultures of Celmae-supplement I've covered so far. The flavor is more in-depth, with the gazetteer painting a more vivid picture of the regions and people in question. The briranor have a more distinct identity than most half-elves I have seen, which is a big plus. In fact, I was getting ready to sing some more pronounced praises here...and then, I stumbled over the deity-write-up section and the problematic (and partially boring) domains, which stick out like a sore thumb in the book. The deity-fluff is generally nice, if not too mind-blowing, but the domains...are simply not as refined as they should be. Compared to both PrC and new material and the cool ideas they represent, this section feels...less compelling.
This is an inexpensive pdf, yes. But the domain issues do drag this down a bit, unfortunately, to the point, where, in conjunction with the pretty nasty formatting issues, I can't rate this as high as I'd like to. It should also be noted that bonus types could have used a more rigorous codification in this supplement. Still, of the early Cultures of Celmae-books, this is BY FAR the one most worth getting! If you're looking for more culturally distinct half-elves, it could very well be exactly what you're looking for! Still, with the formal issues, I cannot go higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This pdf clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Once upon a time, rumor tables were a common thing you expected to find in a given module - while nowadays, they are, at best, rare occurrences. The pdf thus begins with a brief "how to"-list for GMs on how to employ these rumors with maximum efficiency - they can, if handled well, provide depth, make the world feel alive and steer the plot - or provide red herrings and local interests unrelated to the module. As such, the introductory page dealing with these and how to find them can be considered particularly helpful for GMs who missed the golden age of sandboxing, if you will.
After this, we begin with the first table, which spans no less than 3 full pages, delivering 100 local events that not only provide local color, they actually can double as adventure hooks: I mean, have you seen the town's beauty wearing the red ribbon on her throat that means she's spoken for? But who could the suitor be? And have you noticed those strange toadstools cropping up around the place? You know that they bespeak fey activity, right? More mundane rumors like local burglaries, domestic disputes or a recent call from the militia can be found, neck to neck, with the arrivals of tinkers in town. These would be the general, local color-type of rumors.
The second table herein, in contrast to that, does feature significantly more detailed hooks - basically adventure-igniting, very detailed set-ups: The table covers 20 entries and spans 2 pages: From gold being discovered and the springing up of shanty towns and such gold rush scenarios to human bodies being found in poacher's pits (pits where animal carcasses are thrown) or talks of new ways to pubish criminals - these events are very much evocative and versatile.
The third table, once again spanning no less than 20 entries, allows for easy combinations with the former - here, local legends are depicted: From scarecrows animating to the Fall of Tears, ostensibly a gateway to the realm of fey on holy nights to a stream that ostensibly is capable of removing the weight of the years when drunk from near its source, these legends add the mythological dimension and the supernatural to the proceedings - which means you have pretty much everything you need to craft/improvise a module here.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is fitting b/w and the pdf comes in two versions - one optimized for the printer and one for screen-use.
Neal Litherland's collection of rumors, legends and events is amazing - the combination of local color, legends and events can result in truly inspiring environments or adventures. The respective entries are detailed and run the gamut from mundane to magical with panache aplomb.
The system-neutral version is 100% identical (apart from the cover) with the just as system-neutral black-covered version - but in this iteration I can't well complain about an absence of mechanics now, can I? As a system-neutral dressing file, this very much excels and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.
I'd suggest taking a look at Necromancer Games 3.X "Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia" for 3.X; it's still oen of my favorite books of that era.
Even cooler, imho: Xoth Publishing's offerings.
The Player's Guide is free and the adventures breathe the spirit of Howard, Smith, etc. There are even free fan-adventures to get.
*skulks back into the shadows*
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive bestiary for Castle Falkenstein clocks in at an impressive 146 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a truly impressive 139 pages of content, so let's take a look!
It has been a long time since Castle Falkenstein, beloved by many, has seen any proper support - which is, in itself, a surprise, considering its presence among many a favorite RPG-list...but it is also not surprising: Pioneering high adventure in the Edwardian and early Victorian age of an alternate world, it managed to miss both the rise of grimdark aesthetics and preceded the latter steampunk boom, which provided a slew of ill-conceived fads and sloppy prose - prose that would, had more people taken the time, paled before Castle Falkenstein's merits as a novel as well as a game. Castle Falkenstein's framing narrative of Tom Olam being stranded in this allotopia has always been a great selling point, at least as far as I'm concerned; it made reading the books a true pleasure rather than a just a joy.
This book takes up this framing narrative seamlessly, taking "previously unpublished" accounts penned by Tom Olam and converting them into the respective books - and thus we begin with prose, which represents the journey to find the missing manuscript of none other than Dr. Dolittle. It is hence that Tom Olam comments on the material found and retrieved, his work on the conversion...and fans of Castle Falkenstein will indeed notice the seamless consistence of the whole sequence.
That is, until the introductory rules-section begins. Here, we can clearly see the influence of the current age, and I mean that in the most flattering of ways. If you've read my review of Castle Falkenstein, you will notice that I am very much in love with system and setting...but my criticisms towards the system are profound. I consider myself to be a pretty experienced RPG-player, but the presentation of the rules was at times at obtuse and inconsistent as the prose and setting were inspired. The book, in short, suffered from what I'd dub "90s-itis" - an age where a lot of amazing RPG-books with glorious prose, particularly in rules-lite systems, were released, but often suffered from a less than stellar editing and inconsistencies in the rules. And yes, particularly in relatively rules-lite systems, that can really grind the game to a halt. Castle Falkenstein suffered from exactly this phenomenon, and while it certainly is nowhere near the worst offender in that regard when compared to my gaming library's relics, it did, from a current point of view, suffer in this regard. (Ahem, can we have a new edition? Please?)
Anyways, this book begins with PRECISION. Creatures in the Great Game are categorized as natives, faerie pets and things from beyond the Faerie veil, which can be things from other worlds, darker places...or pretty much any setting/trope you can come up with. Furthermore, we classify creatures in 6 different sizes and a handy table categories damage inflicted by creatures with an easy chart, separate entries for partial, full and high wounds and harm ranks included - including notes that wounds and size must not necessarily correlate. The same holds true for creature health and size, strength and size...and the pdf goes through the Castle Falkenstein abilities and notes how they apply to creatures: Flying/Running/Swimming speeds based on physique, for example, can be found here. Oh, and the book provides 5 abilities for use around, with and by creatures - Animal Handling, Animal Speech, Creature Power, Outdoorsmanship and Poison. All of these abilities are concisely presented and, while precise, still maintain the levity in theme and tone that made reading Castle Falkenstein's rules interesting and...well, less dry than in comparable settings. The book provides quick and easy creature creation guidelines and also spends a whole page talking about the ramifications of pets, sidekicks, animal companions - you get the drift. And yes, since Dolittle, Animal Speech, et al. is part of the parcel here, the book does cover, extensively, I might add, the role of intelligent animals in the Great Game - but only after a nice piece of prose, which keeps the overall flavor of the book consistent and high-concept...which btw. would be a term I'll return to! Have I mentioned the clockwork self-destruct mechanism codified in a side-bar?
Speaking of side-bars: Whenever you would begin considering the array of rules-clarifications provided start becoming dry, you'll find one of them: Like Beth-Ann, San Francisco's gigantic bear that was gifted to Napoleon. So yes, this book retains a very nice and inspiring reading flow, as far as the blend of prose and rules are concerned. I was talking about clarifications: TER (Thaumic Energy Requirements) for creatures are easily and precisely presented, codified by creature type...and both giant animals and familiars not only exist as concepts now - they have actual rules governing them!
Indeed, unlike in most bestiaries for roleplaying games, this is no mere accumulation of critters and stats; rather than that, we have vivid pieces of prose leading into the respective entries of creatures, elaborating upon them: Did you know, for example, that sphinxes are aliens, captured by faerie and thus particularly ill-disposed to their ilk? Did you know that true unicorns not only receive their bestiary entry, but also can act now as proper dramatic characters? And yes, this is still not the bestiary section, but rather the section leading up to it, telling us about the kingdom of Kongo in Castle Falkenstein's world, wild children and more.
Now the book does, obviously, begin a section clearly denoted as bestiary, providing creatures in alphabetical order, but unlike bestiaries provided for other systems and settings, the bestiary here takes its debts and associations with our own real world myths very seriously, retaining a mythology-enhanced plausibility: In a world where faerie is a very real force, it's not too hard to picture the existence of the amphisbaena or basilisks, correct?
Each of the creatures herein is not simply presented as a statblock, if you will - instead, the respective entries come with detailed ruminations on the creature, a brief cliff-notes version of it and detailed ideas for the host to employ the creature in question - often as basically a rather detailed adventure hook. The book's selection of creatures, as a whole, resonates very well with real world myths and contextualizes them properly in the allotopia of Castle Falkenstein.
Now, I have called this a bestiary and the moniker is truer than in pretty much every reference towards any Monster Manual-like book for other systems: Let me elaborate. Back before the period of enlightenment, when superstition and make-belief and the dogmatic realities constructed by the church still held sway over our cultures and science was indistinguishable from fantasy, there was a class of book called "Bestiary" - a zoological treatise on various creatures, both real and imagined: Think of this category as basically a category of literature resembling a blend of zoological encyclopedia and travelogue, one in which the fantastic and real blended into what we'd nowadays consider a form of magical realism, a representation of a form of weltanschauung that is in equal parts informed by a harsh reality and vibrant fantasy, by innocence and grime, if you will.
However, with the advent of a progressive secularization and ever more accumulating rebuttals to the world-views eschewed by organized religions, the scientific method began cleaving apart the previously existent "science" and founded the concept of a rationally definitive reality. Now, one accomplishment of this book is that it exists in the strange intersection between the grand psychological traumas mankind experienced in the transition to its (relatively) enlightened state and a more innocent or ignorant world-view when the world was defined by what we can now consider to be fantasies -in this strange no-man's land of transition that is quoted by Castle Falkenstein's allotopia, the question ultimately remains how this strange world, in this transitional phase, would behave if there actually was magic, if there actually existed faeries. Basically, if the medieval superstitions made the transition into a more enlightened era BECAUSE they turned out to be true...and what would happen if these moved with the times, how they would react to the transitional era in which Castle Falkenstein is set.
This is relevant for this book, because its sensibility is not merely that of a basic monster manual, but of a book that takes the established traditions of bestiaries and logically evolves them in a manner akin to how the core book managed to logically develop the campaign world under its chosen premises and contextualize the culture of these days. The book not only manages to retain the feeling evoked by the original Castle Falkenstein books, it progresses them organically and in a manner that bespeaks a deep and abiding love not only for the concept of the age of high adventure Castle Falkenstein depicts, but also for the magical realism and historicity demanded, nay, required by the setting.
This tangent may sound weird to you, but it carries more significance than me just listing critter upon creature and commenting on how they are well made; sure, I can tall you about hippocampi, hydras and the jabberwock - but what help would that be? We all have absorbed these mythological creatures via our collective canon of literature and media productions over the years - or so I hope. More interesting would be how they are depicted, how they are contextualized - as something more plausible and real than current-world cryptoids, as beings fantastic, yet real. The very existence of one such being can potentially radically change the ways in which aspects of culture and society evolved and it is the book's most impressive feat that it manages to retain the plausible consistency the beings require without losing their mythological impact and significance.
Scholars of mythology will smile, from kraken to mi'raj (also known as al-mi'raj or, more colloquially as "that weird unicorn bunny from myths around the Indian Ocean"), from monoceros to pushmi-pullyu to sapo fuerzo and yale - indeed, if you consider yourself a scholar of myths, even a casual one, you'll recognize many of the creatures...but chances are that several of the more obscure ones will surprise you indeed.
It should also be noted that a ton of regular, less fantastic animals receive their stats...but that, once again, would not even be close to encompassing the book, for there is also a chapter on characters and it is here that the ardent and diligently performed process of myth-weaving is exemplified even better: Obviously careful historic research and similarly careful thought has went into the respective representations of real life persons and fictionalized characters: You can find Black Beauty herein alongside famed naturalist Amalie Dietrich; Dr. John Dolittle is just as real here as Fantomas and Moriarti indeed has reason to fear M, the hidden paw. Dr. Jekyll and Mowgli are very real...and Mendel, understandably, is conducting experiments on faerie pets...with Auberon obviously interested in keeping the knowledge about DNA hidden...but why, what's his agenda? See what I'm meaning? We have a logical, and yet inspiring blend of fact and fiction, but one that very much is indebted to the concise realism of historicity as well as that assigned, constructed array of rules generated by the collective of mythology, literature and Castle Falkenstein's own established cultural pastiche.
Indeed, the research that went into this book is as evident as the obvious care and love that went into these adaptations - from Mme Pauline de Vere to Eliza Carpenter, the book presents a truly amazing array of beings for hosts to employ: And it also has no less than 10 dramatic characters, from true unicorn to paleontologist, from falconer to jockey. They universally are well-balanced within the context of CF's rules.
Editing and formatting are excellent, particularly for a book of this size. The rules-language and prose is vivid and I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous 2-column full-color standard, with the artworks employing public domain stock art...which, for once, does actually enhance the feeling of the book more than original artworks would have managed. The artwork makes it feel...more consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with detailed, nested bookmarks.
So, the authors Mister Thomas Stubbins, Captain Thomas Olam and Doctor John Dolittle obviously are legends in our world as well as in others; the transcribing scribe, one mister J Gray may have so far received less universal renown, but one should indeed not remain silent regarding his accomplishments. I have read a lot of RPG-books, many with a quasi-historic context/setting; at one time, you begin to perceive the lines that separate the wheat from the chaff, the books that were made as tasks in opposition to those born out of true and honest passion and love. This book is such a book. From the rules-clarifications to every single entry, the vast array of in-jokes for history- and culture-buffs, the commitment to consistency... to both CF's style and its type of mythweaving, is not only commendable, but exemplary.
The first bestiary of any given setting, by any publisher or licensee, is a risky book and one hard to get right; more so in the case off a setting with such a distinct and hard to properly pull off thematic identity and theme as Castle Falkenstein. This pdf manages to accomplish exactly that feat with flying colors, providing excellence in all categories I can measure. How deep does the thematic consistency go? Well, look at the dinosaur section: Know why there's no T-rex inside? Because the first skeleton was discovered by Barnum Brown in 1902. I am *SURE* that someone is going to complain about that, but me, I applaud this adherence to truth, as it enhances the myths laid upon the history, as it adds a dimension, and, or so I hope, knowledge to those inclined to read...and pursue the handy bibliography included in the back. And yes, this big book is FULL with decisions like that and feels like it is extremely cognizant of its responsibility to the high concepts of the system.
In short: This is a phenomenal continuation of Castle Falkenstein, an excellent addition to this often overlooked gem of an RPG, a book that brings modern precision to the narrative gravitas of CF's mythbuilding and a book that makes me seriously hope for a 2nd edition, for more Castle Falkenstein books. This breathes spirit, love and soul in all the right ways, represents a carefully-constructed labor of love and is an amazing deal, even if you just get it for the purpose of idea-scavenging. In short: This very much represents a gem in Fat Goblin Games' library as well as among the books available for Castle Falkenstein and should be considered to be a must-have addition to any fashionable CF-host's library. Get this. 5 stars + seal of approval + candidate for my Top Ten of 2016. Regardless of system, this is the best book J Gray has penned...eh...transcribed so far and sets an incredibly high bar for the product line.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS mazaine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive module clocks in at 86 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 84 pages - these are A5-sized (6'' by 9'') and thus, you can fit up to 4 on a given sheet of paper when printing them out. The font-size is appropriate when doing so, mind you, so no undue straining of the eyes.
All right, it's a trope as old as fantasy gaming (older, in fact!) - the dwarven empire/civilization that crumbles. We've seen that before, right? Well, as it happens to be, the PCs have come into the possession of a map, which will lead them straight to one of the lost places where dwarves once dwelt. Now, as you may have gleaned by this, the module thus requires a dwarven civilization, yes...but as a whole, any referee worth their salt can add this into LotFP's pseudo-17th-century setting with minimal tweaking/emphasis of the mythological nature of these beings. The module is intended for characters level 3 - 5, though even stronger characters should still be sufficiently challenged by this. In case you're wondering, btw. - this is pretty much PG-13. While certainly not the most light-hearted of romps, it is not a grimdark or particularly gory/depressing module.
Anyways, the module does not take any prisoners and begins pretty swiftly and with a resounding drone...From here on reign the SPOILERS, so potential players should skip to the conclusion.
All right, only referees around? Great! So, there are some common characteristics we ascribe to dwarves: They are stoic and pragmatic conservatives that carry grudges. So, what if the collapse of their empire was not one brought about by external threats, but by a series of well-intended decisions that ultimately brought down the culture...you know, like empires are wont to. To a certain extent, this reflects a downfall that was a whimper, not a bang. The dungeon the PCs are about to explore represents the very final death-throes, where the propensity for devastating grudges and shame turned towards self-destructive behavior on a massive scale. Below cascading purple mists, the PCs will find the remnants of an ancient massacre between humans and dwarves, undisturbed for ages untold.
When mankind entered the dungeon, the dwarven high-priest reacted to the failings of his clansmen in holding the intruders at bay with the spiteful, grudging finality of the ancient religion of the old miner, crushing specially prepared seeds which created the ever-present purple mist, its toxicity negated by the aeons, the mist may now only be cosmetic...but that does not mean that stupid PCs may not dig themselves a horrid grave here.
Now, I mentioned how the complex had rested undisturbed for ages and indeed, the module manages to convey a stunning and evocative sense of antiquity via its prose and internal consistency - combat-wise, there is not that much to defeat but animated dwarven spirits, more automatons than free-willed undead, as the PCs explore these ancient halls...but there doesn't have to be that much in this regard. The module reaches a level of detail that eclipses that provided for most dwarven sourcebooks I've read and evokes an overall sense of truly evocative consistency that is mirrored, time and again, in the varioustidbits and dressings provided - in some cases, literally.
There would, for example, be the tradition that EVERYTHING about an important dwarf's life should be chronicled...and thus, there are halls, where rune filigree-layer lies upon layer, with the intricacies of various layers and their exploration yielding new knowledge. There is also the library, which best exemplifies the truly impressive attention to detail this module sports: The library, you see, contains no less than 100 books. Here's the thing: There is a cliff-notes version provided for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. I am so not kidding you.
Players and PCs interested in lore will have a true field day here and, more importantly, the books will provide actual benefits to the party, should they exert the due diligence and properly do their legwork. There is, for example, one trap, aptly called juggernaut, which is one of the two bottlenecks of this dungeon's exploration - a gigantic mechanism that may very well squash the whole party...but if they have taken care, it won't just boil down to quick wits to escape this doom. Much like all good modules, this rewards smart players and not just good rolls of the dice.
If you're into lore-rich modules, I will have probably sold you on this already, but it's important to mention that the religious doctrine and principles of the Old Miner's faith is mirrored in the challenges faced and that it is lore and attention to detail and player participation that will yield the true treasures of this module...while greed and the mindless plundering of tombs may well see the PCs stranded with cursed items and an immortal nemesis at their heels. Both are by no means mutually exclusive, mind you...though the true treasure as such lies in a portion of the complex the PCs may well never get to see.
You see, the monumental sense of antiquity evoked is constantly underlined not only by the grandeur of ancient dwarven designs and monumental pomp, but also by the subterranean nature of the complex: In the instances where the PCs reach "open ground", the sheer vastness of the realms below, the limitation of both light and darkvision in the endless black, are used in amazing ways: When the PCs walk an arch of stone over a gigantic, black chasm, lose track of the place they came from and only see the arc ahead, while hearing a myriad of *things* in the dark, only the most jaded or foolish of players will not become uneasy. Similarly, at the shore of a subterranean lake, there lie strange towers, high beyond the radius of any illumination the PCs are likely to have - and these towers, in fact, are type of crane that interacts with strange metal tubes...airtight quasi-submarines that need to be navigated through a whirlpool to gain access to the second part of the complex. Navigating the tides is VERY lethal and anyone foolish enough to try the outside will notice this the hard way - and indeed, dealing with the crane in this subterranean harbor carries its own risks. Oh, and PCs better check the tubes...they've been here a long way. Oh, and airtight, so think twice about torches...Yeah, this is most certainly something that not all groups will enjoy, because it is PROBLEM-SOLVING that is not contingent of rolling the dice. Personally, I absolutely LOVE it. We need more of the like.
So yes, this dungeon feels more like a true archaeological exploration and more like a true journey of discovery than your average hackfest; it is a module that, from rooms of ritual shaving to strange devices and lethal traps, rewards getting into the mindset of the culture, rewards behaving like an explorer of a civilization fallen and gone. This is a harsh module; it is NOT easy. However, at the same time, it is exceedingly fair - unless you consider PCs being bitten by potentially lethal snakes for poking sans checking, their finger into a hole bad form. Personally, I like that. I like that, by virtue of the impressive atmosphere, the PCs are faced with a complex that DEMANDS respect...but that also deserves it.
If all of that sounds very conservative, then rest assured that the PCs have the chance to not only find and fight the dread transmorph, which oscillates between forms and attacks, but also may poke through a wormhole...and potentially be poked back. Have I mentioned the chance to get a hyper-deadly butterfly that will kill the first living creature the PCs encounter after leaving the complex? Yes, there is the delightfully weird aspect, though it is, fittingly, I might add, subdued compared to the stars of this module: The complex and culture of the ancient dwarves.
The pdf, just fyi, comes with a solid map of the complex - no player-friendly version is included, but considering the fact that this complex very much lives by means of exploration, I am okay with that.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring accumulation of glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard in A5 (6'' by 9'') that comfortably fits 4 pages on one sheet of paper. Big plus for me, as a dead-tree purist: The printed out version is easier to read than previous LotFP-offerings when thus printed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf sports several nice 1-page original artworks - one of which in full-color, while the others are b/w - in particular the campsite at the subterranean body of water drives home perfectly the sense of gigantic proportions and solitude.
James Edward Raggi IV's "Hammers of the God" is a phenomenal module that borders on being an environmental setting book. I have rarely seen a complex presented this concisely, with an impressive thematic and internal consistency. The ancient dwarven culture depicted herein, with all its small peculiarities and aspects, is evocative, intriguing and provides an exceedingly strong leitmotif for the module. It can also be easily transplanted into just about every setting and manages to make the dungeon the star: More often than not, my insistence on cool terrain features and hazards is read as a condemnation of classic dungeons. Far from it! This module very much exemplifies what you can do with a VERY classic trope, how you can make one of the oldest concepts and make it shine - by details, details, details and consistency. Few modules have managed to capture the sense of being an adventurer exploring a complex with a distinct identity this well; at no point will anyone confuse this module's dungeon for any other dungeon. This has a unique, glorious identity. It, much like the "Grinding Gear", also rewards smart players, as opposed to optimized characters. No matter how lucky or optimized your characters are, they can and will die in these halls if the players don't act smart. You know. Like in a game less based on rolling dice and more on the wits of the players.
Now, don't get me wrong - there is plenty of dice-rolling...but personally, I love how this rewards brains over luck and how it has the guts to say: "Okay, you found the treasure...do you really want to plunder that tomb over there? All right, so these are the consequences..." Greed is not necessarily punished, but the rewards gained from it are double-edged and cut both ways, whereas understanding and dealing with the culture of the complex in an even-handed manner will yield slightly less treasure, but it's true treasure sans strings attached... This is a module that rewards choices above all else and does not hesitate to show the consequences.
As a whole, this can be summed up as one truly astonishing, well-crafted exploration of a fantastic complex, one that will bring a smile to any group that loves exploring sites with a rich and vibrant culture and history, as a harsh, but also fair module that provides challenge and wonder galore. This module, much like Grinding Gear, is good enough to convert to other systems, should OSR-gaming not be exactly what you're looking for; it makes for an excellent scavenging ground for ancient dwarven cultures and complexes and represents my reference module for dwarven complexes, kept from even higher accolades only due to the lack of a player-friendly map to cut up and hand out...but then again, drawing the map's supposed to be part of the exploration....Anyways, my final verdict for this gem will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This installment of the Cults of Celmae-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!
We begin this installment with a brief recap of the gnome's mythology - when forge father Adan's hammer blows created the azer, the sparks of his forge also made the dwarves and gnomes and, according to gnome myth, it was the gnomes that carved out Teran-Jarraian, the world below. As the myth states, it is during this age they made contact with the devastating gugs and pioneered many spells now common to spellcasters across the nations of Celmae. In this golden age, they raised a subterranean library of untold knowledge, but it would only be a matter of time before strife would send their realms into chaos, as the dwarves proceeded to breach the Deep Ore sphere in their quest for the legendary deep ore and thus instigated the core calamity of the setting: As magma erupted and the shattering began, gnomish wards failed and foulest monstrosities were spread across the lands; dragons awoke and the gnomish hero Kremenesh sacrificed himself and his comrades to reseal the dreaded World Dragon, ascending thus to god-hood - and ever since, the gnomes have started adapting among their shattered home, its cultures and environments...though, understandably, there are serious resentments towards the dwarves still lingering.
The myth-weaving in this history is pretty evocative and in fact, exceeds in prose quality that sported for the dwarves, making this a very interesting start for the pdf! Okay, racial trait-wise, the race is split between svirfneblin and the gnomes that took to surface and skies, the pech. Svirfnbelin mostly adhere to the racial traits we know, with some tweaks: Their hatred applies to reptilian humanoids and dwarves instead of goblinoids. They have slow speed in Celmae and receive a dwarf's stonecunning. They also lose fortunate's save bonus and low-light vision and the Stealth-bonus, tough the Craft (alchemy)- and Perception-bonuses remain - the former is btw. formatted as "Craft Alchemy." The SPs of the race are not italicized either and the attribute bonuses are not properly bolded - both of these formatting issues can be encountered multiple times, so if you read me referring to a SP, expect its formatting to be wrong. As a whole, a sensible nerf of the pretty strong base race.
Alternate trait-wise, these guys can replace defensive training with a 1/day darkness SP - that also features the following sentence: "A svirfneblin with the skilled racial trait gains a +4 bonus to Stealth skill checks to hide within the are affected..:" - which constitutes, alas, a pretty nasty fault: You see, svirfneblin in this iteration do not receive the skilled racial trait - it has been broken up into components, making this, RAW, not work. Darker SPs (that are formatted differently than those among the base racial traits) can be found...as can Spell Blocker, which is OP and does not work: When an arcane spell fails to pierce the svirfneblin's SR, the caster may not target the the svirfneblin again for 1 round - no save. It also replaces skilled and alchemical insight, which is puzzling - the base race does not have the "skilled" trait anymore. Speaking of problematic: What abut a constant, level 1 nondetection instead of the usual SPs, PLUS several stone-related high-power tricks? Yeah, not even trying to look balanced here. The final alternate trait works -+2 AC versus aberrations, +1 to atk, replacing hatred and defensive training. 1 out of 5...is not a good quota, particularly considering the easy nature of the design-task here.
The pech gain +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Str, are slow and Small and receive the gnome magic. They gain +2 to saves versus fear, illusions and halfling luck. Skill-wise, they gain +2 to Perception and Acrobatics. Both gnome subraces receive proficiency in both gnome and halfling weaponry. In case you haven't noticed - pech are pretty much the replacement for the hairy-footed race.
The alternate racial traits for the pech allow you to lose the Acrobatics-bonus in favor of 30 ft. movement, with another replacing that and the Perception bonus in favor of Perform and Craft, while Wanderlust diverges from the benefits of the trait with the same name: Instead of the fear-save-bonus and hafling luck, you gain +2 to Knowledge 8geography) (correctly formatted!) and Survival as well as +1 CL for spells that enhance movement. 3 out of 3. Nice job.
The first city featured herein would be Carbas...and it is not a nice place: The inhabitants of this dismal subterranean place are afflicted by incurable black sores, as weird mold grows and the very walls ooze slime: The legendary city of gugs, Ukosh, once sealed, lies below - and its corruption seeps from the black monolith to the realms above....oh, and if that is not enough, the realms elow also hold Celmae's most notorious, magic prison. A look at the settlement statblock won't make you wonder why the place has a danger rating of +43.
Now, I already talked a bit about the hero Kremenesh and his sealing of the World Dragon and ascendance to godhood, but the pdf goes one step further, sporting a detailed, two-page recap of the legend in nice prose - much like Carbas, the flavor is certainly nice and interesting.
The pdf also contains a new hybrid class, the shadowskiver, who receives d6 HD, 6+ Int-mod skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, longbow, shortbow, rapier, sap, shortsword, whip and shields (excluding, as almost always, tower shields) and light armor. They gain Charisma-based spontaneous arcane spellcasting drawn from the bard's list of up to 6th level and sport a 3/4 BAB-progression alongside good Ref- and Will-saves. The class receives sneak attack at first level, increasing the damage output every odd level thereafter to a maximum of +10d6. As a purely cosmetic complaint, there is one instance in the table where the "d" in the sneak attack's damage tally is capitalized.
The class must spend 5 of its skill ranks in "Acrobatics, Bluff, Climb, Jump and Stealth." See the odd man out? Yeah, there is no Jump skill. Second level nets Quick Draw and evasion, with 3rd level providing Spell Focus (Illusion), with 4th level providing uncanny dodge, 6th Point Blank Shot - nice here: Bonus increases if the character has the feat. 8th level nets improved uncanny dodge and TWF, with 9th level providing Rapid Shot. 10th level unlocks the ability to no longer provoke AoOs when using thrown weapons versus adjacent characters as well as Snatch Arrows. 11th level nets an at-will supernatural cloak of shadows that grants concealment that can also provide means of using Stealth.
12th level nets a bonus to AC when adjacent to an opponent. 13th level nets free Still Spell for illusion spells, 17th Extend Spell for illusions, with 14th level increasing movement by +10 ft. as well as providing poison use. 15th level makes illusions infused with the essence of shadow and thus, partially real. The 16th level nets a 1/day (3/day at 20th level) variant sneak that can stun foes. At high levels, Snatch Arrows is upgraded and 18th level nets 10 ft. ranged flank, 19th level increased substance for shadowy illusions and 20th level master strike.
The hybrid class, as a whole, while not perfect, is a decent take on the shadowy rogue with spellcasting. Its very potent shadow tricks are somewhat mitigated by them being...well...squishy. Very, very squishy. However, it does have some issues: For one, its ability-progression basically forces you down one path - there is no choice here. One shadowskiver will be just like another. It has exactly 0 player agenda. Secondly, and more importantly - the niche's been filled by vastly superior takes on the concept. If you're looking for a light/dark-oscillation, going for Interjection Games' antipodism-classes will have you covered. If you don't want the nice variant system these use, I'd point you towards Ascension Games' excellent Path of Shadows-supplement instead.
The pdf also features racial feats, 4 for the svirfneblin, 2 for the pech: Svirfneblin can have a Dispelling Touch, which is interesting: 1/day (+1/day for every 4 levels), you may execute an attack as a full-round action. On a hit, you greater dispel magic and the opponent receives your SR, non-lowerable, mind you, while you lose it, with the transfer lasting for character level rounds. The feat can't affect characters with SR. As a minor nitpick here: I assume you can't have more than one use of the ability in effect at any given time - explicitly stating that would have been helpful. Still, I like this one - the daily limitations make sure it's properly kept in check, though the dispelling fails to clarify its CL. Not perfectly operational, but nice. Keeper of Secrets boosts your saves versus an array of mind-influencing/probing effects, while Knucklebasher is pretty cool: It lets you perform AoOs versus Large and larger creatures as though you were adjacent to them, provided they miss you. Nice one, and has a per-round limit that prevents abuse. The final feat basically nets you a type of freeze. Yeah, not too excited.
The pech feats let you treat, for class level round per day, a skill as a class skill or gain proficiency in a weapon., while the second feat lets you reroll a save versus an effect that results in a fear-based condition up to 2/day.
The pdf also contains 3 new background traits, all of which tie in well with the racial history of the gnomes, no complaints here! The pdf closes with 3 racial spells - detect kobolds is self-explanatory, while aura of inconspicuousness is interesting in that it only affects beings under nondetection and imposes a penalty on noticing them, based on the target's HD. Finally, renew air is basically a nice spell-version of the gas-annihilating spells of former editions.
Editing and formatting have improved in comparison to the previous offerings, though missing letters, missing italicization and obvious cut-copy-paste remnants are still here. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf's artwork is pretty nice, though I have seen the majority of it before. The pdf comes has no bookmarks, which constitutes a comfort detriment.
Robert Gresham, with additional design by Jeff Gomez and Jeff Lee, has improved his prose over the last installment - the shattering as a hallmark and the nice fluff in this book is more refined and reads better than that in previous iterations of the series....to the point where I honestly would like to read more about the setting. So that's a definite plus. On the down side, the formatting is pretty bad and could have used an at least casual glimpse by an editor/proof-reader. The fact that the svirfneblin alternate traits are mostly RAW not operational is a big downside, as is the fact that their balance is wonky. The base race-modifications are decent enough. The shadowskive is a better class than the one the dwarves got, though it does suffer from being very squishy and very linear - from power-levels to design-asethetics, it feels more like a 3.5 class than a PFRPG-class, with no choice, no player-agenda whatsoever and all unique abilities delayed to the higher levels. So yeah, while the craftsmanship is better, it's still not a class I'd consider a worthwhile addition to any game's roster.
On the plus-side, there are some gems in the supplemental material; from traits to feats and spells and the legend provided certainly paint a nice picture. HOWEVER, from a crunch point of view, I wouldn't consider these sufficient. Whether to get this or not ultimately depends on if you're interested in the setting or not: If you are, then this does deliver some nice ideas, a cool city (definite highlight herein!) and some nice fluff. If you're primarily interested in rules, however, I'd suggest looking elsewhere. In the end, this is a bit better than the dwarf-installment, but not by enough to elevate it beyond a final verdict of 2.5 stars. Whether to round up or down depends on what you're looking for. Due to my in dubio pro reo policy as well as the low price, my official rating will round up.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This collection of charts and generators clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The first page of this pdf contains name-tables - 10 male names, 10 female names, 10 last names and 11 over the top fantasy names for males and females with the 12th entry of said table denoting "roll twice and combine". From an internal consistency point of view, it's a bit weird to see the regular name table clearly distinguishing between male and female names in two columns, while the fantasy names separate male and female sounding names with an "or" - but that just as an aside.
Page two provides 6 troublesome treasures, which all come with sp/gp/xp values, though the latter are 1:1 the value of gp, which may upset some particularly ardent champions of "their" OSR-ruleset. These also are very powerful - 5K for a mace+4 whose wielder always acts first? SERIOUSLY? 4 unusual reasons to wander are more interesting, ranging from having denied a fey lord hospitality to now be cursed to wander and bring strife to...the very common blood oath of vengeance versus immortal wizard xyz. Somewhat weird - this one capitalizes a lot of words that shouldn't be.
The next page contains 6 unique holy symbols, including decent visual representations: Festering, molded wounds, ropes of twisted hair or the tooth of a dead man...interesting choices here and the first table ended up enjoying, even though capitalization is once again somewhat inconsistent. 8 interesting locales are next and range from a rock, where faeries may mend broken metal objects or a weirdo berates the PCs for not understanding how noble the way of the goblin is...
I also liked the 12-entry "strange payment"-table, where the PCs may be awarded a thief's courage, a father's heartbreak or similar abstract things...or water stolen from a sacred well. Worthwhile contemplating! The next page represents the first true generator herein, one for stronghold events: You roll a d8 and then check a sub-table: 4 plagues/floods can kill off population, there are 4 burglary severities and there would be visitors/raids: d6 determines the descriptor, 4 the typo of visitor. If there was an assassination, it occurred similarly d6 days ago and harvests also come in 4 entries. Decent, if very minimalist fortress event generator - I have seen better. (Plagues, in particular, will potentially quickly wipe out the population with 2 unlucky rolls of the dice.)
The 10-entry-strong table of "what finds you in the wilderness" would, once again, be a pretty nice ones, with the 7 deadly sins as well as nothingness, fear and beauty making for metaphysical experiences of a rather dream-like nature that are particularly suitable for excursions into the realm of dreams, the fey realms or similarly mutable places where places where shepherds with kingly jewels and the like could make sense, where greed making these riches never quite enough has a tangible draw.
The 20-entry strong table on why a monster wanders has a more universal appeal, but similarly is not as captivating. still, with gone fishin' and monsters currently...ahem...relieving themselves, it can result in some uncommon encounters.
The final table is titles "The Entity requires strange rituals or has inscrutable demands." and represents basically an easy generator - 40% chance for ritual required, 50% for a demand, 10% for both. You take the sentence: "First, ___ yourself ___ the ____" and roll d4s for each blank. Alas, the results can become...awkward, and not in a good way: "First, abstain yourself with the blood..." is for example a valid result here. 6 rituals and 6 demands are provided, to follow after the previous sentence-fragment. These are interesting and include only moving towards one cardinal direction for a week, for example. Similarly, the demands range from the traditional beautiful virgin (The pdf acknowledges the entity to be a traditionalist) to the character's immortal soul. NOW. However, it'll be returned, on credit even! A mixed bag table.
Editing and formatting is still okay, considering the PWYW-nature of the pdf. Layout adheres to a 2-column or 1-column color standard, depending on the tables. The pdf doesn't have bookmarks, but does not necessarily require them- Artwork, where present, is either solid for PWYW or stock; still solid for what it is.
Edward Lockhart's table-collection is decent enough, considering that it's PWYW. The metaphyiscal "what finds you"-table is nice and while others are pretty basic and not too exciting, and while there are some hiccups in the details, as a whole, this does contain a couple of gems for idea-scavenging. The pdf is probably not worth printing out, but for a quick idea-scavenging, it may be worthwhile checking out. Now, granted, the title is misleading - this is basically a chaotic miscellanea of tables and that's it...and, for the most part, it's not strange...but as a PWYW-pdf, this is relatively decent.
And...honestly, I don't have more to say about it. If you're not willing to pay for some of the more detailed, focused generators out there, this may be worth checking out and leaving a small tip. If some of what I noted interest you...well, you can download it. Compared to many of the better generators/miscellanea-pdfs I've read, this feels unfocused, and the generators presented...have some minor hiccups. I feel like a jerk for doing so, but considering the quality of these generators and how strictly I tend to go to town on them, I can't rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform...in spite of being PWYW.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive module clocks in at 76 pages (if you take cover/editorial/etc. away) and my review is based on the print version I received at Gencon in exchange for a fair an unbiased review, which is also why you're seeing this review so soon after the module was made available to the public. The review is thus based on the physical copy of the module.
Now, first things first - this module was made to support Gaming Paper's useful and pretty amazing mega-dungeon gaming paper-collection - i.e. the massive map of this module is made up of the respective sheets, allowing for an easy, battle-mat-style exploration of the module and doubling as a gigantic, player-friendly map. If you're not interested in using the accessory (Why?), you're covered, though - the pdf does sport the overview map of the dungeon and can be run without using the mega-dungeon sheets with minimum hassle. I honestly wished all support/tie-in products had this level of service.
Anyway, this does mean that encounter-number/room-numbering is a bit different, with the respective encounters pointing towards the identifying numbers/letters of the gaming paper sheets. If that sounds confusing, rest assured that it's not when you look at the book.
One more thing: While the adventure takes place in the town of edgewater, it remains very much a backdrop and can easily be replaced with any coastal town with a sufficiently developed sewer system and access to a trade-route.
And this is pretty much as far as I can go without going into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the fortunes of edgewater have turned for a while now: The town, currently led by former adventurers, has managed to use subterfuge and intrigue to generate an economic upswing and hamper their competition...not with the most ethical means, but yeah. Their competition, Deep Salt Bay, has seen a sharp decline, fueled by greed and clever maneuvering...but not everyone in the town was willing to just accept edgewater triumphing...and thus a scheme most dastardly was hatched.
The PCs, while in edgewater (or any town you choose to substitute for it), are confronted via one of MANY, extremely detailed hooks, with the basic premise: Plague has come to town. Not just any plague either - one that makes both bubonic and septicemic plagues look like child's toys...and worse, one that seems to mysteriously resist regular attempts at curing it via magic, going only into remission to resurface later. Yeah, you can go pretty apocalyptic there, if you're going dark fantasy. The plague is called civilization's downfall (theatrical - the pdf acknowledges that!) and was engineered by a cabal of plague druids hired by Deep Salt Bay to wreck edgewater. The druids are spreading the plague with the help of a cadre of wererats through town. WAIT. Wait a second.
I know, I know. The plot as such is pretty old and not too remarkable. In fact, I'd be yawning pretty hard if I heard this set-up. But wait. The module does not feel like any other plague or sewer module and exemplifies that, in adventure crafting, the devil is often in the details...but so is beauty. I mentioned extensive hooks, right? Well, the first act sports a massive array of different vignettes, from the plague victim stumbling into the bar, to muckrakers drawing carts on which the dead are put to being directly hired. All of these hooks feature EXTENSIVE rules and even read-aloud text...and they can be combined at your leisure, with commentary providing guidance regarding the respective tones evoked. Preventing a mob/riot goes so far as to provide guidance for non-violent conflict resolution.
Speaking of extensive guidance: The module deals with a hidden agenda BBEG, obviously. At level 7. I have never in my line of work seen this extensive an array of well-written guidelines for the GM to handle scrying, divination and similar aspects of the game. The pdf discusses *A LOT* of potential issues and shows an intricate care regarding suspension of disbelief. It is quite evident that the majority of the module is an exploration of edgewater's sewer system. I know, sewer-level. No one like those, right? Well, the details provided are AMAZING and if your players are as smart as mine and pick up on inconsistencies with the fervor of a starved bloodhound, then this module has your back: You see, from discussions of bronze, copper, etc. to the science of sewer gas explosions and their likelihood, the module manages to be incredibly consistent and evoke a sense of realism I have never seen before in a sewer-dungeon.
More importantly, the whole dungeon manages to be incredibly ALIVE. Not sterile at all. It makes sense, from the big dynamics to the small: The sewer system features tides (if you need a tide tracker - 4 Dollar Dungeons' superb Horn of Geryon has one); at night, the bats swarm to hunt. Otyughs leave those wearing muckraker uniforms alone. The two antagonist factions behave in a concise and believable manner. How deep do the details go? Well, a wererat alchemist dreams of taking control of her gang - PCs with detect thoughts or similar means could glean that and use it to their advantage. The patrols provided for the enemy factions come with advice on how to make one statblock feel different when used.
The sewer system sports notes on methane-explosions for areas (including real world chemistry explanation!), rules for storm surges, the horrid psychological effects of being drenched by overwhelming humidity and stench - in short, the dungeon uses hazards PERFECTLY. It also uses the adversaries in a similarly concise and evocative manner: The foes behave smart and the living, "realistic" dungeon is very much one of the things that make this stand out. When you find several chests, they all have different traps. When you come to a junction you can't cross, the pdf notes several means, both mundane and magical, to solve the problem. When you come to a combat dealing with multiple foes, the sidebars provide ideas and guidance how to simulate the chaos of such an encounter. When an area would work well as an ambush location, the pdf draws your attention to it.
Oh, and the adversaries: Beyond the aforementioned main factions, hydras and several creatures from the excellent Sewer Bestiary (statblocks included here) provide ample versatility in that account. Speaking of which: The NPC-builds for the foes are versatile and in the end, after exploring the sewer, the PCs may still need to take on the command vessel of the plague druids, anchored in the sewer dock...which makes for a truly furious experience that requires brains as well as brawns for the PCs to survive. Oh, and in the aftermath, there is still the problem of the true culprit being none other than Deep Salt Bay's burgomaster's wife, a powerful bard in her own right...and putting her to justice, in any way, will be a challenge indeed. Have I mentioned that GMs even receive some notes on the limitations of certain spells, where applicable/potentially problematic? This is the most considerate module regarding the vagaries of adventuring I have seen in ages.
Have I mentioned the magical sparring dummy, the giant catfish or the dire raccoon?
Editing and formatting are very good. I noticed some very minor cosmetic hiccups here and there. Layout adheres to Gaming Paper's elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports several nice b/w-pieces of original art. The dead tree version is saddle-stitched and paper-quality-wise, nice.
Damn, this was hard for me - and I'm pretty sure I failed, but here it goes: This module is AMAZING. It frankly has no right to be this good. The plot-line, the environment, the primary adversary faction choices - none of these excite me on paper. If I had them summed up for me, I'd shrug and move on. I implore you to not do that here. This module manages to provide a level of consideration, detail and internal consistency only VERY rarely seen in any system, much less one as rules-intense as PFRPG. It clicks. It comes together. It feels alive.
Usually, sewers are a designer's lazy way out to generate a dungeon with a certain theme right under a village. They are set-pieces, window-dressing at best. This sewer feels alive. It is a fantastic eco-system that embraces all the things that I always wanted to see in such an environment. In fact, for the very first time in my roleplaying career, I have found a module that is a sewer-crawl where the very dungeon explored has more character, more unique peculiarities, than most non-sewer dungeons. In short, this module represents the rebuttal, delivered with panache aplomb, to all the negative clichés associated with the dungeon type. It also represents a huge step up for author John Ling, who so far provided good, even very good, modules - but this goes a step beyond and reaches the lofty realms of excellence.
The author acknowledges with meticulous care non-dice-roll-dependent problem-solving, magical means and manages to evoke a sense of internal consistency that is very hard to convey in a review, but that should nonetheless be made very explicit: I have rarely seen any module feel this internally consistent, this alive; this is an excellent example of a living dungeon set-up: Considerate, intelligent, well-written, versatile and yes, evocative even, with hazards galore, SCIENCE! and diverse challenges, this is now my reference module for any adventure that features a sewer. This is the best adventure John Ling has penned so far and the best module released by Gaming Paper since the legendary Citadel of Pain. In short: GET THIS. I mean, one of the (optional!) lead-in hooks has a chase...and we get chase card obstacles! It's a perfect example how diligence, cohesion and consistency can conspire to make a module play in an absolutely amazing manner. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars, + seal of approval...and this also receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2016, even though its pdf went live only recently. This is the new reference module for sewers and all excuses for making these areas lame are hereby null and void. Turns out sewer-levels can be fun, after all!
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to NErdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, etc.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The 3rd installment of the Cultures of Celmae-series represents a change of focus; not only does the series move away from the pretty basic explorations of human ethnicities (though we'll return to those), it also provides significantly more material - the pdf clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content - which is 10 more than the Majeed had.
The very first page depicts the Shattered Kingdoms as a whole with a solid full-color map and begins with a brief history of the dwarven people - speaking of shattering: The ingenuity of the dwarves, alas, was responsible for the cataclysmic event that sent half the world into the sky - looking for ever more powerful ore, their cultivation of Deep Metal was responsible for the apocalyptic event. The dwarves, as a whole, do not deny this, with the exodus towards the surface and a pledge to fix the world being crucial components of the dwarven psyche. (Believe me, as a German, I can relate to an instilled experience of guilt for horrible deeds my people have wrought...) Over the years, the dwarven race experienced a schism between those below and on the surface, each deeming the other heretics - and thus we have the explanation for the dwarf/duergar-split in this campaign setting.
Surface dwarves are depicted with full racial stats, though they basically are the core dwarf using the sky sentinel alternate racial trait, including trade-ins. Duergar are also depicted, at +2 Con and Wis, -4 Cha, with slow and steady, superior darkvision, +2 to overcome SR and dispel, +2 to AC and CMB-checks when dealing with aberrations and light sensitivity. - Not complaints re power-level here.
This duality is also represented in the two kingdoms to which we're introduced, the first of them being the Copper Crown Mountains, the latter being the significantly less pleasant Zamcelty, which is lorded over by the duergar. Both nations feature a sample settlement statblock, just fyi. Interesting, btw.: There are no divine spellcasters in Zamcelty and the region is militarizing further, which is never a good sign in the face of racial intolerance. The pdf also provides two deity-write-ups: Adan would be the quintessential LG dwarf-father and benevolent racial deity. The second would be Lawful Evil and significantly less pleasant - the Ashen King, typically manifesting as either dwarf or kobold or cloud of ash with gleaming eyes - this entity, supposedly a king who dug too deep, is the miner's boogeyman - who must be appeased when the flames change color and the air turns rank. He is also worshiped by adheres, kobolds and worse, so yeah.
The pdf does contain a hybrid class, namely the forgepriest, who receives d8 HD, proficiency with simple, martial and dwarven weapons and all armors and shields excluding tower shields. He casts spells as a cleric of up to 6th level, with Wisdom as the governing attribute for their prepared spellcasting. They gain 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and second level nets channel energy, which scales up to +7d6 at 20th level. They can spontaneously cast cure or inflict spells, respectively, gain a bonus skill point each level that must be invested in Craft skills...and fails to state how many skills per level it receives.
3rd level nets endurance and 4th level Weapon Focus (warhammer); if the forgepriest already has that one, he gains Weapon Specialization for it, but only once he has reached a BAB of +4. 6th level nets Scribe Scroll, with 7th level providing the warpriest's sacred armor. Annoying - the spell references are not italicized properly. 8th level nets Craft Magic Arms and Armor as a bonus feat. 10th level negates the fatigued condition for the forge priest and reduced the exhausted condition to fatigued instead.
At 12th level, the character may 1/day attempt a Fort-save to negate damage incurred by an attack - with the DC being based on damage, which makes it a very unlikely endeavor and basically useless. 13th level nets the first of a handful of arcane spells that are added to the forgepriest's repertoire, with each level thereafter providing another one. One such spell may be cast 2/day and does not eat a spell slot, but must be prepared in advance. The ability does not specify which attribute governs this spell - Int would make sense as the default for prepared arcane casting. The ability also fails to specify whether the forgepriest suffers from arcane spell failure when casting these arcane spells.
Starting at 15th level, these can be activated by anyone - 5 targets are designated by the forgepriest, who may then activate the spell, but at the cost of +2 spell levels...which are pretty much irrelevant, considering that RAW, he can only cast one such spell 2/day. Starting at 16th level, these guys may inscribe runes with this confused mechanic permanently at the cost of their own spell slots, which would be interesting, but the wording-changes from plural to singular, editing glitches and lack of spell italicization render the ability pretty obtuse
14th level nets this gem: "The forgepriest gains a bonus on Appraise and Craft checks related to objects made of stone." Okay. How much? No, it is not stated. 18th level nets a bonus feat, 20th a 1-minute lasting DR 10/- form that gets class level as BAB and ignores armor and encumbrance restrictions...which feels weird, considering the dwarven slow and steady trick. Oh, and the capstone fails to specify how often it can be used and how it is activated. This hybrid class is flawed. It does not bring anything compelling to the table, sports several unnecessary hiccups in formatting and rules-language and its unique tricks come too late and are unnecessarily hard to grasp.
The pdf does sport 5 feats. Better crafting, social skill-bonuses when interacting with your clan, +4 vs. Disarm, no penalty while squeezing and its + mount follow-up. Apart from the squeezing-options, I'd not consider these worthwhile. A total of 6 traits, properly codified by trait subtype, are presented and they are solid.
Dwarves are master craftsmen, and as such, new item qualities are next - acid-washed items, for example, get better saves versus rust, disintegration and acid, while weapons with blood-groves reduce weight and increase hardness. Folded metal is harder and ornate items grant social skill bonuses. Skills are not properly capitalized. Osmium, as a material, is a variant of adamantine that does not have the hardness-ignoring properties, while Deep metal is basically adamantine that can ignore up to 25 points of hardness instead...oh, and it is treated as cold iron. It is basically the super-metal f the setting and thus expensive as all hell. The priest's bane special quality, at +1, adds +2 to enhancement bonus and +2d6 damage versus divine spellcasters...which is pretty strong and arguably better than the type-based usual bane. For balance's sake, it should be +2.
Editing and formatting on a formal and rules-language level leave something to be desired. There are missing letters, improperly formatted spells and rules-components, switches between plural and singular in the same ability. You name it. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks. The cartography is nice.
This installment of the series does show that it had three authors: Robert Gresham, Ewan Cummings and Angel "ARMR" Miranda; some aspects of the pdf are concisely presented and generally are solid: The brief glimpses of the kingdoms, history and culture make sense and feel interesting. I wished, frankly, they were longer. The forgepriest, no way around it, is lacking and the feats left me unimpressed. The materials and crafting modifications, however, were pretty nice. The pdf is inexpensive for its page-count and there is some value to be found here. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up to 3 due to in dubio pro reo.
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