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An Endzeitgeist.com reviewEndzeitgeist —
This Advanced Adventure-installment clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This review was requested by one of my patreons, to be undertaken at my convenience.
Now, as always for the series, we have OSRIC as the default old-school rule-set, and as always for the series, we deviate from the conventions and have magic weapons not italicized, but bolded, and similarly, spells are not italicized either, but bolded. The adventure is intended for level 2 – 4 characters, and a smart and well-rounded group is definitely recommended. The pdf does not offer read-aloud text for its environments.
That being said, “White Dragon Run” is a departure from what we’ve seen so far in the series, in that it is essentially a hex-crawl wilderness sandbox. In case you don’t know what that is – the adventurers basically travel through the wilderness, encountering beasts and finding unique areas, dungeons, etc. – it’s basically a form of free exploration through a region, somewhat akin to an open-world game. The respective regions surrounding the village of White Dragon Run show that it’s a borderlands type of village, in that it’s pretty much the last stop before the wilds. In the Southwest, Lathergrave (or Lathargrave – depending on whether you believe text or map) Forest can be food; North of the village would be the Mimir Woods, East to South-West of it the Auranas Woods. Between these, the rivers have cut into plains, and beyond the latter forest, there would be the hills known as “The Skaths” that grant the region its name: The Skathernes. In the West, beyond these hills, the majestic Mountains of Xur arise.
Auranas and Mimir Woods share a table of random encounters, with a mix of humanoids and minor fey taking up the majority of the entries, with a few zombies and the obligatory wolves sprinkled in. These forests are dangerous indeed, and stand in sharp contrast to the significantly less lethal La/ethergrave Forest, where the most outré encounter would be giant blowflies. Ew! The first two forests also get their own table of random encounters for the night time, where you won’t encounter fey, but where some of the more dangerous predators and humanoids roam in larger numbers.
That is not to say that the vicinity of the eponymous river that provided the name for the village is safe – quite the contrary! Crocodiles, giant poisonous frogs and large packs of wolves render the area beyond 1 mile of the village very dangerous…but the Skaths are actually even tougher: Here, pretty significant raiding parties can be found, and at night (the Skaths also get separate daytime and nighttime tables), the undead roam in dangerous quantities. The wilderness section also comes with a mini-generator of sorts that lets you sprinkle in dead bodies, random camps and ruins throughout the landscape. No random encounters table is provided for the Mountains of Xur, and it should be noted that PCs should think twice before exploring ruins – they are either occupied or haunted 50% of the time, and both translate to some seriously tough challenges. 1d3 wights or a poltergeist can and will TPK a group of careless adventurers.
While these tables may not look like much, they do play better than they read and facilitate emergent storytelling – encountering 2-16 wolves at night can result in a TPK if the PCs aren’t smart and you roll up a lot of wolves; similarly, stumbling into multiple quicklings in the Mimir Woods can be a rather humbling experience…and when 2nd level adventurers encounter a band of 8 worgs in the Skaths, they’d better have a plan B ready…or replacement characters. So yes, these encounter-tables paint a picture of a harsh environment, and do so rather well.
The village of White Dragon Run itself is fully mapped (no player-friendly, unlabeled map included), and comes with a total of 20 rumors. The village is defended by a garrison (and you get a list of HP so you can track who falls) that keeps the dangers of the wilderness at bay, led by Sir Kallan, who is also the de facto leader of the Triune that governs the village: In his absence, the Triune can’t meet. The other members would be Landan, a paladin, and Janra, the village’s cleric – these two do have appointed replacements, should they not be able to attend a Triune meeting. Cool, btw.: Janra has the Wide Book of Genth, a valuable tome, and the back of the module does contain an appendix with some fully-presented excerpts from it! Nice one! The village also has its resident magician, who is commonly known as “Smoke”, and the village does have its jeweler, a retired soldier, a shop – you get the idea. Nice here: percentile chances for having things in stock are provided.
I also really enjoyed that every single building in town actually gets notes for how it’s constructed, the condition it’s in, the number of occupants and occupations of the folks that live there. It may be a small thing, but it can really aid the GM to bring the village to life.
One building is fully mapped, and that, no surprises there, would be the one that is most crucial for most adventurers: The tavern. The “Twelve Toes Inn and Tavern” (so named because the proprietor indeed has twelve toes!) is the pulsing heart of sorts of the settlement, and it does note the chances of meeting a given NPC with a percentile value for daytime and nighttime as well.
As a whole, while White Dragon Run certainly may not be the most extraordinary village out there, it manages to feel plausible, with the percentile charts, random encounter tables for the wilderness and details provided rendering this part of the supplement a success. It’s not a genre-changer or the like, but it is a well-presented execution of a classic environment.
The last 5.5 pages of the module, then, do present two more detailed locations – small dungeons, if you will.
In order to discuss these, I need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should hjump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! The first of these would be the “Gray Temple”, and abandoned edifice to the evil god Gaevud, a ruin of a granite structure somewhere in the Skaths. Today, vermin nest there, and this is represented by the random encounter table provided, which features giant lizards, giant rats, huge spiders and giant ticks, as well as a couple of humanoids. Indeed, the outer chapel, pretty much the first encounter-area of the temple, already has the potential to have the PCs surprised by no less than 8 giant spiders. If you haven’t learned to be careful via the dangerous wilds, this will drive it home. All in all, this is basically an exploration of an old ruin – though there are plenty of mundane pieces of equipment to still be scavenged herein – which is great for the notoriously-broke low-level adventurer…oh, and particularly perceptive PCs may well find a hidden room that hasn’t yet been looted and found…though, alas, the undead occupants may well object to it being looted… I liked the sense of dilapidation that this complex sported – it is something we don’t get to see that often. At the same time, I do feel that this would have benefited a bit more from some details regarding the long-vanished religion; more details for the iconography etc. to be spliced into the ever-present ruin….but that may have been intentional here.
The second complex presented would be The Forgotten Outpost – an underground complex that once served as a waystation for the Count’s men. A decade ago, it was overrun and sacked by humanoids, and today, it acts as a haven for a particularly vicious band of brigands. Clearing them from the outpost to potentially make it usable once more could really help the PCs getting Sir Kallan’s favor. Bandit HP are provided in a way that makes it easy to check them off, and the complex itself is a straight-forward extermination mission, unburdened by much in the way of hazards or the like…for the first 12 rooms, that is. A slight criticism would be that the bandits remain comparably pale – they don’t really have a proper response strategy or the like – compared to Advanced Adventures: The Curse of the Witch Head”, that aspect is weaker than I hoped it’d be. The interesting aspect of this complex is one that the PCs can potentially miss – there are quite a few rooms that haven’t been found by bandits, hidden by secret doors. Here, a forgotten, undead menace looms, and a room that is haunted can make for a rather creepy experience. I did like this (and the option to find a significant weapon cache) here, but as a whole, the complex still is basically something most GMs could improvise.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-level, with the by now almost traditional formatting deviations. Layout adheres to the old-school, two-column b/w-standards of the series that evoke a proper, old-school flair. The artworks within are b/w and rather nice indeed, and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is solid and b/w, but no player-friendly versions are provided.
James C. Boney’s “White Dragon Run” is a challenging little hexcrawl that can provide a surprising amount of game sessions. Courtesy of the danger of the wilderness, there are quite a lot of stories that will simply happen organically. And chances aren’t bad, particularly if you tackle this at 2nd level, that one or more PCs…or groups of PCs, will find their grisly ends in the Skathernes. The challenge is a central part of the appeal here, and indeed, the village is also well-presented. While I would have enjoyed a bit more conflict-potential to be baked into the settlement, as presented it makes for a point of light, for a fragile haven, and fills its role in that regard nicely. The hex-crawling section of this module, in short, should be considered to be a success, particularly for those among us that enjoy a down to earth and somewhat gritty aesthetic. I like that not everything is cluttered with magical things here – it grounds the experience and makes encountering the fantastic more remarkable.
That being said, the two mini-dungeons provided in the back of the book fall a bit short of what I have seen the author produce so far. The first dungeon does succeed at its goal, and while it’s not the most remarkable of places, it turned out to be enjoyable. In direct comparison, the second mini-dungeon feels like the less inspired, low level lite-version of his really enjoyable and cool “Curse of the Witch Head.” With a defense strategy for the adversaries, and perhaps a slightly more meaningful impact for finding the less obvious parts of it, this could have been a much more compelling expedition. So yeah, in direct comparison, the two brief dungeons did not exactly blow me away.
How to rate this, then? See, here things get a bit tricky. While I did enjoy the settlement and rather deadly wilderness, the two mini-dungeons included are simply less exciting. And when compared to other adventures that have received 4 stars from yours truly, this simply isn’t wholly there – it needed that little bit, that extra oomph in the dungeons, perhaps a couple of mini-quests in village and wilderness, to truly shine. As such, my final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform – a solid release on the positive side of things.
An Endzeitgeist.com reviewEndzeitgeist —
The second part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement (somewhat to my annoyance in the middle of the module), 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
It should be noted that, as before, the module does come with expertly crafted monsters with glyphs denoting their general role. The module starts pretty much immediately where Part #1 left off, and, as before, has proper stats for pretty much everything, read-aloud text where you’d expect it to be, etc..
The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the end of the first module in the series, as well as for the entirety of this adventure. As such, I STRONGLY urge anyone wo wants to play this adventure to skip ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! So, things look pretty hopeless for the PCs: They are stranded on Edge Station in Druune space, probably infected by Druune cells that will probably mutate them into disturbing Necromorph-like monstrosities enslaved by the Druune, and their powerful Central AI has deserted them. The final orders of the AI were to destroy the prototype timemachine the Druune developed – and it’s up to the PCs to decide on whether to follow this suicidal command and martyr themselves, or attempt to use it.
Indeed, an extremely dangerous mission has just become outright suicidal, as the PCs are bereft of Central AI’s exceedingly potent guidance – but in its stead, something else has taken the place of a global effect: You see, across infinite realities, the PCs have perished, failed, died. Again and again and again…until one of them got through, sending a part of the PC’s consciousness back through time, allowing the PC to have limited control over the time-stream via visions, ideas, etc. Set against the backdrop of Druune-cells subverting the consciousness of PCs, this should not simply be a form of fate favoring the PCs (and a means for the GM to help out, if they get stuck), but also represent a constant source of paranoia. This is incredibly clever from a narrative point of view. I adore it! Better yet: If the PCs figure out what’s going on, they can use this to a somewhat chaotic, but utterly unique effect – thematically, it’s a great continuation and escalation of both in-game and meta-game practices of module #1…and I could well spend another page extolling the virtues of how much sense this makes. Suffice to say, I love it. And yes, Druune infection is ALSO part of the atmospheric themes going on here.
The most sensible reaction for most PCs will probably be attempting to simply take their space ship and get the hell out – but Central Ai has hacked the docking station’s module and sent their craft hurtling into space. Worse, the outside of the station is covered in Druune remnant swarms, one of the new monsters within.
Whether they want to heed Central AI’s suicidal commands or use the time-machine, the PCs will have to dive deeper into Edge Station, and indeed, the pdf does note information that the PCs can glean by doing their legwork here. Leaving the lab-section, the PCs get to deal with the offices of the now Druune-enslaved populace – full of hazards and a dark theme reminiscent, once more – at least from a player’s perspective, of the fantastic space horror that the first Dead Space game managed to evoke. (You know, before EA made the franchise a sucky action-game that no one wanted…) Genuinely creepy whispers from victims in various stages of Druune transformation, a rudimentary and imperfectly-sealed hole that may suck PCs into vacuum…and yes, the Druune infection can be transmitted by some of the traps found within. Horrid gestalt things, a technogolem spreading Druune-infection…the atmosphere is pretty much pitch-perfect.
Clever PCs can find experimental Druune weapons, a 3d-copy machine…and yes, copies of creatures may be made…with potentially…öhem…interesting consequences. It is in the depths of the complex, past all of that, where things take a turn for another one of the games that really blew me away: SOMA. You see, the Druune have found a way to transfer consciousness between beings (yes, PCs could use that to, e.g., lose their Druune-infection-ridden bodies…but it’d trap the consciousness in that body…so yeah, anyone up for doing some nasty things to the duplicates you may have made?
Oh, and ultimately, the PCs will reach the Druune, see the PC that made it – the one that helped them get so far, that proceeded to kill himself to avoid assimilation by the Druune, and thus presented the chance the PCs took: A vision takes a hold of the time traveler PC, one that explains a lot, one that actually sent shivers down my spine. I am not exaggerating. This reveal, which I deliberately did not spoil in my review of module #1, is just brilliant. After this, we get the final boss fight, including unique temporal distortion effects, – and then, a travel back through time. To another body, as the PCs can only project their consciousness back through time. It’s 3 days before first contact with the Druune. Time’s ticking.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a bunch of truly amazing, original full-color artworks. The cartography is in full-color as well, and comes with player-friendly versions, ensuring that you can use them as handouts and VTT-functionality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
And here I was, thinking that Stephen Rowe, a masterclass designer and storyteller, had delivered an excellent adventure in #1 of this AP. It’s baffling. It really is. After a module that was exceedingly hard to follow up on, this actually manages to surpass the first module. The craftsmanship and artistry is just as amazing as before, but it’s the extremely efficient use of paranoia, with distinct science-fiction themes, that is frankly, a class of its own. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that this module, in its pages, manages to tackle more exciting themes than many whole campaigns. Blending questions of transhumanism and what constitutes identity with time-travel, adding a complex and truly intelligent plot, and topping it off with a reveal that WILL leave your players slack-jawed and truly stunned/mind-blown? This module does it all, and is a perfect example of quality over quantity. This is master-class storytelling and adventure design. 5 stars + seal of approval, and this is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2018. It’s this good. If the AP can retain this level of brilliant writing, then we’re looking at a masterpiece for the ages.
An Endzeitgeist.com reviewEndzeitgeist —
This expansion for Spheres of Power clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 34 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
The supplement begins with the by now traditional flavor-centric introduction before diving into the crunch. This time around, we begin with something rather interesting: Upon gaining a Conjuration sphere companion, you may now choose an archetype for the companion, which follow the usual restrictions. I.e. you can have as many as you’d like, provided they don’t change or modify the same features. 8 different such archetypes are provided and allow you to get an aquatic companion, for example. A companion with a bestial intellect (who does get a free (form) talent) and requires Handle Animal, a familiar-style one, and we get one that makes your companion a kind of mage-lite. Mindless or puppet-style companions are also included, and bipedal companions may become basically warriors. Much to my joy, there also is the Martial Companion option, which allows for synergy with the fantastic Spheres of Might book. All in all, this section is an all but required modification and broadening of options.
Now, this does not mean that the pdf doesn’t offer archetypes – for example, there would be the alter ego vigilante: Instead of a vigilante identity, the alter ego trades places with an extraplanar allay until it’s time to resume social activity. Instead of assuming the identity via the vigilante’s usual rules, the archetype instead makes use of the Conjuration sphere, using class level as caster level, stacking with other CL-sources. The companion can’t have an Int of below 3, and the combined archetypes applied may not have an increased spell point cost. Basic awareness is shared between them, and Link/Greater Link apply, despite planar boundaries. Alter egos begin play with a single bonus (form) talent, and conditions/effects are not shared – when switched out, they run their course, so no poison-cheesing etc. However, once switched out, the other part of the team is otherwise safe. Vigilante talents only apply to the alter ego companion, and social talents may only be used by the character, not the companion. This replaces seamless guise and vigilante specialization and modifies dual identity and vigilante talents, but archetypes that alter the latter may explicitly be combined with this archetype. The companion may cast by taking Con-damage to use Call of the Departed, if any – this is not ideal. Speaking of which: The vigilante appearance-ability sequence leaves me puzzled in conjunction with this archetype – does the alter ego gain the benefits, the companion, or both? I have no idea. Since we now have two entities, these would require clarification to make the archetype work RAW.
The second archetype is the awakener armiger, who requires the use of Spheres of Might. This one receives only 2 customized weapons at 1st level. When customizing weapons, these guys also forge a connection to a spirit. As a full-round action, the awakener can make the spirit manifest, which acts a s a Conjuration sphere companion with the martial companion archetype applied and a CL equal to the class level of the awakener. Thankfully, only one such weapon spirit per awakener may be kept in play, and once summoned, they can’t be called again for 1 hour, preventing abuse by spirit-cycling. The ability also tightly codifies dismissal. Weapon spirits get an additional (form) talent at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. Additional customized weapons are gained at 11th and 19th level. Instead of rapid assault, the awakener may expend martial focus as an immediate action upon successfully damaging a creature or executing a successful combat maneuver. Unfortunately, this *does* allow the awakener to ignore the 1-hour cooldown, which ultimately means that I need my bag of kittens to beat up…As at least a minor drawback, this does render the awakener staggered for a round, but still. On the plus side, action economy of a spirit thus called is properly codified. At 10th level, 1/round when dealing damage to a creature with a customized weapon, the hit creature draws an AoO from the weapon spirit. At 15th level, the weapon spirit may instead execute an attack action against the target, which allows for fearsome martial combos! Cool! 20th level renders the duration permanent until dismissed or another spirit is called, and lightning assault no longer requires martial focus expenditure. There also are 3 unique prowesses provided for better weapon spirit flexibility and mental links or sharing a spirit’s knowledge. Apart from the slightly wonky cycling issue that should imho have a longer cooldown, a cool archetype.
The knight-summoner mageknight replaces resist magic and the 1st level talent with the ability to summon a pala/cavalier-ish mount, as codified by the Conjuration sphere. Mystic combat is replaced with a (form) talent for the mount, which may be exchanged as a kind of wild-card trick. At 11th level, this may be used quicker, with spell points as a means to even use it as a free action. Mystic combat’s benefits aren’t wholly lost, though – instead, marked is replaced at 7th level, allowing for the sharing of mystic combat benefits between mount and rider. 2 archetype-specific mystic combat options are also included. The pact master thaumaturge does not gain the casting class feature, nor magic talents from class levels, though his class levels do count as casting class levels for Counterspell etc. Instead, the pact master forms a pact in an 8-hour ritual, granting a pact companion, which may then be called forth with a 1-hour ritual This functions as a companion with CL equal to class level, with CL not stacking with other sources. The pact companion remains for 24 hours and gets a bonus (form) or (type) talent at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter, though a companion still can only have one type. (It should be noted that Undead Creature has been retroactively declared a (type) talent. While within Medium range of the companion, the pact master gains a CL equal to class level, and a magic talent, plus another one at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter. A pact master may retain up to three pacts, and it is suggested that talents granted should correlate to the nature of the companion. This replaces occult knowledge and basically makes the class behave more like a witch/warlock from folklore, one that draws strength from the proximity of otherworldly allies. Extensive adveice for building pact companions is provided, and instead of forbidden lore, the companions can channel energy into the thaumaturge, boosting CL. Cool: Instead of the percentile mechanic, this causes the companion to take Constitution burn – a more elegant mechanic than that employed by e.g. the awakener. The archetype does come with pact invocations to redirect damage to them, share forms, etc. – rather extensive and interesting archetype!
The twinsoul elementalist modifies the elementalist class (D’uhh) and replaces weave energy with Conjuration and Destruction access. The interaction with pre-existing spheres is properly noted, and the companion is known as elemental conduit, who gets the mage archetype and the destruction sphere locked into the chassis. Instead of 2nd level’s combat feat, we get the destructive capacitor ability, which is pretty cool: The twinsoul elementalist can charge the conduit, who then receives temporary spell points and more powerful blasts. Neat one! Favored element is replaced with bonus damage from such charged shots. Cool, meaningful engine tweak. The void wielder armorist replaces summon equipment with a special weapon, the void blade, which may retain the essence of up to two creatures – whenever a creature is slain with it, a fragment of their essence remains in the hungering blade. The void blade may meditate an hour on such an essence, calling forth a duplicate of such a slain being, which behaves as a companion, with CL stacking with other sources. This companion only remains for 1 round per HD of the original creature sans concentration; for 1 spell point, it’s one minute per HD instead. Minor nitpick: Should have a “minimum 1 round/minute”-clause. Other than that, I do consider this to be a flavorful one, as such duplicates can impersonate the original creature rather well…3 signature arsenal tricks allow for further customization, for example for an additional essence stored, harder raising of those you’ve slain, etc. Nice ones!
Beyond these archetypes, we get an arsenal trick to have summoned or bound equipment appear in the hands of a Conjuration companion, and we have a mystic combat for banishing strikes.
The most important aspect of the book, though will probably be, at least for a significant amount of folks, the new base forms. Huge plus: The avian form does not break the low-level flight assumptions! Ooze and orb form are also interesting – particularly since the latter has a distinct and different means of preventing low-level flight exploits. Huge kudos for going the extra mile there and making these feel distinct and different. Finally, there also would be a vermin base form added. We do get a total of almost 30 new talents for the Conjuration sphere, which provide a diverse array of customization options many a player had wanted: There is one that lets you spend an additional spell point to choose another base form for the companion when calling it. There is a means to re-summon vanquished companions with negative levels. Camouflaged companions, granting feats…pretty nice. In a pretty obvious glitch, the Climbing Companion (form) talent does not have its name properly formatted. You can have your companion explode upon being defeated; you can have constructed companions, ones that have adapted to extreme environments. You can have companions with diseases, Mounts (as could be gleaned from the archetype), companions with ki points and monk-y tricks, ooze companions, planar and plant creatures, companions with minor rage, you can bestow swallow whole, increase companion Int, have blood-related companions, companions that act as spell conduits…what about ones with SR or those that come with magical quarterstaffs? Superior senses? You get the idea – this greatly enhances companion versatility. Furthermore, the pdf expands the companion progression table to the lofty heights of 40th caster level!! I know quite a few folks who enjoy super-hero-esque/gestalt-y gameplay that will love this extension.
A total of 8 advanced magic talents can be found as well, with size changes to Fine or Colossal potentially possible, for earth creatures with earth glide, better companion fast healing, summing more companions, having ones that regenerate, and, much to my joy – swarm and troop companions! That being said, these talents are well-placed in the advanced section, in a good example that shows awareness of the different playtsyles and power-levels that the spheres of power system attempts to cater to.
To my further joy, we do get a cool summoning diagram incantation, as well as the summon extraplanar being incantation, both of which certainly retain their usefulness beyond the scope of this book. The pdf also includes, of course, a rather extensive array of feats – Advanced Circles builds on the Diagram advanced talent to quicker diagram creation. (As an aside: Here we can find one of the, alas, couple of instances where formatting isn’t perfect – in this case, a skill-reference is lower case’d.) Very potent and reminiscent of some of the more interesting psionics tricks would be the feat that allows you to pass concentration on to a companion. Destruction specialists may modify their exploding companions with blasts (now this does make for some messed up villain ideas…) and e.g. quicker manifesting for shadow creatures, substituting casting ability score for Cha when determining outsider DCs and haggling with them, companions with poisonous blood or better poison DCs…some cool stuff here! The sphere-specific drawbacks are also rather cool: Not gaining the summon ability, being locked into companion archetypes, requiring concentration for companion presence to be maintained – these allow for some specific and really cool flavors and sharing HD, for example, is another one I really enjoyed. These are fun and evocative – cool enough to make players choosing them for how they fit the themes. The pdf also includes two solid traits and a page of alternate racial traits for the planetouched races, kobolds and snake-blooded races (nagaji vishkanya, etc.). – nice. The equipment section provides a new item class, foldable circles, which do pretty much what you’d expect them to.
Kudos: Since conjuration is one of the notoriously trickier aspects to GM, the pdf does provide some GM advice…and for your convenience, an appendix reprints the more complex and often lesser known swarm and troop subtypes.
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed a couple of hiccups regarding formatting and the like, and a few of the components could have used minor tweaks to make them a bit more precise. Not to the point where things stop working, mind you, but yeah. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and the artworks within are mainly color-artworks by Rick Hershey – if you have the Close Encounters: Hyperspace Fiends supplement, you’ll be familiar with the majority of them. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Andrew Stoeckle’s take on the Conjuration sphere is one that leaves me torn at a very high level; one the one hand, I consider this pretty much to be an essential expansion for the Conjuration sphere. On the other hand, there are a few hiccups in the admittedly high complexity of the design here, and companions/pets can become rather potent, rather fast. That being said, the engine tweaks presented often do rather interesting things; the drawbacks are intriguing, and there is plenty to love here. If anything, this book had to provide a rather significant amount of material that one would have expected from the base sphere, but couldn’t get due to page-count concerns. As such, the book, as a whole, provided for the most part what I expected to see, and provided the means and flexibility I expected to find. As a whole, I ended up enjoying this pdf, and it may not be mind-blowing, but it is very much a book that Spheres of Power-games using more than basic Conjuration will all but require in the long run. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
An Endzeitgeist.com reviewEndzeitgeist —
The first part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
First things first: In a rather helpful notion, the pdf does feature icons to designate the type of NPC/monster faced with helpful glyphs – a neat plus. As often, the module works best for a well-rounded group, and as far as implicit setting is concerned, the module does assume the presence of a galactic coalition of some sort. This component is vague enough to make integration into the ongoing game simple – you can run this AP in pretty much any scifi-context.
This module begins with the PCs tasked to embark on a reconnaissance mission to the eponymous Edge Station, a facility studying rifts in space-time, deep in enemy territory, where the disturbing Druune exist, carrying a potent boon with them: Hybrid items called nodes, which contain a fraction of the potent Central Artificial Intelligence. Each node specializes in two skill checks, which the node enhances. The ship bringing the PCs to the setting of the adventure is fully statted as well. The adventure features read-aloud text for all keyed locales and key moments.
A HUGE plus would be that the adventure does clearly state the rules under which the time travel assumptions that are an integral part of the plotline operate
And this is far as I can explain what happens without going into SPOILERS. Potential players will want to skip ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! During the travel to Edge Station, the PCs experience strange phenomena like a closed loop, random ship system disassembly and the like – these establish tone and help the PCs get accustomed to their fellows, and research/information to be unearthed about the station is also presented…oh, and the Druune? They store information on a cellular level instead of in a central nervous system, are capable of rewriting DNA, and are practically immortal. They can infect targets for horrid consequences, and indeed, Druune infection, a disease with its own custom track, is a serious danger the PCs will encounter. But thankfully, Central AI is a potent ally: 1/round or 1/out of combat minute, the AI can give a PC perfectly-timed advice that allows for the reroll of a d20 roll. It’s just odd that sometimes, a weird déjà-vu event accompanies this whole thing – but then, that’s a great tool for the GM to show the PCs a brief vision of how they would have encountered catastrophic failure.
Anyhow, the approach to Edge Station can be as varied as gaming groups – from force to Disguising the ship to Stealth, there are quite a few cool means of entering Druune space. As an aside – the artworks within this book are stunning, depicting Druune-tech in an almost Giger-esque blending of tech and organic components that shows that they are beyond the Coalition – but their general scavengers and druune-enslaved footsoldiers should not prove to be too much of a hindrance for the PCs. Indeed, the one association you will have nonstop, is that of Dead Space’s Necromorphs – the artworks presented for the Druune-forces are as disturbing as they are inspired.
This is not to say that Edge Station is not one cool environment to explore, mind you: The station, you see, stretches across multiple dimensions, and as such, the PCs will be traversing multiple dimensional rifts, which can have a pretty wide variety of effects, with a table offering 10 different effects, all with meaningful mechanical consequences. Note that these are the effects of *traversing* the rifts – the respective labs make good use of this cool premise by employing a variety of planar traits and unique options to keep things fresh. It also bears mentioning that the station feels alive, in as much as going on High Alert will make things tougher for the PCs. Similarly, the complex does have cool traps that can be disabled via a variety of means, that have the proper EAC/KAC/HP-values, that can be destroyed and bypassed…neural nets and the like make for fitting obstacles, considering how smart the Druune actually are.
From the PC’s perspective, though, Edge Station will be a horror show; humanoids turned into oozes in the attempts of the Druune to elevate the, from their collective intelligence-perspective, horribly stupid humanoids, resulting in clones and the nightmare-fuel-style servants…this will work perfectly as a space-horror adventure. Add planar traits like subjective time to the fray, and we get one damn cool adventure…that can potentially end with a bang. The node realizes that the druune defied Central AI’s predictions – a prototype temporal consciousness teleportation device is in the facility. The node comments that it must deliver this data to Central AI. Then it states that there is a non-zero chance that the PCs are infected with druune-cells. It tells them that they cannot be allowed to leave and forbids investigation of the druune tech, issuing a final task, to destroy the prototype, before going dark.
The Central AI abandoned them. The PCs may be infected, slowly turning into Druune slaves. The node is initiating its self-destruct sequence…and they are stranded in a Druune facility. Now if that’s not an amazing cliffhanger, what is??
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column full-color standard and the pdf sport a lot of absolutely amazing original full-color artwork. The pdf is fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography deserves special mention: The PC’s ship and the Druune ships they encounter are fully mapped in full color, and the complex they explore similarly comes with a neat full-color maps. Better yet, we get unlabeled, player-friendly versions of these maps, making the module really VTT-friendly and allowing for the use of maps as handouts et al.
Okay, I did not tell you, not even in the SPOILER-section, what made me cackle with glee. For the GM, who will get one crucial piece of information in the beginning, this module takes on a whole different dimension that makes it much smarter than it would seem from my above elaboration of its plot. From a player’s perspective, this is one utterly creepy, amazing dark scifi module that really drives home how alien the Druune are, how strange – it oozes Dead Space-y themes and atmosphere, condensing the best of said franchise down in a surprisingly efficient manner. In spite of the seeming brevity, this module has quite a lot of content to offer, and NEVER, not even once, presents a standard encounter or boring design-piece. Here, you can see why Stephen Rowe may well be one of the best designers currently working in the d20-realm: Beyond being a gifted author, he also is an exceedingly talented designer, and it shows here – the blending of mechanics and flavor is seamless, organic, perfect. This is as amazing an introductory scenario as you could expect from an AP and represents a phenomenal kick-off for the series. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation.
An Endzeitgeist.com reviewEndzeitgeist —
This installment of the Galaxy Pirates supplements that focus on ships clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
On the first page of this supplement, we get the stats for the eponymous interceptor, which clocks in as a Tiny tier ½ machine – which obviously has but one crew-member, namely the pilot. As far as defenses are concerned, we have basic 10 shields, mk 4 armor and defenses and a micron heavy power core fueling these. EDIT: Here, my review text may have been misleading for folks who don't know that gyrolasers can fire in broad arcs. I tried to state that the interceptor has only weapons facing the front firing arc. The interceptor has 2 fire linked gyrolasers, and gyrolasers have broad arc, which allows them to fire at -2 to an adjacent firing arc. The ship comes with a brief table of Computer check DCs to know something about the vessel and a VERY brief description of the craft, but not much about its story, design, etc – instead, about ½ of the first page is blank. Some additional fluff would have improved this little fellow and made it stand out.
On the second page, we get a massive, one-page artwork version of the interceptor, which is really neat; we follow this with a page of smaller versions suitable for e.g. paper-mini-construction, and we close the pdf with an aesthetically-pleasing ship-sheet that ahs the interceptor’s details already filled out for you.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a full-color two-column standard with a white background, and, as noted, the artworks provided for the interceptor are great and compelling, and the handout-version, the mini-version and the filled-out sheet show that he authors thought about immediate usefulness at the table – a big plus. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. However, unlike the larger ships, we don’t get a map of the insides of the interceptor, one of the things that really blew me away about e.g. the intermediate cruiser the Eldred manufactured.
Paul Fields and Jim Milligan deliver an interceptor with amazing artworks, ready to use at the table, and for the low price of just a buck, you indeed get your money’s worth. A map would have been sweet, but I don’t hold that against the pdf at this price point, particularly considering the quality of the artwork. That being said, I do hold against it that the interceptor is a bit pale – it could have really used some additional descriptive text to make it stand out more – on the first page, there is ample blank space that could have been used to make this vessel more interesting. As a whole, I consider this to be a solid offering, though personally, it didn’t excite me to the same extent the intermediate cruiser did. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.