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Mad Scientist

Jhaeman's page

Starfinder Charter Superscriber. Pathfinder Society Member. 231 posts. 63 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 2 Pathfinder Society characters.



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Two Great Maps, One Average One

****( )

The Shattered Star Poster Map Folio contains three large 8-panel maps of the cities of Kaer Maga and Magnimar, and of the region of Varisia. The maps are full-colour and quite attractive. They're printed on regular poster paper, so they won't hold up to regular use without some wear and tear (I've had to fix one with tape after just a couple of uses) and, unless the marks are going to be permanent, they can't be drawn on without laminating them. The three maps fold nicely between the thin cardboard covers of the folio, and the whole package can stand on a bookshelf even after the shrinkwrap is off.

The map of Varisia is my favorite. It's done in a pen-and-ink style as if it were a real map used in the fictional campaign setting of Golarion. I love how each settlement receives a custom illustration and how the placement of various monsters and intriguing, unlabelled structures hint at danger and the thrill of exploring the unknown. Some might quibble that showing some of the monsters of particular regions, or mysterious structures, verges on spoiler territory for players--I haven't had any problems and I think the flavour of the drawings outweighs the risk, but I can understand the need for GMs running certain adventures to be careful. The map is of real practical use as well because it denotes roads and trails, labels the distance in miles between settlements, and comes with a distance scale. I had originally planned to just give this one to the players and privately use a more traditional map of the region, but I don't think that will be necessary. GMs should note that, since the map is "zoomed out" to show the entire region of Varisia, detailed local maps will still be important. For example, the area around Sandpoint looks like barren plains on this map, but anyone who has the map of the Sandpoint hinterlands from various products knows there's a *lot* more going on in the area. It should also be noted that this map is exactly the same (although much larger, of course) as the map in the middle of the "Varisia, Birthplace of Legends" Player Companion.

The map of Magnimar is impressive in its detail. 94 different structures are listed in the legend, and if you look closely at the map, you can see that the cartographer spent time to make sure each structure has a shape and size that makes sense. For example, Serpent's Run (the huge hippodrome) is indeed a huge oval with attached facilities, while the Lord Mayor's Menagerie does indeed look like an enclosed zoo. The cartographer has even marked each separate piling of the Irespan and provided an inset map of what the Underbridge district looks like. GMs running Rise of the Runelords should note that some key locations are noted in the legend that might otherwise require PCs to do a little investigation to find, but it's not problematic enough to keep me from wanting to use it. Overall, the map really helps to clarify the layout of the city, and it would definitely be something worth using to track PCs' movement throughout the city.

I have not used the map of Kaer Maga in actual gameplay. My first impression is that I'm not a fan of the colour scheme or the weird border running along the bottom of the map. It is well-detailed (57 locations in the legend). I've read the "City of Strangers" sourcebook and would imagine that Kaer Maga is a *very* difficult city to represent pictorially, but I'm afraid this map hasn't met the challenge. It's less interesting and more bland than the Magnimar map, and overall the least impressive of the three. Of course, some map is (usually!) better than no map at all.

I've only used the Varisia and Magnimar maps in the context of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, and I would rate both as highly useful. I haven't run Shattered Star, so I of course can't comment on how well the maps fit the need of that AP. Overall, two excellent maps and a third average one make this a set worth buying if the price is right.


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A good way to spice things up a little.

***( )( )

The premise behind Plot Twist Cards for Pathfinder is that they allow players to influence the story in ways other than what their character directly does. Each card has a theme, a picture to accompany the theme, a flat mechanical effect, and then four plot-related suggestions that could happen. For example, the "Bad News" card shows a picture of a burning building, has the flat mechanical effect of "Target gets a -4 penalty on a single roll", and then has these plot suggestions: "A messenger brings bad news", "An ally faces peril or death", "A favorite refuge is destroyed", and "Something important is stolen." Players can use the card either for the flat mechanical effect or for one of the story suggestions; the latter use requires GM interpretation and decision-making, and the instructions are quite clear that the GM should feel free to modify the suggestion (or even refuse it) as necessary for the story. The deck comes with 51 different plot twist cards, two cards of rules, a card with the Open Gaming License, and a card that's an advertisement for other products.

I've been using the Plot Twist Cards for about 20 sessions while running an adventure path. Instead of giving one to a player every time their PC levels up (as per the instruction card), I've been more cautious and handed out one to every player at the beginning of each chapter of the AP (and drawing one myself to use against them!), with unused cards going back in the deck. My players have used the cards to do some fun things, like have the "Broken" card cause the floor of an abandoned building to crack open, the "Sanity Check" card to have a tentacled water monster appear in the river, etc. In my limited experience, PCs don't use the flat mechanical bonuses and instead use the plot suggestions, saving the cards for when they're needed in an important fight and centering their suggestions on things that can hamper the enemies or help their allies. On the whole, I'm of mixed feelings about them. I really like the surprising twists that the card facilitates and it's great for the players to have a little something hidden away for a rainy day. On the other hand, it's often challenging as a GM to interpret the card and the player's suggested twist in a way that respects the integrity of the concept while also being careful not to trivialize an important encounter. I think I would suggest the cards are good for a group that is a little easy-going and understands the role of GM discretion, but they'd be a bad idea for a very strict "Rules as Written" group.


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Spoiler: It goes around your neck!

*****

What kind of a nerd would write a review about a lanyard? One who is more excited about Starfinder than a 13-year-old girl is at a Justin Bieber concert, of course! Made out of ultra high-tech futuristic materials (aka a fabric ribbon and a metal clip), this lanyard has the Starfinder logo on it *fourteen* times so you'll never look down and be confused about which lanyard you put on when you got dressed in the morning! Clever nano-circuitry inside the lanyard is host to an A.I. who whispers things in your ears, or I could just be delusional. You decide! In any event, if you need a possibly magical item to occupy your real-world "neck slot", the Starfinder Lanyard is the way to go.


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Get a Blue Marker and Draw Parallel Lines

**( )( )( )

The River System Pathfinder Map Pack delivers exactly what it promises: 18 full-colour tiles that you can connect to form a meandering river. I have to give credit to whomever writes the description of the product on the back of the pack, as they make it sound much more exciting than it actually is. Most of the tiles have a three-square-wide river down the center with a square of mostly featureless riverbank on either side. A width of 10-15' for a river is fine for the sort of encounter where PCs are in the forest and attacked from the far side and have to figure out how to get across, but I think it's too narrow for a serious river-based adventure. The pack would have been better if the river were wider, even if not as long (rowboats, barges, and keelboats would barely fit on the regular river tiles, and certainly wouldn't have room to pass). Apart from the standard tiles, there are a few special ones: a couple of tiles that have 90' turns, three tiles that are oriented the other way (with the river 7 squares wide but not as long), a tile with a few small rocks in the middle, and a tile with a log bridge spanning it. The artwork is adequate but not the sort of thing that is going to draw "oohs" and "aahs" from your players. Like with the Road System Map Pack, despite my terrible artistic skills I'm not convinced that this one is a major improvement over simply drawing two parallel lines on a blank grid-mat. It's okay, but for $ 14 there's probably a better gaming product to spend the money on.


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Cool Design, Even If You (Like Me) Weren't There

****( )

I definitely wasn't at PaizoCon in 2012, but I decided to buy this metal pin from the Paizo website for two reasons: 1) It has the cool seven-pointed star ("Sihedron") immortalized in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path which I'm running right now; and 2) it was only fifty cents! The "blades" of the stars contain images from the covers of each volume of the adventure path, while the center contains a certain infamous arch-mage. It's a really cool design. The actual pin (unlike the picture) has the Pathfinder logo at the bottom and the words "PaizoCon '12" near the top.


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