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5,268 posts. 2,302 reviews. No lists. 1 wishlist.



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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.

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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.

Conclusion:

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.

Figure Flats-review:

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.

Endzeitgeist out.


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.

Conclusion:

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.

Endzeitgeist out.


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.

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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.

Conclusion:

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.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


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.

Conclusion:

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.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com

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.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


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.

Conclusion:

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.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.


This hex-crawl sandbox clocks in at 110 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page Index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 104 massive pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print-copy in exchange for a critical and honest review.

Well, before we do, let's make one thing clear (if the cover hasn't already...) - this is declared as "mature content"...though, at least to my European sensibilities, it does not require this declaration. There are literally more butts in just about any music videos and there is no full-frontal nudity or the like herein. While not particularly tame regarding the subject matter, the artworks are pretty tasteful and subdued and, at least to me, this pretty much is PG-13 - I quite literally could rattle off a number of regular modules with themes as grim or even darker, which made me conclude that this one's rating mostly stems from a Kali-esque statue's rendition that shows nipples (gasp) and perhaps the two artworks that do depict the backs/sides of women. *shrugs* That being said, this is, tone-wise, a pretty irreverent book, so if green-skinned slave girls that may tear you limb from limb offend you, this may not be for you - in this way, the cover is pretty much genius: Offended by the female behind on the cover? Well, then this may not be for you....but before you do judge, please consider reading this review...there's a reason why I review this book...

All right, much like other Kort'thalis Publishing books, we begin this massive sandbox with an array of basically house-rules intended to run with this module. While this book introduces the VSd6-system, which is dead simple - basically, you roll a pool of d6s and take a tally of the numbers, with the highest determining the degree of success/failure and the pool-size depending on the difficulty of the task at hand. The system per se runs fast and pretty decent for this sort of gameplay, though admittedly, after playtesting it, we went for the slightly more refined iteration that would be featured after the release of this book in "Crimson Dragon Slayer". That being said, advice like situational bonuses for properly roleplayed actions and uniqueness of characters retain their validity. On the character-building side of things, the rather cool idea of dark secrets, as pioneered in "Liberation of the Demon Slayer", Kort'thalis Publishing's inspired, but also rather flawed freshman offering, is expanded upon via even darker secrets, which present significant stains on a characters karma and may well represent the very driving forces of the respective PCs. On the narrative side, 20 sample flashbacks and a list of so-called "purple spellcasting" is presented: Basically, this is an add-on to any existing spellcasting system, highlighting the magic-warping effects of the islands portrayed herein - upon spellcasting a d6 is rolled - on a 6, spell-efficiency is enhanced...on a 1 a disastrous failure occurs...and on a 3, something chaotic and odd (think: Purple-themed, icky wild magic...) happens.

Beyond these, quick rules for the instability of dimensional gateways, radioactivity, fighting harder once you're almost down and for time-travel backlash are provided - though I can dispel any groans this topic may have caused on your behalf if you're like me and subscribe to the rather complex notions of the concept à la Primer rather than the more popularized and story-hole-prone renditions in popular media: The theme, while existent, is thankfully relegated to the background.

Beyond a relatively decent, if not perfect monk-class, the book also features a d12 critical hit table as well as quirks for magical swords and their odd egos. Oh, and for those of you who think this monstrous meat-grinder is too easy - what about a brief table of permanent injuries, to be heaped upon poor characters unfortunate enough to drop below 0 Hp? Yep, there is quite a bit of material in this regard in the book... but ultimately, this component will not be the one at the focus of your interest, right?

Rather than that, you want to know about these islands, right? Well, I shall oblige, but in order to do so, I will have to resort to SPOILERS. Potential players are advised to jump to the conclusion or be forever traumatized of anything purple before even adventuring on these 3 cursed rocks...

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All right, only GMs left? Great! So, in this module/sandbox, we return to the world of Razira, grim and deadly as it was depicted in the previous mega-adventure - only this time around, we dive head-first into true sandboxing, with numerous reasons for expeditions to the 3 islands being part of the set-up - and on it, the whole thing becomes pretty much player-driven. However, the GM actually receives some rather interesting tools - like micro-tribe-relations-generators to determine tribal relationships between e.g. the cyber-sorcerors and the beast-men. Cyber-sorcerors? Well, yes. This is pretty much science-fantasy at its finest, sporting numerous crash-landed alien-ships, strange interplanar travelers, slavers from galaxies far, far away...there are a number of such encounters to be found alongside radioactive material that has mutated local flora horribly (not that this would seem too much out of place here...)...there is a lot to work with.

Now if you're a purist, you may pretty much easily reskin these components or further emphasize them - a practice you can similarly extend to encounters where a dimensionally stranded adult movie actress is looking for fabled Alpha Blue (Kort'thalis' most recent supplement!) or to the credit cards that can be found upon other unfortunate souls stranded here. Unfortunate? Well, beyond the warring tribes and diverging technology-levels, there obviously are multiple factions vying for control over the islands, seeking to decipher the true purpose of the black monoliths that dot the landmasses? Beyond the character's individual story-seeds and suggested metaplots and elements, there are other components that can drive day to day adventuring here - for example the disturbing random events in the night table...or the encounters themselves: When highly lethal and completely bonkers purple harlequin assassins start targeting your PCs, you know you're in for a treat that is pretty much bonkers...and who wouldn't consider undead dinosaurs awesome? Basically, you can picture this as a sandbox defined by what just about anything rock/metal-related you'd consider awesome - but it's not that simple.

The key defining feature that unifies the whole atoll and makes the mega-adventure's seemingly disparate elements come together would be, obviously, the eponymous purple putrescence: This thing, the Thing That Rots From the Sky, is basically a Great Old One-level deity, potentially all-consuming and awful, with godlike powers - and its secretions, mutating purple rains and mists, generate a climate that suddenly makes flying ape-men with tentacles and the like seem...plausible. The same goes for the various disparate tribes and factions detailed herein, all of which, in some way, can draw upon hooks that tie in with meta-plot components strewn throughout this book..though, as usual for such free-form sandboxes, it remains ultimately up to the PCs how they play this glorious monster...and speaking of "playing" and " monster" - yes, there are actually rules for initiation into some nasty cults herein.

The book also contains numerous new spells and magic items, which btw. are more precise in their effects in direct comparison to Liberation of the Demon Slayer. The book closes with two lavishly-drawn maps of the islands, one of which is in full-color in the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant errors. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-.standard and the interior artwork is unanimously of a very high caliber that captures well the eldritch atmosphere of this islands. The pdf, alas, does not have any bookmarks, which renders navigation pretty much a colossal pain - I'd strongly suggest getting this in print. The print copy is inexpensive for its page-count and very much production-values wise a great deal. The maps are awesome, though travel-directions and similar comfort-notes are not included - much like in the modules of old, the GM has to work with this mega-adventure a bit before running it - though I do not hold that against the book.

So, I'll just say it: This book hits all the right notes for me. Lovecraftiana? Check. Gonzo elements? Check. Sword & Sorcery flair? Check. Brutal difficulty (your players can't just die - they can blow up the world!)? Check. This is Venger As'Nas Satanis' second book and the increase in quality of "Liberation of the Demon Slayer" is vast - the wording s more concise, the bonkers ideas are more pronounced - where LotDS was pretty much geared towards highly lethal dark fantasy, this book's genius lies in its variety: You could, obviously, run this as an exceedingly dark, brutal and savage module; you could emphasize the gritty, but still heroic components. You could emphasize the strangeness of the place and basically have the PCs tackle this like Redshirts exploring a planet...or you could blend all of them. While heavy metal aesthetics unquestioningly inform the overall base-line and theme of this sandbox, whether you prefer Death Metal or Classic Metal, whether you want a bloody, brutal experience or rather a gonzo, odd one - the emphasis and control lie with the GM. The brilliance of this module lies in the constant skirting of the darkly humorous and potentially completely disturbing, allowing GMs to set their own individual tones, to properly and truly own this massive sandbox.

In my first iteration of this review, I went into more detail regarding the individual encounters and the like, but I decided against retaining this version of the review, since the reading experience of this book is what actually makes the sum of its parts come together like some hideously-tentacled eldritch clockwork. The brilliance of this adventure lies in the fact that it should be an unmitigated mess of tones and concepts and manages to instead blend everything together in a thoroughly unique playing experience instead, one that works best if seen as a whole and not as the sum of its parts.

One note for inexperienced GMs - dungeon-wise and settlement-wise, there is, as with all hex-crawls, a need and requirement to do some work of your own (due to the sheer scope covered)- but if this wonderfully deranged and fun beast doesn't do the job of getting your creative juices flowing, I don't know what will. This is pretty much everything that makes the excited boy within this cynical reviewer jump around with excitement and squee and the book runs just as well as it reads...and if you truly need some material to scavenge, there's a lot out there...feel free to drop me a line if you're looking for some ideas to further enhance this magnificent sandbox.

My final verdict will clock in with a heart-felt, fist-pumping 5 stars + seal of approval for the print version -for the pdf, detract 1 star for the missing bookmarks.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on rpg.net and OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.

P.S.: Apologies to the mods for first posting this in the wrong (miniatures) forum. I was in a hurry and misclicked. The review should belong here.


This hex-crawl sandbox clocks in at 110 pages, 1 page front cover, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page Index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 104 massive pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print-copy in exchange for a critical and honest review.

Well, before we do, let's make one thing clear (if the cover hasn't already...) - this is declared as "mature content"...though, at least to my European sensibilities, it does not require this declaration. There are literally more butts in just about any music videos and there is no full-frontal nudity or the like herein. While not particularly tame regarding the subject matter, the artworks are pretty tasteful and subdued and, at least to me, this pretty much is PG-13 - I quite literally could rattle off a number of regular modules with themes as grim or even darker, which made me conclude that this one's rating mostly stems from a Kali-esque statue's rendition that shows nipples (gasp) and perhaps the two artworks that do depict the backs/sides of women. *shrugs* That being said, this is, tone-wise, a pretty irreverent book, so if green-skinned slave girls that may tear you limb from limb offend you, this may not be for you - in this way, the cover is pretty much genius: Offended by the female behind on the cover? Well, then this may not be for you....but before you do judge, please consider reading this review...there's a reason why I review this book...

All right, much like other Kort'thalis Publishing books, we begin this massive sandbox with an array of basically house-rules intended to run with this module. While this book introduces the VSd6-system, which is dead simple - basically, you roll a pool of d6s and take a tally of the numbers, with the highest determining the degree of success/failure and the pool-size depending on the difficulty of the task at hand. The system per se runs fast and pretty decent for this sort of gameplay, though admittedly, after playtesting it, we went for the slightly more refined iteration that would be featured after the release of this book in "Crimson Dragon Slayer". That being said, advice like situational bonuses for properly roleplayed actions and uniqueness of characters retain their validity. On the character-building side of things, the rather cool idea of dark secrets, as pioneered in "Liberation of the Demon Slayer", Kort'thalis Publishing's inspired, but also rather flawed freshman offering, is expanded upon via even darker secrets, which present significant stains on a characters karma and may well represent the very driving forces of the respective PCs. On the narrative side, 20 sample flashbacks and a list of so-called "purple spellcasting" is presented: Basically, this is an add-on to any existing spellcasting system, highlighting the magic-warping effects of the islands portrayed herein - upon spellcasting a d6 is rolled - on a 6, spell-efficiency is enhanced...on a 1 a disastrous failure occurs...and on a 3, something chaotic and odd (think: Purple-themed, icky wild magic...) happens.

Beyond these, quick rules for the instability of dimensional gateways, radioactivity, fighting harder once you're almost down and for time-travel backlash are provided - though I can dispel any groans this topic may have caused on your behalf if you're like me and subscribe to the rather complex notions of the concept à la Primer rather than the more popularized and story-hole-prone renditions in popular media: The theme, while existent, is thankfully relegated to the background.

Beyond a relatively decent, if not perfect monk-class, the book also features a d12 critical hit table as well as quirks for magical swords and their odd egos. Oh, and for those of you who think this monstrous meat-grinder is too easy - what about a brief table of permanent injuries, to be heaped upon poor characters unfortunate enough to drop below 0 Hp? Yep, there is quite a bit of material in this regard in the book... but ultimately, this component will not be the one at the focus of your interest, right?

Rather than that, you want to know about these islands, right? Well, I shall oblige, but in order to do so, I will have to resort to SPOILERS. Potential players are advised to jump to the conclusion or be forever traumatized of anything purple before even adventuring on these 3 cursed rocks...

...

..

.

All right, only GMs left? Great! So, in this module/sandbox, we return to the world of Razira, grim and deadly as it was depicted in the previous mega-adventure - only this time around, we dive head-first into true sandboxing, with numerous reasons for expeditions to the 3 islands being part of the set-up - and on it, the whole thing becomes pretty much player-driven. However, the GM actually receives some rather interesting tools - like micro-tribe-relations-generators to determine tribal relationships between e.g. the cyber-sorcerors and the beast-men. Cyber-sorcerors? Well, yes. This is pretty much science-fantasy at its finest, sporting numerous crash-landed alien-ships, strange interplanar travelers, slavers from galaxies far, far away...there are a number of such encounters to be found alongside radioactive material that has mutated local flora horribly (not that this would seem too much out of place here...)...there is a lot to work with.

Now if you're a purist, you may pretty much easily reskin these components or further emphasize them - a practice you can similarly extend to encounters where a dimensionally stranded adult movie actress is looking for fabled Alpha Blue (Kort'thalis' most recent supplement!) or to the credit cards that can be found upon other unfortunate souls stranded here. Unfortunate? Well, beyond the warring tribes and diverging technology-levels, there obviously are multiple factions vying for control over the islands, seeking to decipher the true purpose of the black monoliths that dot the landmasses? Beyond the character's individual story-seeds and suggested metaplots and elements, there are other components that can drive day to day adventuring here - for example the disturbing random events in the night table...or the encounters themselves: When highly lethal and completely bonkers purple harlequin assassins start targeting your PCs, you know you're in for a treat that is pretty much bonkers...and who wouldn't consider undead dinosaurs awesome? Basically, you can picture this as a sandbox defined by what just about anything rock/metal-related you'd consider awesome - but it's not that simple.

The key defining feature that unifies the whole atoll and makes the mega-adventure's seemingly disparate elements come together would be, obviously, the eponymous purple putrescence: This thing, the Thing That Rots From the Sky, is basically a Great Old One-level deity, potentially all-consuming and awful, with godlike powers - and its secretions, mutating purple rains and mists, generate a climate that suddenly makes flying ape-men with tentacles and the like seem...plausible. The same goes for the various disparate tribes and factions detailed herein, all of which, in some way, can draw upon hooks that tie in with meta-plot components strewn throughout this book..though, as usual for such free-form sandboxes, it remains ultimately up to the PCs how they play this glorious monster...and speaking of "playing" and " monster" - yes, there are actually rules for initiation into some nasty cults herein.

The book also contains numerous new spells and magic items, which btw. are more precise in their effects in direct comparison to Liberation of the Demon Slayer. The book closes with two lavishly-drawn maps of the islands, one of which is in full-color in the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed no significant errors. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-.standard and the interior artwork is unanimously of a very high caliber that captures well the eldritch atmosphere of this islands. The pdf, alas, does not have any bookmarks, which renders navigation pretty much a colossal pain - I'd strongly suggest getting this in print. The print copy is inexpensive for its page-count and very much production-values wise a great deal. The maps are awesome, though travel-directions and similar comfort-notes are not included - much like in the modules of old, the GM has to work with this mega-adventure a bit before running it - though I do not hold that against the book.

So, I'll just say it: This book hits all the right notes for me. Lovecraftiana? Check. Gonzo elements? Check. Sword & Sorcery flair? Check. Brutal difficulty (your players can't just die - they can blow up the world!)? Check. This is Venger As'Nas Satanis' second book and the increase in quality of "Liberation of the Demon Slayer" is vast - the wording s more concise, the bonkers ideas are more pronounced - where LotDS was pretty much geared towards highly lethal dark fantasy, this book's genius lies in its variety: You could, obviously, run this as an exceedingly dark, brutal and savage module; you could emphasize the gritty, but still heroic components. You could emphasize the strangeness of the place and basically have the PCs tackle this like Redshirts exploring a planet...or you could blend all of them. While heavy metal aesthetics unquestioningly inform the overall base-line and theme of this sandbox, whether you prefer Death Metal or Classic Metal, whether you want a bloody, brutal experience or rather a gonzo, odd one - the emphasis and control lie with the GM. The brilliance of this module lies in the constant skirting of the darkly humorous and potentially completely disturbing, allowing GMs to set their own individual tones, to properly and truly own this massive sandbox.

In my first iteration of this review, I went into more detail regarding the individual encounters and the like, but I decided against retaining this version of the review, since the reading experience of this book is what actually makes the sum of its parts come together like some hideously-tentacled eldritch clockwork. The brilliance of this adventure lies in the fact that it should be an unmitigated mess of tones and concepts and manages to instead blend everything together in a thoroughly unique playing experience instead, one that works best if seen as a whole and not as the sum of its parts.

One note for inexperienced GMs - dungeon-wise and settlement-wise, there is, as with all hex-crawls, a need and requirement to do some work of your own (due to the sheer scope covered)- but if this wonderfully deranged and fun beast doesn't do the job of getting your creative juices flowing, I don't know what will. This is pretty much everything that makes the excited boy within this cynical reviewer jump around with excitement and squee and the book runs just as well as it reads...and if you truly need some material to scavenge, there's a lot out there...feel free to drop me a line if you're looking for some ideas to further enhance this magnificent sandbox.

My final verdict will clock in with a heart-felt, fist-pumping 5 stars + seal of approval for the print version -for the pdf, detract 1 star for the missing bookmarks.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on rpg.net and OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive RPG clocks in at 245 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 6 pages of KS-backers, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 234 pages of content, so let's take a look!

I received this book as a gift from one of my patreons for the purpose of a review. This pdf has been prioritized and moved up in my review-queue accordingly as a prioritized review.

The first thing you'll notice when opening this book is that it's extremely newbie-friendly: The concept of RPGs is explained in concise, easy to grasp terms - including an explanation of dice, terms and the like: I embarked on a brief experiment: I handed my printed out copy to my granny and told her to read it. Guess what? She got it. She finally understood what this roleplaying-mumbo-jumbo was all about. Ryuutama is extremely user-friendly and guides the players and GM, step by step, through the process of character generation, with classes being grouped by focus: Attack Type, Technical Type and Magical Type.

You have 4 basic stats: Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Spirit - at character creation, each of these values can be either 4, 6 or 8: You choose from 6,6,6,6, or 4,6,6,8 or 4,4,8,8. The stat itself also represents the die you roll when testing. All other relevant stats are derived from these simple base attributes: Hp is Str x 2, MP (the resource used to cast spells) is Spirit x2, Carrying Capacity is Str+3 (if you exceed this level, you take the excess as penalty to your checks). Each character is supposed to have mastered a weapon, the use of which and damage is governed by attributes as well: Light Blades, for example have an accuracy of Dex+Int+1 and a damage of Int-1, while Axes use Str+Str-1 for accuracy and Str for damage. Each character also has a personal item, to which s/he has an emotional bond as well as 1000 GP starting budget to get ready for the journey...for in Ryuutama, the focus does not lie on slaying monsters or defeating demonic incursions.

Instead, the basic focus of this roleplaying game is one refreshingly different, one on properly traveling the world, hearkening back to the picturesque ideals and romanticized notions of the apprentice's journey, blended with a sense of wide-eyed wonder and creativity you'd expect in Hayao Miyazaki's works - and this focus also shows in the easy class kits available: From merchants to farmers and nobles, we have roles that go beyond the traditional 4-6 roles often featured in fantasy roleplaying. The respective classes sport unique skills that are derived from the base attributes in much the same way as the weapon damage I described above: I.e., you have dead simple basic math.

As for magic- there is incantation magic, which unlocks in 3 steps and season magic similarly unlocks with the progression through the character levels. The pdf also champions different roles for players and characters to fill - from quartermaster to leader and mapper, the roles make sense and prevent issues in game.

Leveling up is similarly a very simple, streamlined process: There are 10 levels, with every even level providing a stat-increase (i.e. d4 -> d6, d10 -> d12...). At 3rd and 7th level, characters get a terrain/weather specialty, choosing one of the 22 types and gaining +2 to rolls regarding this type. 4th level provides immunity versus one status effect and 5th level provides an extra class's benefits. 6th level provides a second type. At 9th level, you may 1/day take 10 in a given specialized season and 10th level provides basically a GM-centric ability to embark on a truly legendary journey.

Different qualities for objects are covered with easy modifiers - you can e.g. get uncool-looking items at a discounted price or unbreakable orichalcum items, all with mechanical repercussions. Similarly, effects of good (or bad!) food and public facilities like bath-houses, specialty goods and the like are covered in impressive detail. Animals also deserve special mention - you can bring one free animal with you (and don't have to micromanage said creature's upkeep), but only the merchant and farmer class may have more animals - and, interestingly, there are special qualities for animals: Loyal or particularly tough animals, for example, cost more but also grant you interesting benefits, while animals with an attitude problem may be cheaper...but refuse your command in inopportune moments.

From food to perfume to containers, there are a lot of nice items to bring along...including e.g. a grandfather clock! This item-driven approach also extends to healing herbs, of which a vast array is provided, by terrain and level: From moonlight Snowgrass to Barrierwood Stalk, the prevalence and usefulness of these can generate a healthy respect for mother nature.

Spellcasting is dead simple: Choose a spell you know, choose a target in the spell's range, speak the magic words, expend the MP and roll INT+SP - if you roll a double 1, the spell fails, otherwise it works just fine. Spell effects from the same spell do not stack, but those of different spells do. Casters may end a magical effect at any time. Incantation magic is based on study, seasonal magic is based on emotion...and that's about it. One paragraph and we have the foundation of a simple, efficient magic system. It should come as no surprise, then, that the presentation of the spells is similarly simple.

Now I've mentioned skill checks before, but how do they work? Basically, each skill is based on two attributes, like Str+Int or Dex+Sp. You roll the two dice. If you have a double 1, you have a critical fumble, if you roll maximum die-size, you instead get a critical success. If you're thinking that this makes criticals less likely in higher attributes, you'd thankfully be wrong: If you have e.g. a stat of 10 in a related attribute, any roll of 6+6, 6+8 or 6+10 would result in a critical success, making them pretty common occurrences. Skill-checks have a difficulty (like a DC) - if you manage to reach this number, you succeed. Contested checks are similarly simple: Both parties roll, the winner takes it all. Ties are simply rerolled. From hard exercise to drinking or delicate work, sample skills are provided and their difficulty, obviously, is modified by situational modifiers and retries are penalized slightly.

Concentration is interesting - you can pay a fumble point (gained from a fumble) or half your MP for a +1 bonus; both for a +2 bonus before attempting an action...but if your MP are 0, you faint...so in case you only have one MP, better make that shot count! This system is very simple, but one that provides a surprising element of tension in play - kudos! Condition is also important, as are conditions like sickness and injury.

With a focus on journeys over combat, travel speeds and terrain and weather types (and lavishly rendered, gorgeous dragons for each terrain type!) can be found here alongside common topological sights for the respective environments.

Battle is simple: I already covered weapon-rules; initiative is governed by Dex+Int and the battlefield has abstract areas and 5 objects strewn about the battlefield, making the tactical options available more diverse. Item use, defending, feinting - everything combat-related is just as concise and simple as the rules introduced so far. Characters die when their HP reaches negative Condition - so keeping up with food etc. is important indeed! And yes, the system per se champions a low lethality without making it too easy on the PCs and yes, nonlethal damage is covered in accordance with the child-friendly tone of Ryuutama.

The book also sports town-creation rules and even world-generation rules that guide the GM through the process in a rather simple and efficient manner. Speaking of the GM: It is important to note that the GM is more than just a spectator here: The GM has a dragon in human form, a Ryuujin, a kind of GM-PC that belongs to one of 4 different races, effectively the classes of the GM-PC. These characters sport an artefact and may provide Bénédictions for the players, which not only provide significant bonuses, they also act as roleplaying catalysts. Ryuujin are not constant additions to the traveling group, but they may show up when the PCs are in a pinch...or help them in other, unobtrusive (or obtrusive) ways - they are, however, not Elminster: Ryuujin may actually die, so PCs too complacent regarding their help may have to save their guardian dragon! When a Ryuujin goes full-blown dragon-form, that action is referred to as a réveil...but it does cost the Ryuujin's life points, providing an in-game rationale why they can't save the PCs all the time.

The focus on new and inexperienced roleplayers means that this book also goes, step by step, through the process of scenario-creation, simple though that process may be for Ryuutama. It should be noted that sheet-wise, I've scarcely seen a more detailed array of sheets: For scenario-structure, fight scenarios, towns and events, there's a specialty-sheet for just about everything, rendering this even more user-friendly than you'd expect. And yes, we get a simple, nice sample scenario for levels 1 - 2 to kick off the journey.

Now obviously, such an RP also requires adversaries, monsters, if you will: The massive book provides a huge array of them and going through them in detail would bloat this review beyond belief - however, there is a little gripe I can field here: Do not expect artworks for the monsters. While properly described, I still would have loved to see the absolutely lavish artwork to extend to the monster-section...but then again, I'm spoiled by the big, more main stream roleplaying games with infinitely higher budgets.

A significant and concise Q&A-section closes the book - alongside the 18 (!!!) sheets, including e.g ration tracking, combat etc. - stunning!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pure excellence - I noticed not a single hiccup in the whole, massive book! Layout adheres to an easy to read 1-column full-color standard that is sufficiently printer-friendly. Artworks are copious and range from explanatory, chibi-style manga-comic panels that explain actions to stunning b/w-artworks for the Ryuujin. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with the sheets in additional zips.

Atsuhiro Okada's Ryuutama has been translated to English with a level of love that oozes from every page by Matt Sanchez and Andy Kitkowski - going above and beyond the duties of translators, they managed to maintain the intent of the original as far as my pretty lousy Japanese goes. (A Japanese reader kindly sent me an excerpt, showing me clearly the limits of my own rudimentary proficiency in the language... btw. also the reason this review was slightly delayed...) I am thoroughly impressed by the ability to properly capture not only the wording, but the intent of the original.

But you're not interested in these particulars, right? What you want to know is whether this is a good game. The answer to this question, without a doubt, has to be a triumphant, resounding "YES!" Ryuutama is not only breath of fresh air with its wholesome take on fantasy; its level of detail is staggering, its user-friendliness remarkable, particularly considering its status as a translated game. This game is exceedingly simple to understand and works perfectly for any children ages 4+ and up, but it also is a superb game for adults that can still feel the sense of wonder and wild-eyed excitement evoked in the best of Miyazaki's movies. What I love most, though, would be the unobtrusive GM-PC-angle alongside the fact that this game does not cuddle the children: Yes, this is a roleplaying game suitable for just about all ages, one that can easily teach basic math, responsibility, planning...but also one that can teach respect for mother nature...and one that does not shirk away from topics such as PC death. In this way, Ryuutama is not only fair, it is a game that, and this is my firm conviction, will really benefit the development of kids, supporting several virtues we all try to convey as well as the usual basic math competence we want to instill.

The staggering level of detail further enforces this...so when do we get the first full-blown journeys/scenarios for this glorious book? Oh yeah, right - the final verdict: Ryuutama is worth every cent of its fair asking price, is perfect for children and adults and an all-around well-crafted roleplaying game with easy rules and a unique theme - it is an easy 5 stars + seal of approval and receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2015. If you're looking for a great way to introduce children to roleplaying or are fed up with slaying monsters and the cynicism of our world, embark on a journey with Ryuutama - I guarantee you won't regret it!

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS and submitted to Rpg.net.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, we begin this installment of the Gossamer Worlds-series with a warning - the theories herein are considered heresy by the established Lords and Ladies. You see, among the vast plethora of worlds and realities accessible, or so goes the hypothesis herein, there are some that may be considered...semi-sentient. Or at least "alive" in the broadest sense that the reality grows...like a plant...or a tumor. From a seed of contact, a chrysalis springs, ultimately leaving only a husk reality behind - or so goes the hypothesis.

You see, the otherlands constitute a kind of template, a kind of change - the reality does not overwrite completely a given world, but changes it into something creepily uncanny. The pdf uses a combination of "fey" and "alien" to describe the phenomenon and I am inclined to concur. Denizen-wise, we receive information on a few of them - the shining ones, which may or may not be the origin of fey myth; the Umbra-touched scattered ones and the hungry ones, which may be the origin of ours fear of giants, man-eating ogres and the like. The most powerful agents of the otherlands, though, remain the emissaries - we receive the full stats of such a being, the disturbing lady featured on the old cover. Finally, following the theme of otherness, doppelgängers are covered - spirits that may assume the guises of others, further cementing the theme of something subtly wrong with reality.

From Tír na nÓg to the underworld, some examples are provided herein as well and, as always, we conclude this brief sojourn into the weird with a list of the world's properties and advice on how to use it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.

Matt Banach's Otherlands resonate with me - you see, neither jump-scares (which just startle), nor more traditional horror tends to do it for me. I'm not afraid irl of physical confrontation, nor of accidents, flights, water...you get the idea. The imagery of a raindrop falling in reverse, vanishing in the clouds? That's the stuff my nightmares are made of I still consider Koji Suzuki's Edge to be one of the creepiest books ever - what if Pi stops behaving like it ought to? ...You may now resume laughing at me, but to me, this wrongness is the stuff of my nightmares.

Otherlands taps into this type of uncanny wrongness and does so in a great way...but at the same time, I think it does not follow through with its awesome concept - so, you have this invading reality...where are the modifications on how powers, perhaps even Umbra and Eidolon, work? Dissolutions of a Lords'/Lady's powers? Essentially, this book provides a seed from which one can craft more and it does so admirably. At the same time, it falls short in that it does not provide a concise means to have these effects provide mechanical repercussions beyond the inspired fluff.

My final verdict, hence, will clock in at 4 stars - a conceptually awesome pdf that "only" manages to be good on its own and needs the reader to come fully into its own.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 53rd installment of Pathways, Rite Publishing's free e-zine, clocks in at 53 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC, 12 pages of advertisement, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Note: I usually don't review free material any more, but was explicitly asked to take a look at the current Pathways-issues by one of my patreons.

As has become the tradition with Pathways, we begin with Dave Paul's editorial before moving on to the template of this month. This time around, Steven D. Russell Provides basically a creature that is a living execution-machine - including lethal hangman's noose! These constructs are nasty. Nice template!

Creighton Broadhurst, master of Raging Swan Press, does have some material for us as well - two small, yet inspired dressing tables of things you can find in a dusty crypt or a vampire's lair for two damn cool little articles.

Jonathan McAnulty provides something glorious 11 traits particularly suited for dark fantasy/horror gameplay - and all of them transcend the power you'd expect from a trait or feat for that matter...but pays for this power with a well-crafted drawback, marrying mechanical coolness with high-concept ideas: from surviving a massacre to being born into a cursed family, this article made my black heart thump in anticipation.

The next thing you'll see is a thing of beauty: Stat-block wizard Justin Sluder returns with the lavishly-crafted CR 23 divine resilient centaur mageknight Aliltus, who, following the tradition of Faces of the Tarnished Souk, does sport a CR 8 and 16 built as well - and yes, I want to inflict this guy on my players!

We also return to Elton Robb's Leviathan Archipelago to visit to Karnak, Island of the Archosaurus, home to two cultures, that of Sebek-Ka and that of a pharaonic culture...what are Sebek-ka? Humanoid crocodiles that gain +2 Str and Wis, -2 Int, a swim speed, a bite attack for 1d6 (which should specify it's primary, for nitpickers...) and they gain +1 to atk versus tiny or smaller creatures. They also may reroll Will-saves. Over all, a solid race that also comes, fully Cerulean Seas-compatible, with racial buoyancy and depth tolerance-info...neat! It should also be noted that Elton Robb's writing has improved further from the last article in the series...so kudos!

Beyond this cool article, we have a spell showcase drawn from Dave Paul's excellent 101 Subterranean Spells and an informative interview with David Silver, master Ponyfinder himself.

The pdf concludes, as always, with a showcase of reviews by yours truly as well as the Path Less Traveled.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good - while I noticed some minor hiccups, none were too serious. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf's cover art is awesome.

I'm a big fan of Pathways - monthly, FREE - what more can one ask for? Indeed, even one little component of this installment alone can warrant downloading this neat, free magazine, which I suggest you do immediately. My own favorites this time around would be, surprise, Justin's centaur and Jonathan's awesome drawback-laden horror-options. Since this is FREE and has some glorious pieces, I'll rate this 5 stars + seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, what do we get this time around? Well, it is no secret that demonic corruption spreads like a plague across the Dragon Empire, held in check by the dubious methods of the Crusader - herein, we are introduced to two of his more refined weapons, the first of which is the eponymous Echo: A bleak hellscape of post-apocalyptic ruins, this desolate place allows for the sifting through time, adding a tangible 4th dimensional element to narrative structure, one further developed by inspiring notions - what if the Crusader actually came back in time from the future? Where did the echo originate? Can the PCs perhaps use its power to undo a glaring error in judgment, as PCs are prone to make?

The dimension and its iconic imagery is chock-full of narrative potential that is simply inspiring - after all, we know how the Crusader loves fashioning tools and weapons from foes...so what he can do with the echo...your own fantasy is literally the only limiting factor here, for within the Echo's eternity, the Ebon Gauntlet's members are reforged into something different, something deadly - and thus 5 sample soldiers and adversaries are provided, including nastier specials that deserve the name - including advice on how to use the Ebon gauntlet's dire forces.

Oh, and if that is not enough, additional suggestions regarding the involvement of other icons do add further dimensions to the glorious array of potential shown here - and yes, two brief, fluff-centric adventure-locales are provided as well with the Ebon Citadel and the Bleak Pit - yup, they're as cosy as you'd expect them to be!.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat artworks in full color. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.

Michael E. Shea and Rob Heinsoo deliver a surprisingly inspired pdf here - yes, this installment may be a bit on the short side of things, but oh boy did I enjoy reading every line of it: The prose is captivating in just the right way, the concepts are fitting and the pdf actually adds a thoroughly unique dimension to the Crusader that makes the very icon infinitely more interesting and compelling - which is quite a feat in my book! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This MASSIVE book for Lords of Gossamer and Shadows clocks in at 73 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a colossal 69 pages of content, so let's take a look!

What began as a reverse design based on the art that was available via the deck funded via LoGaS' KS soon became this massive book - and oh boy. But let me begin differently: What's the one thing you need to crunch in LoGaS, the one thing that takes time out of your GM's day that does not pertain weaving the most awesome stories you can conceive? Yes, that would be statblocks for NPCs. While significantly simpler than in PFRPG (or 13th Age if you want to run NPCs with PC-rules against them as opposed to monster statblocks...), LoGaS still requires some work - well, this book takes that work from your shoulders and provided a 100-point, 200-point and 300-point iteration for each and every character featured within - of whom there are, just fyi,30.

Yes, 30. And know what? They deserve being called characters regarding their general concepts. The very first one is a self-aware harvest robot (KKND 2, anyone?) and, from strange nomads of the stairs to characters born to inhuman trysts or characters made into the ultimate weapon of destruction, with an all-consuming rage within. What about nigh perfect hunters, strange dragon riders or strange creatures sprung from worlds of pure magic, where constant forms constantly disintegrate and re-assemble? Perhaps an intelligence agent, fiercely loyal to her world-spanning empire, would be more to your liking?

Perhaps your PCs need help - then introduce them to Seleca Crane, righteous slayer of gods or the mysterious Swan Queen or perhaps a former black ops operative from earth? Or another one, a circus artist stranded on the Grand Stairs? What I'm trying to get at with this enumeration is that the concepts covered are pretty broad. At the same time, though, they do sport imho two relatively unpleasant tendencies: For one, their fluff-angles, usually something I absolutely adore in LoGaS-supplements, are simply not that awesome - the prose is nice, sure, but it falls way flat of e.g. Matt Banach's penmanship. Secondly, the builds themselves feel less imaginative and even a bit restricted - to me, the beauty of LoGaS lies within the fluidity of the concepts, particularly Umbra and Eidolon - there is a lot they can be, not much that they have to be. The characters herein feature, implicitly and explicitly, a more monolithic vision of both concepts, which, while certainly not reduced to a basic good/evil-dichotomy, falls short of the true draw of the very fundamentals existing in LoGaS.

Thirdly, the builds themselves and the way their points are used may be relatively diverse...but more often than not, they boil down to "I have awesome weapons, armor, etc." - which would not be as big an issue, had the Gossamer Worlds series not demonstrated with superb panache what kind of awesome things you can actually do here.

There are a lot of NPCs in here, spanning a wide diversity of occupations and ideologies. Better yet, the pdf provides ample advice on how to make compelling NPCs for LoGaS yourself - step by step, point by point, from concept to execution - which is a section new GMs in particular will certainly appreciate.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good - though I noticed some grammatical/punctuation issues here- more than what I've come to expect from Rite Publishing. Layout adheres to LoGaS two-column full-color standard with one neat full color artwork per character provided. These are awesome, though some of them are slightly pixelated. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Author Mark Knights, with development from Christopher Kindred and Steven D. Russell, provides an interesting collection of NPCs in this massive book, one which, while falling short of LoGaS massive potential, still can be considered to be a worthwhile look. After all, this is "Pay what you want" - you can literally get this, digest it and then pay what you think it's worth.

And personally, the statblocks of the ample characters alone and the time they spare me do warrant downloading this alone, even though I probably won't use them as written - the respective concepts do not resonate with me as strongly as those depicted time and again in e.g. the Gossamer Worlds or Threats-series.

This is still me complaining at a high level, though: The concepts of the respective NPCs herein are imaginative enough to jumpstart the imagination. The very hard to beat price point is what ultimately makes me look past the rough edges and minor flaws this exhibits. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform due to its PWYW-status.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


This installment of 13th Age Monthly clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, so, personal antipathy aside, there seem to be a lot of players who enjoy playing dragon-people and the variant race introduced back in the day, so here, we actually get chromatic draconics fully depicted - though their moniker, "kroma", obvious is shorter...and hence the one most widely used. The cool thing in this installment of 13th Age Monthly, at least as far as I'm concerned, is that the race now is no afterthought-option anymore: With evocative 13 things that might be true about them as well as information on inner-racial nomenclature, 5 origin myths (and some advice on weaving them together) as well as some ideas regarding icon influence, kroma draconics end of feel much more rounded, much more organic that before - and that is great in my book.

In fact, against my own personal bias against the very notion of draconics, I found myself rather impressed by the campaign seed that essentially suggests a Koru-behemoth-based draconic state - kudos!

The additional feat options herein allow for either better breath weapon-progression and limited flight based on the battle and, at champion-tier, the escalation die - pretty interesting means of not allowing for low-level reliable flying, particularly considering that flight eliminates your breath weapon racial power. Tying breath weapon and rage together for barbarians is an interesting combo, while fighter may go for the 1st level tail whip or the 7th level gathering breath maneuver - both of which are solid. A new sorceror talent ties re-use of breath weapon spells to the breath weapon power's recharge - so yes, some nice, thematically-fitting options here.

The book, beyond this, also features one draconic monster-stat per color, running the gamut from 3rd level archer to 7th level wrecker, including two universal draconic nastier specials - providing a well-rounded array of adversaries, all with unique tricks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat artworks in full color. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.

Cal Moore and Rob Heinsoo deliver herein. I just can't deny it. I've never made a secret about me not liking most representations of dragon-like humanoids and their impact on the world, with the notable exception of the Mharoti empire in Kobold Press' Midgard. Apart from that, they always felt wrong and kind of lackluster to me. I really dislike the notion and am not a fan of the very concept. Know what? This pdf is still great. I tried hard to swallow my dislike for the subject matter and ended up not having to do so: What we have here is an inspired little ecology that also doubles as a nice expansion for players. I did not expect to find anything I'd like as a person herein and found aplenty - and if that is not testament to being a worthy addition, what is? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and gMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 4 pages editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This book was moved forward in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for an unbiased and critical review.

All right, so, from the get-go, let me make one thing perfectly clear: This is not a module in the traditional sense...or rather, it actually is. What do I mean with this cryptic statement? Basically, this is a wide open sandbox, like some of the best Frog God Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Raging Swan Press offerings - what we have here is basically a mini campaign setting, suffuses with encounters and adventure hooks to develop and pursue - and it is actually better off for it, but more on that later; first, let's discuss why this setting is unique.

The world of Torth is not a nice place - beyond Kort'thalis Publishing's emphasis on the mythos and its dark deity-like entities, the first thing a forlorn traveler will note as he arrives on the dunes of these wastelands is the absence of the sun, for, generations ago, the most powerful magic-practitioners of the world utilized the very sun to annihilate the android uprising that sought to end mankind; ever since, Torth's eternal night is illuminated by the 7 moons, which also feature in the way locals measure the time. With the catastrophic cataclysm, the dragons of old vanished and the world would have been doomed to suffer an eternal winter, but thankfully, the planet houses vast catacombs wherein arcano-technical supercomputers generate sufficient heat to stave off this dire fate...at least for now. With civilization in ruins, new settlements have arisen from the bleak sands and one of said cities would be Aryd's End, where the lion's share of this module takes place.

If that sounds awfully scifi for you, then probably because it is...or can be. The emphasis on the technological aspects is subdued enough and one can, should one choose to, alternatively run this as a straight homage of Robert E. Howard-esque Sword & Sorcery - indeed, the cover's rendition of the ruling trio of Aryd's End should drive home pretty well that, beyond the dark aspects in both theme and world-building, this very much could be a place you can find in a given novel by the old greats f the eminent genre. From a fluff-perspective, the general sense of immersion is significantly enhanced by the inclusion of well-structured information on what current Torthians know, which also includes the aforementioned means of tracking time and popular sayings that help depict the natives with sufficient local color.

Compared to other Kort'thalis Publishing-supplements, the supplemental rules provided do feel more streamlined and refined: Two character kits/archetypes are provided with the Shadow Priest and the Wandering Minstrel. Both have in common that they no longer focus exclusively on a narrative function and instead manage to provide abilities (like permanently turning a foe into a shadow, destroying him...until the intervention of another shadow priest...) that drive narratives in an intriguing manner, while also sporting more details: AoEs and a more precise rules-language show the growth of the author. Beyond that, it is my happy duty to state that, beyond OSR, 5th Edition aficionados will have an easy time converting and running this one: With Dis-/advantage and similar terminology strewn in, conversion work is rather simple and fast, particularly regarding the numerous storied magical items featured in this book, which coincidentally also constitute one of my personal highlights in this book: Take e.g. the trident sandstorm, once aligned with the seas, that can now control the very sands. The new spells provided herein suffer, comparatively, a bit from more ambiguity, but radical subjectivism's option to eliminate an item from the perception of those subject to the spell, to give you one example, is pretty awesome.

Now before I go into the spoilerific sections of this review, let me talk about one component: This module is billed as "mature content" and I understand why: Much like the traditional Sword and Sorcery genre, it is a brutal, dark world that is depicted here. At the same time, I never considered the offering excessive in either violence or sexual content - none of the artworks, for example, depict nudity. In fact, most music videos nowadays sport more. As a German, I do not share the experience of cultural sexual stigmatization, but still - I quite frankly have wracked my brain for quite a while and couldn't come up with anything within these pages that could be considered offensive. Sure, it's dark, but Game of Thrones is literally more violent and sexual. Perhaps I'm odd, but I've grown up with Conan-tales and comics and as such, am of the firm conviction that this module should not be considered problematic in any regard. So no, we have neither offensive, nor gratuitous sexuality or violence here - they are themes, of course, but the module handles the whole matter tastefully.

All right, that should cover the basics, onwards to the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

...

..

.

All right, still here? Great! This sandbox assumes the PCs will enter Aryd's End via one way or another - and, in its dust-choked streets, it will be only a matter of time before the PCs are drawn into the Byzantine power-games that are played here: 4 tribes with customs etc., one more savage/problematic than the other, esoteric schools and 3 secret societies follow their agendas in the streets and behind silken curtains, as the masked revelers of the city follow they debaucheries and excesses. Within the alleys and roads of Aryd's End, mysterious stranger with golden masks may warn you of Shaitan's brotherhood; you may witness (or even participate) in the conspiracy-driven murder of a noble and be framed for it - and there is so much more to find. The rumor-table sport hooks galore and beyond the walls, giant oozing slug-brains that enslave minds, scorpion-squids and lethal tentacle-armed gorillas await foolish adventurers as just the perfect supplement to their diet.

The streets of Aryd's End are no less dangerous, though - suffused in the tradition of Lovecratiana, the influence of the mythos, from the Yellow King's court to Carcosa, can be felt within the post-apocalyptic streets - but only if you know, where to look. Depending on your tastes, the very world may be o a timer, as a mad sculptor seeks to complete a statue that will usher in the rise of the dread Old Ones and end the world of Torth...and trying to stop him may see you killed in a horrible way...or not. Taking a note from how magic is handled in traditional Sword & Sorcery, there is also the intriguing local drug market to contemplate - where vastly improved arcane power is just one highly addictive drug away...certainly, said drugs have catastrophic repercussions sooner or later, but judging from the former adventurer-junkies, not everyone with magical talent sports common sense.

Speaking of the tropes of classic Sword & Sorcery - it is only a matter of time before capable adventurers like the PCs have to come before barbarian king Dran, his beautiful partner, the seductive Yara (who doesn't wish to ruin her figure - hence her hand-maiden is pregnant...with what may or may not be Dran's child) and the mysterious shadow priest Viraj - let's hope the PCs heed the local custom and attend the audience appropriately blood-spattered and they may actually survive the powerplay going on between the powerful figures at the top of Aryd's End's food-chain...heck, they may even survive a dark elf assassination attempt, if they're capable and lucky! And sometime in the future, who's not to say that they may sit upon that throne themselves, much like a certain Cimmerian?

Perhaps the PCs will also have their chance to stop a berserking head of a summoned elder deity, sent as a magical assassin for some creatures...and in the desert, they may either test their mettle and wits or even begin a relationship with none other than the beautiful Idryssa the Worm Soceress. Of course, more heroically-inclined adventurers may test their mettle against the kidnapping plan of one of the aforementioned secret societies out in the desert...or they may inadvertently awaken the echo of one of the legendary 7 casters of old, upsetting the power-dynamic of the whole region - but all of that, and more, is ultimately up to the players and GM: The seeds are here; the details will happen.

3 well-drawn maps of mini-dungeons partially used in the hooks of this sandbox are btw. also provided in this book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, both on a formal and rules-language level, they are more precise than what I've read before by Kort'thalis Publishing - kudos! Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book sports copious absolutely stunning b/w-images strewn through the book. The pdf version f this book has no bookmarks, which is a significant comfort-detriment - I strongly encourage you to get the softcover instead: Beyond the glossy covers, it is a nice book to have in print...and more comfortable to use that way. As mentioned, the cartography provided for the mini-dungeons is nice.

The previous offerings I've read by author Venger As'Nas Satanis are suffused and informed by a thoroughly old-school adherence to heavy-metal aesthetics, spiked with copious amounts of Lovecraftiana, Sword & Sorcery and gonzo weirdness. The latter component is less pronounced in this one: Basically, "Revelry in Torth" is a pretty serious setting/module that could have featured in just about any of the classic tales: The writing is superb, the local color sufficiently raw and the vast plethora of things to do, of threads to explore, renders this book significantly more useful than what you'd expect from a book of its size, with the eye-winking here mostly pertaining nods towards the mythos and other classic tales - like in the original stories.

The blending of subdued sci-fantasy aesthetics, mythos, Conan-esque imagery and post-apocalyptic set-ups is sufficiently unique to lend this its own identity, without restricting its adaptability regarding e.g. the Conan-setting, the World of Xoth or even more mundane fantasy worlds, though, in the latter case, I'd still advise for a plane/world/time-jump: Much of the awesomeness of this book derives from the excellent ideas and local color provided for Aryd's End.

So no complaints apart from the pdf's missing bookmarks? Unfortunately, no - there is one thing I truly would have wished for: A map of Aryd's End. As depicted, and this may be intentional, the city and its revelries feel opaque, hazy, dream-like, almost - a bit like an opium-fueled nightmare between wonder and horror, ecstasy and terror. While a proper map would have somewhat lessened this component, it would have also helped GMs envision the sandbox as a whole, helped kicking off the sandboxy aspects by giving the map to the players and asking: Where do you go from here? Now the good thing is that this is intended as the first trip to Torth, with at least two more waiting somewhere down the line - so we may yet see that.

Still, do not let this deter you from checking this out - even as a scavenging ground of fluff, this is worth the fair asking price: The visuals conjured forth are intriguing and unique and any fan of dark fantasy and sword and sorcery in particular can look forward to this book being a great read. My final verdict hence will clock in at 5 stars, omitting my seal of approval only due to the lack of a city's map. For the electronic version, please detract a star due to the lack of bookmarks...I really recommend the print over the electronic version for this one.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and submitted at the request of the author to rpg.net.

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Part II of my review:

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -I noticed a few italicization glitches, minor errors in statblocks and the like, but seeing the size of this tome and the complexity of the statblocks, that is not surprising and well within the level of tolerance. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard that conspires with a mix of gorgeous full-color and b/w artworks to render this book a truly beautiful book to behold -aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about here. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and my hardcover sports nice, thick, matte high-quality paper and a shiny cover - all great in that regard.

Kevin Andrew Murphy, Darren Pearce, George "Loki" Williams, Allan Hoffman, Andrew Hoskins, Brendan LaSalle, Matthew Medeiros, Richard Moore, Monte Reed - this is one epic book and it was a fun ride to embark on. But also one that is terribly hard to rate.

Why? For one, there would be the issue of high-level gameplay requiring a lot of foresight - pre-written modules have a hard time properly predicting PC-capabilities and one massive issue with the first book was the arbitrary stripping of powers from PCs and the issues with rules-interactions. I am more than happy to report that this book sports NONE of these. Neither will you find "Pcs have to solve this EXACTLY like this"-solutions and similar issues - instead, this massive mega-adventure essentially provides vignettes, vistas and general storylines - you can skip through them at your leisure, ignore some, substitute your own or expand them to full-blown module length.

When handled properly, these vignettes can act as epic, never-ending climaxes - if you took the final scenes of a vast array of stories and stitched them together, a kind of cool-moment-collage, if you will. Better yet, where applicable, the places do sport nice rules-tidbits from mutation-tables to steampunk gadgets. While not all such tidbits are perfect, this is a module and the like is simply not the focus of this review. The world/planes-hopping vignettes ultimately can be a vast amount of fun if handled properly, but they could also go horribly wrong - if you are accustomed to handholding, extensive read-aloud texts and not good at making transitions and filling in the blanks of the respective vignettes, that may result in massive issues - essentially, do not expect any guidance beyond a basic plot-summary and the statblocks for the respective adversaries. Yes, this DOES include a lack of maps for the respective vignettes, but not one I'm going to fault the pdf for - why? Because the focus on cinematic transitions ultimately, at least here, does not require them necessarily. In my game, this went off pretty well after my players sopped trying for the analysis-route.

The second part is a more old-school killer-dungeon and it is very much worth the status as a finale - the palace itself is exceedingly deadly, full of iconic adversaries and challenges and provides a great way for the DM to provide some exposition regarding the dread lich queen. The background story, as written, is surprisingly intelligent and beyond what you'd expect from a killer-dungeon, so yeah - kudos here. On the downside, the lack of one-page maps to print out can be considered a comfort detriment.

So, what does that mean? It means that this module, more so than many others, will prove to be a very polarizing book. If you can see the vignette-style planes-hopping working for you, then chances are, you'll love this beast and enjoy it immensely. On the other hand, if you as a DM have problems generating transitions or fleshing out details on the fly, or if your players are all about the small details, then this one may result in some issues - the discrepancy between whether this will be awesome, or, well, not so great - it all very much depends on your group's tastes, capabilities etc..

At the same time, this book, unlike the first one, does not cheat in obtrusive ways - one instance where a sleeping gas may send players to their sleep sans DC or stats comes to mind, but, quite frankly, if DC 40 is too hard for the PCs at this point, they're doing it wrong anyways... So overall, this book can be considered indeed one of the few examples of high-level modules that truly managed to captivate me - the glimpses at realms beyond the regular, whether released or yet unpublished, is interesting indeed and provides some pretty imaginative ideas and a much needed change of pace, while also providing a sense of the epic to the whole experience.

It struggled quite a bit with how to describe this massive module - and the closest analogue was delivered by one of my players - this is pretty much a module-equivalent of an all-star-movie akin to Avengers - it provides components for each world and concept to shine and show what's cool about it - but there is, by virtue of its format, no room to linger on the individuals, to go into depth regarding the individual vignettes and their characters. So do not expect the module equivalent of primer or a TV drama, but rather that of a big-screen all-star action movie. Personally, I tend to prefer more detailed modules, which is also why I'm pretty happy to have been able to test this module in detail -and while I did not have an easy time as a DM and preparation did take a lot of time, the results proved to be very entertaining and my players, surprisingly, enjoyed the continuous barrage the weird of the continuum threw at them. While some minor oversights can be brought to field against this book, the amount of material that works and shows an understanding of the intricacies of Pathfinder does offset this in my book.

Yes, I'm rambling. My final verdict, ultimately, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, while less experienced DMs should probably round down due to the significant skill this requires to pull off.

Personally, I loved the massive array of cool ideas spotlighted and hence, I'll add my seal of approval for the vast imaginative potential.

Reviewed quite some time ago first on endzeitgeist.com, submitted this to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted it her, on OBS etc. - just posted it again since my old review seems to have been eaten by the update.

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This freshman offering by Pyromaniac Press clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover/KS-advertisement, leaving us with 14 pages, so let's take a look!

We begin this player's guide with a brief introduction of the fully statted eternal city of Anduria, which is btw. also featured in the rather neat map of the lands surrounding its monolithic, titanic walls. Anduria...ringed by 100 feet high walls of unknown, strange stone featuring enigmatic bas-reliefs of strange robed figures (stunningly rendered in the prequel-module, btw.!), a patchwork of the old and new, with its canals and even single building sporting different architectural styles, certainly is a metropolis that can be called fantastic in the best of ways and the players reading this guide will get to know at least the basics about the diverse wards within these colossal walls.

Since adventurers are prone to seek out taverns for employ, trouble and ale, 10 particular taverns are spotlighted in aptly-written, concise prose and the reader of this pdf will also be filled in on the government and the guild-driven power-structure within the city...and obviously, as a consequence, also be able to familiarize oneself with the guilds, both great and small - the respective write-ups sport names, primary services rendered, the guild master, membership requirements and benefits and thus a massive array of potential roleplaying opportunities.

Both daily life in the massive city and its culture is well represented, including the relatively humane punitive measures employed within the city for law-breakers - and yes, this section also mentions common strategies to weasel out of a law-based predicament.

Local "pests", psychic motes and transportation within the city's confines is covered as well and a brief note on surrounding areas is also featured here. The second section features thankfully spoiler-free advice for making characters that actually will be useful in the campaign, including suggestions for bloodlines, etc. Anduria, being a tolerant city, does not extend this tolerance to the divine, thus, such characters may require to hide their calling (If you want to know why, that's explained in the plot of the AP in more detail...) and new skill uses to this effect as well as ones that let you navigate the city's red tape are provided.

The pdf ends with a couple of per se pretty solid traits, though I do have some complaints here: There is no such thing as "Arcane" or "Divine" traits - the proper types would be "Faith" and "Magic". Additionally, the bonuses granted in one of the traits lack the trait-type - though the other traits get it right.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, particularly for a freshman offering - the rules-language, where present, is pretty concise and the prose is well-crafted. There are sometimes minor glitches that make single lines a bit wobbly-looking in the rendition, but this remains the exception. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column two-color standard. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, which is okay at this brief length. The map and one piece of artwork is nice (and believe me - the Prequel's art is NEAT!). One peculiarity that annoyed me is the non-standard formatting of skills: It's not "Profession: Lawyer", it's "Profession (Lawyer)" -cosmetic, I know, but still...

This player's guide does a great job - for one, it does not spoil anything; it also does make you excited about the massive metropolis and its unique social structure and options and is a nice hint at the things to come. As a freshman offering, this is pretty impressive...and it's free. Granted, the file is massive (118 MBs), but in my book, being pay what you want does offset the minor hiccups that can be found here. So please, take a look, download and read this and check out the Kickstarter if you like what you're seeing! My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This FREE little pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page editorial, leaving 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin with a nice introduction to the matter at hand and then are introduced to the Templar Knight. These guys must be lawful and may deflect an amount of damage equal to his level plus the sword's enhancement, but the decision to deflect the attack must be made before the results of the damage-roll are made known. If the fighter also reconsecrates and reforges his sword in a ceremony, the character may also add his Strength-modifier to the amount of damage deflected.

1/day, he may also sway the undecided, up to character level of NPCs, to his side of the argument. At 3rd level, he may 1/day attack twice in a round, +1/day every 3 levels thereafter and at 12th level, he may always make 2 attacks per round.

The second swordsman-kit herein is the Slayer, who needs to be neutral. 1/day, when wielding an iconic blade (e.g. tempered by dragon fire), he may declare a hit a critical. When a slayer kills a foe, he may 1/day attack an additional opponent, +1/day at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, up until 15th level, hen he may always do that. He gets the same two-attacks-per round progression as the templar.

The third kit, the Reaver, needs to be chaotic. For each foe killed or mortally wounded, the reaver penalizes her foes' attacks by the number of felled foes, up to the max bonus of the reaver's blade. Per se nice idea, but when does the counter reset? A precise duration would have been nice, otherwise you can just kill a bunch of kittens... Attacking dazed, stunned blinded, prone, fallen, subdued, unconscious or unaware are particularly endangered by the reaver: Reavers get + atk and damage against such foes. The reaver gets the same additional attack progression as the previous two kits.

Finally, the book ends with a cool table that represents blades of fallen heroes awakening with special powers - this table is fun and awesome.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports one great b/w-artwork per swordsman. The pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

The kits provided herein can be considered well-crafted, if not particularly unique: The templar is certainly the most captivating of the kits in this pdf. The other two basically sport mechanics from more current editions of the system, translated to OSR, but done so in a pretty precise way, considering the need to provide support for different variants of OSR-rules. The reaver has slight flaws in its details and feels a bit weaker than the other two, but overall, this pdf is well-crafted. And it's FREE. Free pdfs are hard to beat, particularly when the "fallen PC's blade"-table alone is an awesome reason to download this free book, even when playing in other systems and requiring some inspiration. As such, I feel justified in awarding this 5 stars + seal of approval - this is well worth the download.

Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and then posted here and on OBS. Cheers!


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This prequel for the unprecedented Crisis of the World-Eater-saga clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 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.

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All across the world, an uncanny psychic scream echoes through the minds of the minds of the world, driving many individuals to suicide - and the trail leads to the irradiated Kray Wasteland, officially a hostile area broken by the impact of a meteorite. Major Marco Dempompa send the PCs into this wasteland - and it is here, the PCs find something they did not expect: Beyond the deadly gangs that inhabit the wasteland, the PCs unearth a strange, star-shaped complex - for from it, the scream was sent forth. They are not alone in their discovery, though - it is here that a secret super-soldier program was launched and three of these changed beings now have returned: The apathy-field generating arcanist Synapse, the unbreakable Colossus like berserker Vault and the Magneto-style elven storm sorceress Ozone.

Finally, beyond the locked down central section, the deadly quicksilver/flash-like Black Silver and the cabalists of the Onyx Cabal remain - and here, the PCs find the broken figure depicted on the cover, the chronicler - who has regained his strength to emit the scream...to warn the world of the approach of Saitan, the deliverer of Omega...before falling back into hibernation. I should btw. mention that the bosses/super-soldiers of this module, like bosses in Metal Gear Solid or superheroes/villains sport unique abilities that render them significantly more interesting than the sum of their builds.

It is with a sense of doom impending, paranoia versus the world's nations and a player-friendly map of the complex that we end this first taste of the dread things to come...

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, elegant 2-column full-color standard established in the surprisingly awesome "Chronicle of the Gatekeepers"-campaign serial, though with minor modification. The pdf's artwork is original and absolutely stunning and the cartography is just as awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

This brief module by Michael McCarthy, Jeff Lee and Louis Porter Jr. delivers in its promise - it makes me excited for "Crisis of the World-Eater" - even more so than I was before - the evocative backdrop suffused with exceedingly cool bosses renders this a great little module. Oh, and this one is "Pay What You Want" - which means there is literally no reason why you shouldn't check out this cool little module. Personally, I do believe that it is worth a tip/compensation for the obvious care that went into it for the unique bosses alone. Seeing how this is PWYW, I can't see a reason why this should not be considered to be 5 stars + seal of approval - an intriguing, first glimpse at the vast things to come.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek, GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


This module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page inside back cover (which doubles as a picture you can color), 1/2 a page advertisement, leaving 20 1/2 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved forward on my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreons.

First of all, before I go into details: This module is intended for a younger audience - basically, this is intended to be a very kid-friendly module - to be more precise, for the age-range of about ~ 6 years. I ran the module in my playtest with a mixed group spanning the ages of 4 - 11 and the players that had most fun were those in the lower ages, so personally, I'd suggest this approximately for ages 4 - 8. The module does take into account the changed requirements of the target demographic - namely by calling out when a good time for a break would be, when to guide them by incorporating suggestions into your "What do you do?"-questions, when to explain the discrepancy between character and player-knowledge...the like. For parents not sure whether their kids can handle "killing" adversaries, an alternate wording is provided as well, with the defeated "returning home." The copious amounts of advice provided are generally not only welcome, they tend to be very sound.

I, for example, wholeheartedly endorse the notion of taking away nonlethal damage penalties in combat encounters and rewarding PCs for doing "what's right" and handing off defeated foes to the proper authorities. It is my experience that kids become pretty adamant about doing "what's right," particularly when bonus XP are on the line - this may sound stupid to adult readers, but it is my firm conviction that acting like this can help kids develop their moral compass. Even distribution of candy/gummibears used as monster-substitutes on the map also is a pretty sound advice, since it prevents instances of jealousy and kill steals, while still providing immediate gratification.

All right! Children/players, in case you're reading this, please jump to the conclusion. No one likes a cheater and I'm going to explain the adventure now. If you continue reading, you'll only make the adventure boring for yourselves and have an unfair advantage that will be noticed by your GM. Please do what's right and jump to the conclusion.

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The monastery of the monks of the kneeling wind is a tribute to the elements and, visually inspired by Japanese aesthetics, well-represented by a truly beautiful full-color map. Alas, all things must end, and so did the time of the monks - and after they were gone, the crystal dragon Azhuryx chose this place to rear her precious wyrmling Kurisutaru. Alas, once again, trouble brewed and the mother dragon did not return from a hunt, leaving Kurisutaru terribly bored with the soulbound doll left for him, yet cautious of strangers. One day, Kurisutaru saw a child folding origami and was left overjoyed when he saw dragons among the figures crafted - he thus swooped down to talk with the magical prodigy Azumi, who, in a panic, conjured forth an origami crane (made possible via the new spell) and sent it forth - said crane is what jumpstarts the module in earnest, as the PCs happen to find the origami swan and read the cry for help on it.

In order to reach the monastery, the PCs have to start climbing the mountain (a great way to btw. use the hazard here to explain altitude sickness as they encounter it to the kids for a nice educational interlude) and on site, the exploration can commence - the PCs can for example brave the most huggable earth elemental I can imagine. A Wisteria tree whispers to the PCs that the key to Azumi's location is hidden in the koi pond and indeed, swimming in can yield it. Underwater, the PCs encounter a friendly, awakened koi who breathes bubbles on them and wants to talk to them: He'll give them the key, if they answer a simple riddle. Beyond the moon-viewing tower, there are animated dog statuettes that may attack (impotently) the PCs - less defense and more offense would have probably made this encounter slightly more enjoyable, but that may just be me.

The PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against the haunt-summoned non-evil undead weapon master of the monks in honorable combat. In the just as lavishly-rendered map of the complex beneath the monastery, a Sudoku-puzzle beckons alongside a friendly haunt testing the PCs whether they can distinguish reality from illusion, while another requires balancing on a rope to swing a bell...in an interesting twist, the spectral teachers of the monks may provide guidance in-game to stumped players. Combat-challenges include dealing with the dragon's overprotective soulbound doll and some animated objects.

When the PCs finally happen upon the dragon, they'll think they have a deadly fight on their hands...but Azumi intervenes and the PCs have a chance to make friends with the dragon, the positive modifiers of which btw. also entail playing a game of hide and seek with the dragon...and hopefully convey to him that kidnapping others, no matter how well-intentioned, is not a good way to make friends. In the end, though, capable PCs will probably leave on Azumi's origami riding cranes, with Kurisutaru's friendship bracelet for a fine, tasty dinner at Azumi's house - who now has a friend most unique.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a Japanese-looking, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book provides ample of child-friendly artwork from the pen by Jacob Blackmon -more so than in many modules of this size, rendering it a nice, visual treat. The unified and beautiful style also extends to the gorgeous cartography by Travis Hanson, which also features player-friendly versions that you can print out, cut up and hand out to them as they go! Extra kudos for that update!

Jenny Jarzabski and BJ Hensley have already proven that they can make good crunch; however, as it turns out, they can also write captivating modules. "A Friend in Need" is a great first module for the small ones, breathing a bit of the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki's movies and the innocence conveyed therein. It is not perfect, being a freshman offering, with minor hiccups like the somewhat tedious combat versus hardness 8 animated dog statues...but it is still a pretty impressive one. You see, the module does a lot things right: The flavor is child-friendly. Even the spirits of the monks, which may evoke a slight sense of creepiness (in a good way), still provide more aid than hindrance. The challenges are diverse and the inclusion of social encounters, riddles and puzzles make sure that the players actually are challenged in more than one way, which is a good thing in any module, particularly so in one intended for kids.

Now personally, I do believe that even small kids can handle a bit more threat and danger than this module featured (see e.g. the pretty serious themes of fear of loss and reorientation in "My Neighbor Totoro", for comparison), but I will not hold that against the pdf. It should be noted that I ran this with a 4-year-old among the players and the module proved fitting for children this young as well, while the kids in the age-range of 8 and beyond would have liked a bit more grit. Now the good thing here is that, should you not endeavor to cater to a crowd as diverse as I did in my playtest, you'll have no issue slightly increasing the creepy-factor of the benevolent monk-spirits - in my playtest, I added some minor creepy-dressing to them and thus managed to engage the kids even more - if you heed this advice, though, please make sure you know what your players are comfortable with - a tiny scare is okay, but not more.

How to rate this, then? Now that's the tricky part: You see, I very much believe that we need more modules like this. In fact, many more modules.

I have vastly benefited from my roleplaying in both terms of foreign languages, vocabulary, problem-solving and social skills and the sooner we can get such a positive development going, the better. At the same time, I am somewhat hesitant of awarding this per se very good module my highest accolades - it is my firm belief that a slightly more pronounced emphasis on morality (or a slightly more complex hide-and-seek-encounter) could have added that little je-ne-sais-quoi to this already very good module.

Ultimately, we are left with one well-crafted module for young children - hopefully, only the first of many more to come. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for this freshman offering, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform. Congratulations to the authors for an impressive first sojourn that certainly made the children ask for more.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


This installment of the chronicle of the gatekeepers campaign serial clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 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.

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All right, only GMs around? One of the most unique races of NeoExodus would be the Cavians - rat-like humanoids that are all psychics...and that differ radically from any other race by one crucial fact: The race sports a hivemind, which renders them unique and alien in an uncanny way. Large-Biter has news - a group of cavian monks is nearby and may prove vital intelligence on the Vespan's work and the flare of activity of the Nexus gateways. It should soon dawn upon the PCs that there are some racial tensions here - indeed, even before they venture forth towards the Cavians, they'll be confronted by villagers warning them in no undue terms - tensions are flaring and, indeed, this module is about the two disparate groups.

The module tracks every little interaction between both groups, so here's the deal: Teryth's natives are pretty hostile towards the Cavians and thus, each interaction, each wrong word, may provide a mob point; the interaction with the Cavians may yield Diplomacy points alongside information and the PCs better take heed - upon their return to Teryth from the trip to the Cavians, the local populace seems awfully interested in the details of the Cavian's strength, numbers, etc. - and yes, here the PCs better ought to remain unspecific. Now the cool thing here is the following: The points ultimately determine how the final showdown between the two groups turns out - and there are a lot of different, fine-grained results here, with the non-bloodshed ideal case being pretty hard to achieve...but not impossible.

The module also sports one cavian magic item, just fyi.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good. Layout adheres to LPJ Design's elegant 2-column full-color standard for the series and the module comes fully bookmarked and in a second, slightly more printer and mobile phone-friendly version.

Michael McCarthy and Louis Porter Jr. provide one extremely elegant sidetrek here: Focusing on Diplomacy, this humble little module offers a welcome change of pace from the usual adventuring fare, with interesting supplemental rules that render running this one pretty easy. Additionally, this module rewards Diplomacy and bring heroic (i.e. not kill-happy) - it's ideal solution is that no one gets hurt. More importantly, while there are ample skill-checks here, many of the actions and actual points the PCs get depend on roleplaying as opposed to simply rolling a die - a fact that further improves this already cool set-up. I am seriously impressed by this cool, little sidetrek - it is different in all the right ways, fun and a great chance for actual roleplaying to shine. Barring any proper complaints, I can wholeheartedly endorse this fun, uncommon sidetrek, since it exemplifies what you can accomplish with even limited space. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module for 13th Age clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page blank inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was moved ahead in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange for a critical, honest review.

We begin this module with a briefing and a selection of the icon patron for the PCs - and, let me state this from the beginning, this section is very detailed: Each of the patron icons and also, each of the antagonist icons you can choose to frame the narrative in, changes the subject matter in subtle ways - though arguably, I'd suggest involving the Dwarf King in some way - you'll note why when reading the module.

And this is the extent to which I can get regarding the module without delving into the SPOILERS. From here on out, only GMs should read on - seriously, even when playing another system, you may want to move on to the conclusion.

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All right, so it should come as no surprise that in a highly magical setting like the Dragon Empire, there sooner or later emerges a genius. In the case of the 13th Age, this Leonardo DaVinci-style super-genius would be Inigo Sharpe. However, the brilliant man takes "problematic" to whole new levels. What do I mean by this? well, the man has made a living out of solving (partially) the issues of an Icon and then getting the hell away, leaving shambles and large bills. Yes, he is not a nice guy and while the concepts his inventions would have had for the respective icons are massive, none work as intended/are completed - instead, this brilliant man elected not to put even more power in the icon's hands.

This does not, however, change the fact that, at some point, Inigo had to jump ship time and again - and then, he vanished. At the behest of their patron icon, the PCs have to track down Sharpe..with the only good trail leading to Silver Cove and a burned former partner of Sharpe left to clean up one of his messes. Indeed, the mage Frigin's dome soon comes under siege by some hoodlums, showing the PCs that they are not the only ones on the hunt for Sharpe. The annoyed and frightened mage does have a means of tracking down Sharpe, though - a concealed, magical boat that always returns back to its port of origin, to be activated via a peculiar song.

Thus, the PCs board the vessel, sing...and on it goes. The magical boat brings them right into the ocean, to be more precise, to the eponymous strangling sea. This would be a tightly-interwoven mat of Sargasso, fungi, wrecks and worse, all clumped together to form a floating, unstable place. Navigating the strangling sea's less than reliable: One false step can see you crash through the ground and into the sea that's teeming with lethal predators...and then there would be the inhabitants: The strangling sea features a tribe of degenerate, xenophobic goblins on the verge of becoming something wholly different and these beings, with their psionics-inducing parasites are just one issue. The other factions contain a group of shipwrecked people and a huge metal box, which is an experimental dwarven ship of metal. Oh, and there are, obviously, deadly parasites and flesh-eating fungi to be found here as well in one of the most unique iterations of this trope I've seen in ages.

Finding Inigo here is hard - particularly, since neither the paranoid, hostile dwarves, nor the other factions prove to be friendly: The PC's arrival changes the strangling sea's power-dichotomy, with their boat being a grand prize to be wrestled from the PCs...and the desperation and paranoia of the locals makes sense. Why? Because the strangling sea houses a malevolent, chthonic intellect that drives its inhabitants into desperation, paranoia and even suicide. Yes, darker than you thought, hmm? The brilliant rules-representation of the Strangling Sea, though, is what makes it shine even more: Basically, the Strangling Sea gets a kind of evil relationship die that can further influence PCs in ways most unpleasant. I expected the neat rules for swimming under the sea - I did not expect this awesomeness.

Better yet, the fully mapped sea (player-friendly, just fyi) retains the modularity promised by the set-up: You see, Inigo can be freely placed...and there's a reason for this. The PCs won't simply find the eccentric inventor - unless they are smart: You see, Inigo's "death" was not just perfectly faked...he kind of died. However, he downloaded his personality and mind into a steampunky replacement body...of which only the head remains. So yeah, the goal here is to escape the strangling sea alive, sanity mostly intact, with a severed and still very conscious (and talkative...and extremely abrasive) head of a century's genius... whether their ship is stolen or not, whether they reactivate the massive dwarven ship or not - one way or another, the PCs can hopefully return - to a final encounter that amounts to rugby/American football with Inigo's head. And yes, this encounter, like each and every one in this book, has several cool, unique factors that make it more unique.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, i noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age's printer-friendly, elegant 2-column b/w-standard. The original b/w-artworks are copious and nice and the strangling sea's map is neat. The electronic version is fully bookmarked for your convenience. The softcover version comes on glossy, thick high-quality paper.

All right, let's cut this short: GET THIS! This is the 13th Age introduction-module you always wanted: Beyond the absolutely awesome location, the icon-related customization options and the story, this awesome sandbox offers unique, cool encounters galore. Even if you're not playing 13th Age, the creative and well-written module practically demands to be converted into other systems: Robin D. Laws has executed a firework of high-concept awesomeness in these pages that render this a joy to read and the playing experience actually surpasses this still.

The unique use of 13th Age's rules and the diverse selection of foes and scenarios render this sandbox one thing: Superb. If I had one complaint, it would be that I would have loved the module to be longer, for there to be even more madness and time in the Strangling Sea...so yeah. I literally couldn't get enough of this. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and a must-own recommendation for any fan of 13th Age.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


This free supplement clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, so let's take a look!

We begin this pdf with a one-page introduction of the origin of the class. The baleful sorceror gets d6, may not wear armor and are proficient with daggers, short swords, sickles and scimitars. They may also use poison as a thief of the same level and may rebuke, command or destroy undead as a cleric of the same level. This sorceror learns one spell of a higher level every level, though more power can be gained via trafficking with dreaded Tsathag'Kha, putting that control in the GM's hands. The sorceror may also try to cast more potent magic than he can, requiring a save. If he fails, he takes the Constitution-drain of the magic himself and is whisked away by Tsathag'kha's servants to be looted and/or forced to sign a pact in blood.

This power obviously needs some balancing: Baleful Sorcerors of Tsathag'kha can never acquire a familiar, multi-class or be lawful/good. Upon death, his soul is forfeit and there is a 7% chance that the sorceror rises as a lich after dying. These guys do not require spellbooks. Aforementioned Constitution-drain either is equal to the spell-level or as noted in the spell's description, but these may be relegated to willing and unwilling targets, provided blood was drawn by the sorceror, and no more than 1 hour prior to the casting. Constitution recharges at 2 points per hour of uninterrupted rest, but characters below Con 3 must save to avoid systemic shock and subsequent death from the recovery.

The spell-list runs the gamut from magic detection (rolling a bunch of spells into one) to infernal conducts, blackish-purple tentacles, green, ichorous infernos and insta-kill at level 9. I wished the spells had more detailed casting/duration-infos, but ultimately can live with what's here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf has a damn cool b/w-artwork in addition to the full color cover.

Venger As'Nas Satanis provides a solid, nice character kit here; by virtue of the rules being designed to work with several iterations of OSR-rules, the crunchy parts are a bit less precise than what I personally enjoy, but ultimately, the class works with a minimum wok required - and that is pretty impressive. Oh, and it is FREE. FREE is hard to beat indeed and hence, I will award full 5 stars + seal of approval in spite of this minor nitpick for this pdf - well worth the download!

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here.


Part II of my review:

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the book sports numerous, gorgeous b/w-artworks of the highest caliber. The book's print edition is a nice softcover with glossy covers and high-quality paper. The pdf-version is something I would recommend only to a lesser extent: The lack of bookmarks the electronic version sports constitutes a significant comfort detriment, particularly considering the more spread-out presentation of the rules.

Robin D. Laws' Fear Itself is, and let me state that loud and clear, an EXCELLENT game. At the same time, the GUMSHOE system as depicted herein also represents the most disjointed of the presentations when compared to the other books I've covered and minor rules-ambiguities can be found here and there. While this does not cripple the book, it does detract a bit from its user-friendliness for novices to the system - which is a pity. Why? Because the Fear Itself, as a system, lends itself, like the horror movies it emulates, works best for brief campaigns and one-shots: The lethality of this iteration of GUMSHOE and the scope of the system is geared towards this...or towards prologue/first chapter-style gameplay.

The perfect way to use this book, at least in my opinion, is to lead into a longer campaign: The hapless PCs witness the horrible things about to happen and there we go: After several encounters, they are recruited into the OV, properly trained and now use Esoterrorist-rules, supplemented by some from this book. (And yes, in this instance, I'd slowly unlock the more action-packed spy-rules from Night's Black Agents as the PCs become more and more professional threats to the creatures of the Outer Dark and the vampiric conspiracy...)

Beyond even this use, one can also look at Fear Itself as the ultra-gritty version of GUMSHOE: Want to play a truly low-powered Esoterrorists-game or a Dustier-than-dust-mode Night's Black Agents-game? Scavenge the fleeing rules and the power-level. Even beyond such a model, the psychic powers may be a great addition to your game and the sources of stability/risk factor-mechanics offer A LOT of inspiring material that works just as well in more pulpy contexts. So while the presentation of the rules may not be as refined, the actual rules themselves are inspired in all the right ways.

The 2 monsters, the implied and extremely compelling Esoterrorists-world and the SUPERB scenario included herein also constitute excellent reasons to get this book. Fear Itself is a thoroughly compelling, excellent book, though one that is slightly more flawed than its brethren. Still, I wouldn't ever want to miss this book and its contents among my library and can whole-heartedly recommend it. While incapable of being able to rate this the full 5 stars due to the slightly confused presentation and the electronic version's lack of bookmarks, I can still rate this 4.5 stars + seal of approval, rounded up...However, only for the print version. The electronic version's lack of bookmarks exacerbates the aforementioned issues and should be considered only 4 stars and loses the seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


This installment of the Knowledge Check-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So, this is something different. As you all may know, I'm a bit obsessed with languages and sociolects - I've been pretty vocal in my love of the inclusion of slang in Fat Goblin Games' PWYW Carnival of Sinners. This inexpensive book provides essentially a number of words you can use to make your underworld feel more unique. While some of the words are pretty obvious ("bene" meaning "good", for example), there are quite a few intriguing slang words herein: A "Holy Lamb" is, for example, a thoroughly despicable villain; "Jibber the Kibber" is the practice of using a horse and a lantern to make ships run aground. Oh, and "lacing" something means to beat someone.

While some words herein are simply that, others inspire regarding the practice to which they refer: "leggers" e.g. sell low-quality goods, purportedly smuggled goods, and thus avoid repercussions for the bad quality of their merchandise. Knowing about "Hangman's Wages" may also prove useful within the consistency of your game-world.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork is sparse, but fitting.

Richard D. Bennett provides a damn cool little dictionary here - the practices and words herein can inspire and certainly help you make your depictions of the seedy underbelly of your campaign more exciting. What's here, is certainly awesome, particularly for the low price point. At the same time, I really wished this was longer and that it had some invented, new fluff to account for the different reality of most fantasy settings - words for halflings, goblins, magic and sorcerous pursuits would have been much appreciated, at least by me. What we do get here is a nice glimpse at real world thieves' cant for a low price and as such, this is a nice book - my final verdict hence will clock in at 4 stars.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS and d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, so let's get this right out of the way - this one will be brief - why? Because this is a player's guide and it's the school of book that is all about the fluff: We thus begin this player's guide with the PCs entering the city of Endhome - a massive settlement and one of the key locations of the massive "Lost City of Barakus"-mega-adventure. As befitting of people arriving at such a place, the PCs hire a guide, Corlius, who then proceeds to show the PCs the sights and introduce them to the dynamics of Endhome, relevant places and the like: After an extensive and well-written tour through the massive city (including a nice, schematic map of the place), the PCs will find themselves in the King's Road Inn, the place most likely to cater to the adventurer's profession.

As such, here, the PCs will not only be introduced to some crucial NPCs, they also will hear quite an array of rumors that may result in them going forth, checking them out - within the frame narrative of these conversations, the PCs get to know about several of the dangerous and intriguing areas beyond the confines of Endhome's walls - without spoiling the achievement of discovery when the PCs finally explore Barakus - kudos for going this route!

That's not all, though: Players will certainly appreciate the run-down of the places that offer shopping opportunities, a list of notable key persons and even a page of common knowledge and obvious rumors.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though one header has a formatting glitch with a relic <n> and a header that is regularly sized. Apart from that, no complaints. Layout adheres to Frog God Games' two-column b/w-standard with nice b/w-artworks and hand-drawn, sketchy schematic maps that spoil nothing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, though I'd advise in favor of getting this book in paper (the print-version being glossy with high-quality paper) - perhaps one for each player.

Why? Because Vicky Potter's player's guide is not only a good read: This is perhaps one of the most useful player's guides I've read in a while. You see, I played Barakus back in its 3.X-iteration and while I loved this gigantic sandbox, it took a lot of time to set-up: You've probably experienced this yourself: Until the players and PCs have a grip on a wide open sandbox, you'll be doing A LOT of exposition, when everyone at the table would rather be adventuring. This is where this player's guide comes in: Simply hand it to your players, have them read it and there you go - all exposition right out of the way, and in medias res, you can start the discussion of what they want to check out first. This book makes getting to the meat of the module so much easier - sans SPOILING any crucial details. Oh, and it's also a compelling, fun read AND a good reference book for players forgetting the names of important NPC XYZ. This is pretty much a glorious Player's Guide that does its job exceedingly well. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, the submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here. Cheers!

Endzeitgeist out.


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.

So, this time around, we're looking at the Aldori Swordlord - in case you're not familiar with the issue: "Aldori" is closed IP, which means that dueling sword etc. obviously refers to the respective sword. The swordlord as presented here gets full BAB-progression, good Fort-saves, 2+Int skills, proficiency with all weapons (+ the exotic dueling sword) and light armor and weapon finesse at first level. Second level nets Dazzling Display, 3rd Dueling Mastery. 2nd level provides bravery (which means synergy with Bravery-feats - yeah!) with 5-level scaling. Deft Strike is also part of the deal from 1st level onwards and third level nets Steel Net, which is reimagined as a scaling dodge bonus.

4th level provides some bonuses for performance combat and better Dazzling Display-synergy, while 5th level nets better dueling sword specialization that increases every 4 levels thereafter, extending this to maneuvers and the defense against them. Disarming Strike is relegated to 6th level. The original PrC's Steel Net's ability to decrease the penalty for defensive fighting gets fixed - it now also applies to Combat Expertise - kudos here!

9th level provides a cool ability that adds demoralize injuries to crits and maneuvers and even suppress the target's morale bonuses - awesome new ability! Even cooler that, at really high levels, they may negate even more bonuses! Using immediate actions to grant himself 25% chance to negate crits would be unlocked at 10th level (upgrade at 16th level)

Level 11 lets them maintain Dex while using Acrobatics/Climbing alongside from decreased AoO-provoking when standing up from any creatures hit while prone. The class also gets an ability that represents adjusting tactics to an individual foe and counterattack is gained at 15th level.

The highest levels provide DRs and auto-confirms of crits, the latter, obviously, as the capstone.

As always, we get favored class options for the core races and a sample NPC at level 1, 5, 10 and 15 - but we also get advice on making alternate sword lords! Nice!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.

Carl Cramér has done it here - as you all may know, I'm a huge fan of Dreadfox Games' Swordmaster class as a dex-based martial. However, the class is complex and not suited for everyone. Here, Carl Cramér has taken a mediocre PrC with some neat ideas, balanced it tighter and woven a thread of crunchy gold through it - from level one, this one is unique and its inspired tricks continue to evolve throughout the whole class. Balanced and fun, this is the beginner-friendly-duelist class that effortlessly mops the floor with its component PrC -this is inspired and awesome and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, a perfect example of the potential of this series.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Cheers!

Endzeitgeist out.


Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.


This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 70 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 66 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved forward in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of this book in exchange for an honest, critical and unbiased review.

We begin this module with information on the setting and rules suggested (but not necessarily required). The default setting for this mega-adventure is Razira, a massive, slumbering planetoid beast. This living planet is orbited by two "moons," Vrista and Anu. Vrista keeps Razira in perpetual slumber, whereas Anu, the shadow moon, is home to the legions of the dark - akin to Final Fantasy 8, it is from there that demons and devils enter Razira in regular incursions. As for the past, the empire of snake-men has long since crumbled and now, the planetoid feels much more like a regular world. Divine and arcane magic are pretty much alike and usually tied to a patron - and here, you can choose either arsenic or strychnine: Following the traditions of pulp and horror, the major deities of this world are not particularly friendly: Great K'tulu, Yogsoggoth, insane Azyargoth and the frog-god Tsathag'kha need no introduction, I assume. Ulusek and Lokvaar once were one god that split, now representing two warring factions. Tchort is a brutal lord of fire. Dathlaquatta is a deity of elemental air, law and order and finally, there is Shula, goddess of the moons.

Demons are chaotic, devils are lawful...and elves, both dark and light, are considered to be soulless and pretty much nasty fellows. They are known for dabbling in the material Lyrthum. Weapons made from it do not apply Str, instead allowing for the option to penalize yourself by -2 when attacking to get a second attack at -4. This means the usual penalty assumed is decreased by 2 for each attack. lyrthum also only sports half the penalties for casters. The second material introduced, zorv'lev, infernal steel, is pretty much the opposite. Being pretty heavy, weapons made from it have a minimum Str-score associated...but you triple Str-bonuses for damage purposes with them. To offset this, the material only allows for one attack per round. Furthermore, it doubles weight and casting-related penalties when used as armor. If that seems kind of opaque...then that's not due to me failing to properly sum up the rules-repercussions here - they in fact are less precise than what I expect from rules-information.

Speaking of rules: There are several provided herein: Attributes are assumed to net no bonus at score 9-10, +1/-1 for every 2 above/below that. The module assumes 0 level PCs that start with 4 hit points, rolling the appropriate HD every level, ignoring 1s. Dying is handled thus: 0 HP = unconscious, -1 death. Each level increases the death threshold by 1, meaning a 4th level character dies at -5 HP. The book also assumes a fortune score, rolled with 3d6. A point of fortune can be spent before a roll or after it: Before a roll, it provides +3 per point spent, after a roll only +1. This pool is important when playing this module with the suggested rules - without it, this is an almost unbeatable meatgrinder. Fortune replenishes at the mercy of the GM as roleplaying rewards. More guidelines here on when to refresh would have been appreciated.

Ability-checks are rolled with numerous d6, trying to score below the attribute, with easy tasks being 2d6, difficult ones being 4d6, Saving throws are determined by level: 0-level characters save on a 20, 3rd level chars on a 17...you get the idea. Damage-dice are explosive: Rolling the highest damage number lets you reroll the damage and add it to the damage scored, rendering combat deadly and unpredictable. Magic follows different rules as well - a spell can be cast ad infinitum - until it fizzles, then you have to relearn the spell. The book does not codify magic in traditional ways, instead championing a free form magic of improvisation, with the check getting the formula of 1/2 caster level + Int-mod minus spell level. I have no idea how this magic system is supposed to work. Is that a d20-roll? I assume so from the table that sports 1 as a critical failure, 20 as a critical success, but against what? No idea. I recommend skipping this rule - it's opaque and quite frankly, badly written for rules-language. Scrolls and potions are one-use items, wands have a default of 13 charges and double items and the like can end in strange things happening. Instead of XP, the book champions levels by session - level 1 after 1 session, 2 after two more sessions...per se simple. It also suggest the requirement of a trainer, but in the context of this module, that's highly problematic. We'll see later in the SPOILER-section why. On the positive side, choosing a motivation is nice...and I really like the dark secrets table: If you don't like an ability-score your rolled, you may reroll it in exchange for a dark secret...and they are nasty as well as diverse and creative. Basic rules for status and parting shots of killed characters are also talked about.

Initiative is covered by rolling a d20+dex-mod and similar modifiers. 20+ means the character gains a bonus surprise round. Characters who haven't acted get can be hit as +2 and similarly, characters may forego their attacks for +2 hit and damage, while casters may gain that bonus or penalize enemy saves by that much...or increase their free-flow magic. As mentioned before, two-weapon fighting, fighting defensively, out-numbering foes... the like are covered and here, the rules are okay and relatively easy to grasp. You won't find any revolutionary rules here, though, and the book's presentation of them is slightly jumbled - putting them in the middle between setting information and backdrop makes the presentation feel a bit haphazard, which is not a good thing in the context of rules.

It should be noted that the module suggests generating multiple characters - personally, I'd suggest at least 3. This module is lethal. At the same time, I'd strongly advise against heeding the advice of making new characters after one PC dies level 1 - this renders the PC significantly less powerful than his comrades. If you can't handle PC death, this module will break you - this mega-adventure is VERY HARD.

One more thing: See the cover? If that was not ample clue for you: This is a module intended for mature audiences. The artworks inside do sport nudity, demons and the like. If you're sensitive to imagery of naked people about to be sacrificed and the like, if the cover offends you, then this probably is not for you. As a German, I have not been brought up with the taboos regarding sexuality that quite a few American have. (Instead, we have taboos regarding gratuitous violence, but that's another thing altogether - if you're interested in my thoughts on cultural taboos, drop me a line!) In my opinion, sexuality is featured herein, yes, but not in a gratuitous or particularly exploitative manner - it's pretty toned down and can be completely ignored, should you choose to do so. My litmus test for the like tends to involve asking female gamers if they're offended by it - in this case, the unanimous response was "No," alongside a bemoaning of a lack of naked dudes in the artworks (at least on the side of the heterosexual ladies).

All right, let's get into the background and meat of this module! Since this is a review for an adventure, from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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..

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All right, only GMs here? Great! The village of Clear Meadows is as peaceful and nice as you can expect from a settlement in Razira: In a hostile world such as this, the village basically is a nexus of calm - all right, it may have its own share of people who want it subsumed by the chaos that roams the place, but as far as this hostile world goes, it is idyllic. Random monsters roaming the planes are provided alongside rumors and some intrigue...but the whole meat is something different. You see, once per year, the denizens of the village collect the unfortunate and throw them into a dungeon to reclaim a powerful sword with a malign intellect, Kalathax the Demon Slayer, a blade rightfully feared by demons, devils and every unclean creature. With only some basic rations and tools, the PCs have to enter the dungeon to hopefully reclaim the sword and defend the town...for a while, before it needs to be returned due to its corrupting influence, for another batch of heroes to get - think of it as a deadly trial by fire. In 3 days, the portcullis will be opened again...and the whole module is, actually, on a timer: This time around, the settlement will be destroyed...unless the PCs can get the blade in 15 days or less. Generally, I do not object to this, but the suggestion of leveling via training does render this strange - we never get information or suggestions on how much time we have to spent training.

The complex does sport some strange sigils that can render the unwary catatonic and is LETHAL. I mean really, really lethal: If you see, for example, a slime: RUN. No, really. One touch and you're dead/turned into a slime/gelatinous cube yourself. So yes, all in all, this one is pretty brutal in the difficulty department - sometimes frustratingly so. In the first level, we have e.g. a portcullis that can separate the party in two - nasty. On this level, the PCs can also find a pair of soulless elves and a carnivorous, fibrous growths...and there would be the repose of a wizard, whose glowing face pronounces doom, Oz-style, on intruders, while a vast swathe of carnivorous maggots needs to be cleared to reach the sarcophagus that contains Kalathax...and for sadistic GMs, the lich that guards it. And yes, this is the very definition of overkill. The level also introduces a character from our world stranded here that can help later...and the level actually is pretty much a great representation of what's awesome...and what's bad with this module.

You see, this book does sport nice b/w-maps for the respective levels. The problem is, though, that, beyond some hiccups regarding the maps (which exist, but remain within the bearable range), the module is extremely annoying in its opacity regarding the connections of levels and the general connections - the maps do not always list them and you won't find "This leads to room C3." - Instead, you have to somehow piece together how everything is supposed to be connected, which is really, really grating. This is by far the most GM-unfriendly book I've run in quite a while in this regard, requiring you to do quite a bunch of work on your own. This little fact alone made me reread a module I had pretty much memorized the first time I read it and it represents a major downside.

On the ambiguous side, the quest is pretty much done at first level - get Kalathax, done. You can run this in a convention slot and it works. However, I sincerely wished the dungeon actually sported some reason for the PCs to delve deeper, some frame narrative. Why? Because the dungeon per se and its ideas are diverse and fun and level 1 is pretty much the most boring of the bunch - yes, a room full of flesh-eating giant maggots that want to eat you while a glowing face pronounces doom constitutes one of the less inspired components.

Let me elaborate: The dungeon level the PCs should access from 1st level (how is, as mentioned above, somewhat opaque), is level 3: Here, worshipers of Ulusek and Lokvaar are wrapped up in a rather nasty microscopic religious war, now inhabiting a crashed alien spaceship that represents a healthy dose of scifi - with voice-automated checkpoints and the like It is also here that 3 elders with psionic powers can be found - willing to teach them, should the PCs complete their respective quests. The level also sports a thankfully not yet activated nuclear warhead the PCs should defuse (religious fanatics in control of nukes? BAD!) as well as a hatch...which can and should be used to defuse the bomb and make level 2 accessible, for that one is flooded. Oh, and, to give you an example on why this book rocks...and kind of sucks: There is an encounter here, with chained abominations and a guy in a white coat titled "Herbert West's Formula" - but unlike the optional lich on level one, we get no stats for the numerous abominations, the Dr., or the effects of the formula. you have this cool encounter...and no idea what's supposed to happen here, what the powers of the foes are...yeah. On the "rock"-side: There is a lethal, mind-raping orange on this level, one that delights in implanting suicide compulsions on its victims. No, this is NOT an auto-correct typo. Orange. Awesome!

Level 2 (and level 4) are defined by green crystals that render magic even more chaotic and unreliable. The soggy 2nd level is home to the worshipers of Yogsoggoth, perpetually at war with the cultists of other dread deities - and home to dangers like water-elementals, vampire toads and the like. Oh, and you may actually be abducted to level 0 of the dungeon, which turns out to be a particularly nasty interplanar gladiatorial game/mini-dungeon, where a LOT of things may insta-gib you and a talking giant venus man-trap may be your only way home.

On level 4, we have a theme mostly in line with classic fantasy - a small clan of exiled dark elves (all lavishly rendered and depicted in detail regarding motivations etc.) provides the main source of the story here...as does a Rambo-style guerrilla warrior hunting the PCs. Oh, and there are insane cannibals. And killer kobolds. A hellraiser-style dressed high-priestess of devils also roams these halls, dressed mostly in chains, spikes and tattoos - though, much like the "nice" slaver that can be found here, she has no combat statistics, which, in her case, may be a bad decision - her artwork makes her look like someone the PCs may wish to eliminate... Oh, and no, there is no reason for those NPCs to be stuck here. Yes, this is old-school, but at least a collapsed tunnel to the underdark or the like would have been appreciated, for I really don't get how all of these guys got past level 5 and 6... On the plus-side: Demo-dragon-spider hybrids. And yes, their artwork is nightmare fuel.

Level 5, imho, is one that has more of a distinct identity than the somewhat clustered levels 2 and 4: Beyond a medusa (with a great artwork), the scene on the cover takes place here - this is the domain of the cult of Great K'tulu - and they're BRUTAL. Beyond the star-spawn, they have a massive slug-beast (rendered in lavish 1-page art, though its statblock lacks the proper formatting)...and Selvah. Selvah, high-priest of K'tulu, is an insanely powerful adversary: Holy symbols in his presence MELT, immediately crippling divine casters. His unholy avenger and other items make him even more deadly: 3d4+7 damage, escalating dice. Suffer. Selvah's schedule is pretty packed, but is clear that stealth and the like should be used as an approach here - otherwise, PCs will die...perhaps the whole party. The cultists and their leader are deadly and their creatures are even more so. Still, this is one of my favorite levels herein.

The final level, level 6, would then have a theme of "hell" - with magma-men, fire elementals and several devils in a precarious stalemate, this is a great place for the PCs to forge infernal alliances to beat tougher foes and then destroy the creatures of the pit. It is also here that PCs may find access to the underdark and talk to odd survivalists. Within these halls, the PCs may also face off versus a friggin' magma dragon - and they may have to. For beyond high-tech security looms the sorcerous-interface AI JCN, which seeks nothing but global annihilation...and has the means to pursue this. So yes, if you want to go post-apocalyptic, here's your choice. If you want to destroy JCN's mainframe, you can do so as well - but you'll have to find a way for the magma to rise...and better be fast regarding evacuation. Oh, and you have to place the room. It's not marked on the map.

Magic-item-wise, a red thread throughout the dungeon would be the shining trapezohedron-like shapes that can be found throughout the dungeon, with unique effects...and yes, they can be used to tie the disparate stories together...flimsily.

The pdf concludes with an author's page and some final pieces of advice.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are good - while there are some glitches here and there, the writing quality is more than solid. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read b/w-two-column standard and the pdf provides solid b/w-cartography, though there are no player-friendly, key-less versions. The artworks deserve special mention: Awesome, original pieces with great, disturbing creatures are in here - show them to players and let them marvel at the adversaries faced. As mentioned above: There is nudity in the artworks, so mature audiences are suggested. I do NOT recommend you getting the electronic version - it has no bookmarks and at this length, navigation is a pretty big deal. If you get it, get it in print - the paper quality and glossy cover/solid overall presentation make this a nice book to have in print.

This is the freshman offering of Venger As'Nas Satanis and Kort'thalis Publishing...and unfortunately, it shows. Liberation of the Demon Slayer showcases the cool things one can see in later modules and is a great herald of the things to come...but it is also a very flawed book. Basically, you have absolutely awesome visuals, monsters and themes - the mood is great and the ideas this book evokes are glorious: If you like dark fantasy, very hard modules and look for a challenge: LotDS provides all of that. At the same time, this mega-adventure is very cobbled together: Beyond very minor themes, you wouldn't lose much by taking the respective levels apart and using them as individual dungeons.

I'm one of the GMs who run modules only unmodified for playtesting purposes and I very much subscribe to the nothing Venger expressed in his GM-advice book, that at least 15% of a module happens at the table, spontaneously. I tend to rewrite modules heavily. Here, though, the module feels very much unfinished in that it requires quite some GM work to properly run - from the issues with the maps to missing stats for potentially lethal encounters, this cannot be run spontaneously...at least, not well.

The mechanics this book utilizes are also a LONG SHOT away from the relative refinement of his later works like "Crimson Dragon Slayer." From the fortune-mechanic (all of which can be burned at once for HUGE bonuses) to the needlessly opaque magic rules, the rules provided herein are VERY rough around the edges and something I'd only suggest for expert GMs, particularly since the lack of refreshment guidelines for fortune (beyond level-up) can either render this module extremely hard or almost too easy. The rules-context is pretty flawed and this extends, alas, to where statblocks are presented and where they're ignored - I found no true rhyme or reason for the omission of them regarding certain NPCs, which, again, is something the GM has to cover.

If all of that sounds pretty negative...then because it is. The map-issues and difficulty to determine how everything connects are pretty big strikes against the book and the same can be said about the lack of bookmarks for the electronic version. As mentioned: Get this in print. You'll thank me later and yes, you'll have enough on your plate.

That being said, at the same time, this module is absolutely awesome. What *IS* here, what's not lost in some opacity or one description being applied to multiple rooms, that is simply inspired. If you even remotely like dark fantasy with a serious spicing of Lovecraftian creatures (not horror) and a garnish of scifi, then this will have you cackle with glee: From the potential apocalyptic final boss to the devilish schemes to the super-deadly bosses of level 5, this book delivers in these regards galore. Additionally, if your players are bored by modules being too easy, smack this down. LotDS is the hardest module I've read in ages and certainly not something for the faint of heart - while mostly fair, there are some creatures and traps herein that are truly LETHAL. As in: "You die!" So, if you need a break from current RPGs and their fair, scaling encounters, you might want to take a look: This beast is for the pros. My playtest saw no less than 11 characters perish, often hilariously, sometimes horribly.

LotDS, for me, has oscillated between love and hatred more than most books - on the one reason, I love the set-up, the atmosphere, the vast creativity you can find herein. On the other hand, I loathe the sloppy mechanics, map-glitches and inconsistencies that mark this as a freshman offering. This is a book, I ended up both loving and hating - mainly because all of its issues can be resolved by a good GM. From connections to over-arcing plot-lines, this sandboxy module can provide entertainment beyond most dungeons of this size I've read: It has the spark of creativity and quality prose that tends to trump most shortcomings in such contexts for me. At the same time, I can't rate potential - I can only rate what's here - and what's here is flawed; Not unsalvageable, but pretty flawed nonetheless. I really, really want to rate this highly, but I quite frankly can't. If you're looking for a book to use and play immediately, well, then this is NOT for you. The best way to look at this and enjoy it, would be to think of this as a pretty detailed sketch of a mega-dungeon - you need to complete it; generate the material that ties it together...and work with it, providing the connecting threads for the inspired highlights herein. Then, you will have some fun time - quite a lot, actually, since the book does provide a solid amount of content. If you're looking for a module to read and run as is, then look elsewhere and the same holds true if you're not comfortable tinkering with the mechanics as presented herein.

Ultimately, the flaws weigh heavy here, and try as I might, as much as I want to recommend this, I can't ignore them. They may be partially offset by the leeway this gets as a freshman offering, but they still remain. My final verdict, taking the freshman offering-bonus into account, will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up by a margin to 3...for the print version. For the electronic version...just don't. Books of this size sans bookmarks are a pain. If this would be your first Kort'thalis Publishing book, I'd instead advise you to get one of the later works, like Crimson Dragon Slayer. That being said, fans of dark fantasy and GMs willing to work with this module have a lot of awesome ideas here that can be developed into a glorious dungeon -for both the purposes of the scavenging toolkit and for GMs willing to work with the book, this still constitutes a unique, creative module that has more ideas and unique scenes than some whole series. If the formal flaws don't scare you, then check this out - I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed on the creativity-side.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to GMS magazine, nerdtrek and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


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 and on OBS.


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1 page SRD leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look!

What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.

This one takes the Skyseeker-PrC and utilizes the ranger chassis - which means full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Ref-saves, full proficiency with weapons and light + medium armor and shields, Wis-based spellcasting from the ranger's list starting at 4th level and 6+Int skills. 7th level nets heavy armor proficiency.

The class, as presented here, adheres pretty closely to the ranger-frame - favored enemy, progression 3rd level endurance, 1st level track + wild empathy - the dispersal of ranger abilities throughout the levels is pretty solid. 2nd level nets the know direction-based Find Citadel ability - so no, combat style is not part of the deal for this class.

3rd level provides a new ability that immediately makes this version superior to its PrC-iteration - ancestral allies: You choose either companions, allowing her to grant favored enemy bonus to allies, an animal companion or the favored terrain class feature - this level of customization is nice to see and thematically fits the class well. At 4th level, the rune-carved armor is gained and 5th level grants ancestral weapons, with the ability's damage-scaling being dispersed organically throughout the levels of the class. 6th level nets 1/week Commune, +1 use every 6 levels thereafter. 9th level either grants darkvision or expands it, with the second expansion happening at 14th level.

The SR-granting runes of Resistance is gained at 13th level and 16th level offers path of the ancients. The powerful, mettle-like effect Stalwart is gained appropriately late at 17th level and the PrC's capstone Call to Arms can now be found at 18th level. The new capstone allows for full speed tracking, standard action attacks versus favored enemies that operate on save-or-die, including the option to instead drop foes via nonlethal damage.

The pdf, as always, provides solid FCOs for the core-races and this time around, sports a sample dwarf at level 1, 5, 10 and 15. The pdf also has a feat that allows for easier stabilization alongside 1/day crit/sneak negation down to a normal hit.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.

The Sun seeker as presented by Carl Cramér here suffers from a downright sucky PrC -I liked its concept, but the execution of the PrC is all over the place and feels confused. This Prestige Archetype does a better job at making the class feel concise and thematically consistent. That being said, I really wished ancestral weapon, the first active signature ability that could be conceivably moved to lower levels, was there - perhaps instead of some ranger abilities. As written, the class takes a LONG time to become truly distinct. While ancestral allies somewhat mitigates this, one might argue that moving it slightly would have been nice, since it essentially mimics ranger abilities. As written rune-carved armor at 4th level is the first truly distinct ability, 5th level offering the first offensive one. In my playtest, this rendered the class, at low levels, pretty much less distinct than it ought to have been. Higher levels somewhat mitigate this, but still - all in all a solid take on the concept, but it falls rather short of Carl's better prestige archetypes. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Poseidon's Rapture was a bountiful world like many others - with ages good and bad...and then, Poseidon left...or died...or was abducted. The world's god was gone, and soon after he had abandoned the place, the deluge began - or rather, the lack thereof. Mysteriously, the water did start to rise, swallowing most of the land of this world, forcing civilization beneath the waves - into remnants of former places, ships...

Poseidon's Rapture is literally land-under. Above and below the seas, robbers, pirates and the like roam the waves and a sense of decrepitude suffuses the world - somewhere between high civilization, age of sail and water world in a world of technology adrift and houses feuding over the remnants of erstwhile civilizations.

Beneath the waves, the Cerulean Choir (with full abilities), the abandoned angels of Poseidon, still roam the waters and leviathans glide through the depths - and in the light-less darkness, creatures from the deep roam, once again, with full qualities listed.

From the cities of New Atlantis to the tropic Razor Falls, lavishly rendered and fascinating places to visit, await -and perhaps, you can even take control of the legendary boat Pequod (again, with stats)... As always, this installment ends with a summary of the world's properties and advice on how to use it.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.

Matt Banach's Poseidon's Rapture does fall a bit short of the previous installment on Poetica Mundi - but then again, I expected that. The concept of a water-world is interesting, with the details and depicted houses and their politics providing an intriguing blend. At the same time, i couldn't help but feel as though this could have gone one step further - unlike many other Gossamer Worlds, this one didn't jumpstart my imagination to the usual extent - perhaps due to resources or the like not being that pronounced. Perhaps it's that I would have loved this to go more full-blown bonkers. Then again, this reflects only my personal preferences - perhaps, for you, this does the job. My final verdict, then, will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

Posted first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Part II of my review:

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an extremely slick, stylish and atmospheric 2-column-b/w-standard and the pdf provides several downright legendary b/w-artworks. The pdf comes with an EPUB and a MOBI-version and a printer-friendly one...but quite frankly, I'd strongly advise you to get the print. The paper is thick and glossy, high-quality and if you're anything like me, this will be used A LOT.

I'm a cthulhu-fanboy and thus, it should come as no surprise that I got Trail of Cthulhu back in the day. My friend Paco got my Night's Black Agents, which is a glorious game. I never got Esoterrorists and wouldn't have bought it - the title and concept didn't particularly appeal to me, so why bother?

My gut-feeling and instinct was never this wrong in my whole reviewer's-career.

This is the best horror-book I've read in years, regardless of setting.

Let me elaborate: After more than 15 years of obsession with vampires and the cthulhu-mythos, both themes have become kind of predictable to me. I *love* both, but at one point, games focusing exclusively on either ultimately become the doom of horror - predictable. We fear what we do not understand. As soon as we get our oomphteenth Mi-Go or Yithian, their horror is lost, they become predictable foes. Similarly, vampires can, in the long run, lose their fascination. This is, ultimately, what made me turn my back on the GUMSHOE-system for a while and the primary reason I did not start reviewing books of the system sooner - I was burned out on the subject matter and so were my players.

Esoterrorists changed that.

You could argue that I've never played a vanilla esoterrorists-game. You'd be right. What I did when this book hit my shelves, was something different: I dusted off Night's Black Agents and added the whole concept of the membrane to the game, introduced entities from the other dark and recruited the agents into the OV, which, of course, was among the organizations the vampires sought to infiltrate. I added creatures of the outer dark and the station duty town to my trail of cthulhu games. And suddenly, they were new - disturbing, fresh and diverse. Beyond resonating with iconic themes and a fresh perspective, this book is not only innovative - it GETS HORROR. No, really. This understands horror to a point that bespeaks not only the vast talent of Robin D. Laws and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as writers, it also constitutes an eureka-effect I haven't had in ages - this humble, little book has inspired me to an extent I have not experienced since I first stumbled over Ravenloft and Planescape back in the day. It is incredibly frustrating to me that I cannot properly put the genius of this book into words, cannot convey the level of impact this book's ideas have had on my games.

Don't get me wrong - Night's Black Agents is quite frankly the better game regarding pure mechanics - it's more complex, more diverse and the thriller combat and chase rules are exceedingly smart. But, at least to me, Esoterrorists is a book that's infinitely more compelling because its prose, the concepts provided, are just so incredibly compelling, because they feature the experience of jamais-vu and because the horror presented here actually really strikes home: This is not blood and guts, this is psychologically disturbing in the way that only great horror is - where the true ramifications are slowly build up. This is the antithesis of the jump-scare-movie - this is smart horror that sticks with you.

This is not only a game - Esoterrorists is basically, a gigantic, awesome template that can be applied to just about any horror game you can conceive. It works in a plethora of contexts because its theme resonate with our very basic, human psychology.

It is my firm conviction that this book belongs in the library of any self-respecting GM looking for inspiration regarding horror-settings and how to create compelling set-ups. If you're playing ANY GUMSHOE-game, this book can be considered a vast amplifier: The concepts within this book are so incredibly compelling and fun, they managed to re-ignite my spark for cthulhu-related material by virtue of the means by which you can use the content herein to enhance the world of the mythos.

I haven't been this excited by a book, any book, in a long, long time - even only as an idea-scavenging-ground, this book is superb by any definition of the word. And know what? While my Top ten-list of the year usually is restricted to Pathfinder-supplements, I will grant this one status as a candidate - its contents and ideas are simply too compelling and can be a vast inspiration in ANY context you can conceive. I firmly believe that simply reading this book makes you a better horror-GM, even if you ignore the rules and setting. You won't be surprised, then, that I'll add my EZG Essentials-tag to a book that scores 5 stars + seal of approval, a book that blew my mind.

If horror interests you even in the slightest, if you even tangentially like smart, psychological horror, if you even remotely enjoy Twin Peaks, Silent Hill, The Evil Within, X-Files, Millennium and if you really want some fresh wind in your respective horror of preference, then this book should go right to the top of your to-buy list. It's that good.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here, on OBS, Lou Agresta's RPGaggression and on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.


This pdf of the Warrior Prestige Archetype-series clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/introduction (explaining the base concept of the series), 1/2 page blank, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 6.5 pages of content, so let's take a look!

What are Prestige Archetypes? Well, I reviewed the whole first series, so here's the tl;dr-version: They are prestige classes blended with one (or more) base-class(es) to result in a new, 20-level-class - much like you had modified the base class with an archetype. Get it? Yeah, not a hard concept to grasp, is it? Now personally, I use Prestige Classes with an emphasis on the PRESTIGE-component, archetypes more like a career path, but this differs wildly from how PrCs are handled in most cases. Hence, for all who are dissatisfied with how Prestige Classes work in PFRPG - this series is for you.

The Steel Falcon, as presented here, uses the ranger as a base chassis - that means full BAB-progression, d10, 6+Int skills and two good saves, but the class gets full proficiencies. First level nets wild empathy and favored enemy progression starting at first level, progressing at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter. As a note: The table lacks the favored enemy entry at 1st level, though one may argued that the prescribed choice "slavers" as a group counts locked by another ability counts as that - so no, not going to bash the pdf for this.

The class gets combat style progression, 3rd level endurance and must take the companion bond variant at 4th level. Steel Falcons add their class level to Profession (sailor) and Survival. 4th level provides +4 versus charm and compulsion and 2nd level nets heroic speech, treated as inspire courage at class level -1. 4th level nets the Steel Falcon a ranger trap, +1 every 4 levels, with 8th level doubling damage, 12th level tripling it and 16th level quadrupling it, maintaining relevance for this ability at higher levels.

5th level nets armor training, 6th a d20-reroll and 7th an upgrade for aid another. Subtle Manipulator is relegated to 11th level and Avoral's Blessing to 13th, while the PrC's capstone, Avoral's Fury, comes into play at 19th level. Chainbreaker is very late to the party - 18th level, at which point that aspect is essentially all but lost to the overall playing experience. That being said, the dispersal of ranger abilities throughout the levels of the class is sound.

The class comes, as always, with nice FCOs for the core-races and a sample character at level 1, 5, 10 and 15.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and has seen some streamlining - from font use to markers, the layout has been improved, so kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and sans art apart from the cover.

Carl Cramér's Steel Falcon has a hard legacy - while I love the organization's concept in Golarion, the Steel Falcon PrC is less than awesome - it simply lacks interesting theme and feels like a pretty disparate array of abilities that thematically fit, but lack a concise crunch base-line. This issue is somewhat mitigated by the class as presented herein...but at the same time, one might argue that this Steel Falcon is a variant ranger whose truly unique abilities only come into play at the higher levels. While it does play different from a base ranger, the difference lies mostly in the details and, when compared to the best in the series, it does feel like its defining traits enter play simply too late - at low levels, there is not that much unique going on here. This is in no way a bad installment, but neither did it blow me away. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted here and on OBS.

Endzeitgeist out.


Part II of my review:

Apart from the vast diversity of options (none of which are neglected or considered superior), the sheer attention to detail regarding the finer points of conspiracy-creation and the like retain their validity even beyond the confines of this game. Oh, and then there's massive array of supplemental material, the fact that you literally can derive so much awesomeness from this book. If you play GUMSHOE, any GUMSHOE game, and always felt like the engine had more to offer, then you should consider this a must-buy book. If the theme even remotely interests you, well, then this should be considered a unique and rewarding game to play. Night's Black Agents is, by any measure I apply, a superb game. My review may not reflect this 100%, but I tried VERY hard to pick this book apart - but quite frankly, there is nothing worth complaining about. Sure, its combat will never attain 13th Age's or PFRPG's level of complexity. But neither will those systems ever come close to the investigative caliber of this book.

If you're looking for a change of pace, for vampires in your GUMSHOE game, for a glorious investigative game, for a rules-expansion of the highest caliber, for any of the above virtues- then there's no way past this book.

My final verdict will be 5 stars + my seal of approval, accompanied by being tagged as an EZG Essential-book for GUMSHOE. Once I've reviewed enough books of the system, I will provide the corresponding Essentials-list.

Reviewed first on endzeitgeist.com, then submitted to Nerdtrek and GMS magazine and posted on Lou Agresta's RPGaggression and here as well as on OBS.

Cheers!
Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive book clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 46 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Carnivals are awesome...and creepy. The blending of the alien and the familiar, the oscillation of bright light and deepest shadows fascinate, entice. I distinctly recall a sense of kinship when I first saw the more weirder performances and the sense of freedom implied in such a life, despite the hardships, resonates with me on a primal level. In roleplaying games, specifically the various iterations I've played, I did ten to enjoy the modules and supplements dealing with this topic - whether in Ravenloft's by now legendary "carnival"-supplement, in Necromancer Games' "What Evil Lurks" or many others - the theme just won't let go of me.

The first thing you notice upon opening this book is the custom layout - Rick Hershey has crafted a downright beautiful presentation here that perfectly underlines the theme of the book - red curtains, appropriate fonts - presentation-wise, this is a gorgeous book. Content-wise, we begin with an elaboration of the basic set-up of the carnival grounds and what to find there - only to lead into the perhaps most surprising section in the book: Carnival of Sinners gets something right no other supplement dealing with the topic has: It presents, extensively, I might add, a full-blown thieves' cant-ish section of carny-slang: "Pay the bag man and put up the bills for your dukkering services - we gotta proof we're no fireball show!" AWESOME!!!

A total of 5 sample adventure hooks is provided before we move on to the next section, the trooper's gallery, wherein sample NPCs are provided - and boy, oh boy. For one, each of the builds herein has at least one interesting component - whether it's race, archetype'd multiclass - there is something mechanically interesting going on for each character. However, more intriguing than even that would be the fact that each key performer gets more than just the minimum space to shine - each character receives an extensive background story AND a high-quality, custom artwork. Better yet, the concepts and their execution are downright delightfully wicked - the two-headed man's second head, for example, is his eidolon! The carnival's cook also is a particularly nasty sort - you'll see when you get this book...

Things get truly sinister, though, with the troupe of lay-actors, clowns, stable-hands and the like - represented via diverse mook-statblocks (for a reason...), this component of the carnival hides a secret most dire...and awesome.

Obviously, no carnival would be complete without a cabinet of curiosities - and a collection of oddities and usual prizes, partially represented with great artworks, can indeed be considered nice. Going one step beyond, entry-tickets to print out and hand to your players, a sample advertisement poster (lavishly rendered as another hand-out) and a map are provided - the latter of the kind of style which the characters may find themselves while visiting the carnival.

My only gripe here, ultimately boils down to the fact that I would have liked sample games or a sample performance-schedule to be included herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good - I had no issues in grasping anything herein and there was no undue amount of glitches to be found. Layout and artworks, as mentioned above, are top-notch - this is a beautiful book indeed, with the handouts providing the icing on the aesthetic cake. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Chris Bayes, Eric Hindley, John Bennett, Kalyna Conrad, Lucus Palosaari, Rick Hershey - ladies and gentlemen, you have crafted a great sandbox/set-piece/supplement herein. This book can be used as both an awesome fluff-book to expand a given carnival, as a sand-boxy module to embellish, flesh out and use as you see fit, or just as a delightful scavenging ground for stats, builds and ideas. This massive source-book is well-written, concisely-presented and the carny-slang provided alone, to me, makes this well worth the...

...wait. There was this one component, right? Well, in case you didn't know: This massive, fully illustrated, lovingly-crafted book is actually "Pay what you want." No, I'm not kidding. You can get this big book and then decide whether it was worth your time. Know what? There is no reason to not at least check this one out and, as for my part, this delightfully disturbing sourcebook definitely deserves to be acknowledged. So if you like this sourcebook, please pay for it a price you consider as justified. While not perfect, the love that went into this book is readily apparent and I'm quite honestly a bit baffled to see such a massive book as PWYW. My final verdict for this inspiring set-piece/supplement that doubles as a drop-in sandbox would be 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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