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An Endzeitgeist.com review

*****

This massive city sourcebook clocks in at a brutal 178 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 172 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

Author Richard Green kicks off the book by telling of its genesis - the city's inspiration would essentially be a Byzantium-inspired metropolis, closer to far-east influences than our real world equivalent was - and of course, as one glimpse at the superb 2-page map by Jonathan Roberts (Yes, THE Jonathan Roberts - you know the Fantastic Maps/Song of Fire and Ice-cartographer!) tells us, the city is vast and detailed. Nestled around a massive river delta flowing into the ocean, the city covers the north and south banks with its sprawling streets, while the merchant quarter, situated on the central island, the walls, the extents of the harbor and docks just feel right- all of these, at a glance, convey the believable illusion of a city that actually could have existed and developed. It may be a small thing, but people tend to note when settlements feel inorganic, constructed. This one feels RIGHT, including wards extending beyond the confines of the city walls, which also separate the respective wards. Even the array of streets, the bridges - all of these feel like they belong and this is seriously not an easy task to achieve, especially for a city of this size.

Now, as befitting of a city f this size, we kick off with an overview from the ruler, the so-called Basileus Conrandias XVIII and his less than popular consort (nicknamed Mendatrix - two brownie-points if you can guess the meaning, though the pdf explains for the less-linguistically-inclined among us) to the city's history and quarters and development. With a good overview out of the way, you'll be happy to note that the city gets a full-blown PFRPG-city statblock complete with demographics etc..

Now if you've been to Athens, Rome or Venice (or less famous: Rothenburg, Dresden...), you'll notice something peculiar about these cities - they have a kind of living, breathing flair, their very own mythologies steeped in stone and ready to be discovered at your leisure, if only your eyes are open and your mind (and literature/language-skills) sharp. Much of this has developed slowly over the ages, with the very rocks of the pavement, the ancient monuments speaking a language for those inclined and willing to hear. Ah, how glorious must that be in a world, where fantastical elements actually exist? Well, here's the crux - Parsantium's massive history, including a timeline stretching almost 2000 years, actually manages to lay the foundation for just such an endeavor - the basic mythologies of the place are in place.

Now a city sans people is just a ruin waiting to happen and the roles of the races, including dragonkin and gnolls as well as the default-races and their respective roles within the context of Parsantium are provided - but how are your player characters going to fit in? Well, know my ranting about boring character traits? Well, herein are traits (called character backgrounds) that allow you to customize your character within the confines of Parsantium.. Now in contrast to most traits, these actually come with extensive fluff-text detailing the precise implications and possibilities growing from these, making them so much more compelling. On a nit-picky side - why not call them properly "traits"? Why are the bonuses of the backgrounds untyped and not trait-bonuses? Nothing to break the content here, but good indicators that the focus on the narrative potential here is warranted.

Now beyond people, of course, government (with classic style b/w-artworks for the rulers), law and structure in general shape a city's life and experiences - and from bureaucracy, the Strategos, tribunes to praetor and council and yes, even FINES for crime and the respective punishments are included here. Don't believe these influence and mirror a society/are important? I'd suggest Michel Foucault's "Discipline & Punishment" - and the punishments detailed here actually conform much to the proper etiquette of punishment and the city's culture technology-level work well with these in context. Then again, you might not care at all, but the culture science-teacher in me rejoices when I see things make sense.

Speaking of making sense - from city watch to possible sources of entertainment like chariot races, local festivals, bathhouses, brothels and drugs to proper greeting and social customs and even superstitions, trade-routes and currencies, this chapter misses NOTHING of the constituting elements that make a city and its culture come alive. Commodities, healing and the trade of magical items also is covered in their own respective entries and, taking a cue from Raging Swan Press' superb offerings, a random table of different events happening in the city help further make the place feel organic. This also constitutes one gripe I have with the city - one of the reasons Raging Swan Press' villages and cities feel so organic would be the short entries of whispers and rumors and events available in tables for the DM to randomly roll - having one of these for the respective quarters would have made the city feel even more alive.

"I don't care about your academic squeeing, Endzeitgeist, tell me about what this does for me as a DM!" All right, what about a selection of campaign themes ranging from street gangs (perhaps with a Streets of Zobeck gone Byzantium tie-in?) to politics and intrigue or the return of a legendary rakshasa - Parsantium supports just about all play-styles you can conceive and the pdf offers some interesting guidance and inspiration for the DM in that regard.

Speaking of helping the DM - the districts are detailed in an exceedingly detailed manner that would blow the format of my reviews out of all proportions, so let's just say that the respective areas of the city are exceedingly detailed and also come with their own symbols, iconography and landmarks the local populace might use to tell you where to find certain areas.

Caravan-centric wards, forums, hippodrome, clubs for gentlemen arcanists (the Fireball Club - nice nod to the Hellfire Club...) - the wards come with first impressions, sample passer-by characters (fluff only) and places of interest. And yes, a 200+ feet colossal bronze statue is in here as well as just about all variations of sample businesses relevant for adventuring - taverns (also those frequented by the wizards of the esoteric order of the blue lotus +2 browniepoints if you get that allusion), shops, scribes, theatres, a garden mausoleum, mosques, a secret temple of Kali, a chinatown-like sub-ward , gambling halls on galleys and even a tasteful (and non-explicitly depicted!) BDSM-brothel and yes, even a flotsam town within the city - the mind boggles at the amount of surprisingly concisely fitted elements that constitute the sprawling metropolis and the adventure hook potential just about each of these has. Even before the tunnels that constitute the hidden quarter (including random encounter chart, btw...) and e.g. a mapped hideout for your convenience. From halfling camps outside the city to forests, the area around the city is also glanced at, just should you feel this wilderness itch.

If you require more motivation or some sample pro-/antagonists, you'll be happy to hear that no less than 16 organizations, from aforementioned mage-order to the friendly half-orc society and even more guilds provide for ample social networks for PCs to work and DM to use to tailor proper adventure potential....even before the obligatory noble houses and rakshasas influencing the city's fortunes. It should be noted, though, that none of the organizations provides distinct prestige-mechanics-related benefits - as fluff-only, they work, though.

Finally, religion of course shapes a city's life and feeling and Parsantium is no different - well, actually it is. At least for ole' Europeans like yours truly who isn't that used to religious multiculturalism from everyday life as some of you fellow American city dwellers might be - The eclectic mix of Byzantium-inspired gods and those drawn from the Indian and Chinese folklore makes for a broad selection that supports well the multicultural nature of Parsantium. It should be noted, though, that this supplement was released prior to "Gods of the Inner Seas" - thus, we get no explicit notes on obeisance, but also no inquisitions or sub-domains, restricting the gods to being rather rudimentary and, compared to the rest of the source-book, disappointing.

The pdf concludes with a massive index.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any particularly grievous issues - in fact, for a book of this size, the editing is very, very tight, so kudos! Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with scarce (but as far as I could tell) original and fitting b/w-artworks. The embroidered line of glyphs on the top of the page is nice to look at, but had a curious effect on me - during the course of this review, I skipped a lot of pages back and forth and the odd and even pages have a slightly different set, which means that staring at the screen while skipping pages might be slightly disorienting. Note that as an utmost nitpick, though. The pdf comes with EXTENSIVE nested bookmarks for your convenience, making reading Parsantium easy on the DM.

Superbly ambitious for a first product, I did not expect much from Richard Green's metropolis - and I'm seldom so glad to be proven wrong. Parsantium BREATHES authenticity and love - New York City meets Byzantium, modern metropolis meets swords & sorcery - this book actually manages to portray a believable, interesting, unique city that oozes the spirit of Al Qadim, early weird fiction and recent phenomena like the god of war-series, all while staying believable. Down to earth grit, high fantasy epics - this place supports everything and is better off for it -and manages to walk the tightrope and NOT become generic. Think Kaer Maga if a book of this size had been devoted to the city - only larger. The drop-dead-gorgeous map by Jonathan Roberts (which btw. also comes as high-res jpeg for your perusal) is just the icing on the cake here. Not since books like 3.0's Hollowfaust or since the Great City by 0onegames have I read a city and actually wanted to visit it. This is on par with how iconic Zobeck by now is - and feels thoroughly, wholly RIGHT. Concise. Well-conceived. A stunning achievement indeed! Now I wouldn't be me if I had no complaints now, right? So yeah, what hurts the city is its obvious intention to be multi-format. Don't get me wrong - I don't object to fluff-centric books and honestly, by now I'd rather have good fluff than the oomphteenth bad archetype, feat etc. But e.g. the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus screams at least PrC to me. The organizations practically demand prestige benefits. Concise addiction-rules for the drugs and beverages would have been so cool...what about vehicular combat rules expanded from UC for e.g. the chariot-races? Yes, I know - not the intention.

But these things, at least to me, are the only things missing from this glorious city. Now don't get me wrong - look at the price-point - exceedingly low. Note that this has been made sans kickstarter. Add the SUPERB writing and good production values and we still get a city that should find a home in Qadira, in Al-Qadim, in Conan- and similarly Sword & Sorcery-themed campaigns. We still get a superb milestone of a book, one of the best settlements available out there right now. There's a reason I evoked some of my all-time favorites in the above text - you simply won't find any comparable resource out there. This city is unique and daringly so, bravely carving its own niche and making for one of the most furious freshman offerings I've seen in quite a while. Light on the crunch-side yes, but any writing that manages to draw me in to the extent I want to walk a city's streets does it right in my book. Parsantium establishes one superb framework, one I hope will get ample crunchy books and especially, adventures to support it. If the muses and fates be just, this will be remembered just as fondly as e.g. Freeport in the years to come. Yes, the absence of whispers, rumors and events and lack of statblocks are minor downsides, but not enough to drag this down. The place deserves a chance - give Parsantium a visit! Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval. And yes, the relative absence of crunch and somewhat disappointing entry on the gods are the only minor nitpicks I could muster. For the exceedingly low price, this is a true steal!

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

****( )

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

As in all installments of the village backdrop-series, we get a whole array of supplemental information -from the village statblock to rumors, nomenclature, notable places to information on trade and industry and even dressing habits, the supplement covers quite an interesting array of information to run the village.

Life in Summerford is good - while at first simply created as an outpost, the discovery of iron in the nearby renamed iron hills has seen the village grow and prosper, with the dominant local family even slowly gaining a chance to reach for nobility - at least in theory. In practice, unrest is brewing between the mine and the trading outpost of Summerford, for the mines have been besieged by kobold incursions and thus, tensions are slowly rising. 6 events and 3 sample NPCs add further color to the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' crisp, elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed. It should also be noted that DMs can download player-friendly versions of the map on Raging Swan Press' homepage as a print-out/hand-out resource - which is plain awesome.

Author Alex Connell delivers the ascendant village to the descending Golden Valley - a mine on the rise instead of one on the decline and it per se is a nice village indeed, with quite some implied adventuring potential - including potential conflict between the old ways and the new as well as between miners and villagers. There's quite an array of possibilities here. On the other hand, the village's map isn't as extremely evocative as some others in the series and the potential for conflict in the village itself is there, yes, but compared to other installments, it is a bit subdued. Now don't get me wrong - this is me complaining at the highest level, but I still feel that some inkling, some more pronounced spark/threat for the powder's keg that is adventuring, would have made this even better. Hence, I will remain with a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

***( )( )

The expansion for the superb talented barbarian clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

A total of 4 new edges are provided - one to make an animal whisperer (wild empathy, then non-magical charm effect -wrap your head around that!), one to further improve cleaving, one for a mule-style barbarian with more carrying capacity/better str-checks and one to grant immunity versus compulsions, but with the caveat of including a higher-HD-by-4-caveat similarly to how sneak attack versus those tentatively immune to flanking is handled.

A total of 24 talents are also part of the deal, covering wild empathy, being able to appraise non-magical objects/getting a kind of pidgin means of communicating simple concepts, speaking with animals of her form while skinwalking at will, one that lets you treat a very select array of weapons as a lighter category, improvise objects, becoming harder to get by failing respective saves and gaining bonuses while under negative conditions. The latter is a problem, at least a minor one - while I get the design intent here, the reality of the game will see more than one barbarian with this talent asking his/her compatriots to inflict e.g. bleed damage on them to get the melee damage boost (hey, +2 to damage ain't that shabby...) - too metagamey in the way it will be (mis-)used for my tastes. Kind of weird would be head smash - unarmed attacks with the head, executable sans AoO and even when grappled or pinned, but deals half damage to the barbarian. Again, I like the idea, but the execution would probably not see me ever take it unless I had a DM who used super-grappler foes all the time. On the other end, half damage from all falls and never landing prone when falling AND +2 to CMD versus trips? Yeah, can see that one.

Rather disappointing for me was also the way in which blood oaths are portrayed herein - when below half max hp (Hello, 4th edition design!), a barbarian may once per day choose one of 4 bonuses - none of which are too strong and require line of sight with the target of the oath and a relatively short duration, but still. Kind of anticlimactic and not like an epic blood oath of vengeance, more like a minor revenge theme. Better bracer-fighting and a talent that nets bonus hp when not wearing armor and the like, on the other hand, help quite a bit with some character concepts. One of the 4 greater talents allows you to execute two combat maneuvers at once as a standard action and -2 to either. A complex one here...on the one hand, there is nothing per se wrong with this one per se thanks to the action-economy-caveat, it is still one that somewhat leaves me with a bit of hesitation, especially with the grand talent that 1/round allows the barbarian to add yet another maneuver to a combat maneuver or attack - and since there's no other caveat, that means potentially three combat maneuvers in one attack - and I *know* there are some creature/build combos that can do very nasty things with combos like that... Getting a final attack when being downed or killed on the other hand is a rather neat one.

We also get 7 new rage powers and they are interesting - more CMD and more importantly, an AoO if a maneuver fails against the raging barbarian (even if otherwise not provoking one from the barbarian) -yeah, these I can see. Draw Aggression deserves special mention - when a foe the barbarian threatens targets a foe other than the barbarian with a spell, ability or attack, the barbarian gets an AoO - add reach, have fun. Seriously, nice way of making the aggression drawing work. Getting a free round of rage for being critted, on the other hand, at least theoretically fails the kitten test in a very minor way - while theoretically, the rage could be infinitely prolonged by crits of declawed kittens, in practice, it'll be hard to maintain. Still, not particularly elegant design in my book. Getting a shaken-inducing defense versus mind-inföluencing effects on the other hand - yeah, neato! Ditto for inciting minor, detrimental rages and a fast intimidate (swift or immediate action) upon entering a rage.

The pdf concludes with a list of the edges, talents etc. by theme - nice to have!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' 2-column portrait standard with thematically fitting color stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Hmm...this one left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the further exploration of skinwalking/animal-whisperer-style tricks is cool - as is the fact that some of the abilities herein make vambraces more viable and help unarmored barbarians. The thing is - they, at least in my book, don't do enough to offset the downside of not using armor in the long run - some further talents/edges to improve this conceptual path would have been more than cool. After all, unarmored barbarians, frothing at the mouth while charging those pansies in their shining mail are a staple of fantasy art - a step further in that direction would have been awesome. Usually, the "More X Talents"-series has provided some of the more iconic, cool talents, unique options etc. - and this one does so as well...but also uses quite a bunch of rules-solutions that are slightly less elegant than what I've come to expect from the series. Overall, a few of the talents herein left me either shrugging or simply not sold on their viability. Now don't get me wrong - chances are, you'll find at least some cool tidbits to use herein, but compared to previous installments, this one's mechanics felt a tad bit less streamlined to me, with some reflexive abilities tied to negative conditions and the like. While the wording is water-tight enough to prevent copious abuse, some minor metagamey moments might well arise from this one. All in all, I can bring myself to rating this higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform, with the caveat that talented barbarian-fans should probably still take a look, but carefully check with their DM regarding the talents herein.

Endzeitgeist out.


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****( )

This map pack depicts a City by the Sea on 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving 14 pages for the maps, so let's take a look!

The first map depicts a massive, walled city by the sea, with streets connecting organically gates with the area around the harbor and one section of the city on a hill. It should be noted that unlike Port Shaw, Freeport etc., there is no huge harbor here, but rather the harbor can be considered just one part of the city, not one of its defining, center features.

The second page also has the city, this time depicted horizontal - with a truly jarring white box of text on the parchment-like header and a similarly jarring list of important buildings. Layout-wise, these white, angular boxes on a background of parchment are a total disaster that thankfully only mars this one rendition of the map - until you click on it, when the white box disappears. Printing it out, the boxes disappeared, but for those of you aiming to use this incarnation of the map online or via tablets should be aware of that.

EDIT: I've been made aware by two sources that I seem to be the only one stuck with this weird glitch - probably due to some personalizer issue or something like that. So ignore that portion.

6 pages each, both in b/w and full color, depict the city in a larger version.

Conclusion:

Tommi Salama is a glorious cartographer, and he obviously is just as at home with city maps as with battle maps - and this one comes beautiful indeed - craftmanship-wise, there's nothing to complain. A minor downside would be the lack of bookmarks to e.g. the b/w-version -while a marginal gripe, it still would have been nice to see. The pdf is also accompanied by an array of 4 cool high-res jpegs with and without labels. Internal logic-wise, I also have a minor gripe - for a city constructed so all roads lead towards the harbor, said harbor is VERY small when compared to the size of the city. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


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*****

The first of the much-applauded "Talented"-treatments under Owen K.C. Stephens' new Rogue Genius Games clocks in at an impressive 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!

So let's take a look at the class, shall we? talented Barbarians must be of non-lawful alignment, get d12, 4+Int skills, full BAB-progression, good fort-saves and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons and light armors. They also get a so-called edge at first level, 2nd level and then at 5th level and every 6 levels after that. Barbarians also get a so-called talent at 1st level and every level except 5th, 11th and 17th. Starting at 10th level, advanced talents become available and starting at 20th level, so-called grand talents are there as capstones. So far, so good - that's essentially what you had expected after the previous installments of the series.

Now where things get really interesting is with the new level 1 ability Primal Reserve. A barbarian starts play with 4+con-mod points of Primal Reserve and adds +2 points. Primal reserve can be used to automatically stabilize. All core-resources that would increase rage rounds instead net primal reserve points. These, as you can imagine, make for the basic resource of the talented barbarian.

Generally, a certain type of ability-tree can be gleaned herein -while primal reserve powers all the rage-like edges (rage, cod fury, berserker and also savagery), only one can be chosen - savagery allowing btw. the barbarian to add +1d6 to ability/skill-checks based on two chosen attributes other than Int for a more canny/versatile adversary. Additionally, rage powers and the like can be used by barbarians with this edge even when not in rage. This makes for an interesting inherent design-decision, also by adding additional benefits according to the rage chosen - berserkers getting e.g. free proficiencies and the like. Skinwalking and the oracle-mystery-wildering totems also are part of the deal -and before you get out your power-gaming utensils - skinwalking/totems have a caveat that helps them not stack at the lower levels, but which still makes it possible to combine them, should you wish to. Skinwalking? Yep, essentially wild-shaping fuelled by primal reserve, opening a vast array of new character concepts. And before you ask - the ability is balanced re animal modes of movement and attacks, requiring higher levels to turn into predators and the like - nice! It should also be noted that barbarians are explicitly allowed to wilder in the rogue's talent selection via a specific edge, increasing your potential arsenal even further.

Among the talents, armored swiftness, using improvised weapons, longer non-combat wild-shape, crowd control (with a caveat that addresses the problematic wording of the origin ability!), ignoring bad weather - rather awesome, very extensive selection, though personally, I had hoped the Titan Mauler's ability to wield oversized weapons and one-hand two-handed weapons and all the confusion surrounding it had been cleaned up in a similar manner as aforementioned crowd control. Oh well, guess you can't have everything. And before you ask - yes, rage power is now a talent as well, allowing you access to the list of rage-powers, which still apply their potential additional prerequisites. Have I mentioned the ability to use foes grappled as weapons to bludgeon others while in rage? What about rerolls of failed saves versus conditions upon drinking alcohol? Of course, totem rage powers are also included herein - with the totem edge (which may be taken multiple times) offering potentially access to multiple rage totem powers. Beyond the alignment-based/obvious beast totem powers, the fans of Midgard will surely enjoy the world-serpent totem powers or the hive totem, the latter of which is a godsend if your DM's just as evil as yours truly and loves throwing deadly swarms at the poor melee characters after the AoE-spells of the casters are drained...

We also get an index that groups the respective content according to theme. Very interesting indeed - beyond the by now traditional advice on how to handle synergy between talented classes, we get essentially a suggestion called heroic warrior, who is a synergy of fighter, barbarian and cavalier for those who wish to play in all toolboxes sans breaking the game -really like that one, though a full-blown table for the class would probably have been nice.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RGG's printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with thematically-fitting stock art and is EXTENSIVELY bookmarked with nested bookmarks for each edge, talent and rage power. It also comes hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com, though not with the perfect bookmarks, but rather the automated ones - I doubt that customers require "GM" to be hyperlinked and more than once, I clicked by accident on a hyperlink, in the end printing this out to avoid just that. Oh well, at least the hyperlinks per se aren't obtrusive.

Back to a more positive topic - the content. This takes the slobbering, wrath-filled barbarian and, as the intro suggests, separates it from the savage warrior, essentially allowing for non-raging barbarians from less urbanized cultures to civilized people who need anger management classes to shamanistic warriors that may slip in and out of animal skins - the barbarian as reimagined herein is much more versatile than the base class it inspired, offering much, much more in the variety of character concepts it supports - and that, ladies and gentleman, is why this one, much like the other talented classes before, now is the standard at my table. f problems can be found herein, they are minor at the very best and not the result of the class, but of the base archetype-abilities the framework took and adapted. And, let me emphasize this, even these minor hick-ups do not detract from the usefulness of this class in the slightest - final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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