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Vimanda

Eric Hinkle's page

2,633 posts. 89 reviews. 3 lists. 1 wishlist.



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Never Too Young To Start Adventuring

*****

Kid heroes have always been around, but for some reason options for playing one have been few and far between. You'd think someone out there would want to do Harry Potter, the last Airbender, or even Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, but if they did their choices were limited. Until now, anyway.

Young Character Options is a 15 page PDF from the Four Horsemen and Rogue Genius that offers some character ideas, archetypes, feats, and traits for playing child characters. Let's see how they do, shall we?

The PDF proper is fifteen pages long, with one for the cover, one for the credits, and one for the OGL, giving us twelve pages of content. And very fine content it is. It starts with some general information on what a childhood in a mostly-Medieval fantasy world would be like. Basically, you're going to be put into more 'adult' roles and work very early on, and even childhood games will be as much about teaching you adult skills like hunting or crafting. Basically, no one can afford to coddle their children, as the world about them is too dangerous. There are sub-sections that go into detail about the age range for children from the main races, as well as what upbringings among them are like.

Let me say that I really love this part. Far too many game writers seem to assume that life in the usual fantasy setting would be more or less like modern life. These writers know it wouldn't and make sure we get that.

Also, there are cultural differences between the various races that feel right. Gnomes give their kids their head but keep a wary eye on them; halflings have large families, dwarves grow up in communal clan nurseries, half-orcs grow up fast and hard, etc. Very nice background information.

Next comes some words on just why kids would run off to become adventurers. Is the child a reincarnated hero? Some older person subjected to an overly potent youth spell? Or just an orphan or precocious child?

A section follows that explains just how and why child characters should be freed of the limits given in Ultimate Campaign, as well as a trait if you need to justify it in gamespeak. Some traits follow, and we get some rather clever original ideas here. One really good one is 'Innocence'. You basically look and have the air of being such an innocent cherub that even divination spells will be confused. Even evil kids 'look' harmless to the spells. Budding Rhoda Penmarks may wish to take note! 'Pass for Smallfolk' enables you to trick people into thinking you're a halfling or gnome. And 'Scrapper' is for kids who had their share of brawls and know how something about self-defense as a result. Rather a good selection here.

The 'Prodigy' family of feats follows. These are feats that give your character a few extra edges when they use magic, or fight, or perform, etc. Not just the same old '+2 on two skills feats', these provide bonuses that adult heroes would enjoy but that feel right for kids. Like the Martial Prodigy, who can use certain combat maneuvers without an AoO, but they take a whole round. Or the Magical Prodigy, who can use a metamagic feat with a spell without increasing the casting time at the price of losing another spell slot equal to the level increase of the normal metamagic feat. There are more for budding bards, rogues, and more.

The archetypes follow, starting with the Ageless oracle. This is an oracle with a unique curse. They can't grow any older. At all. Not so bad? Ah, but they're stuck as preteen children for all eternity. True, magical aging has no affect on you, and you slowly increase your mental characteristics, but who wants to be carded every time they try entering the tavern? It comes with a nasty alternate bonus spell list, heavy on the necromancy, and a pair of revelations that permit you to either retard aging in others or force them to age faster. Both are neat ideas.

Next is the Destined Blade magus, for a child who discovers a destined blade that increases in power alongside the wielder. You also get a much weaker arcane pool that can't be used to enhance your weapon, and it also contains your spells. And you can't put new spells into it by any means other than level advancement -- so scrolls, spellbooks, etc. I'd say this all balances out rather well given the potency of the destined blade itself. Something else I like is that at levels 5, 11, or 17, instead of a new feat you can reach adulthood. That provides you with a much better arcane pool as well as bonuses to Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Pretty good way of handling it in game.

The Reincarnated Master is for a master monk who awakens to his past lives a little early. They use the damage dice for a Small monk as well as gaining some of the Prodigy feats as bonus monk feats. Starting at 6th level the reincarnated master can use a bonus feat slot to achieve adulthood with much the same effect as the destined blade. Their past lives also play a role, with the reincarnated master gaining new Knowledge skills, eventually figuring out how to explore past lives as a divination, and at his capstone spending Ki gain temporary style feats. This one sounds like it would work great for Samsaran characters.

The Street Rat rogue is your basic orphan turned thief, with them gaining some extra feats to represent their hard-earned lessons in survival and self-defense at first level at the price of a penalty on Strength or Dexterity to represent their half-starved upbringing. They can also use the Steal combat maneuver without provoking AoO, with the normal Small size penalties becoming bonuses. If they learn Improved Steal they can do even better at it. Also, when in any community larger than a small town they get a bonus on initiative, Knowledge (local), and Survival. And at any point from 4th level on they can replace a rogue talent with adulthood, which also removes the penalty from half-starved. Sweet and simple but a very well done archetype!

Last is the Wunderkind wizard, a magical child genius. She begins with less spells in her spellbook and some of the Prodigy feats. She also loses her 1st level arcane school power in exchange for the ability to use any one metamagic feat per day on her spells, even if she doesn't normally have the feat. Also, she can replace any of her bonus feats with adulthood, which in her case also grants the ability to use one of her opposition schools if she's a specialist. If she's a universalist, she instead gains a bonus on Spellcraft checks with any one school.

So there you have it. It's a short PDF but it is jammed full of goodies for anyone who wants to use child characters in their campaign. Several of the options work just as well with adult characters. All in all this is great for anyone who wants to have their character's heroic career start out even sooner than others. Five stars and far and away worth the price.


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Get ready to die laughing

*****

Clowns. For some reason so many people are scared of them in real life, so why not in games? Especially when they're not just clowns, but Killer Clowns from Hell? That is the whole point of this 26-page PDF, and as to how well the six hellish harlequins within do their job, we'll see!

First is the Coulrodaemon, providing the daemonic take on comedy. Formed from the souls of evildoers who suffered humiliating, ridiculous, or darkly ironic deaths, they juggle skulls that they can use as weapons. Being hit by them causes you to take an ever-increasing penalty on attacks, saves, and ability checks. They also negate any luck-based bonuses you have, which is a bad thing -- because the coulrodaemon is surrounded by a 'pratfall aura' that inflicts affects on anyone without a luck bonus akin to those suffered in classic slapstick comedies. Of course, people rarely died horribly in those comedies. The PCs won't be so lucky.

And one fun bit of background we get is: coulrodaemons avoid the soul-processing factories of Abaddon because they creep out the staff.

Next is the demonic Mazzuak. Brutish, cunning, and savage, formed from the souls of the gleefully sadistic, this guy is the living incarnation of every safe, boulder, or other heavy object dropped on the head of some unsuspecting cartoon character. It can conjure illusionary ludicrous objects of vast size and weight and drop them on several PCs at once, pinning them helplessly. Which is when it lines up a shot with that big honkin' hammer it carries. Not subtle at all, but this feels like demonic humor, all right. A great combat brute with some rather clever and original tricks.

The diabolic Paglichino or 'Mockery Devil' is next. They enjoy finding out secrets about good and/or influential people that they use for their comic routines, cruelly mocking and satirizing people. This is humor used to tear others down for self-advancement. It feels nice(?) and devilish. They possess the bardic performance of court bards. More, they can hide themselves as they conjure up a small army of shocking images. They make one of the images sound like the real paglichino, while hopping around the battlefield using their bardic music to drive enemies up the wall. Oh yes, when you destroy the last image, you get hurt even worse than usual.

The Laetitius kyton follows. It can terrify with its appearance and has truly nasty skill with its war razors. Creepiest of all, it attacks you with its face. As in, it tears its face off and slaps it over yours! It shares in all the resistance to damage of the laetitius, and if you don't remove it fast enough, you suffocate. One way or another, the laetitius puts a smile on their audiences' faces.

The qlippothic Lophigogdue is one of the oddest horrors in this set. It's not a clown, it's the whole circus. The big tent, anyway. It disguises itself as an ordinary circus to lure in the crowds. Then it reveals itself and unleashes its zombie performers and roustabouts on the audience. Oh yes, it also spreads a sickness that turns people into more maniacally laughing zombies before it leaves for the next town. In a rather nasty note, it especially enjoys doing this to children. I like it just for the weirdness value. Even in Pathfinder, how often does a tent try eating you?

The newest evil outsiders, the sahkils, get their representation with the Bhozol. Embodying the fear of the uncanny and distorted, bhozols can wrap you up in an embrace that turns you into a twisted horror. They can also hide in places you'd never think such a giant could. Like under the stairs, or in a closet, or under the children's bed... They also enjoy hanging out with the aforementioned laetitius for more fun.

The PDF finishes with some new magic items. The capacious carriage contains its own demiplane, and can produce armies of clowns and others from a safe hiding place. Clown Shoes help on using and resisting various maneuvers like trip, bull rush, or drag. They also make it harder to be stealthy. The puppet theater gives you the ability to do magic puppet shows, and that's about it. However, the cursed puppet theater can make your every word sound like it's coming from one of the puppets, making verbal spellcasting rather difficult.

Best of the lot are the two suits of slapstick armor. The non-cursed one makes every wound you take look catastrophic. And when it does so, you get a bonus on attempts to bluff your attacker. This one can work as well outside of comedy -- the master swordsman thinks he's landed a fatal blow, only to learn that his in truth uninjured opponent is ready to finish him.

The second suit is pretty obviously meant to be cursed, but that's not in the description. It still uses illusions to make your wounds look worse. It also inflicts damage of its own, and when you take ability damage, drain, or bleed, it makes it even worse.

All in all it's a pretty good PDF. The monsters are a fine bunch of horrors and have some really original touches. Even the art and flavor text for them is great. The magic items are okay in themselves.

EDIT: The problems I mentioned in the first version of this review have been cleared up, so I'll say 4.5 stars, put up to 5. It is worth the price if you want some truly bizarre fiends to use in your games.


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Getting your goat

****( )

Animal Races: Clan of the Goat is the latest addition to EMP's line of anthropomorphic races. This time around it covers the clans of the Goats and Sheep, and with a few additional surprises.

Like its fellows it numbers thirteen pages. One for the cover, one for credits, one for the back cover, and two for the OGL. That leaves eight pages of crunch and fluff, the latter being an oddly appropriate word here, so here we go!

It starts with another brief account from Marco Loupo, the boy raised by (literal) wolves, of the animal-folk he travels among. It's short but well done and definitely gives you an idea what the two races are like. Next comes information on their appearances, societies, and basic psychology. Both are members of the Zodiac Council introduced in previous books in the series, with the honorable and dutiful sheep having to take up the slack for the selfish goats.

We then get the racial package for these clans. Goats tend to be witches and can select their usual Clan feat when they pick hexes. Mountain Goats and Muskoxen both tend to be oracles and can select the Clan heritage feat when they choose revelations, and Sheep (are you ready for this?) are often paladins who can select their heritage feat in place of a mercy. I have to admit, when I thought of anthro sheep, I didn't think of them as paladins!

Next is the half-page for the clan genealogy. Interesting to me for the as-yet unwritten clans like the Antelopes, Camels, Elephants, and especially Horses. I would love to see all of those become available. There are also some feats. The normal clan heritage feats are there, as well as one giving some bonuses on Handle Animal and Intimidate for gruff goats. Meh, okay. You can also take a feat that allows your familiar to take a blow for you, and one that allows you to kill regenerating creatures on a critical. Three Billy Goats Gruff, anyone?

This is followed by the usual great list of how existing monsters fit into Goat and Sheep myth and culture, giving us the usual fun insights into their heads in the process. Goats think it a compliment to be compared to Bearded devils, for instance, and fanboy over hags. And of course they hate trolls.

There is a listing for the Sheep god, Amon. Mostly your standard LG deity save for the curiosity that his clerics can't create holy water. They instead make sanctified salt which functions in much the same way.

Next comes something fun, and just in time for Christmas too -- say hello to the Krampus! They do a good job on the old child-snatcher; among other things, it can 'swallow' you by stuffing you into its sack, and its armor of chains gives it an improved ability to intimidate.

Last come some new traits based on heraldic symbols that provide certain feats in exchange for penalties on your saves. And oh yes, we get a new oracle curse -- Fainting. So you can have your fainting goat character.

All in all it's a good piece of work with some fun extras you don't normally get in this line, not to condemn the other PDFs. I'll go with four stars, maybe more if you really want to have stats for Krampus.


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Gruesome Constructs Review

*****

As with the rest of the line, this PDF assembles four templates, one of them Mythic, for those who want to make the poor forgotten construct creatures of their game a trifle more memorable. Maybe for 'memorable' you should read 'nightmarish'; suffice to say that if you have careless conjurers trying to whip up mindlessly loyal minions, they may change their minds after you unleash some of the beauties found in here on them!

Ever run into a shield guardian? A properly used one can be a pain, protecting its master and smashing you into the ground every time you get close to its mage master. Ever wonder what happens when that master dies, but the shield guardian lives? Thus the Abandoned, a shield guardian that survived the death of its master and goes seeking out a new one. However, the golem has learned something from its former condition -- now it wants a master that will obey it! This opens the door for a lot of fun. Let the PCs find a magic amulet that summons forth a golem servitor. Hey, all is great, right? Until you do something the golem doesn't want. Then it uses its new powers to crush your will and make you the slave. Oh yes, and it can dump damage it takes on the "master", not to mention steal spells from them to use itself. And the amulet cannot be removed, except with their death. At which point the lonely golem goes searching for another 'master'... You can always try destroying the amulet. If you don't mind facing a berserk golem, that is.

Next is the mythic Insane Intelligence. This is what you can get when you give a very non-human and inorganic mind human perspectives. The construct starts to learn. And learn. And learn, increasing its new mythic rank every few weeks. Or in other words, going from 'standard(?) mythic hero' to 'incarnate GOD' in less than a year. Its Intelligence also starts at 10 and then increases every week after that. And this isn't Mister Data or Robbie the Robot, this is a mind like Hannibal Lecter's. Among potential mythic abilities it can break you into insanity by talking, control you with its supremely rational arguments, or just use its newfound knowledge of the weak points in your disgusting fleshy body to tear you apart. It can also learn how to transfer its mind into a new and improved construct body. Which means that a relatively weak Soulbound Doll can end up an adamantine golem in time -- an evil genius one!

Oh yes, the 'insane' half of 'insane intelligence' makes them both more terrifying and vulnerable. You just have to figure out how to use their newfound sadism or obsession against it, without ending up as another victim.

The guiding spirit of any golem is a bound elemental spirit. Few ever seem to question the wisdom is so using a sapient being to control what is meant as a mindless servant. Few save those who meet the Unbound, that is. Unbound are golems whose elemental spirits have broken their binding and boy are they ever mad. Rewarded with newfound powers from both their elemental heritage and their newfound hatred of spellcasters, the Unbound can also seize control of other constructs and send them into a murderous rage against their masters. This template can give you a chance at running a classic 'War with the Robots' style story. Of course, you can try renewing the bindings on the original elemental. It involves putting your bare hands on a rampaging golem and winning a contest of wills with the berserk spirit inside. How hard can it be?

Lastly is the creepy Vivisector. Some intelligent constructs become obsessed with fleshly life. They want to experience it for themselves. They want it so badly they learn how to steal the flesh of others and wear it to masquerade as mortals. This brings its own little problems, as they have to renew their disguise every 24 hours or they start to look a little -- odd. They are healed by both positive and negative energies, and can use even unliving flesh to restore themselves. Nothing can match living flesh for their disguises, though, and when they take some it will slowly and horribly kill the 'donor'. Oh yes, they can also grant flesh to other constructs too. Which causes their body to deteriorate even faster, so they have to snatch more victims. Vivisectors can make great long-term enemies, or even allies if they they succeed in hiding both their real form and their appetites. What do your PCs do when they discover that their contact or patron is really a murderous construct that's been sizing them up as flesh donors?

This is a great short PDF with some original templates in it. Several of them have a good pulp horror feel to them too, which I always like. For $4 you could do a lot worse than this.


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Revenge of the Blob

*****

Once more here we go with four fearsome templates for monsters. In this case -- it's oozes.

Yes, I know. Oozes seem scary at very low levels, but once you figure out how to handle them they're not so dangerous. Well, this PDF attempts to correct that, and as to how well they do, well, we're about to see.

First is the rather Lovecraftian Intruder. Basically an extrusion from realms measureless to man into our universe, the Intruder faces a constant battle against a reality that just wants it gone. It unmakes everything it touches -- the ground, the walls, swords, your flesh -- and warps reality and gravity around it as it carries a 'pocket' of its own reality around. So it can do things like cause gravity to make things fall to it, or burrow through everything from dirt to metal. In fact it has no choice; if it doesn't move, it will create a tunnel to the world's core given enough time. The Intruder ooze destroys just by existing. Thankfully sane reality realizes this and the monsters is slowly removed from our world. Unless of course it finds something to anchor it here. Like, say, an artifact.

Emulation oozes bring in some Body Snatcher-style horror. These are oozes that slither inside their victims and consume them slowly, controlling and mimicking them as they do. Indeed it controls them so well that the ooze thinks it IS them and registers to spells as such. It also retains its immunities to mental effects, and to hurt it when 'riding' its host you have to kill the host first. And all the while it has access to all the knowledge and feats of the host (no spells, though).

It gets even worse if you combine the Emulators with the next template, the Exponential. Everyone knows how easy it is to kill oozes by splitting them, right? What if that didn't weaken them? What if every time you split them you made two oozes as strong as the original? And when they recombined, they were now as big as both new oozes combined? That is the horror of the Exponential. As long as they continue to feed, they can keep splitting into more oozes. Which then combine into ever-bigger oozes. Who needs gates to the Abyss or zombie apocalypses when these guys are running around?

Last is the mythic Hive Mind template. This is a swarm of dozens to scores of oozes of all different sorts that have developed a collective intelligence and mental powers to go with it. They can also bring other oozes into the hive mind upon encountering them, and even learn to do things like control humanoids, learn spellcasting that is shared with the entire hive mind, and share monstrous abilities among its members. Try combining it with the Exponential for even more fun.

As with the others PDFs of the series, there are sample monsters listed with every template. I'm giving this one five stars mostly because they managed to make oozes scary and cool again, and that's not easy. Really a great buy if you want to really creep out your players.


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