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An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-conversion of Gibbous Moon clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/author bios, 1 page foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After a page providing an introduction, we receive a new and rather well-drawn one-page illustration of the approach to the module’s main adventure site. Barlow, introduced first in the PFRPG-collector’s edition revision of the module, has also been included in this 5e-conversion. What is Barlow, you ask? Well, essentially, the module comes with a full-blown Village Backdrop-style sample village for your convenience – and I mean that; Barlow is not simply some bland “slot in and forget”-place (though you CAN run the module that way and ignore it altogether). Instead, what we have here amounts to a full-blown installment in Raging Swan press' beloved series.

In case you are not familiar with my reviews of the series, this does mean that the town not only receives lavish cartography, but also notes for gathering information, bullet pointed subquests, a section for lore, notes for sample names and yes, dressing habits of the local populace. This also covers sites of interest and in this case, several events and notes on local rumors. Law and Order and daily routine of the local populace are touched upon as well and PCs doing the legwork can unearth plenty of further potential hooks for adventuring. If the game is lagging somewhat, local events helps you bring the picturesque village of Barlow to life - and alive it is: What started as an isolated druidic enclave has seen a recent influx of dwarves (originally rescued from redcaps), who brought with them a sense of modernity not known in the rustic place.

Now if you expect yet another nature vs. progress-struggle, breathe a sigh of relief - no, the dwarves are not the bad progress-guys here - they actually do submit to the village's way of life and thus thankfully deviate from the stereotype. The conflict at the heart of this place is one of change versus tradition - and as we all know, change is inherently painful, but sticking to tradition may lead to stagnation. This is a kind of subtle leitmotif that is part of the whole module. Oh, and have I mentioned that there is an actual dryad in the center of the village? Alas, in the last couple of months, some cattle have gone missing and racial tensions rise, while a grumpy hermit at the wondrous local Clear Water has been less than cooperative. It should be noted that, where sensible, the module references the default statblocks for NPCs, and that the DCs etc. have been properly adjusted to 5e.

Going above and beyond, we even get a mini-woodland dressing for the trek from the village to the hermitage, travel times noted, etc...

Since this is an adventure I'm reviewing here, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.


..
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All right, only GMs around? Great!

The adventurers are led to the Clear Pool hermitage after unearthing some additional pieces of information via social skills etc. in Barlow. Once at the hermitage, they can find not only the grisly remains of sheep, but also encounter a savage dire boar. The hermitage, located in cliffs near a waterfall, is presented as series of natural caves with RSP's trademark attention to detail being reflected in a table of carvings, carcasses to find etc. Speaking of grisly finds - in one of the caves, Viljo, lone survivor of his adventuring team, awaits - he was also sent to this place to recover saintly bones, but his companions have been slaughtered by the resident of this place, a man named Dunstan who subsequently made zombies out of Viljo's former companions. This would be as well a place as any to note that the survivor Viljo, Dunstan, a dire boar (which is deadly!) and the aforementioned zombies all get proper 5e-stats, with Dunstan’s build actually taking shapechanging and Concentration re spellcasting into account - kudos.
Dunstan, himself once an adventurer and necromancer, was infected with were-boar lycanthropy and is responsible for the cattle thefts - he stole the livestock to quench his lycanthropic hunger and prevent the beast inside from turning upon the local populace. The moral dilemma in confronting Dunstan is obvious. While the man has acted to keep innocents from harm, he has also resorted to theft to do so. Moreover, he has slain Viljo's comrades, animated them and infected the poor man with lycanthropy as well. He's not evil (yet) though, and while he is a necromancer, he's not one of the insane kind - so what do the PCs do? Kill him? Try to negotiate a deal between him and the village? Try to cure him? What is the right thing to do? This openness of the module is commendable and DCs to broker a non-violent solution are presented in detail. Same goes for tactics, if the PCs elect to fight. The pdf also btw. provides scaling notes for the combat encounters. A cure for lycanthropy regarding Dunstan’s particular strain and multiple hooks for further adventuring are also included.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to RSP's concise and crisp 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. Both files are small enough to not be a burden on mobile devices. The b/w-artworks and cartography are nice indeed.

Creighton Broadhurst and Jacob W. Michaels deliver a flavorful, gritty little adventure, and John N. Whyte’s 5e-conversion was done professionally and with an eye for details. The leitmotif and shades of gray themes are strong. Can a certain individual be reintegrated into a society already on the verge of change? This little module has lost nothing of its splendor in 5e; it is still delightfully unpretentious while asking engaging questions; it’s well-executed, interesting, and won’t disrupt your campaigns’ tone and flavor. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page blank, leaving us with 3.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The premise of this pdf is simple – one undead for every one of the 7 deadly sins, each coming with a full-color artwork (not exactly aesthetically-pleasing). The presentation of the undead is system neutral, so no stats are included. Bible-quotes are provided for each of them. Acedai are incredibly bloated undead, surrounded by putrid stench and buzzing flies. The undead can also attack with belches and flatulence. Okay. Avarit are embodiments of greed and thus take on semi-draconic traits. They are unable to move far from their hoard.

Gula attempt to eat everything. Invid are envious and are very stealthy, gathering items in their stash…which is kinda close to greed and imho misses the mark, reducing envy to material possessions. Irat are a bit like revenants, driven by revenge, but are not released after achieving revenge, instead brooding until disturbed. Luxria carry diseases and, having been tainted by undead, can’t, ironically, fulfill their desires sans basically rape. Magnus reduce the concept of pride to basically a disappointed narcissism.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are per se good. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard, and the full color artworks…exist. Not a fan. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

James Eck’s sin-themed undead are, pardon my French, lame. They are obvious and reductive takes on the seven deadly sins, often missing the mark profoundly. They take the most obvious routes, and I’ve seen all themes herein done infinitely better. The one saving grace here would be that this is PWYW, but considering how lame everything here is, how uninspired and dull, I will not round up from my final verdict of 1.5 stars. Unless you are utterly broke, get another pdf.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The concept of this pdf is simple: Players want goodies, and yet, items, nay, magic, should have a price to pay for it. The system proposed herein is simple – you roll 1d20 three times and check the table: Column one features 20 benefits, column two 20 drawbacks, and column three presents removal conditions.

To give you examples, among the benefits, we have “Protection from Evil – The wearer is protected from the effects of evil.”, but also e.g. “Time Slowing – The wearer perceives things as happening more slowly, allowing him more time to react and make decisions. The wearer may or may not have increased speed to match the change in time perception.” Or what about passing through walls and floors at will? In short, the benefits are classics, and some of these are interesting, whereas others boil down to spell-in-a-can effects.

The detriments are more interesting for the most part; evil being attracted to the user as one less intriguing example. But paralyzed limbs, uncontrollable squawking, the requirement to crawl on all fours? There are several rather nice ones here, once again often, but not always, being relatively easy to translate to most D&D-adjacent games.

The most interesting of the three columns, though, would e the removal conditions – items that need to be taken off by fae, that only can be removed by full body immersion, that require being enclosed in mud to be taken off? These are genuinely awesome and creative, and indeed, constitute the main draw of this pdf as far as I’m concerned. The supplement also walks you through a couple of considerations before portraying 6 sample items – that illustrate this design philosophy: Spectral rings net both silence and invisibility, but the wearer can’t interact with the real world and must be defeated before it can be removed. The trespasser’s mask lets you pass through walls, but prevents you from breathing AND requires that you return to the place where you were when you put it on to take it off. There are several such unique items here, and I very much enjoy the philosophy at work here.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches, though it should be noted that the pdf uses bolding for item, drawback, removal means and benefits of the items. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, with yellowish-golden headers. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

James Eck’s little pdf started off weak for me – the benefits, in many ways, felt too conservative for me, courtesy of being system neutral. In a way, this is easily adapted, sure, but chances are good that the benefits already exist in your system of choice. To a degree, this extends to the drawbacks as well – this really shouldn’t have been system neutral as presented. The standard entries are boring, and the creative ones? They’d require serious rules-fu to convert to your game.
That being said, the system also presents the cool removal conditions, which generally tend to work super-well and enhance roleplaying. They highlight what benefits and drawbacks should have focused on as well – specific, roleplaying conductive tricks that feel distinct and magical. It also mirrors in many ways how I, as a person, like my magic items to behave and work.
That being said, the pdf could also have used a higher price point and more meat on its bones – as presented, it can best be thought of as a kind of design philosophy guideline for magic items – it’s a good one, but the system neutral nature, paired with the pretty conservative sample effects, ultimately render this less compelling than it could have easily been. However, the low and fair asking price of $0.99? Totally worth it. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, as befitting of a mixed bag, slightly on the positive side. I’ll round up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „...of Porphyra“-series clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of SRD, with the pdf laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), leaving us with 54 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This book was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

In case you were wondering: Porphyra RPG is essentially a continuation of Pathfinder 1, fully backwards compatible in the same way as Pathfinder behaved to 3.5, but with several cool features such as scaling feats and the like. Now, it should be noted that this pdf was written before the rules for Porphyra RPG were finalized, a fact that makes this closer to Pathfinder in several ways, so this is something to bear in mind.

All right, so, frogfolk! Who doesn’t love them? I sure as heck love me some gripplis, and indeed, these frogfolk are one of the three races contained herein, with the other two being the boggards and the doathi. We start with the boggards, and indeed, the book begins with a really well-written introduction by Perry Fehr, one that does a rather excellent job of setting the stage for culture and leitmotifs of the boggards, who are said to have ventured to the patchwork planet of Porphyra at the behest of the Great Old Ones, and boggards are resembling humanoid monstrous toads (as opposed to the gripplis being frog-like); the boggards as depicted here are an extremely primal society native to swamplands, and they still feel the sting of the Elemental Lords losing the NewGod war, reserving particular enmity for the Chiuta. The details provided, which include sample names, provide a compelling picture.

Mechanics-wise, boggards get +2 Strength and Constitution, -2 Intelligence, which makes them somewhat lopsided regarding their preferred classes. They are Medium humanoids with the boggard subtype, speed 20 ft., swim speed 30 ft., and get darkvision and low-light vision. This is one of the changes, were the pdf is closer to PF1 than Porphyra RPG, as in Porphyra RPG darkvision has no range, and includes low-light vision. Boggards have hold breath, and get a 10-feet tongue secondary attack; interesting here: This tongue locks you and the target down, but does not interact with the drag/pull rules, instead locking you and the target in place in relation to each other, making the tongue a pretty potent tool; however, since it’s easy to break loose, there is no reliable way to cheese this. Still, theoretically, this would allow a tribe of boggards to use their tongues to limit the movements of targets that they shouldn’t be able to restrict – this does not paralyze them, or anything, but it does allow boggard groups to lock down targets action economy-wise. While this does seem a bit odd to me, it may well be intentional. Still, a certain sense of disjunction did not leave me here. Boggards get marsh strike, and the mind-affecting sonic, Charisma-governed terrifying croak ability, usable 1/hour as a standard action. A target can end up being briefly shaken, and the ability has a caveat that prevents spamming it, but lists no range – I assume as far as can be heard, but yeah, pretty sure there should be a range.

Alternative racial traits include a bite attack (that does not properly specify damage type – Porphyra’s convention is bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage for that), some water-themed SPs…and a really cool one, that allows them to communicate across surprising distances – this one in particular, the toadsong, has some seriously cool repercussions regarding how you can depict them, and sets them apart. Really like it! There also is a replacement for the tongue that lets you make 10 foot 5-foot-steps on a successful Acrobatics check – the DC here is a very low flat DC, when it would have made more sense to at least somewhat tie this to the threatening creatures. Then again, Porphyra RPG has gotten rid of much of the bonus stacking tricks, so yeah. The pdf includes 4 nice, properly-coded race traits and 3 racial feats that scale with levels: Exploding Warts punishes critical hits against you with acid damage; Marshmaster nets you a +2 bonus to AC, initiative, Perception in marshes (later +4), and Toad-Boss Bully provides minor debuffs to creatures you demoralize or hit with melee attacks but only one target may be affected at a given time. I *assume* that affecting a new target ends the previous effect, but this is not explicitly stated.

Doathia are essentially batrachians deep ones, who look like humans, but suffer a -2 penalty to Charisma upon reaching middle age. They get either gills, +1 natural armor, +2 to Perception, or “resist sonic 5” (should be resistance); the bonus types are not codified properly either, and formatting differs from how Porphyra RPG usually does that. Odd: This is not included in the racial traits. Doathi get +2 to any “characteristic” (should be ability score), -2 to Charisma, are Medium aberrations, have darkvision (again, not the Porphyra version) and resistance acid and sonic 5, once more erroneously referred to as “resist.” They have an unnatural aura and a properly codified +4 racial bonus to Athletics made to swim, and may take 10 while swimming. 4 alternate racial traits are included, and I have no complaints there – they are well-balanced and precisely-presented, including easier item activation due to a history of forbidden lore, SPs, etc.. and the pdf also sports some cool traits: My favorite states: “You are fascinated with the Great Old Ones, but their cults are too gauche for your membership.” This nets you mythos spells added t spell list, and made me genuinely chuckle. Hidden Twin is a great racial feat, it lets you summon an invisible monster that later is greater invisible. Ogdoad Legacy nets you limited fast healing and later no breath and acid immunity. Like these!

The grippli,a s depicted herein, get +2 Dexterity and Wisdom, -2 Strength, are Small, have the boggard subtype, darkvision (same issue as before), 30 ft. speed on land and in water, 20 ft. climb speed, +8 racial bonus to Athletics checks made to climb and swim, +4 racial bonus to Stealth in marshes and forested areas. They can also fall in a more controlled manner if not overly encumbered; they always have a running start for jumping purposes, marsh stride, a Con-governed toxic skin (Track: Sluggish-Stiffened, Staggered), kept in check by limited uses, and weapon familiarity with nets. Overall, a pretty powerful race regarding the utility. In the alternate racial characteristics, something has gone wrong – there is one, bughunter, which nets you a +1 trait bonus to hit and damage vermin. That should be a trait, and its cost should not be the vastly superior jumper and toxic skin. Pretty sure that this should be a trait, and have no cost. Grippli also get the cool communication-angle, and toxic skin may be replaced with a skin that is permeable, allowing for bladders storing potions to be smashed and consumed more quickly. This one is really cool. The 4 traits that are presented here, are once more all mechanically-tight and properly codified. There are three racial feats: Poison Spit lets you spit the toxin, but since it’s just 1/day, that may not be the smartest move. Frog Style is a cool (Style) feat that lets you bounce around when critting, with two cool follow-up tricks that allows you to potentially throw and follow foes. Split-Second Leap lets you 1/combat avoid a ranged attack with a Reflex save – I generally like this, but it should not have a nonsensical “per combat” use, and instead specify a fixed duration.

The pdf also presents new racial spells (Porphyra differentiates more between spell-lists, which is one fantastic change). For the purpose of readability of this review, I will put spell names in italics, even though Porphyra RPG’s convention is to not do so. 3 variants of call bugs (pretty self-explanatory what that does) are included; Curse of the Ogdoad is a nasty, permanent curse that afflicts the target with essentially disadvantage on d20-rolls. Key and Jewel points the caster towards the nearest magic item (excluding those in the caster’s possession and those of their allies), which is a great time-saver at the table. Plague of Warts is interesting, in that it is a debuff – but for boggards and aberrations, it acts as a buff. Toe of Frog is a nice little grippli-curse, and Wall of Muck allows for low-level terrain control.

We also are introduced to an array of new magical items, which includes the Batrachonomicon artifact – and yes, it’s a risky tome. The Boggy Bodhran is a buffing hand-drum, and really creepy: Elixirs if Devolution can make anthropomorphic humanoids revert to being animals, with hybrids such as doathi having a 50% chance to become giant frogs or orangutans…A jade frog wondrous figurine can warn you of traps (or move/transform into a frog), and there is a mask that enhances mythos spells. Cursed totems of the Great Old Ones, makes that can plague of warts targets, and there is a web-woven grippli-armor as well. Generally a neat selection! Mundane items, such as snares that may be carried around (damage type not properly codified), a grippli fruit drink (called, of course, “Buu’uurp”), and firefly essence (which is essentially an anti-concealment bomb)…also cool: The custom to make Ghoul Portraits. When someone dies, the family commissions a super-ugly/repulsive portrait – the deceased person does return to hideous unlife, the portrait has a good chance of scaring them away! I LOVE this! Heck, I’d love it, if folks would do that once I’m dead and gone. We also get a siege weapon, a macabre, simple tongue-themed ballista, a drug that can induce astral projection…some gems here that I look forward to using!

The supplement also presents three new archetypes(class options, one for each race: The bloated champion is for the boggards, and is a new cause, which nets Deception and Intimidate as class skills, 1/day enlarge person (self only), and has a theme of becoming more massive; the former ability lacks the proper descriptor as (Sp), which is also missing from the capstone that lets you call a potent ally. Other than those niggles (and no proper bonus types), a cool cause. Grippli arcane archers can choose to become zappers, which are essentially anti-vermin exterminator specialists that can act unimpeded underwater, among other things. The ability to do see duplicates freedom of movement, but is extraordinary, and as such, should specify an activation action. The third option would be the Sothite doathi wizard, who is a disciple of Yog-Sothoth – they lose some weapon proficiencies, but get free action low-range demoralize attempts with limited daily uses, uttering words of Yog – cool. The archetype also gets some esoteric, exotic spells and is a bonded object that may be enchanted as a weapon.

The appendix of the pdf is massive and contains some monster update rules re types and things like Improved Drag, Quicken Spell-Like Ability, a couple of spells and universal monster rules. From giant ants, flies (statblock misses bolding and dragonflies to the leather-winged toads called Mobogo and the dreaded Ogdoad (4 types of these batrachians sires of the doathi), this section offers some fun builds.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting oscillate on a rules-language and formal level between admirable precision and missing some obvious components. Layout adheres to the series’ 1-column standard with purple highlights, and the pdf is all about the content, with no interior artwork. The pdf comes with extensive nested bookmarks that render navigation simple and comfortable.

Perry Fehr (and Mark Gedak) deliver a pdf here that sports a few hiccups stemming from Porphyra RPG by then not being finalized. That being said, the supplement does take advantage of several great rules – from the scaling feats to spell-balancing via categories (such as powerful curses being balanced by being exclusives), the pdf highlights several plusses of the game. Perry Fehr is a great author, and actually manages to make the respective races come to life, feel distinct, so that’s a huge plus for me; at the same time, his rules oscillate between inspired and unconventional to less than impressive. Minor bonus-granting feats? Lame. Similarly, the rules are rather often precise and to the point; at other instances, as noted above, they lack bonus types of sports a few oddities – in short, this is pretty much a definition of a mixed bag; while personally, I consider this to be on the positive side of things, I’d usually round down due to the hiccups. If you are particular about the details, you may wish to round down. HOWEVER, considering the amount of content we get, and the rather cool critters featured in the extensive appendix, my final verdict will round up from 3.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mini-pdf clocks in at 4 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content.

One of these pages is devoted to a one-page iteration of the nice full-color artwork, while the other contains the rules-relevant material and background.

In 5e, Trash Gryphons are challenge 0 Tiny monstrosities that actually are a variety of different entities that combine the traits of mammals and birds; the most commonly-known one is raven/raccoon, but pigeon/rat or jay-squirrel hybrids exist as well. An alternate ability that lets them use skunk musk is provided. Good news: the statblock of the 5e-version works, though the features like Keen Sight are only bolded, and not both bolded and italicized, as they should be.

As noted before, there is an alternate creature feature that allows for the use of skunk-like musk spray that may temporarily incapacitate those sprayed; however, it is not perfect: It specifies that immunity to poison makes you automatically succeed on the saving throw. Okay, does that mean the poisoned condition, poison damage, both? This needs clarification.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal and rules level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is cool. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

The 5e-version of the trash gryphons penned by Jacob Blackmon and Margherita Tramontano is better than the flawed PFRPG-iteration. It’s not necessarily an impressive critter, but it’s an okay little file for a low price point. If the notion sounds interesting to you, this may be worth checking out. My final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


@Crystal Seas: Ask for it, ask Skeeter Green Productions?

The print version with its handout booklet is certainly worth getting.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page advertisement (for Outlaw Soaps! – It fits thematically in the book – really like it!), leaving us 110 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), 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.

Okay, so first things first, this is a rules-lite game about the “Imagined Wild West” – not the historical one, necessarily, and with the subject matter being slightly less common than the Age of Sails tackled in the first Difference-engine-powered game, we begin with a pretty nifty array of links for further research, so if you want to embark on a more historical game, or are like me, not from the US and thus not as enmeshed in the history of the nation, this’ll be extremely helpful – particularly because we’re playing US Marshals and/or their deputies this time around, and not the classic lone stranger popularized by media. Interesting here would also be that the author obviously did his research – if you fear a depiction of just the Old West of classic Hollywood, you’ll be told about some ladies that were US Marshals. Similarly, while racism was obviously a thing, the book also contextualizes this, and provides examples for African American heroes serving as US Marshals. So yeah, you can obviously ignore these or include them in your game, choosing what aspects you wish to emphasize, but it was interesting for me to read and certainly not something I was that familiar with.

Interesting here: Even if you have no patience to do some research on the era, the game explains the role of the US Marshal (or deputy) rather well in a succinct and precise manner, and that out of the way, we move to the swift and pretty painless character creation.

The game requires 2 six-sided dice (d6s). You start by choosing a nickname, followed by selecting your attributes. There are three of those, the first being Mental, which denotes your wits, cleverness, will, etc.. Physical describes strength and endurance, agility, etc. and finally, Social, determines the character’s charm, persuasiveness, humor, etc. You assign the values +4, +3 and +2 to these.

After this, you choose two Talents and two Flaws (a difference to the first Difference-engine game); this change is smart, as it generates more roleplaying potential; Talents generally tend to provide a +2 bonus to one type of challenge, while Flaws either provide a -2 penalty to all challenges pertaining some broader aspect, or -3 to challenges pertaining a more limited component – enough of those are provided to get a sense of the intended balance and make the notion of designing more of them yourself simple. Cool here: There are plenty of special events that may happen when you roll doubles, snake eyes (two 1s) – you get the drift. If you e.g. have the cheapskate flaw, snake eyes represents an item malfunctioning, breaking, etc.

Talents and flaws may also influence your Health – the default starting value is 9, and the game has another resource, namely Grit. This is clever, as it is easily the aspect of the game that makes it last – Grit is a mechanic that will have different applications, depending on your talents chosen, and it also acts as XPs of sorts – it can either influence roles, or you can spend 3 grit to buy a talent, 5 to get rid of a flaw, or 6 Grit to increase an attribute by +1. Health is always equal to the sum of all attributes, so an increase also makes you slightly tougher. The pace of the game’s progression is wholly in the GM’s hand – as noted, Health is the combination of all attributes; other than Health-increases, gaining talents or removing flaws are the suggested means to depict character growth.

After this, you choose your gear – gear doesn’t give you bonuses (at least usually; special gear may well grant bonuses!), but does allow you to perform certain tasks. All characters begin with proper clothes, a knife, a revolver and either a repeating rifle, Sharps rifle, or a shotgun, as well as a Marshal’s badge and a card signifying their office. Beyond that, you name items, and perform a simple challenge – if you win, you get the item; if not, then you don’t get it. You get to roll until you lose or have 5 items. What’s a simple challenge, you ask? It is a roll of 2d6– you roll against the opponent, and if you win, you win, if you lose, you lose. Ties are rerolled. This is the most simple resolution method herein, but not the only one – I will get to others later. But I digress: The system knows three types of weapon: Simple, improved, and advanced – their damage ranges from 1 – 3. Reloading a firearm takes a full turn, and ammo should be tracked, but this is handled in an abstract manner I enjoyed. You count shots, but are assumed to have enough ammunition on you to reload thrice. The game also specifies that one roll does not necessarily equate shots fired. Derringers and Holdouts, repeaters, carbines, etc. – all provided, and yes, the weapons do have differences in their details and rules by type. Range is a simple concept as well – from Point blank to Extreme Range, there are 7 different distance categories, which can impose massive penalties. At extreme ranges, only seasoned veterans will be able to hit at all, unless using a Sharps rifle, and these instead really suck at low ranges, you some tactics re gear are included. Rules for aiming, sights, bows and arrows or thrown weapons are also included. And yes, we get rules for cannons, explosives, etc. as well. All of these gear rules are not rules you need to know to play, mind you – they are introduced later in the book, and I moved the brief discussion of them to this section for the sake of readability.

Finally, you can add traits like age, weight, etc. and other non-.mechanical game data –and bingo. Character creation is very much possible in less than a minute – if you roll for items all at once and use colored dice, you can definitely resolve character creation in even less time. Room, board etc. is generally not necessarily something you need to track. Really cool: A suggested survival kit list of useful equipment is provided for your convenience, cutting down on the dreaded shopping spree eating up gaming time.

The Difference engine’s core resolution mechanic is to roll 2d6 + Bonus versus 2d6 + Bonus. Impossible tasks are not rolled, and easy tasks are resolved as automatic successes. Before dice are rolled, the GM and player agree on Stakes – what happens on a success, and one a failure.

The winner of the challenge is the one with the Higher Result; in case of a tie, Bonuses are compared; if the bonuses are the same as well, the highest rolled result on the dice acts as a tie-breaker – and should this still be tied, the player wins. In the case of challenges between players, neither fails – they can reattempt the check on the next turn.

But why is the engine called “Difference Engine”? Well, to determine your success in a challenge, you can have different successes – there are actually 7 degrees of success; by barely making a challenge with a tied roll of +0, you achieve minimal success, while a Difference of 11+ means an incredible success – fighting and jumping examples allow the GM to easily determine effects for a given result. It should be noted that the GM-section of this book also contains advice pertaining such components, assigning difficulties, etc. – the system is easy to grasp, intuitive and explained ina concise manner.

Teamwork is very potent – the player with the highest attribute rolls 2d6, and adds +1d6 per additional privateer involved. Only the highest two dice results are calculated, and only the Marshal who rolls the dice applies Talents and Flaws! Examples on how to interpret the rolls and how to make the eponymous Difference matter are provided, with several simple suggestions illustrating results. The system knows critical successes (double 6s) and failures (double 1s) as an optional rule, and the pdf even explains what happens on a double 6 opposed by a double 1, walking you through the entire process of using this. The game presents a detailed example of a challenges, and even if you’re new to roleplaying, that should explain the subject matter rather well.

There is one more factor to consider – Grit. Each character begins play with 1 point of Grit, and more points are gained whenever a Double is rolled ( i.e. two 2s. two 3s, etc.); this, however, may well be modified, depending on your Talents, Flaws and background story. If the players use Grit, the GM gains one point of Grit, mirroring a system I have used with some success for hero points and similar mechanics in more complex systems. (Yep, in my home-game, using a hero point will net the group a doom point I’ll use for complications and adversaries…)
Using Grit BEFORE the roll lets you add +1d6 per Grit used, but only the highest two results are used to calculate results; OR, you can add +2 per Grit used. If used AFTER the roll, you get to add +1 per Grit used to the result OR you may reroll one die rolled, but must take the new result.

Combat is classified in turns, which correspond to no set amount of time, allowing you to categorize them anew per frame (so that naval combat might have longer turns); initiative is a simple challenge, which is a smart change to the system. Akin to how VsM-games work, difficult movement may require Mental or Physical tests. Attacking may be resolved by rolling Physical vs. Physical, Physical vs. Mental, Mental vs. Mental – it depends on the context. Damage is contingent on the weapon employed and the Difference. Obviously, social combats are also possible, and it should be noted, that
Marshals reaching 0 Health take their negative Health as a penalty to all challenges If negative Health exceeds one of the PC’s attributes, they can’t use challenges in that attribute any more. At -6 Health, a character falls unconscious, at -10, the Marshal is dead. The game includes discussions of handling attacks versus objects, and indeed, actually has a dueling sub-engine, which is surprisingly exciting, involving potential wagering of Grit. Speaking of which: GMs may actually allow for Grit being used to temporarily recover Health. Let me state this right here: This is genius. There usually is a dissonance between players not wanting to spend such a resource (because they are hoarding it), and the reality depicted in classic Westerns and similar pieces of media. If the characters are so tough, why don’t they constantly operate at peak efficiency? The game makes the player not want to use Grit unless necessary, which also means that it’s sometimes smarter to NOT buckle up and use it to heal. This is very clever, and I really enjoy it. Optional rules for getting worse without proper treatment are fyi included as well.

Healing is handled easily: Roll a Mental challenge, and add Health value of target, whether positive or negative, to the result. On a success, the target regains half the Difference (rounded down) Health. On a failure, though, the Difference is taken as damage! So no, Health-scumming is not wise, and yes, it is very much intended that full heals are difficult. The engine has further improved in this game over its first iteration, in that the game presents actual rules for the means of getting around (trains, coaches, horseback – the latter differentiating between types of movement), but also has further rules regarding making camp: Campsite complexities, conditions and tasks are all covered.

The rules lite “GM has the reins”-angle is further emphasized by having positive and negative conditions and states of mind listed, which can have mechanical effects – and yes, we once more have the game spelling explicitly out that the like can’t be power-gamed. Love, faith, pride – all of these matter, and the game also walks you through downtime in detail – and where to draw the line between depicting everything and nothing. From being on the lookout to cooking and similar tasks, this engine presents quite a few cool components. Camp safety also is a factor – poisonous snakes in the vicinity, increase a threat level of a camp site by +1; the GM rolls a check with such factors cumulatively added to determine bonuses versus the characters’ rolls. It seems simple, and indeed, is an elegant solution.

The book acknowledges that it can’t be an extended GM’s guide, but provides several solid guiding principles and the like, and presents advice on choosing GM roll bonuses. The book also talks about why it abstracts the whole matter of money, how progress doesn’t necessarily need to be positive, and how to handle bonus-granting items – if you went overboard with handing out items, the book has trouble-solving means. The book also briefly touches upon weird west themes and presents stats for generic NPCs, as well as a handy little two-page character sheet.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting on a rules language level are excellent; on a formal level, I noticed a few near-homophone hiccups (à la “then/than”), but nothing serious. Layout adheres to a nice one-column full-color standard, using a blending of modified public domain art and stock pieces to surprisingly consistent effects – kudos for capturing the aesthetics well. I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the physical book, since I do not own it. A somewhat serious downside for the pdf is that it only has 7 bookmarks. For an over 100-page game, those are not enough and make navigation not as comfortable as it should be. If in doubt, I’d suggest print.

Lucus Palosaari has really learned from his first Difference game – here, we have a serious step ahead for the game, with pretty much all of my gripes taken care of. For one, the sequence of rules-presentation makes more sense to me; secondly, the game is simply more detailed: We have a lot of optional historic angles and explanations, and indeed, the book manages to be better at maintaining longer games: The use of Grit as a combination of hero points and XP is super smart and rewarding, and I can see the system allowing you to run prolonged campaigns. Presented in a concise and sensible manner, this is a fun, rules lite game, one that lets you choose the pace of the game and the degree of complexity of the game. As a whole, I consider this to be a success, and as such, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars – if you’re looking for a rules-lite game that’s easy to grasp, one with a potent engine that you can customize easily, then you can’t go wrong here.

Endzeitgeist out.


Seriously, this module is REALLY, REALLY good. It is unpretentious and a plain old-school fun! Plus, the 5e-version is imho even better than the OSR iteration. Hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did! :D


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-version of this module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This was moved up on my review-queue as a prioritized review at the behest of my patreon supporters.

I playtested this module with a group of kids, which spans the ages 4 - 11 since this is a kid-friendly module and as such needs to be tested regarding its best age-range - the tabs on my homepage contain the suggested range I'd most recommend this for. Sidebars mention e.g. cartoon violence and how to depict it; it should be noted, though, that adults can enjoy this module as well; with very minor reskinning and a different emphasis, you’ll have a dark fantasy yarn or something akin to a Don Bluth movie from the 80s/90s.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion - you see, no one likes cheaters and you'll just make the module boring for you if you continue reading.
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All right, only GMs here? Great! Every year, the town of Glavnost celebrates a festival most peculiar, dressing up with wings and the like to honor the fully statted town's pixie protectors that keep even the most unruly children from being lost in the forest...failing only very rarely. Alas, one particularly stubborn child named Edwin, seeking freedom from his parent's commands and wanting a life of eternal blissful parade with the pixies, slipped through the cracks - and the Nightmare King, a boogeyman got him, halting his aging process and grooming him to become the successor, a son...a new boogeyman.

After a brief introduction of the key-NPCs of Glavnost, the festivities of the town (which comes with a thoroughly gorgeous map that could come straight out of a children's book) are in full-blown preparation - here, the kids have some time to roam, to mingle with the townsfolk and do some research that may hint at the importance of the pixie parade, the nightmare king and the disbelief regarding the existence of gremlins, in spite of the little buggers being made responsible for many a mischief. The prevalence of fey magic allows for a unique gift here: Imagination magic.

With the power of imagination, the kids can subtly alter reality, which also represents e.g. carts coming around in just the right place to catch falling characters and the like. And yes, if the kids are smart, they'll pick up on this and use it to their advantage! The adults can't see the gremlins, which btw. include properly-statted pugwampis and vexgits (minor nitpick: spells in innate spellcasting not italicized, and the headers for attacks etc. in the action-section should be in italics as well, not just bolded; these minor formatting snafus extend to other statblocks as well, though not to all of them – still, uncommon to see in Playground Adventures’ offerings), sabotaging the town, but the kids can - and thus, the first task is basically gremlin extermination, with 3 sample sabotages being provided.

Eventually, the success of the PCs will earn them the attention of fairy godmother Lista, who fills them in on Edwin's fate - which mirrors a playful way to convey stranger danger's importance as well as acknowledging something: That parents don't tell all stories to the children, worrying it might give them bad dreams. This is something that ultimately, instinctively, all children know - and to save Edwin, the fairy bestows 6th level (previously gained XP) on the players, tasking them to redeem Edwin and freeing him from the Nightmare King's influence.

In order to do that, though, they have to brave Edwin's dark dreams - first, defeating his shade in a game of hide and seek and then, braving toy soldier variant golems (the battle featuring a GLORIOUS isometric map, and yes, figurines of wondrous power, toy soldiers, included! These are moved around via a giant, shadowy hand, and here it should be noted that the errors in the toy soldier statblocks have been cleaned up – including the formatting, which is correct for this statblock. Edwin's hound would be the next task - and here, things become interesting: The poor dog, turned hellhound by Edwin's descent into darkness, just wants to play fetch, but the damn sticks keep burning, resulting in angry fire blasts into the woods...which may cause a forest fire! Here, one can teach about being careful with fire...and the encounter rewards kids thinking and providing a stick that doesn't burn...and reduce the dog back to a regular, non-hellhound pup.

On the, again, lavishly mapped isometric map of the path ahead, fairy circle traps and a tooth fairy await and upon vanquishing the fey, the PCs may get a faerie fire (spell reference not in italics)-duplicating Baby Tooth of Edwin. There is another encounter next that offers yet another means to educate and slightly shock: Edwin, thinking he can impress the fey with a present, stole his parent's wedding ring - this item became the symbol his remorse, transforming into a now chained golden dragon that needs to be freed, filling in the PCs on Edwin's crime before turning back into the ring, asking them to present it to Edwin. Minor nitpick: The ring that may be gained here references flight maneuverability, which is not a thing in 5e.

...and then, the ground shakes...trees start toppling...and a ravaging, massive stuffed bear of colossal proportions breaks through the trees...and yes, this encounter once again is beautifully rendered in isometric maps of stellar quality...and yes, the massive, powerful Terror Bear is a powerful adversary indeed...but vanquishing him provides a return of the creature to Edwin's teddy-bear of old, which may grant advantage versus the frightened condition.

An then, it's time for the final boss fight: Edwin, accompanied by corrupted, color-less pixies, wants to collect all the pixies for his twisted mockery of a parade...but thankfully, the encounters so far have provided all the components the PCs need to save him: Each of his erstwhile fragments of innocence recovered frees a pixie and, together, they may free Edwin, exorcising the influence of the Nightmare King, freeing raw nightmare power - which is a thoroughly awesome climax: The Nightmare Avatar has powerful, unique powers that the kids may know from nightmares: Like being slowed. At the same time, though, they can use their imagination magic to counter his dread powers in an excellent showdown that may end with the PCs reuniting Edwin with his overjoyed parents - happy ends don't happen on their own; one needs to fight for them...and one needs to do the right thing. This morale, unobtrusively conveyed throughout these pages, it what really makes this shine above and beyond. On the downside, I am pretty sure I noticed minor glitches in the saving throws of the final version of Edwin, as well as among skills. I noticed minor hiccups like this among the nightmare avatar’s stats as well. The flavor text explaining the way in which the imagination magic works here also references Pathfinder rules language.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting in the 5e-version of this excellent module, alas, are not up to the same level as in the PFRPG-version; they aren’t bad by any stretch of the word, but they sport several minor snafus that do accumulate, and some of them impact mechanics. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard by Daniel Marshall and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The copious full-color artworks by Jacob Blackmon are neat indeed. A special shout-out to cartographer Jocelyn Sarvida - the isometric maps of this books are downright BEAUTIFUL, featuring gorgeous renditions of the adversaries, which makes them btw. also suitable handouts. Speaking of which - as the astute reader may have noticed, I did not explicitly state that there'd be 1-page hand-outs of said maps. Well, never fret - as the final piece of awesome, this module does feature a PWYW-map-folio for handouts purposes. Take a look at it if you need any example on how good the maps are...

Stephen Rowe's Pixies on Parade is, in one word, inspired: Mirroring classic tropes of the power of imagination and fairy tales, it never crams morality down the throats of the players, while still teaching what's right and what's wrong. The idea of imagination magic is brilliant as a tool for GMs. Now, as for the themes of the module and its suitability for kids: It's pretty much perfect, mirroring themes of beloved children's tales and not shirking away from important topics, all presented in a child-friendly manner. I can see some very young kids that are particularly sensitive consider the themes a bit frightening, but in my case, the 4-year old enjoyed the module, surprisingly, more than "A Friend in Need," despite being frightened a bit - that depends on the kid in question, though and requires the discretion of the parents - personally, I would have loved this module as a 4-year old, having always had a penchant for slightly more mature stories, even as a kid...and yes, I learned to read at a very young age to read some fairy-tales my parents considered inappropriate...which became my favorites. It is my firm belief that kids can benefit from topics that are not all sunshine and flowers, particularly if they feature a didactic and moral component.

As a reviewer, I think the target age-range for most kids will span the ages of 6+ - and yes, I did not include a limit for a reason. Why? Because this module not only is great for kids. It's just as awesome for adults: Seriously, just tweak the fluff a bit and make it darker and you have a GLORIOUS fairy-tale themed introductory module that makes for a great starting point of PC careers as a prologue: Just let the level 6-blessing revert after the module and skip to adulthood - where you can also add elements appropriate for the process of growing up and paint a bleaker picture. Or make a campaign about innocence lost too soon…

Pixies on Parade’s premise and scenes are a downright awesome: From the gorgeous maps to the blending of sandboxing in the beginning and a more linear heroes' journey, this book's themes are concise...and there is not a single boring encounter in this book, not a single uninspired critter or problematic scene, nothing I could complain about. All of this holds true for 5e as well – for the actual content.

However. Dan Dillon’s conversion is as good as you’d expect from this master of 5e, and manages to tackle the spirit of the adventure well, and preserve it – he really gets 5e, after all, and the big picture, the fidelity to the source? Captured and translated.
At the same time, this iteration of the adventure is simply not as refined as the PFRPG version – it features quite a lot of those pesky, small errors, from spell-references to formatting oversights to other components, which, while on their lonesome, won’t hurt…but they do accumulate, and in a masterpiece like this, they still felt glaring to me. Playground Adventures usually is much better at catching even miniscule snafus. Anyhow, I can’t rate this as highly as the PFRPG-iteration; the module is inspired, the conversion more than competent in the broad strokes and concepts, but the sheer number of small glitches in formatting, references, math, etc. weigh this down. Hence, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the strength of the narrative. It’s simply a damn fine adventure for young and old alike. If you have the luxury of choice, though, do use the PFRPG-version – it’s clearly the vastly superior iteration.

Endzeitgeist out.


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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.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 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 in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

So, let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice upon opening the module: The covers are sturdy and detachable and hold a massive map of the main adventure area; and, before you ask, the electronic iteration des feature a full-color, player-friendly iteration as well as a graphic of the somewhat isometric overland map; these two, for once in my life, are actually components, though, which, while helpful, do not account for my eternal cries for player-friendly material; oh no. Yeah, I kinda got what I usually complain incessantly about. But guess what? The module goes a step further. The softcover saddle-stitched module with its delightfully old-school-y detachable cover? It comes with something that should have been standard for years, but isn’t.

A separate booklet.

This booklet is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and it shows regions and rooms found in the module. From a parchment/treasure-map to a sea hiding a barely (but clearly!) visible entrance to a complex to a hallway with walls studded in hieroglyphs and strange pictograms, the module takes one of the best pages out of Goodman Games’ playbook and escalates it to the level that I wanted to see. Yep, you heard right. A 20-page handout booklet (6’’ by 9’’/A5) for the players. F*** YEAH!

…ähem. Apologies. So, this booklet is where a lot of the module’s budget went, its artworks far superior to the other pieces within, but guess what?
That’s how it should frickin’ be.
The handouts? Everyone at the table gets to see them. What good is a gorgeous, beautiful map, if only the GM gets to see it? What good is a lavish fight-scene depicting some iconics instead of the PCs? What good is an assassination scene that the PCs won’t witness, and that spoils the mystery of an investigation? Bingo. This module, for once, prioritizes where its art-budget should go correctly, providing cool artwork where it’s seen. Huge frickin’ kudos. If anything, other publishers should take a careful look at the module for that reason alone.

Anyhow, where was I? So, this is the first of the “Tales of the Black Tower”, but the module very much is a stand-alone offering – you’ll have no more annoying dangling plot-threads than in any other adventure, i.e. enough to hook the next module in a wide variety of ways, and enough to run this as stand-alone, should you so desire. Nominally, the module is recommended for 3rd level characters, but is designated as a difficult adventure – this difficulty, just so you know, stems from how it challenges the players. Veterans may tackle this as soon as 1st level (provided the GM tones down the combat encounters), and much like my previous comparison with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, I’d actually consider this in aesthetics close to them: This is a pulp fantasy exploration that values player skill over character skill. Save-or-die-scenarios are absent, but the module is still deadly. In short: It is a hard module, but it remains fair in its difficulty.

The module features boxes of read-aloud text, and sidebars “Behind the GM-screen” that further elaborate on the proceedings within. Random encounters, where applicable, are slightly more detailed than usual, featuring brief descriptions as well as the relevant stats. References to stats or sections have been bolded in the text, and proper formatting has been implemented, making the parsing of the adventure information reliable.

Now, if you’re a 5e-GM, chances are that you’ve, at one time, taken a chance with a 5e-module converted from OSR-rules. There is an excellent chance that the result was not pleasant. There are plenty of OSR-authors playing a kind of pseudo-5e, one that works at their table, but one that also does not, not even closely, work in proper 5e-games. There often is a lack of understanding regarding rules and the intricacies of the system on display that is absolutely aggravating.

Yeah, this is NOT the case here. Not at all. This is a PROPER 5e-adventure. The author obviously knows the game, has played it, and has actually analyzed how it works. The rules conventions are in place, the execution is excellent: Ability checks are what they’re supposed to be; saving throws make sense, damage types are correctly implemented, and same goes for conditions. There is one instance where boiling water has no type to its damage, and the names of the features/actions of the new monsters, “Melee/Ranged Weapon Attack”, and “Hit” are not properly depicted in italics, but that is a purely cosmetic issue. Saves, skills, passive Perception – all CORRECT. I love this. There is another aspect to this module’s 5e-iteration that I feel I need to mention, but that ties into the SPOILER-section below. For now, rest assured that you actually get a proper 5e-adventure here, and not some minimum effort hackjob of a conversion.

It should be noted that the module has an implicit setting that can easily be adapted to desert /wasteland environments, including wilderness random encounter tables, but which has a distinct Mesopotamian slant – while it is easy enough to get rid of this flavor component, I’d genuinely suggest not doing so, for it imho adds to the unique flavor of the adventure.

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


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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a scroll, that feels like it’s been taken out of the Nemedian Chronicles, weaving the yarn of mighty god-emperor/wizard Kersete, and the vengeance the entity has wrought upon partially successful insurgencies; Kersete may not be active in the world right now, but the mighty being remains unconquered, and indeed, both in nomenclature and in the way all of this background story is conveyed, we have distinct impressions of a twist on the Gilgamesh epic, save that we have an excerpt from a chronicle of an antithesis of the myth, of a deadly being.

The module presents essentially the entrance to the Black Tower where Kersete lairs, but unlike many modules that are parts of series, it is a feature-complete experience sans dangling threads, should you choose to run it right now.

Structurally, the module makes a whole bunch of daring decisions I love seeing: For one, there is a pretty good chance that the players may not even find the proper finale; false treasure-rooms and ends are included, and indeed, unless your players are really SMART, they may not even find the potential entrance to the Black Tower or the module’s boss encounter.

Combat is sparse once inside the complex, and indeed, the primary focus lies on traps and creative problem solving. It is my utmost delight to note that there is not a single sucky “invisible line”-trap herein. This adventure employs the best trap design I have seen all year, regardless of system; heck, it ranges among the best adventures out there in that regard, period. You see, not only are the traps CLEVER, they can’t be simply disarmed with a roll of the dice – the module expects the party to act in a small manner, and the traps MAKE SENSE. There is a thorough commitment to the complex MAKING SENSE. There is, for example, a checkered floor, obviously trapped, that sports a time-waster of sorts, and deadly gas – this gas is delivered in sequence of types, with only the final one being lethal, and allowing the party enough time to rescue their compatriots. Can it TPK the party? Yeah, sure. But that’d be a deserved loss. One of my favorites is a kind of moving, thin ledge that needs to be traversed – it’s made of flint, and creates rains of sparks that ignite essentially kerosene-like fuel in the pit below. It can be jammed, used in tricky manners, heck, even weaponized by smart parties.

It’s VERY hard to describe just how meticulously the module sticks to the paradigm of providing a fair, but thoroughly challenging dungeon for people who want more out of the game than rolling to hit (though that is included as well!). It took me a while to fully appreciate how intricately and well designed the whole complex is, how it systematically emphasizes being smart over dice rolls. And how it uses its handout booklet and the depictions there to further create these challenges and portray them in a fair manner. There, in the back…isn’t that an impaled skeleton? As the party ventures down the corridor, they get ANOTHER handout that shows the scene in more detail. And attentive players really do get an edge in the exploration of the tomb.

And this is where we get back to 5e, and how it influences this module as a system. You probably know that most 5e-groups won’t be as accustomed to the old-school playstyle and its focus on problem-solution and roleplaying over simply rolling checks, right? Well, the module does something GENIUS. It uses checks, rolling the dice, as essentially a hint-system! This is elegant and genius in several ways: It slightly decreases the difficulty of the module for an audience not accustomed to the playstyle AND, at the same time, rewards the players for using the tools at their disposal, the system-immanent options they have. This is sheer genius. I love it. One could argue that the 5e-version is actually more of a design achievement than the OSR-version already is. I know, right? How often does that happen???

Interesting would also be another aspect, though this might be primarily a thing that GMs notice: There is this old adage that stipulates that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, guess what? That’s kinda the leitmotif here. From the player’s side of things, the dungeon can feel very much like a magical dungeon with some oddities; from a GMs perspective, we see the purpose of all, the intricate commitment to detail and intelligent notions. Yes, this is pulpy, but it’s up to you how and whether you’d emphasize these components, and the party won’t end the exploration with some anachronistic blaster rifles. In fact, in many ways, the party is cast in the roles of e.g. Conan and similar heroes facing things beyond their comprehension. If you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know that my comparisons with my beloved barbarian are reserved to adventures and supplements that really do a good job of capturing this ephemeral atmosphere. All of the traps make sense, and there is not a single “a wizard did it”-moment. The module can be mean, tough, and brutal, but it always remains FAIR and retains a perfect commitment to plausibility.

We have a constant, almost obsessive commitment to excellence and foresight regarding EVERYTHING. From how the handouts are implemented, to how it TEACHES what sets it apart from other modules. You’ve heard me gush about e.g. Harley Stroh’s DCC-modules, and how they work; it could be claimed that this adventure goes a similar route, but teaches the PLAYERS from the get-go how to ROLEPLAY the problem-solutions required in the adventure from the onset. What do I mean by that? Well, there is, for example, a kind of storage room that contains various tools that can be helpful. Their presence makes sense. Removing plaster from the walls? You know, that might actually be a GOOD idea here! This dungeon wants you to engage with it, and not consider the walls to be textured like in a computer game. This notion is driven home from the get-go, for the crypt is at the bottom of an oasis’ lake. Opening the crypt will mean that the party has to wait until the water has drained. They’ll also have destroyed, you know, an oasis in the wastelands. Choice, consequence, written in all-caps letters right there. And guess what? They might well accidentally create a sand-water sludge for a moment – this is, essentially, a safe-zone tutorial that does not, not for a second *feel* like one; instead, you genuinely feel a) clever and b) like people exploring an ancient place of wonders.

And honestly, I could go through the module, trap by trap, encounter by encounter, but I’d be doing it a huge disservice.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are slightly less impressive than in the OSR-version; as noted, on a formal level, we have a few instances where things are not italicized properly; it’s still very good, though, and its use of 5e-rules is excellent. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The artworks are okay for adventurer-scenes – the budget has obviously gone where it should, into the massive handout booklet that is pain amazing. The electronic version comes with player’s map etc., and cartography for the region is full color and the VTT-compatible player’s map (which features no secret doors or SPOILERS), b/w for the handouts. The handouts even include a treasure map to the oasis that jumpstarts the adventure. The physical version is AMAZING, capturing the old-school vibe with its wraparound cover and booklet perfectly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making using it a joy. Still, for the handout booklet alone, I’d seriously recommend getting that version, if you can.

I first read material by Skeeter Green when he contributed material to the PFRPG-version of Rappan Athuk, crafting some of my favorite parts of the mega-dungeon. I knew he was no novice, and I had high expectations. When I have high expectations for anything, I usually end up disappointed. This holds doubly true for 5e-conversions, which often, to put it in plain English, suck.

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

From the support and inclusion of all the formal things you expect, from player maps to bookmarks, to all the other things so many publishers forget, the formal criteria are pitch-perfect., and form a glorious unity with the handout booklet, which is NOT just an optional gimmick, but something that is brilliantly interwoven with the complex’s meticulously-executed design. Both writing and design are fantastic here, and the singularity of vision, of a capital letters ROLEplaying adventure that rewards and teaches clever problem solutions. The use of 5e’s more expansive rules-options as a type of hint system not only is smart, it also contextualizes the module’s playstyle within the system and adapts it in a supremely smart manner.

It took me ages to properly grasp why I adored this module to this extent, it took analysis. In a way, this module reminded me of some of the best authors out there: Much like Richard Develyn’s superb 4Dollar Dungeons modules (seriously, even if you play OSR-games and not PFRPG, get them!), there is a commitment to a distinctly novel vision, and an expert implementation of it, that is frankly astounding. Much like Harley Stroh’s DCC-works, there is a commitment to atmosphere and challenge and plausibility here, one that you may not consciously notice at first, but which suffuses everything.

This is not murder-hoboing 101. There are plenty of good and bad old-school modules that cater to this playstyle. If you want more from your modules, though? Then get this right now.

This is all about creating a consistent illusion of the experience of delving into a wondrous and weird complex. It’s an ephemeral theme, as it suffuses pretty much the entire genre, but know what? This adventure made me realize how BAD a ton of the modules we regularly consume actually are. How artificial, how flat.

If anything, this is one of those stand-out adventures that designers should take a close look at; that GMs should process and run. This is, in short, a masterpiece – and one that manages to attain its excellence without over the top flourishes, shock value or any of the other things that make it easy to sell you on a book. The module proposes a simple question: “Do you need all of that? Doesn’t exploring a creative, smart complex with weirdness and challenges galore, suffice?”

Turns out, it does, at least when executed this well. In many ways, this is old-school in a way that puts many modules of both old- and new-school to shame; it has learned from the past, retained core values, and expanded upon them, injecting new components to enhance the experience.

Do I have complaints? Well, yes. I want more. We need more modules of this quality. To get back to 5e once more: I actually prefer the 5e-version over the OSR-version. Structurally, it is even more clever than the old-school iteration in its “teaching by showing”-approach married to new-school system usage.

This is one of the modules I’ll be referencing in my reviews for years to come. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2019. If you have the luxury of choice, I’d actually recommend getting the 5e-version.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 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 in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

So, let’s start with the first thing you’ll notice upon opening the module: The covers are sturdy and detachable and hold a massive map of the main adventure area; and, before you ask, the electronic iteration des feature a full-color, player-friendly iteration as well as a graphic of the somewhat isometric overland map; these two, for once in my life, are actually components, though, which, while helpful, do not account for my eternal cries for player-friendly material; oh no. Yeah, I kinda got what I usually complain incessantly about. But guess what? The module goes a step further. The softcover saddle-stitched module with its delightfully old-school-y detachable cover? It comes with something that should have been standard for years, but isn’t.

A separate booklet.

This booklet is 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and it shows regions and rooms found in the module. From a parchment/treasure-map to a sea hiding a barely (but clearly!) visible entrance to a complex to a hallway with walls studded in hieroglyphs and strange pictograms, the module takes one of the best pages out of Goodman Games’ playbook and escalates it to the level that I wanted to see. Yep, you heard right. A 20-page handout booklet (6’’ by 9’’/A5) for the players. F*** YEAH!

…ähem. Apologies. So, this booklet is where a lot of the module’s budget went, its artworks far superior to the other pieces within, but guess what?
That’s how it should frickin’ be.
The handouts? Everyone at the table gets to see them. What good is a gorgeous, beautiful map, if only the GM gets to see it? What good is a lavish fight-scene depicting some iconics instead of the PCs? What good is an assassination scene that the PCs won’t witness, and that spoils the mystery of an investigation? Bingo. This module, for once, prioritizes where its art-budget should go correctly, providing cool artwork where it’s seen. Huge frickin’ kudos. If anything, other publishers should take a careful look at the module for that reason alone.

Anyhow, where was I? So, this is the first of the “Tales of the Black Tower”, but the module very much is a stand-alone offering – you’ll have no more annoying dangling plot-threads than in any other adventure, i.e. enough to hook the next module in a wide variety of ways, and enough to run this as stand-alone, should you so desire. Nominally, the module is recommended for 3rd level characters, but is designated as a difficult adventure – this difficulty, just so you know, stems from how it challenges the players. Veterans may tackle this as soon as 1st level (provided the GM tones down the combat encounters), and much like my previous comparison with Goodman Games’ DCC-modules, I’d actually consider this in aesthetics close to them: This is a pulp fantasy exploration that values player skill over character skill. Save-or-die-scenarios are absent, but the module is still deadly. In short: It is a hard module, but it remains fair in its difficulty.

The module features boxes of read-aloud text, and sidebars “Behind the GM-screen” that further elaborate on the proceedings within. As far as OSR-rules are concerned, we have Swords & Wizardry as the designated rule-set, which means one save, HD-rating, morale rating and both ascending and descending AC-values. Some monsters are taken from Frog God Games’ Monstrosities bestiary, but all information required to run them is included in the adventure. Random encounters, where applicable, are slightly more detailed than usual, featuring brief descriptions as well as the relevant stats. References to stats or sections have been bolded in the text, and proper formatting has been implemented, making the parsing of the adventure information reliable.

It should be noted that the module has an implicit setting that can easily be adapted to desert /wasteland environments, including wilderness random encounter tables, but which has a distinct Mesopotamian slant – while it is easy enough to get rid of this flavor component, I’d genuinely suggest not doing so, for it imho adds to the unique flavor of the adventure.

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


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, we begin with a scroll, that feels like it’s been taken out of the Nemedian Chronicles, weaving the yarn of mighty god-emperor/wizard Kersete, and the vengeance the entity has wrought upon partially successful insurgencies; Kersete may not be active in the world right now, but the mighty being remains unconquered, and indeed, both in nomenclature and in the way all of this background story is conveyed, we have distinct impressions of a twist on the Gilgamesh epic, save that we have an excerpt from a chronicle of an antithesis of the myth, of a deadly being.

The module presents essentially the entrance to the Black Tower where Kersete lairs, but unlike many modules that are parts of series, it is a feature-complete experience sans dangling threads, should you choose to run it right now.

Structurally, the module makes a whole bunch of daring decisions I love seeing: For one, there is a pretty good chance that the players may not even find the proper finale; false treasure-rooms and ends are included, and indeed, unless your players are really SMART, they may not even find the potential entrance to the Black Tower or the module’s boss encounter.

Combat is sparse once inside the complex, and indeed, the primary focus lies on traps and creative problem solving. It is my utmost delight to note that there is not a single sucky “invisible line”-trap herein. This adventure employs the best trap design I have seen all year, regardless of system; heck, it ranges among the best adventures out there in that regard, period. You see, not only are the traps CLEVER, they can’t be simply disarmed with a roll of the dice – the module expects the party to act in a small manner, and the traps MAKE SENSE. There is a thorough commitment to the complex MAKING SENSE. There is, for example, a checkered floor, obviously trapped, that sports a time-waster of sorts, and deadly gas – this gas is delivered in sequence of types, with only the final one being lethal, and allowing the party enough time to rescue their compatriots. Can it TPK the party? Yeah, sure. But that’d be a deserved loss. One of my favorites is a kind of moving, thin ledge that needs to be traversed – it’s made of flint, and creates rains of sparks that ignite essentially kerosene-like fuel in the pit below. It can be jammed, used in tricky manners, heck, even weaponized by smart parties.

It’s VERY hard to describe just how meticulously the module sticks to the paradigm of providing a fair, but thoroughly challenging dungeon for people who want more out of the game than rolling to hit (though that is included as well!). It took me a while to fully appreciate how intricately and well designed the whole complex is, how it systematically emphasizes being smart over dice rolls. And how it uses its handout booklet and the depictions there to further create these challenges and portray them in a fair manner. There, in the back…isn’t that an impaled skeleton? As the party ventures down the corridor, they get ANOTHER handout that shows the scene in more detail. And attentive players really do get an edge in the exploration of the tomb.

Interesting would also be another aspect, though this might be primarily a thing that GMs notice: There is this old adage that stipulates that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Well, guess what? That’s kinda the leitmotif here. From the player’s side of things, the dungeon can feel very much like a magical dungeon with some oddities; from a GMs perspective, we see the purpose of all, the intricate commitment to detail and intelligent notions. Yes, this is pulpy, but it’s up to you how and whether you’d emphasize these components, and the party won’t end the exploration with some anachronistic blaster rifles. In fact, in many ways, the party is cast in the roles of e.g. Conan and similar heroes facing things beyond their comprehension. If you’ve followed my reviews, you’ll know that my comparisons with my beloved barbarian are reserved to adventures and supplements that really do a good job of capturing this ephemeral atmosphere. All of the traps make sense, and there is not a single “a wizard did it”-moment. The module can be mean, tough, and brutal, but it always remains FAIR and retains a perfect commitment to plausibility.

It’s really hard to describe how exceedingly WELL-DESIGNED the entirety of this humble dungeon is; we have branching pathways, chances to skip sections, and every challenge is fair.

We have a constant, almost obsessive commitment to excellence and foresight regarding EVERYTHING. From how the handouts are implemented, to how it TEACHES what sets it apart from other modules. You’ve heard me gush about e.g. Harley Stroh’s DCC-modules, and how they work; it could be claimed that this adventure goes a similar route, but teaches the PLAYERS from the get-go how to ROLEPLAY the problem-solutions required in the adventure from the onset. What do I mean by that? Well, there is, for example, a kind of storage room that contains various tools that can be helpful. Their presence makes sense. Removing plaster from the walls? You know, that might actually be a GOOD idea here! This dungeon wants you to engage with it, and not consider the walls to be textured like in a computer game. This notion is driven home from the get-go, for the crypt is at the bottom of an oasis’ lake. Opening the crypt will mean that the party has to wait until the water has drained. They’ll also have destroyed, you know, an oasis in the wastelands. Choice, consequence, written in all-caps letters right there. And guess what? They might well accidentally create a sand-water sludge for a moment – this is, essentially, a safe-zone tutorial that does not, not for a second *feel* like one; instead, you genuinely feel a) clever and b) like people exploring an ancient place of wonders.

And honestly, I could go through the module, trap by trap, encounter by encounter, but I’d be doing it a huge disservice.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard. The artworks are okay for adventurer-scenes – the budget has obviously gone where it should, into the massive handout booklet that is pain amazing. The electronic version comes with player’s map etc., and cartography for the region is full color and the VTT-compatible player’s map (which features no secret doors or SPOILERS), b/w for the handouts. The handouts even include a treasure map to the oasis that jumpstarts the adventure. The physical version is AMAZING, capturing the old-school vibe with its wraparound cover and booklet perfectly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making using it a joy. Still, for the handout booklet alone, I’d seriously recommend getting that version, if you can.

I first read material by Skeeter Green when he contributed material to the PFRPG-version of Rappan Athuk, crafting some of my favorite parts of the mega-dungeon. I knew he was no novice, and I had high expectations. When I have high expectations for anything, I usually end up disappointed.

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

From the support and inclusion of all the formal things you expect, from player maps to bookmarks, to all the other things so many publishers forget, the formal criteria are pitch-perfect., and form a glorious unity with the handout booklet, which is NOT just an optional gimmick, but something that is brilliantly interwoven with the complex’s meticulously-executed design. Both writing and design are fantastic here, and the singularity of vision, of a capital letters ROLEplaying adventure that rewards and teaches clever problem solutions.

It took me ages to properly grasp why I adored this module to this extent, it took analysis. In a way, this module reminded me of some of the best authors out there: Much like Richard Develyn’s superb 4Dollar Dungeons modules (seriously, even if you play OSR-games and not PFRPG, get them!), there is a commitment to a distinctly novel vision, and an expert implementation of it, that is frankly astounding. Much like Harley Stroh’s DCC-works, there is a commitment to atmosphere and challenge and plausibility here, one that you may not consciously notice at first, but which suffuses everything.

This is not murder-hoboing 101. There are plenty of good and bad old-school modules that cater to this playstyle. If you want more from your modules, though? Then get this right now.

This is all about creating a consistent illusion of the experience of delving into a wondrous and weird complex. It’s an ephemeral theme, as it suffuses pretty much the entire genre, but know what? This adventure made me realize how BAD a ton of the modules we regularly consume actually are. How artificial, how flat.

If anything, this is one of those stand-out adventures that designers should take a close look at; that GMs should process and run. This is, in short, a masterpiece – and one that manages to attain its excellence without over the top flourishes, shock value or any of the other things that make it easy to sell you on a book. The module proposes a simple question: “Do you need all of that? Doesn’t exploring a creative, smart complex with weirdness and challenges galore, suffice?”

Turns out, it does, at least when executed this well. In many ways, this is old-school in a way that puts many modules of both old- and new-school to shame; it has learned from the past, retained core values, and expanded upon them, injecting new components to enhance the experience.

Do I have complaints? Well, yes. I want more. We need more modules of this quality. This is one of the modules I’ll be referencing in my reviews for years to come. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this receives a nomination for my Top Ten of 2019.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page blank for notes, leaving us with 28 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due a patreon supporter asking me for helpful horror tools.

So, what is this? This is, essentially, and adventure toolkit that allows you to create a wide variety of haunted houses, with a first use of the generator taking approximately 30 minutes to make an adventure. But this booklet is more than that.

First of all, this is available as a pdf – I also have the limited edition Adventure Omnibus Vol. 1 that included this one among its pages, but this book is currently not available to the public, so pdf is where it’s at.

Rules-wise, the supplement provides material for NGR (Neoclassical Geek Revival, Zzarchov’s criminally-underrated roleplaying game), and generic OSR materials, including HDs and e.g. features like regeneration noted; NGR works a tad better than the generic OSR-angle, but frankly, this book is relevant for any D&D-adjacent fantasy game; if you know what you’re doing, you can use e.g. PF 1’s haunts and quickly use the material you generate here – just add stats. Same goes for 5e, DCC, and yes, PF2. This is pretty much relevant for any fantasy/horror game.

If you’ve been playing horror modules in your D&D-adjacent system and are a really good horror GM, or if you’ve run e.g. Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ by now infamous classic “Death Love Doom”, you’ll probably have encountered a response that is understandable: At one point, the party might decide that exploring/cleansing the hell-hole that you created was simply not worth it – get the torches, ladies and gentlemen. This book does something that may be easily overlooked, but which is super simple – instead of riling against the party being a professional elite team of supernatural-stuff exterminators, the kit embraces it wholeheartedly, and uses the angle to motivate the players and PCs to tackle haunted houses in the way they’re intended to be tackled.

How? By setting a price on everything. The notion is the valuable thing here, not its implementation – once more, application to any system is super simple. The idea is genius in its simplicity: Haunted houses are places nobody wants to live in, right? So they’re available for a few gold pieces…and then, you just have to purge the place. Well, guess what? Every room has a value noted, and throwing lightning bolts around, much less torching the entire place, destroys the investment made. The party is incentivized, by their own greed, or their employer’s interests, to not destroy the place. (Hence also the title.) So, super-clever angle that gets rid of ludo-narrative dissonance (Buzzword used, and actually within the proper context? Check!) from the get-go, got it – but how does it fare as a generator?

The generator uses a degree of abstraction, and focuses on rooms conceptually in relation to each other. Doors between rooms are explicitly noted, and merged rooms count as one. Each room is generated by taking a playing card from a standard Poker deck, and comparing the number and suit, with the relation to nearby cards (pairs, full houses, etc. matter) impacting the contents of the room and the haunted house as a whole. Some rooms are marked with an asterisk, and these are never merged, and some rooms may be unique. Two rooms are mandatory – master bedroom, and kitchen. If these are not dealt, you choose a location and turn it into the respective room of the same suit.

The pdf uses a helpful type of information design, with text in yellow indicating items that are not part of the seller’s manifest, and rooms with items that are printed in blue, there is a potential secret door to another adjacent room with an item with a blue outline. All those aforementioned “blue” items? Described in detail – so no, you don’t have to guess how a secret door might work, the book actually describes HOW you can open these secret doors.

The standard house is divided into four floors, with stairs always included – the floors are ground floor, cellar, upper levels and tower. A pattern to put down the cards is provided for each floor, and there are alternate patterns in the back of the book, but frankly, you can devise your own layouts with literally zero hassle.

Here, things become interesting, and the two smart components are combined: Each room has components listed, with associated prices. These components, if destroyed, decrease the resale value of the house. Some of the rooms laid down in the patterns for the respective levels of the house are actually color-coded: The best hand in these influences the type of spirit infesting the house, and the spirits are depicted in a manner that makes it very easy to translate them into phenomena, haunts etc. for any system: The spirits have names, descriptions, and note how they can be enraged, how they can be defeated, and the powers they might be able to manifest. Additionally, such spirits usually need to be fought in the witching hour, and the pdf provides a simple system to simulate the escalation seen in horror movies – during the day, the spirit has 0 haunting powers, and over the course of the night, these increase…with the witching hour, the apex of the spirit’s power, being the time when they need to be bested. Here is another thing: Each room notes room powers for the escalating stages of haunting – take the first room, the observatory: At first, we only have a sense of vertigo looking at the stars; then, as the night progresses, the floor might start to dissolve above the vast void of the universe, and at witching hour, oxygen and heat might accompany this phenomenon. The suggested deadliness of these room-based powers tends to be noted with helpful skull-icons (In NGR, these indicate the die size of stress incurred), and an icon of a hand rising from the grave, in red, denotes a power that’ll continue until stopped. There also are rooms that have powers contingent on the suits, or unique contents.

Otherwise, the card value of the drawn card determines a few things: The suit denotes, unless otherwise noted, the room’s specific condition, with heart being the default; spade indicates an occult impression; club indicates damage, and diamond, fitting, the presence of an additional valuable item present.

If all of that sounds helpful, but dry, fret not – this is Zzarchov Kowolski we’re talking about, one of the probably most criminally-underrated designers out there. For bathroom room powers, the pdf notes “Look, it’s a bathroom. We’ve all seen the Ghoulies. You can think of something, but I shall not dignify the obvious options.” Zzarchov’s trademark dry, black humor actually managed to make reading a generator fun (!!) – and yes, before you ask, the supplement manages to be rather creepy as well as funny. And yes, manor grounds are covered.

Note how I mentioned the best hand mattering? If you draw a royal flush, you’ll have an evil god; a full house indicates that, well, the house itself is just evil. Demons, serial killers, spiteful misers, white ladies, bogeymen, insane spirits, good ole’ Bloody Mary…or what about a leprechaun? Obviously, these are only a start – you can easily just supplement your own, favorite spirits/critters. Oh, and for jumpscares, the pdf covers both groundskeepers and cats. Obviously.

The pdf introduces a brief OSR-system for insanity, which uses aforementioned skull icons as the indicator of oppression points, but frankly, there are plenty of better and more detailed insanity tables out there.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches. Layout adheres to a smooth and neat two-column b/w-standard, with colors used for smart conveying of information. The pdf sports several really nice original b/w-artworks, with Alex Mayo providing both layout and artwork. The pdf is layered, allowing you to turn off art and gudies/grids, should you choose so. Much to my chagrin, the pdf sports no bookmarks, which makes navigation a bit of a hassle. Unless you happen to own the excellent Omnibus hardcover already, I strongly suggest printing this pdf. The lack of bookmarks would usually suffice to cost this supplement a star…

…however, this is a plain genius generator. I mean it.

Not only is this a pleasure to read, oh now. It actually delivers results that are better than many handcrafted mansion-crawls out there. It is also ridiculously broad in its options for application.

You could conceivably use this generator for years on end for e.g. your Halloween-game and still get new results. From level 1 to 20, a moderately capable GM can not only provide challenges for any level, it’s also possible to use this generator for pretty much any system that is even roughly D&D-adjacent. Moreover, it’s exceedingly easy to modify the generator with your own entries.

In short: This is one of the rare supplements that fully transcends the systems for which it is intended, creating a universally-relevant, wonderful and consistently creative experience.

The Price of Evil, had I owned the book when it was released, would have made my year’s top ten list, it’s that good. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval, and this book gets my EZG Essentials-tag as a super helpful and rewarding GM tool that has a ridiculous re-use value. If you want to be able to make glorious haunted houses with minimal fuss, get this ASAP!

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine sports 30 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), already disregarding the usual front cover, editorial, etc., and this time around, we have a focus on strange and dangerous magic items.

The installment is intended for LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, and as such assumes a pretty low player character powerlevel, and the fact that magic is both potent and dangerous. Adaption to other OSR-systems is easily possible, though in high magic worlds, many items herein will some of their appeal.

As before, the Undercroft deals with HORROR content, or at least with a fantasy style that is rather dark, so if you’re easily offended, you may want to steer clear.

Okay, that out of the way, Chris Lawson has contributed two sections to this ‘zine, both of which I consider to be a success: The first of these would be the smiling goat’s horn, a mummified goat’s head attached to a curled horn – blowing it will cause all nearby farm animals to become thieves and steal valuables to present to the owner of the horn; then, they will proceed to sing like a classically trained choir, making sleep nigh impossible. They can’t be slain anymore, and will only leave the owner’s side to steal more – until full moon hits, where a pack of wolves will hound the owner. Said wolves can eat the farm animals, granting them final death, and the owner some peace and quiet. In the aftermath, a black goat will come – and it will feast upon the owner’s corpse at one point. It’s inevitable. This oozes folklore, twisted and weird, and is just frickin’ awesome. I love this item, its narrative implications, its angles – it feels magical. Huge kudos! The second item Chris Lawson contributed, would be a monocle, the Opticaphobicascope, which must be pushed, painfully, with the eye into the socket. The item has powerful benefits and can help discern a lot, but it also causes the character to embark on a form of introverted solipsism based on an egocentric projection of the wearer – represented in three stages of madness. I love this one as well – it has this visceral touch, the downsides are pronounced, and the detailed, multi-stage madness engine? I’d love a book full of those. Two definite winners.

Oliver Palmer presents the next item, the Washer Woman, a cursed porcelain statue that will displace items the wearer has, if left, it will be present. It will not respond kindly to being smashed. It is a classic, annoying, and eerily efficient creep-factor I enjoyed seeing. Frank Mitchell presents us with something utterly different, in that his contribution actually consists of the highest power-level possible – 7 artifacts that are a twist of a RPG classic, namely the sundered rod. Instead, we are presented here with the body parts of the sundered god. Left arm and right arm have different properties, legs share their properties, and torso, head and phallus represent the remainder of the parts. (As an aside, if you count the legs as separate parts, we arrive at LotFP’s occult 8 as a leitmotif, which was probably intentional.) The sundered god is btw. none other than Baphomet – and e.g. the left arm may be wielded as a weapon that causes those hit to save or die, but also demands the same from the wielder. The right arm creates revenants, but allows for no control over them; the phallus is addictive and can really make having your own cult super easy – if you manage to not become addicted yourself, that is. Oh, and it can result in those really volatile, murderous types of unhealthy, obsessive love. But hey, nobdy’s perfect. And before you ask – yes, the parts of the sundered god can be grafted onto the living. Or, you know, you could place severed heads on the torso etc. And yes, we learn about the none-too-pleasant consequences of assembling this sundered demigod thing again. Tl;Dr: Don’t. No, seriously. …oh boy, you’re playing LotFP, of course you’ll now assemble it, right? Damn, what have I done…

The final article in the ’zine was penned by none other than Melsonian Arts Council’s master Daniel Sell, and is titled “The Precocious Abundance of Holy Mountain.” How an abundance can be precocious, I’m not entirely sure, but oh well – perhaps it’s a joke I’m not getting. The article contains 6 different devices with a dark science-fantasy slant, for they are intended for use with the setting implied by Rafael Chandler’s excellent horror bestiaries, the Teratic Tome and Lusus Naturae. To be more specific, they are intended for use in the rather gore-and fluid-centric SlaughterGrid adventure, and while I am not a big fan of that module, per se, I think that the material would have enhanced my experience. It should be noted, that the items can easily be used in other contexts as well. We get, for example, rules for aqua gravis (including what happens if you drink a little, or lots of it, or when you burn it). Custodians are kinda sentient, humanoid, small shapes sans head, with a hole in a surface reminiscent of cooling magma, and a layer of aqua gravis used for communication. Interacting with them, and making more, is touched upon. There are the Ven gates, connected to a race trapped in a moment nigh the end of time (for good measure); there would be exigentia, automatic science-fantasy surgeon machines that are…well, not 100% reliable. The best illustration herein would be the twisted lung spider – a leather muzzle that seems to consist of scissors of all kinds. These things, when activated, will drill into your torso, pop your lungs, and breathe for you. You can’t talk, not scream or groan, and the thing now breathes for you…and renders you immune to all poisonous fumes. Hey, that’s something. Finally, the SlaughterGrid itself is also contextualized properly. If you play SlaughterGrid, play it with these added.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules language, I noticed no serious snafus. The ’zine adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, and the magazine sports quite a few rather nice b/w-artworks. The ’zine’s physical version is a nice stitch-bound little softcover, with sturdy covers – no complaints, and that’s the version I’d recommend.

Daniel Sell, Chris Lawson, Oliver Palmer and Frank Mitchell provide a thoroughly enjoyable ’zine of twisted magic items with serious drawbacks, but also amazing flavor and cool effects. If you’re looking for a particularly vicious item, look no further than this humble ’zine. All killer, no filler – 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This first installment of the Brindle-series clocks in at 34 pages if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I noticed that neither iteration of the adventure features an SRD, but that just as an aside. Important for the purpose of this review: I own the perfect-bound print softcover of the OSR-version, and the pdf of the 5e-version; I assume that the properties of one version hold true for the other and vice versa.

Nominally, the Bogey of Brindle is designated as compatible with OSRIC, which means that conversion is pretty simple. The difficulty of the module is very much contingent on how good the players are in old-school thinking, i.e. unconventional problem-solving of potential combat scenarios. Groups unaccustomed to that way of tackling a module may die the death of a thousand cuts, while those that are experienced in such thinking may have a very easy module on their hands. This is designated as a module for 3-5 PCs of 2nd – 3rd level, but I first level PCs can easily succeed here as well – they just need to be a tad bit more careful.

Theme-wise, this, although not explicitly designated as such, works as a pretty neat Halloween or Thanksgiving module, depending on the emphasis you place here, and in fact, depending on your GM-style and what you emphasize and/or leave out, would actually work in equal parts well for adults and kids, with my recommendation being ages 8+, but since all kids are different, I trust in your discretion there. Anyhow, this recommendation stems from one thing being palpably absent from this module: Cynicism. This is a rather wholesome and even funny adventure, and a specific plot-point would actually prime this for being easily adapted in Pathfinder’s Second edition, but that as an aside to which I’ll return later.

The rules material herein includes 2 custom spells and a cantrip provided in a statblock of the BBEG, one of which is a better variant of magic mouth that should probably be situated at a higher level. Both of the spells have been formatted improperly and lack the proper formatting information OSRIC spells have, rendering them inoperational, as e.g. the rules-language references a range that is never specified; these spells have a primarily narrative function, though, so they can be KINDA ignored. Kinda. With gritted teeth. Still, it’s one of the weaknesses of this module. Indeed, formatting is not good throughout – instead of putting spells in italics, they are capitalized – most of the time. The book is inconsistent with that. Said BBEG? The statblock notes the number of slots for 2nd level, but not for the first, requiring referring to the OSRIC book. While ability scores and languages, modes of perception are provided for the friendly NPCs, they lack other combat relevant statistics, making their statblocks essentially only halfway done – they are not enough to run the NPCs in a combat scenario. So yeah, if you expect precision regarding the rules (not that hard to achieve for OSRIC), let me tell you right now that this module will annoy you in that regard. The adventure also includes a new creature, which is a worm with paralytic tendrils – a carrion crawler variant, essentially. Not impressed there.

What did impress me, though, were the visuals: Lloyd and Raven Metcalf are artists, and it shows – the original pieces of artwork provided for the module are impressive b/w-pieces, and both the map of the eponymous village of brindle (with even a touch of isometric cliffs) and the dungeon featured within are awesome to look at. I did not expect the module to feature such neat artworks. Minor niggle: The dungeon area could have used player-friendly maps for VTT-use etc. – you know, sans secret doors indicators, sans numbers. A minor downside: The dungeon map has no grid or scale noted, which can be relevant, considering the challenge faced there, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that the module sports generally well-written read-aloud text.

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


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the frontier settlement Westwego has an issue – the Firstfeast celebrations are approaching, and while the church of purity frowns upon the annual excess, it can use the tax revenue…but more importantly, the village can really use the boost of morale before the years’ darkest days. Thankfully, Westwego isn’t too far from the eponymous settlement of Brindle, a settlement that specializes in producing the finest tobacco, booze and (pipe)weed. So yeah, this adventure is essentially a beerrun! Awesome premise!

If you’re following my suggestion and want to run this as a Thanksgiving/Halloween-ish kids-module, just replace tobacco, weed, etc. with sweets, turkey and the like – granted, the map of Brindle spells these out in text, but yeah, this is a simple way to modify the module.

Anyhow, the beerrun begins with a brief wilderness track towards Brindle, but, alas, the party will soon find out the reason for the troubles getting there – in a rather unrewarding manner. You see, there are quite a few traps on the way through the wilderness, and they are not fair: They are not telegraphed in any way, as they just happen – they are invisible lines that are traversed. A better way to handle that, would have been to describe a small scene, and having the trap be part of that scene in a fair manner. Worse, one of the traps has a chance for a catatonic agent. Okay, what does that do? No clue. No rules are provided. As written, this is not a good start for the adventure, to say the least, but thankfully remains the weakest part of the adventure.

Once the adventurers arrive in Brindle, they’ll be greeted with a rather intriguing sight: Brindle is a village inhabited entirely…by goblins! And they work! Sure, there is playfulness in the job descriptions, when the module refers to hoochmaidens and poop-flingers, taking a funny and irreverent take towards agriculture, but the village excels in another way – it manages to feel plausible. From the “street” names to the details, it feels plausible, something that also extends to the entirety of the adventure – it’s a small thing, but it’s this very hard and ephemeral thing to achieve that I rarely get to see and really enjoy.

Anyway, the goblins, former adepts of a cloister, who, courtesy of their quick succession of generations, essentially became pretty “good” as far as goblins are concerned, live in fear of the night, for that is where the horrible bogeys arrive! As an aside, the module also has the option of arriving at night, and start with combat, but I’d advise in favor of taking the time to soak in the unique atmosphere of Brindle, supported by the friendly and quirky NPCs. While, as noted before, these NPC-statblocks are incomplete, they don’t need to fight – that’s what the party is for.

The legend of the bogey, started in the context of some alcohol-induced haze, has been indeed hijacked – you can see that on the front cover – and indeed, the bogeys are…kobolds. Clever kobolds under the lead of a strange, feathered illusionist kobold deemed to be a quasi-deity. The crafty creatures have had a field day plundering Brindle’s excellent trading goods, cowing the goblins effectively.

Once the party has repelled the nightly assault and figured out the truth, they will be able to track the assailants to their base, an abandoned dwarven mine, where the kobolds have also found a dragon egg…but that might not be relevant for you if you don’t plan on playing the next adventure in the series. A big plus here: Particularly smart and crafty groups can deduce that there is more than one means of entering the dungeon, which is a pretty nice angle we should see more often – kudos for that.

The lack of scale for the dungeon can potentially cause some problems when running this, though, for the adventure deals with the defeat of the kobolds – and there are over 100 of the little pests in the complex. That’s what I meant by “death of a thousand cuts” – while kobolds pose no serious threat to the party at this level, their sheer numbers might well overwhelm the party. The module does mention a few of the strategies that the PCs might employ, and I applaud it for that, but also getting some response actions from the opposition, how they handle e.g. attempts to smoke them out? That’d have been helpful. Still, nice to see a scenario that tentatively helps GMs not yet as accustomed to old-school styles of play account for such strategies.

And yet, having a proper grid for a massive running battle/retreat etc. would have been very helpful indeed. On the plus-side, like the village, there is a consistent sense of plausibility in the dungeon, and plenty of small details ultimately make the complex feel both lived in and organic – from acidic sludge to a ton of small details, the terrain feels alive and plausible, and is often combat-relevant in a nice manner. You can *feel* that the author genuinely cared about making this adventure fun, rewarding and versatile. And that is very important to me.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, but on a rules-language level, there is a lot of room for improvement. The layout adheres to a solid 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features several amazing b/w-artworks and nice maps – though I do bemoan the lack of a player-friendly variant for the dungeon map, and the lack of scale on it. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which constitutes a huge comfort detriment. I strongly suggest getting print; for pdf only, you should round down from my final verdict.

Lloyd Metcalf’s first Brindle-module was a thoroughly pleasant surprise for me, because it oozes heart’s blood and passion; it is not a particularly well-designed module and stumbles in the formal criteria, but it is written with such passion that it was impossible for even cynical, jaded ole’ me not to smile. Brindle is genuinely charming, often funny, and the module is delightfully unpretentious. It’s readily apparent that the author genuinely cares about everything here, that this is the antithesis of a corporate module. It doesn’t have a sexy elevator pitch or anything – it’s just honest, great, classic fantasy with a lot of passion and heart. And frankly, I should round down from my final verdict of 3.5 stars. In fact, if you’re picky about formal criteria being perfect, this’ll probably be closer to the 2.5 stars vicinity for you, but this module touched me emotionally in a way that is impossible to artificially craft. As a person, this thoroughly flawed little adventure was more fun to me than many comparable, more professional ventures that get all the rules right. Hence, for once, my final verdict will round up. If what you read sounds intriguing to you, then take a look – it’s a genuinely charming adventure that feels friendly, that lacks cynicism. And we need more of those in these trying times.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This first installment of the Brindle-series clocks in at 34 pages if you disregard front cover, editorial, etc. I noticed that neither iteration of the adventure features an SRD, but that just as an aside. Important for the purpose of this review: I own the perfect-bound print softcover of the OSR-version, and the pdf of the 5e-version; I assume that the properties of one version hold true for the other and vice versa.

The difficulty of the module is very much contingent on how good the players are in old-school thinking, i.e. unconventional problem-solving of potential combat scenarios. Groups unaccustomed to that way of tackling a module may die the death of a thousand cuts, while those that are experienced in such thinking may have a very easy module on their hands. This is designated as a module for 3-5 PCs of 2nd – 3rd level, but I first level PCs can easily succeed here as well – they just need to be a tad bit more careful. It should be noted that the 5e-version does explain some basics like “unbalanced CR” to 5e-GMs new to the old-school style of playing, which is a plus.

Theme-wise, this, although not explicitly designated as such, works as a pretty neat Halloween or Thanksgiving module, depending on the emphasis you place here, and in fact, depending on your GM-style and what you emphasize and/or leave out, would actually work in equal parts well for adults and kids, with my recommendation being ages 8+, but since all kids are different, I trust in your discretion there. Anyhow, this recommendation stems from one thing being palpably absent from this module: Cynicism. This is a rather wholesome and even funny adventure, and a specific plot-point would actually prime this for being easily adapted in Pathfinder’s Second edition, but that as an aside to which I’ll return later.

The rules material herein includes 2 custom spells and a cantrip provided in a statblock of the BBEG, one of which is a better variant of magic mouth that should probably be situated at a higher level. These have in common that they highlight a total disregard for how spell-formatting works in 5e, rendering them essentially inoperational as written. Speaking of ignorance re 5e: What about a magic item that references Pathfinder creature types? Even something as simple as getting advantage on Strength (Athletics) checks made to climb is botched. Creature features in statblocks are bolded, but not in italics, which is odd, considering that the Actions tend to be correctly formatted. Bolded sections like “Senses” are not bolded properly, and the statblocks sometimes use the proper full-stop, sometimes a colon – no rhyme or reason there. That being said, at least average damage values etc. tend to be correct – for the most time. I encountered errors there as well. Weird: One statblock lists a proficiency bonus (usually not done), and has underlined Actions and Reactions listed. On the plus-side, the statblocks get damage types right and are nowhere near as bad as some earlier offerings by Fail Squad Games for 5e – you can run these. Still, even a cursory glance will confront you with formal glitches galore. The BBEG has their challenge entry in the wrong line AND a second, wrong challenge entry, as well as a wrong passive Perception value – should be 10, not 8. Climbing speed is not properly noted. And yes, I could continue doing that for a whole page. IT’s an improvement, but not nearly enough.
Both of the spells have been formatted improperly as well; and indeed, formatting is not good throughout – instead of putting spells in italics, they are capitalized – most of the time. The book is inconsistent with that. Said BBEG’s spellcasting list, let that be acknowledged, at least properly lists the slots each level, unlike the OSRIC version. That being said, the friendly NPCs get basic statistics, listing skills etc., and being noncombatants, no attacks – I can live with the omission here, and the NPCs can be run in a combat scenario, if need be. That’s a good thing and an improvement in comparison with the OSRIC iteration.
So yeah, summa summarum, if you expect precision regarding the rules (not that hard to achieve for OSRIC), let me tell you right now that this module will annoy you in that regard. The adventure also includes a new creature, which is a worm with paralytic tendrils – a carrion crawler variant, essentially. Not impressed there. Formatting being bad, the combat stats at least get damage types right, which is not something you could say about the traps and environmental features alas – damage types matter in 5e VERY MUCH, and the module fails to properly designate pretty much all environmental damage encountered. Granted, it’s usually easy to discern when acid, fire, piercing etc. should be the source, but I maintain that a GM should not have to do so in 5e. Furthermore, trap formatting deviates from how things are properly done in 5e, and in one instance, we have Constitution damage, a concept that is SUPER rare in 5e, and certainly should not be caused by acid. Traps sprinkled with catatonic agent? Okay, so what does it do? No idea, no rules are provided. The author obviously did not understand how poison works in 5e. Skill/Ability check references also tend to be incorrect, often not even referencing the thing you actually check for.

What did impress me, though, were the visuals: Lloyd and Raven Metcalf are artists, and it shows – the original pieces of artwork provided for the module are impressive b/w-pieces, and both the map of the eponymous village of brindle (with even a touch of isometric cliffs) and the dungeon featured within are awesome to look at. I did not expect the module to feature such neat artworks. Minor niggle: The dungeon area could have used player-friendly maps for VTT-use etc. – you know, sans secret doors indicators, sans numbers. A minor downside: The dungeon map has no grid or scale noted, which can be relevant, considering the challenge faced there, but we’ll get to that later. It should be noted that the module sports generally well-written read-aloud text.

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


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the frontier settlement Westwego has an issue – the Firstfeast celebrations are approaching, and while the church of purity frowns upon the annual excess, it can use the tax revenue…but more importantly, the village can really use the boost of morale before the years’ darkest days. Thankfully, Westwego isn’t too far from the eponymous settlement of Brindle, a settlement that specializes in producing the finest tobacco, booze and (pipe)weed. So yeah, this adventure is essentially a beerrun! Awesome premise!

If you’re following my suggestion and want to run this as a Thanksgiving/Halloween-ish kids-module, just replace tobacco, weed, etc. with sweets, turkey and the like – granted, the map of Brindle spells these out in text, but yeah, this is a simple way to modify the module.

Anyhow, the beerrun begins with a brief wilderness track towards Brindle, but, alas, the party will soon find out the reason for the troubles getting there – in a rather unrewarding manner. You see, there are quite a few traps on the way through the wilderness, and they are not fair: They are not telegraphed in any way, as they just happen – they are invisible lines that are traversed. A better way to handle that, would have been to describe a small scene, and having the trap be part of that scene in a fair manner. As written, this is not a good start for the adventure, but thankfully remains the weakest part of the adventure.

Once the adventurers arrive in Brindle, they’ll be greeted with a rather intriguing sight: Brindle is a village inhabited entirely…by goblins! And they work! Sure, there is playfulness in the job descriptions, when the module refers to hoochmaidens and poop-flingers, taking a funny and irreverent take towards agriculture, but the village excels in another way – it manages to feel plausible. From the “street” names to the details, it feels plausible, something that also extends to the entirety of the adventure – it’s a small thing, but it’s this very hard and ephemeral thing to achieve that I rarely get to see and really enjoy.

Anyway, the goblins, former adepts of a cloister, who, courtesy of their quick succession of generations, essentially became pretty “good” as far as goblins are concerned, live in fear of the night, for that is where the horrible bogeys arrive! As an aside, the module also has the option of arriving at night, and start with combat, but I’d advise in favor of taking the time to soak in the unique atmosphere of Brindle, supported by the friendly and quirky NPCs. While, as noted before, these NPC-statblocks are incomplete, they don’t need to fight – that’s what the party is for.

The legend of the bogey, started in the context of some alcohol-induced haze, has been indeed hijacked – you can see that on the front cover – and indeed, the bogeys are…kobolds. Clever kobolds under the lead of a strange, feathered illusionist kobold deemed to be a quasi-deity. The crafty creatures have had a field day plundering Brindle’s excellent trading goods, cowing the goblins effectively.

Once the party has repelled the nightly assault and figured out the truth, they will be able to track the assailants to their base, an abandoned dwarven mine, where the kobolds have also found a dragon egg…but that might not be relevant for you if you don’t plan on playing the next adventure in the series. A big plus here: Particularly smart and crafty groups can deduce that there is more than one means of entering the dungeon, which is a pretty nice angle we should see more often – kudos for that.

The lack of scale for the dungeon can potentially cause some problems when running this, though, for the adventure deals with the defeat of the kobolds – and there are over 100 of the little pests in the complex. In 5e, this makes the module potentially a horrific, frustrating SLOG. Slogging through killing 100+ kobolds is just not fun, and sans a grid, actively aggravating. Speaking of which: The complex’s terrain features include things that are usually handled with exhaustion, which show that the author doesn’t know how/when those rules are used, instead providing a (badly) improvised alternative. Which also notes “saving throws VS death” – that’s called death saving throw, and you don’t arrive at that immediately. *sigh*

And yet, having a proper grid for a massive running battle/retreat etc. would have been very helpful indeed. On the plus-side, like the village, there is a consistent sense of plausibility in the dungeon, and plenty of small details ultimately make the complex feel both lived in and organic – from acidic sludge to a ton of small details, the terrain feels alive and plausible, and is often combat-relevant in a nice manner. You can *feel* that the author genuinely cared about making this adventure fun, rewarding and versatile. And that is very important to me. However, this sense of care and attention to detail has not been afforded to the 5e-version of this adventure, as touched upon before.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are plain bad on a formal and rules language level, no mincing of words here. The layout adheres to a solid 2-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features several amazing b/w-artworks and nice maps – though I do bemoan the lack of a player-friendly variant for the dungeon map, and the lack of scale on it. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which constitutes a huge comfort detriment. I strongly suggest getting print; for pdf only, you should take that as an additional downside into account.

Lloyd Metcalf’s first Brindle-module deserved SO MUCH BETTER. This is the absolute barebones minimum of a conversion to 5e, a conversion that barely manages to work in a rudimentary manner, with a ridiculous amount of glitches, inconveniences and hiccups. I really liked the original version, in spite of its flaws, but the exceedingly problematic rules issues that were annoying in OSRIC become downright grating in a more rules-heavy game like 5e. It is readily apparent that there is a lack of understanding at work here, with many of5e’s rules, the conventions of the system, and even basic components required to run the game, simply absent. In short, this, alas, is an example for a bad 5e-conversion that only manages to get the bare minimum done, and does so badly. Not even starting with the difference in how combat operates and the absence of a shifted focus for the grind-y dungeon portion of the adventure. I can’t recommend this conversion to anyone, try as I might, and though it breaks my heart, my final score can’t exceed 1.5 stars, though I will round up, mainly courtesy of the fact that the charming original vision is still here – it’s just buried in serious issues.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


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


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


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Occult Skill Guide-series clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content,. So let’s take a look!

Before we dive in, some important notes: This pdf features all rules that are required to use Alexander Augunas’ corruption engine, so you’ll need no others. Secondly, while inspired by Pathfinder’s Horror Adventures book, the corruptions presented in this series are not simply copies or conversions of previously-released material; instead, the engine has been streamlined in many important ways: Especially important here: The engine is designed to account for corruptions that will see the PC in question trying to get rid of them, as before; but at the same time, there also are quite a few that exert a certain temptation, courtesy of the abilities they grant in relation to the drawbacks. In some ways, they behave more successfully like Ravenloft’s classic dark powers checks in their psychological effects than their Pathfinder 1 counterparts. Seeing as how I’ve reviewed quite a few of these corruption-pdfs, I won’t bore either you or me with yet another break-down of the corruption engine and dive straight in.

First of all: What is devolution? It’s a rather pronounced anxiety that occurs only in unnatural contexts; in real life, the ascent of the fear of devolution obviously began with the confirmation of the concept of evolution as a pretty fact, one of the grand psychological insults to the human notion of supremacy in the cosmos. (The others being the end of the geocentric world-view, and Freud’s theory of the psyche.) In short, the knowledge of humanity not being separate from the natural world changed a lot, and anxieties adapt. In medieval times, fear of demons and eternal hellfire was much more prominent, courtesy of the superstitions of that age, and decreased, particularly spectacularly when Freud’s theories were accepted in mainstream scientific context – most people nowadays would agree that having a strange, black-clad man scream into your face in Latin may not necessarily be the best way to treat multiple personality disorder. But I digress. With evolution came a fear of loss of what we have achieved so far, of regressing to a more primitive state, not just regarding our culture, but also our very own biology. This fear was thoroughly debunked, but had several unfortunate repercussions in pseudo-sciences and theories, but yeah. In a nutshell, devolution is the opposite of evolution, and in many ways, connotated with a regression towards bestial savagery, a loss of mental faculties, a tainting of the bloodline. Both classic horror and pulp feature devolution in a regular manner, echoing the prevalence of this fear in the respective media – Lovecraft’s deep one hybrids, and Pulp-fantasy’s beast-men and half-Neanderthals or a certain Dr.’s island being several prominent examples.

So, does this work in a science-fantasy context? Well, mechanically, devolution has Will as the associated saving throw, and Wisdom as the associated ability score, which should immediately make obvious that there is a chance for a spiraling descent, which is generally something I like to see. As far as the source is concerned, curses, annunaki and potent technology all may be sources of this corruption. The devolution, as contextualized above, is contingent on a distinction between civilized and primitive or savage behavior – and as such, the pdf precisely codifies primitive instincts and behaviors, which can be summed up as reproduction, survival, organization, dominance, feeding and territory…all of which are discussed properly within their respective indulgence, and they are relatively well-codified, though the ardent reader will have noticed that these are quintessential experiences of the condition of being a humanoid…which makes the corruption pretty nasty, particularly since sexual attraction can yield no less than a whopping 4d6 corruption points! If you have this corruption, by all means, stay away from the red light district! Note that the instincts need to be indulged in, and corruption points incurred stack. Interesting: At the latent stage, Diplomacy and Intimidate may be used to once more hammer the tenets of civilization into the target, allowing them to reroll the save. At the latent stage, we have the survival instinct manifestation, which lets you be treated as though you have your level ranks in Perception and Survival, and as though both were class skills; if you already have them, you gain bonuses instead. Additional stages broaden these abilities to other skills of your choice as well – the list obviously omitting “civilized” skills such as Computers or Piloting.

At stage 1, we have the primal body manifestation, which enhances Dexterity or Strength and further improves at higher corruption stages. The manifestation also nets you natural weapons, or enhances them, and proceeds to increase your movement speeds at stage 2, 3 and 4, though the stage 4 progression is called “stage 3” in an obviously typo-glitch that will not cause any confusion. However, at this stage, mental faculties start to decay, and penalties of mental ability scores are incurred. At stage 2, these decrease to barely functional, bestial levels, and skills related to them are penalized as well – though Survival may now actually be better to rehabilitate the character. At stage 3 the corruption points incurred are maximized, mental faculties decay further, but hey, you get low-light vision and blindsense (scent) or (vibrations) (or a decrease of previously existing such senses), or darkvision 60 feet, if you already have low-light vision. Note: The blindsense entries are missing their range here. This may be intentional, considering the hefty drawbacks, though I still would have enjoyed an explicit acknowledgement of this intent. At this stage, the character has turned into an animal, and reason (i.e. Diplomacy or Intimidate) may no longer reach them; the end stage represents full-blown bestial transformation into an animal.

Now, I’ve briefly mentioned The Island of Dr. Moreau before, and indeed, while the story’s theme is more one of evolution, an inverse agent is included here: There is a level 10 poison, the devolution agent, which has its own and pretty swift track towards becoming a bestial version of yourself…

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, with only two minor nitpicks provided exceedingly minor inconveniences that should not trip up any GM. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork featured is neat. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Alexander Augunas touches upon one of my favorite themes in this one; there is something, unironically, primal, about the fear of becoming less than what you are right now, particularly when it comes to mental faculties. I don’t fear death, but I am exceedingly afraid of losing my mental faculties while alive, and devolution, in many ways, touches upon this. From a mechanical perspective, this condition is intended as one that is relatively easy to introduce to slip in and out of, with the risk regarding the manifold triggers and the save (bad save for classes that’d benefit most from it) representing two clever limits that prevent the corruption from ever feeling safe. And that’s what this should be about, right? As an aside: If you own the excellent Star Log.Deluxe: Uplifted Animals and are confident in your designs, I'd splice that into this corruption...just saying... My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars.

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.


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


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/setting supplement clocks in at 11 pages, one of which is devoted to the front cover, so let’s take a look!

This, like all psychedelic fantasy-modules, sports a pretty minimalist approach to module presentation – two columns of black text in a white background. Headers are bolded, but the small statblocks have no internal formatting – this is as minimalist as can be. As for the rule-set, the module does not subscribe to a particular OSR-game or edition, claiming general compatibility, which means that you will have to do some tweaking to modify the module for your preferred old-school game. 60’ (20’) are the default movement rates, HD are noted, and AC is provided in the descending convention; the monsters state a single save as a static rating, and note e.g. “diffuse – receive only half damage” or “climbs as spider”– you get the idea.

This is also a sandbox without a clearly indicated target level, but low-level to mid-level parties should have a good time here, since this module is less about murder-hoboing everything, and more about the wonder of exploration. What’s inside is less of a straight-forward dungeon.-crawl, and could be likened more to a setting supplement depicting an environment to explore. You can, of course, attempt to purge everything with fire, but that doesn’t offer the most satisfying means of using this one. It should also be noted that this dungeon is more organic than the other two psychedelic fantasies penned by the author – this has a couple of effects. For one, several creatures within have functions that it would be possible to liken to e.g. immune system, infection and the like; there also is a nascent sentience involved, and the actions of the players and how they ultimately will interact with the dungeon is a driving factor. And yes, the dungeon may be slain.

As before, we have a map on the final page, which this time around looks very much like a massive array of bubbles – the structure of the sac is itself a bit less interesting than the one of the plaque in “Gleams of the Livid Plaque”, but does its unique own atmosphere surprisingly well. While attempting to go full-blown combat on everything can be deadly, the adventure is per se fair – save or die effects are thankfully rare, but careless PCs may find themselves transcend their bodies, lose limbs and the like – this is, after all, an old-school adventure.

Like the other two psychedelic fantasies penned by the author, we have 3 new spells that should help exploring the place. These, once more, are not presented in a proper manner, lacking spell levels, suggested classes etc. – but there is one significant component that makes this matter less. The PCs don’t really need the spells to properly navigate this complex, so you can just ignore them and run this without much hassle in your favorite rule-set.

While the lack of adherence to a specific OSR rules-set means that there won’t be too intricate abilities regarding the new creatures and how they behave, this module does one thing better regarding the strange creatures employed than its two brethren: Due to the structure and theme of the adventure, and due to the names used and analogues to some organic structures we’re familiar with, it was much easier for me to keep the different creatures apart. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s one that made this a bit easier to run. This is also emphasized by the presence of advice on running the place. Also convenient for the referees – the sac comes with a d6-table to determine sac patterns, and a d10 table to determine sac color.

There isn’t much of a plot per se to be spoiled here. This is a classic sandbox, very much all about adding players to the mix and letting them explore the strangeness, but since said strangeness is part of the fun, consider this to be a SPOILER-warning for potential players; only referees should continue reading.


..
.

All right, so, like in the other two psychedelic fantasies penned by the author, we have a number of species that can be grouped in various factions, but this time around, I found it easier to keep them apart – this is partially due to slightly stronger leitmotifs – three species act as Symbiotes of sorts; two species are parasites, and then there would be the invasive species – refugees from a dying world, whose only contact with the PC’s world so far has been the eponymous sac. These include tube-like creatures that tie to the nearest incision, a planar rift of sorts, and the commanders, dubbed “surgeons” are actually engaged in their own petty struggles as well as the overall notion of an exodus. The supplement also mentions 2 hybrids that tweak other creatures, and there would be the manifestations – you see, the lurid sac does have a kind of will that is constantly changing and evolving: The aurmind. And thus, there are 3 so-called Manifestations, embodiments/sentient phenomena. The factions have pretty strong leitmotifs here, which, while a small thing in and of itself, really enhanced the experience of running this.

The living nature of the sac is ever-present – from the ellipsoid chambers to the way in which a small engine allows you to tweak means of furling/unfurling openings, this adventure never lets you forget that you’re exploring something truly strange. Rooms may well be slain (Hit Points etc. provided), scar over, and a whole table is devoted to the strange and magical humors that suffuse this complex. These may yield comprehension of activities, be acidic, flammable – or, if the “aurmind” wasn’t clue enough...gold.

You see, the sac is actually growing from a root that proceeds ore; gold to be more precise. The lurid sac’s sentient and expansion is fueled by gold, which makes for a genuinely unique angle – the sac needs to find more gold, and traversing the wrong room may feed gold to the entity…and the sac rewards those that feed its expansion, though in an alien manner indeed. This organic, nigh-incomprehensible entity is contrasted with the invasive surgeon’s potential magitech/science-fantasy-angles. The sac has a lifespan, specialized chambers that serve as odd organs, and notes how the sac responds to damage, to rooms being destroyed, etc. – 12 such unique places/organs inside the sac are provided, and yes, there is a means to spread the sac or even seed new sacs with a unique “treasure” seed. The appendices also include a variant of one monster, and 10 sample events add further to the immediate usefulness of the complex. As in the other psychedelic fantasies penned by the author, we get a massive selection of 6 d10 tables – from invasive components to sac debris to odd beings, these once more add to the strong themes here.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, though the latter suffers more from not sticking to a rule-set than the other psychedelic fantasies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks or artworks. The cartography does its job, but lacks a key-less player-friendly version.

Paul Keigh’s “Dreams of the Lucid Sac” is the best-structured of his three psychedelic fantasies – the sac didn’t require much pondering to get an idea of how its alien vistas work; the stronger leitmotifs for the factions help setting them apart, and the notion of the dungeon itself being literally alive in a thoroughly alien manner. It is slightly less unique than the scenario presented in the “Gleams of the Livid Plaque”, but it is much easier to pull off, and feels stronger regarding how it uses its materials. It can be easily inserted into your games, and it may actually spawn consequences far beyond the confines of its location. All in all, this is perhaps the best of these three from a structural point of view.

While, as a person, I prefer the stark and uncaring hostility of the potentially cataclysmic “Gleams of the Livid Plaque”, this one is easily the module that is easier and smoother to run and implement. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down. While the spells still aren’t good, they may be ignored, and as a whole, I consider this to be very much worth getting. As before, you shouldn’t run this and the other psychedelic fantasies by Paul Keigh in the same campaign due to structural overlap, though it is less pronounced here than when in comparison between the other two; if you want my recommendation for running two of them, I’d suggest running this one and the plaque-adventure in the same campaign, as they have pretty different themes. This is a good example of a supplement that is all substance, and if you don’t mind the absence of artwork or beautiful layout, do as I do, and round up – and check out an adventure locale unlike any you’ve ever subjected your PCs to.

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.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/setting supplement clocks in at 11 pages, so let’s take a look!

Yep, we get basically a fifth of a page editorial and the like – and then, the rest is adventure. This series adheres to a pretty minimalist approach to module presentation – two columns of black text in a white background. Headers are bolded, but the small statblocks have no internal formatting – this is as minimalist as can be. As for the rule-set, the module does not subscribe to a particular OSR-game or edition, claiming general compatibility, which means that you will have to do some tweaking to modify the module for your preferred old-school game. 60’ (20’) are the default movement rates, HD are noted, and AC is provided in the descending convention; the monsters state a single save as a static rating, and note e.g. “diffuse – receive only half damage” or “climbs as spider”– you get the idea.

As in all psychedelic fantasies, this has only the strength of its prose to lean on. This is also a sandbox without a clearly indicated target level, but low-level to mid-level parties should have a good time here, since this module is less about murder-hoboing everything, and more about the wonder of exploration. What’s inside is less of a straight-forward dungeon.-crawl, and could be likened more to a setting supplement depicting an environment to explore. You can, of course, attempt to purge everything with fire, but that doesn’t offer the most satisfying means of using this one. It should also be noted that this is the most “inorganic” of the psychedelic fantasies penned by the author – it does not mutate or change to the same degree as the other complexes, and generally has a starker tone; the factor of survival is a bit more pronounced herein. This is not a per se easy adventure location to traverse and is a tad bit tougher than e.g. “Streams of the Lucid Crack” due to this module’s environmental effects being more dangerous; on the plus-side for the players, it does not feature save or die. While crippling and disfiguring can result from exploration and combat, the module, as a whole, turns out to be a pretty fair endeavor.

There is a rudimentary map on the final page, which depicts a side-view of the livid plaque, no player-friendly version is provided. The layout of the complex may take a bit of getting used to, and wrapping your head around, but as a whole, I considered it to be a pretty interesting complex, to say the least.

There is one more thing to be noted, and that pertains the rules – there are 3 specific spells included, and they lack indicators for the classes they’re supposed to be for, suggested spell-levels and the like, potentially requiring some tweaking – probably due to the supplement not subscribing to a specific rule-set. These spells note range and duration just fine, butt to navigate the livid plaque, the PCs will want to use them – animate/deanimate mineral, open/close calcis and incalcify/excalcify allow for some pronounced modifications to the complex itself, which is very much intended, so this time around, there’s no bypassing the spells or ignoring them – they should be adapted to your favorite rule-set.

Another structural peculiarity herein would be that there is some overlap between this adventure and “Streams of the Lucid Crack” and “Dreams of the Lurid Sac”, not in concept, but in the stats/abilities and features exhibited by the creatures within – the Drevok are pretty similar to the Drevod from “Streams of the Lucid Crack”, for example – a few adjectives and minor tweaks have been employed, but as a whole, they’re very similar – not copy-pasted, but pretty darn close to it. That being said, this may be intentional to evoke a sense of “familiar, yet different” for those who explore more than one of the author’s locations/modules.

There isn’t much of a plot per se to be spoiled here. This is a classic sandbox, very much all about adding players to the mix and letting them explore the strangeness, but since said strangeness is part of the fun, consider this to be a SPOILER-warning for potential players; only referees should continue reading.


..
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The file includes a d6 table of suggestions where the general location, the Void the holds the plaque, can be found, and a d10 table of things you may have heard, the place has to explored to be believed. The livid plaque is a transreal growth of mineral calcis clinging to one wall adjacent to the Void; as a layered structure, the plaque contains growing and diminishing pockets subject to the pressures of the plaque’s layers, with outermost entry-vectors for the PCs being possible via the use of the so-called galleries.

Much like in “Streams of the Lucid Crack”, this strange place is inhabited by a plethora of different, strange creatures, which may be likened akin to several factions: The “Media” and the “Glimmers” represent species that have adapted to life in the calcis and contain 4 different species; the second faction sports 3 species, and has arrived due to the plaque’s growth negatively impacting some components within the Void – these are the “Purifiers”, who want to remove the plaque. Finally, there would be the “Scenders” – entities that have reached the plaque by climbing up or down. 4 such species are provided. Finally, there once more would be two hybrid entities to be found here.

Sounds familiar? Well, I did claim that these modules have similarities, right? We have also have some dressing tables and quest generators – the intelligent species of locals and the Purifiers both get their own sample d6 quest tables, and both also provide a d6 table of gifts they may award for furthering their agenda. Speaking of items and creatures – there are two additional creature entities as optional appendices, an additional item generator, and a name generator that allows you to quickly generate names for spaces in the plaque with 3 1d60 tables. Structurally, this adheres to the same design-paradigm.

That being said, the plaque does feel very much different from the other modules; this is achieved via a variety of tricks: For one, the plaque’s structure is different, and the importance of the new spells to navigate this smoothly sets it apart. Secondly, it feels like being caught in almost a tectonic kind of shift – the plaque is not in a kind of equilibrium – it changes and while growth mechanics are provided, the place feels harsher – also because several key-locations can collapse and be destroyed. Species may become erratic, and the PCs may witness an exodus of species, warfare, etc. – all as the strange an uncaring mineral layers evolve, uncaring. Similarly, I mentioned a survival aspect. These are mainly enforced by the nasty global effects of the calcis – navigating the plaque is a dangerous endeavor, and damage incurred from the terrain may see the PCs impregnated with calcis, which will uncaringly start destroying body parts over several days! This provides a reason to interact with the species within, to learn the new spells, and to make sure that you’re careful. It creates a notion of a hostile, uncaring and structurally-unique wasteland, making the exploration feel genuinely unique. It’s a small thing, but the plaque’s structure and environmental effects, its dynamic nature – all of these do make this adventure stronger than e.g. the “Streams of the Lucid Crack” as far as I’m concerned. I have literally never seen any module like it.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, though the latter suffers more from not sticking to a rule-set than the other psychedelic fantasies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks or artworks. The cartography does its job, but lacks a key-less player-friendly version.

Paul Keigh’s exploration of a strange, layered and calcified thing overlooking a grand void is genuinely a novel experience. In spite of its structural similarities with the other psychedelic fantasies the author penned, this is unique and distinct. I wouldn’t advise in favor of running it in the same campaign as the other two, but I’d genuinely consider this to be a very fun and exciting little offering. If you can look past the rudimentary presentation and adapt the spells accordingly, you’ll have a definite winner on your hand. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module/setting supplement clocks in at 11 pages, so let’s take a look!

Yep, we get basically a fifth of a page editorial and the like – and then, the rest is adventure. This is a pretty minimalist approach to module presentation – two columns of black text in a white background. Headers are bolded, but the small statblocks have no internal formatting – this is as minimalist as can be. As for the rule-set, the module does not subscribe to a particular OSR-game or edition, claiming general compatibility, which means that you will have to do some tweaking to modify the module for your preferred old-school game. 60’ (20’) are the default movement rates, HD are noted, and AC is provided in the descending convention; the monsters state a single save as a static rating, and note e.g. “climbs as spider” – you get the idea.

So, this has basically only the strength of its prose to stand on, and if you want artworks and fancy layout, this may not be for you. This is also a sandbox without a clearly indicated target level, but low-level to mid-level parties should have a good time here; since this module is less about murder-hoboing everything, and more about the wonder of exploration. What’s inside is less of a straight-forward dungeon.-crawl, and could be likened more to a setting supplement depicting an environment to explore. You can, of course, attempt to purge everything with fire, but that doesn’t offer the most satisfying means of using this one. When ran as written, and if the players turn hostile towards the creatures fast, then this can be a rather tough adventure – on the plus-side, it does not feature save or die. While crippling and disfiguring can result from exploration and combat, the module, as a whole, turns out to be a pretty fair endeavor.

While there is a rudimentary map on the final page, no player-friendly version is provided. It should be noted that this location can potentially alter whole campaigns and has one property that some folks might consider to be broken in a way, so an experienced referee is most assuredly recommended.

The file includes a d6 table of suggestions where the general location, the Dell, can be found, and a d10 table of things you may have heard, there is ultimately no replacement to traveling here. This place can be called a classic sandbox – it presents a situation, and it is up to the referee and players how everything develops. No read-aloud text is provided.

There is one more thing to be noted, and that pertains the rules – there are 3 specific spells included, and they lack indicators for the classes they’re supposed to be for, suggested spell-levels and the like, potentially requiring some tweaking – probably due to the supplement not subscribing to a specific rule-set. Another structural peculiarity herein would be that there is some overlap between this adventure and “Gleams of the Livid Plaque” and “Dreams of the Lurid Sac”, not in concept, but in the stats/abilities and features exhibited by the creatures within – the Drevod are pretty much akin to the Drevok from “Gleams of the Livid Plaque”, for example – a few adjectives and minor tweaks have been employed, but as a whole, they’re very similar – not copy-pasted, but pretty darn close to it.
This may be intentional to evoke a sense of “familiar, yet different” for those who explore more than one of the author’s locations/modules – this thesis is supported by e.g. the presence of a species called “anhaldr” in the Plaque-adventure, which, while similar to the haldr featured herein, are still very much a different beast.

That being said, while there isn’t much in the means of a plot to be spoiled, encountering the strangeness herein is a significant part of the module’s appeal, so consider this to be the SPOILER-warning for potential players. From here on out, only referees should continue reading.


..
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All right, only referees around? Great! So, the Dell has been opened to the world by a cocoon of an enigmatic being since then departed – this has opened a weird, maze-like complex – a volcanic hollow, expanded by the Builders, one of the factions herein, into a vast network if triangular cells. The builders consist of 3 species – the Haldr, the sudrik and the zdrudr; in the absence of artworks, the prose makes them feel almost hazy in their description, more like a gut-feeling of a creature, which worked, oddly, better for me than I expected it to. To give you an example of a creature description herein: “The zdrudr is a broad rippling slitherer involved in construction and maintenance. It secretes a corrosive able to dissolve rock, absorbs the resulting slurry through its skin and, when swollen, transports its load to an extrusion site where it is expelled in the form of a gel.” Yeah, this is very much a matter of taste.

Now, the cells have their own features, including magma held at bay by magics, with acrid streams limiting visibility and causing penalty-inducing coughing fits – air quality isn’t stellar here. The magma may also hold aggregates, which come with 10 special features: For example, one of them mighty contain zdrudr skins, which, when immersed in water, will form the creatures; there is a substance that may lower all ability scores, and similar weird properties may be found.

The triangular cells are actually a form of knowledge repository that instills its held information in those that explore the place for too long, knowledge is encoded in explorers – the subject is random, but have enough of tomes encoded, and your ability scores will rise. This can obviously potentially be cheesed, and probably should have further payoffs/repercussions. This property is also what makes this the hardest to run psychedelic fantasy of the author, but also the one that could easily have a global impact.

The second faction colonizing the crack would be the Seeders, which consist of two species that remotely resemble plants/insects; these are symbionts that become ever smarter due to the crack’s property – which is a risk in itself. Finally, there would be third faction, which also features two races – these would be the Risers, which emerge from the Pit: An amalgam of creatures, undead and living, somewhere in-between life and death, these things emerge from the ever growing Pit that has appeared, climbing out from protean depths.

Finally, there would be Relicts – this is the term for unwillingly isolated beings, unique entities. In case you haven’t realized by now – this means that there are 7 base species assigned to factions, and 5 less typical beings. Since all of them are somewhat abstract in their description, it can be a bit of a challenge to keep them apart, particularly in reference to each other. If the following sentence bothers you, then this might be a challenge: “The zdrudrenroamer is a hybrid of builder and relict, a glonten trapped within a zdrudr, anchored to trace particles of its source rock.” I don’t know why, probably due to the names and their brief and pretty abstract descriptions, but when compared to the other psychedelic fantasies penned by the author, I had a much harder time differentiating between the creatures.

There are three different encounter tables provided, and tasks for one of the species of Builders and for one species of Seeder are provided as a kind of quest-hook; there are 3 spells provided for the haldr species of Builder; these allow you to e.g. radiate/absorb knowledge and reference caster levels, but fail to note, as mentioned before even a suggested magic-user or cleric level, making them of somewhat limited player use, in spite of being conceptually interesting. Here, the lack of adherence to a specific system makes balancing them very difficult for the referee.

The location comes with a couple of development suggestions and notes on the individual key-regions in the maze of the cracked context, and the pdf offers 6 different 1d10 treasure tables.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level, though the latter suffers more from not sticking to a rule-set than the other psychedelic fantasies. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf has no bookmarks or artworks. The cartography does its job, but lacks a key-less player-friendly version.

Paul Keigh’s trip into the lurid crack is at once inspiring and somewhat frustrating – on one hand, I very much love the creativity and unique angle here, and I prefer substance over style. That being said, the sheer amount of weird critters and their names may be overkill. “So, the haldr tasked us to make contact with a specific fusid, because the entity ostensibly knows where a hybrid of glonten trapped in zdrudr, a zdrudrenroamer, was seen, uncharacteristically, with a haldrevod; you know, a haldr/drevod hybrid!” This is a very much likely scenario, and with the sheer amount of these all somewhat hazy critters, an artwork would have helped to keep them all apart. That being said, once you wrap your head around the species herein, this becomes a very unique and dynamic place to add to your campaign. Provided you want to instill some serious change, that is, for this environment can have a pretty significant impact on your game-more so than the other psychedelic fantasies the author penned. It’s, as a whole, with its subtext of memory (constant new connections, while others are swallowed) also a tad bit more abstract to run than the other two, requiring a bit more referee-mojo, but it also provides some potentially great payoff.

The rules are not as tight as they could be, but as a whole, I consider this to be an inexpensive and worthwhile locale to check out if you’re craving something strange. If you want art, layout, etc., round down from my final verdict of 3.5 stars; personally, I’ll take this sans artwork over any 08/15-complex with goblins/orcs and an ogre at the end any day of the week. However, you may not want to run this in succession with the “Dreams of the Lurid Sac”- or “Gleams of the Livid Plaque” (reviews forthcoming)-adventures that the author also penned; unless the information-angle is what you want to feature, I’d recommend these two over this module. Additionally, the new spells and the potential to cheese the location’s effects makes me round down for the purpose of this platform.

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.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This two-shot for DCC clocks in at 40 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page title, 1 page photo/art attributions, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue…because it’s the only Steve Bean Games book I haven’t yet covered, and I’m kind of OCD.

This review is based on the v3-version of the file, and it should be noted that its basic premise is that it takes place during the last leg of a Rock/Metal band’s tour through my native Germany. In the flavor text that litters the pdf. There is no need to play these folks, and a char-sheet is provided for your convenience. Being about the experience of rock/metal stars, the themes herein depict drug-abuse and sexual encounters, though the latter are not explicit. For me personally, I considered this to be pretty much PG 13, but if you’re particular about the like, that’s something to bear in mind. I definitely suggest tackling this with a mature group, as there is a Player versus Player (PvP) mechanic hardcoded into the experience. The pdf thus comes with a “contending for the limelight” tracker sheet, and a worksheet for players. As for the number of players – 4 is ideal, and it works with up to 6 players, but that does require some scaling up on part of the judge. Due to the one-on-one PvP-mechanics, I recommend only running this with even numbers of players.

It should be noted that Rock God Death-Fugue is very much indebted to the aesthetics of Black Sun Deathcrawl and Null Singularity, in that it could be likened more to an experience than to playing a regular adventure, though the PvP-mechanic radically changes the way in which this is played. Their fate is sealed – the rock gods will end some way, but how the world will remember them – well, that’s what this is about, and this “goal” ties directly in with PvP. As for rules, the rock gods use the basis of the wizard class, and determine two different ability scores that modify their spell check result – these are the only attributes they can spellburn. Vocalists can burn Strength and Personality, guitarists Agility and Personality, bass guitar players Strength and Intelligence, drummers Agility and Stamina, and other artists get to use Personality and Intelligence. It should be noted that rules don’t explicitly explain that – you’ll have to reference the character sheet for that.

The group should collectively decide the genre their band plays in. Each rock god is assumed to be looking for art in its purest form, which correlates with a sense of walking the tightrope between genius and insanity –and which comes with a driving force, a thanatotic urge – one of the dark 27, which represent central and crucial flaws that range from badly chosen sexual partners to addictions and the like.

These also, to a degree, also act as a justification for the means in which “spells” are used – the pure truth of artistic expression can highlight a caster’s fundamental falseness and destroy the moral compass, violate dignity and integrity, and at the same time, fuel the creative fires. I could list a ton of my favorite albums and artists for whom this certainly held true to a degree or another. In rules-terms, this is called “Crisis of Self” and it represents basically the corruption mechanic of the game. The pdf contains the two spells this knows, the first of which would be Aura of the Dark Muse, which is basically a means to control beings that is enhanced in its casting by the size of the audience. The Dark Muse Provides basically conjures forth an item ex nihilo – the bag of drugs, the shotgun, and so on – both spells are codified as level 2 spells and come with their own notes on unintended consequences (misfires) and crisis of self (corruption) effects. Unintended consequences and misfires are resolved after the PvP duel, and only is applied once per duel, no matter how many such instances were triggered.

At the end of each concert-encounter/scene, there is a limelight-encounter – one or more pairs of PCs find themselves in a rare artistic moment, invoking the Dark Muse as a metaphysical concept. The limelight battle is basically a simplified spellduel: the judge sets up the frame, and the players narrate their performances. The PC with the higher Inspiration ability (this one is btw. rolled differently – 4d4+2, not 3d6 like the others; bingo – this would be the Luck stand-in!) – and yep, you have to reference the character sheet at the end of the pdf to realize that. But back to the limelight: The players of PCs NOT involved in a limelight battle each award a crowd bonus that ranges from +0 to +4 to one player contending for the limelight, based on which roleplaying they considered to be better. These are written anonymously on a sheet of paper and handed to the judge; the bonus is awarded to the player with the higher average or with more awards. The bonus thus awarded should approximately be equal to the net difference between the two average values between players, and it decreases by a cumulative -1 for each spell check comparison the contestant has lost to the other player.

The duelists then secretly assign spellburn to positions 1 – 5.
What are these positions? Well, to understand the rules here, you have to get back to the limelight tracker. After this, they roll 5d20, and record low to high in the respective row; after that, duelists compare modified rolls, and burn Inspiration, as desired – this is noted down on the worksheet, to prevent cheating., but both PCs can competitively burn Inspiration over a single roll The higher check wins and advances the PC’s tracker by +1; for every increment of 6 (rounded down), that the winner exceeds the loser’s roll, the winner advances another step. A spell lost means switching to the other; loss of the second requires spellburn to continue, with the burn retroactively added to results already rolled.

The positions on the tracker are then adjusted as desired, and the duel ends when the two contestants are 5 or more spaces apart. This is repeated if required. Burning through too much Inspiration early may make you easy pickings for your fellow rock gods, so be careful! No Spell duel comparison or counterspell power checks are made, and there is no phlogiston disturbance. At the end of a contesting for the limelight, the PCs dueling dice off in a contested Personality check. If the PC who won the duel has the higher roll on this check, they steal 2 points of Inspiration from the loser of this check – an added insult to injury, if you will. The win/loss-record of these limelight battles ultimately determines the fate of the rock god in question. The wizard base chassis is an interesting mechanic that requires, ultimately, that players are smart regarding the use of their spells in roleplaying and in (limelight) battle. The pdf does note that a dark fate is in store for the rock gods – it’s a foregone conclusion, and as such, it allows the players to dive into the oftentimes darkly hilarious themes of musical excess.

And that is it as far as the mechanics are concerned – in order to discuss the remainder of the experience/one/two-shot, I will have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


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All right, only judges around? So, the “mini-campaign” this is contained herein consists of 13 encounters, which are sketched in a pretty minimalistic manner – and consist pretty much of a series of vignettes that lends a somewhat dream-like quality to the proceedings. Considering the themes of sex, drugs and rock and roll, this dream-like state makes sense and reminded me of movies like “Control”, wherein stage life is contrasted with the components beyond that. One could even speak of a fugue state of sorts. This means that the majority of the experience will be ultimately contingent on how the judge and players manage to fill in the encounters, but considering the down-to-earth locale, this isn’t as bad. The prelude has a weirdo fan show up – he wants the band to sign the cursed album of the band “Atramentous” – who recently died in a plane-crash. The strange guy is dragged away promptly. Thereafter, the encounters boil down to one-note set-ups that are wholly contingent on how the players and judge fill up these with meaning. We have fans out of control at a gig, who may need calming (stats provided)…and here’s to hoping that there’s an addict PC, because the second encounter wholly hinges on this addiction resulting in a score gone wrong.

This encounter also brings me to a component that kinda broke immersion for me – the thugs that crash the drug deal are all armed. With guns. In Germany. While this may not be utterly implausible, considering the obvious organized crime connection here, guns are strictly regulated in Germany. You won’t be bearing firearms in public, and if you get caught with even an airsoft gun (you know, an air gun that shoots plastic pellets), you may be in trouble. Statistically, quite a few of our criminals are more likely to bear such imitation guns rather than the real deal. I come from a family with a long hunting tradition, but beyond hunting rifles and VERY selective means to gain access to guns, things become very hard very fast for firearms proponents around here. How rare are guns? In all my 30+ years of life, I’ve never heard a gunshot outside a shooting range (and these are heavily and strictly regulated) or outside of hunting (ditto). An exceedingly small amount of people has access to firearms, and there are pretty strict background checks that check for histories of violence, mental illness, etc.

But I digress. A more problematic aspect would be that the other instances of the dark 27 have no such dedicated encounter set-up included. Indeed, drugs are a major focus – a fan that OD’d on heroin makes for an optional encounter; the next such vignette consists of an impromptu gig, wherein the PCs thereafter get to participate in a “swinger” scenario, i.e. the switching of sexual partners/casual sex with strangers, which includes a rather twisted rivalry/obsession between two NPCs that could turn to violence. Problem here – no stats are included.

After this, the PCs visit the concentration camp Buchenwald.

…yeah, this is the encounter where things become dark. I’ve been to Buchenwald, and Auschwitz, and a couple of other concentration camps for that manner. It’s a stark experience that is deeply unsettling, particularly if you’re a German with a functional moral compass and more than two brain cells. In the encounter herein, a semi-senile old lady mistakes the tattoo of a PC for a SS-insignia, and the wheelchair bound lady assaults the PC in question. She’ll have to be calmed…or she’ll die. This could be funny in another context – I have a dark sense of humor. Here, though? Utterly horrifying. Problematic here – how to stop here is never elaborated upon, neither are there suggestions on how to save here. In the absence of proper stats, we’re left with judge-fiat to determine success or failure, which is, frankly, frustrating.

En route to Frankfurt, we have easily the most complex vignette, because it actually is a multi-round encounter, wherein the tourbus of the PCs careens out of control – including a smashed windshield, a driver in flames, etc. After one final limelight conflict – the fan from the prelude, the weirdo with the Atramentous album, returns…and shoots the most successful PC dead. Roll credits, narrate epilogues. As a final nitpick: Kauptman, the last name of the perpetrator, is an anglicized version of the German name Kaufmann – using the proper version here would have added at least a bit to my sense of immersion.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are per se very good on a formal level; on a rules language level, the pdf could do a better job differentiating between steps and the like. Grating for me – sometimes, the text uses “2” when no specific number in the game context is referred to, and “two” when referring to actual game mechanics. This may be a small thing, but it exacerbates one of my main gripes with this supplement. I can’t comment on the print version, since I do not own it, but in an utterly puzzling move, the pdf has NO BOOKMARKS. The pdf uses shaded stock art and photography for a great effect, and combined with the layout, it makes for an aesthetically pleasing pdf – at a cost.

Layout – oh boy, layout. The book is aesthetically pleasing – its format is uncommon and more quadratic than you’d assume – this generates the illusion of a CD/DVD-booklet, an illusion that is further enhanced by the lyrics of bleak rock/metal songs that are printed in black letters throughout. I really enjoyed these…but guess what?
The actual rules-text?
That’s presented in a blue ink-like font that looks a bit like it is hand-written. The rules text and game-relevant material looks like notes in a notebook that have been added in on post-its etc. – like a sketchbook, paper clipped inside, partially covering the lyrics in the background.
Here’s the issue – I’d honestly like to read the entirety of the lyrics…and the font of the rules is really, really ANNOYING.
It makes reading the rules text take longer. It makes it hard to distinguish rules-relevant material, as there’s no bolding, no italicizing here. It means you’ll be reading the margins more than the rest of the book. And it labors under the misconception that adding in “#” for “number of” in a running sentence and using “b/c” will add to the illusion conveyed by the book.
It does not, it is frickin’ grating.
Add to that the inconsistency regarding the numbers. And then, there’s the main issue that’s exacerbated by this presentation: I have rarely seen a book this refined, that does such a bad job explaining its rules.
There is no sensible sequence here.
You need to flip back and forth to understand anything.
You need to reference the character sheet to understand some rules references. (!!)
Without looking at the character sheet, you’ll be hard-pressed to get how the rules work.
Let that sink in. The pdf is, from a didactic point of view, needlessly obtuse. Far beyond the levels of obtuseness that e.g. Black Sun Deathcrawl or Null Singularity sported, to the point where I really considered it to be exceedingly grating. This pdf opted for style over substance, opted for not breaking the aesthetic vision – which is valid…up to the point, where the presentation sequence is such a pain that I would have just put this down and never attempted to use or understand it again, were it not for the fact that I’m a reviewer. Now, remember that this has NO BOOKMARKS, and you’ll be flipping back and forth from start to back until you get how this is supposed to work.

In short: This is one of the most inconvenient books I’ve analyzed in quite a while. And Steve Bean’s Rock God Death-Fugue didn’t need to be that – the contesting the limelight PvP mechanics are actually an interesting mechanic, though one that could have used expansion. Which brings me to my second major gripe with this supplement: Its scope. There is not much meat to this supplement beyond the PvP-component. The encounters are sketch-like, and when you read two paragraphs on an aesthetically-pleasing page and realize that this is the entirety of information you’ll get for the encounter, you’ll start being pissed off by the lack of actual content on the per se lavish pages. In a way, this is as minimalistic in its presentation as Black Sun Deathcrawl and Null Singularity, but without the singularity (haha) of purpose that these offered. By grounding this in reality, by creating an illusion of depth via the dark 27, we really could have used more meat here, we needed more complexity to contextualize this in its realistic backdrop. The presence of the spells also feels like they are, in a way, a needless addition, and particularly on repeat playthroughs, can become somewhat stale. As the system already simplifies spellduels, further tweaking for depth, perhaps with a direct correlation of the dark 27 and the abilities of the respective rock god, would have been amazing.

And no, I am not talking out of my behind: When you list the actual game-text on a word-doc, you’ll be left with MUCH less content than the page-count would suggest, and here, this lack of content actually hurts the game. And this is a genuine pity, because I damn well love the idea here. I love the scenario. As a lifelong Metalhead and aficionado of all kinds of rock music (minus soft rock), this is pretty much right up my alley. And the macabre “you are doomed”-angle? Genius!

At the same time, this supplement promises depth that it doesn’t have on a symbolic level. Whereas Black Sun Deathcrawl and Null Singularity have the necessity to find your own meaning and in-game identity hardcoded into their DNA, this one professes a level of depth in the title that it never lives up to. I am not making that up, mind you: The pdf does imply that depth, for a very brief time, tries its hand at symbolic depth: In case you did not know: “Death-Fugue” is a reference to perhaps the most well-known poem of the genre of Trümmerliteratur, post WWII-literature, in which Germany tried to reestablish a culture that wasn’t tainted in aesthetics and language with the verbiages and themes claimed by the Nazis; the poem, of course, would be the masterpiece “Todesfuge” by Romanian-born Paul Celan, and it has entered popular culture via famous oxymora like “Schwarze Milch der Frühe” (Black Milk of Dawn) and the often (mis-)quoted “Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland” (Death is a master from Germany); its melody, repetition and content is famous, stark and brutal. It is part of the German school curriculum, and it shows a glimpse of the horror of being in a concentration camp in a devastatingly effective manner. The only encounter in this pdf with any close ties to this theme would be the one in Buchenwald, and as noted, it lacks game-relevant information and ultimately is just another brief step in a sequence of token vignettes without gravitas on its own. It fails the theme of the Todesfuge as hard as it possibly can. It also is bereft of any ramifications; which also extends to the other more combat-y encounters. There isn’t enough going on beyond the PvP; there is no reason to be a team-player, to try to help to survive, etc.

Ultimately, all the depth of the exploration of the abysses of creative excess must come from the interaction of players and judge; the pdf provides the absolute bare minimum of set-ups, and all depth must be generated; but unless you and all players are musicians with experiences that resound herein, then you probably, ultimately, won’t be able to 100% understand the emotional aspect of the conditio humana experienced herein; much like folks that have not experienced true despair probably won’t get anything out of Black Sun Deathcrawl.
Thing is: Being an artist is a more peculiar and personal experience than the ones evoked by Black Sun Deathcrawl or Null Singularity. The pdf brands itself as a tragicomedy, and I can see that; I can see this change of pace in the make-belief in our silly elfgames making for a fun offering. It’s fun to play the massive egos of caricatures of egoistical rock stars! But the game doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness wholly; instead, it has these tie-ins to a deeper, darker meaning, sports this pretension of depth, which ultimately only compromises the “fun” aspect of this supplement, at least for me.

In Buchenwald, at the very latest, all fun evaporates for me, and the change of tone can’t ever recover from that – which would be a GREAT thing – had this been the half-way point before the inevitable begin of the collapse. But Rock God Death-Fugue lacks the length and detail to properly develop this change in tone and pace. The brevity, scarcity or rules-and flavor-relevant material, coupled with the emphasis on style over substance, is frustrating –because Rock God Death-Fugue has all the makings of a true masterpiece.

It comes tantalizingly close to being a monumental experience that could have dwarfed, easily, Black Sun Deathcrawl. As written, though, I am left with a supplement, which, while beautiful, sacrifices functionality on the altar of aesthetics, and that requires serious player- and judge-mojo to reveal its true potential. With the right group, this can be a true masterpiece and a memorable experience; with the wrong group, it can be a frustrating failure…and I can’t rate the skill of hypothetical groups and player constellations out there. I can rate how this helps enhance player/judge interactions, how good a job it does at enhancing the roleplaying experience. And ultimately, my response, alas, is that this doesn’t do a particularly good job there. If you are intrigued by the novelty of the setting and premise, if you enjoy the cool premise and are intrigued by the PvP-mechanics, then this is worth checking out – you should round up from my final verdict.
But how to rate this? Ultimately, this had all the makings of a masterpiece, but fell short by a long shot, at least for me; as such, I wrangled long and hard with my own convictions here. I do consider this to have some really flashed of brilliance, but it’s at the same time, a very deeply flawed offering. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Undercroft clocks in at 24 pages, minus one page if you take away the editorial; this is laid out, as always, in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look! My review is primarily based on the stitch-bound softcover version.

As always for the ‘zine, the rules employed are LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess) rules, but conversion to other OSR rules-sets is not particularly taxing. Theme-wise, this is a horror-supplement; the easily-offended or squeamish need not apply.

So, let us begin with the crunchiest article contained within – penned by Marc “Lord Inar” Gacy, we have an alternate take on LotFP, attempting an engine to present a class-less system: Characters get 10 points at character creation, 4 on every subsequent level, and use the fighter’s experience progression. Saves start at Paralysis 14, poison 13, breath weapon 16, magic device 14, magic 15. The standard hit points gained are d4, with each subsequent die-size costing +1 point.; after 9th level, the fixed hp gained for free amount to 1, +1 per character point spent. An improvement to hit costs 2 pts; at 1st level, you can choose +2 to hit for 5 pts. An attack improvement may only be taken once per level. Saving throws may be taken twice at character creation, once per level. 2 points for +1 to each save, or for +2 to two of the five saves; for 1 pt., you get +1 to two of the five saves. A single skill point costs 1 point; for 3 points, you can get +2 in a skill. An improvement in an attribute also costs 2 points. Moving up a level in cleric spellcasting costs 3 points, magic-users pay 4 points.

Racial and class effects, such as being agile or being able to memorize an additional spell, gaining press, etc. –all covered. The system does present a full page of sample kits – 20 are provided for your convenience. The system acknowledges that its results are slightly weaker than standard classes, but ostensibly make up for that by the added flexibility. Whether you consider this to be true depends – for example, you get cleric spellcasting and HD as well as the save improvements over the default rules for 6 points, leaving 4 more points for you; however, the default cleric gains levels quicker. The same can’t be said for the magic-user, whose XP-thresholds are higher, making the class-level take on the magic-user actually better in pretty much every way. This doesn’t break the game, but it’s something to be aware of. Personally, I would have actually loved to see more different, unique abilities. All in all, a solid offering I ended up enjoying more than I figured I would.

Luke Gearing also has something for us – Smother. A kind of abstract infection that subsists on noise and light, the cool tentacle-y b/w-artworks here didn’t seem to fit the text as well as I figured they’d do – we essentially have a thing that seeks to consume sound and light, only defeated by starving it. Contact can result in a whole table of debilitating effects, as its non-attacks (attempts to grab the delicious sound-sources) instill catastrophic vibrations in the targets. These are cool, but getting an idea how well it hits/ a more traditional statblock would have made the entity a bit easier to implement.

Anxious P. also has a creature for us (also provided the deliciously surreal artwork), and one I am happy to say I really love – it reminded me of one of my current favorite tracks, Selofan’s “Shadowmen” – picture the Dream troll as a grotesque thing existing in the luminal state between waking and dreaming, a painfully goofy thing eliciting at once repulsion and pity, a stalker whose reality bending powers are contingent on sight. The combat effects the creature features make it genuinely interesting, and communicating about its presence will be hard, as memory sifts away like a bad dream. Even how it’s hit and how you can force it into combat are unique – a winner of a creature, as far as I’m concerned.

As in the former installment, master Barry Blatt returns with a complex encounter/faction-set-up that has been expertly-contextualized within the framework of the Early Modern period. (Seriously, I appreciate all the tidbits, including e.g. notes that discrimination was focused on faith and not race and the like – well-researched!) This time around, the article isn’t about horror in the traditional sense, instead focusing on the more psychedelic aspects we sometimes associate with LotFP. 3 sample NPCs, a unique magic item and a whole array of suggestions on how to get the PCs involved are provided.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


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All right, only referees around? Great! A soldier in a London-trained band, ones James Hendricks, has managed to get his hands on one of those early 5-stringed guitars, playing with his buddies Noel Reading (viola da gamba) and Michael Mitchell (tabor) in London’s bar-scene. They are living the high life, accusations of Ranterism notwithstanding. Of course, the Puritans want them banned; Things become more complex when you take an English Catholic magic-user/musician into the fray, which includes a plot to mention a demon’s true name banned in a music instrument…and then there would be the clever Jesuit spymaster and his assassin troupe. This makes for a great “meta-quest” – you know, one that happens in between adventures, slowly building up between scenarios. Love it!

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good, but not as tight as in previous issues – I noticed a couple of typos, and rules-language components also were not as precise. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf features quite a bunch of really nice b/w-artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a comfort-detriment. Personally, I’d suggest getting print. That being said, the front/back cover of this issue is not as hardy as the one used for the other Undercroft-‘zines, making it feel slightly cheaper.

The fourth Undercroft offers a nice array of options – I particularly liked Barry Blatt’s unique encounter/plot and Anxious P.’s creature. The class-level LotFP-engine is cool and something that the game may want to take a look at for the second edition, particularly under the premise that more things could easily be added to the material. What’s here is cool, but getting more would have had the chance to make this a true must-implement option. All in all, I did consider this one to be a tad bit weaker than the previous Undercrofts; not by much, but enough to make me round down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

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.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page editorial (the other half is an introduction/how to use), 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so as always for The Merciless Merchants, the rules-system employed is For Gold & Glory – based on second edition AD&D. Ultimately, this means that adaption to e.g. OSRIC is super simple, and that there is a lot of information given – We have size categories, morale, activity cycles (!!), organization etc. noted for creatures. Attack values use the good ole’ THAC0 ( What we knew as ETW0, for all fellow Germans reading this…), and HD-ratings as well as descending AC are standards. As you can see, conversion to other old-school systems thus is pretty simple. 7 new monsters are presented, and these do come with a bit of information on them, and a separate combat section that explains the more unusual properties of the creatures.

The pdf comes with a b/w map that deserves special applause, in spite of not featuring an extra key-less, player-friendly version. Why? Well, the secret doors with their obtrusive “S”s that SPOILER players? For the most part (but not in all instances, alas, they form a straight line with the walls – so in most instances, you can cut up a printout of the map, and the PCs will be none the wiser, for the telltale “S”-secret-door blocks are beyond the wall. I like this, and with the exception of a few of them, this does render the dungeon easier to use for the GM. Speaking of GM-convenience: While we do not get read-aloud text, dark areas are noted FIRST in descriptions; then, a comprehensive description (that makes most read-aloud texts hang their head in shame) follows – further information is presented in concise bullet points, which makes parsing information simple and convenient.

Now, this is a dungeon adventure and an old-school module – it is not designated for a specific level-range, and there is a reason for that. While low-level parties can very much successfully explore quite a few of the rooms herein, there also are more deadly environments that are designed to challenge mid-level characters – this complex is intended as a campaign-accompaniment, as a kind of downtime module, if you will. So yeah, to master this module, the PCs will have to attain mid-level range. Design-wise, the module is excellent – while there is e.g. a riddle door, failing to answer correctly does not stump progress – instead, success allows for the avoidance of an encounter. Traps are telegraphed in a way that is not too obvious, but remains fair. The module comes with a wandering encounter table as well as a couple of magic items, but the main treasure provided here is something else. It should also be noted that there is an inherent logic to the complex presented and the presence of all adversaries. Oh, and this module can be seamlessly inserted into ANY conceivable campaign, at any time, any place. How does it do that?

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


..
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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the eponymous chest can be found any place you want it to be. The PCs will do the usual routine (check for traps, etc.), and then open it. There is no treasure inside. There are no traps. Instead, they see an impossible stairway leading down. The chest may be moved – it is an entrance to a demiplane of sorts, and full exploration of the place within, understanding how it operates, will allow the PCs to claim mastery and ownership of it.

Inside, there is a vault of sorts – the central hub rooms feature doors associated with different valuables – copper, silver – you get the idea. The chest spawns guardians appropriate for the respective region, and its depths also hide a kind of refuge…though that has been compromised. The aforementioned monsters mainly feature guardians associated with the precious metals, though e.g. skittering coin scarabs and a jewel golem may also be found. See, and this is where the variable difficulty curve comes into play: The copper region is pretty easy, while the refuge and the more valuable regions can be pretty deadly indeed. The greed of the PCs and players, their own willingness to take risks, very much governs the difficulty of this adventure.

Note that both players and PCs will find out the operation of this complex without requiring the rolling of the dice – the module is structured in a clever manner that way, and in case you do want to fill the party in on lore, there is a friendly gold dragon as one of the guardians. He does not attack, and can tell the PCs that something bad has happened. Turns out that a somewhat psychedelic monster (think eye-studded pyramid with tendrils that can shoot beholder-lite effects!) has intruded upon this place – and that the best-guarded door, currently sealed, seals the monstrosity as well. This is a brutal boss, but the party will have to face the monster sooner or later if they want to claim ownership of the chest…and they will want to do that. Safe, a secure place to rest, unfathomable potential for infiltrations, means to lure in enemies – the potential this magic item has? It’s staggering. (And the intruder creatures? The GM can use them as a means to discourage abuse of this potent tool…)

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good – while not perfect, the module is presented in a manner that will not result in issues for the GM, with precious few minor hiccups (such as a homophone error of waste/waist). Layout adheres to an elegant, old-school two-column standard that primarily presents nice b/w-artworks. While these are stock pieces, they perfectly fit what they depict and are rare ones – i.e. I haven’t seen them used in a ton of other supplements. The pdf does not have bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment, but at this length still okay. The cartography in b/w, with its grid properly noted, is nice – as mentioned above, I wish the secret doors had been imperceptible in all instances, but that is a minor nitpick.

Aaron Fairbrook’s small adventure blows whole lines of adventures out of the water without even trying. It presents a module that is super easy to integrate into any campaign; it is clever, features a unique reward, is VERY inexpensive considering the quality provided, and it’s not boring. It is a genuinely creative, cool adventure that knows exactly what it is – it doesn’t try to aim for a world-ending plot, instead presenting a humble adventure that exemplifies how you can achieve excellence with even the tiniest of underdog budgets. This is an adventure that is both well-written, and well-designed, and precious few adventures genuinely get me this excited anymore….something that’s even harder to achieve when considering the limited scope and room this has. I could list a whole series of publishers that don’t have a single module as compelling as this humble mini-adventure.

It’s not perfect; the magic items found in the dungeon are not particularly mind-boggling for the most part, though I did love the glove that lets you call a fully statted silver falcon – come on, that’s cool! That being said, considering the goal and the price point, this is a no-brainer module that you definitely should check out! My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval. And if you like what you’re seeing, please also check out the City of Vermilion kickstarter – I so want this mega-adventure to fund! The Merciless Merchants definitely deserve it, and I want their mega-adventure in a gorgeous Friesens-hardcover!

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This generator clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, ½ a page editorial, leaving us with 17.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

The generator is simple in its function – you first determine a furnishing item that best represents the container being searched. Then, you determine how exotic/magical the material should be on a range from 0 to 100 – 0 means mundane, 100 means all components are magical, exotic, rare, etc.. Then, you roll a 1d100 and add the number chosen and check the respective table. Each of the subtables provides descriptions, tables and an example – they also specify a suggested sample number of items that should be inside. 7 different tables are provided for various tables, and lucky adventurers may well find a raw hydra head or a flame butterfly…or, well, just charcoal and notepaper.

Regarding storage furniture, we have 7 different tables as well, and 3 different hidden cache tables have been included. There even is a final table for stuff below the floor. The respective tables for the containers could imho have been a bit longer, but this is me complaining at a high level. This is not where the pdf ends, though. All those curious items, like the everash pipe or fire ant eggs? They receive proper descriptions. A magic coin for illusory prestidigitation tricks? A coin that eats other cons? Gorgon blood rouge? There are plenty of really curious and genuinely interesting ideas here, including unicorn milk, vampire blood, etc. – even containers get some descriptions here. Very enjoyable, and certainly a nice addition for the dressing library of the enterprising GM.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language (what little there is) level. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard with yellow headers. The pdf sports nice, hand-drawn b/w-drawings as artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

I really enjoyed James Eck’s small generator. While the individual tables could have used a few more entries, the sheer wealth of fantastic oddities to be found is rather cool, and can add some neat magic to the game. All in all, I consider this to be a nice addition to the game, and well worth owning for the low price of 2 bucks. That being said, while flavorful and fun, it falls slightly short of true excellence due to the relative brevity of the individual tables. A bit more differentiation could have made this a true gem indeed. Taking this into account, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded down – worth getting if the concepts above seemed interesting to you.

Endzeitgeist out..


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This ‘zine clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 42 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

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

Wait, what does the number mean? Isn’t that the third Dragon Horde-installment? Well, yeah, but the “Volume II” denotes the reboot with the new layout and the color cover; the issue is also PWYW, so you can leave a tip for the creator’s hard work.

Rules-wise, this book presents material for B/X, which makes conversion to other OSR-games simple, and which means that if you’re e.g. playing For Gold & Glory or OSRIC, things’ll be a bit easier for the party. Anyhow, we begin with 3 new classes:

The first of these would be the Deathslayer, who has Intelligence and Wisdom as prime requisites and only gets d6 hit points. The class may not wear armor or shields and only use one-handed swords or daggers. They attack and save as clerics, but may use magic-user-restricted magic items, save those that support or create the undead. They need to have a Wisdom score of 9. The class progresses over 14 levels and gains spellcasting as a magic-user of up to 6th spell level, with a custom spell-list provided that focuses, unsurprisingly, on anti-undead, detection, dimensional anchor, etc. XP-progression is that of the regular magic-user, and level-titles are provided. When a deathslayer starts the game, they must choose a specific type of undead – vampires, ghosts, etc. – this is the undead focus, and when fighting such an undead, the deathslayer gains a +2 bonus against attacks and effects attempting to alter their beliefs or actions, +2 to melee and ranged attacks, and the focus takes a -2 penalty to saves versus spells cast by the deathslayer. At 3rd level, the class gets to make glyphs of warding 1/day per 3 class levels, and at 9th level, we have the ability to create magic items. The glyphs allow for the creation of antiundead spell-traps or damaging blast glyphs, including trigger conditions. This class is basically a variant magic-user, with a bit of an anti-undead angle and a fixed spell-list, subject to the GM’s discretion to expand. All in all, a potent class that doesn’t fall into the trap of most nemesis-classes. What’s a nemesis class? It’s a class/archetype/prestige class that nets superb combat capabilities versus one creature type, such as demons. The issue most such classes face is that they become super strong versus the nemesis, bland versus regular targets. So yeah, this one doesn’t do that, and in fact, is an interesting take on the magical scholar fighting the living dead – that being said, I strongly suggest being careful with the spell-list: The class is balanced primarily by depriving the deathslayer of the flexibility of the magic-user, so beware there – otherwise, this becomes a 100% superior caster.

The second class herein is the witch doctor, who also has Intelligence and Wisdom as prime requisites. They use the cleric’s attack and saving throws, use a d6 to determine hit points and may not wear armor. They may use a shield made of natural components (no metal!) and weapon-wise ,are limited to medicine sticks (staves), daggers, darts and blowguns as well as other tribal weaponry, subject to the GM’s discretion. They only may use voodoo-specific magic items or weapons and require at least an Intelligence and Charisma score of 9. Witch doctor spellcasting is somewhat akin to that of the cleric, and features spellcasting of up to 6th level. The class sports a progression to the mighty 24th level (!!) and XP-wise gains second level slightly sooner than the dwarf – at 2,125 XP, with every further level requiring twice as much XP. Their spellcasting actually sports a pretty novel array of little tricks – they require foci to cast: Voodoo dolls, gris-gris bags and medicine sticks, tiki masks and ritual foci are all mentioned and concisely-defined. The class begins with the ability to turn/compel undead and gets an ever increasing range of undead detection that extends to the living dead. AT 5th level, we have animate dead, including the ability to animate ever more of those. Starting at 7th level, we have the ability to possess bodies, and 9th level lets the witch doctor bind spirits in shrunken heads, allowing for consultation of the dead. 14th level nets raise dead, and yes, we do get a custom spell-list that denotes the foci required. I LOVE this class! It reminded me of my very favorite Solomon Kane story! I want to play tehse dudes, and seriously, I want the class to get its own massive, more detailed supplement! The foci and XP-progression also keep the fellow balance-wise in check. Two thumbs up!

The third class is a race-class, namely the half-orc (assassin). These fellows have Strength and Dexterity as prime requisites, and they fight and save as thieves. The half-orc uses a d6 to determine hit points, and the class caps at 12th level. The half-orc may only wear leather armor or magical/elven chain and may use a shield, but not while using thieving abilities. They can use any type of weapon; they may use the same magic items as fighters, but don’t get the thief’s read magic ability and may not use scrolls. They must have a Constitution of at least 9, and their Charisma may not exceed 15. Half-orcs get 60 ft. infravsion and gain 2nd level slightly slower than clerics, at 1,550 XP, with every subsequent level requiring twice as many XP. A half-orc gains limited thief abilities – half the starting value of move silently and hide in shadows, as well as find/remove traps. Climb sheer surfaces starts off at 60% and improves by +4%, then by +2%, and after that by +1% per level attained. They also begin with a chance of 2-in-6 to hear noises, which progresses slightly asynchronous to the thief, with 12th level required for a 5-in 6 chance. Open locks starts off at -5% of the thief, with a base 10% chance, and pogresses by +5% up to and including 7th level, thereafter increasing by +10% per level. Half-orcs are trained in poison use and get +1 to saves vs. poison and starting at 7th level, they pass without a trace. While lacking the scroll use ability, they get a sneak attack/backstab - +4 to attack, and on a successful hit, there is a 50% chance of killing the target; this chance is modified by +5%/-5% per level of the target below/above the half-orc. If the instant-kill effect does not kick in, the attack deals double damage instead. This is very potent and potentially very lethal – personally, I think this should have a save or the like, but your mileage may vary in that regard.

The pdf then proceeds to present a couple of new spells for magic-users: Fatigue (1st level) nets -2 to Strength and Constitution and ½ movement rate for 2 turns. This requires a touch. Death rage (2nd level) lets the target make two attacks per round, or a single one at +2, and affected creatures never fail a morale check. Mummy’s touch infests with mummy rot, and ossify temporarily makes targets skeletons – this requires a touch versus the unwilling, and is no illusion. (There is also a greater ossify that can affect larger targets and is a 5th level spell.) Revenance acts as a shield to prevent the turning of undead, and wailing fear is a variant of audible glamer that can affect low-HD targets with fear. All of these are 3rd-leve spells. Necrotic portal (4th level) provides a portal through the negative energy plane, which is essentially a damaging/undead-healing two-way portal. Nice! Finally, aura of fear pretty much does what it says on the tin, instilling panic in low-HD creatures.

6 magic items may be found – while presented under the header “Designed for Evil”, not all of them are – the equinox orb can generate continual light/darkness; the fiendish mantle is obviously evil and provides some resistances/immunities associated with demons. The hammer of salvation has a moon on one face, a sun on the other face – the moon behaves as +1/+3 vs. undead, the sun-side as +1/+3 vs. natives of the lower outer planes, making it a potent weapon for good. Purity rings are no cynical way to sell ignorance and a suppression of healthy sexual development here, instead acting as a ring that nets +3 to saves vs. magical diseases. The plague mace is a +2 mace that can inflict nasty diseases on the target. Finally, there is the stole of radiance, which is only available for lawful (or good) clerics: The stole nets +1 to atk and saves, -1 to AC and enhances turning and acts as a level drain buffer. It also emits some light.

If you own the P/X: Basic Psionics Handbook supplement, you can find some new material herein: For psychometabolism, we have infuse terror as a new minor devotion: This one infuses a weapon so that those hit must save or be paralyzed by fear. While it may be used with ammunition, doing so is risky, providing a high chance of accidentally affecting the wielder – interesting balancing angle. As a major science, we have psychic vampire, which drains PSP from psionic targets, damaging all mental attributes for non-psionic targets instead. For clairsentience, we have the destiny dissonance minor devotion, which sickens the target with unreliable visions of the future, imposing -2 on atk, weapon damage rolls, saves, as well as skill and ability checks. There are two telepathic minor devotions: Aura of fear, which is mechanically different from the spell and has a low range, and psionic daze, which can prevent low-HD targets from taking actions on a failed psionic save. There is a telepathic major science with crisis of breath – in case you’re not familiar with it, this is basically a breathing inhibitor. This is deadly, but in a cool way, allows the affected target to decide on whether to struggle for air or e.g. attack (and risk blacking out). Finally, there is the shadow twin metapsionic major science, which conjures a shadow duplicate that shares hit points with the psionicist. This twin can shadow walk at will and has copies of the gear and access to the manifester’s psionic arsenal. The gear aspect is my main complaint here – the science should specify that the twin expending one-use gear/item uses drains those from the original’s arsenal. Otherwise, this is pretty easy to abuse.

The book also features a couple of new monsters – atori are undead with a ghastly stench that may render you unconscious, and they have a necrotic touch. Cacklers are per se incorporeal undead that manifest to cackle – this ability is potent, in that it can affect 3d6 HD of creatures of equal to or less than 4HD, preventing them from acting. To prevent abuse-scenarios, this has a cooldown. Still, needs careful handling. The crypt riddler is one of my favorites here – a crypt thing variant that poses riddles that kill you if you fail to answer on a failed save. Cool and imho more rewarding than the annoying random teleportation. Korper (Should probably have an “ö”) come in three variants and represent undead spellcasters who failed at becoming liches. They have a fear gaze, but otherwise are one of the more boring “failed lich”-undead I’ve ever seen. Hill haunts are cool: Enormous specters tethered to outdoors locations. They are great story-monsters, with their fixed location and powerful offense. The final creature is the Spawn of Chuamisi, a psionic naga-like being. Per se not too interesting. But there was this one line of lore that kicked my mind into overdrive: “Chuamisi is the elder evil that heralded the dawn of the Age of Serpents that brought the Great Poisonfall upon the world.” BAM. I want to know more. Awesome. Speaking of which: We also get Anguia Umbra, a new petty god with full stats and servant – this would be the petty god of iophilia, toxicophilia, shadow walkers and assassins. Deadly, and with some cool abilities, this finally managed to make me get the Petty Gods book.

My favorite rules component herein would be the optional rules for killing vampires, which makes the traditional things such as sunlight, stakes, head. burying etc. reduce HD. Cool! The pdf also features a couple of d30-tables – d30 quirks of becoming unhinged, d30 evil adventure hooks, and d30 methods of sacrifice. These are okay, but not exactly spectacular.

The ‘zine also includes an adventure for 5-7 characters of 3rd to 5th level. The module does feature alignment pretty heavily, making use of essentially two alignment axes in themes, while using only the traditional one-axis of B/X; while it acknowledges that the referee can adjust this to single-axis alignment assumptions, it does lose a bit of its flavor. (As an aside: No alignment is still the best option, and I really wished games got finally rid of this roleplaying-stifling blight; I just mentioned the alignment component, since some purists may balk at it.) The module suggests at least one thief and one cleric, a sound proposal. Wandering monster encounters are presented, and the end of the module presents all stats on one page – nice. The complex explored comes with a b/w-map, but no player-friendly version. Annoyingly, the maps has no grid noted, which makes playing with minis or VTTs a bit of a hassle.

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


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All right, only GMs around? Great! So, local farmers have gathered a fortune for the PCs to act as trouble-solvers – lemurs have been rampaging through the countryside, and it turns out that the notorious “Black Chapel” is the likely source – and it kinda is. It is basically your average cultist hide-out and not too special – the one thing the dungeon does in a clever fashion, is that the cult’s leaders attempt to parley – a defect altar is responsible for the uncontrolled stream of lemurs, and they require a lawful cleric to perform the ritual to seal the rift – they do attempt to negotiate a nasty contract, which is kinda neat, but as a whole, I wasn’t thrilled by this dungeon. It’s not bad, and its presentation is solid, but it does lack special components to make it shine. Personally, I considered this to be one of the weaker parts of the ‘zine.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting deserve applause – on both a formal and rules-language level, the ‘zine is precise, properly putting spells etc. in italics, using bolding well, etc. Kudos for making this professional and easy to peruse. Layout adheres to a 1-column b/w-standard, and the pdf uses excellent b/w-artwork sourced from the public domain. If you enjoy the cover, you’ll like the interior art as well. Great choices throughout. The ‘zine has no bookmarks in its electronic evrsion, which constitutes a comfort detriment. The map of the adventure is a step back in comparison to the last Dragon Horde, and same goes for the adventure. I can’t comment on the physical version of the ‘zine, as I do not own it.

Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr. delivers a passion project here – this is a professionally-presented ‘zine that features quite a lot of well-designed rules-material for B/X. While generally in the upper power-echelon, the incisions and balancing tools employed are smart; particularly the witch doctor is pure awesome. While I wasn’t too blown away by all of the supplemental materials or creatures, there also are some serious winners – the new petty god, the crypt riddler and the like? There are some gems herein. Usually, this would be a mixed bag on the positive side, rounded down (3.5 stars) but considering that it’s a PWYW-offering, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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