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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This module for Alterkine clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 33 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 left? Great! Our world has recently been graced by a strange meteor shower and the PCs find themselves in a moderately priced bar in the tourist trap Coppersmith, where they are contacted by one Betram, who represents parties intrested in Delsvale - which has shut down operations since the meteor shower - hence, the players, via an ominous black limousine and a chopper, enter the target area.
Delsvale town does look like an eerily ghost-like town, including roving animals. Things turn grim fast, though: The barbed wire fence the players encounter has a breach and said breach is stuffed with human corpses, from which a woman crawls forth, obviously doomed to die from her extensive injuries - and things look grim. Animals are getting crazy, a sect of weirdos have sprung up and the military has rolled in. Entering the quarantine zone, the PCs will have an option to subdue an investigator/journalist and the PCs will soon have a first encounter with a disturbing creature, the clotter - a shambling creature of grafted undead material, a walking sack of offal and bone, hungry for blood of the living.
Things become worse fast from there - the recruiters of aforementioned sect hand out crystals that may well cause infection with mutagenic viruses...just before the military swoops in and takes the PCs hostage. It turns out, the military is planning to bomb out the local mine...but aforementioned clotter monstrosity may actually provide a window for the PCs to escape from captivity. It should also be noted that a two-legged walker/mech is among the adversaries the PCs may encounter, of course, just one of multiple random encounters the PCs can encounter.
The local nightclub would be a crucial place: Here, the PCs are contacted again by the cult, as the leader, one Daniel Sutter (nod towards Sutter Cain, mayhaps?) tries to set up a meeting with the PCs - but if they agree to hear them out, they may ostracize the military if they haven't already. Meeting up with Sutter puts things in perspective: Living in his gothic mansion, the cult leader may be a foreboding character, but he still offers some crucial insight: You see, he literally owns Delsvale and has a research venture in the mine - alas, his own men betrayed him, claiming the crystals, which he considers to be divine. He does directly contradict the narrative that sent the PCs here - this Betram fellow obviously lied to them. It should be noted that NPC-interaction in this module tends to be pretty detailed, with quite a few sample sentences, meaning that GMs less comfortable with verbatim improvisation get enough guidance herein.
Beyond the strange amalgamated monstrosities like bear/frog-hybrids, the PCs will sooner or later have to go to the mine - where they get a glimpse of a horrible thing with too many tentacles and mutations and brave cybernetic adversaries before they find a lead-researcher, who asks them to destroy each and every crystal they can find - in an inversion of the trope, these guys are actually smart...and thus, the module's variable conclusion dawns, as the PCs have to brave the mutagenic influence of the fallen star, decide whom to help...and deal with the grotesquely Scaxtion - insane and with empathy/emotion-controlling bursts of aura. How the final confrontation turns out and whether the mutating PCs succumb to the influence of the fallen stars, how the whole thing ends - it all depends on the actions of the PCs.
The pdf concludes with quite an array of diverse adversaries, many of which sport unique and rather interesting builds with Achilles heels that reward smart rolelaying and nice signature abilities - it should be noted that even the random encounter sport several unique monsters. The pdf also sports 4 new mutations as well as 4 excellent player-friendly b/w-floor plans.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a rather printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. Cartography is nice and solid. The one weak component of the pdf is the CGI-artwork - while it works for the mech, the humanoids in particular are ugly and the final boss's artwork is horrible, doofy even, and subverts the threat it poses. The prose deserves better, so I'd suggest relying on your descriptive powers here instead of showing off the artworks. If you're going for a serious tone. If you're instead aiming for a schlocky B-movie feeling, these will be GREAT and hilarious. Bookmarks are there, but cover, mysteriously, only the new mutations, meaning they might as well not be there at all - a comfort detriment when running this via an electronic device.
Josh Vogt's module for Alterkine manages to create a pervasive sense of foreboding and its sandboxy structure and means for aligning with the respective factions is great. More importantly, the builds of the monsters and NPCs are varied and showcase well what awesome things can be done with Alterkine's rules. At the same time, the sandboxy structure does feel a bit inconsistent - not in its execution, but in its presentation. On one hand, key-NPC-interaction provides quite a bit of hand-holding, while the transition from scene to scene is more free-flowing and requires some work on behalf of the GM. This does not make the module flow badly, mind you - it just means the module is more versatile, but also more work than it could have been. A more pronounced structure would have helped the GM here - though, admittedly, I'm being a nitpicky bastard here.
In the end, this is a fast-paced, pretty apocalyptic and dark little module I thoroughly enjoyed. The builds of sample monsters bespeak a precise understanding of what makes unique foes tick and the low price point also helps make this a worthwhile offering. While the book could have used somewhat better transitions and while the artworks are ugly and bookmarks could be more extensive, the actual content of this module is pretty awesome. I enjoyed the finale, the boss battle, the factions...in fact, most of the content herein. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars for the purpose of this platform.
These figure flats come as two .ppt-files - one two-fold, one three-fold, with both of them sporting two pages you can print out. The figure flats are full-color and represent both the characters (including cultist leader Daniel Sutter) as well as the more horrific creatures featured in the module - and generally, I really like figure flats and the somewhat whacky creatures of the module, like the owlbear-style bear/frog-hybrid Brog.
That being said, I'm a bit of a snob; I can't help it. I just can't really get behind CGI-artwork like the one employed herein. There is nothing wrong with the material provided. There truly isn't...however, the module's weakest component was its artwork and my players, being sometimes immature, would not take kindly to some of these. I get that it's as indie as indie goes here, so I expect no masterpieces and am lenient; but know what? I know that one green guy from some unholy abomination of such a book I reviewed back in the day...and while e.g. the lesser servitor walker looks awesome and aptly dangerous, the skinless creature and the aforementioned guy just look...giggle-fit-inducing. Similarly, while the Scaxtion tries hard to look intimidating (which should be easy, remembering the module's description of it), looks more like a doofy, cyclopean Shrek to which cut off pieces of other minis have been glued - glued, not grafted, mind you - the transitions from its components look not particularly convincing. Take a look at the cover for further proof.
This still has a low price point, but if you're running "The Ones We Were" with a more serious tone, I'd wholeheartedly recommend skipping this one, as it may prove detrimental to the atmosphere you're trying to evoke. If you're going for an atmosphere of fun B-Movie-schlock, however, then this will be worth the asking price for the giggles some of these will most definitely induce. If you're getting this for said purpose, this could be considered to be a 3-star file; all others should rather rely on their narrative prowess and steer clear. My final verdict will fall between those two poles, at 2 stars. Nice for a self-ironic playing of the module, otherwise not recommended.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
@Warhawk7: Your fix does sound reasonable - I read the item as an item that needs to be crafted for one specific retrain for a given individual, but I actually like your take better! :D
An Endzeitgeist.com review
This huge expansion for the D20 Modern/Future-based massive Alterkine rules-cosmos/setting clocks in at a whopping 128 pages of content, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page list of thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page blank, leaving us with 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now, I assume familiarity with d20 modern/future as well as Alterkine's player's handbook in this review, so if a particular mechanic or reference seems opaque to you, kindly check my review for Alterkine's Player's Handbook. All right, so, I generally liked the occupation-system as provided in the Alterkine player's handbook and this time around, there are a LOT more of them to choose from: Whether as a trusty employee of L-Mart, as a girl/boy scout or as a bohemian (which was my profession of choice for quite some time) ...or as a scream queen or ranch hand - the occupations herein are diverse, interesting and superior to those presented in Alterkine's Player's Handbook by a long shot regarding the quality of their design: You see, while not perfectly aligned, they generally provide them same level of benefits; there are no truly superior occupations herein, with all of them providing generally balanced benefits that juggle bonus feats, wealth and reputation bonuses as well as skill bonuses (and even cap-increases for skills). Overall, this chapter shows some serious growth as a game-designer when compared to the base book.
After this rather refreshing chapter, we are introduced to 3 new 10-level base classes, the Charmer, the Investigator and the Trooper. The Charmer receives 1/2 BAB, Fort and Ref-save-progression, 1 d6 HD, 4+Int skills and 6+ 1/2 level action points as well as Simple Weapons Proficiency, defense bonus scaling up to +3 and reputation bonus scaling up to +5. Charmers alternate each level between getting a bonus feat and a talent. Talent-wise, charmers are obviously geared towards being party faces - with skill-enhancers and personal assistants, they are a pretty diverse lot. Additionally, talents are grouped by talent-trees that allow you to mix and match or poach in one to switch to the other: Whether crowd-pleasing crowd-control of counter-terrorists, an ambassador's information access, proper diplomatic training, social chameleons, nobles or journalists, the diverse array provided is pretty impressive.
Fret not if you're a fan of the original base-classes, mind you: Drifters, Mystics, Scavs, Warriors and Techs also receive expansions to the talents they get, some of which certainly are on the more impressive side regarding their concepts: Following the drifter's animalistic body talent tree provides not only boosts to physical attributes, but also a bite and even a regeneration-like healing factor, one that thankfully is not proper regeneration, avoiding that particular hornet's nest...Still, in conjunction with any HP-sharing mechanic, this one means infinite healing for the group. Slow, infinite healing, yes, but still - particularly in d20 modern/future, which values hit points higher than base d20 due to the relative scarcity of healing options in quite a few of the supported campaign styles, this is problematic. On the plus-side, quick wall crawling and further enhancing lycanthropic powers (including options for size large shapes) and wild shape - the number of options is significant and while there are minor issues like the one I mentioned before, overall, they are more concise and internally balanced than the ones provided in the original book.
Undead controlling cultist mystics, monk scavenging and exorcisms feel like natural fits, but I was particularly enamored with the lucid dreaming/dream -themed options for their huge narrative potential. Scavs with their duelist talent tree or the bardic knowledge-like explorer make sense...oh, and there are the illuminatus-themed talents, which focuses on reputation, deniability and deception.
If you're suffering from some sort of insanity, you can go for the lunatic's talent tree, which provides a truly devastating barbarian rage-transcending rampage - but, horribly, it cannot be stopped or willingly initiated, instead being triggered by stress o things the GM determines. While power-level wise brutal (+6s to attributes...), the lack of control on the player's side makes this one not only neat for GMs, but also for players and groups that enjoy story-driven aspects more than direct control. Still, a GM should handle this one's power with care. Techs may elect to specialize in fraud-related talents, data specializations...oh, and they may now build robots via pretty concise and easy to grasp rules! Further rage control for the warrior, a bodyguard's tricks and taunting specializations may look pretty neat, but compared to the at times downright inspiring talent trees other classes got, this one feels a bit more conservative in its concepts.
The Investigator gets 3/4 BAB-progression, 1/2 Ref- and Will-save progression, defense bonuses scaling up to +5 and reputation bonuses scaling up to +4 as well as d8 HD, 6+1/2 level action points, 4+Int skills and simple weapon proficiency. like the charmer, these guys alternate between talents and bonus feats gained each level. Talent-wise, we get the whole shebang we'd expect from a class of this name - from forensics specialists to detectives and brilliant medical examiner, we get detailed crime scene analysis and intuition-based talents for the profiling of adversaries. Story-telling wise, there is some serious potential here- enough to make an all-investigator TV-crime-procedural-style campaign, in fact.
The trooper gets full BAB-progression, 1/2 Ref- and Fort-save progression, defense bonuses scaling up to +7 and reputation bonuses scaling up to +2 as well as d10 HD, 6+1/2 level action points, 3+Int skills and personal firearms proficiency. Like the charmer, these guys alternate between talents and bonus feats gained each level, though the list of bonus feats is significantly more expansive. Unsurprisingly, trooper talents focus more on the...let's say, martial bent of things. However, the class does feature a talent tree that should have quite a few of you, my readers, grin: There actually is a Colonial Marine talent tree here, which boils down to being basically exactly the Starship troopers toolkit you'd expect. Similarly, dead shot sniping and really deadly sniper tricks as well as heavy weapon specializations can be found here, though I consider not all talents with similar requirements to be of equal value here.
The skills of Alterkine also receive some coverage, with suggested skill-uses/basic discussions being rather solid. Obviously, such a book also contains feats: A LOT of them. The pdf provides no less than 9 pages of them - though here, the general quality is somewhat less than in the material introduced so far: From bland "+2 to Acrobatics" to an unnecessary rename of "Greater Two-Weapon Fighting" to "Two-Weapon Mastery," there is some filler to be found here. On the other side, perfect memories and implanting a (too short-lived) doubt in foes are pretty cool concepts. Still, a mixed bag in my book.
Now, the book also sports spells, many of which take existing spells and tweak them for Alterkine's purposes - confusion, for example, has its casting duration lengthened. The spells herein mostly represent such minor tweaks, which, while not bad per se, do feel like they could have been done sans reprinting the spells - all in all, this is filler and would have been better served by a general conversion guideline.
The final section of this book is massive - and is all devoted to advanced classes, which obviously follow the 5 or 10-level formula. Since going into the mechanical details for each would bloat this review beyond belief, I'll cover them in broad strokes. The first one herein would be the assassin, who can use action points to deal Str-damage, gets better sneak...and is surprisingly bereft of actual assassination tricks. No insta-kill moves here. The Casanova is a brilliant master of seduction and information theft, while both chaplains and commanders represent different styles of the commanding fighter with authority trope, one spiritual and one worldly. Here would be as good a place as any to mention a particularly annoying formatting/layout-decision: The respective class tables lack the names of the classes they belong to and are at the bottom of the respective class entries, meaning you'll sometimes see a new advanced class and the table of an old one on the same page, with the new class's table following a page or two later - cosmetic, sure, but needlessly opaque. Note that this is not always the case, which makes getting the right table a tad bit more annoying.
The commando is a solid fighter-ish one that learns precise damage output control, while the con artist is a solid face for the party. The crusader can be pictured as the paladin-lite with action points, focused on a certain idea/religion, while fighter aces are exceedingly capable pilots, who, at high levels, may go down in devastating blaze of glory-style ramming actions. The goodfella is a nice mobster-themed class, while grifters are specialists in legal loopholes and the acquisition of items. Gun Dancers are pretty lame dual wielding of firearms-type of guys that get abilities they require when the character already has spent the feats - these guys should offer their benefits as a base class, not as an advanced class...oh, and only, the ability for the Third attack is called "Greater Two-Weapon fighting", making nomenclature inconsistent with the pdf's feat-redesign.
Similarly disappointing, the Gun-Fu Warrior takes until 5th level to gain a unique ability that actually represents Gun Fu...and does so in a pretty bland manner. Similarly, while I enjoyed the concept of the law dog, the sheriff-style enforcer, I consider the actual abilities to be none too exciting. The Martial Arts Master, with varied means of using ki, is more interesting, though I really wished more space was devoted to the concept - 5 techniques are a bit few for someone spoiled by the huge amount of options most contemporary designs offer.
The mastermind, surprisingly, is most about minion progression and reputation - which is good and all, but crazy prepared, contingencies or the like would have been thematically fitting. Ninjas are particularly lethal and agile in a solid representation of the concept, while high-level SpecOps emphasize survival and taking down targets silently at higher levels. Spellslingers can enhance their guns and imbue spells in the bullets they fire, while terrorists are just that - unpleasant bastards with a network and several disturbing tools of their trade...including the manufacture of bio weapons. The warmaster is all about pain and torture and the decidedly unheroic sides of warfare. Weapon Masters are weapon specialists that can maximize a damage of weapons a limited amount of times day. The advanced classes section ends with a relatively solid note pertaining the xenobiologist and her specialization of healing and using medicine.
The book closes with a handy index.
Editing and formatting are very good for a book of this size. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports numerous unique, nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with detailed, nested bookmarks.
Jeff Becker's expansion to Alterkine is superior in almost every way to the base book: The occupations and a huge amount of the options provided herein are simply more streamlined and feel more concise and often, simply more interesting, covering a diverse array of nice topics and character concepts. Similarly, the new base classes and their talent trees make them feel more diversified, more unique and interesting - the respective talents basically amount to free-form archetypes.
At the same time, the expansion does sport some unnecessary filler material that ranges from reprints and renamed feats to very minor tweaks that could have been covered more efficiently. Beyond that, the pdf offers a somewhat strange gap between base classes and advanced classes - where the base classes and their talents are now significantly more modular (particularly considering the material from the core book), the advanced classes feel very niche in a couple of cases, particularly since there is some overlap between the respective concepts: Assassin, ninja and SpecOps do similar things in similar niches, for example - making them more modular allowing for player choice would have been more elegant, particularly since e.g. the assassin is arguably weaker/less interesting than the ninja and specops operator.
More modularity among them and more pronounced advanced class abilities would have made this chapter nice - particularly since quite a few abilities offer relatively small benefits as opposed to truly new things to do. This, alongside the minor hiccups among the talents, ultimately remains the most pronounced flaw of this book.
That being said, at the same time, this is an expansion of Alterkine/D20 Modern/Future that definitely makes sense and feels like a significant step forward for the setting and its mechanics, with the increased design experience definitely showing. The classes, crunch, just about everything, is mroe interesting, more streamlined than in the first book. How to rate this, then? Ultimately, this book, to me, is pretty much a mixed bag, but one that remains on the positive side of things due to some of the truly awesome talents: The fact that this lets you play CSI, Criminal intent, Profiler, etc. with one class alone and retains the fact that all characters are different alone should probably make this worthwhile for quite a bunch of people out there. In the end, this may not be perfect, but it is a worthwhile purchase for those interested in modern/future gameplay. My final verdict of 3.5 stars will be rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Part II of my review:
The Undying has d8, 2+Int skills, proficiency with all armors and simple/martial weapons. The undying receives scaling bonuses versus fear and pain effects, but pay for this conditioning with the requirement to obey orders. Here's the deal of the class: You want to die. The first time you die each level, you're resurrected as per true resurrection (CL information would be appreciated for magic-suppression-interaction), +1/day at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter.However, undying already die at 0 HP - but the cool thing here is that, when they resurrect, they unleash so-called phoenix arts, the first of which is gained at 4th level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter: From bursts of light to devastating flame-novas and AOE-heals, these are pretty much awesome. Only one burst can be applied, +1 at 10th level and the class receives further abilities themed around the extremely evocative concept. Okay, if you've read my review of Rite Publishing's "Secrets of the Divine: Madness, Death, Justice, Healing," you'll know that I really like the idea of a campaign focused on returning characters. If you're like me, this class elicited a "Hell no!"-response nevertheless - when it shouldn't. You see, while powerful on the defensive side and while the deaths seem incredibly strong, the class is in a bit of a dilemma: In order to work at peak efficiency, the undying has to die - which makes it more vulnerable. The bursts are very powerful, but they need to be just that...and the increased vulnerability of the class further helps here. It's surprising, but in playtest, this one turned out to be very much killable and balanced, particularly due to scaling issues against mind-control. Yes, you have your nigh-unstoppable undying...but you may want to be careful with that enchanter over there...oh, and actually being mind-controlled and then slain by your allies is a valid strategy here that should result in no bad blood. This class plays completely differently from any class I've seen so far. Ambitious and oozing flavor, these guys are theme-wise by far my favorites in this book and may be worth getting the book all on their own!
Okay, you may very much call me out on this one, but I'm not sold we actually needed the Wrath class, a hybrid of rogue and inquisitor. Paying for rogue abilities with the inqui's spells, their eponymous wrath can be pictured as an always-on judgment with singular targets. That being said, this 3/4 BAB-progression class does have something some other martials herein lack: Non-combat utility galore. Oh, and the rogue talents the class can exclusively access are superb - there is, e.g., one that allows the wrath to suppress divine energy (channeling, spells...) and another that allows you to fluidly poison weapons after crits. Or what about the genius ability I'll scavenge for inquis, which allows the wrath a massive (+20) bonus to notice invisible foes? (Yes, that sneaky invisible guy will SWEAT in his corners and try hard not to move...) I was pretty much surprised by this one in that I actually liked some design-decisions here and enough unique material to set it apart versus the parent-classes - so kudos there!
This book also contains PrCs galore, all but one (the Storm Envoy) featuring full BAB-progression over their respective 10 levels. Seeing how this review already passed its fifth page as I write this, I shall be brief. The aforementioned Storm Envoy would be a legendary courier you employ when you need things delivered to hostile places like war zones or the abyss. Storm Envoys receive increasing speed as well as agility-related options (e.g. Acrobatics at full speed), self-haste and the option to utilize their vast speed to duplicate spells, from teleport to mirror image by tapping into the resource-management of the PRC. All in all, a cool one.
Speaking of which: The Mystic Seeker would be a representation of the famous, eerily accurate blind fighter trope, managing to get blindsense/sight-progression down rather well - though the interesting component would not be the limited true strikes they can unleash, but rather the high-level option to completely re-do one of their turns, explained by their preternatural insight. Interesting!
The Lone Wolf would be just that - a powerful representation of the solitary skirmisher, the savage soldier that loses animal companions and t5he like, but finds so much more potency in their solitude, including immunity to fear, but at the expense of their cynicism thwarting any morale bonuses. The PrC is iconic and cool.
The Frog Knight would be an agile knight - D'uh - and can jump really well; additionally, he's pretty great at amphibian warfare tactics and provides nice synergy with Dragon Tiger Ox's more differentiated (and tactical!) unarmed attack rules. Sure, this is a bit of an odd PrC, but still a cool and valid option.
Commandos are basically Rambo-the-PRC, with great stealth and several specializations that include limited spells, barbarian rages and the like as well as a focus on ambushes -and here, the commando is downright OP: Gaining a limited number of special, additional solo surprise rounds per day - basically, before rolling initiative's done, these guys can get a free surprise round out of the deal. In the hands of an experienced player, these guys can be true nightmares - while I like the flexibility and design of the chassis, I'm not too big a fan of the PrC's numbers.
Finally, there would be the Bogatyr of the Dying Light - sworn to hopeless causes, there only traditionally are 23 of these knights only unleash their full potential against foes stronger than they are - including, at higher levels, ignoring DR. The PrC also gets resolve and some neat offensive and defensive tricks, making these guys not only flavorful, but also pretty iconic and rewarding to play.
Beyond all these classes and PrCs, this massive book also sports 6 pages of feats - why else would I have explained the [Feral] and [War]-descriptors in the beginning of this review? So yeah, there are quite a lot of feats herein, including a follow-up-feat for Weapon Focus that extends its benefits to all of your proficient weapons, nonlethal damage causing demoralize-attempts and the obligatory class-enhancing feats. The book also sports traits o further emphasize the rival-trait and a feat to grant yourself temporary hit points 1/day. Now, as you know, I'm not a big fan of revising feats unless there is a specific reason - adding grapple to Weapon Focus' options would be one such case, while the revisions in particular of the critical-feats here make sense to me. That being said, this obviously is a matter of taste. The pdf then closes with a rather impressive amount of unique weapons, ranging from Qian Kun Ri Yue Daos to heavy rapiers and dire kukris.
Editing and formatting on a rules-level are surprisingly tight for a book of this size. On a formal level, though, there are quite a few glitches like its/it's, missing letters and the like. The PrCs are also inconsistent in their listing of iterative attack-bonuses or their omission. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with each class receiving a great full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience.
The team of designers of Little Red Goblin Games (here Scott Gladstein, Caleb Alysworth, Christos Gurd, Ian Sisson and Dayton Johnson) have surprised me with this book. You know why? because I've seen a lot of martial classes and, for the most part, specialist martial niche classes end up feeling to me like they could have been handled via archetypes in most cases. Not so here - each of the classes herein has a complex framework of abilities that justifies the classes standing on their own. The PrCs sport high concepts and make sense as classes not immediately available - they get the "Prestige"-component right, something many, including Paizo's, often fail at. There is a more important factor, though: This book follows the first commandment of design in all instances: "Thou shalt not be boring!" Achieving this is harder than it sounds when you're confronted with a jaded bastard like yours truly.
While not each and every component herein is perfect, there certainly are instances in this book I'd consider absolutely glorious: The Undying is narrative potential galore for the GM and a very uncommon experience for the player and it alone is book-seller-level awesome. The Guardian is really cool as well and I do enjoy the tataued warrior - much more so than I thought. While the Adventurer will never get near my games, I know it will find its niche out there. Add to that some rather cool PrCs and we have a book that lacks any objectively bland content - we could argue about some design decisions of commando and wrath, sure, but still - the significant majority of this huge book of crunch saw me smile and even inspired me in some cases...and ultimately, I'd rather have some awesomeness and some components that slightly over/undershoot their mark than a grey paste of blandness that's perfectly balanced.
The majority of content herein is well-crafted, if plagued by none-too-precise editing here and there and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars with a recommendation if the content even remotely interests you - you'll be hard-pressed to find a better bang for buck ratio and it's been a while since a single crunch-book has seen as many classes being allowed in my games ...so yeah...this is one of those cases, where components of a book actually excited me. As a reviewer, I may not be able to give this five stars for its formal and, sometimes, balancing flaws- but the components I love definitely justify slamming my seal of approval on this book. Hence, my final verdict will be 4 stars + seal of approval.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.
Part II of my review:
I really want to like Brian Jolly's Chi Warrior-class. I actually like a lot herein. It does a lot of things right: For one, it allows for valid skirmishing tactics and rewards flexibility via the cool-down mechanic - in playtest, chi warriors never executed bland standard attacks, always going for special moves, style changes, etc - this did look for a while like a truly variable one... In practice, the limitation of cool-down periods to (mostly) negligible time frames mean that you can't spam one combo - but you can spam two alternating combos. Basically, the class would have been better served by more special moves and longer cool-down periods.
The class does sport some design-aesthetic decisions I do not like as a person (opposing rolls) or consider sloppy (in the case of not kitten-test-failures), but neither of these two are the crucial components in the decision on how to rate this. In my book, the chi warrior has three flaws. One, its own nomenclature could be a tad bit more precise and internally consistent. Two, it could have used more non-combat-relevant tricks. Those two are not too serious.
Three, it is arguably too strong. The chi warrior has a superb chassis - all good saves, full BAB. It gets a lot of feats and the scaling fighting styles - though these, once again, would not make the class problematic. The big issue of the class is that it tries to "fix" some components of the game that don't require fixing. The streamlining of weapon damage that ignores weapon properties, crit modifiers/ranges/etc. is insane and BROKEN. Don't believe me? Weapon Focus Shuriken upgrades base damage to the unarmed damage progression of the monk. Basically, it tries to make weapons behave similar in scaling as in 13th Age, in a system simply not made for it. While more esoteric, the de-limitation of limited-use feats opens a similar can of worms that just begs to be powergamed to smithereens.
What's frustrating about this for me is that the class needs neither of these needless "fixes" - the chassis, sans these two highly problematic, broken components, is already strong enough and more than competitive with the better martials. In fact, it surpasses them already with the relative ease of multiple standard action-based attacks that only come at low penalties (or later, none at all). Even sans these two components, the class is strong and imho would have benefited from a more diverse cool-down management as an additional balancing mechanism for the more powerful combinations. Add to that dual attributes to stats and similar minor flaws and we have an overall construction that GMs should carefully contemplate before putting it in the hands of even a remotely capable power-gamer - not because it necessarily is broken as intended, but because it begs to be broken as provided. This should go nowhere near any game that's not high-powered to begin with.
Is this a fun class? Well, yes, it can be. The base ideas and mechanics of the fighting styles definitely deserve being called unique, though I wish the styles themselves were more diverse - quite a few abilities boil down to opposing rolls for damage or damage negation and others present varying iterations of the "standard action for multiple attacks"-trope - which is fine, since the fighting styles and katas etc. eat move actions, swift actions etc. Still, I wished the class had even more diversity and utility, less "I bash your face in." Now, as a person, this has several components that rub me the wrong way and covers almost all of my pet-peeves in one fell swoop - this will get nowhere near my homegame. As a reviewer, I do appreciate the mechanic ideas behind this and the chassis, which, when purged of the broken aspects, is a pretty interesting basis to craft your own material on. In fact the action economy management component of this class is pretty much inspired and (almost) getting a balanced shadow clone ability done is impressive. In a lot of instances, the execution of complex concepts works herein and is something I appreciate. In fact, this class has all the makings of being the martial class I always wanted and then jams "fixes" that create a whole lot of problems in class abilities and simply enter unnecessary additional power into the frame.
Basically, this overshoots the target by quite a lot, mainly due to opening cans of worms the class didn't need to open to be competitive, and has some serious flaws that need nerfing/to be killed with fire. The chassis is damn cool, but as written, I cannot recommend this class. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded down to 2 for the purpose of this platform.
Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Still, the rest of the book is great and deserves the praise. If you can fix the archetypes and make the fetch a tad bit clearer, I'll gladly revise my review - liked what you did here and, imho, it is the first of your early offerings where you truly "get the hang of it", if you will. :)
Expect to see more reviews soon, btw. - I've been trying to do some long overdue catch-up work with several smaller publishers, FCG included. AA II, Cavalier Orders and More Forgotten Feats are all pretty high on my to-do-pile.
This optional side-quest module for the Dungeonlands-saga clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1/2 page advertisement, 1 page RD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 31 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This module is basically a sidequest in the fight against the legendary Lich-Queen - but one that can have serious repercussions in Part III of the saga - hence, I'd advise the GM to use this module either during the trip through the Machine of the Lich Queen or as part of the journey towards her Palace in book III of the saga.
This being an adventure-review, the following review, unsurprisingly, features copious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Only GMs around? Good! Once, even the fabled Lich-Queen Ayrawn was mortal and, as mortals are wont to do, she had a companion, a lover, a consort - an anchor, a chance for redemption, a man who would recoil from the darkened paths she embarked upon - this man was Horarion. When the angel Anat was sundered from the heavens and bound, the psyche of the lich-queen sundered Horarion's mansion on Paxcetel, sending it spiraling towards the eternal Maelstrom, leaving, in spite of his arcane prowess, but a single portal, a tenuous connection to the lich-queen's realm, a shining portal you can place at your leisure within the Dungeonlands-saga.
Thus, Horarion remained in his isolated mansion - a place where arcane magic has its own weight, potentially inducing fatigue in casters and thus adding a nasty additional difficulty - and no, there is no means of escaping Pacetel here either - though the mansion's challenges are pronounced indeed - when the stable master has a CR of 12 and a unique variant chimera has taken up roost in the stables, you're in for a treat...and yes, there also is the Shalguath, a unique spirit ox to be found here. Death lurks at every corner here - Horarion has, for example, invested a part of his soul into a tapestry within his sanctum - and yes, the PCs may actually be eaten by the RUG in this room. Killer rug...explain that to your deity once you stand before them in the after-life...funny...and lethal.
A storm of feral spirits locked away, a bathhouse containing a truly disturbing, unique aberration (including powers-granting waters) - lethal. Speaking of which - the empowered waste-disposal disintegrate trap is brutal indeed. The PCs can also do battle with spawning, supreme swordsmen and test their mettle against a unique taiga linnorm...And the vault of Horarion is no less lethal...and contains, among deadly adversaries, an unlikely item: A loom. This item is what makes the tapestry-versions of Horarion basically immortal and maintains the stasis of the islet - destroying the loom makes millennia catch up with the strange inhabitants of Horarion's refuge - which btw. also include odd bark mummies and peris...and the destruction also makes it possible to defeat the three tapestry-bound Horarions, with each destruction providing a new power for a hero, though the types of said powers and their wordings have minor glitches - it's e.g. "mind-affecting", not "mind-effecting" and proper EX, SU, SP-codification would have been in order. Destroying the final tapestry unleashed what has become of Horarion - an undead baneful Noumenon, accompanied by unique hazards, as the house itself creates stony arms, weird roof-beam elementals animated by his power - a brutal boss fight that ends either in death or by learning what Horarion knew, gaining perhaps the most potent weapon against the lich queen...for the destruction sends the PCs back to where their journey to Horarion's domain began. Still, it should be noted that the non-statblock elements, i.e. the hazards and precise presentation o the combat-relevant rules herein could have used a slightly tighter wording - as written, these components require some work from the GM.
Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good, though, on a rules-level, there are a tad bit more glitches to be found herein than in the revised editions of the machine and place installments. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf sports numerous artworks in color and b/w, all of which are neat. The biggest surprise for me was the cartography: Horarion's domain receives a beautiful, print-out-ready map that is player-friendly and thus offsets the largest point of criticism that plagued the dungeonlands saga - kudos for including that one! The pdf is a layered pdf that can easily be customized and also sports extensive bookmarks.
Miles M. Kantir, with rules by Allan Hoffman and George "Loki" Williams, has created a truly interesting sidetrek for the main adventures of the Dungeonlands saga that actually is worth playing - beyond the delightfully twisted and diverse combat-challenges herein, this little module offers some truly interesting ideas and brims with creativity. Moreover, this adds a further dimension to the epic struggle against the dread lich-queen, one that is fun to partake in - though this module also makes for a great stand-alone module; you could conceivably run this simply on its own without a hassle and just some cosmetic reskins - and some of the brutal battles, including the climactic boss fight, definitely would warrant that.
All in all, this is a great, fun sub-level of the epic journey through Ayrawn's dungeonlands and one I'd certainly suggest getting, in spite of minor rules-language hiccups here and there - while some components in this module may frankly be more precise, the good components still stand out - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.
An Endzeitgeist.com review
The latest installment of Rite Publishing's books detailing the unique pantheon of Questhaven along the unique servants of the respective deities clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now if you're not familiar with the series, here's the basic summary: The deities in Questhaven are peculiar in that their true names are not spoken - instead, they have aliases like "Our Shifting Oracle of Genius" or "Their Mistress of Madness," with the precise epithet depending on your personal relationship with the deity. The deities sport favored weapons, domains and the like and concise write-ups and the pdf also offers unique options for the respective servants of the deity - often to the point, where the archetypes and feats provided radically change how a character serving the deity plays.
The first deity covered herein is, concept-wise, already very interesting: Our Mother of Many Ways is a chaotic neutral deity associated with jackals, badgers and the like - however, unlike most jackal-associated deities out there, she is not an evil creature - instead, the basic idea is to take the old adage of the thin line separating genius and insanity is represented and embodied by this deity. The vine of inspiration and its associated benefits, the manifestation of her favor and information on the holidays of the deity -all written in the compelling prose we've come to expect from the series. The deity also grants two subdomains for Knowledge, namely Prophecy and Inspiration, with domain powers allowing for insight bonuses to be granted to skill-checks or for or for relative flexible premonitions that allow you to act in surprise rounds or gain insight bonuses to AC/attacks, etc.
The deity also sports 3 new feats, one of which retaliates 1/day (not expended if the target saves) an attack on your person with a madness affliction (narrative gold!). Another allows for exactly one revelation with activation time of 1 full round or less to be used as a swift action - which can be pretty potent. Finally, feat number 3, is a high-concept one, allowing you to transform wine of significant quantities into ingested poison. While very circumstantial, I can see this being a cool plot-device indeed! (How did this one group take the fortress back from the ogres?) The write-up also contains, surprisingly, the Joyous Fellowship - a paladin archetype/orga that represents chaotic good followers that receive perceptive gaze (with a cut-copy-paste error referring to inquisitor levels), an aura of hope and, more interestingly, at 4th level an euphoria-powered barbarian rage in lieu of spells. The higher level auras are also rather distinct, allowing for the smite-powered extension of rage to allies, with chaos-based DR/lawful and apotheosis as well as banishment-powered smite. On a cool fluff-level, the archetype also features a fully depicted code of conduct - overall, a solid chaotic pala.
The second deity covered herein would be "Our Queen of Wisdom and Mercy", the shepherdess of contrition and mercy - enormously popular due to healing offered free of charge, but unsurprisingly none too popular among the clergy-in-spe due to the exceedingly high moral standards required by the church. The write-up of the feats this time around contains two feats, one of which is exceedingly interesting: Sister's Lace allows you, to, as a swift action, consume three uses of both healing and protection domain 1st level abilities to lace conjuration (healing) or harmless spells, either granting a significant long-term AC-buff that scales with your levels or charge a creature's weapon with healing, which is discharged upon being touched by the weapon - which offers some surprising, tactical tricks I haven't seen before.
The second feat, Healer's Grace, allows for the expenditure of domain powers to grant rerolls versus negative conditions based on the cleric's own Will-save - pretty powerful, but fitting one. We also get a new paladin, the Queen' Man - at 4th level, they can significantly enhance the casting of spells and provide a defensive shield that wards against conditions you can negate via mercies and high-level paladins can convert damage in a huge radius into non-lethal damage can be considered truly cool - that battle waging on the grounds of a misunderstanding? Well, these guys can make sure no-one dies! (On a nitpicky side, the archetype is once erroneously called "compassionate son" - but that's pretty much a cosmetic gripe.) The capstone similarly emphasizes taking conditions, damage, etc. of others, making the archetype's final levels predisposed to notions of heroic sacrifice, something I really like in the frame of paladins and, since this replaces spells, the power of the class feature seems justified. Furthermore, the archetype sports a number of unique and complex modifications of divine bond with a specific ward-creature that makes the Queen's Man a superb bodyguard for the target creature. We also receive a second archetype, the Harmonious Spirit warpriest, who receives a modified list of skills and proficiencies as well as several monk-related abilities. Automatic merciful spells, merciful extraplanar prisons to deal with vanquished foes and the like render this archetype rather cool for groups like mine, where murder-hobo-ing intelligent life is NOT considered behavior that's acceptable for good characters. The harmonious spirit also receives a code of conduct, while aforementioned paladin does not.
The third deity herein was one I've been pretty much excited about for a long time - the Reaper of Death and Rebirth, served by the Crematorium of the Grim Gatherer - and yes, this is an interesting component of the church: Beyond the usual death-related iconography and different takes on the religion, the addition of phoenix and rebirth as central concepts render this one a surprisingly fresh take on the death-god-trope. The archetype provided here would be the Ruiner fighter, who gets a specific ruin pool equal to 1/2 class level + Cha-mod, which can be used defensively, to make wounds that are hard to heal or cast curse spells - though I'm honestly hard-pressed to note a sufficient amount of spells with the cures-descriptor - a spell-list,. even a small one, would have been very much appreciated here. Additionally, higher level ruiners receive hexes, bonus damage versus cursed foes and the stalwart ability (not a fan - basically, evasion for Fort- and Will-saves) and high-level ruiners can prevent the very first attack in a full attack executed against them by cursed targets. Overall, a cool, if somewhat user-unfriendly archetype.
Now on the interesting side, there is also a universal archetype contained herein, the Phoenix Child...which is less of an archetype and more of a GM-based template that is applied to characters. Think of it as a kind of mythic path sans tiers that is instead tied with linear progression to the respective class levels. You see, these beings may be reborn in fire, but they also return from the grave with a list tattooed into their arms - this is the list of specific tasks the character has to rectify in order to be absolved of the sins committed in a previous life, with final death being the reward...though redemption thus gained is scarcely attained. Beyond various flame-themed abilities, this one is basically a power-increase, a narrative option...and made me immediately contemplate a campaign, where all PCs are Phoenix Children. Not suitable for every campaign and GMs should be aware of the additional power, but still, I consider this AWESOME.
The final deity herein would be Our Steely-Eyed Judge, the deity of justice and law - stern, fierce and vigilant, supported by a rather well-written Truth inquisition that includes a honesty-enforcing curse, with the two feats once again sporting a domain-powered lacing effect, which, this time around, offers for a kind of flanking curse and a limited retributive bestow curse (lacking italicization), which is nice. The write-up also sports the Thief-taker Slayer archetype, a specialist of urban tracking (with handy DCs/modifier-tables provided), including the rather cool generation of tracer-objects and high-level quarries and a talent that allows for the garroting of enemies and a non-lethal incapacitation talent that erroneously mentions the bounty hunter in another minor hiccup.
Beyond these option, we conclude this book with some truly intriguing pieces of fluff that elaborate the themes and concepts of Questhaven, including the crossroads of dream and some important pieces of advice some authors out there should take a look at - making fluff not read like a DVR instruction manual is something that would make my reviewer's obligations significantly more compelling...but I digress.
Editing and formatting are the one component of this supplement that could have used some streamlining - there are quite a few punctuation glitches in here and references to the wrong class in some abilities, remnants of either cut-copy-paste glitches or revisions in the class-name's respective nomenclature. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the pdf has nice artworks for the deity's symbols and more, most of it in full color. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Okay, so this one is pretty hard on me - I like just about all of the respective options portrayed herein, though the ruiner could really have used a list of curse spells by level. I also would have loved a code of conduct for the Queen's Man. Then again, the significant majority of archetypes and options here not only sport some awesome concepts, they also manage to use rather innovative mechanics and inspire to an extent that makes me come up with plot-lines by virtue of simply reading them - a feat not many pieces of crunch achieve. So yes, Steven D. Russell's latest collection of deities and related material must be considered to be inspired, though it also feels a bit rougher on the edges than what I would have liked it to be. Still, most glitches herein are ultimately cosmetic in nature - which makes me settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up due to the inspired ideas herein to 5 for the purpose of this platform.
Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.
This pdf clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content - which makes sense as soon as you open this pdf.
Why? Because as soon as you do, you'll be looking at character-sheets - pregenerated at 4th level, two pages of standard character sheet per build, because these are not pregens in the traditional sense - they are basic stats with some crucial equipment added. No names, no character. The alterkine-compatible sheets with slots for wealth and reputation have been filled rather nicely and cover the base classes trooper, warrior, tech, scav, mystic, investigator, drfiter and charmer.
Aaaand...that's about it. Class abilities, feat, encumbrance etc. are all listed, as are backgrounds and the like. Where applicable, ranged weapons lack the ammunition available for the weapon on the respective build's first page. The builds are pretty decent and neither useless, nor will they win any optimization-contest.
Äh...what else? There is not much to say about the pdf layout or formatting or editing-wise - if you've seen a d20-game-based character sheet, you know what to expect. It's bookmarked (Kudos!) and pretty solidly done.
Öhm. Yeah, that's about it. You know, I kind of almost went off on a rant how advice on how to play characters, personality, roleplaying advice and fully fleshed out stories pretty much have been the standard among the pregens I've reviewed so far...but that wouldn't have been particularly fair now, would it? This file costs $1 and provides a whole array of pregens for Alterkine/ d20 modern/future. It has neither frills or inspiring moments, it requires the player to make a character from the stats - but for one measly buck, it takes the work of making the mechanics for a group of level 4 PCs off your back - and that's a fair deal.
As long as you don't expect actual characters to come out of this, but are aware of what this pdf, you may consider this worthwhile. So yeah - I'm going to rate this pdf on its own terms, for what it is, rather than for what one could expect from pregens. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down - this is pretty much the definition of a low-cost, solid, but unremarkable offering.
@Porridge: I consider Legendary Rogue to be the best of them.
Rogue Glory is a great buy in conjunction with it due to the revised stealth-rules, explanation on how you detect magic traps and disarms them etc.
The Talented Rogue is great, but it basically "only" takes class features from base class and archetypes and codifies them in a modular framework, whereas the legendary rogue offers complete customization of just about every rules-component, as well as a streamlining of rogue options like talents to power-wise be equal to e.g. alchemist discoveries etc. The design is also so modular, you can take any of its components on its own, which is simply stunning.
Hope that helps!
This huge tome clocks in at 382 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 1 page "thank you," a massive 10-page index (which helps navigation immensely) and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a gigantic 365 pages of content, so let's take a look!
So what is Alterkine? The simple tl;dr-answer for those of you particularly time-starved individuals would be that Alterkine represents basically a riff/expansion on d20 modern/future-rules.
If you require more precise guidance, let me enlighten you: Intended as a core-book, this massive book is pretty newbie-friendly, providing explanation on multiplication handling, dice-notation and the like in the beginning. Progress levels, swearing allegiance to entities, organizations and the like is covered and, unlike quite a few variants of d20-based games, the pdf provides an occupation-system, which generally modifies the skill-selection and provides in some cases bonus feats. At the same time, occupations sport modifications on the wealth and reputation-ratings of the character...which is generally a pretty cool thing. However, both GMs and players should well be aware of the fact that the respective occupations are NOT properly balanced among themselves: Being a student, for example, is significantly less useful than being a celebrity or being an academic prodigy, with powers ranging quite significantly between the less powerful and more powerful occupations - while this is only realistic, the discrepancy between power-levels still is something I'm not a fan of; particularly since no clear guidelines for the ramifications of changing occupations is provided.
As mentioned, there are fame/infamy-based reputation rules, which pretty much are solid and simple modifiers for relevant Cha-based d20-checks, whether skill-based or pure reputation. Wealth is not handled by direct currency, but rather via the abstract wealth-modifiers. Starting Wealth bonus equal 2d4 and can never drop below 0 - purchasing things can be achieved via wealth-checks, which are d20s plus the wealth rating. Wealth decreases whenever the character purchases an object with a rating beyond the character's wealth rating. Instead of traditional AC, Alterkine has a defense rating of 10 + Dex mod +class bonus + equipment bonus + size modifiers. 3.X's action points are also a part of the system, retaining the +1d6-modification, though some class features also sport this as a kind of resource.
Alterkine retains the classic injury and death-rules regarding fixed negative hit point-thresholds (-10 = death) and massive damage. Conditions, temporary hit points and environmental hazards, from poisons to diseases, lava, drowning, etc. all are explained in relatively simple and easy to grasp terms. Alterkine sporst several races, though going through them in detail would bloat the review unduly, so I'll instead provide basics, all right? The first would be the small, slightly pineapple-shape-headed Aasliy - premium entertainers that also sport a strict emphasis on trust. The setting also supports anthropomorphic animals, though inner-racial balancing is odd, with 1st level flight (sans maneuverability-rating) is part of the deal for some. The salamander-like Faluth may seem honest and guileless, but their +2 to all physical attributes makes them surprisingly powerful - and yes, if you've been following my reviews, you'll note something: The races herein pretty much hit all my pet-peeves: 1st level flight? Check. Lopsided attribute-dispersal? Check. Too strong minmax-gearing towards specific classes with +4s to attributes? Check. Similarly, the orc-like, large Ghasmorgh are very powerful and sexually dimorphic, with females being LA+1, males LA+2 - and again, I was never a big fan of LA, though your mileage may obviously vary. The slightly feline Kidaana-ahe gain predator/wanderer-themed bonus-feats and scent, but at the cost of LA+1 and cybernetic restrictions. Pure Strain Humans get +2 Int, Cha and Con, increase HD by one step, while sentient plants can receive quite a few variants. The races all sport height and weight tables and while they hit several of my pet-peeves, I guess that, with some minor exceptions, they work pretty solidly in conjunction with one another and cover the central tropes you probably want covered - bruiser, carefree guy, weird race, etc. - most bases are covered.
The pdf sports a total of 5 base-class, all of which feature the default ten-level progression of d20 modern/future, sporting good, medium and bad save-progressions, the usual BAB-progressions and scaling progressions of defense-bonuses and reputation-bonuses. The class tend to come with so-called talent-trees, which provide either a kind of internal choice or provide a linear ability progression. The set-up and presentation of the respective talents and classes remains pretty well-crafted, though, particularly should you be used to PFRPG's or a similar d20-games' level of choices, you may consider them, from tech to mystic and scav, perhaps a bit restrictive. That being said, on the plus-side, the classes sport no dead levels.
Alterkine is more advanced than the classic d20-systems, though - the skill-selection provided adheres pretty much to standards closer to PFRPG than D&D 3.X - from Athletics to Analytics to a Culture-skill and Deception, the more versatile skills provided for Alterkine work well and are concisely-presented...and yes, Demolitions Drive are part of the deal alongside e.g. Intrigue and the like. Concentration is also a skill here, though with a decreased emphasis regarding magic, it no longer acts as a stringent non-optional skill-tax on casters.
Now obviously, in such a system, one requires feats - and, no surprise, this book provides a huge array of them - and they are interesting in some cases, utilizing e.g. the new mechanics and materials introduced, though, much like in 3.X's design-paradigm, you need feats for several things that imho should not require them - suppression fire, for example. For each great example that blends a new item's possibilities with relatively neat mechanics, there, alas, are instances where I just had to shake my head: Take the Thunderhawk and Thunderbird Styles - mechanically, they are pretty much identical and don't require one another. The Thunderbird Style has slightly less penalties when combined with another style and less potency (1d2 rounds of stun) and 1 BAB less prerequisite...and that's it. Design like this is textbook filler cookie-cutting in my book and simply wasted space. But that may just be me being a spoiled prick.
The equipment-section of this book, containing gadgets, restriction-rules and weapons from flamethrowers to chain saws and even paint ball guns is extremely detailed - a level of detail also extending to armors...oh, and before I forget about it: Yes, this book sports a huge ton of options to customize the respective equipment pieces, both armors and weapons, in a rather versatile manner. It should also be noted that the pdf is rather concise regarding the presentation of the respective equipment types, for they are grouped by progress level: Playing in a rather regular, modern version? Equipment all grouped in one space; contemporary earth invaded by foes with superior technological knowledge? No biggie. I did not expect the respective sections to adhere to such a smart and well-thought out presentation, so kudos where kudos are due!
The book also provides a diverse array of advanced classes - which would be basically prestige classes by any other name (in case you're not familiar with the concept d20 modern/future uses), ranging level-wise from level 5 to 10 - so yes, combined with the 10-level base-class progression, this makes no attempts pretending that the advanced classes are what you want to get: From Psi-soldiers to road warriors and genetic chameleons, the diversity provided among the significant array of PrCs here is pretty neat and certainly shows off some of the better aspects of 3.X's design-philosophy.
In case you haven't noticed: Beyond the PrCs and significant equipment choices and modifications, customization is the name of the game, which includes, in chapter six, a rather significant array of rules regarding mutations: From carapaces to bird feet and webbed digits, this chapter provides some neat tricks and also represents a rather solid scavenging potential - particularly since, from the rules-relevant to the more exotic or cosmetic, this book sports a huge amount of mutations, many of which I really enjoyed. The balancing is interesting in itself here, at least in concept: Mutations have an MP-cost, which must be paid for in drawbacks taken. At the same time the system thus does lend itself to some serious power-gaming, though thankfully, this is offset somewhat by a GM-control caveat, though, I still do think that some of the new rules could have used a more precise wording: The trunk mutation, for example, nets you "an incredibly strong nose like that of an elephant, with a Strength equal to half your Strength." - So, can the trunk manipulate objects? Wield weapons? Execute slam attacks? No idea. While not the rule, there are quite an array of such minor hiccups and they alas do accumulate. Telekinesis would be another example of a needlessly opaque mutation, failing to specify whether the damage is caused to the moved object, to the target of the telekinesis, to targets in the path of the moved object...while it is pretty clear what the mutation intends to achieve, it is in such instances that this book shows its status as a freshman offering, lacking the precision I expect from rules.
While the massive chapter of psionic talents sports a similarly expansive array of unique and evocative tricks, there is no way arguing past the lack of individual ranges and the precision of some of these simply not being up to par: "Once per week, you are able to compress time around yourself and others, causing it to speed up at a speed of 4 times the normal rate." Okay, congrats, so what are the precise mechanical ramifications of this? When e.g. poisoned? 4 rolls in one round? Can the subjected targets act 4 times per round? I have literally no idea what this is supposed to do. Alas, it's not the only one with such issues. Where's the mechanical difference to the one that allows for the slowing down of time? No idea.
On a more positive note, the chapter of flaws, similarly extremely detailed and comprehensive, sports less blatant issues like this and can, as a whole be considered to be rather well-crafted. Now obviously, cybernetics are yet another crucial factor in the presentation of any setting with even remote scifi-leaning. A given character can have up to 1+Con-mod cybernetic attachments, with every exceeding attachment providing a negative level that also results in the loss of a highest level mutation or psionic power. Cybernetic fall in two self-explanatory categories: Replacements and enhancements. From bladed arms to cryogenic generators, we get yet another vast array of customization options - which, while covering a HUGE amount of ground, ultimately suffers from a similar syndrome as the feats - there are frankly some options that exceed others in potency and there is a bit of filler to be found. Similarly, there are e.g. force fields and the like that cause damage, but do not explicitly state activation actions or feature a save to halve or negate. Still, overall, a very interesting chapter.
The next step, would obviously YET ANOTHER huge chapter, this time dealing with bioware - i.e. biological tweaks of your body as opposed to technical ones. Once again, we are treated to a huge array of such modifications - though, unlike cybernetics, bioware, as presented herein, does NOT feature a restriction - you can, as long as you can afford it, load up on bioware until your purse gives out. From flesh-pockets to tendrils and even undead-servants creating lifedrains, there are some far-out and very powerful options here - and not much guidelines regarding pricing and balance, a practice that, alas, extends to gene therapy. Gene therapy allows for the acquisition of powers, mutations and the like via per se pretty concise short-term-treatment rules that fail to specify how long the application takes to apply. Gene-therapy even allows characters to gain acquired templates...which are powerful, but their acquisition is a pain: Number One: The pdf fails to specify a given cost for gene therapy, leaving me scratching my head. Secondly, each therapy for a template requires something along the lines of 25 successful Fortitude saves versus DC 20 - each failure nets you 2 points of Con-damage (I think, but I'm not sure) . similarly, I'm not sure whether a failure resets the counter; whether the process can be suspended and then, after healing, be taken up again. Neither does the book feature balancing advice for characters with gene therapy versus those without - basically, these look like level adjustment-powerful benefits and we're pretty much left in the dark as to their value.
The pdf then concludes with 4 post-apocalyptic-themed character backgrounds that modify attributes, skills, etc.
Editing and formatting, on a formal level, are top-notch and truly impressive - for a book of this size, the writing is pretty precise on a formal level. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column b/w-standard with copious, nice b/w-artworks I haven't seen before and some neat full color artworks of weaponry etc. EDIT: as per the latest update, the book now has bookmarks!
Jeff Becker's Alterkine seems to have a bit of an identity-crisis as to what kind of book it wants to be. On the one hand, the book begins with the very basics of d20-based systems and seems to have the goal of collecting some rules from d20 modern/future in a big book, preventing the requirement of swapping books. However, were I to judge the book on this premise, I'd have to, unfortunately, say that in this regard the Alterkine Player's Guide doesn't do its job - the lack of activation actions and basic rules for bioware etc. mean that this, in spite of its hand-holding approach in the beginning, becomes pretty much a book that requires some serious rules-knowledge once you get to the huge amount of crunchy nit and grit. At the same time, reprinting material from d20 future supplements mean that groups already having these rules will, once again, resort to book-swapping - so yes, I'm a bit torn as to how to rate this. If taken on its own, Alterkine will certainly result in some seriously raised eyebrows regarding how some of these rules ought to work - I found myself dusting off my d20 modern/future supplements quite a lot in order to make use of the rules herein.
This ultimately also extends to activation and action economy in particular - if one thing irked me to know end during this review, it was the requirement to switch back books to re-establish the basic rules for the vast array of crunch herein and, with the added bookmarks, this can be sued more easily - which nets the book +0.5 stars.
Similarly, while there are A LOT, a TON of options presented within this book, both new and old, the matter of fact remains that some of the pieces of crunch are not up to snuff, filler or simply problematic regarding balancing guidelines and precise functionality - particularly the mutation or the bioware could have damn well used a more precise presentation, especially when the cybernetics chapter does indeed provide basic rules.
Now, all of this may sound overly negative and frankly, it shouldn't be: The new base-classes and advanced classes are well-crafted and diverse and while the book, as a whole, inherits several issues from the base books it utilizes, I have to note one crucial thing: The Alterkine Player's Guide is the biggest, most expansive upgrade for d20 modern/future I've read so far. This book sports a HUGE array of cool material - from the uncommon races to the advanced classes to the vast array of equipment and cybernetics, there are a lot of gems herein and the general rules-language of the "big components" tends to be surprisingly concise and fun; as far as 3.X design-paradigms go, this supplement does a good job indeed. At the same time, however, there are quite a lot of small rules-interactions that do not properly work out, that require clarification. Still, for one, this is a freshman offering - and the book is actually the work of two people: Author Jeff Becker and edited by Max Becker. Against this backdrop, one to truly congratulate the authors - this is a huge accomplishment for such a small team and the fact remains that, in spite of its flaws, you'll be very hard-pressed to find a supplement of this ambition and scope for d20 modern/future, one that oozes so much obvious passion for the system. Particularly, if you're comfortable with making rules-decisions, if you're a GM who has serious experience with it, well, then you will certainly want to check out this vast tome - provided you can get past the exceedingly annoying lack of bookmarks, that is.
As a freshman offering, this certainly is impressive (though the later Alterkine books, which I'll cover as well, are more refined), though its flaws weigh heavily upon the book; still, due to the huge scope, the gems that ARE in this tome and due to being the freshman book by HermaDolph and the lack of a good alternative as far as d20 modern/future-books are concerned, I will settle on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, still rounded down, though.