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Part II of my review:

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column standard, and the book contains artworks that extend to variants of different critters; different animated objects, for example. As noted, no cheesecake, no beefcake in the artworks. The artworks range from industry-defining amazing to good: I was e.g. disappointed by the Glabrezu artwork; I loved the Fleshwarp Grothlut – it’s amazing nightmare fodder; also one of the best drider artworks I’ve seen! As noted, while, for the most part, the space is well-used, there are a few pages where the margins could have used a tad more information – the side-bar of the Grim Reaper’s first page, for example, is 3/4s empty. These are the exception, but yeah. The pdf-version comes with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable. As per the writing of this review, I don’t yet own the print version, so I can’t yet comment on its merits or lack thereof.

Game designers Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland, Mark Seifter, with additional design by Alexander Augunas, John Compton, Paris Crenshaw, Adam Daigle, Eleanor Ferron, Leo Glass, Thurston Hillman, James Jacobs, Jason Keeley, Lyz Liddell, Ron Lundeen, Robert G. McCreary, Tim Nightengale, Alex Riggs, David N. Ross, Michael Sayre, Chris S. Sims, Jeffrey Swank, Jason Tondro, Tonya Woldridge, Linda Zayas-Palmer – if you’ve been following designs for a while, you’ll know a lot of these names, and you’ll also realize why this book imho succeeds in the massive uphill battle that it had to fight.

For one, it doesn’t feel like I just bought the 3.0 Monster Manual, or the PF Bestiary, for a fourth time. The changes in lore, nomenclature, and the creatures included, make this book feel different; sure, it covers the basics; it has to cover the basics. It’s the first bestiary. But it also puts a different spin on what will be the core canon of PF2. Kudos for that. Seriously. We have a book here where dullahans, wendigo and shoggoths (which, alas, are btw. appropriately hard to kill, but not as maddening as I’d like them to be) are all considered to be creatures of essentially the core array. In some ways, this makes the game feel different, and differentiates itself successfully from being D&D minus the WotC-IP; it instead uses Paizo’s themes and lore to some surprising effect. I like that.

More importantly, I can see many of the more complex abilities championing a focus on roleplaying and actively rewarding engaging with narratives, instead of being only numbers-games. That’s a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Even better would be that, in comparison to Starfinder, the creatures tend to have a few more abilities; heck, even the elementals don’t all have the same attacks and actions. Monsters feel deadly and varied as a result, and it is my ardent hope that the monster creation rules have enough wiggle-room to create creatures that are versatile without being predictable. Contrary to what I expected, I did not consider reading this book in its entirety, as opposed to using it as required, to be a chore. This is an interesting and well-crafted tome of monsters, and sets the bar quite high for the new system; there is still some breathing room here, but if anything, this book left me hopeful we’ll get more two-page boss-spreads, more unique critters, and a whole ton of cool adversaries in the future. I hope that the tendency for lore being more important continues, and that the direction this points towards, is indeed the one the game takes – for that will make it different enough from PF1, 5e, SFRPG, DCC and other games I love to grant it its own unique identity.

So yeah, even if you were horribly bored by plenty of d20-first-bestiaries, you may want to take a look at this one; the book perhaps makes a more salient and obvious case for several key strengths of PF2 than the core rulebook, simply by courtesy of showing what can be built on the streamlined action system. As a whole, I am left with primarily niggles and nitpicks, and regarding those, certainly much less than I expected to actually have. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive supplement clocks in at 76 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover/editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 71 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue by one of my patreon supporters.

In many ways, this is a love letter to the Fiend Folio of old (not the 3.X version), and rules-wise, this employs the B/X rule-set, making this pretty much Old School Essentials-compatible, even if Gavin Norman’s new presentation of the classic rules is not explicitly pointed out, the description of the respective attacks and special abilities does look very much like the presentation of his work: On each page featuring one of the fiends, you’ll have the statblock in the upper left quarter of the page; to the right of it, you’ll have a b/w-artwork (all adhering to the same style, with quite a few looking genuinely creepy!). The lower half of the page then tends to feature the attacks and special abilities first, and if there is still room, we have more information on the respective fiend’s order, appearance, ecology, languages, etc. – I some instances, there obviously wasn’t sufficient room left for particularly exciting information here. Sometimes, reaction tables are included. If you’re like me, and consider the loss of all the delightful flavor to be one of the downsides of most contemporary roleplaying games, then you might feel the same and wish that the book provided a bit more flavor than what we get for these critters.

In case B/X means nothing to you: Descending AC, HD and HP values, saves reference class tables, morale values are provided, as well as treasure types. Super helpful, considering the nature of adversaries herein: Each statblock has a resistance/immunity section that notes e.g. when the creature only takes half damage from acid or gas or iron or untyped magical energy, also sporting required weapon enchantments to hit, if any. If you enjoyed the P/X: Basic Psionics Handbook, you’re also in luck, for quite a few creatures herein use the rules from that book. Even if you don’t have it, though, you’ll still get plenty of critters out of this bestiary.

Now, grognards might be shocked to hear that this pdf does assume a dual alignment axis angle, as its fiends are pretty differentiated, and the massive appendices not only explain it in detail, the book also contextualizes the (outer) planes of existences in this context as well as the inner ones. A pretty detailed schematic notes the means to progress between different planes via magic. Psionics, pools, items, etc., providing a more codified, and to me, interesting way to think about planar interactions. While the system may look a bit daunting at first, it is actually a rather simple model once you’ve understood it. The planes are described briefly, and it should be noted that neutral evil fiends herein are not daemons, but rather yamadutas. From true names to diabolical signatures, to recapping the properties of fiendish orders, the pdf does an admirable job presenting a book that’s useful even if you don’t have 20+ years of roleplaying experience and background knowledge about the planes.

All cool? Not exactly. The book also contains a pretty massive amount of spells, which, while mechanically precise, include e.g. lesser variants of banishment (that require the true name and are unreliable, granted) , aforementioned banishment, spells like blasphemy, etc. These are not bad, but we’ve seen them in various iterations by now, and a couple of them have always been rather clunky or frustrating…and e.g. the holy word counterpart for the often frustrating blasphemy is missing. Personally, I also tended to like that there was no dimensional anchor/lock spell here, but your mileage may vary. If you wanted B/X-versions of those, there you go. The magic item appendix follows the same paradigm, and isn’t exactly exciting, as far as I’m concerned. Then again, I’m looking for more wondrous material from my old school games; if you play old-school games like back in the day, then you probably won’t mind that a ring of the planes works like the amulet, but only affects the wearer. On the plus-side, a recap of languages, a treasure type table, and even a pronunciation guide for the fiend names? Heck yeah, I can get behind those!

Now, I already mentioned that the monsters have their own artworks, and the author (who also did the drawings!) may be proud – they adhere to the same style, yet are distinct; some are grotesque or even a bit funny, but many are just alien: Think, for example, of a satyr-like entity with a jundej’baht as a weapon (a root topped with a crystal), and a head defined by what I’d call a Klingon’s bone-ridges going out of control and taking over the face in a rather grotesque manner. There would be the one-eyed empress of enmity, who btw. may have exposed breasts, but seriously? Nobody will be aroused by this lady- From infectious dung fiends, and diminutive critters with a maddening chatter to a demogorgon-like fellow with two vulture-heads, from Xibalban bat-things to insects from Limbo with a hive mind and mental bonds, from thorn devils to armored creatures that reminded me slightly of the Giger Alien or 3.0’s steel predator, we have quite a selection – including strange, genderless…things, or Shezmu, the demon lord of executions, we have a rather interesting critter array, The latter is, btw., in aesthetics something you’d expect from goetic traditions – so no matter where your preferences regarding outsiders/fiends may lie, there’ll be something to enjoy.

Of course, I should also talk about “save or die”, a bit of a contentious topic. This book champions what I’d call “good” save or die – if a creature has a very powerful ability that can cause a save or die effect, it tends to either be a ruler (demon lords, archdevils, etc.), or have some limitations that make it fair. Aforementioned dung fiend? He can, once every 5 rounds, generate a squart – accidentally swallowing that causes a save or die. Good roleplaying (such as a covered mouth, saying that you clamp your mouth shut, etc.) can prevent that. Another creature taints water – drinking from the water causes save or die. Once more, clever players can avoid having to save in the first place. From cooldowns to simply good roleplaying, the book sports plenty of means to help make these creatures deadly, harsh…but also kinda fair.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no serious accumulation of glitches, and indeed, encountered only the rare and mostly cosmetic hiccup. Layout adheres to an elegant, no-frills two-column b/w-standard, and getting a single original artwork for every creature? That’s awesome. Less awesome would be the fact that the pdf version has no bookmarks, which makes navigation a colossal pain.

Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., with assistance from David Welborn, has crafted an impressive book, considering that he seems to have made ALL of it. The bestiary is more refined in many ways than his first collection of creatures, but it also is, courtesy of its fiend focus, a bit less versatile. There is less of the magical realism angle here, less goofy oddness – and that’s on one hand good, on the other hand, I couldn’t help but bemoan their absence.

That being said, there’s one more thing: This book costs a grand total of $1.00 as a pdf. I am not even kidding you. This is insane, and yes, the book is worth that price at least half a dozen times over. Literally. In fact, I really love the monsters herein; while not all are brilliant, many made me want to use them. The same does not hold true for the supplemental material, and once I had finished the book, I couldn’t help but feel that more lore instead of spell/item conversions would have elevated this book. Then again, I’m complaining at a very high level.

Heck, even if you don’t play OSR-games at all – you get a ton of weirdo b/w-artwork and monster concepts for a buck. A buck. A single American Dollar. Even if you are not interested in B/X at all, I wager you’ll get your money’s worth from this book. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


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Part II of my review:

The momentus psychic warrior replaces warrior’s path with rising kinetics. As long as they maintain psionic focus, after the first successful attack, the momentus gains 1d6 active energy type bonus damage that bypasses power and spell resistance. With each successful hit, the archetype gets 1 temporary power point that can be used to manifest or augment powers with the active energy type. These temporary power points dissipate at a rate of one point per round, and you get basic kinesis of the element corresponding to the active element for class level round after triggering this. This can easily be cheesed as soon as you have more than one attack per round, as you can stack up infinite temporary power points by slaughtering kittens. This makes the core of the archetype-engine broken. Next. The Phobius mesmerist replaces painful stare with a dread-like untyped damage-causing touch attack, with hypnotic stare’s effects requiring a swift action and only deliverable via this touch. Consummate liar is replaced with +1/2 class level (minimum +1) insight bonus to Intimidate. The archetype may choose dread terrors instead of mesmerist tricks. At 6th level, terrors may be delivered through the touch attacks. They may have any terror active, altering mesmerist tricks and manifold tricks. Touch treatment is replaced with a fear-aura, and at higher levels, we have fear immunity and the ability to similarly fortify allies under trick effects.

Kyoudai Games’ Thunderscape-Thaumaturge also gets a new legend, the mystic, who has good Will-saves, Psychic Sensitivity, 2 +1 per level spirit points, and may use occult skill unlocks an additional time per usage period per Charisma modifier. When you gain this legend, you choose Charisma modifier +1 1st level spells from mesmerist, occultist and psychic, which you may then cast as SPs 1/day Emotion components, if any, must be provided. At higher levels, an array for 2nd, 3rd and 4th level may be chosen, and active aspect or folk magic traits granting SPs get +1 Charisma modifier uses while this legend is active. This is VASTLY superior to pretty much all other legends available to the class. For comparison: Sneak attack progression versus multiple levels of SPs and use increases.

So, this covers the archetypes – but before we get to the second major crunch chapter, it should be mentioned that the feat-chapter also provides means to e.g. combine akashic essence and residuum from Ultimate Antipodism in a potent, but overall plausible manner spending residuum for increases, etc. can also be found. Occult/psionic crossovers are another leitmotif here, with e.g. the means to expend psionic focus to temporarily enhance resonance or activate focus powers. Feats to enhance the interesting burden/boon spells may be found. There also is a feat to gain a Residuum pool that can be built upon for echo-lite action, and there are e.g. means to spend shadow points to enhance psychic conjurations, etc. Extending phrenic amplifications to other effects may be overkill, and there are more feats for additional daily use class features. Modifying summon monster with imprinted creatures…notice something? This book takes a TON into account – heck, there is even material for pact magic and Everybody Games’ Paranormal Adventures here. Using phrenic pool to enhance Psionic Fist/Weapon, spend residuum to decrease the cooldown of spirit granted abilities, etc. – some seriously interesting, but also sometimes VERY potent stuff here. There also is a feat that is a psionics/psychic crossover that nets you essentially an implement with a single resonant power – this tackles highly complex stuff. The chapter also features two new, nice flaws.

The lion’s share of this book, though, is devoted to prestige classes, 9 to be more precise – and if I went through these PrC by PrC, this’d be a 20+ pages review, so I’ll be brief. The first would be Astral Antiquarian with a ¾ BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression and full spell/power-progression, as well as d8 HD and 2 + Int skills per level. This one can be qualified either by magic or psionic power, and object reading is a base theme. The PrC nets essentially an occultist-lite experience and provides 7 implement schools for psionic disciplines, including athanatism – and these actually are more interesting and precise than the previously noted archetype/class option tricks, featuring e.g. means to make undead temporarily susceptible to mind-affecting effects, dive into the mind of a corpse and rewind their memories. There are some seriously cool high-fantasy detective tools here, crystalline caltrops, energy torrents, etc. – it’s an interesting PrC, with the implements potentially interesting beyond the confines of the PrC.

Blackblade Breakers require a residuum pool, d1ß HD, full BAB-progression, ½ Fort- and Will-save progression and 4 + Int skills per level. This fellow is essentially a fellow specialized in defeating shadow-users. A solid little PrC, if not one that’s blow you away. Dreamsealers get d8 HD, 2 + Int skills, ¾ BAB-progression, full progression for spells/powers from two sources: These are interesting, in that they are psionic/psychic healers that can temporarily shut wounds via dreamseals – these instead act as temporary hit points, but are accompanied by essentially minor evolution packages, as the power of the dreamseal sports lesser metamorphosis/metamorphosis. Additionally, higher levels offer location-swaps, and yes, there are limits in place. This fellow is super-.interesting, and actually one of the PrCs I’ll be using. Kudos! The Eye of the Storm similarly has dual source full progression, ½ BAB- and Will-save progression, d6 HD, 2+Int skills per level. Either psychic or akin to the wilder, these beings may designate binder, casters, manifesters, etc. and roll a die, chaotically influencing their powers. Add primal magic events, and we have an interesting chaos-supporter.

The gyreblade gets full BAB-progression, ½ Fort- and Will-save progression, 8 levels of dual-source spell/power progression, 4 + Int skills per level. This class essentially fuses two manifested or summoned weapons – one is the flow, one the riptide; this lets e.g. a soulknife act as a transmutation occult implement or vessel for a kinetic blade infusion. And yes, this is kept in check, and the PrC comes with its own talent array: Verdant blade, shadow blade, shadow assassin, vital blade, etc. – there are plenty of lesser known class options that may be fused thus. This is wide open, and potentially interesting, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily a compelling one for most tables.

The shadowed packmaster gets full dual-source progression, ½ BAB- and Will-save progression, d6 HD and 2 + Int skill per level. This one is interesting, as it lets you undersummon creatures/astral constructs by expending other spells/power to create additional shadow creatures at decreased reality; higher levels add additional critters, though the table nets an additional increase at 9th level, which is not noted in the rules-text. That being said, there is some seriously cool stuff going on here, as these shadow beings may be expressed by the opposite element – acidic earth beings causing electricity damage and having the air subtype, for example. Furthermore, we have Astral Construct augment menus for these.

The souldancer gets 3/4 –BAB-progression, ½ Will-save progression, 8/10 manifester progression, d8 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, and it’s once more an interesting one – it’s a PrC focused on possession as an angle. Tribeminds get d8 HD, ½ Will-save progression, 2 + Int skills per level…and here we have the PrC that further expands upon the Liminal Self-based engine, creating a great class for solo-games, jack-of-all-trades-fans, etc. – this is a potent fellow, but once more an interesting and fun option. The trinity mage has a ½ BAB- and Will-save progression, 2 + Int skills per level – and its progression of spells/powers/etc. is kinda interesting, as the PrC is contingent on the notion of heavy multiclassing with three different power-sources as such alternating between progressions. The PrC gets trinity points, and so-called sequences, which grant benefits for varied source-resolution; essentially, the PrC provides options that make a thoroughly subpar choice interesting and play differently. They are potent, but they have to be potent to account for the dispersal of focus. This is an extremely tough design and acts as a kind of magic combo-system. Big kudos for this one, in spite of some minor rough spots.

The pdf then proceeds to provide some advice for campaigns tapping into luminal themes, as well as two new psionic powers, one of which is a shadow-based Astral Construct ability grant, and the second lets you manifest the luminal self and interacts with the feat. The pdf also features three astral construct menus and the metamorphosis stuff for reference.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, but the pdf does feature a couple of typos…and on a rules-language level, the book often manages to execute super-complex operations, but also stumbles a few times in ways that influence mechanical integrity. I seriously wished that a strict and nitpicky editor had gone through this with a fine-toothed comb. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the pdf features some seriously nice full-color artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Christen N. Sowards’ love for Pathfinder 1 is readily apparent here, particularly for all the amazing things that the third party community has brought to the game. There are a ton of top tier complex multiclassing/overlapping options herein, allowing you to blend a vast variety of different options. As in all of his designs, it’s definitely “go big or go home” regarding themes. While there are problematic aspects herein, they never ever are boring. They almost always do something unique and creative. Even after all these years of PF1. That’s a serious achievement. Additionally, there is an undercurrent here – there are parts that aren’t great, yes. But there also are components that I genuinely consider to be genius. That seriously warrant getting this book – at least for me.

But what about you? Well, how many 3pp-resources are you using? If the answer is “a lot”, then chances are that this one will add some serious oomph to your game. The pdf provides quite a few potent options and requires some serious mastery of the Pathfinder 1 system – this book obviously is intended for veterans of Pathfinder 1, and frankly, it made me seriously ponder how to integrate its some of its content into my games – something that rarely happens anymore, because I just have so much. At its weakest, this book feels like an excellent first draft of a book, with quality oscillating from “almost perfect and inspiring” to “should go back to the drawing board for minor refinement before it’s fully functional/cool.” Honestly, I could warrant rating this as low as 3 stars for what it is – a mixed bag with brilliant highlights, but also some pretty nasty lows. Do not flat-out allow the entire book; the balancing is not always consistent, though in parts, this is system-immanently due to the vast amount of sources and crossovers herein.

That being said, let’s take the target audience into account; hardcore PF 1 fans with a ton of experience with 3pp-material. And this demographic? At this point, I think you fine people are system-savvy enough to iron off the rough patches and use this book as intended. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars, courtesy of the imaginative components and strength of the book’s visions. Quite a few components herein would be seal of approval level, but as a whole, this is as high as I can justify. Still, if you’re a PF1 grognard or simply a fan of novel things done with a d20-based engine, then give this a try. Chances are you’ll find something that’ll blow your mind.

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

Night City is a 184-page sourcebook, with two pages devoted to interior cover/editorial/TOC, leaving us with a mighty 182 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book in exchange for a fair review. I am going to break my usual format big time in this review, so a few things: The book features b/w-artworks and maps, two-column standard, and the layout is great. The print copy is a softcover, and ridiculously inexpensive for the amount of content provided.

So, first things first – this book is pretty rules-lite: While there are fully statted NPCs herein alongside encounter suggestions/hooks/random encounters, the majority of this book is a sourcebook – one, as you open the pages, chock full with maps. Most of these are isometric, namely the ones for the city blocks; when e.g. maps of other environments are concerned, like Mallplexes etc., we instead have the traditional top-down view. The maps also includes some blank maps sans keys, so you can use those to design your own neighborhoods.

…you don’t care particularly about that, right? Okay, so, Night City is a city that never was (in our world), but something odd has happened in the time since 1991, when this book was released. Let me go on a brief tangent: When I first read 1984, I was but a kid, but even back then, the Orwellian nightmare depicted seemed cartoonish to me, a recipe for a steady flux of revolts and rebellions. When, not long after, I read “Brave New World”, I was utterly horrified by Huxley’s vision; if you’re not familiar with the vision – think about replacing soma, the wonder-drug and control mechanism in the book with media, and you’ll have some frightening. His theory of control for ruling classes requiring the consent of masses, which would need sedation, being divided, crucial information lost in a flood of irrelevant drivel with clever propaganda…whenever I see the sheer amount of adorable puppy/kitten-videos on youtube, something within me quakes and shivers…because I love them as well, and because I very much realize how successful these strategies are. As an aside: There btw. is an informative interview from 1958 with the man on youtube.

What does that have to do with Night City? Well, more than any other RPG-book I’ve read, it feels prophetic. When it was released, not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, many of its visions were dystopian…where today, I’d consider the city depicted herein more of an allotopia, an alternate version of our world, that is at once worse and better than ours.

In a way, cyberpunk as a genre is always about the anxiety of being shoehorned into a system; more than in any other literary genre, the “punk” aspect, the anxiety regarding Randian visions and corporate oligarchies very much are central leitmotifs for the genre, whereas aesthetically, cyberpunk often is a kind of retro-science fiction; in the case of the 1980s and early 90s, a genre about the feat of lack of corporate accountability, loss of privacy, dehumanizing technology, a society bursting apart into classes, deeply divided by a stream of electronic diversions that help us cope with a dog-eat-dog world where empathy is a luxury few can afford. All the surveillance via cred-chips and on the respective internet substitutions? Don’t they pale in comparison to what big data companies, facebook, google, etc. can do?

In a way, to modern, 21st century aesthetics, cyberpunk-themes, like its aesthetics, are starker, clearer – neon glow and black trenchcoats, a(n un-) healthy dose of ultraviolence…edgerunners/shadowrunners vs. corporate/”the man”…but is it actually more dystopian that internet lynchmobs driving people to commit suicide based on allegations? Is it more frightening than the decentralized social media-powered mob-rule, the conflict between ideologies and news spun in various ways, obscuring any semblance of a reliable narrative? In many ways, Cyberpunk’s aesthetics have developed from a frightening dystopia to something I genuinely considered to be less frightening than the realities we all face on a daily basis; it now feels like an alternate reality.

And here is the genius of Night City. Many old science-fiction scenarios or cyberpunk books suffer from technological advances outpacing their predictions in many ways we consider to be important, while excessively exaggerating others. In a way, Night City manages to be different, but hits the mark remarkably well – and this is due to clever writing that genuinely deserves being called “prophetic” in many ways, it’s this aspect that keeps this book relevant, that is responsible for the tome aging so ridiculously well.

What do I mean by this? Well, for once, the presentation is actually better than that of most contemporary sourcebooks, regardless of game: From the get-go, a central conceit is maintained that must have been so audacious, so far-out, that it’s a testament to the design-team’s skill and vision that they managed to pull it off: Night City is presented, as a series of dataterm entries, as a kind of online travelling guide/wiki/related series of articles – information that, if you replace dataterms with smartphones, mirrors frighteningly our own realities: We begin with the tourist board of sorts, cheerfully written in a manner that mirrors perfectly the luring and compelling tone that we’ve come to expect from tourist sites “Come visit XYZ!”” Sidebars that state “See also pg. XYZ” also provide an illusion of hyperlinks of sorts that furthermore enhances the ease of use of the book as a physical artifact.

Once you’ve consumed the basics about a region, what do you do? Bingo, you check out the maps of the region – and the supplement predicts in many ways how google maps operates: From state maps to maps of airports with dates of departure and arrival noted, to whole quarters, including ratings and comments on restaurants, bars and similar establishments, the book is utterly uncanny in the precision of its predictions, as well as in the sheer amount of detail presented.

In fact, and this may be construed to be a peculiar irony, it is the punk aspect that feels most fantastic – regarding the breakdowns of the gangs, for example, the augmentation-heavy gangs bordering on cyberpsychosis are the more fantastic, whereas the ones that follow more subdued themes can be considered to, once again, be uncanny: What about, for example, the gang called “bozos”, who are essentially Jokers from Batman beyond – or more violent antecedents of the phenomena of the Insane Clown Posse or the relatively recent horrorclown-hysteria? What about the Philharmonic Vampyres, a prankster gang/social activists that blend randomness and activism? They sound a lot like the Anonymous movement to me. Or, if you recall the 80s and 90s, what about the voodoo boys, an academic gang of essentially drug-selling posers? Their write-up reads like a delightfully scathing commentary on cultural appropriation running rampant during that age, with gang membership so hilariously over the top (bone through septum, for example…) in their ridiculousness, it’s hard not to chuckle.

Regarding ecology, Cyberpunk’s world may be less bad off than ours, or worse, depending on whether you believe that we’ve already doomed our planet with men-wrought climate change, or still have a chance to save it. We might not have the more garish and punk acid rain and poisonous smog (at least not in the same extent), but yeah – in that manner, the game is more extreme in its predictions…or is it? If you e.g. look up the issues in Ulan Bator, for example, one can’t help but wonder…It may not be as flashy as in Cyberpunk…but are we perhaps worse off than this dystopia?

So yeah, there is this whole angle where the book gets things right very often – but that alone would not suffice to make for a compelling sourcebook. You see, beyond the uncanny accuracy regarding themes, the book excels in how consequently it is devoted to even the most minute detail of its conceit. A sober guide to travelling to the US is included “telling it as it is”, in a voice less unreliable than the “Come to Night City”-propaganda. See how the whole Brave New World comparison comes full circle? We get threat levels and codes, reminiscent of police information; we get information on where and how people atop a certain social strata live; how Movers live a life inside the corporate hamster-wheel, not unlike the hollow existence of a certain Mr. Bateman, minus the murder. In most cases.

Then again, this is a gaming supplement, and gaming supplements, in one way or another, as supposed to generate a sense of fun, correct? Night City is not a dry reading experience – indeed, while I can’t ascertain this, I wholeheartedly believe that the over the top aspects of the “punk”-component, have, even back n the day, been consciously written that way, for the book ften dives into the at times scathing, at times hilarious territory of satire (hence the American Psycho reference above).

There are generally two types of satire; those in the tradition of Juvenal are supposed to break the individual, ideally make them (or aspects of their persona) cease to exist, while those of Horaz generally seek to redeem the target; Juvenal is scathing and destructive, and one could argue that e.g. the verbal duels in contemporary battle rap could be seen as the heirs of Juvenal, this book is more indebted to Horaz (Horace for English native speakers) in didactic strategies. For example, many of the more exaggerated aspects can easily be read as deliberately extreme forms of hyperbole. I mean, think about it: Combat taxis where you, as the ad in the book proposes, “leave the fighting to us” may exist in Cyberpunk, but what about really bad neighborhoods where no taxis drive? You’ll find that grizzled Uber/Lyft-driver who won’t flinch going there, probably with a handgun or a bigger caliber in the trunk. Are the two worlds really so different? Did I mention the right for disabled people to destroy vehicles parking in their designated spaces, including a signpost showing a person in a wheelchair with a big gun?

If your IQ is in the triple-digits, and I assume that to be the case, courtesy of you reading roleplaying games supplements, you’ll be gently nudged towards plenty of thoughts like this while reading this book. In a way, Night City has transformed over the years and, odd as that may seem, gained layers of meaning instead of losing them. Night City never is just a misery-filled, grimdark cultural pessimism; I was trying to watch “The Purge” while reading this book (I need multiple media to keep my mind busy and focused – overstimulated much? Guilty as charged. That, or I have some sort of neurological anomaly…), and I failed to derive any enjoyment from its ham-fisted attempts at social commentary. It is quite remarkable, then, that a humble RPG-book from the early 90s managed to present a more plausible and nuanced allotopia than basically a contemporary production with a budget infinitely beyond this book. Night City never becomes an exercise in Weltschmerz, it never becomes depressing, and remains nuanced, and plausible to a ridiculous extent.

Case in point: While writing this review, I was researching cities and routes in the US for a little journey…and in the aftermath, there was an uncanny effect – I almost thought I’d find Night City somewhere on the Californian map; not consciously, mind you, but I caught my eyes glancing towards the region where the NorCal/SoCal border is in Cyberpunk. In a way, the book’s structure and almost obsessive attention to even small details in a given city’s block generates an experience not unlike the one I had researching e.g. San Francisco or Seattle, the feeling of loading up on information before getting somewhere, and the sense that you can *feel* the character of a place before getting there.

In a way, Night City is many things – a ridiculously and lavishly detailed sourcebook full of handy maps; a great satire that manages to get its points across without coming off as talking down to the reader, an allotopia – and it’s a great piece of literature. In fact, it’s one of the few RPG-supplements that I’d genuinely recommend to get just for the sheer joy of reading it. Yes, that compelling.

Mike Pondsmith, Ed Bolme, Sam Shirley, Anders Swensen, Colin Fisk, Will Moss, John Smith, Mike Mac Donald and Lisa Pondsmith have penned an all time classic, a book that is at once educational and entertaining, that does not jam an ideology down your throat, but that can and will prompt contemplation on a wide variety of topics. In a way, it is a book we might well need in these times, where plenty of individuals and institutions benefit from generating divisions instead of emphasizing things we have in common. In a way, this is a book that may well be more relevant today than when it was originally released. How many books can claim that? 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my “Best of”-tag and should be considered to be an EZG Essential. If you’re a roleplayer living in these troubling times, consider picking this up. Sit down with your beverage of choice, put on some synthwave (I am partial to Keygen Chrurch, GosT and Perturbator, myself) and read. Think. And then think about how even the exaggerated behavior patterns in Cyberpunk are influencing us. You might well come out as a happier and more open-minded person. And even if you don’t, you’ll have read one of the most detailed, lavish sourcebooks ever penned for the cyberpunk genre, not only the Cyberpunk 2020-game.

Endzeitgeist out.


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Part II of my review:

Speaking of love: The rogue is awesome. They can use their key ability score. Oh, and combat-relevant skill-based tricks. This may well be the best rogue that has ever been; from swashbuckler to street thugs, the new class encompasses a super wide-variety of concepts. And yes, there is a means to get Dex to damage from the get-go. Or play a Strength-based brute. This may be the coolest class herein. While we’re talking scoundrels: The bard is now the designated full-caster for the occult tradition, and as such, most builds of the bard will want to stay out of melee...unless (!!) skilled for melee and/or multiclassed. Multiclassing with Pathfinder’s second edition is a much smoother experience, and tends to generate valid builds. I have tested the system rather extensively, but it is in the nature of the game that some weaknesses may come to light there – for now, multiclassing is much more viable and generally makes the need for e.g. a magus class debatable.

The alchemist, heavily revised during playtest, and traditionally one of my favorite classes, has been improved regarding its balance…for the most part. It’s best to think about them as item-based casters now, which brings me to a pretty hefty problem for them, one that I believe should be rectified sooner, rather than later: Their equipment is heavy. Alchemist’s tools have a Bulk of 2 alone. Formula book? Bulk 1. I am not a fan of this, but yeah. While we’re on the subject of items, the book does feature starting packages by class (YEAH!) and item traits, such as being flexible, or specializations, make them matter more: Leather armor nets resistance to bludgeoning damage, plate for slashing weapons, etc. – and these can scale with magic. Weaponry similarly matters more – agile weapons will, for example, be your go-to weapon for off-hand attacks, as they reduce the penalty for multiple attacks. Deadly weapons increase their damage by the indicated die size on critical hits, etc. – in short: Weapon choice matters more. At this point, I should also mention that I welcome the implementation of a silver standard and less bloated prices – shear off a zero from most PF1 prices, and you’ll have a rough idea. Weapons have changed, btw. – striking runes increase damage dice, potency the to hit – so the system is different from the PF Playtest iteration.

Now, I have, apart from my initial observations regarding proficiencies not really touched upon skills, and this is because they are quite a bit more prescriptive and loose at the same time, if that makes any sense. Each skill lists a variety of different things you can do with, with certain skill uses, somewhat like skill unlocks, being locked behind a minimum proficiency. And then, there are the skill feats – these allow for differentiation between different users of the same skill: You’re trained in Acrobatics? Well, do you want the Cat Fall or the Steady Balance feat? You can take both, but that’ll be an additional feat slot. The skills are also relevant and require some close reading, because combat maneuvers now tend to be executed with skills, and because the skills explicitly note their actions. Skills with the Attack descriptor count as an attack, and thus forcing stuff open or grappling does mean that you incur penalties when attacking after using a skill this way. Grapple is streamlined, simple and based on Athletics, in case you were wondering. Oh, and something I loved: Medicine, Heal’s successor, is now, with the proper skill feats in tow, sufficiently efficient to make a character who invested in it the primary healer. Sans magic. That is great news. As a side-note, because it’s easy to overlook: You can take skill feats instead of general feats!

Ah, feats. As much as I generally like what Pathfinder’s second edition does, I can’t get past the fact that everything is feats now. Ancestry feats, class feats, skill feats, general feats, etc. Yes, PF1’s talent-based classes also had quasi-feats, but there was some psychological trick going on there. If you chose first feats, then talents, it felt like different tasks. Whereas now, you choose feats, and then more feats…and some more feats for good measure. I think this isn’t that clever, as using the same word to denote all of them implies a parity in power between the different groups that simply is not there. That being said, I found myself not minding the flood of feats as much as in PF Playtest, because both feats and classes have changed to allow for more diversification, and feel and play less uniform. PF Playtest had sanded off too much, and now we get more stuff that is not feats. From a design-perspective, this may be the biggest incision in Pathfinder’s second edition – before, you could relatively easily wrap complex changes to the base-engine in one massive package. Eliminate ability x here, grant z and y there. Individually, z and y may have been weaker than x, but with progression gain variance and the like, there was a lot to tinker with, also courtesy to Pathfinder 1st edition’s pretty loose math.

For Pathfinder’s second edition, I predict design to be more limited in scope, and harder to balance as a whole – I firmly believe that it is harder to design class options, etc. for this game, and that it will require deeper understanding, because the modularity is there, but it’s pretty much mostly in the fine-grained aspects of the game. Class hacks will require some serious checking. This tightly-wound math can also be observed in the spellcasting engine.

Pathfinder’s second edition utilizes essentially an “At Higher levels.” Option, here called “Heightened” – save that it works in two distinct ways – there are heightening effects that apply per spell level above the spell’s usual spell level, and thresholds of sort: Say, a fireball increases damage per spell level, but another spell may have a distinct an alternate/modified second use at 3 spellslots higher, but only that means of heightening it. I like this. It provides a lot of design flexibility in that regard. However, it also means that one has to carefully check the existing material, particularly the cantrips, which are now super strong and something you’ll be casting a lot – they scale automatically over the levels. There also are Focus spells, which can’t be prepared per se and instead use a Focus point pool that may be slowly replenished. These Focus Point pools are tracked by source – you can have multiple pools. I’ve already mentioned traditions. Spellcasting ties in with the action economy – as you probably know, you have three actions per round, and each aspect of casting (verbal, somatic, material) translates to one action. However, there are exceptions: Heal, for example, can be cast as one action (range touch), 2 actions (range 30 ft.) or three actions (AoE 30-foot emanation). I really like this. The spell descriptors also allow for pretty simple customization, and the formatting is quick and simple to parse. The game has a concentration-like mechanic akin to 5e, with sustained spells. Some notes: Spells don’t properly specify what material components they use. It’s just a small flavor thing, but having “material” in the component line without an actual, you know, material, makes the spells slightly less magical, slightly more sterile to me. Secondly, unless specified by the spell, touch spells no longer require an attack roll.

Now, I’ve danced around this for the longest time, so let’s come to what indubitably, at least for me, is the most important aspect of the system: The action system. Yes, I like the system of having 3 actions and the reaction. I LOVE how the encounter mode (i.e. combat) now specifies EVERYTHING. Crawl? Check. Interact? Check. Leap? Check. Release, Ready, Seek , Step? All there. The base engine has been improved in a VAST manner. No longer x different actions for x different modifications. Interact. Boom. There. Done. As an aside: Raising a shield costs one of these actions, which is an apt cost for the awesome defensive power this often maligned item-class finally grants.

This system has far-ranging implications:

It makes running combat with exciting terrain etc. easier; it allows for the combination of puzzles, versatile battle-fields, etc. with the game, and from grabbing an edge to Pointing targets out, the system is smooth as silk. I ADORE IT. It’s the best thing about the whole system. What it means? It means that there is no more excuse for boring trade-blows combats; no more excuses for not having tilting arenas, complex rituals, fights atop vast planetariums, etc. This system is both a boon for the GM and an obligation for adventure Writers – if you can’t make combat exciting with this, then you should seriously reconsider. More so than in any other system, this practically demands complex and versatile encounters. I hope we’ll get what this promises. For me, how well this is utilized will make or break the game, because no other game I know manages to blend tactical components with a concise base frame-work that still is wide open as well as this one does. This system will have to account, in a way, for the limitations that have been imposed on the character capability side of things, courtesy of the incisions in skill utility. SO yeah, the base combat action system is a thing of pure beauty. I love it.

There is one rules component that I do NOT like within the core chassis of the game. Dying. In short, Pathfinder second edition is pretty softcore. When reduced below 0 HP, you get dying 1, and then you proceed on this weird recovery roll mini-game, where you can gain or lose up to two steps of dying, plus any incurred from the wounded condition. The rules here are so convoluted and sucky in their presentation that I had to read the rules (which are per se dead simple!) 4 (!!!) frickin’ times to finally grasp it. Sequence of information, explanation – the rules are easy, but how they are explained? Totally bassackwards and as convoluted as can be to me. This is particularly annoying since the “wounded” condition is a per se good idea. It simulates being wounded in a meaningful manner and can generate some tension. The thing is that the presentation of this whole rules-complex feels odd, curiously unrefined in comparison with the rest of the book.

There is another thing I consider a blemish, but to a lesser degree in the overall shape of things.

I HATE that two of the most common things you’ll be doing are called “Strike” and “Stride” – they sound too much alike. What did you do? “I stri.*mumbles/eats chips/drinks Dew, etc..” “What?” “I attack!” – just dumb. Additionally, to me,  “Stride” does not elicit a notion of walking in battle.

Know what “stride” evokes for me?

The image that inevitably pops up in my head, including soundtrack?

Zoolander.

Some model guy or gal, totally over the top and pseudo-aesthetic, striding and strutting along on the catwalk in a hilarious manner. Whenever someone says “I Stride…” I picture them Zoolander-ing towards the enemy, hips swaying, weaponry whipping to-and-fro, potentially including a duck-face.

This, to me, breaks all immersion and heroic momentum. To the point where I will BAN the use of “Stride” as a designation of the movement in combat in my game. I Move. Done. I get why this was done. “Move” can mean more things, but why not “March”? It’s still ridiculous, but at least it’s got the martial component. Unlike “Stride” – which also just now reminded me of an asinine, bubbly poprock-song. Blergh. The justification for using a word exclusively for the action also falls flat when doing a quick search of the book and realizing that there are instances where “Strike”, for example, is used in a capacity where it does not pertain to the action.

Exploration mode’s explanation mode could have been a bit tighter in how it’s explained – but THANKFULLY it’s no longer as annoying as PF Playtest – it’s more free-form, and same goes for Downtime mode.

The second system I like would to highlight as an improvement over PF Playtest would be the magic items – resonance is gone, and while I was one the guys who liked the notion, if not the implementation of resonance – this is, in a way, handled with invest an Item – a limited action, and activation is similarly well covered. Magic items are pretty much what you’d expect. Hero points are now core, and net a reroll, and can automatically make you get back up from dying. Good call. The streamlining and how things work also extends to magic items – once you’ve understood how spells work, you get how items work. You get how everything works. The entry barrier to understand the system is low, to master it? Higher!  (And this is good!) This also extends to GMs – flip open pages 503-504, and there you have the sample DCs by level. The condition list is also comprehensive (though staggered is gone!), and I like the doomed condition, which a clever GM can use to get rid of the dying-rules stuff. The game also provides a massive glossary.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard and the book features a lot of cool full-color artwork. For the most-part, I love the information presentation, with the asinine class tables text-walls and the dying condition explanation being two of the few examples where the presentation isn’t as good as it should be. Usability and accessibility of the material has improved in HUGE steps. I can’t comment on the physical book, since I don’t own it yet. The book’s pdf-version comes fully bookmarked and with a version where each of the chapters comes as a separate pdf as well. Most importantly: This reads like a GAME. Not like a programming manual. Even with my background in IT, I had no fun with PF Playtest’s book; I very much enjoyed this one. So yeah, on a formal level, this succeeds at things where I had pegged it for abject failure after the Playtest core rules.

Let me reiterate: This work of game designers Logan Bonner, Jason Bulmahn, Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Mark Seifter, with additional writing by James Jacobs, and Adam Daigle, Lyz Liddell and Erik Mona as developers, is more than I had hoped it’d be. MUCH MORE.

Pathfinder Playtest did not work for me; this does.

There are plenty of reasons for that: From the classes feeling less uniform to the presentation being less sterile to a ton of small choices throughout, this is a far superior book, and I certainly wished I had this on my shelf instead of the Playtest manual. ;) That’s a good thing.

That being said, there is one thing you need to know: Pathfinder second edition is very much a game of choices and builds, but compared to Pathfinder’s first edition, the choices happen on the individual level. With the exception of a couple of class feat trees, all relevant choices happen on the small scale. In a way, the design space to make characters seems both more varied in the small tidbits and via multiclassing, but also less open than in Pathfinder’s 1st edition. I could rattle off a whole array of builds I can’t realize with the game, at least not yet. And as a designer, I can see design space as being less open. Take a look at polymorph spells and their options, and you’ll realize what I mean. The math is tight…and some of the leeway that the previous system granted is simply not there anymore. The result is a more streamlined experience, which probably is a good thing for most tables and for organized play in particular. At the same time, it does make me slightly sad.

On the character side, this game does, at least so far, not exactly blow me away. It’s not a train-wreck, and it certainly provides more options than e.g. D&D 5e does, but I’m not sure it will have the same excessive character-building staying power as Pathfinder 1st edition. Particularly regarding the skill-section, which takes a lot of things that were previously widely available and locks them up behind skill feats, which, combined with the limited benefits bestowed by proficiency and the comparable importance of ability score modifiers, makes this part of the system feel the most underwhelming to me. If you expect this grand strength of Pathfinder’s first edition to resurface, you might be disappointed. This is a very different game, and I can see groups playing both systems and telling vastly different stories with them. Do not expect any backwards compatibility regarding the type of story you tell, or their flow.

On the plus-side, the streamlined combat action system and the universally applied chassis that tightly codifies spells and items, and PF2’s tightly-codified encounter mode array also mean that I dare to hope for the most exciting modules ever penned for a d20-based game. Scratch that. I expect to see them. This system leaves no excuse for lazy “you walk into an invisible damage line”-traps, no excuse for boring “fight two orcs in a corridor” standard-BS. I very much want to complete rituals while holding off hordes of foes, seal portals, activate complex mechanisms while in a gigantic clockwork of whirling gears, and I want to interact with a ton of weird features, hazards and traps. PF2’s mighty core encounter engine demands being used. And I really, really want to see it, because, if handled properly, the engine can account for things that no other RPG does this well. In this component, Pathfinder second edition is king.

Pathfinder’s second edition, much to my surprise, turned out to be the game I had hoped for, but did not expect to get. In a way, I am glad that Paizo went through this tome after the disillusioning playtest, and changed language and as much as they did. This is a vastly superior game, and one that makes me confident once more for the future of this new, radically different Pathfinder.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I *still* don’t like the goblin as a core race. I am *still* not sold on the ranger’s viability in long-term play. I’m *still* not happy with the “everything is feats”-angle.

But, in spite of all my complaints and nitpicking, I do consider this to be an exceedingly well-designed, and more importantly, fun, game. It is a different game than I expected, with different strengths and weaknesses. But its massive strengths do shine rather brightly. One could say, it Strides, with swaying hips, into the limelight, and it’s beautiful to look at.

Whether it can retain its longevity will be contingent on how player options evolve, and the quality of the adventures and how well they manage to realize the game’s strengths. The one thing for certain at this point, is that it will evolve in a different manner than Pathfinder’s first edition did.

This is a completely distinct game, and just because you liked Pathfinder’s first edition does not means you’ll like this one – and vice versa: If you hated Pathfinder’s first edition, you might well love the second edition!

Final verdict. Oh, so, this is difficult for me. I can see this system excel, and there are components of it that I indubitably consider superior to all of its competitors. At the same time, it does have a couple of aspects that rub me the wrong way, from the aforementioned to the lack of a global reaction (why not make Aid Another that?), which results in Attack of Opportunity being used to explain reactions. Why is this problematic? Only very few characters have even the option to execute attacks of opportunity anymore, when they previously were globally available! Unless I botched big time, the book does not feature a single reaction that everyone can use, so something had to be chosen…but why this one? Anyways, slinking too far back down into the murk of details.

As a whole, I consider Pathfinder’s second edition to be a success. In some aspects, it shines like a radiant gem, while in others, it has some blemishes, at least to my sensibilities. Still, in many of its components, it is a success, and more of a success than Pathfinder’s first edition core book ever was. So, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo – at least for now, as I watch it Stride boldly forward into a new age… and try not to giggle.

Snark aside, great game, I’m looking forward to seeing how Paizo and the 3pps out there will polish and evolve it further down the line. Particularly in the adventure/terrain/hazard-department, I expect great things indeed!

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive game clocks in at 606 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 7 pages of SRD, 8 pages of helpful index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 585 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So before we dive into what this book is, and what it isn’t, let’s recap: Pathfinder Playtest very much defined that Pathfinder Second Edition would feel like a radically different game in many ways; as you have probably noticed, Pathfinder Playtest left me hopeful, but also filled with quite a lot of trepidation, and to say that I was ecstatic would be simply false. I am currently in the process of analyzing Pathfinder’s Second Edition, and I can say two things for sure: 1) It is a better game than Pathfinder Playtest in many regards. 2) It is a very different game from Pathfinder’s first edition.

This stark difference between systems offers chances, but also means that the game focuses on something else in many ways. Enter Porphyra RPG.
Purple Duck Games’ Porphyra RPG, in many ways, behaves to Pathfinder’s first edition in a way that Pathfinder’s first edition acted in comparison to D&D 3.X – in presents a conservative refinement of the content of the system we’ve learned and loved for years. Much like Pathfinder’s first edition, it presents a series of changes, but as a whole, you can use the material for Pathfinder’s first edition without any issues in the context of a Porphyra RPG game. Somewhat like you can use e.g. OSRIC-material in a B/X-game. Sure, there will be some minor differences and aesthetics at play here, but where Pathfinder Second Edition opted for a new start, this instead represents a kind of progression for the game. As such, Porphyra RPG begins in a surprisingly smart and concise way – it briefly explains what an RPG is, and then presents rules conventions – it explains the core building blocks of its system, the minimum vocabulary, if you will, on one page – which also highlights several changes of the system. This page both serves as a recap for veterans and a helpful introduction for newbies – I like this, as it, among other things, explicitly explains the difference between caster and character level, for example. Similarly, descriptors are properly defined.

Ability penalties can never reduce a score below one; got that; things become more tight in the instance where the game explains saving throw defaults, spellcasting modifiers, etc. Similarly, halving/rounding up is covered; the game explains how its bonuses stack, and does something different here: Untyped modifiers and modifiers with different names add together – they stack. If you have two modifiers of the same name, only the greater of the two is used. This is particularly important for e.g. dodge bonuses and how builds based on them for defense are used. A second and pretty important difference would be the caster check – this is a d20 + caster level + spellcasting ability modifier. These are used BOTH as spell attack rolls, AND to bypass SR – in short, they have streamlined this process. Much like CMB/CMD, this is an aspect that will have to grow, and it is one where backwards compatibility with PF1 might present some rough spots: Touch AC does not exist anymore per se, which means that a full casters behave like a full BAB class when attacking with spells, making such options, balanced for use with ¾ BAB or ½ BAB-classes, something that requires oversight. So yeah, we have a pretty significant component that has changed here.

After these basics, we are talked through the process of making a character – traits have now been hard-coded into the basic character creation framework, but do remain an optional step. Ability score modifiers, bonus spells per day by spell level, etc. – all listed. Each of the ability scores provides a summary of what the ability score influences and modifies. This, once more, makes “getting” the game pretty easy.

Now Porphyra has a pretty rich lore, and this book touch upon a few choice, relevant pieces of lore before the race section – this information is carefully curated, and once more, smart, as it provides a small baseline and context, without throwing an info-dump on the reader; neither does this lock you into Porphyra per se as a setting. (Though I do genuinely encourage you to take a look at the patchwork planet!) The races presented here would be the Anpur (jackal folk), the dragonblooded (think of mighty human-like beings with magical blood), dwarves, elves, orcs, half-humans (yes, you can be a half-gnome or half-dwarf), erkunae (Cult at this point!), eventual (those with inevitable bloodlines), orcam (orca-folk; purely aesthetic nitpick – their ability scores are listed as the abbreviations, like “+2 Str” instead of “+2 Strength”, like the others) and zendiqi (Porphyr’s xenophobic natives, sworn to the elemental lords). Balance-wise, I was positively surprised by this chapter, as its different races are not only chosen with an eye towards cool creatures, but also sport a great blending of the strange and familiar. The different races also check out regarding their respective power-levels, offering a nice, yet potent baseline.

The section also highlights a series of different changes of the game: Darkvision lets you see in darkness and low-light areas sans penalty – there is no more range. Low-light vision works as before. You can also see ability score abbreviations in brackets behind some abilities – if e.g. a racial ability nets you a spell-like ability, it might state “(Cha)” behind its name – this designates it as being based on Charisma. Not all abilities have such a tag – it shows up when a spellcasting ability modifier is relevant. This is an elegant solution, as far as I’m concerned. There is another pretty important component – with some few exceptions (probably oversights), spell-like abilities and spells in the rules text are no longer printed in italics. I get how this makes formatting easier for a small publisher like Purple Duck Games, but it’s the first choice I am genuinely not a huge fan of, as it renders the parsing of information slightly harder.

The game then proceeds to explain different classes – these are called “Heroic Classes”, and from Hit Dice to skills to tables, all the little bits are explained. Class ability saving throws are also defaulted – 10 +1/2 class level + the respective key ability modifier. The game presents two HUGE improvements, as far as I’m concerned. 1) Iterative attacks suck less. At BAB +6, you get a second attack at +1. At BAB +11, however, you get another attack at full BAB, and one at -5 (+11/+11/+6); at BAB +16, you get a second attack at -5. (+16/+16/+11/+11). This keeps the iterative attacks at high levels relevant. You do not gain iterative attacks if using a mixture of natural and manufactured weapons or unarmed strikes.

The second major factor that changed is tied to magic – first of all, there is no difference between divine and arcane magic. The separation is gone. Spell lists are based on descriptors. These are both permissive and prescriptive – that is, they lists specify the descriptors that you HAVE access to, but also those that you NEVER have access to. If a spell on a list has a descriptor called out, and another not called out, you have the spell; however, if your class specifies that you NEVER have access to a descriptor, you also don’t have access to any spells featuring that descriptor, regardless of how many other descriptors you get the spell might have. Once more, this is imho a pretty elegant solution, and one that lets you use descriptors to make classes feature distinct identities without constantly requiring the reassessment of different spells, expansion of spell lists, etc. Spells also are grouped in three classes – simple spells are widely known; complex spells can’t even be mimicked by nonspellcasters, and exotic spells are often unique, nigh unknown, personal or signature spells – once more allowing for nuanced world/magic-building. IN a way, this takes two smart strategies of Pathfinder Second Edition and Arcana Evolved for a nice combination. In case you were wondering: Concentration is handled by caster checks as well, and the explanation of different spell baselines also includes a clearly presented hierarchy of items affected by spells targeting . I love this.

But back to the heroic classes – we have arcane archer and eldritch knight, as well as stalwart defender and wizard. Rogue, slayer, fighter etc. are provided. Among the classics, we have the fighter gaining a Stamina pool, combat tricks, etc.; rogues get additional sneak attack benefits; the classes have been changed to represent the design-aesthetics of unchained classes, with a variety of valid choices. This also is represented by other classes – like clerics, whose gods now actually (THANKFULLY!) have their ethos and require compliance with them. Deity and faith influence proficiency, domains, etc. Champions also show up – think of these as alignment-less paladins; if you know Arcana Evolved, you’ll get the idea of being a champion of a people, of a person, etc. – I liked this one as well. The rather impressive Assassin of Porphyra class has also been brought to the fold here, differentiated by the rogue getting e.g. skill unlocks. And yes, a stalwart defender is included. A big plus would be the inclusion of starting packages to choose from. This quickens introduction of new characters and helps newer players.

After choosing traits (massive selection provided, with bonus types properly codified), we move on to character advancement – and a quick glance shows us that the XPs required have been shrunk: The advancement speeds and advancement by milestone are provided, but the numbers required have been condensed to be much lower. We’ll see how this works out in the long run.

The skill chapter is another section wherein some streamlining has taken place – Swim and Climb are both now parts of one skill, namely Athletics. Similarly, Bluff and Disguise are now the Deception skill (which makes sense to me!); breaking objects and damaging them is now handled with the Sap skill, and e.g. Scrutiny is a new complement to the Perception skill – it lets you explicitly determine phenomena, interpret haunts, recognize patterns, etc. – it is basically akin to what Investigation does in 5e, save that it is a defined in a tighter manner. Autohypnosis is also a core skill now, and no longer just for psionic characters – it btw. lets you 1/day heal some hit points!

Feats have been similarly streamlined, now featuring a unified save DC formula, if applicable; they also have another aspect – many feats gain new benefits once the character reaches certain BAB or saving throw values, skill ranks, or caster levels. Some also require certain minimum class levels in a given class., or certain minimum class features – Elemental Channel, for example, gets its upgrade at channel energy 5d6. This paradigm of scaling feats keeps e.g. bleeding critical relevant. Blind Fight, for example, now lets you ignore any miss chance from concealment below total concealment once you’ve reached 10 ranks in Perception. This particularly makes styles more accessible – as e.g. there is no more style feat chain – instead, styles unlock the subsequent abilities once the character reaches certain requirements. Endurance now allows for sleeping in heavy armor and provides a bigger bonus if you reach 6 HD; Dodge upgrades to +4 dodge bonus at 3 HD for the purpose of moving through threatened areas – essentially rolling Mobility into the feat. Feats like Iron Will later unlock a 1/day reroll – in short, the chapter takes many classics and fixes some of the traditionally underwhelming options and decreases the feat-tax required for some of the more interesting combat options. As a whole, scaling feats are an excellent idea, and one I wholeheartedly welcome. Feat-chains still exist, but I noticed no more whole series of feats required to excel at one particular thing – Improved XYZ maneuver feats now scale, making their choice still required to excel, but not just an unlock. There are many design-decisions here that I genuinely liked seeing.

The book also contains a massive equipment section, once more explaining basics in a smart manner – critical multipliers and threat ranges, weapon damage by size, weapon categories and special features – you get the idea. There are some crucial differences – you can spend skill points to gain proficiency in ONE type of shield or armor – the heavier the armor, the more skill points. This also holds true for weapons – you can get weapon proficiencies with skill points – simple ones cost 2, exotic ones 6, to give you a framework. The equipment section also includes a metric ton of items, poisons, clothing, etc. From food to mounts to transport, the book covers a wide array of options. Vital statistics and encumbrance, movement tables (including handy overland walk distance covered etc.) is included. The card-based chase rules are also included, and since Sap changes pretty drastically how objects may be broken, this also includes a pretty extensive section.

Tactical combat is explained in an easy to grasp manner, and how actions are used, the whole tactical combat thing – everything explained in a pretty concise and clever manner. There is a massive list of arcane traditions, as well as domains – as noted before deity disapproval is a thing, and this genuinely changes how clerics etc. feel – and I love it. It makes the faithful more rewarding to play AND it makes them feel like, you know, agents of a higher power. And yep, it takes some time to lose your abilities – it’s not just an annoying, discussion-causing instant loss, it requires some time and serious wrongdoings. Spell interaction is also explained in streamlined in simple ways – if two spells operate in the same area, the higher-level spell operates, the lower spell doesn’t – INCLUDING the targets affected. Small explanations and rules-interactions like this add more to the game than I genuinely expected them to. Similarly, descriptors are tightly-defined.

A huge chapter of spells can be found here, and the book also covers rules for spellblights. Crafting gets an overhaul as well – you get Craft Points every level, and may use them to craft and assist. I do not yet have sufficient experience with the system to make a final verdict on this aspect, but it does look promising. Wealth by level, stats for walls and doors, rules for getting lost, a nice array of both creative and classic hazards are included. Suffice to say, we also get rules for storms, weather, winds, cold dangers…and traps.

The trap-making engine deserves special mention: It is an elegant and concise table, with damage, poison levels, spell levels, atk, etc. all defined – the engine is elegant and mighty and allows for quick and painless trap creation for simple traps – for the traps that are basically invisible lines of damage, this engine is super helpful. While it doesn’t allow for the generation of complex traps, it does what PFRPG’s first edition understands as the standard trap exceedingly well. Kudos!

Magic items are defined, and note their DCs to identify them in the header – super helpful! The game provides a massive magic item chapter; this also includes magic item creation, obviously. The book also features rules and abbreviated stats for sample NPCs, and curses, diseases and poisons – all covered. The latter use btw. the unchained-like rules, with progression tracks. It should, however, be noted that there now is a poison damage type as well, coexisting with the track-system – which makes sense to me, and yep, one glance at the Dc lets you know the default poison damage caused. The massive tome ends with summaries of terms, negative energy, SR, etc. – all helpful and easy to parse.

The game comes with a character sheet, and a SUPER-BRIEF errata that currently contains one entry regarding a single capstone.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Considering the vast density of the rules material herein, the book is exceedingly precise in its presentation of the subject matter. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard with purple highlights, and the book features a lot of rather nice full-color artwork. The pdf version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, making navigation pretty simple.

Mark Gedak’s background in the higher education teaching sector shows rather well in this book – in a way, the Porphyra RPG’s presentation always makes sense in an almost uncanny manner: The book feels, much more than other d20-based books, like it guides you through the process of playing, like the sequence of information presentation simply makes sense. This is a huge deal for a core book like this.

The changes made to Pathfinder 1st edition’s chassis also proved to be, for the most part, absolutely welcome – the streamlining of the magic system, its spell classes and descriptor focus – they make sense and I adore what this offers – it makes spells feel more magical, allows for the creation of casting traditions and the like, for limitations, if desired. Similarly, the changes to clerics are excellent and welcome. The scaling feats also are great and truly welcome – as is the notion of using skills to pay for proficiencies. There is a ton to love about the system. There are a couple of instances, where the game needs more context and time to allow me to properly judge facets – how crafting points pan out, how the whole caster check to attack pans out, etc. – particularly the latter is something that does not instill me with confidence. On a personal note, I really dislike spells and SPs not being in italics anymore – and surprisingly, those remain my most pronounced gripes with this tome.

In a way, Porphyra RPG is a bit like one of the OSR-systems that don’t just seek to replicate a given edition; it feels like a labor of love, like a love-letter to Pathfinder’s first edition, and I really adore this book for it. While there are things I love about Pathfinder’s Second Edition, there also are components that I already can say that just, by virtue of different systems, will behave in different ways and appeal to me in completely different ways.

The best explanation, perhaps, would be as follows: I really like old-school games. I also love games like D&D 5e,Starfinder, etc. I wouldn’t derive the same sort of enjoyment from these; I’d use them to tell different stories. This very notion, to me, seems to hold true for Pathfinder 1st edition and its 2nd edition – the systems feel as different to me as e.g. AD&D and 3.X did.

And this is where Porphyra RPG comes in – it takes the heritage of Pathfinder 1st edition and adds a whole array of improvements and changes to the game, much like how Pathfinder 1st edition did for 3.5 – only to an imho more efficient degree. Pathfinder’s first edition, to me, only grew a proper identity with the release of the APG. Same goes for e.g. how 13th Age only came into itself with 13 True Ways. Porphyra RPG, on the other hand already feels like a very distinct streamlined take of PFRPG’s 1st edition, one with a distinct identity.

In many ways, I consider this to be a great game to own, and one I wish to see prosper – not only because of the money I have invested in Pathfinder’s first edition, but because I do believe that, regardless of how much I might like other systems, I will always enjoy Pathfinder’s first edition – and if I can have it with a lot of tweaks, heck, that’s a good thing. The sheer complexity of combat and build options available can make for seriously outstanding combat “puzzles”, if you will – in ways that a system with a more tightly-wound math can’t account for. Porphyra RPG revises without invalidating – and its changes and their extent, mirror in many ways how Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 used to operate. The changes in Porphyra RPG’s rules tend to affect the rules in an overall positive manner, while still allowing for the use of older components with a bit of quick hacking. In a way, this almost feels like a love-letter hack of d20-based games – the continuation for people who didn’t want a hard break.

If you’re fed up with the old Pathfinder, then this won’t blow your mind; if, however, you had hoped for a PF 1.75 at one point, for something akin to what Pathfinder’s first edition was for D&D 3.5, then this delivers, in spades. And considering that this was the work of such a small team, it is a genuinely impressive achievement. Speaking of team: Beyond Mark Gedak, Derek Blakely, Carl Cramér, Keith J. Davies, Perry Fehr, Kent Little and Patrick Kossmann have provided designs to this book, with the Purple Duck Games-patreon supporters credited also for their help; as such, I’ll mention these valiant souls as well: Derek Blakely, Raphael Bressel, Carl Cramér, Nicolas Desjardins, John Gardner, Brett Glass, Von Krieger, Gregory Lusak, Cecil Maye, Andre Roy, Justin P. Sluder, Mike Welham. Oh, and guess what? All herein is open game content. That’s impressive generosity, and while not new for Purple Duck Games, it still impresses me for a book of this size. Oh, and there is an evolving rules-wiki!

How to rate this? Well, if the above appealed to you, then consider this to be an explicit recommendation. My direct comparisons for this book would be PFRPG 1st edition’s core rules and 13th Age, as both are +.75-versions of previous games. Both of these books, divorced from the expansions that would help them come into their own, are 4-star books for me. And in a way, Porphyra RPG fares better in many regards. Yes, there are a precious few instances like caster checks to attack, which frankly worry me, as I can’t see their math working out, but I can’t yet fully judge how this will develop in the future. That being said, the vast majority of the changes are pretty significant and straight improvements, as far as I’m concerned. And yes, I freely admit to loving this game, not in spite of its inheritance, but because of it. So yeah. If you can manage to take a neutral look at Pathfinder’s first edition, you should probably consider this to be a 4-star game as well; however, if you enjoy the game, but want some evolution of what you already love, then this delivers in spades. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, and I’ll round up. Finally, this also gets my seal of approval – because I genuinely adore many of the decisions made herein. Here’s to the future for both this game and Pathfinder Second Edition – two distinct playstyles I both enjoy for different reasons.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Galaxy Pirates series of Ship-supplements 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!

This supplement features two ships – the stock Terran scout, which clocks in at tier 1, and the advanced scout, which clocks in at tier 2. Both of these come with small tables for Computers checks that allow the PCs to know something about the respective ships.

The tier 1 ship is armed with linked gyrolasers on the front, and is powered by a pulse brown power core. With signal basic drift/hyperdrive, and basic medium-range sensors as well as a basic computer, it has a pretty normal loadout that is enhanced by the thrusters. The ship has S10 thrusters, a crew of 5 and mk 3 armor and mk 3 defenses, as well as evenly-distributed basic 40 shields and a good maneuverability. Upon reverse-engineering the ship, I arrived at a very efficient build that makes use of all build points, as well as almost all of the power core units. Nice!

The tier 2 iteration shares some characteristics with the tier 1 version, but very much is its own ship – we also have basic 40 shields that are evenly distributed, S10 thrusters, signal basic hyperdrive/drift basic computer and basic medium-range sensors as well as mk 3 defenses. However, the ship has a pulse gray power core, and uses it well – we have an upgrade to mk 4 armor here, and the expansion bays are not simply cargo holds – instead, we have escape pods and a trivid den recreation area. Additionally, the crew has a better time, with quarters upgraded to good quarters. Additionally, the advanced scout has a turret featuring a coilgun in addition to the fire-linked gyrolasers. Once more, the ship manages to be exceedingly efficient in its design, making full use of the 75 build points it has, as well as almost using all power core units

Much to my pleasure, the ship’s maps (2 provided) not only show the rooms, but also the ship itself, making it clear where the rooms are. You can btw. see the computers and steering devices here – awesome! Speaking of awesome: We get two massive one-page artworks that depict these kickass ships – one from the front, and one from the back. I absolutely love this! A page of paper mini-like stand-ins is included, and the supplement also follows the tradition of the series, in that it does offer fully filled out ship-sheets for both ships provided. Nice touch that I should also point out – make/ model/class are also noted on these sheets. It’s a small thing, but I felt that I should for once point this out.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language level – I noticed no snafus. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artworks of the ship, as well as the cartography, both presented in full color, are absolutely stunning. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver an excellent array of ships here – well-built, cool and absolutely gorgeous, I adored both of the ships. The great supplemental material further adds to this, making my final verdict 5 stars + seal of approval. An excellent, cool ship-pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.


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The title says it all, my friends - with a massive delay due to health and technical issues, here are my choices for last year!

http://endzeitgeist.com/the-top-ten-of-2018/

Cheers and thanks to all of you!


3 people marked this as a favorite.

The title says it all, my friends - with a massive delay due to health and technical issues, here are my choices for last year!

http://endzeitgeist.com/the-top-ten-of-2018/

Cheers and thanks to all of you!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, one of which is a pretty epic b/w-map of mythic Gloamhold and surrounding area, so let's take a look at the settlement

Okay, if you don’t have the original PFRPG-version, get this right now – it’s one of the best Village Backdrops! This review will very much take the previous version into account and offer the perspective of how this update fares in comparison to the original and whether it’s worth getting again if you own the original.

Edgewood can pretty much be a somewhat isolated town, though not excessively so; it lies at the edge of the Shadetimber woods, and it is subject to woes. Founded roughly a hundred years ago, it wasn’t affected by major upheavals since its founding, but in spite of this, the town hasn’t seen much population growth since the original 90 settlers. The settlement has the trademark level of detail of the series, sporting a market place, rumors, naming conventions for villagers and the like, etc. Odd and strange, in fact – unlike the original iteration, the second trip to Edgewood lacks the settlement statblock information in the Pathfinder version. I do not understand this, as gp values and magic item marketplace section are still here.

The 2.0 version of the settlement greatly expands the notes provided in trade & industry, law and order, and presents a massive 20-entry table of dressing and events that lets you customize the village in a wide variety of ways and add unsettling or strange occurrences to the process of exploring this place. Similarly, we now get a page that features a beautiful b/w-artwork of the region alongside notes on the surrounding locales.

Edgewood is an idyllic place – where it not for one phenomenon. Every year, there is the Night of Terror, a culling where 1 - 3 villagers are slain in a seemingly random, but always brutal attack, and no matter how far you run, you will be hunted down, and you will be returned to Edgewood, by circumstances most bizarre if you do try to run. It’s just a matter of time. And paradoxically, even those escaping are not exactly fated to die – they often survive, only to witness others perish. The Night of Terror is not always on the same night either – and while there are signs to herald its arrival, meddling has so far not yielded reprieve, and seems to have worsened the state of affairs, making the villagers less likely to cooperate. They will probably also point towards the failed efforts of the local fallen paladin Cleauregard. Speaking of which: The NPC-fluff-write ups we’ve come to expect from the series? They are much more detailed herein than even what we’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press.
This culling is what makes up the central angle of this village - a case of "death for you, life for my crop"? An ancient curse? A strange conspiracy? All of these may be possible and certainly, from strange monuments to other theories, quite a few of the individuals herein have their own ideas of what is behind this culling - do the bees, for example, know more? Coincidentally, the local bee keeper seeks to expand into establishing a 13th hive. Not any hive, the 13th.
A good supernatural mystery, a good horror story - both have in common that they evoke subtle themes and potential meaning - they must provide a sense of meaning that sends the minds of the investigating players wandering, that makes them put together pieces. This pdf is chock-full with exactly these symbols, these subtle nudges. The pdf's mystery also remains valid due to not one, but multiple sample ideas for the resolution being provided and due to making components like e.g. "resurrecting victims" a concise part of the evoked mystery - the cleric and the revived person actually died soon after...

This is one damn glorious adventure - no, I'm not saying "backdrop" or "supplement" - I'm saying adventure. With 15 minutes of work, any DM worth their game can run this as a tantalizing module full of interesting characters. The return to Edgewood adds further fuel to an already excellent set-up.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a nice map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs on RSP's homepage. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Edgewood is one of my all-time favorite Village Backdrops. Mike Welham, one of the designers I expect to always expect nothing short of excellence from, once again perfectly delivers here. I absolutely ADORED this village backdrop in its original iteration, and it has lost nothing of its splendor. This is a superbly compelling, tantalizing supplement that is suffused with subtle nods that send a creative mind spinning in possibilities - the pdf is subtle and less explicit than most and is infinitely better off for it - whether a strange curse, fey shenanigans, lovecraftian horrors, tainted bloodlines or just planar wagers gone awry, Edgewood supports a vast array of exceedingly awesome storylines.
To the point, in fact, where the settlement inspired me to an extent where I have to decide which of the countless ideas I'll run with. This is more compelling than most full-blown mystery modules and is ultimately better, more captivating, than the couple of pages have any right to be.

If anything, version 2.0 has held up remarkably well; visiting this place once more made me realize that this still is one of the best entries in the entire series. At the same time, I am not sure I’d necessarily recommend the Pathfinder 2.0 version to any who already have the original. Since the original version was already pretty much perfect, there wasn’t much to be added in my book, so for anyone who has the original, I’d actually advise in favor of giving this one a pass; the suddenly missing settlement stats, used in the original iteration in a clever manner, further drive this home. If you don’t have this yet, I’d strongly suggest getting this ASAP if you enjoy a good mystery sandbox to only add PCs and stir. How to rate this? Well, as a whole, I consider this to be inspired and great, but the loss of the settlement statblock and fact that the 2.0-version doesn’t bring that much improvements to this one, my personal verdict will be 4 stars. That is, UNLESS you don’t have the original version. If you don’t have the original Edgewood, consider this to be a 5-star + seal of approval masterpiece instead. My official final verdict will be in-between, at 4.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The revised edition of the second campaign guide for the unique What Lies Beyond Reason AP clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page Kickstarter-backer-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 40 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, this campaign guide begins with a recap of the story so far, before taking a look at a central component of the AP as a whole: The mysteries at the heart of the rather intricately-constructed plot of the series. Considering how the components of the storyline do hinge on investigation and smart players piecing together the truth behind several grander mysteries, this guide presents some trouble-shooting advice, if you will. These range from pretty straight-forward visions, to e.g. research in Anduria’s vast library featuring books penned by alumni of mythos-related writing – from S. Peterson to A. Blackwood. These, in parts, do even come with their own read-aloud text, which is a nice plus. On the downside, one of the read-aloud texts to be applied in “Ignorance is Bliss” does designate something obviously only intended for the GM’s eyes as read-aloud, so you should be careful with that one.

The book also presents different notes on magical research regarding e.g. the runestone necklace, which now is properly italicized, with a bonus type also italicized – those usually aren’t printed in italics, but that’s cosmetic. The numerous references to 5e-skills instead of PFRPG-skill notations have been duly purged by the revised iteration of this campaign guide.
Various means of learning a certain NPCS runic magic may be found – and yes, there is more than one way to potentially implement this into your game., and they cite the proper item creation means.

After this section, we get several additional bits of troubleshooting regarding evolving play, a section plenty of GMs will appreciate greatly – whether it’s handling PCs rejecting becoming semi-official law enforcement or some other components of the series, we have quite a few suggestions here to keep the gameplay smooth and the story on track.

The book then proceeds to present two new sample NPCs – the first of whom, Quintus, a sorcerer-turned-lawyer, can help the PCs navigate the intricacies of Anduria’s legal system. He also despises the Seekers and has a rivalry with Damien going on, so plenty of dynamics added here. He does come with a solid statblock. The second would be airship captain Octavio Velderve. Both NPCs not only come fully statted, but also with their own, really nice full-color artworks. Good ole’ Damien gets a CR 15 iteration as well. The statblocks, as a whole, while not perfect (you can sometimes find e.g. a missing comma and the like), are more ambitious than what we usually see in heavily story-centric supplements. You should run into no significant issues using these.

The book also contains a total of 4 different sidetreks designed for characters level 6 – 8. The individual locales don’t generally sport read-aloud text, but do come with surprisingly nice full-color cartography, which brings me to a big plus of the series as a whole: We get proper, handout-style jpg-renditions of all maps featured in the sidetreks, with one being an isometric overview map of a general region; the others, which are more suitable for combat scenarios, come with grids – and the maps included in the archive are completely player-friendly, making them not only great full-color handouts, but also facilitating online play. Huge plus there!

Anyhow, this is as far as I can go without diving into serious SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, the first sidetrek would be “Airship issues” can serve as an introduction to the new NPC Octavio, and centers on the attempted theft of one of the cities’ few remaining airships, the Emerald Vision. On the plus-side, we do get proper stats for the ship and airskiffs featured in this swashbuckling encounter. In the first iteration, this whole section was basically non-operational, and it is my pleasure to report that the author has gone back and revised the entire section – aside from a single Strength check-reference to jump (which should be handled by Acrobatics in PFRPG), the airships featured now provide a ton of properly codified interaction points, with windows, doors, etc. all noted regarding break DCs, HP and hardness. Huge kudos for fixing this one. The inclusion of the proper airship stats now makes this section really shine, and PFRPG lends itself very well to the dynamic action here.

Bank heist centers around an item that can serve as a means of severing Eiria from the Echo of Faith – the horn of shackle breaking, and as such, happens off screen if the GM elects not to run the scenario. The PCs are called upon to defend the vault in the noble ward against hydras, elementals and the like, reaching the scene of a massacre in progress, as hopelessly outgunned watchmen struggle against the monsters. The heist also does make the PCs witness the warping effects of a particularly nasty component of the Machine. A reference to a 5e-condition in the previous iteration has been properly replaced, adjusted to PFRPG. As a small aside – conditions are usually not italicized in PFRPG, but that’s a purely aesthetic snafu and doesn’t impede the game.
The artifact in question, the horn, now also adheres properly to PFRPG’s conventions. That being said, while not perfect, the conversion here is significantly better, though e.g. the CMD-value of the officer statblock is off by 1, but chances are you won’t necessarily encounter this as an issue.

The third side-trek, “Beneath the Waves”, focuses on PCs being hired for a kind of treasure-hunt – potential proof that legendary hero Drexel has actually existed may have surfaced, and as such, are hired to travel to the Sunrise Isles and dive below the sea. The voyage is pretty detailed, and mechanical suggestions for tasks are provided – Reefing the sails or making fast the lines are tied to Strength and Dexterity checks here, when they probably should refer to skills, but as a whole, this is now operational. Nice: The rules for diving gear have been properly adjusted to PFRPG in the revised edition, and the glaring oversight of the boss of this sidetrek, a horrid monster crab, missing from the book, has been rectified. The crab btw. does have a unique rage-aura (Will save should be capitalized) and a displacement effect, making it more than just a big crab. Kudos for fixing this sidetrek!

This final side trek, lost souls, has the PCs tasked by Silvira to enter the nine hells through the gate in Silverton to retrieve the soul of the dragon’s mate. Yep, it’s a trip to Avernus, and an interesting one, as it basically is a mini-sandbox in a distinctly-different scenery that includes rules prohibiting mortals from flight, notes on how to handle death while in hell, and the like. This trip to Hell can be deadly for PCs, but is probably highly entertaining, making copious use of the hellish bureaucracy-angle that makes the DMV look like child’s play. This sidetrek made for a surprisingly fun and light-hearted change of pace that the campaign really could use before the final arc. Nice job, also for fixing the materials

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting of the revised edition can be considered to be good, bordering on very good, on both a formal and rules-language level. The new version of the campaign guide can be considered to be in line with the entire series in that regard. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the book features solid full-color artworks. The cartography is well-done, full-color, and plentiful – I really enjoyed that aspect of the book, particularly the inclusion of the player-friendly versions. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Micah Watt proved beyond a shadow of a doubt a commitment to do the right thing with this revised edition. Instead of shrugging and moving on after the botched first iteration of the guide, he went back with a fine-tooth comb and proceeded to fix the guide – and that, dear readers, is something I 100% want to encourage. It is evident that he cares about his customers, about his saga, and the revised edition of the second campaign guide can now be considered to be a welcome addition to the What Lies Beyond Reason AP. Bereft of all the issues that previously plagued this guide, my verdict for the new iteration of this supplement will be 4.5 stars, rounded up. Kudos and thank you for doing the honorable thing!!

Endzeitgeist out.


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Thanks for noticing that, David - site must have eaten my review. Repostet! :D


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Addendum: On my homepage, if you click for the SFRPG-tag at the bottom of my Starfinder-related reviews, you'll get a list of all SFRPG-related books I've reviewed. :)


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Hej Zubalove!

First of all: Thank you very much for your kind words! *takes a bow*

Star Log.EM-installments provide small crunch-components; some depict races or racial options, some items, some new expansion bays, some critters, etc. They are basically short files that focus on new rules.
(As an aside: on my homepage, you can find all of them that I've reviewed so far here!)

As far as adventures are concerned, there haven't been too many so far:

Rogue Genius Games produced Blood Space and Moon Dust as a (slightly longer) introduction to the setting. Here's the review!

Iron GM Games has released the FREE Abattoir 8 scifi-horror adventure (and they are currently kickstarting the Grimmerspace game. You can read my review of Abattoir 8 here!

I'd also highly recommend AAW Games' criminally-underrated Future's Past-series of adventures. While I've so far only reviewed two of them, they both have been masterpieces that provided around 8 hours of gaming each. You can check out the reviews here!

AAW Games also released a few Star Systems that include mini-dungeon-like mini-modules. The reviews for those are right here!

Hope that helps! Cheers and once more, thank you!!


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive module clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 15 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 70 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Wait, first, let’s talk pregens – level 1 and 2 pregens are provided, with ready to print out character sheets – and guess what? 22 pages of them! Yeah, that is quite a load of work off your shoulders.

This module begins with 4 – 6 PCs at 1st level and, at the end of the module, PCs that survive should have 2nd or 3rd level; a handy appendix lists XP by encounter zone for your convenience. What’s that, you ask? Think of those as the same as a part or sub-chapter, focused on a general region. Think of an encounter zone as a sub-level of a dungeon. I’ve certainly played scenarios with less meat on their bones than one of the encounter zones herein has. While these XP-by-zone-guidelines are provided, the module does suggest leveling up depending on the demands of the story instead. And yes, you read that right -there is a very real chance of PC death here; this is not a cakewalk – after all, Grimmerspace is a science-fantasy horror setting! This module is the first part of a two-parter that may be expanded further, but rest assured that it works rather well as a stand-alone adventure. As a horror-supplement, the usual disclaimers apply – if you want happy-go-lucky, then why are you checking out a horror module by none other than Richard Pett? ;)

Kidding aside, this pdf is actually rather neat in that it (like future Grimmerspace supplements!) has a chart that shows you the TYPE of horror! Does your group really dislike religious themes or excessive gore? One look at the chart and you’ll know what to expect and make an informed decision. Really neat!

There is another aspect to Grimmerspace that everybody, including potential players, should know: It takes a radical departure of sorts from Starfinder’s default assumptions, in that it reframes very basic assumptions of the very space opera/science-fantasy themes of the games to better suit its needs without making serious incisions into the game: You see, Grimmerspace’s default-setting, the Gliding Rim Galaxy, is pretty humanocentric and saw a constant expansion of the “safe zones” of space towards the edge. It also was utterly mundane – only in recent years, a strange phenomenon started introducing magic as a new force – there is a Tear, and with it, magic has come to the G-Rim (the parlance for this frontier – and reason for the term “Grimmer” for the hardened locals…)

It should also be noted that this module comes with a pretty massive FREE map-pack. This map-pack contains a gorgeous, isometric full-color map of the adventure’s location, and also provides handout-style versions of the full-color artworks presented within. (YES! This should have been industry standard ages ago!) Beyond that, we get jpg-versions of the respective encounter area-maps in full-color – two of them per map, in fact. Yep, we do get GM-versions AND player-friendly versions! AWESOME.

Speaking of which – the module begins with a distress call that just begs to be printed out and used as a handout…and guess what? Yep, we do get a handout for it. It’s not the only one: Anotehr note is provided, and a mini-game of sorts comes with an isometric map/visual representation that also acts as a handout.

As far as GM-skill is concerned, this is one of the most newbie-friendly horror-adventures I’ve seen in my reviewing career. It comes with a full page of mood-setting dressing, including a check-list to determine how often you used them – oh, and darkvision gets different entries! Why? The chemicals freed make darkvision capable of seeing certain protein-splatters, which can be really disturbing! Similarly, there is a neat survival-aspect, with an environmental protections-tracker-sheet included. As far as supplemental materials go, this seriously raises the stakes for the game! It should also be noted that the pdf provides a lot of very well-written read-aloud text, and supplements them with pro-tips in sidebars that help you troubleshoot potential problems, provide guidelines, etc. Heck, it even provides guidelines of when session-breaks would make sense. Kudos!

On a technical level and more relevant for veteran GMs would be that this module makes rather clever use of general level-features/hazards – from power surges to loose cables and hot hydraulic sprays, there are several such hazards that are tied to PC-actions; these can be used to enhance the danger of the situation and provide what I like to call “global” effects, adding to how organic the station feels. Beyond these, we have “electroconductive” as a new condition – because you#re wet, you more easily conduct electricity. THANK YOU. Particularly in the slightly more scifi-centric Grimmerspace, this makes ample sense. It should come as no surprise, but yes, there are different adventure hooks provided, and yes, the adventure does come with its own rumor table for PCs that like to think of their PCs as capable of doing some research beforehand. Also relevant: Details like whether or not detect thoughts works? Yep, they’ve thought of that! Oh, and technically, this is NOT a linear module!

This being an adventure-review, the following obviously contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Abattoir 8 is an agricultural place that handles food processing, distribution and also acts as a trade hub of sorts. Maintained by the Attien Combine, t orbits the automated agricultural outpost Conviction. The PCs arrive on Abattoir 8 via one of the so-called slingshot ferries, but no one is to be seen. If you’ve played Dead Space 1 (the only creepy one in the franchise), you’ll have a good inkling of the atmosphere that expects you. No necromorphs abound – instead, we have Big Boy Thrask as basically an insane cyborg-slasher-cannibal villain – and easily one of the most striking and gut-wrenching murder-tableaus I’ve seen in a RPG – two of his victims have been decapitated, their bodies turned into clothes-wrapped meat, their arms reimagined as sausages that touch; the victims’ decapitated heads have been placed on the meat-piles in a grotesque caricature, facing each other…and as a final kick, “Love is…” has been written in blood between them. This is some Grade A+ twisted gore! Thrask is btw. the fine gentleman on the cover – and yes, he has custom items. His statblock provides a couple of unique tricks – and, interestingly, he has some smart (and scary) tactics that interplay with aforementioned global effects/hazards – and his goal is kidnapping PCs and dragging them to his aptly-named murder closet. Did I mention the mad zero-G welder who wrecked a section of the station, requiring that the PCs face the cold vastness of space (and, potentially, end out there?)…or the fact that all of this, including the global effects I mentioned in my examples so far, are actually all from the first encounter zone? Did I mention the guy who had his head replaced with a thunk (the cattle-equivalent), and said macabre head? Stuffed with grenades. OUCH.

Yep. The mechanic-turned-crossover of Hellraiser and Texas Chainsaw Massacre? That’s kind of the prologue. Sure, a prologue that wants to dismember you, and that seriously hunts you through the complex, but a prologue of sorts nonetheless. You see, the escape shuttle? It is way up there, between the two massive silos that make up Abattoir 8. And guess what? Getting up those silos? Easier said than done! The PCs can, for example, attempt to get up the malfunctioning thunk silo, where robotic arms can be rather dangerous….but the reprocessing plant is no better: Singapore-style interior fields, where dangerous harvest bots abound – and yes, they have long, sharp blades… That being said, it may actually not be that bad of an idea (from a story-perspective) to have the PCs traversing the thunk silo fall – why? Because zone 3 is the abattoir, and it is disturbing. Hardcore. You know, I’ve grown up in the middle of nowhere; I’m familiar with butchering, where meat comes from, etc. – and I’ve seen industrial meat-processing up close. It’s not pretty. Now, picture a malfunctioning super-high-tech version of that – a huge pile of half dismembered carcasses, drones that summarily execute anything that moves and process it…it’s visceral. Really, really visceral. The module is more than just a sick serial killer, industrial processing gone haywire and the like – it also features insane cannibals! Oh, and two people that actually can be talked to and reasoned with. Okay, one of them may be totally bonkers, a cannibal, and someone who’s been eating his own arm…but hey, in this place, that’s as good as it gets…right?

The module concludes with the PCs hopefully taking the fully statted escape vessel towards the Scavenger’s Voice – or safety, if you don’t want to get on board of the Grimmerspace train. But seriously, after this adventure, I’d be very surprised if that’d be the case.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a gorgeous two-column full-color standard that is easy to both read and print out (you can save a bit of ink/toner by turning the border off), and yet aesthetically pleasing. The full-color artworks depicting key-scenes deserve special mention: They are drop dead gorgeous and on first-party quality levels. The hand-drawn maps, with full player-friendly map support, the handouts and presence of cool isometric maps to complement the more tactical top-down maps is another plus. While the pdf has bookmarks, they are somewhat rudimentary and are only labeled (incorrectly) as “_GoBack” – a minor snafu there, but one more than made up for by e.g. the handouts!

This is the most hard-R horror adventure I’ve seen Richard Pett, Rone Barton and Lou Agresta produce so far; grisly, visceral and brutal, Abattoir 8 is more than shock-value; it’s not just heaps of gore; it is disturbing because it makes perfect use of the blending of anxiety at the industrialized and automated process, the fear of consumption, and the vastness of space. In short: This is an extremely effective scenario, and is absolutely glorious. It’s also the one of highest quality FREE products I’ve ever seen. Where other companies provide a brief sidetrek, a teaser, a race, we get a fully-functional, inspired horror adventure here – FOR FREE! This is absolutely awesome, and personally, I can’t wait to hold my Grimmerspace books in my hands!

My final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval, given without hesitation. This also deserves my "Best of..."-tag as one of the best FREE adventures I've seen.What are you waiting for? There currently are no better deals for Starfinder out there! A masterclass premium adventure for FREE! Download it now!

Endzeitgeist out.


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That's a dhosari, one of PDG's unique Porphyran races.


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Part II of my review of the revised edition:

Conclusion:
YES! The Drop Dead Studios crew listened! Now, not only is the editing really good on a rules-language and formal level, the formatting is also up to par, making the book easier to read and it gets rid of almost all glitches; I noticed e.g. a remainder of a non-capitalized skill-reference in the Wild Magic-table, but as a whole, the full array of formatting and some modifications have really helped this book; its formal criteria now mirror the awesome nature of the engine. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf provides a blend of well-chosen stock art and some pieces I hadn’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I freely admit to having a soft spot for blood magic. Something about its visceral nature appeals to me. However, most iterations of the concept I’ve seen, suck, and as my fervor for the subject matter means that I tend to look at material VERY closely.

Andrew Stoeckle’s “The Sanguinist’s Handbook” is awesome. It is, now in its revised iteration, even better. I love the subdued scale/mode-component, the combos, the precision in complex interactions. Beyond the mechanical precision, this book offers the cool visuals – Red Mist, for example, not only is useful, it’s plain cool. And there are A LOT of those inside. Add to that the Spheres of Might and Champions of the Spheres synergy, and we arrive at a sphere, which, while poaching liberally in the other sphere’s playgrounds, still feels distinct in both mechanics and execution. The book also feels like a work of passion. There is nothing in this book that feels phoned in; it shows passion and commitment alongside a deep mastery of the intricacies of the spheres rules that allows for the avoidance of the pitfalls of the system.

I love this book. I really do. The only other supplements in the whole series that managed to excite me to the same degree would be the Telekinesis-expansion and, obviously, the (almost entirely) brilliant Chronomancer’s Handbook.

If anything, the sanguinist’s handbook has me clamoring for more – the Blood sphere deserves more love, and I’d really love to see an expansion to the sphere.

And here we are – the revised edition takes away the one serious gripe I had with the book, making it perhaps the best incarnation of blood magic divorced from classes or archetypes I have ever read for a d20-based game. If you’re like me and enjoy a bit of visceral bloodletting in your game, then get this ASAP. The revised version receives the full 5 stars and my seal of approval, and is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018.

Endzeitgeist out.


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Part II of my dissection fo Doomsday Dawn:

Okay, I just realized how scathing a takedown this may sound like; and, in a way, it is. Doomsday Dawn, to me, as a module, is an abject failure.

My general sense of bottomless disappointment, however, is not based on a lack of love for either system or module. If anything, it comes out of a genuine appreciation of what PF Playtest and PF2 are are attempting to do right – of what I see here regarding the system’s potential.

Beyond this, it is based on the fervent conviction that Doomsday Dawn’s story deserved better.

The story spanning years and groups is a great angle (in fact, from mid-story TPKs to multiple groups, it has some ambitious angles that I hope we’ll see in APs!); the occult underpinnings are AWESOME and the module has so much going for it…and almost manages to attain its lofty goals, only to fail at realizing its full potential, time and again, due to the constraints of page-count and scale.

Its struggles regarding the blending of meaningful playtest data and compelling storytelling, can universally be reduced to the issues of scale and wordcount available.

With 20-30 additional pages to really develop the respective narrative components (say, at 128 pages), Doomsday Dawn could have generated buzz unlike any I’ve ever seen. It could have been a masterwork that redefines what you can do in a playtest, what it can mean to provide a fulfilling and amazing playtest that leaves folks wanting more. As written, though, it is solely a testament to the author’s prowess that this still has its moments, in spite of its massive shortcomings, though they are very much clustered towards the end of the module.

With a few more pages to make all the concepts shine, to REALLY showcase what PF Playtest’s rules are capable of, without this general sense of being cramped and beholden to deliver maximum playtest data in minimum page-count, regardless of subsystem-viability in a narrative context, this could have very much become the nostalgia-infused, glorious sendoff it almost managed to become, but in the end, fell short of. How would I rate this? You don’t even want to know.

As written, it is a great story that deserved better, it is a playtest that sacrificed a great story and unnecessarily generated apprehension, when a bit more room could have created a stellar masterpiece while still providing the data required.

An alternative route would have been the presentation of playtest scenarios as playtest, and this module as a real showcasing of how cool the system can be – the divorcing of both aspects. That probably would have mitigated some economic concerns that must have played a part in the ultimate decision to make the module as cramped and brief for its ambitious premise.

Don’t get me wrong: I am still very much excited for the new version of the game; at the same time, however, I am left with a somewhat bitter taste of apprehension in my mouth that was utterly unnecessary. I am left with the fear that economic concerns regarding Doomsday Dawn may have hurt the game to come, when the buzz of a better, well-rounded Doomsday Dawn would have generated a far more optimistic and jubilant reaction from folks out there and thus, benefited the game in the long run.

These are just my 2 cents, and I am not privy to insider information or anything – it’s just this humble reviewer’s perspective.

Here’s to PF2, and may it learn from the Playtest!

Endzeitgeist out.


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I appreciate the double-love for my shroom-folks!

In this day and age, we could all use some harmony-fostering time-shroom people, methinks! :D


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@Elorebaen:

Thank you for the shout-out! And yep, I've reviewed components of this.

I will, probably sometime this sumemr, get around to covering this, but it'll be rating-less, as I've contributed a race (the Rhyzalla) I'm super proud of to this tome.

If any freelancer's reading this: Working with Christen was a phenomenal experience.


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This book clocks in at 65 pages of content if you take the usual away, so quite a lot to cover! Let’s take a gander!

First things first, though: I was at one point involved in the Strange Magic II project, and was supposed to contribute to this book, but things did not work out. I ended up having no involvement whatsoever in the creation of this book. I wouldn’t have reviewed this, but it was requested by one of my patreon supporters, so here we go!

We begin this with the Onmyōji base class, which clocks in with 1/2 BAB-progression, good Will-saves, d6 HD, 4+Intelligence modifier skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, kukri, double chicken saber, tonfa, monk's spade and naginata as well as proficiency with shields, excluding tower shields.
When wearing armor or using a shield the onmyōji is not proficient with, petitions increase their spirit pool point cost by +1 and talismans are reduced to 1/2 their usual duration.

Onmyōji begin play with a spirit pool equal to their Charisma modifier, which grows to 12 + Charisma modifier at a rate of +2 every 3 levels. The spirit pool can be utilized in a variety of ways: The onmyōji can extend their reach by 5 ft. per onmyōji level for the purposes of placing talismans for 1 round or extend the duration of an active talisman within 60 ft. by 5 rounds – though the latter option is unlocked at 5th level. Additionally, the onmyōji may increase the hardness of all active talismans within 60 ft. by Wisdom modifier for 1 round. The onmyōji may also increase the radius of an o-fuda talisman within 60 feet by 5 ft., though the onmyōji must be at least 7th level to do that. (This increases to affecting two o-fuda talismans at 14th level, fyi.) All of these are swift actions.
11th level onmyōji may pay 2 spirit points as an immediate action to grant an active talisman three times Wisdom modifier temporary hit points. Alternatively, for 2 spirit points, we have an array options unlocked that includes o-fuda radius increase by 10 ft. (2 talismans in range affected at 16th level), and at 13th level, there is no more limit to the number of talismans that may have their duration enhanced. At 17th level, this cost may be paid to not expend talisman uses, and at 20th level, an o-fuda talisman may be treated as an omamori talisman.

So, what are those talismans all about? Talismans are small tokens usually made of paper, cloth or wood, decorated with glyphs. An onmyōji begins play with 2 prayers and learns an additional one at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. When placing a talisman, an onmyōji can choose a prayer that is compatible with the talisman-type, though the onmyōji has to have a Wisdom score of at least 10 +1/2 the minimum level of the prayer's level requirement. The onmyōji has a petitioner level (the term for this caster) equal to class level, and may use up to Wisdom modifier + class level talismans per day. Talismans do not allow for saving throws and have a limited hardness equal to Wisdom modifier, and hit points equal to onmyōji class levels x 3. Destroying a talisman ends its effects; otherwise, it lasts for 3 rounds, +1 round for each onmyōji class level. There are two types of talisman, first of which would be o-fuda. These generate their warding effects in a 10 ft.-radius upon being placed and cannot be moved after being placed, only destroyed. The second type would be the omamori - these are attached to creatures the onmyōji threatens, either voluntarily or via a touch attack. These only affect the creature to which they are attached. Failing to hit does NOT expend talisman-uses, but does provoke an attack of opportunity.

As hinted at before, they also start with 2 prayers known and scale that up to 11. At 2nd level, they have the first petition and scale that up by +1 every even level thereafter. Talismans in the book are plentiful indeed - they also come with minimum level restrictions and most prayers (but not all) can be used on either o-fuda or omamori. The omamori's can be considered single-target effects, while the o-fuda, if used wisely, can make the onmyōji's area-buffing absolutely unique and rewarding, allowing you to finally lure foes into your cleverly laid-out o-fuda traps. Guiding attacks, increasing the potency of the elements, increasing the healing of allies - all pretty cool options, and they’re sporting mechanics that deviate enough from spellcasting to maintain the unique flavor of the class - what about e.g. granting allies the option to spit weaponized energy-based saliva? Temporary negating age-based penalties for the image of the venerable monk standing up and kicking badass butt? Yeah, I love these.

It should also be noted that an onmyōji receives access to two wizard cantrips and cleric orisons as part of replenishing the spirit pool – this minor magic ability is dubbed “Aid of the Minor Kami”, and the onmyōji may use them at-will while close to the shikigami.

What’s that? Well, an onmyōji begins play with a shikigami, a kami bound to the onmyōji's service in an origami paper vessel. If said shikigami dies, it can be replaced after 1 week for a penalty cost of 200 gp per onmyōji level in an 8-hour ceremony. Shikigami are Tiny constructs with d10 HD (and 1/2 HD-progression), a fixed Strength of 6, 10 Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma and a Dexterity-score that begins at 14 and improves to 15 at 7th level and 16 at 15th level, respectively. The shikigami has 1/2 BAB-progression and no good save. It begins play with 2 skills (and has its own skill-list of class skills) and begins play with a feat, receiving another one at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Sounds fragile? Well, while within 20 feet of the onmyōji that is its master, it receives the master's Wisdom modifier as hardness. Additionally, while within this range, it grants the onmyōji bonuses as if a familiar. Its origami-form determines its natural attacks, though a slam is default. It may also place talismans the master knows while within this range, drawing on the onmyōji's resources, but using the shikigami's HD rather than the onmyōji’s class level to determine talisman duration. A shikigami can communicate with the master onmyōji and it has its own spirit pool equal to its HD, but may only use these points to affect talismans it has placed itself. The short-range benefits to shikigami survivability increase by +5 ft. at 2nd level further for every HD the shikigami has, which also affects the range at which the “Aid of the minor kami” class feature works. At 5th level, the shikigami receives improved evasion. At 9th and 15th level, the shikigami receives more bonus hit points, counting as a larger-sized construct - which btw. are provided in a handy table.

Onmyōji of 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter also learn a petition to the spirits. These are governed by Charisma, with a 10 +1/2 minimum level requirement in the ability score analogue to the Wisdom-based talismans. Petitions have a DC of 10 + 1/2 onmyōji class level + onmyōji ‘s Charisma modifier, where applicable.

The class comes with favored class options for the core-races, aasimar, drow, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, puddlings and tieflings - and they are interesting, actually - e.g. adding bleed damage to omamori is pretty interesting and fitting for half-orcs/orcs...

The pdf also features an assortment of different archetypes: The grinning fox is basically a Charisma-governed guy that has an emphasis on Kitsune synergy, allowing the character to take Magical Tail and a 2/day SP lesser confusion, which doubles as the racial prerequisite for that feat. The archetype does lose the shikigami, though. The Herald of the Lucky God chooses one of the 7 lucky gods to worship over all else, and gains the associated petitions as bonus petitions, and the archetype also gets the respective god’s friendship feat, provided he meets the prerequisites. These special feats are aligned with the 7 lucky gods of Japanese mythology, and while generally available, they significantly increase the potency of the petition aligned with said god. However, an onmyōji may only have ONE friendship-feat at a given time...so choose wisely your allies among the gods! Really like the fluff of these feats. Depending on the lucky god chosen, we also get a special ability at 3rd level. In short, this is basically a specialist, which also explains why the archetype doesn’t have to lose any other abilities – the specialization locks it out of the other gods.

The Mokusei begins play with a quarterstaff – they are jailors of a sort, binding a spirit within the quarterstaff; this is known as mokugami, and the staff gains enhancement bonuses, the ability to grant limited fast healing, and the staff later sprouts green shoots, which double as single charge wands that allow for petition use. The basic aid of the kami cantrips/orisons may be quickened at no cost at 7th level, and the capstone provides a mighty version of the green shoot ability. This replaces shikigami, and the o-fudamori section of the spirit pool enhancement options.

The oathbearer would be a complex archetype, who must choose a willing creature to be the “ward”, who may not be a member of the oathbearer’s immediate family, and the oathbearer’s focus is to see said ward prosper. This increases maximum age, and at higher levels, even prevents dying of old age and allows the oathbearer to treat the ward’s children as though they were the ward, becoming an eternal defender of that bloodline. The solemn duty is not one to be undertaken lightly, though the process by which the oath may be transferred is detailed in a concise manner. The oath replaces the shikigami. Oathbearers have their own class table, and start with a spirit pool of 1 + Charisma modifier, which increases by a further +1 at 2nd and every 3 levels thereafter in addition to the regular onmyōji's increases. This is listed properly in the class table. The “Aid of the Minor Kami”-range is instead applied to tie in with the ward. 2nd level nets a protector’s pool: When replenishing the spirit pool, the oathbearer may expend up to Wisdom modifier spirit points. For point thus spent, he gains a protector point, which allows the ward within 60 ft. to use petitions at ½ petitioner level, analogue to a shikigami, using the lesser of ½ the oathbearer’s class level or the ward’s level to determine variable effects.
The ward, however, pays for these in said protector points. knowledge of petitions is shared, but a limited level caveat does apply for the ward. Replenishing the spirit pool resets this secondary pool to 0 – no cheesing. At 5th level and 10th level, the protector pool may be set to 1, with excess points detracted reabsorbed into the spirit pool, gaining more flexibility. The minimum points in the protector pool do increase, though. At 4th level, the oathbearer may enter temporary ward-lite relationships. We also have minor bonuses and temporary hit points for wards. At higher levels, oathbearers may learn to detect detrimental conditions and take them upon themselves via spirit pool point expenditure. AT higher levels, we also have an exclusive omamori talisman that alerts the oathbearer to danger and lets them port to the side of the character. We laos get unwilling temporary bindings and, as a capstone, the option to undertake the ultimate sacrifice for the ward. The final archetype is the shubo-sha, who gets two shikigami, but pays for that with a stunted petition array.

The book also features a rather cool rule that is entirely optional – the shikigami ascendant. The player of an onmyōji of 4th level or higher may, upon gaining a level, forego some of the benefits in order to grant the shikigami a boost; this represents the shikigami usurping the master. The stunted progression has to be explicitly noted – it’ll go away when the next time a level is gained, for then, the shikigami will take control, basically becoming the new player character! And yes, it gets a full class table, a subservient onmyōji…and an origami pool equal to 2 + 1 for every 3 class levels beyond 6th. The shikigami ascendant may spend these to gain the benefits or origami folds it knows. Later levels allow for limited refolding, and there are 4 full pages of origami folds! Awesome!

The second base class (if you don’t count aforementioned quasi-base-class-level options) would be the warrior poet, who gets ¾ BAB-progression, good Reflex and Will-saves, d8 HD, 6 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, proficiency in simple and martial weapons as well as light armor and shields, excluding tower shields. As before, warrior poets may wield shields and wear armors they’re not proficient with, but doing so prevents the use of haiku and ends ongoing haiku. Nice: the author did his homework on haiku and the misconceptions that western school systems tend to apply to the art-form, but that as an aside. For the purposes of this engine, I’ll stick to the basics here:

A haiku is a piece of poetry with two subjects to be compared, and a kireji to direct the comparison. Warrior poets start with 2 haiku, +Wisdom modifier/3 (minimum +0, rounded down) to start with, and increases that to a base value of 5. Each haiku has an allowance of one “on”, or syllable, that determines the number of topics the haiku can accept. A haiku must have 2 subjects, one kireji. AT 3rd level and every 5 levels thereafter, this “on” allowance per subject increases by +1. In order to prepare use employ a haiku, the warrior poet must have a minimum Wisdom score of 12 + the “on” allowance of the subjects. DCs, if any, are governed by the usual 10 + ½ class level + Wisdom modifier formula.

In order to change prepared haiku, the warrior poet must consult the poetry book after sleep, and said books starts with 3 kireji and 2 + Wisdom modifier, minimum 2 topics. At any further level, any combination of two kireji or topics are added. Note that similar to comparable engines, the ability to use haiku actually is not contingent on the poetry book, just the change of the prepared loadout. The poetry book otherwise behaves in many ways like a spell-or composition book. The class uses Wisdom as a replacement ability score for Perform (oratory), provided Wisdom exceeds Charisma. A warrior poet may recite each individual haiku for a number of rounds per day equal to their ranks in Perform (oratory) + Wisdom modifier, and starting to orate is a move action, but maintenance is a free action; the warrior poet may simply end an oration as a free action, or use a kireji to end the oration. Oration cannot be interrupted in the traditional sense, though paralysis etc. do the job. The kireji is btw. handled in an interesting manner: The warrior poet may declare any attack or full-attack action the kireji. This ends the effects on subject a), and starts the effects on subject b) until the oration ceases, or the warrior poet uses the kireji again. Only one kireji per round may be executed.

At 2nd level, the warrior poet gets an inflection – the means to use a kireji that is not native to the current haiku. (minor nitpick: Ability header no bolded.) An inflection may be used 2/day, +1/day at 6th level and every 4 levels thereafter. At 4th level, the warrior poet may place omamori talismans on weaponry, and it remains inactive while thus placed. As a swift action, the warrior poet may execute an attack with his talisman’d weapon, applying its effects to the subject of the attack. This may not be cheesed for buffing purposes, fyi. The class has a baked-in, scaling bonus to attack rolls made to deliver talismans. 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter grant scaling bonus damage dice to weapon damage inflicted while orating, and the capstone to treat an o-fuda as an omamori. The warrior poet also gets talismans – 2 prayers at first level, and an additional one at 2nd and every 2 class levels thereafter.
The class comes with a full array of interesting favored class options, and one archetype, the Kigoist.

Kigoists are proficient with simple weapons, and their orations are dedicated to a season – when they spend a round of their haiku’s daily duration, the haiku gains a season charge. A haiku may have a maximum of 2 + Charisma modifier season charges (Season charge threshold further increases by +1 at 9th level, and again at 17th level.), and season charges may be expended as a standard action to generate spell-like abilities, which range in cost from 1 to 7 charges, with 4th, 8th and 12th level unlocking new abilities for the season. Starting at 5th level, if the kigoist has been orating for at least 3 rounds since the last kireji, his kireji can grant a season charge to another season; also at ths level, spell-like abilities may be used instead of the kireji, provided aforementioned limitation was maintained and the SP costs 3 or less charges. This replaces the effects of the kireji and basically allows for the use of a SP in a full attack, as well as a haiku change. This replaces the ability to place and deliver omamori via the weapon. 9th and 13th level net +1 round of haiku instead of the bonus damage dice while orating, and at higher level, starting season charges begin at 2, instead of 0. The capstone requires serious set-up, but allows for an omni-dedicated SP-flurry of sorts.

It should come as no surprise that the warrior poet gets its own dedicated section of kireji, which allow for damage result recording, making movement provoke AoOs and more – 1.5 pages of these poetic interjections are included, and the list alone of haiku subjects covers 1.5 pages, with level 3 and every 3 levels thereafter unlocking a new array. Sharing effects, ability check rerolls, constant cold damage and similar aspects would have been neat on their own – in combination with the flexible and rewarding haiku engine, they become awesome.

Now, we also receive a significant array of onmyōji-themed feats – these include feats that expand/modify the cantrip/orison granting aid of the kami, including the option to forego doing so for spirit pool power. Increased spirit pool-size, 0 cost for the first time you cast a petition each day, more petitions, reduced costs of a petition, gaining temporary spirit points when executing an ability chosen from the spirit pool's options – a serious array here. You can also get an interjection, a single-subject haiku with an “on” capacity of 1 that may be interjected as a swift action. Kigoists can expand the SPs in a GM-approval based, complex feat that provides concise guidelines
A shikigami familiar, better refolding, specializing on a haik topic, green shoot poaching, etc. – oh and there is a dedicated skikigami feat section included as well - interesting.

Speaking of interesting – as noted before, I love the idea of friendship-feats. Petitions essentially constitute the spells of the class, all coming with required levels (instead of petition-levels) and drawing from the same spirit pool resource. Here, we can find the options for conjuring force-damage dealing phantom legions, or the means of petitioning the scarecrow god Kuebiko for a divination - but one that only extends half an hour. Shields of temporary hit points, or a status-like effect based on heavenly bureaucrats - the petitions themselves are not only mechanically interesting, they also evoke a ridiculously awesome imagery and often come with more narrative potential than you’d expect. Daikoku-ten, for example, may create mundane goods for you, but they do vanish upon executing the petition the next time... Raising the dead can also be achieved by petitioning Fukorokuju. Or perhaps you want to conjure forth a kami of the morning dew, which may explode upon the target receiving damage to douse the unfortunate in healing spray?

These petitions stand out due to two facts - for one, they provide Interjection Games' interesting knack for cool mechanics and nifty combo-potential. More so than in almost all IG-releases, these petitions also BREATHE the awesomeness of the extensive Japanese mythology and supplement the great rules with an imagery that is ridiculously evocative and steeped in lore. If you’re like me and Lafcadio Hearn opened a whole new world for you, if you enjoy Kaidan…well, here goes.

Everyone even remotely into Japanese mythology will have a field day here, grinning from ear to ear. Ever wanted to fly on ethereal cherry blossoms? Yeah. You read these and can immediately picture them - even in the cases where the mechanics are interesting, but not too special, it is the imagery that makes the petition awesome. For less romantic imagery, what about emitting a dread shriek of the dishonored and perished souls or unleashing Raijin's thunderclap on foes? On the mechanical side, the most interesting petition herein essentially takes all the 1/day spell-like abilities granted and turns them into a pool, for more flexibility - nice!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, particularly considering the complexity of the rules-operations attempted. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with a few colored highlights, and artwork is a blend of original b/w-pieces and well-chosen public domain art that works infinitely better than bad stock art would have. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Bradley Crouch’s Ultimate Onmyōdō is a brilliant book, pure and simple. The haiku-engine alone is a stroke of genius, and the shikigami ascendant? Pure awesomeness. The original class may have been neat, but what he managed to add to the subject matter? Heck, it’s amazing, no doubt in my mind. If you even remotely enjoy Japanese mythology and always were dissatisfied by the use of western spellcasting and classes in your oriental games, look no further. This is a genius book, and one I’d consider to be a must-own for any game that e.g. takes place in Kaidan or similar regions. Mechanically and flavor-wise distinct, as well as respectful, this gets 5 stars + seal of approval. An impressive achievement indeed.

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Just wanted to say: I'm throwing money at the screen for Greg's AP. Slumbering Tsar and Greg's work for the Lost Lands made me a true fan.
He made Xin-Shalast, and Tsar's a true gem, so yeah, I'm super-stoked to see this announcement.

I'm *also* stoked for the dragon AP, but considering that 2nd ed's coming, I'd rather have the AP when it can take full advantage of it. Just my 2 cents, of course.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Still not sure what happened there, but I felt compelled to post this everywhere.


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So happy to see this one be revealed to the world! I'm responsible for the rhyzalla and related material, just fyi! :)


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An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

The fifth installment of the What Lies Beyond Reason AP clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-backer thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is based on the revised version 1.1.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

All right, so, formally, this installment of the AP is intended for 7th level characters, but it should be noted that the adventure does provide guidance on running this for 6th and 8th level characters as well – we get some global advice on quick and painless scaling here. It should also be noted that this module works better as a stand-alone adventure than most installments in the series so far, so, if you’re looking for a module to scavenge without the epic plot the series has so far woven, this is very much possible. (Then again – particularly the last adventure really paid off big time for all the setting of the stage, so you may want to reconsider that…) Anyways, in such a case, or if a PC did not live past the events in module number #4, you’ll be happy to note that the adventure comes with 5 pregens, all of whom do receive a bit of character background, their own, full-color mugshot, etc.

Now, before I go into the details, there is something that better encapsulates how this adventure feels than many a sentences, at least for the folks who know what I’m talking about: As the author clearly states in the introduction, this is pretty much a homage to “Against the Giants” in its style, in that it tries to present an environment that makes sense; not in a realistic way, mind you, but in a plausible, fantastic manner that renders the playing experience as dynamic as can be. In other words, this module is very much a living sandbox, wherein there are plenty of ways to get to the goal. It should be noted that, unlike many a sandbox, this is still a very much story-driven module, and as such, it features copious amounts of well-written read-aloud text. If most or all of these comparisons meant little or nothing to you, or if you simply need further elaboration, here goes!

The following text will discuss the module in detail; it will not only contain SPOILERS for this module, but it might also casually link back to proceeding events in the AP. If you wish to play this, then stop reading NOW. From here on out, only GMs should continue reading.

..
.
All right, only GMS around? Great! So, in the aftermath of module #4, things have radically changed for the heroes – they have unearthed widespread corruption, made a name of themselves, and indubitably unearthed the signs of a vast warding ritual to be prepared – but by what degree they have truly shared their information and made the right deductions remains very much modular and will influence the outcome of the campaign and behavior of the NPCs within. The metropolis Anduria faces a demand for silver, and with the epidemic of madness spreading, the wards discovered in the last module may make for the best bet to return the metropolis to its proper power and confidence. In the aftermath of healing, unreliable and tainted though it may have been, gone, and the issues with certain Asmodeus-worshiping folk, the city needs heroes – which is why the PCs are asked to conduct an investigation into the very well-timed and rather convenient shortage of silver coming from Anduria’s most reliable source – the aptly-named town of Silverton. Thus, the PCs are to charter an airship en route to the town (or travel on foot, depending on how well they fare…) and look into the matter themselves…the guard has justifiably become paranoid of certain figures, and the head of the Merchant Guild, one Veranion, does come off as suspicious.

En route to Silverton, the PCs get to experience a scripted combat in the distance, an aerial combat that sees a silver dragon snared by griffon-riders and even a giant – the PCs will have the chance to ignore the silver dragon, and leave Silvirantalas, “Silvira” for her friends, to a grisly fate, or save the severely wounded dragon – who has bad news. Silverton has been taken, and her mate as well – and oddly, someone seems to be able to locate her. This is not paranoia, mind you – she is correct. Silverton has been taken by an infernal conqueror, a devil obsessed with silver known as the Silversmith, and the keep at the heart of the town, with its massive chimneys, really evoked a sense that the settlement has gone full-blown Isengard.

Massive walls and keep, forged by a mighty artifact, a massive occupying force, and a resistance – the town of Silverton is a sandbox in the truest sense of the way: Attack, infiltration and stealth are all valid means to tackle the issues in the town. The town comes with a couple of keyed locales, but ultimately, most groups will realize that checking out the mine (and potentially liberating it) may be a smart move – as such, it comes fully mapped and makes for a fun sub-dungeon of sorts. Ultimately, though, the goal is to infiltrate the massive, multi-level keep and deal with the Silversmith…and the keep is ginormous. It has a lot to find, and from global terrain effects to the peculiar, it has quite a lot to offer regarding dangerous, but potent and stories treasure– like the Hand of the Undying King or the Eye of Abraxus, but ultimately, I can only provide a very brief glimpse of what you can find here: There are plenty of named NPCs that behave in a sensible manner; from the battlements to the smothering foundry, there are a ton of variables here, which made me, indeed, recall Against the Giants.

Exploring the entirety of the keep is a daunting endeavor, and one that will be strenuous to say the least, if your PCs think they can just mow their way through the adversaries. Also rather cool: There is a means to once more confront Damien, and while he seems to be working with the enemy here, there is a good reason for him doing so: He has started to glimpse the truth of the greater plot aimed to plunge Anduria into chaos, and while his choice of methods and allies leaves something to be desired, to say the least – still, the focus of player-agenda and dynamic NPCs remains, and whether he is a boss or a potentially redeemable ally, is wholly contingent on the PC’s actions. And yep, previous actions do tally up, which adds further gravitas to the actions of the PCs. Kudos! This modularity also accounts for a potential capture of the PC’s new draconic ally, to note another possible outcome – though one with grim consequences.

Ultimately, though, the goal here is to defeat the Silversmith – and she is a deadly foe, courtesy of the transformative properties of the anvil of kings, one of several artifacts that the PCs can potentially get within – while these are very potent, they do come with a price. If the sheer number of NPCs may seem daunting at first, rest assured that the module does contain a handy name-allegiance-motivation cheat-sheet that allows you to keep track of allies and enemies of the PCs alike.

Ultimately, this sandbox, though, does not constitute the most important consequence of this module: With the silver in tow, the denouement of the module may see a temporary ceasing of the influence of R’lyeh – but if the PCs did not do their homework or remained too paranoid, the wards may take one in 10 from the metropolises population, snuffing them out! How’s that for consequences? Similarly, clever and thorough PCs may know that tapping into the reservoirs below may be used to substitute for this horrid cost – but both only grant, ultimately, a brief respite from the things to come. Still, the consequences and variables continue piling up – the potential for horrible tragedy may once more underline the notion of the horror of consequences, of prices to pay, that is shaping up as an important aspect of the series as a whole. It certainly sets a rather epic beginning for the third part of the campaign…

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the author has improved in many key aspects; while I still noticed a couple of minor snafus like a damage type missing from an item, a minor statblock issue there, considering that this is a module of this size, complexity and ambition, it’s still impressive. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and it should be noted that the adventure sports quite a few really impressive original full-color artworks. Particularly the vista of Silverton, and the BBEG’s pictures are amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. An epic aspect of this one would be the maps: The pdf comes with no less than 8 different, player-friendly maps, fully VTT-compatible. The maps are beautiful, plentiful and the amount of support here deserves two thumbs up.

Micah Watt’s “What Lies Beyond Reason” is a series that should not, by any means, work as well as it does. What Do I mean by this? Know what’s really, really not conductive to horror? High fantasy. Being essentially a superhero deprives you of the sense of vulnerability and unease that lies at the foundation of most horror games and modules. There is a reason for e.g. LotFP-offerings focusing on low level offerings, further reducing PC capabilities, etc. And indeed, this whole AP begins with a rather “as high as can be” fantasy with airships, weird characters, wonder, a magical metropolis…and then, it proceeded to provide a “vanilla” horror module of the first caliber with module #3, providing a change of pace and a first climax of sorts. The second arc of the AP, i.e. module #4 and this very one, manage to blend two things that should be contrary – by the medium of player agenda.

There is a constant emphasis on player agenda, on reaping what you sow – and on at times merciless implementation of said consequences. This module can end in a cataclysmic way if the players botch it – and after providing the most “classic high fantasy” genre-piece of the AP so far, that contrast actually adds tremendously to the adventure. I noted that the module is a homage to “Against the Giants” – and the adventure actually succeeds in encapsulating this flavor, this level of density; it is a great sandbox that can easily stand on its own, even beyond the confines of the AP. That being said, the best thing about this module for me, ultimately, is that it represents a breather from the devastating consequences of module #4 within the context of this AP, all while setting the stage for the shape of things to come.

This is most efficient as part of the AP, and it represents a massive gain in power and capabilities for the PCs – it adds a further set of variables to an already impressive tapestry of NPCs, consequences and decisions that have shaped the AP so far. If anything, this amount of variables really makes me excited for the furious finale of this AP, for the final arc of this saga.

So yeah, this is definitely worth its asking price. Is it perfect? No. there are a few typos; while, for the most part, the rules-language, damage types etc. are solid, there are a few cosmetic deviations here and there. For example, there is a scene, where the PCs can cause a ruckus to there being a bunch of stacked crates, barrels, etc. – rummaging through them is resolved with a Dexterity check – which isn’t how Pathfinder usually handles that. From a Reflex save to a skill check (Escape Artist or Sleight of Hands), there are means to resolve this more smoothly. I found a reference to a Dexterity saving throw, and e.g. a reference to unholy damage. You may not care. As a person, I don’t necessarily care – but as a reviewer and designer, such deviations do need to be noted. These are NOT the rule – they are the exception. For the most part, the rules within are concise. Still, this represents a minor blemish here.

HOWEVER: The module is a) no crunch-supplement, b) the rules are still precise enough to run this without a hitch (and substitute another check in the above example), and c), the adventure has a lot of strengths: Namely, its writing. No GM will have an issue with minor cosmetic hiccups as long as the module works properly, as long as the rules function. And indeed, the statblocks are above average in their precision, particularly considering that I’d group the author more on the side that focuses on telling an engaging story. Still, as a whole, this module does stumble a couple of times in the finer details of the rules. But the story here is compelling; the plausibility of Silverton and the adversaries herein is impressive, and while this may look like a sidetrek at first, the consequences and denouement in the aftermath bring the themes of the AP home once more – big time. This also extends to the role of recurring NPCs, and as a whole, this may be the “trip beyond the confines of the main locale”, the “change of pace” module, but it does its job significantly better than many comparable chapters in campaigns. The writing is atmospheric, fun and embraces its classic heritage.

This is a resounding success as both a stand-alone adventure, and as a part of the AP – one that actually makes me much more excited for the finale of this saga than I was before! I can see the vast ambition of this series, and so far, Micah Watt has proven that he has the means, the narrative and design chops, to deliver a payoff for this epic. And considering the potent tools that the PCs may take from this, I am rather intrigued to see where this is going. This may not be formally perfect, but it has what many adventures lack – ambition, direction and vision. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Did I mention that the PCs might get to go to hell in the aftermath of this module, quite literally? Completely optional, mind you! There. Ambition. Gaming needs it, and for that, I very much recommend you pick up the whole AP. We need great indie stories like this.

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the What Lies Beyond Reason AP clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page KS-backer thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

All right, so, formally, this installment of the AP is intended for 7th level characters, but it should be noted that the adventure does provide guidance on running this for 6th and 8th level characters as well – we get some global advice on quick and painless scaling here. It should also be noted that this module works better as a stand-alone adventure than most installments in the series so far, so, if you’re looking for a module to scavenge without the epic plot the series has so far woven, this is very much possible. (Then again – particularly the last adventure really paid off big time for all the setting of the stage, so you may want to reconsider that…) Anyways, in such a case, or if a PC did not live past the events in module number #4, you’ll be happy to note that the adventure comes with 5 pregens, all of whom do receive a bit of character background, their own, full-color mugshot, etc.

Now, before I go into the details, there is something that better encapsulates how this adventure feels than many a sentences, at least for the folks who know what I’m talking about: As the author clearly states in the introduction, this is pretty much a homage to “Against the Giants” in its style, in that it tries to present an environment that makes sense; not in a realistic way, mind you, but in a plausible, fantastic manner that renders the playing experience as dynamic as can be. In other words, this module is very much a living sandbox, wherein there are plenty of ways to get to the goal. It should be noted that, unlike many a sandbox, this is still a very much story-driven module, and as such, it features copious amounts of well-written read-aloud text. If most or all of these comparisons meant little or nothing to you, or if you simply need further elaboration, here goes!

The following text will discuss the module in detail; it will not only contain SPOILERS for this module, but it might also casually link back to proceeding events in the AP. If you wish to play this, then stop reading NOW. From here on out, only GMs should continue reading.

..
.
All right, only GMS around? Great! So, in the aftermath of module #4, things have radically changed for the heroes – they have unearthed widespread corruption, made a name of themselves, and indubitably unearthed the signs of a vast warding ritual to be prepared – but by what degree they have truly shared their information and made the right deductions remains very much modular and will influence the outcome of the campaign and behavior of the NPCs within. The metropolis Anduria faces a demand for silver, and with the epidemic of madness spreading, the wards discovered in the last module may make for the best bet to return the metropolis to its proper power and confidence. In the aftermath of healing, unreliable and tainted though it may have been, gone, and the issues with certain Asmodeus-worshiping folk, the city needs heroes – which is why the PCs are asked to conduct an investigation into the very well-timed and rather convenient shortage of silver coming from Anduria’s most reliable source – the aptly-named town of Silverton. Thus, the PCs are to charter an airship en route to the town (or travel on foot, depending on how well they fare…) and look into the matter themselves…the guard has justifiably become paranoid of certain figures, and the head of the Merchant Guild, one Veranion, does come off as suspicious.

En route to Silverton, the PCs get to experience a scripted combat in the distance, an aerial combat that sees a silver dragon snared by griffon-riders and even a giant – the PCs will have the chance to ignore the silver dragon, and leave Silvirantalas, “Silvira” for her friends, to a grisly fate, or save the severely wounded dragon – who has bad news. Silverton has been taken, and her mate as well – and oddly, someone seems to be able to locate her. This is not paranoia, mind you – she is correct. Silverton has been taken by an infernal conqueror, a devil obsessed with silver known as the Silversmith, and the keep at the heart of the town, with its massive chimneys, really evoked a sense that the settlement has gone full-blown Isengard.

Massive walls and keep, forged by a mighty artifact, a massive occupying force, and a resistance – the town of Silverton is a sandbox in the truest sense of the way: Attack, infiltration and stealth are all valid means to tackle the issues in the town. The town comes with a couple of keyed locales, but ultimately, most groups will realize that checking out the mine (and potentially liberating it) may be a smart move – as such, it comes fully mapped and makes for a fun sub-dungeon of sorts. Ultimately, though, the goal is to infiltrate the massive, multi-level keep and deal with the Silversmith…and the keep is ginormous. It has a lot to find, and from global terrain effects to the peculiar, it has quite a lot to offer – like a counterfeit hand of Vecna (referencing the proper name here may be a potential IP snafu), but ultimately, I can only provide a very brief glimpse of what you can find here: There are plenty of named NPCs that behave in a sensible manner; from the battlements to the smothering foundry, there are a ton of variables here, which made me, indeed, recall Against the Giants.

Exploring the entirety of the keep is a daunting endeavor, and one that will be strenuous to say the least, if your PCs think they can just mow their way through the adversaries. Also rather cool: There is a means to once more confront Damien, and while he seems to be working with the enemy here, there is a good reason for him doing so: He has started to glimpse the truth of the greater plot aimed to plunge Anduria into chaos, and while his choice of methods and allies leaves something to be desired, to say the least – still, the focus of player-agenda and dynamic NPCs remains, and whether he is a boss or a potentially redeemable ally, is wholly contingent on the PC’s actions. And yep, previous actions do tally up, which adds further gravitas to the actions of the PCs. Kudos! This modularity also accounts for a potential capture of the PC’s new draconic ally, to note another possible outcome – though one with grim consequences.

Ultimately, though, the goal here is to defeat the Silversmith – and she is a deadly foe, courtesy of the transformative properties of the anvil of kings, one of several artifacts that the PCs can potentially get within – while these are very potent, they do come with a price. If the sheer number of NPCs may seem daunting at first, rest assured that the module does contain a handy name-allegiance-motivation cheat-sheet that allows you to keep track of allies and enemies of the PCs alike.

Ultimately, this sandbox, though, does not constitute the most important consequence of this module: With the silver in tow, the denouement of the module may see a temporary ceasing of the influence of R’lyeh – but if the PCs did not do their homework or remained too paranoid, the wards may take one in 10 from the metropolises population, snuffing them out! How’s that for consequences? Similarly, clever and thorough PCs may know that tapping into the reservoirs below may be used to substitute for this horrid cost – but both only grant, ultimately, a brief respite from the things to come. Still, the consequences and variables continue piling up – the potential for horrible tragedy may once more underline the notion of the horror of consequences, of prices to pay, that is shaping up as an important aspect of the series as a whole. It certainly sets a rather epic beginning for the third part of the campaign…

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the author has improved in many key aspects; while I still noticed a couple of minor snafus like a damage type missing from an item, a minor statblock issue there, considering that this is a module of this size, complexity and ambition, it’s still impressive. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and it should be noted that the adventure sports quite a few really impressive original full-color artworks. Particularly the vista of Silverton, and the BBEG’s pictures are amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. An epic aspect of this one would be the maps: The pdf comes with no less than 8 different, player-friendly maps, fully VTT-compatible. The maps are beautiful, plentiful and the amount of support here deserves two thumbs up.

Micah Watt’s “What Lies Beyond Reason” is a series that should not, by any means, work as well as it does. What Do I mean by this? Know what’s really, really not conductive to horror? High fantasy. Being essentially a superhero deprives you of the sense of vulnerability and unease that lies at the foundation of most horror games and modules. There is a reason for e.g. LotFP-offerings focusing on low level offerings, further reducing PC capabilities, etc. And indeed, this whole AP begins with a rather “as high as can be” fantasy with airships, weird characters, wonder, a magical metropolis…and then, it proceeded to provide a “vanilla” horror module of the first caliber with module #3, providing a change of pace and a first climax of sorts. The second arc of the AP, i.e. module #4 and this very one, manage to blend two things that should be contrary – by the medium of player agenda.

There is a constant emphasis on player agenda, on reaping what you sow – and on at times merciless implementation of said consequences. This module can end in a cataclysmic way if the players botch it – and after providing the most “classic high fantasy” genre-piece of the AP so far, that contrast actually adds tremendously to the adventure. I noted that the module is a homage to “Against the Giants” – and the adventure actually succeeds in encapsulating this flavor, this level of density; it is a great sandbox that can easily stand on its own, even beyond the confines of the AP. That being said, the best thing about this module for me, ultimately, is that it represents a breather from the devastating consequences of module #4 within the context of this AP, all while setting the stage for the shape of things to come.

This is most efficient as part of the AP, and it represents a massive gain in power and capabilities for the PCs – it adds a further set of variables to an already impressive tapestry of NPCs, consequences and decisions that have shaped the AP so far. If anything, this amount of variables really makes me excited for the furious finale of this AP, for the final arc of this saga.

So yeah, this is definitely worth its asking price. Is it perfect? No. there are a few typos à la “lavalava”; while, for the most part, the rules-language, damage types etc. are solid, there are a few cosmetic deviations here and there. For example, there is a scene, where the PCs can cause a ruckus to there being a bunch of stacked crates, barrels, etc. – rummaging through them is resolved with a Dexterity check – which isn’t how Pathfinder usually handles that. From a Reflex save to a skill check (Escape Artist or Sleight of Hands), there are means to resolve this more smoothly. You may not care. As a person, I don’t necessarily care – but as a reviewer and designer, such deviations do need to be noted. These are NOT the rule – they are the exception. For the most part, the rules within are concise. Still, this represents a minor blemish here.

HOWEVER: The module is a) no crunch-supplement, b) the rules are still precise enough to run this without a hitch (and substitute another check in the above example), and c), the adventure has a lot of strengths: Namely, its writing. No GM will have an issue with “lavalava”, as long as the module works properly, as long as the rules function. And indeed, the statblocks are above average in their precision, particularly considering that I’d group the author more on the side that focuses on telling an engaging story. Still, as a whole, this module does stumble a couple of times in the finer details of the rules. But the story here is compelling; the plausibility of Silverton and the adversaries herein is impressive, and while this may look like a sidetrek at first, the consequences and denouement in the aftermath bring the themes of the AP home once more – big time. This also extends to the role of recurring NPCs, and as a whole, this may be the “trip beyond the confines of the main locale”, the “change of pace” module, but it does its job significantly better than many comparable chapters in campaigns. The writing is atmospheric, fun and embraces its classic heritage.

This is a resounding success as both a stand-alone adventure, and as a part of the AP – one that actually makes me much more excited for the finale of this saga than I was before! I can see the vast ambition of this series, and so far, Micah Watt has proven that he has the means, the narrative and design chops, to deliver a payoff for this epic. And considering the potent tools that the PCs may take from this, I am rather intrigued to see where this is going. This may not be formally perfect, but it has what many adventures lack – ambition, direction and vision. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Did I mention that the PCs might get to go to hell in the aftermath of this module, quite literally? Completely optional, mind you! There. Ambition. Gaming needs it, and for that, I very much recommend you pick up the whole AP. We need great indie stories like this.

Endzeitgeist out.


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FYI, folks - I've seen some tidbits of this setting...and it's gorgeous indeed!!


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

The final installment of the impressive Languard Locations-series, which further elaborates upon the unique locales to be found in the city of Languard clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

It is time, my fellow travelers, to once more walk the streets of Languard, of this beautiful and horrible pearl of the Duchy of Ashlar – and this time around, we won’t go to a particular neighborhood. Instead, we will light our torches and delve below the dirty, cobblestone streets and explore what lies beneath the surface of this city.

In case you were wondering – we do get the full-page map of Languard, beautifully hand-crafted by Tommi Salama, and on it, the respective places are noted. While I very much would have welcomed a map of the main tunnel systems, this map does do its job and contextualizes the respective locales featured within.

A total of 9 new locations are provided in this pdf, and, as before, the respective write-ups all feature their own adventure hooks. They sport the sensible letter and number combination that allows you to easily assign them to a neighborhood. “S7”? Obviously a location in the shambles. It’s a small thing, but one I enjoy. Key NPCs note race and class, as well as alignment, but otherwise remain focused on flavor-text. Where applicable, the 5e-iteration references the default NPC-stats, and where this would make no sense, a combination of class-name and suggested level allow for easy contextualization. There are no stats provided, but you probably won’t expect them at this point.

6 of the locations are roughly in the vicinity of the High City, and there is a reason for that, as the introductory paragraphs duly note: North of the Svart, an abundance of natural caverns made for an easy choice to expand into a proper, full-blown sewer system…but the same did not hold true for the poor South of the city: Low City, shambles, fishshambles, wrecks – these places will feel just as grimy as you probably envision them to be, as noted in their respective reviews. In the context of a fantasy world more so than within the context of a mundane one, there is obvious danger looming within the darkness of sewers – and indeed, Languard does have a force that takes care of that…the Dark Wardens. Languardians living in the High City call the tax that pays for these men and women the S$!# Tax – for obvious reasons.

In the dark recesses beneath the earth, you can find the “House of the Clouded Mind” – more commonly known by its informal moniker – The “Screaming Halls.” These darkened and damp corridors house Languard’s insane, and while the house above ground may be pleasant enough, the same can’t be said for the regions below that act as a dumping ground for undesirables. Less grim and heart-wrenching would be the dwarven shrine, set into Languard’s cliffs, where the stout folk may worship in peace and in cavernous settings.

In a cavern, right in the midst of a pool, there is a shard of clearly unnatural rock – the low shard. In the dim twilight, a toll must be paid to enter, but in the strange presence of the rock formation, couples tryst and both dalliances and alliances are commemorated. A cavern beneath a lamp-lit tent conceals the entrance to the black market of Languard, where freak show entertainers, exotic goods and weaponry and more may be purchased…if you can pay the price and know where to look, that is.

And then there would be the tunnel of shades, and amazing adventure location. A prior ruler of Languard once had the idea to give the unemployed something to do, and attempted to tunnel under the Svart, connecting the two halves of the city. Well, turns out that this did not go well. Partially flooded, courtesy of incompetence, and haunted by the spirits of the dead, this tunnel may exist, but it is a dangerous proposal to navigate it by skiff.

Right beneath the eminent Father, there are the Languard catacombs, divided by class just as the city above is. In the Shambles, south of the Svart, there is Saren the rag-lady – a potent information-broker rumored to be undead…and a glance at her sloughing skin and blisters may well lead the PCs to conclude that the rumors are true. Prices for information on specific targets are provided. If you’ve read the supplement on the Shambles, it should come as no surprise that the chaos of the place does extend to the area below the surface. And indeed, the maze of wooden passageways and linked cellars makes for a labyrinthine environment, while also housing the headquarters of the Shadow Masks. Finally, beneath the notoriously unstable and wretched Wrecks, there lies the place known as Smuggler’s Crux, a maze of half-sunken canals, crawl-holes and soughs of connected barrels – unreliable, notoriously dangerous, and twisted, air pockets can be found in side vents and wells, subterranean rangers and rogues lair here…and there even is a tiny subterranean sanctum for the truly desperate. I adore this one!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. As this basically contains next to no rules, there isn’t much to do wrong here. Layout adheres to the series’ elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf sports a plethora of really nice b/w-artworks. As noted before, Tommi Salama’s cartography of Languard is excellent, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf also comes in two iterations, one intended for screen-use, and one intended to be printed out.

Creighton Broadhurst, Steve Hood and Richard Pett provide a triumphant farewell to Languard and its locations. The series has managed to seed the already impressive city with truly remarkable, down to earth, grimy and gritty locales that get the creative juices flowing, and this supplement is no exception. The 5e iteration holds up to the comparison with the other two versions of this installment, retaining the strengths of the supplement. A worthy final offering, this pdf gets 5 stars + my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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Part II of my review:

Okay, but we’re still not done. There is another massive chapter – and it’s called combat maneuvers. This chapter introduces an alternative means of resolving, bingo, combat maneuvers. Design-wise, the alternate maneuver system mirrors the way in which Starfinder treats AC: The Maneuver Defense (MD) value is subdivided into PMD (Physical Maneuver Defense) and MMD (Mental Maneuver Defense). The values are calculated as follows: 10 + ½ BAB + Strength modifier (PMD) or Charisma modifier (MMD). All combat maneuvers, and the feint and demoralize skill uses, as well as the Antagonize feat, target these now. Yes. Non-feat taxed antagonize is back. Honestly, it was one aspect of SFRPG that puzzled me as much as in PFRPG. Why lock insulting an enemy, arguably something pretty much anyone can do, behind a feat, while feinting, something I IRL would suck at, is available via skills? But I digress. Maneuvers are listed alphabetically, and are listed with action to activate, skills that can be used, and effects. Descriptors, if any, are noted as well. You basically check the skill against the respective MD. Crushing foes, scaling them…simple. Less simple would be the act of determining these values fro critters. Thankfully, a massive table lists suggested values by CR and array. (As an aside: The array is called spellcaster, not mystic…) Don’t like that? There is a means to use the system in conjunction with the standard KAC +8 solution.

What’s the effect of implementing it? Well, PCs are more likely to succeed at combat maneuvers…but so are enemies. If you are dissatisfied with how hard combat maneuvers are to execute in Starfinder, then this will yield approximately a 25% increase in chance to execute them, which can, particularly in more melee-centric situations, make them game more versatile and nuanced. The new “humiliated” condition is also introduced herein – and, in case you were wondering, there is a whole, massive array of feats that allow you to further customize your characters to make maximum use of this new system. In a rather embarrassing slip-up, the feats refer to the Improved Combat Maneuver feat – which has been rebranded as Improved Maneuver to avoid confusion with the Starfinder core feat. Unfortunately, the references of the feat in the section’s prerequisite lines have not been adjusted that way. It’s a cosmetic glitch, but still a pretty nasty one. Particularly since the Improved Maneuver feat’s special line even erroneously references itself as Improved Combat Maneuver… Also in this section would be the Unlock Skill feat.

Which ties in with…the Skill Unlocks. These can be gained by feats, themes or awarded freely, depending on your preferred playstyle, and include several that interact with other components of the book. At Fame 20, you can, for example, be Aloof without taking a penalty to Leadership score. With Blood Kin, you have a better rapport with your relatives, with Accomplished Climber, you gain a climb speed. Tehre are more unlocks here than I can conceivably cover without ruining the functionality of this review – suffice to say, a handy table organizes them by area of interest – looking for reputation unlocks? All collected in one section. If this notion was not indicator enough: One of the interesting and impressive components of this book would be the fact that all of these can be combined. The pdf does, for example, provide guidance and notes that skill unlocks can make for great relationship rewards…

Of course, considering the new combat options, we also receive a couple of new tricks for character classes: 4 new envoy improvisations, and an expertise talent, as well as tricks, for mechanics, soldiers and operatives may be found. The pdf then closes with 4 solid themes: Contender, scion, fixer and vigilante, before providing a handy glossary. Slightly hilarious: The vigilante gets the “Duel Identity” class feature. No, he is not particularly adept at dueling. That’s a typo.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a rules-language level, as a whole, are very good. However, on a formal level, the pdf does suffer a bit and is not 100% up to level we usually get to see from Everyman Gaming. Particularly in the few instances where a typo can make a rule slightly harder to understand, I couldn’t help but cringe slightly. Don’t get me wrong; this is still a tightly-presented book. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard of the Star Log.EM-series, adapted to the big book, and the pdf sports a ton of Jacob Blackmon artworks, many of which are brand new and pretty massive. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. My physical copy hasn’t yet arrived as per the writing of this review.

Alexander Augunas and Matt Morris deliver what can be considered to be a crown jewel among SFRPG supplements; we get a book with a sheer impact and coolness, a mighty toolkit that usually only sees the light of day in this extent towards the end of a system’s lifecycle. Having this near the beginning of Starfinder’s lifecycle is amazing. Simple as that. It is no secret that I consider many of the concepts within this book, the whole notion of skill challenges, to be pretty much a stroke of sheer genius. Having them coupled with some of my favorite tricks, as inheritors of Ultimate Charisma’s legacy, puts just icing on the cake. I applaud the degree in which the systems herein have been modified to represents Starfinder’s peculiarities, and once more, I am left to say, clearly and explicitly, that the very concept herein should have found its way into the core rules.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some potential complaints to field: The editing, as noted, could have been tighter. I also would have loved to see more space combat-y things and peculiarities – sure, you can easily simply adjust what’s here to the space context, and the skill challenges present actually do just that…but some exclusives would have been nice. But that is not a fair complaint to field. You see, at first glance, there are a lot of similarities between this and the original PFRPG files; if you own the original files, you will constantly feel the casual familiarity that you expected to find…but once you take a more in-depth look, you will get to see the work that went into this tome…and the achievement that codifying the skill challenges this way, ultimately is. Regardless of system. This book was branded as the tome that will bring skill challenges to SFRPG – and more.

And, editing snafus be damned, it succeeds admirably. At this point, this is the most rewarding toolkit for SFRPG I am aware of. It will literally enhance any game it’s used in, and a GM who understands how this operates gets some of the mightiest narrative tools for a d20-game you can fathom on their hands. The concept itself may no longer be novel in all but its implementation into the system, but it doesn’t have to be. What you see on the cover, the exciting teamwork challenge? That can be yours.

Skill challenges have enriched my games like no other crunch supplement. If you play Starfinder and are not yet familiar with the notion, or if you don’t want to do the math and all those little tweaks…well then gets this ASAP! It is a mind-blowing experience. Now, if I were to rate this solely on its formal properties and disregard the content and its vast impact, I’d frankly have to rate this down to 4.5 stars, rounded down, due to the editing glitches. However, even if I were to divorce skill challenges from all the other components, which elegantly entwine, yet remain optional, they’d suffice to make the editing snafus as but trivial.

To state this in an abundantly clear manner: This book can radically improve pretty much every aspect of your game, of your GMing, of your playing experience. You don’t have to read everything. You don’t have to implement what you don’t want to – you can just cherry-pick what’s right for your and your group. Once you’ve understood this, you can implement its components on the fly, you can tell exciting stories that you couldn’t before. In short: This is, formal snafus or none, still a milestone and a masterpiece. I consider this to be perhaps the most important Starfinder supplement currently released by a 3pp. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This also gets my EZG Essentials-tag for Starfinder. And had its predecessor not won last year’s Top Ten, and thus disqualified this one from being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018, you could find it there as well. This is, by all accounts, a must-own supplement for Starfinder.

…now, can we have a sequel book with more skill challenges, tricks and tweaks?

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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You're absolutely amazing for doing this! As always, please do NOT count me as an entrant - just cheering on the side-lines for everyone! :D


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As the developer for this project: Oh, I have such sights to show you... *cackles madly*

(Seriously, though - the mythic surgeon robot? Oh BOY, you don't want to mess with those fellows...)


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Aye, Pyromaniac's AP is amazing and utterly underappreciated. It's not yet complete, though.


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The Zeitgeist AP by EN Publishing comes to mind.
AAW Games' cult classic Rise of the Drow (with Prologue + Epilogue adventures) is a full AP.
(AAW Games also has adventure arcs galore.)
If you don't require a linear story, you could easily string the amazing Kobold Press modules together. You could e.g. combo Tales of the Old Margreve, Wrath of the River King and Courts of the Shadow Fey.
Similarly you can string TPK Games' modules together to reach ~level 9-10.
While not an AP per se, I warmly recommend the 4 Dollar Dungeons modules. They're extremely affordable and ridiculously good.

Hope that helped!


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Part II of my review:

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language level – the pdf manages to juggle highest-complexity designs in a meaningful and precise manner. On a formal level, I noticed more formatting glitches than I would have liked to see, but thankfully, these do not wreck the rules-integrity of the supplement. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports quite an array of aesthetically-pleasing full-color artworks that I haven’t seen before. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Adam Meyers, Andrew Stoeckle, Michael Sayre and N. Jolly, with contributions from Siobhan Bjorknas, have penned a book I…honestly kinda dreaded reviewing. After loving Spheres of Might as much as I did, I was genuinely afraid that this might not live up to my expectations. Particularly since crossover books like this are notoriously hard to get right…and they are a crapton of work to check. They also tend to not be exactly fun: It is in the nature of the subject matter that there need to be quite a lot of “Now you can use subsystem xyz” abilities, archetypes, feats, etc, - and yes, the like is in this book. And a lesser publisher/cadre of authors would have probably called it quits right then and there.

Not so here. Imagine my surprise, when even archetypes that basically don’t do anything but “look, here’s class xyz, now it works with Spheres of Might and Spheres of Power” suddenly became kinda interesting? In fact, quite a few of the archetypes herein are really interesting!

The troubadour is the post-vigilante bard that we wanted to see and perfectly fits one of my character concepts (and makes for a great 1-on-1-gaming character); the sage, if you ignore the aggravating (and admittedly, easy to fix) infinite healing exploit at level one, is a unique and novel take on the martial scholar that does quite a few unique things. It’s really worth tweaking that one line, even if you’re like me and have the impulse to rage-quit the class right then and there.

And then, there would be the prodigy. Oh, dear dice-gods, the prodigy. Words fail me. This fellow is flexible, versatile, super-customizable and brings this excessive customization and integrates it into a combo-engine! I cannot properly express how much I frickin’ adore this class, and whoever has written this fellow – let it be known that this guy is one of my all-time favorite classes for any d20-based game. And yes, this guy can get fast healing without nominal caps, but it also limits it and prevents abuse by the very parameters on which the engine is based. This class is a thing of beauty, a culmination of desires I had that I never realized I had. The blending of martial and magic powers via this marvelously modifiable engine is seriously humbling and will rest as a benchmark of excellence by which other classes and options will be judged. How much do I love it? Well, the rest of the book is a really impressive supplement, but this guy single-handedly nets this supplement a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. Oh, and final verdict 5 stars + seal of approval, obviously. If you use the Spheres of Power and Spheres of Might books, then get this asap!!

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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Part II of my review (it was cut off once more...):

The pdf follows the trend established in Akashic Trinity, in that the new veils presented within are grouped by theme, providing leitmotifs that help contextualize the veils. Three such themes are provided: Starry Elements, Priestly Raiments and Apparel of the Merchant Prince. This, at least to me, makes these more interesting, exciting. You get the idea. A couple of these are reprints, though we do get new ones here. It should also be noted that the traditional one –letter code for the veil chakra-binds for the classes has been omitted this time around. Personally, I welcome this: A concise table for each class simply makes more sense and, as this is the 7th veilweaving class, things would become cluttered, fast. These veils are of the excellent quality we’ve come to expect from the author. EDIT: I was asked to state what I think about them, so there goes: Aurora Lenses are a godsend; these lenses allow for counterspelling of spells and psionic powers for veilweavers. The Mask of Elemental Adaptation is a means to convert energy damage taken to a chosen type, with sensible caps. Perihelion pauldrons allow you to retaliate with energy when assaulted in melee. Shooting Stars let you fire those, with the bind adding them to be used as basically a weapon. Star Metal Bracers allow for energy type change. While Stellar Stompers can generate energy bursts and, provided sufficient essence is invested, even propel you forward. I really liked these veils!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Considering the depth and complexity of the subject matter at hand, it is pretty impressive to see such a tight pdf here. Layout is GORGEOUS and adheres to a 2-column full-color standard (Liz Courts did the graphic design – no surprise it looks this damn good!) that is enhanced by absolutely stunning, original full-color artworks by Bryan Syme. This pdf is beautiful indeed! Look at the cover – yep, that’s the same artwork quality as inside. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Michael Sayre’s Zodiac is a super-impressive class; From a design perspective, it manages to portray a pet-class that feels and plays radically different from pretty much any other pet-class out there. This does not play like a summoner, spiritualist, tinker, etc., and the distinction is not solely based, as one would assume, on akasha access. Instead, the zodiac embraces player choice and freedom to a degree that is almost baroque in its splendor, in a good way. The immediate access to the totality of constellations, to what a lazier designer would have made a bloodline-like fire and forget choice, renders the zodiac very flexible and interesting in its overall themes and options – from level 1, you will have quite an assortment of tricks.

And then, there would be the orbit class feature.

Most designers would have made two classes instead, or made this an archetype – here, it is part of the core design paradigm and as such, it is something that should be applauded. That being said, it also represents the one component of the base class where I am a bit weary. You see, the uneven nature of manifestations among constellations, as noted above, isn’t as relevant for the lunar zodiac as for the solar one. The solar zodiac indeed has some choices among constellations that are frankly better than others. My own design experience tells me that this likely stemmed from a shifting of elements associated with constellations, but I’m not sure. Either way, I do think that a few tweaks to the constellation abilities could make this a tad bit more “even.” The solar zodiac, in case you were wondering, performs approximately on the level of the better martial classes – so better than the fighter (but who doesn’t these days…), for example, but not on a level that would present an issue in most games.

How to rate this? Oh boy, this is where things become difficult for me. You see, this sense of an inequality between the elements of constellations and their respective power is something I find hard to ignore; there are a few cosmetic hiccups as well…and yet. And yet, I honestly believe that the zodiac is one damn cool class. I can see myself actually choosing to play, wanting to play these fellows, and considering the vast wealth of class choices at my disposal, this is something. The class could work, courtesy of champions, wonders for a 1-on-1 game with only one player; the champions could offer a ton of roleplaying potential. And the design is daring. Whenever there is one way to do things in a safe and bland way, the pdf instead goes on and does things in a creative, harder, but also more interesting way.

So yeah…what to do? Well, first of all, I can’t rate this 5 stars – the aforementioned hiccups and the uneven elemental distribution regarding constellation manifestations makes that impossible. However, at the same time, I don’t feel justified rounding down, as this does not present anything broken, as the craftsmanship of what’s here is simply too precise. Hence, I will round up. I also really love the wondrous ways the akashic engine was tweaked and modified here; the constellation engine is a bountiful ground for further design choices, and the means to expand upon the options presented by Shape Veil should let a sigh of relief escape from more than one dabbler in the akashic arts. As such, and due to me really enjoying the wonderful flexibility the class offers, I will also add my seal of approval to this file.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This horror-adventure clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This module is set in the region of Ina’oth in the criminally-underrated Vathak setting. If you even remotely enjoyed Ravenloft and similar settings, I firmly suggest checking out the whole product line right now – it features some of the most inspiring sourcebooks out there, and I’ve reviewed pretty much all of them. (The Ina’oth-guides for Players and GMs, in particular, will help you get a feeling for the unique themes – and in horror and dark fantasy, theme is extremely important.)

It should be noted that the pdf includes 6 sample pregens, who, power-level-wise, are approximately on par with one another. These use Vathak-specific rules, obviously, but all that you need to run them is included within this module. The pdf does feature copious amounts of read-aloud text, so if generating a proper atmosphere is not your strong suit, this has you covered.

All righty, this being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

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Only GMs around? Great! We join the PCs as they are on the road through the regions where the fell Plague of Shadows once ravaged the lands, towards the former capital of Ursatur, and they are escorting the romni trader (lavishly-illustrated with a stunning artwork) Nuri Brovna, and they’ve been on the road for some time. The pdf does provide a couple of hooks here for your convenience.

Anyways, after a flavorful introductory text, the adventure proceeds to confront the PCs with a cadre of bhriota raiders – these guys attack the wheels, and the module uses an abstraction here, telling you to track the number of attacks executed against the wheels. While I totally get the narrative importance of the state of the wagon, I do think that providing stats for the wagon would have been the more “Pathfindery” thing to do here. It doesn’t negatively impact the adventure, but from an aesthetic point of view, it’s something that bugs me.

After driving off the raiders, the PCs will have a chance to test their skills and problem-solving in a skill-challenge of sorts, wherein they extract the wagon from the raider’s pit. Tracking down the raiders, now or later, to their camp will be appreciated by the locals, just fyi. Arriving at Jelsana, the wagons and PCs are inspected by locals muttering under their breath about diseases before being allowed to enter the village, where furtive and fearful gazes are sent towards the PCs by the funerary-garbed locals. A brief run-down of the village and its movers and shakers is provided for your convenience, and the movers and shakers have small quests for the PCs, which can be used to gain favor with the respective important NPCs.

They may well be invited by the councilor (whose header lacks an “l” – his last name is “Spiel”, German for “game”, not “Spie”…), and while the PCs are waiting for the wagon to be repaired, Spiel will get down to business after a pleasant meal: There is a mass-grave from the time of the Plague of Shadows upriver, and bodies have been exposed by the recent rains. He is looking for folks willing to burn the bodies, just to make sure that they don’t attract ghouls or are washed downriver. At the grisly site, dangerous, massive maggots constitute an optional and nasty fight…

Guard capain Krunedorf has a smuggler-problem, and the smugglers may need some convincing to divulge their methods…but, you know, that smuggler fellow…he looks fit, but he’s sweating profusely…does he have a fever? The local priest, Father Heinrich, is constantly creating new remedies, and testing one and providing feedback may help win him over…though the slightly disturbing method he uses may caution PCs: The medicine includes old human bones…which the smugglers get into town…

All of these quests are a setting of the stage for the main meat of the module: The outbreak! A disease is suddenly there, and it’s quickly dubbed “traveler’s fever” – and the goodwill of the authorities is all that holds back a lynch-mob! The PCs, whether they know it or not, are on a timer – and if they dawdle, they may very well face the need to escape from town in the dead of the night. But the wagon may well not yet be repaired…

The truth of the subject matter can be deduced by various means by the PCs: The bones sold to father Heinrich are harmless, but the flesh that the smugglers removed from the excavated mass grave’s victims…well, it’s not, Sharing this with the public in a convincing manner will see the smugglers burned alive, with a climactic battle purely optional!

Personally, I think this is amazing: The module does not throw yet another tentacle thing as a boss at the PCs, it is a tale of paranoia and violence, of greed and human frailty, and the climax, the burning, can make for a great tonal reinforcement that serves to drive home the themes and feeling of Vathak.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level; I noticed a few minor mistakes, but nothing serious. Layout adheres to Vathak’s amazing two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports really nice full-color artworks. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Okay, veterans of my reviews will have deduced what the one thing is that I don’t like about the adventure. It has no maps. Not for the road-side ambush (okay, we can make those), but also, alas, not for the village and the places within. There is a map for the region, taken from the Vathak-sourcebooks, but that’s it. This means, ultimately, that the village feels slightly less defined than it should be, a bit opaque, if you will. Granted, it is an issue that is easy enough to remedy with the copious amounts of villages and their maps from e.g. Raging Swan Press’ village backdrop-series, but yeah…that’s a downside.

In spite of that, though, I found myself enjoying Landon Winkler’s adventure much more than I expected to. While the set-up and tasks are deceptively simple, they manage to perfectly establish how a Vathak campaign should feel; that it’s not just a high-fantasy world with dark stuff painted on. Instead, the module establishes the leitmotif for the region in a concise manner; it highlights anxieties and opts for a pretty daring conclusion. It is, in short, more courageous than I expected it to be, and does a better job of showing, not telling, the PLAYERS how Vathak works and feels differently. (As an aside: Yes, you can play this in Ravenloft and similar settings with minimal tweaks.)

So yeah, I enjoyed this more than I thought I would! My final verdict for this one will be 4.5 stars due to the minor hiccups and lack of cartography, but I will round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This review was moved up in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons....ah, who am I kidding? After the absolutely superb Pixies on Parade, I would have covered this as fast as possible even without that.

Speaking of which - I strongly suggest playing Pixies on Parade before this one. While it can stand alone easily, I do believe that it has an added sense of gravitas when played as a kind of sequel - the pdf makes use of the concept of imagination magic and the inclusion of the dream-like logics should make pretty clear that yes, this will have an excellent reason for championing a thus more mutable reality. With the dream realm overlaps featured within, we get really nice global rules that set adventuring in the realm of dreams apart from mundane adventures – the mutable nature allows for unique tactical decisions, hijacking of specific dreams and the like. It is a truly distinct playing experience that thankfully has been translated in a tight and concise manner to 5e.

Now, this is obviously a conversion of the original module released for PFRPG; usually, that would have me worried…particularly considering how good the original was. In case you missed it: “Nightmares on Parade” made the #1 spot of my Top Ten the year it was released. Translating that level of excellence is an extremely tough task. So, can the 5e-version hold up to the PFRPG version’s excellence?

...and this is as far as I can go without SPOILING anything. Potential players SHOULD jump to the conclusion. This also includes some SPOILERS for the prequel, “Pixies on Parade”, so please don't read on if you want to play them. They're worth it.

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In “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs have managed to save Edwin from the clutches and malign influence exerted over him by the Nightmare King. He may not be escaping anytime soon...but he does not sit idly by, instead using his considerable power to draw the picturesque village of Glavost right into his nightmare realm! Uniquely empowered by their experiences in “Pixies on Parade”, the PCs thus receive the ability to manipulate reality - wishing for a unicorn, for example, may actually manifest one - though the created dreams generated do not feature the abilities of the things they're modeled after, instead employing the lesser dream statblock included within. Indeed, the somewhat parasitic/dependant nature of these dreams allows people tied to them to shape them.

Anyways, the module begins with an ominous darkening sky, a quake and mists drawing in - if your PCs have gone through the gauntlet of Ravenloft at one point, that alone will make them paranoid as all hell. Aforementioned dreams seek out the PCs and bond with them. As the PCs walk outside, they will notice Belle Leaflower walking the streets, unable to communicate or, well, perceive anybody - creative problem solution is the name of the game, as her anxieties manifest themselves and thus influence the next encounter, namely saving the ancient Elas Leaflower, who is obsessively trying to read as many books as possible at once, fearing that he is running out of time - and if the long beard and constantly multiplying books (which do not take kindly to intruders!) are any indicator, he'd be right. The PCs will have to contend with falling bookshelves, book swarms and find a way to convince Elas that his quest his futile, his books, as they are wont to be in dreams, but gibberish.

This would be a kind of leitmotif to be found here - the Nightmare King has provided some delightfully twisted (and goofy) nightmares for the folks of Glavost: Dwarven chef Rus Ulden is hunted by jello-oozing killer cupcakes. And yes, you can actually eat these...which makes for a cool prop when fighting them...just as a note... Each fellow saved and encounter passed provided an inspiration as a reward – a reward the PCs will really need, but more on that later.

Beyond these detailed encounters, however, there are also more simple, optional ones provided for your convenience: The more invested the PCs are in Glavost, the better. The fight for the minds and imagination of Glavost takes the PCs, ultimately, to the major's house, where a semi-solid sheathe of darkness covers everything and Edwin needs to be saved from what seems to be the nightmare king...though it is, in fact, "only" the most powerful dream plaguing Glavost. Having defeated this threat, the PCs now will have the proper power of a town's imagination backing them up, namely in the ability to duplicate mirage arcane as an innate spell-like ability...except that, here in the realm of dreams, these illusions are real. Kind of. They don’t cause damage per se to most beings…but they fully affect lesser dreams! This is super important for the adventure.

But the Nightmare King is not just going to throw in the towel because he's been foiled here - instead, he figures he might as well go big or go home...and sends a frickin' army in the direction of the PCs. And this is where the plot thickens and parents and adults alike should take a good, long look: The kids of Glavost, while considered to be "heroes", were basically treated with condescension by the adults; as kids all across the globe are wont to be; one crucial and important lesson anyone can draw from this book and project to the real world is that kids deserve respect.

In real life, kids may not create phantom armies...but that doesn't mean that they can't save the lives of others, that they may not be the triumphant factor in the battle for the hearts and minds of the adults around them. Just something to figure - kids are not property, they are people we accompany for some time along the way, that we try to help prosper and hopefully leave the world a better place for...but I digress.

The PCs have saved the adults and so, they may shore up the defenses and use their imagination to save the town with offenses and defenses created. There may a saboteur in their midst - the teenage night hag Isabeth, who proceeds to trap the PCs and request them doing horrible, annoying chores - but they will have to do them, if they are to escape...and there's a way to befriend Isabeth in the process, which may well be used as a means to teach kids how to deal with folks (like elder siblings…) in puberty...but that just as an aside.

The module continues to "teach", if you will, life lessons while being played - there is a detention scenario next, where the PCs are targeted by suggestions and the gremlins running the show try to get them to acknowledge that they should not be brave etc. - the idea here is simple, yet brilliant: It is mathematically unlikely that all PCs fail the save (though such a scenario is accounted for as well), and thus, the PCs will have the chance to rebuttal the theses thrown at them, with grudging acknowledgement from the gremlins....but, of course, the more PCs fail, the more will they be forced to reply as per the wishes of the "teacher". This is something that the current generations definitely should take to heart: My experience with the younger kids is that, more often than not, they are taught to cave to peer pressure, to maintain a "pleasant" environment with their comrades, even if goes against their beliefs and convictions - when I compare my cousin's school experience to mine, for example, we have been horribly rowdies and rebels who stood up for what we believed in, whereas my cousins tend to just assume the path of least resistance, modifying their convictions due to fear of being ostracized. I think that kids should be taught, as soon as possible, that their convictions have value and that the majority is not always right. This encounter does just that, without jamming its message down one's throat. It's also creative regarding how the rules are presented for 5e, so yeah - amazing!

Next up would be yet another interesting one - a satyr skald offers the PCs a fair deal: He was tasked to delay them, but finds this strategy distasteful and thus offers to fill the PCs in one the background story of the Nightmare King, which is provided in lavish detail - it is here that the old truism of knowledge equaling power may be taught...and the respectful demeanor and no-strings, straightforward and respectful attitude of the satyr progresses the thematic sequence of being show proper respect for one's achievements. The sequence here is important: This “lesson” comes right after the one that teaches to not cave to peer pressure and authority. It emphasizes that knowledge deserves respect, and that accumulating knowledge can make resistance to the opinion of the majority valid, justified.

Once the PCs have heard the story (or left of their own free will), it will be time for the army of Glavost's dreams to duke it out with the servants of the Nightmare King! Here, things become once again amazing, as, while the module recommends a descriptive and flavor-centric take on the battle of the armies, groups that enjoy rules-intense scenarios can employ the easy and quick to implement mass combat rules provided here! Yup, statblocks for the armies are provided. I intentionally did not write "kids will use descriptive, adults the rules", mind you - I certainly know enough young ones that are REALLY into the nit and grit of rules! The amazing thing here is that the PCs may use their imagination to greatly influence the way the battle works: Mass imagination magic, flexible benefits - if properly employed, this is frickin' amazing indeed! For 5e, it also offers something I enjoy: For the fellows that prefer the rules lite side of things, the descriptive option works; for those that enjoy the tactical side more, it’s here as well – basically, an everyone wins scenario.

Returning to the theme of respect - as the nightmare armies crumble, Behast, the Nightmare King waltzes to the PCs and actually offers an imagination duel; a scenario wherein he creates obstacles with his power for the PCs to overcome...an usually a respectful way of solving conflict sans violence amidst otherwise immortal beings.

Having even the BBEG actually treat the PCs with respect is a truly amazing progression of the themes employed in this book.

Speaking of amazing: The PC's actions throughout the module have direct consequences here - Behast may not enter the fray directly, but his champion has several abilities, each of which is tied to one specific type of action the PCs may have done...the better they treated their fellows, the more they helped them, the bigger are their chances against Behast's champion! Know, how in those cool 80s/90s kid's movies at one point, the kids would combine their powers, reap the benefits of the good deeds they have sown previously? It may be a bit cheesy, but it always put a good kind of shiver down my spine.

Oh, and don't tell anyone, since the PCs have to find out the hard way...but don't worry about player frustration in this book - a sidebar's got you covered, and the book provides guidance time and again.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - with the exception of a very minor aesthetic hiccup at one point, the book is pretty flawless. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a turquoise background. This may not make it too printer-friendly, but I'd suggest getting this in print anyway. The artwork adheres to Jacob Blackmon's comic-like style and is nice and internally consistent. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Apart from a darker map of Glavost, the pdf lacks precise maps, but considering the morphic theme and mutable nature of the surroundings in every encounter, it does not need them; I was a bit skeptical regarding this component, but actual playtest did affirm that the module works smoothly.

Stephen Rowe has been a kind of anomaly among RPG-designers in that he's equally at home in the writing of crunch and fluff. Additionally, his modules so far have not failed to impress me, with both Pixies on Parade or Directive Infinity X being examples of excellence.

Nightmares on Parade is a whole different level, and it is to my utmost pleasure that I can state that this holds true for 5e as well.

Let me elaborate a bit: Playground Adventures generally provides modules that can help educate kids, teach concepts and knowledge in a manner that is not obtrusive, in a manner that is fun.

Pixies on Parade was a pretty much perfect homage to 80s' kid's movies - you know, when we still treated kids as proper beings, not as second-class citizens to be sheltered to the point of generating narcissists, to the point where they're not ready facing a reality that does not cuddle them all the way.

Pixies was brilliant in that it provided a scenario that dipped into creepy themes, but at the same time maintained a child-friendly levity in theme and execution. Oh, and in the hands of an even remotely capable GM, you could run it as a balls-to-the-wall horror/dark fantasy module.

Think of a certain Goblin King's labyrinth, think of the last member of an equine, horned species and you'll see what I mean: Watching these movies as a child delighted me; watching them as an adult provided a wholly different context for both. Pixies did that and did it perfectly. Age-wise, all but the most sensitive of kids should be good with it and I ran it for a then-4-year-old sans issues. The target demographic, though, should be about ages 6+, for really, really sensitive kids probably 8+. It always depends on the kid in question.

"Nightmares on Parade" is the successor in that theme in more ways than one, maintaining the leitmotifs...but also presenting a dimension that far exceeds what regular modules offer, what you can witness in any of its predecessors.

What do I mean by this? I have to wax poetically a bit here: The German concept of "Bildung" denotes the collective process of education and personality-formation, including a development of one's own personal ideology, convictions, etc. - the very word generates an association with building one's self as an eternal process, of describing the totality of construction work of your own personality and accumulated knowledge in all fields of life. There is exactly one other module, Richard Develyn's brilliant "Seven Sinful Tales", which has ever made me employ this word in the context of adventures you can run.

You see, the structure of this adventure teaches not by stating precise information in a traditional sense; it goes beyond that. By virtue of its meticulously-structured encounters and their diverse themes, it imparts genuine wisdom upon the players, life lessons if you will. The module shows, rather than tells, what happens if you let fears (like not having enough time) define you; what happens if you're consumed by work (with a kid-friendly, literal analogue); to stand up for your convictions and what's right in the face of authorities and peer-pressure...and to never underestimate the power of imagination that so many adults have lost. (Though roleplayers tend to be safer there...)

There is not a single encounter in this module that does not provide, in unobtrusive subtext, a truly valuable, morally and ethically valuable lesson. And this does not only extend to kids: Parents running this module for their kids should carefully read this module and analyze it, for the aforementioned leitmotif of respecting your child, the importance of that aspect for the development of adults and the way in which this module treats kids can, in my most deeply-held convictions, potentially improve the horizon of parents alike. The theme of respect that ultimately is awarded to the PCs and their players by the BBEG culminates in a glorious experience that may well, in some cases, end night troubles...after all, the nightmare king has conceded defeat. But that as just an aside.

Beyond these psychologically relevant aspects and the wonderful, respectful way this book treats its audience, regardless of age, one should not be remiss to emphasize the downright amazing use of imagination magic throughout the book and the fact that, beyond the glorious lessons imparted herein, it ALSO is a truly amazing module. Whether or not you go mass combat, whether or not you play this as horror (Concerned parents, rest assured that this module, as written, is as wholesome as it gets...but any only semi-decent GM can make this very dark very easily and basically transform it on the fly into a horror-module just by adding non-kid-friendly dressing!) for adults, as a kid-friendly adventure as written, as emphasizing the crunchy aspects or de-emphasizing them via Imagination Magic, you retain maximum flexibility in how you actually run the module. I've run this twice and both times in radically different manners - and in both cases, the structure held up: The kid-friendly run worked as amazing as expected, replacing Pixies as their favorite module. The experience of running this as an adult module with my own trademark tweaks went over just as well.

Ultimately, "Nightmares of Parade" may be a glorious module on its own...but its value lies beyond that. It is a module that not only dares to teach in a didactically unobtrusive manner, it is one that teaches in a tailor-made, carefully and in truly intelligent way, to leave particularly kids and parents as better persons for having played it.

If you think I'm overanalyzing this, btw., then I'd point you straight towards the fact that this obviously is intended to achieve said stated goal; each and every facet of the module is devoted towards cultivating a respectful and benevolent development, a component of "Bildung" not only between the players, but also in their interaction with others and amongst themselves. It teaches spine and courage in the face of adversity and the value of behaving in an upstanding, honorable manner while still being kids. In short: Nightmares on Parade is a masterpiece not only on a formal level, but also is one of the scant few modules that dares to try to leave its audience better off for having played it; it is one of the very few incarnations of our favorite medium that tries to do more than entertain, without losing sight of entertainment being the primary purpose.

Stephen Rowe has surpassed himself with this module and catapulted himself into a level of adventure-writing excellence that is rarefied indeed, that is a very small class of its own.

With all my heart, I encourage you to get Pixies and this, the sequel. We need authors that dare to do more than just entertain (though it certainly does excel here as well!); it is my firm conviction that roleplaying games already are a great way of helping people, regardless of age, connect, develop and improve in numerous aspects of life. This, however, takes everything one step further - it can actually be seen as a module that could be canon as something that truly benefits everyone involved, that helps form personalities and strengthen positive character traits. This is Bildung given the form of an exceedingly fun and modular adventure. This humble masterpiece is worth 5 stars + seal of approval and the 5e-version loses, thankfully, nothing of the splendor of the original, making this on par with my #1 of my Top Ten of 2016!

If you share my firm belief that roleplaying games can make us all better people...then take a look. This module, frankly, is art in the most unpretentious manner you can define it; it leaves you better for having witnessed it.

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

Endzeitgeist out.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Thank you for the amazing work poured into this, Michael and Liz! The design and layout are both really inspiring! :D


2 people marked this as a favorite.

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


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Urgh, forgot Alexander Augunas' also really amazing shifter from Paranormal Adventures! Blame it on being tired from traveling...


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This humble pdf clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This pdf was created for the Roll for Combat podcast, and this review was moved up in my queue, to be undertaken at my earliest convenience.

It should be noted that the majority of the pdf is laid out in a one-column standard, while the introductions and basic guidelines provided are laid out in a two-column standard.

So. Loot Boxes. They’re one reason I don’t play online games, are much maligned among game designers and players, and this pdf pokes fun at the concept in a rather interesting way. The pdf, with really fun prose, explains a reason for why these loot boxes pop up in-game. Oh, and there are basically two different types of loot boxes: Lesser and Greater. The lesser ones destroy themselves upon opening, while the greater ones teleport away upon opening them. Want an example of why I think this is funny? To quote the pdf: “The only known way to destroy a greater loot box of wonder is to open the box and acquire over 4,294,967,295 of the Premium Currency. This causes the box to spout out repeated “integer overflow” errors, at which point the box loses all magical properties and can be physically destroyed using normal means.” I chuckled at that. :)

Now, the main meat of this pdf would be taken up by the two tables that let you randomly determine contents of loot boxes. The lesser loot box’s table comes with 20 entries, three of which are multiple rerolls or rolling on the greater table. And yes, the “Premium Currency” is noted before? Well, the civilization that once held it dear is long gone, so it’s just as worthless as all the real-life in-game currencies that companies scammed out of their customers. And yes, I’m still sour on having a couple of “XYZ points” left from purchasing DLCs and the like. ;P Anyhow, the lesser loot box of wonder takes a cue from the time-honored tradition of chaotic items like, obviously, the rod of wonder. The effects are genuinely FUNNY. There is a nasty debuff called “Hard Mode”; the chance to be affected by poison gas, that you lose a serum, that you get a town portal, but there also are some really potent ones – like gaining one of a variety of crit effects for ALL attacks made! And no, this has no duration noted, which may be an oversight, considering that the other beneficial properties only last for 24 hours.

The greater loot box of wonder has 15 entries that include more Premium Currency, being temporarily banned from the space-time continuum (lol), an attack by spacegoblins trapped inside, an upgrade of an item, a new voice…or what about having all armors take on a premium skin? One of the most potent effects lets you roll a d% when you spend Resolve, and on a 91-100, the Resolve is not spent. Gaining a resistance-based premium aura or golden skin – there are many of the vanities we associated with online games, represented with proper rules, though e.g. the golden skin’s bonus type is not codified – I assume, though, that this is intentional.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to both a two-column full-color standard for the set-up, and a one-column table for the tables. The pdf sports quite a lot of great, original full-color artwork, which is damn cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but doesn’t require any at this length.

Thurston Hillman, with Stephen Glicker as developer, provides a genuinely funny, cool little pdf with great production values here. This really gets loot boxes and pokes fun at them in a smart and intriguing manner; and this extends to one aspect of the pdf I adore – it’s PWYW. This humble little pdf is definitely worth checking out and leaving a tip for. While not 100% perfect, it is a genuinely funny supplement, and as such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform. And yes, this gets my seal of approval.

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

Endzeitgeist out.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

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

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