Priest of Desna

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Custom Pawns for the Win

5/5

* The art for these, from the book, is awesome and evocative.

* Setting them side by side they're IDENTICAL to Paizo's Pathfinder pawns, same shape, same heavy cardstock, sturdy, and fit the Paizo pawn bases perfectly. Yes, that means VERY occasionally a little part here or there bleeds off the punched out area but that's really unavoidable without reshaping the art, it's no problem.

* When it's better you meet more then one, you get two pawns for that one. :-)

* Trying to figure out how, if anything, they left out. Even the little clockwork librarian (who I doubt anyone would want to fight) is still represented.

I mean, you could use other minis or pawns for some of these but overall the distinct shapes of many of these creatures deserve their own image to see on the table. Void Dragon!

When I backed the Kickstarter I thought this was one of the best incentives ever. You come up with all these great unique looking beasties you want to see them on the battlemat! Very satisfied customer.


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Completely Worth It

5/5

The cover art, captivating.
Interior art, nothing but full color professionalism all the way. Clearly and accurately shows what the creatures look like.
The monster lore, a joy to read, gives you everything you need to imagine where the monster would fit into your game without being too wordy.
Monster variety is superb – every type of monster is included and to challenge all tiers.
And the monster stats are very well done. In fact, I’d say they bridge the gap between the sometimes overtly simple monsters of 5E and the too-many-actions-to-track ones of 3.5/PF. It’s a nice balance if you like monsters with just one or two extra abilities or quirks to keep them surprising.
The only downside? No index. There are a few monsters in Book of Lairs that use the proper monster name, but the creature is presented under some heading of monsters that requires some hunting, but that’s minor. I may make my own.
Regardless I backed the Kickstarter and feel like I got more than what I paid for, which is rare!
Excellent work Kobolds!


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Strongest AP Start Ever?

5/5

I just spent this past weekend reading this cover to cover and I was incredibly impressed. Amber needs more AP work. The overall attention to detail and making sure there were no loose ends will make this a thrill to run when I begin the campaign.

Every AP needs a strong start and this one was gripping. An excellent assortment of foes, I loved that exploring the city was left open instead of railroading and the NPCs have to be some of the very best of Any AP. I almost felt like I was reading a story and couldn’t wait to find out what happens next! The mood and grit of the campaign was evident but you got glimpses of hope on the horizon.

I also like the direction the inside covers took, ensuring you stick with the NPCs throughout the story and none of them get “shelved” when their part is over. The support articles were also really great and I like what the bestiary section is doing with the new demon and demon lord each book. Fantastic.


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A Solid Undersea Adventure

5/5

The Sunken Pyramid is an 88 -page underwater adventure/sourcebook for 7th level characters. In general I judge an adventure on two factors, a satisfying feeling after reading (akin to having a good meal) and the joy of the details in playing it. While I didn’t have time for the latter the former left me full indeed, read on.

Within these 88 pages is a detailed primer on running the adventure (including some great advice prepping for an adventure of this type), a mini source-section on the sahuagin race, a detailed gazetteer of the coastal town of White Moon Cove, and the adventure itself comprising of an underwater mountain of sorts with mysterious origins. As with all Raging Swan adventure material this one is built to make it as easy to run as possible for the GM, from the clear layout and detailed complete monster stat blocks, to helpful hints all throughout including random sights, monsters and discoveries. Because it’s an underwater adventure mainly, there’s a super 2-page section any GM running this type of adventure should have – every underwater rule collected in one place (from drowning to underwater combat, casting, depth dangers, etc.)

I appreciated the sahuagin write-up because part of the adventure is dealing with the absolute evil of these beings. We are treated to a primer on their society, religion, outlook on life and a nice note regarding their language. This goes a long way in portraying them in battle.

The home base of this adventure is White Moon Cove, a small seaside town with good folk. This is also a backdrop piece by Raging Swan but is included in this PDF in its entirety. A very complete and detailed description of the town is provided (with map). There are lots of named and personalized inhabitants and their motivations and role, and the current rumors and goings-on. The fact that the writers took the time to make it feel like a living place will go a long way in garnering sympathy from the characters, especially when a number of townsfolk are captured in a daring raid by sahuagin! They’re not the only ones with concern either; a merchant ship’s captain comes into port with news some of her crew were also taken! A number of possibilities to getting the PC’s out to the adventure location are provided (including the ship that is in port), and then it’s diving time! At first I was a little concerned the PCs would feel whatever they do they can’t prevent folks being taken, which is pretty much the case, but careful working by a GM will have a few taken into the sea as the characters wake up to the sounds of attack.

The adventure itself is the meat of the book and provides both a great glimpse into a sahuagin fortification and living space. After a little investigation reveals the entrance at the near top, they make their way down through four levels inside encountering more dangerous things as they go. Clearly labeled cave maps provided and each encounter has full stats (meaning everything the GM could want to know regarding the inhabitant or combatant). If this is your first Raging Swan adventure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the details provided in each section, magic items aren’t just detailed, but all auras, knowledge DC’s and the like are given. Tactics for each area are sound if not basic, and sidebars help a GM run a section when a general alarm goes up. By the time the PCs get toward their goal of rescuing the prisoners (of which there are many), they uncover the full nature of the insidious plot and why captives were taken alive in the first place.

I did notice the same CR2 sahuagin stat block show up a lot early on, meaning some repeated combat rooms I’m likely to edit out when I run it. The layout of the caves does lead one to believe the party may wind up fighting a running battle with multiple rooms at once if they are very loud and chaotic to their approach. Luckily, there is occasional advice to determine what a foe will and won’t do with an alarm. Many of the creatures are already engaged in their own activities the PCs can take advantage of – it’s described very much as a living place, not just a static locale. There are also allies within that can aid the party, and a divided, tense political situation between some of their foes the PCs can take advantage of, and yet still I think this adventure is extremely challenging thanks to the nature of underwater adventuring. The story climaxes against a terrible foe that has become the focal point of this sahaugin tribe’s religion: a huge devilish shark that is much more than an ‘eating machine’, it speaks and has its own devious plots to weave.

The book ends with a nice section of new rules including monsters (including the aforementioned big bad) and magic items (including a sentient trident!). There are even six complete 7th level pre-generated characters provided!

Conclusion: I have to admit I went in a little skeptical, as underwater adventures have had a difficult time impressing me. This was soon allayed as I read sections that answered all my nagging questions: How do the sahuagin transport air breathers to their caves? What effects do I need to be aware of when running the adventure? What makes this more than a hack fest? All these are answered and dealt with. White Moon Cove is a great town that’s sure be a spot the characters can revisit again and again. The adventure is a little combat heavy early on but eventually boils down to a design involving moral choices, demanding tactics and smart play. The best part is it feels complete. Grab the core rulebook and play, this adventure has everything you need to run it successfully. Very well done. I was provided a full version copy for review, but I will easily find a way to insert this in my Razor Coast campaign.


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Lots of Quality, Colorful Encounters

5/5

Wilderness Dressing: Travelers is a collection of personalities your player’s characters might meet while travelling from here to there. It’s for the GM’s who relish little encounters to add verisimilitude to a journey rather than say “Ok, you travel a few days and you get there”.

Hechfolk and Hirelings is 14 pages, but the meat of the PDF covers 7 pages. Over 2 pages each are percentile tables with 75 total encounters spread over the sections which include: “Peddlers, Merchants and Traders”, “Bards, Minstrels and Troubadours” and “Mercenaries, Sellswords and Freebooters”. On the 7th large is a B&W drawing of a female NPC that’s not bad at all.

Each entry isn’t long, but it is enough to give you a solid mental picture of the situation and motives of the NPC in question. Each supplies a name and recommended basic stats (alignment, gender, race, class and level) and then a solid description followed by basic motivations or activities. Sometimes these traits are interwoven to tell the story of the NPC. They’re excellent sparks for the imagination and give you enough to go on to form a basic personality very quickly.

While percentage tables are provided I think this would serve me better to plot out the route and hand pick a few along the way, as naturally not every NPC will be useful for ever occasion. In this way, the book suits its purpose perfectly. One thing that was pleasantly surprising was how rich the author made some of the descriptions even with just a few words. Nice touches like the actual names of a few songs a wandering bard has written or a treasured or favored item or even notes on growing up so you know how they chose their profession are sometimes included. A small number are more basic, allowing a GM to stretch their creative license with nothing but the simplest of description and a single, small hook, but there are only a handful of these.

For a nice touch, sometimes there’s even little interwoven plots, one NPC entry will mention another with a possible connection either as ally or foe make the encounter even livelier. I liked that a lot.

Overall how can you not appreciate loads of encounters to make overland journeys more interesting for 2 bucks. It’s a steal, does its job perfectly and was fun to read. I purchased this for use in my Shattered Star game.


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The Attention To Detail is Amazing

5/5

I’m not entirely sure I can offer more than what the other reviewers here have said, except that while reading it in its entirety through this weekend I got quite a rush of nostalgia that few other products this day can emulate. It’s made for our current beloved Pathfinder Roleplaying Game but read and felt just like something out of AD&D.

The fact that you don’t just fight the same types of creatures room after room, the interesting treasures to be found, factions to play off of and secret history to uncover make this a real gem. Not to mention, this book loves the GM. Each room is provided with every conceivable detailed answer to questions a GM or the players may have about the environment.

It’s a dirty, gritty dungeon crawl that offers a dynamic location; with information so well defined as you read you get a complete feel for the major shakers and movers and how they all interact. The only real difference from real early modules where there was absolutely no rhyme or reason why some of the creatures or things would be in the same complex, this not only gives all plausible reasons and explanations but then actually executes it and pulls it off!

Not to mention a big collection of nine pre-generated player characters using classes and rules from the Core Rulebook and Advanced Player’s Guide. Speaking of stats and crunch, the monsters are all fully statted out so no flipping through the bestiaries, and game rules throughout and provided every step of the way (including the magic detection DC, school and strength of aura for all magic items!).

The whole location feels real, monster tactics and responses to different adventure tricks and attacks are explained throughout. Each location, from the tower, donjon, and the dungeon / crypt levels beneath also have a random detail chart and encounter charts to make them more alive. The maps are not necessarily artistic but pull off the old-school vibe very well and are perfectly functional and easy to follow. Throw in a bunch of good art (including scenes to show the party), player handouts, and potential allies from both rescued folks and monsters and you got an adventure to keep a group of seasoned vets enthralled.

At the same time: beginning GM’s pay attention. You can do little better than this module, that caters so well to organization and provides everything you need to run the encounters in a nice, clear format that’s a snap to navigate. Well done, bravo! I was provided a copy for review.


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Makes Cave Expeditions Fresh Again

5/5

The Underdark, The Night Below, The Darklands, whatever you call it has amazing appeal thanks to the game’s long legacy. When I realized I had prepped a Darklands excursion as a one-shot for three gamers, two of which had only been gaming a few years and never had such a journey, I sifted through sourcebooks to help make it special. I really found what I needed in this book.

What was that? Good, solid encounters featuring the best cavern dwelling creatures. Without a doubt I had planned to toss at them a Roper and a Purple Worm, among other things. But plopping down the mini and saying roll for initiative isn’t going to give them stories to tell their friends about.

Caves and Caverns is a big, meaty 88-page sourcebook of encounters, stats and helpful underground challenges. With over 60 stat blocks (many advanced or custom designs), 25 encounters with detail, and a bunch of rule-sets for dealing with underground dangers like environmental hazards, descriptions of terrain features, and GM helpful hints, it’s one stop shopping for underground adventure prep.

There are also lots of random encounter tables to utilize and Raging Swan’s meticulous cataloging and cross-referencing so you can find what you need in a blink. There’s also a sample location, the Roaring Caverns complete with map! Organization is real clean and handy: each encounter is on a 1 or 2 page spread so you can just print out what you need (or keep the pages open on a laptop or tablet) and run it without a lot of page–flipping.

There’s even a little song/poem on the TOC page I had an NPC read to my players before they began and it set the whole stage. The group was already 12th level and the encounters range from CR 4 to CR 13, so I had a handful to pick from. The roper’s cave and additional terrain was a great challenge and its’ personality freaked them out. The purple worm encounter sent them flying as expected but with good foreshadowing and hints on the effects of the debris it kicks up made it very worthwhile. There were surprises, too. Everyone knows when you see stone life-like statues there’s a medusa or basilisk around. What about piles of smashed glass? I’m not giving that one away but my players loved it; especially the one who’s been playing for 32 years and never saw it coming.

Something I didn’t get to use but filed away for use when I run Shattered Star was underground groups. Entire groups fully stated with individuals, of drow, duergar, morlocks, svirfneblin and troglodytes are presented to drop into any encounter. Building gangs of stats like this can be tough on time, here they’re all ready.

This supplement reeks of homage to classics like Decent into the Depths of the Earth and The Night Below Campaign, but with fresh, new ideas and twists to make each encounter worthwhile and memorable plus easy to run. I’ll be referencing and using this for a long time! I was provided a copy for review.


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Great Alternate Powers

5/5

Many GMs have a favorite magic item that shows up in most games. I knew a GM that was always introducing pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts in his games. James Ward has said every game he runs features Ioun Stones. Well, for me it’s the Rod of Wonder. And yet I’ve only used the official version once or twice. As soon as I found variant or expanded charts (or made my own for 2nd Edition) the players have enjoyed it even more. The draw for me as a GM is it can surprise me. With so much of the story already known, having surprises come up like this to deal with are part of the fun.

This handy little book features the Rod of Wonder, and three variants, the Rods of Bewilderment, Marvels, and Wonderment, each with their own chart of random chaos. Each rod gets its own percentile table, and custom stat blocks for the pair of creatures the device can summon, minimizing page flipping or rules lookups.

There are also tidbits on making custom variants, like Aligned Rods, Cursed Rods and Lesser Rods. There’s a good section on intelligent Rods of Wonder, including a sampling of some specifically named ones and their personality with full Intelligent Item stats. There’s even a section of interesting quirks you can give a Rod and some activation words. This section in general is a nice extra touch.

I like the alternate Rods and the array of powers they are given. Careful consideration was made to make them unique and yet right on par with the original device, ensuring that no one was better than the other. I also like the number of “rules free” happenings we all remember fondly from the old days, fun stuff like leaves or horns growing from the target, but if an environmental effect takes place like mist or whatnot, there’s game rules provided for the effect.

I like my chaos a little more unpredictable, so when I recently unleashed a Rod of Wonder on a set of my players, I had them roll 1d4 first to see which chart herein they roll percentile dice on and let the full tables work for a single device. Mad, perhaps, but they love the variety. Now I just hope they don’t become addicted to it.

Let’s be honest, you can grab probably dozens of free homemade Rod of Wonder tables across the interwebs, but for a buck ninety-nine you get a variety of good Pathfinder-centric results, all carefully designed, and with extras to make them unique and easy to run during the game. Win. I was provided a copy of this for review.


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And I don't care.

5/5

I held off getting this for months because I figured I’d never run it. Then I remembered that I’ve enjoyed lots of RPG items over the years I’ve never run, just read. So I did my homework on other’s reviews. They all said the same thing: what a total joy to read.

So, I plunked down the full price to the Frog Gods for the hardcover book and the PDF. Then 2 weeks later Paizo had it on sale for $50 off for their GM’s day promotion. And I don’t care.

It’s so huge I don’t know if I could ever actually run it. And I don’t care.

I’m going to lose a whole year reading this thing, and I don’t care.

I’m only on page 52 and having a fantastic time. The reading is easy, flavorful and fun. Like a novel, you really can’t wait to read the next location or situation. Its steal-ability factor is sky high, either just for situations, NPCs, encounters or monsters and flavor. It is also a cohesive set of mini stories all tied to one terrible location. The maps may not be gorgeous but they are clear and easy to follow – so I don’t care.

What I do care about is value for money and this is a prime example of it. If you were/are a huge fan of Necromancer Games’ 3rd edition material like I was, it will remain a treasure on your shelf. My hat is off to Greg Vaughan for sticking with it all this time and Bill Webb for making it happen.


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Very Organized For Busy GMs

5/5

Henchfolk & Hirelings: To sum up: I sure wish I had this 15 years ago, and I sure am glad I have it now.

I was a running an AD&D 2nd Ed game in the late 1990’s. The group was finally going to be travelling to a remote adventure location with difficult terrain and no towns. When confronted with a few logistical troubles, someone said “Hey, remember henchmen? Let’s hire some!” So, being old-school folks, they set about posting job offers and spreading the word. Having a few extra stat sheets handy was no problem, as the DM I was good to go. The players then spent the next 3 hours interviewing each and every candidate and I came up with so many personalities I lost track. But the players loved it and were sure they found the right folks for the job.

This book brings back good old henchmen and hireling rules from the earliest edition of the world’s oldest RPG and makes them work with Pathfinder. The author points out that the Leadership feat and rules are not always a viable option, especially when all you want is a guy to cover your flank in combat or detect traps down the passage. This is about boss/employee relations and coin exchanging hands, not some following of adoration because you’re some high-level hero.

For ease of use, there are multiple charts cross-referenced to allow you to locate the type of henchfolk you need in a hurry at the table, by race, alignment, class, etc. Then in just a couple of pages it goes over the basic rules; how to attract the number of folks you are looking for and the type of settlement you are in both play a factor. Payment options and interviewing them are all covered with ease as well as sound advice on ensuring they are the right choice for the type of game you are playing.

Now, in Pathfinder the rules under equipment list hirelings as paid 1 silver piece a day while this tome lists them as 100 gold a month, but for good reason. Pathfinder assumes these people are simple warrior mercs, or maids, stable hands, cooks, etc. You know, Nodwick, the guy to carry your torches and spears. It also states specially trained henchlings will be paid significantly more. That’s this book. CLASS level folk, not NPC classes.

But before I go too far into that you need to know there are no NPC stats in this book. There are instead 100 NPC’s that are given a cohesive appearance, background, personality and mannerisms. They’re given a name, an array of suggested ability scores, and an alignment and race and class. The meat of the book are these NPCs laid out so the GM can play them during interviews and give you an idea of how they’ll behave in combat as part of the group. These descriptions are tight and concise so a GM can read it in an instant and then get back to playing the game.

All classes and races from the Core Rulebook are represented. I did find it odd that they are all listed as ‘1st level’ when really you are creating or borrowing the stats from elsewhere to use them in game play they can be whatever level you need them at the time. In a way I missed not even having a chart like in the old modules also listing basic equipment and the like but really you need to customize these folks to the game, and there are already a thousand PC/NPC stats available on the Paizo SRD so this works great just as it is.

While not necessarily a must-have book, if you want to add henchfolk and hireling rules back into your game this is a super way to do it. I was provided a PDF of this book for review.


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Super Nautical Campaign Resource

5/5

Villainous Pirates was purchased for one reason: to overload myself with possible stats and memorable encounters for the endless number of ships my group was going to plunder in the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path. This book presents 38 different pirates over 49 pages and I’m pretty sure the group has killed 14 of them already and taken their stuff. They’re perpetually hiding from 3 others. The best part is the group learned quickly how you can never really know what surprises await you when attacking another ship!

From a GM management standpoint this book came in quite handy. Not all of these NPCs are expected to be captains, just ‘pirates’, so the best part for me was taking a few, making them the officers of an opposing ship and then just adding generic crewmen to their roster and I have a fully realized encounter that’s far off from the typical venue.

How’s that? Because the book works to make each one memorable. There are more than a few monstrous pirates in here. There’s girallon, tiefling, grindylow, ettercap and more mixed in with the standard Core Rulebook races to present a good mix of challenges from CR 3 to 13. Each entry is referenced in a handy table to find the type you need quickly. Each one has its own background, personality and mannerisms, but not too long winded so if you need to read it quickly in-game that works too. The stat blocks use classes form the CRB and the Advance’s Players Guide plus rules from Bestiary 1, 2, and Tome of Horrors but all rules you need to portray them are there in the block explained so you can run them easily right out of the book.

I had a bit of a snafu when printing current page or a specific number, as the pages numbers don’t sync up with the actual page of the PDF, but once you get the knack of it it’s no bother. Also, if you cut and paste the stats to another program like Word or Publisher, the formatting stays perfectly.

As you’d expect from the title, it’s not littered with goody-two-shoes, these are vile ready-for-slaying pirates your PCs will love to combat. The best part is half the book is still ready for me to use when I run Razor Coast. Easily recommended.


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Very Good ideas to drop in your game

4/5

Pirates of the Western Ocean is a sourcebook / companion to Journeys to the West. While that book focused on locations and adventure, this is a toolkit of people, magic, and things to place within, but easily mined to spice up any seafaring campaign (as I did heavily with the stats and personalities of many pirates within when I ran the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path).

The first section gives you full realized prate NPCs to use, each with personality, goals and motivations. Many are human and would make great captains (all fairly high level) and some monstrous ones too which was a great surprise. The stat work was creative and clean and made full use of the PRD.

The second two chapters are locations, including two islands with NO maps. The poor maps were a concern of mine in Journeys to the West but to not have any here is just plain weird. Something else, the two islands have good ideas but the writing isn’t particular descriptive or entertaining.

The next two sections have pirate bands detailed and then a bestiary full of monsters. I liked these, easy to grab and use in your game. Very imaginative beasties.

The section of spells and magic items was a mix. While I really got a kick out of the magic items, the spells were either confusing or seemed uninspired (including one I must have reread 4 times and still don’t understand). The wording on many didn’t seem complete or comprehensive.

The next section is aboleth glyphs, a great alternate use of magical secrets I really thought showed great design. I used a few of these to propel plots in the game I ran to great effect.

It end with a 2-page map spread of ‘the western ocean’, one which is all just water (I suppose those tiny black dots might be islands, I can’t tell and they are not marked) and the other the coast of the mainland (part of the Midgard campaign setting).

Not a bad book at all. Most of it is very well done and useful. Apart from the island writing and lack of any maps and the strange spells, I got plenty of good mileage out of this book as a GM.


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Great Writing, Lackluster Mapping

4/5

Journeys to the West is nothing more than a good collection of Island locations and adventures. The writing and ideas are entertaining and imaginative and easy to mine for ideas or just to drop into most seafaring campaigns.

Most, but not all. I haven’t kept up on the Midgard or Zobeck settings from Kobold Press so I wasn’t aware all their sourcebooks are heavily steeped in that world’ lore. That’s not bad, just will require some name changing and alteration to fit your world. And since one location sits where the ocean falls off the edge of the world, it was fun to read but I won’t be using it in my game. I’d suggest a blub in the front of these books like what Paizo does regarding “this book is written for the Midgard setting and here are some associated books to check out for more lore…”

The PDF is in color, and looks great. The print product is grayscale, and looks just OK. The maps in both products are where the concerns come in. They are grayscale in each and didn’t convert to print very well. I’m a stickler for detail, and the map tags themselves very rarely use callouts, just a big notation of “Area B1 Port of Doom” for example placed across a map but with no idea what part of the island it’s located in relation to the text. The text tags are also not in text format but part of the picture meaning you can’t print off a player’s copy minus the tags. There’s also another map that has the location text twice, once in the lower left and again in various placed on the island map but with not dot or line to call out where. There is yet another map where the text in grayscale is overlaid on a grayscale design making them all impossible to read. It would have been better I think to have had a key to the side and just numbered entries on the maps instead of the method used.

Simply put, it’s a 5 star writing job filled with great ideas and stories and fully supported to tables and rules stats that gave me much enjoyment. The maps and their utility get a rating of 2. Because so much of the book is the words, however I still must give it a 4 total.


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Overall Good for Thornkeep Play

4/5

These maps are visually stunning and are so appreciated to help make Thornkeep’s dungeon levels easy to run and fun for players to explore. Yes, due to an un-asked for change (so I hear) the maps are slightly less thick then previous flip mats but they seem perfectly sturdy and suited for years of play. Plus, they actually fold up better and lay flatter than traditional flip mats! I consider this a great value and aide to running Thornkeep. On the other hand the logos on the floor plans are not cool, and a distraction. Please keep them off the rooms themselves in the future.


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Oustanding Fantasy Adventure

5/5

I didn’t get this book as part of the Kickstarter nor do I imagine I’ll ever play the online game (it’s just not my cup of tea), this book is a super read and looks to be a great place to set a campaign!

Having five levels of dungeons each being so dynamic and well conceived and playing to the strengths of their writers is good enough (even if it leaves you wanting more) but the town and surrounding lands lends itself to some superb storytelling opportunities.

The whole setting and town reeks of the grittiness of the frontier in the River Kingdoms. It’s a great mix of urban struggle, ancient ruins, competing gangs and factions, and a plot woven so thick throughout the locales and NPCs it could take dozens of gaming sessions for the players to pull them all together.

Like the Dungeon/Supporting Land combos of Thunder Rift, The Night Below, Shattered Gates of Slaughtergard or even Keep on the Borderlands, Thornkeep stands to become a time-honored classic of adventure locales players will love to explore and interact with.

Also, for folks looking just for good gaming books to read, it’s like a novel you can’t put down. Fantastic.


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Good Book, Unsatisfying Ending

3/5

Back in early 3rd edition, there was a Bruce Cordell module called Heart of Nightfang Spire, which to my group was nothing more than a tower stuffed with things to kill. It was a grind we could never appreciate and unfortunately I had reminisces of this while running the final part of this AP installment.

The setup of the surrounding lands to the tower were good – just what I expected when finally handed lore on this most terrible of locales in Golarion. The map is excellently clear, the teleportation ‘traps’ surrounding it were fiendishly clever and dark chapel a super location.
But once you get to the tower itself, besides some haunts, there were just a whole lot of combat encounters to wade through before confronting a villain who could have been more ‘present’ in the volume than a Big Bad at the end to fight. Exploring the tower sections or fighting the undead within also didn’t provide the players for an appreciation of where they were, something Mr. Hodge hit perfectly in his conclusion to Shattered Star.

I ran this adventure nearly as written until the final segment where I reworked nearly the entire thing to glorify the horrors of Tar Baphon’s time and build up what terrors were waiting for them on top. Still, much of the adventure is worthy and useful.


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Expect the Unexpected

5/5

Lou and Nic have put together an edgy, engaging cast of characters to interact with, and an adventure with enough twists and complications to keep players on their toes and make awesome moral decisions. You also get a lot for the 32 pages. A good, detailed town setting, orc village, wilderness encounters and an exciting conclusion on a river barge. A GM will need to be on his toes to portray the different NPCs and their strong motivations to pull off the changes in the story based on character actions!

Clear, useful and attractive cartography combined with decent artwork helps portray the areas from a GM standpoint. To ensure the GM has a solid grasp of the complex cast, each has a number of possible quotes in the stat block based on the turns the adventure takes.

This adventure, goes the lore, was headed for Dungeon Magazine before the fubar, and it would have been a classic talked about for months after I’m sure. I’m so glad it was made available by the Frogs. Don’t let this one get away.


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Great for any Nautical Campaign

5/5

Island of Empty Eyes is the strongest book in Skull & Shackles for my group. While the entire adventure path is a good mix of sandbox freedom and rail-worthy quests, this was a perfect compromise. The best part is this adventure, more than the others, would be a great addition to ANY pirate or nautical based campaign.

Simply, if you want a full island stocked with not only interesting locales, monsters, and NPCs, plus ruins to explore and a fort to make their own, this adventure is for you. The best part is the adventure requires smart-thinking players and tough characters that are looking for a good challenge in combat, traps, negotiation, skills and exploration.

It’s one of the AP books that feels much bigger than its page size would dictate. Explore an island, conquer a fort, quest in ancient ruins, raid an undersea vault, and prepare and host a gathering of fellow sea captains are just some of the challenges. Again, highly recommended: either as part of the AP or for anyone running a nautical campaign.


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Imaginative, engaging and fun to read

5/5

This was a total joy to read front to back. An AP that fits perfectly well into the series but would also make an amazing one-shot.

Some dungeon crawls you begin to glaze over after a time but when each room has something new and interesting, how can you put it down? They all gel like part of a puzzle that smart players will have a field day with. This is also the type of thing needed to keep players on a crawl engaged and alert. No room after room now abandoned and empty.

Also, Mike Shel really tackles a feel I’ve missed in recent years, taking liberties stretching how some established game rules work within the spirit of creativity to really keep players on their toes. Not to mention keeping GM’s cackling with delight.

The personalities, storyline, traps, and locations are all top-notch. I literally can’t wait to run this Adventure Path, and this is the prime reason why so far. My group went all the way through RotRL and CotCT and this will reward them aplenty.

As an aside I find really funny: after my Crimson Throne game was winding down after finishing the last AP in that series, the group wanted more. I adapted a module from Dragon Magazine, one of my old favorites, as an old Sorshen redoubt. The adventure was called The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb by Mike Shel.


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Isles of the Shackles Superb info on the region

5/5

I’ll explain in plain words why you’d want to look into this book. If you are running a Skull & Shackles game, it’s a vital resource for expanding the region and filling in details. If you are running any maritime campaign like a homebrew or Freeport, it’s still a great for mining ideas from. So what does it do? It gives each of the interesting and important islands in the Shackles its own page write-up. While a page is not a lot of space it does the important job: sets up the island’s distinct flavor and background, gives broad strokes of themes and plots to expand on, entices your imagination to develop each for your game, and then tops it off with a lot of specific NPC names, ship names, port names, taverns & inns, etc. Any monsters you’ll find are called out and what they’re up to. The best part is they’re all really Golarion flavored, using the best of the world to fill in the lore. This is the first 40 pages.

The next section is threats, and finishes out the next 25 pages. First it gives wandering monster tables for the different areas, and then opens up the bestiary section with a combination of new unique monsters and generic NPC stats. The best part is these monsters are cool, not filler. They’re a great way to further make an island unique by using one with a plot. They run the gamut from CR ½ to CR 23. And they’re specifically written for the Shackles locations. There’s a section on undead pirates with various stat blocks and vignettes on some of the infamous ghost ships of the region. There are generic pirate stats to crew a ship.

The free supplemental map in the link above contains ALL the areas discussed in the book and is a great resource.

In short I can’t wait to use this in my Skull & Shackles game. It’ll help a GM out a ton.


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Inspiring and a great start to a larger world

5/5

This is a review of the Dragon Empires Primer. I like it a lot, and I didn’t expect to. Please read on.

To understand the above, you need to know that overall I am not a huge fan of Asian-themed gaming. I grew up on Saturday afternoon poorly-dubbed martial arts movies that weren’t neat, just ridiculous. Oriental Adventures for AD&D was good, but it didn’t really inspire or convey any mood to me. Sacrilegious at it may seem I tried to like and read the old Kara-Tur boxed set and kept falling asleep.

On the other hand I have all of Miyazaki’s animated films on DVD, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and I adore them. Also, the way Xena introduced Asian elements throughout the series and in her background really struck a chord with me too. Maybe it’s the fact that these are not loaded with cheese (from what I recall of similar films of the 70’s and 80’s).

So, as a Paizo subscriber I let Jade Regent take its place on my shelf with a light reading of each volume. The Dragon Empires Gazetteer was glanced through and looked amazing, but I had other things to read. I also skipped over the Asian weapons section in Ultimate Combat.

That brings us to the Primer. It’s beautiful to behold, a high quality of presentation as always. The interior front cover has the area map in full color with area names, major locations and borders shown. The intro immediately set me at ease. In plain words it set up what I was about to read, and an overview of how they view the Dragon Empires land and its people. Without the extra info in the Gazetteer, It read quick and to the point. It is the player’s version of setting and so contains no spoiler info. There is a handful or errors in the book but I didn’t really feel they detracted from the overall usefulness.

It is laid out in familiar fashion to those who have the Inner Sea Guide and Gazetteer. In the very beginning is a section on new races complete with stats, and an overview on the human ethnicities found in the region. Each nation or territory is then covered in a half-page column with a symbol, basic stats, summary description of the area, and a couple of traits to take. I expected to find a couple areas of interest and found myself getting more interested the more I read. The entries kept getting better. I was excited to get to the next one to see what was in store and was not disappointed.

To be frank, it’s because the places are weird enough but easily grasped with strong themes you can immediately latch onto. As a GM it got my mind going multiple times. Many of the entries are fantastic without being wacky or bizarre, and there is also a sense there are plenty of common folk and situations too without every place being alien. More importantly they feel like places I’d like to adventure in, not treat as background info only. A gritty Hobgoblin land, dark and foreboding Naga territory, a spirit-haunted wood akin to Princess Mononoke and a celestial nation of aasimar are just a sampling of what you’ll find here. It’s fantastic enough and Golarion-centric so I didn’t feel any intimidation regarding my overall knowledge gap on ancient oriental culture!

The Combat section has 10 new feats themed to the area’s style that will make monk players quite happy. There’s also a new Samurai order. The Faith section gives a paragraph on each of the deities of the realm. A handful of favorites from the Inner Sea region make the port (like Lamashtu, Desna, Pharasma and Irori), as well as a host of original ones with appropriate names and themes. There are also four new archetypes to help round out characters that deserve praise.

The Magic Section has the Sorcerer Oni bloodline and the Void elemental school for Wizards, with a new spell. The Social section has a spread and easy rules for tracking honor points for your character and the benefits or consequences thereof.

I figured I’d like the crunch, but the nations section was easily my favorite, and I didn’t see it coming. What a surprise. Not only do I feel the book is just what I needed to finally really get into the setting but I can’t wait to read the Gazetteer and to run the Ruby Phoenix Tournament adventure! My hat is off to writers Tim Hitchcock and Colin McComb. If it made a believer of a skeptic like me I’m sure fans of the genre will embrace what Paizo’s done to the other side of Golarion.


Good "Indiana Jones on Steroids" Stuff

3/5

A hard adventure to judge based on play styles and world considerations.

If you embrace Eberron and all it stands for the adventure is really good and take advantage of the world’s history and background. It’s not a good adventure for any other world, really.

Written by Stephen Schubert and Paizo favorites Tim Hitchcock and Nic Logue, the adventure makes frequent use of the Indiana Jones “Red Line Across the Globe” method of travel. As this suspends a little disbelief (and I knew my players would’nt fall for it) I had a ton of work researching the places along the way I just knew they could not pass up to visit. The adventure however assumes just this and rushes the PCs from spot to spot where they invariably meet things, kill them and take their stuff.

My work payed off in that the locations, for what they are worth, are beautifully woven into the story. So it took us a lot longer to finish than expected, but as I said it’s just waiting for that kind of fleshing-out.

As mentioned, it makes liberal use of Eberron staples and involves Lady Vol, an ancient MacGuffin, the Emerald Claw, the pirate isles there, the continent of dragons, and others. World-spanning by design it’s a whirlwind tour of the planet and campaign setting.

The adventure is full color and 128 pages. It utilizes the much debates WotC staple of the “easy encounter format” rounding up rooms meant to have combat and grouping all you need to run it on 1 page. I don’t mind this style, some vomit at the thought and others don’t care. It can be a space-eater, if you get my meaning.

A wide variety of locations and a load of creative monsters to hack are provided. The beasties are very Eberron-flavored and work well to provide good threat to smart players. Nice maps and mighty fine artwork round out the package.


Dragons of Faerun full of useful material

4/5

I give this book 4 stars based on the utility and enjoyment it brought to my game table. It’s a favorable but fair review.

Dragons of Faerun is a 160 page 3.5 hardcover book. I remember the GenCon fondly where I got it. I remember distinctly because that night at the hotel I read the first chapter and was delighted as the author (Realm-lore lord Eric Boyd) distilled down nearly a dozen FR novels I wouldn’t have touched with a ten-meter cattleprod into about 5 juicy pages of good adventure- and idea-generators. It takes a lot of recent dragonic history and goings-on and presents it all in a useable form which I stole here and there to tell background tales to players to help fill in the world.

Next, over a dozen masterful ‘true’ dragons are discussed, with plenty of background and lore (“fluff”) as well as big meaty stat blocks for over half of them. Each of these beasties is a campaign waiting to happen. emembering Ed Greenwood’s great “wyrms of the north” Dragon Magazine articles, it fill you in on what all of them have been up to recently.

There’s a whole chapter on the Cult of the Dragon, and an adventure involving them I used when running my Mysteriues of the Moonsea campaign. It’s a fun and engaging seaside location-based mission (complete with maps, stats, etc.).

Folks who liked Red Hand of Doom get tons of good material to use in the chapter called Tyrrany of the Dragon Queen, all about Tiamut’s plans for Faerun and her followers. Some of the best cartography ever of Unther, Threskel and Chessenta are provided, as well as mini-gazetteers of the regions and another adventure involving an assault on a high Tiamat temple! I ran this adventure as a follow-up to Red Hand of Doom, the players loved it, it gave them more closure against Tiamat’s kind.

Dragonkind ‘social clubs’ called Orders detail a half dozen organizations some dragons band together for a purpose. They’re done in descriptive style, not a bunch of stats and numbers. Good reading.

There’s a half-dozen new monsters and another half dozen new stat blocks within for various creatures and sub-templates. There’s two dozen new spells (as well as a few epic spells and a 3.5 take on epic spellcasting rules), and a handful of very flavorful, historical magic items and well as a dozen more utilitarian devices. There’s even a few ne minor artifacts, and a fascinating secion on what happens to a region when a group of would-be heroes takes a dragon’s hoard and lets it loose on the local economy.

It rounds up with new dragons, the Mercury, Steel, and Mist dragons, as well as 3.5 updates to dragons in Monsters of Faerun.

It ends with a multi-page appendix on all known published dragons in Faerun, there’s status, lair, CR, and relative type or kind. The tome is loaded with fine art and good cartography.

Why 4 stars and not 5? There are at least 12 stat blocks that while I found dun to read I’ll never use, as they’re all epic level threats of the highest order (one CR 40 if I remember correctly). Mostly the stats are in good shape, but there were a handful figures off here and there that were not just “one or two points off” that should have been caught in editing (on the other hand these errors never bothered me in my use of the book). Also, some folks may be turned off at the "here's what's been happening in the Realms that you didn't know" stuff that I didn't mind, as I stole from it, but I know some didn't care for that approach. Also, while steeped heavily in Realmslore, making it invaluable to a DM of that world, the material may not be easily ported to another world.

For Realmslore and adventure and overall utility at a table however it was well worth the price.




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Not a bad collectable, and useful to boot.

4/5

This is a public service announcement regarding The Ruins of the Dragon Lord boxed set written by JC Alvarez by Mongoose Publishing. For the longest time I meant to write a more in-depth review of this, but it seemed to be so rare and difficult to find it never came up. I finally scored a copy from EBay for about $20 a couple of years back.

The bottom line: It’s not quite worth the cover price of $45.00. I’d say it’s worth a price about half that, and so the price here on Paizo is more than fair, a darn good bargain.

The basics: It’s written for 3.5 of the d20 system. It’s a ‘complete campaign’ taking characters from 1st to 20th level (saving space by providing plenty of encounters with standard monsters from the SRD which are not reprinted). It also assumes a very fast advancement rate, again how they managed to squeeze 20 character levels of adventure into this space. It contains 3 books: 1 64-page setting book and two 128-page adventure books. It has nine 8.5x11 full color double-sided pages of map locations. It has two double-sided oversized poster maps, one with the campaign area with the cover art on the other side, and another detailing two locations of the adventure with a 1-inch grid to be a battlemap for miniatures.

The best analogy I can try is to me it tries to capture the feel of the old Dragon Mountain boxed set by TSR for 2nd Edition. There’s a campaign valley, and a mountain (“Mount Moru”) that’s the focal point of the adventure. You can explore the surrounding lands and gather clues and info (and levels) before tackling the mega-dungeon at the mountain.

The maps are colorful but not my style. They’re more artistic in flavor than exacting, and they would not serve well, for example, to scan and enlarge to make battlemaps. Luckily most of them are of a fairly standard and uniform design, easily recreated with tiles or whatnot. The artwork throughout is serviceable but nothing special.

The adventure itself is flavorful but straightforward. There was an ancient civilization that worshiped demons and dragons. They vanished within the depths of the mountain with their ancient lore and treasure. Now you can go in and kill the things there and take their stuff! That hardly does it justice, of course. Plenty of the fun comes from exploring the setting and piecing together the lore and clues as to what happened. With that comes plenty of dungeon-crawling against some creatively designed foes. The ancient feeling of the lost civilization comes through always. Surprisingly there are plenty of good solid opportunities for roleplaying throughout.

As for the complete campaign taking characters from 1st to 20th level I think there are some assumptions involved regarding DM modification and expansion. The good news is its very modular. There are design notes on how the PCs can stumble into the adventure at pretty much any level. Each dungeon is also fairly independent, meaning you could run them all as separate adventurers if you wanted. Organization is overall quite good, obviously written to ease the job of the DM.

It's also a pretty good read, chock full of good ideas.


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