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An Endzeitgeist.com review

Not counting the introductions, this book contains 120 pages of content, but I need to preface that from the get-go with a statement, namely that this is a VERY dense book; with a different layout, this could easily have been 240 pages, or even more, so the length here seems almost deceptive in a good way. And yes, before you ask, in spite of this density, the book does not feel cluttered.

This book was moved up in my reviewing queue due to being requested by my supporters, and due to receiving a print copy. I have consulted both the print and electronic version; for more details on the print version, please consult the section where I discuss the formal criteria in the conclusion of the review.

I’d like to ask you to read the entire review. This book tries to be a (not really) system agnostic (campaign) setting, mega-adventure, plus supplemental class options and rules-lite system.

So, before we start, I should note that this book has a hard standing with me; a very hard one indeed: When the pitch is to combine Albert Camus’ hope with Kafka’s futility and estrangement, and a sprinkling of Lovecraftian paranoia, my response is an owl-jpg that says “O RLY?” Camus’ writing has been a source of strength over the years for me, and I’d be hard-pressed to quote an author with whom (and with whose writing) I empathize as much as Kafka. Heck, I’ve even read all of Kafka’s letters and fragments. And there are a lot of those. I actually quote Kafka in my daily life. Yes, I’m that pretentious a prick, but what’s new? ;P

Anyhow, secondly, the book hits another angle that send me into the “Oh noes”-territory, namely that it is “system agnostic” in a way, but thankfully not really. I have no issue with flavor-centric books refraining from conforming to systems, but for rules-heavy stuff, adventures…well.

You see, all too often, “system agnostic” translates to “I want maximum market penetration without the hassle of having to actually learn a roleplaying game system in detail, much less its terminology or math.”

The resulting system agnostic books, for the most part, don’t properly work in ANY system; they creak and groan like rusty cogs in an otherwise pristine clockwork. When a book is made for a system, one can learn the system, its power-levels/assumptions, and convert accordingly; without a frame of reference, it becomes hard to decide what power-level something is supposed to have. Ever asked yourself why there are so many low-level OSR-modules, and almost no high-level options? That’s one reason. A character of level 1 in OSE, LotFP, OSRIC and For Gold & Glory character might have similar options, but those start to fall apart fast at higher levels, when utility spells, battle spells for AoE damage, cohorts and options come into the fray, not to speak of the assumed frequency of magic items and their potency. At higher levels, one has to account for all those pesky things like teleportation (easier in some systems than other), flight (ditto), etc. So just claiming to be no specific rules set ends up being inconvenient, and often an excuse to not engage with the design of a system and its assumptions. At higher power-levels, this seemingly unifying design core among old-school systems starts wearing thin like a wet tissue, and the issue is exacerbated when a book also tries to cater to the D&D 5e crowd, where even a 3rd-level character can vastly outperform pretty much anything in the old-school arena. So yeah, system agnostic makes all my alarm-bells go off.

Except…this book is not *really* system agnostic. Instead, it provides its own rules lite alternative system in the back, and otherwise uses D&D 5e as its default frame of reference. Essentially, this means that spells, magic items, etc. are provided in a way that is *almost* D&D 5e; there are a few annoying differences, for example that “checks” are referenced as “tests” instead, and that three letter ability score abbreviations are used in sections of the text where the ability scores should be fully written out, a hyphen missing, that sort of thing. It bothers me, but I’m OCD, so unless you’re similarly inclined, there’s a chance you might not even notice it. As a whole, though, this actually does a better job conforming to 5e’s design paradigms than MANY supplements that have the gall of calling themselves 5e. (*cough* tons of horrid dual-system offerings and sloppy conversions */cough*) Now, personally, it frustrates me that the team didn’t simply go the last step; implement proper 5e-nomenclature throughout, without these minor deviations, and make that the standard. It feels like deviation for deviation’s sake to me. On the plus side, the per se pretty stringent adherence to 5e’s paradigms also means that this *DOES* have a frame of reference, power-levels, etc. that you’re probably familiar with, and this in turn means that it’s easier to adapt to your respective system. This is a good thing indeed.

Moreover, the book includes a 4-page system, which, for a certain demographic, might well be a great reason to get this, namely the “Memento Ludere” rules light system.

Memento Ludere is essentially D&D 5e, boiled down to its essential core; the game retains the 6-ability-score paradigm, proficiency bonuses, resistances and vulnerabilities, advantage and disadvantage, etc. There are plenty of differences here, though. Damage inflicted has been streamlined, there are two classes, and the rules for this system (as opposed to the spells featured earlier in the book) do not differentiate between damage types. Similarly, bonus actions are rare and reactions are eliminated. There are some further streamlining procedures, such as item slots replacing weight-based encumbrance, HD being always d8s, and e.g. the exhaustion system being altered to be simpler. (I do love the 6-step condition mechanic, but if you wanted simpler, which you probably do when contemplating this system, then you’ll like it!)

There are a couple alterations herein that I very much enjoyed and deem worth commenting on, as they represent some factors I’ve been houseruling myself, if from the other side of the rules-aisle, so seeing rules-lite takes on these issues was enjoyable: The system offers a more differentiated approach to drowning/holding your breath; while I have my own system for that (published in the Survivalist’s Guide to Spelunking), I went the other way to tackle the issue that I did not enjoy the default system offered by 5e.

Memento Ludere provides a pretty harsh, but simple and sensible system, whereas I went for a more complex angle that allows for the creation of Breath-based puzzle dungeons. Very much appreciated seeing the other side of the design-paradigm approach here. Where we conform, it seems, is with the death and dying rules, as Memento Ludere dispenses of the death saving throw in favor of a harsher, more old school system; I appreciate that. Similarly, I appreciate that the system, in spite of its brevity, actually escalates falling damage beyond a linear progression of d6s; personally, I use an injury-system and an even steeper increase, but for a rules lite system, I was more than pleasantly surprised to see this. Fans of Maze Rats and Knave will also appreciate the spellcasting system, which lets you keep casting a spell until you fail your spell test, so the one-line spells presented can be used more often.

The system, as a whole, works exceedingly well. It requires pretty much no explanation to players familiar with the basics of D&D 5e, plays fast, and retains a degree of complexity and progression I appreciate. It’s precise, considerate and well-wrought. It certainly is significantly better than many an old-school hack I’ve covered, and leagues beyond half-baked attempts at blending OSR and 5e gaming. If you ever wanted a stripped down, easy 5e-version, then these few pages may already warrant the asking price.

Now, *personally*, I tend to gravitate to the other end of the rules-density spectrum, to the one where I like adding rather than subtracting options and complexity from D&D 5e to increase the number of things I can do, so I was rather happy to notice that the book, as a whole, was written with D&D 5e as a frame of reference, and this system as a secondary option for the ultra-rules-lite OSR-fans out there.

I consider this system’s presence in the book to be a win-win situation.

Now, while we’re on the subject of rules-relevant components, let’s take stock of the other components in the book that fall under that umbrella term. The book includes 4 well-wrought backgrounds (collector, dredger, oathbinder, gravekeeper), which each include an extra d8 table to roll for customizations (collectors can randomize which divinatory method they’re interested in, oathbinders their profession); these are all 4 really cool and evocative, and rules-wise, I have but one nitpick: Swim is not a skill; it’s just a subset of Athletics. That being said “Athletics checks made to swim” probably wouldn’t have fit in, since all 4 backgrounds are on a two-page spread. Similarly, all spells and magic items are on their own two-page spreads. The spells feature a couple of cosmetic deviations from standard formatting (hyphens, plane names not title case’d, that sort of thing), but otherwise work and fall into an interesting design-space, with exorcism as a 3rd-level spells, or the 1st-level parrot-blather, which forces the target to loudly speak what you think. See Dead People also got a chuckle out of me and sending an item into the immediate future via time stutter is also interesting. In short: the spells deal with creative and suitable things, instead of just presenting MOAR damage options. Creating a dome of telekinetically held together objects also made me smile. (Yes, the team obviously knows and enjoys Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell; there are several subtle and less subtle hints to that extent in the book.)

The magic item section provided is similarly strong, and contains familiar ashes, magical death shrouds, and what about that bell that lets ghosts attempt to shake off Overwhelming madness? Wait. Madness? Yep. Take a look at that character sheet included in the book. Before all the super-sensitive people start sharpening their knives and holding out torches and pitchforks: This book does not overgeneralize, nor does it treat mental illness in a disrespectful manner. It has that by now arbitrary “please don’t be offended”-caveat. Madness herein is actually a kind of psycho-spiritual altered state prompted by exposure to the supernatural, and while most beings have 0 MP (Madness Points), adventurers all start with 1. (Which makes sense, if you think about it. Also, cue in the Nietzsche quote, dancing stars and all that.) When you attain a MP, you roll 1d20, and try to beat your current MP. On a success, nothing happens; on a failure, you are overwhelmed by madness and roll on a d6 table that includes fainting, fight, flight, fugue state…you get the drift. You can reduce MP by 1d6 for every week spent in a safe, civilized environment, doing things that are not murderhoboing or confronting eldritch abominations. There is more to the system. If you have 1 MP, you also have a Psyche value, which is the combined total of Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma modifiers, minimum 1.  You can reduce your psyche by 1 to add 1d6 on a d20 roll, or to avoid being Overwhelmed by Madness, and you regain 1 psyche after a night’s rest (should be long rest), or 1d6 psyche per day spent in safe, not blood-soaked adventuring locales.

Each character also has a paroxysm, which is rolled secretly by the GM. Once a character’s MPs rise above 10 + maximum Psyche, the character Succumbs to Madness, unlocks the paroxysm, and resets MP to 1. Why did I use “unlock”? because a paroxysm is a two-edged sword: While they do come with hefty drawbacks, they also feature significant bonuses. These are paid for with Psyche. I very much enjoy this system. It’s fast, easy to use, and it rewards the players for roleplaying their characters. Oh, and once a paroxysm is unlocked, you roll 1d12 when Overwhelmed instead; on 7-12, the paroxysm’s respective overwhelm effect, the drawback, is triggered.

Then, there is this 1-page series of questions that every player should be able to answer…they’re all about when they died. Last thoughts, etc. For after that, they get to play the ghosts. Yep. Ghosts. And yes, I just flashed back to Ghostwalk as well, which I very much liked in theory, if not particularly in its “death is just the name for your gestalt-switch”-execution. Ghosts in this book play differently; they don’t heal as usual, and instead are very much governed by the stroke of Midnight, when they roll all HD, sans modifiers. That is the ghost’s HP maximum for the day. Yes, this means that there will be days when ghosts are rather vulnerable… The ghost rules take properties such as ghost touch into account on one hand, and on the other also cover folklore like lines of salt. Resurrecting and changing between being a ghost and alive is also not as casual or meaningless as in Ghostwalk, which is a good thing: Ghosts often have trouble remembering things from their life, and vice versa; and yes, this includes XP loss. I am very much in favor of this approach, as it discourages trivializing death. Ghosts do have more use for psyche, btw.: Ghost powers, some of which may also be powered by HD! Oh, and you can be a fashionista extraordinaire! What do I mean by that? Manikins! Ghosts can possess special manikin bodies, with 3 samples provided. AWESOME!

The book also features a brief bestiary and some massive tables of flavor only NPC-descriptions for your convenience. The critter math is solid, and the design is nice, but once more I found myself wondering why the book elected to almost hit 5e’s style. Anyhow, the coolest critter from a design-perspective would be an undead cat, whose potency relies on how many lives it has left

So, yeah…ghost characters, manikins, rules for psyche, items etc…all, aesthetics-wise, very interesting, and all pointing towards that kind of fantastic/occult weirdness I am fond of, so let us talk about the (campaign) setting, which does cover roughly the first 40 pages of the book.

Adrift in the sea of souls lies the isle of Anon, a transitory place, locked from the great wheel, and as such, we do get proper planar traits; the isle is surrounded by aforementioned sea and mists…yep, mists that steal your identity. Fans of Ravenloft and Silent Hill, such as yours truly, definitely appreciate this. Additionally, another analogue would be that the book acknowledges the anachronisms that made Ravenloft’s 3.X iteration the best in the setting’s history. (Srsly, if you like Ravenloft, get Arthaus’ books; their rules suck, but the flavor is the best Ravenloft has ever been.) Anyhow, Anon is, in some ways, closer to Renaissance aesthetics than to the early modern period that most settings assumed, which is also represented in the second isometric map included here: The isle of Anon gets one such map, and the city of Vestige gets the second one;  Anon has a square grid, but no distance-indicator on the map; vestige has no grid or distance indicator, but the architecture is genuinely interesting, providing a blend of age of sail aesthetics with classic Gothic architecture; picture a blend of age of sail and Bloodborne’s style, if you will.

Beyond these locales, the book also touches upon interesting concepts, such as obols: The true currency of Anon, these are items infused with meaning, with memories. Lightning that strikes the beaches of Anon can create Geistglass, a substance that can capture, in a way, the spirits of defeated ghosts (which otherwise reform), becoming soulstones, which are essentially one-use spells…but using them, ultimately, allows the ghost to reform. This duality alone is narrative gold. Of course, where a concept like obols is introduced, an 88-entry table of weird objects? Definitely appreciated!

Indeed, the book does make good use of its pages: Even on artwork pages for chapter-intros, we e.g., have lists of dressing. The city of Vestige is presented by district, teaching us about e.g., the docks, notable places (which include a huge shipwreck inhabited by fancy goblins), and yes, there are more posh neighborhoods, a mage academy, etc. Factions are also included, like the sellsword Order of Andras, which reminded me somewhat of a less malign take on a “Council of Owls” mythology. The factions also include the order of Yog-Sothoth, which is the one thing here that made me groan briefly; the Old Ones are just so…done to death. That being said, choosing a more esoteric one and tying the entity to will-o’-the-wisps was a smart call, and recontextualizing the Great Old One as kind of neutral was a smart call and can be considered to be a clever twist. And yes, there is a catacomb/graveyard district. Bear in mine that there are tons of supplemental tables for these locales. Curiously, btw., it is also in this section where playable skeletons as a kind of race are included; this section should probably have been in the character options section, not in the middle of the city write-up.

Oh, and there is the Wall. The wall between the living and the dead, that the dead constantly build, and that constantly sinks. A perfect pretense for an eternal dungeon crawl, and an atmospheric one to boot. (Also, of course, has that nifty Kafkaesque angle…); beyond that, we have fey; we have caravans of strange nomads, and he have the neverborn isles, which could be likened to a gothic twist on Peter Pan or Lord of the Flies; far enough away to be interesting, defined enough to inspire, and free enough to add the degree of grit and darkness, or whimsy and hope, that you desire. Did I mention the Blood Swamp?

Oh, but all of that seems so quaint to you? You and yours desire something more extravagant, more outré? Well, beyond the descent lies a place/faction opposed to the ferrymen Vestibul, a strange graveyard of empires, bureaucratic not-quite-there quasi-real place/faction/force of nature (??), a distorted reflection of Anon…and here, in the delightful place known as Flesh Row (and some others, if you so choose), is the Descent, which leads to The Other Side.

The Other Side is where the Kafka angle comes fully to the fore: A bureaucratic hell of random department generators and random rooms that makes “Das Schloss” almost seem sensible by comparison. Suffice to say, I loved it and would have loved the massive generators here to be expanded further.

The book also includes a 30-page adventure “Escape from Ghost island”; the module “only” covers 30 pages, but oh boy, is this one massive beast. The module starts off with a flow-chart of most likely events, and actually features a pretty broad array of development notes/trouble shooting. What it does not do, is specify an expected level-range, at least not in the book; the back cover mentions 5th level. Of course, the special nature of Anon does mean that the deaths of the party are…well…less of an issue, but difficulty-wise, I’d definitely recommend this for mid- to high-tier parties, and 5th level might be a bit low, as the module can be quite brutal. Then again, repercussions for failure are more ephemeral here.

The module does not feature read-aloud text in the traditional sense but does feature read-aloud text for key NPC interactions; nor does it include player-friendly iterations for the maps featured inside. The adventure is complex, has a lot of moving parts and some serious intrigue going on; that it managed to fit its massive content into 30 pages is impressive. That being said, the rudimentary synopsis is all but useless for the GM, and with the amount of moving parts, the adventure is clearly geared towards experienced groups; both regarding GM and players. On the huge plus side, the adventure does not have simply win/fail-states, often allowing, design-wise, for degrees of success of alternate paths. It also focuses very much on not simply requiring high rolls. Considering the potency and massive hit point pools of several creatures herein, the focus on roleplaying and problem-solving as opposed to just hack-n-slash is commendable. Oh, and yes, riddles included.

So, at one point, I was attempting to summarize the adventure in a way that does justice to it, but ultimately, I found myself in a position as a reviewer, where I kept writing and realized that this would further increase the already massive length of the review to all-time lengths.

Instead, let me try to first be a bit more opaque: The module begins with the arrival of the party on Anon, including a rather hilarious introduction to the Kafkaesque aspects of the setting featuring a semantic discourse on the intent of the word “and” in “Voluntary Registration and Arrival Tax.” That’s pretty much scene #1, and it’s less than a third of one page, including the adventure hooks. Soon after that, the party is introduced to Dr. Judas Lynch, multiverse famous escape artist, and his lady Miss Magnolia Strange (Strange and Norrell nod, obviously), witness the Houdini-like prowess of the man, and also are introduced, via séance and dialogue, to some of the key concepts. If you’re like me and into classic weird/strange fiction, then this entire section alone has sold you already. Fully realized and printed songs, GM guidelines etc. abound, and the module manages to cram so much more into it. Genre-wise, this heart-warming setting of the stage gets the characters involved in the fates of Dr. Judas and Ms. Magnolia, introduces them to Anon and Vestige…and represents the beginning of an adventure of a density I have not encountered since covering the fantastic Zeitgeist saga.

The following contains broad-strokes SPOILERS for the module; not for how it progresses, but for key components of the plot. If you’re a player, do yourself a favor and jump ahead to the conclusion. I will draw back the Veil (haha) on some structural elements that you DO NOT WANT SPOILED.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Dr. Judas is a legend; super powerful, kind, a hero; his dialogue is inspiring, and both he and Ms. Magnolia would reek of Gary Stu/Mary Sue syndrome, were they not so damn likable. And were there not the fact that Dr. Judas is fated to die. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: The party soon runs afoul of a legendary killer, the possessing ghost known as Guignol (nice!), and if they don’t take heed, the authorities might attempt to pin the deed on them; worse, Dr. Judas’ expertise threatens to shift the precarious balance in Vestige, as he has found a way to more easily breach the veil between life and death. Indeed, perhaps the most impressive achievement in the early parts of the module would be that it sells a) the party being captured, b) Judas helping to free them and c) Judas inevitably dying in the process (OR immediately thereafter) in a way that does not feel railroaded. It is one of the best instances of a scripted sequence I’ve seen in a while.

Following this tragedy and some regrouping, a séance with Ms. Magnolia yields no results; Dr. Judas is not in the afterlife, which sends the party to the spirit world with a hilarious roleplaying challenge of sorts, the Dumb Supper ritual, but all of that is only the beginning, as the module gets stranger, more fantastic, and interesting…including a trip into the mind/soul refuge of Dr. Judas (which includes, among other things, a chess puzzle, including tons of troubleshooting); the module also features a Chambers-reference and one to the Persona series (if the dungeon concept wasn’t clue enough) that include the Reaper. And yeah, like in Persona, fighting it is…well. Not smart. Oh, and, of course, the party will need to deal with the bureaucracy. All this against the backdrop of a massive conspiracy that you can easily expand.

The ending of the module is bittersweet and comes full circle to the convictions of the lovable pair; in many ways, it managed to be one of the most touching experiences when it comes to the fates of NPCs in a pen and paper roleplaying game that I have encountered so far.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level, are very good; certainly better than what I expected to get from a freshman offering. On a rules-language level, I was consistently appalled by the module’s insistence to *almost* adhere to full 5e-standards, but not quite. Most people probably won’t mind, but to me, as a person, these admittedly internally consistent deviations seemed just so unnecessary. Whenever I saw a weapon not noting its physical damage type, whenever I saw not average damage value in the otherwise solid statblocks, something in me winced. But that’s probably just me, and most people will not mind. Layout usually adheres to one- or two-column standard for the setting etc., depending on how they could cram in the most information, and to a 3-column standard in the adventure section; either way, the book manages to sport a ridiculous amount of content for its page-count. The artwork deserves special mention: Artists are individually credited, and photos/pictures altered to fit the setting; the style is surprisingly consistent, stylish b/w, and the effect really worked for me. This is a surprisingly atmospheric book. The cartography is a weak spot: While the isometric pieces are solid, that's one aspect that needed a bit more oomph; player-friendly versions of the maps would have been great; as would have been scales for the larger ones...just so one has a better at-one-glance grasp. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks (YAY!), and the print version deserves special mention.

We get a perfect-bound softcover, yes, but it is one of the most durable ones I’ve seen. The book withstands use surprisingly well, sports THICK, quality paper, and sports its name on the spine. I was pleasantly surprised by its quality.

This is the first design by Wayne Canepa that I’ve seen since the Liber Influxus Communis days and the solid player’s guide for a series of adventures that never happened. It’s certainly the first massive book he’s written as the sole author. Now, the producers of this RPG are actually real life entertainers and performers (link below), and I have to commend them for being Patrons in the best sense of the word. Now, I did not notice the website-link in the credits before I read this book, and I did have the impression that there is some self-insertion going on with these two characters. However, I actually didn’t mind. I ENJOYED that aspect, because they are LIKABLE and because the player characters remain the stars of the show, the ones who actually adventure, and not just bystanders. This degree of self-restraint for patrons is something one doesn’t see that often; as a negative example, I just have to point at a certain, utterly obnoxious character in the Kingmaker CRPG. You all know who I’m talking about.

So yeah, huge kudos to these two people for having this book made.

Now, as you all know, and as you all have read me rant about above, the system agnostic almost 5e-angle irks me to no end as a person. Oh, and Ghostwalk set a pretty big and not too great precedent.

But in spite of that, I utterly adored this book.

Wayne Canepa’s vision here is one that makes an excellent case for roleplaying games as tools for the concept of Bildung in the sense of the Bildungsroman; as a tool for self-improvement in a lifelong quest of becoming a better self, and, one could make the case in this instance, as a tool to work through grief.

The setting presented here is one of macabre beauty; it is one that does feature despair, and death and madness, yes; but it similarly manages to be absurd, grotesque, and yes, funny. And, also thanks to the characters and writing, one that is genuinely heart-warming.

This book succeeded in touching the soot-black cynical coal that substitutes for my heart on workdays and days starting with “S” and left me genuinely touched at the end of the adventure. It left me wanting more, in the best of ways.

Now, in real life, I’m as diehard an atheist as you’ll likely find, but that doesn’t mean I can’t and don’t genuinely adore the vision presented here, because, in a way, every aspect of this setting, and I mean each and every one of them, could be read in a metaphorical manner. I could probably write another 10 pages of text on potential analysis for each aspect of them book and what they can signify, but for most of you, that’d be boring pontificating.

Instead, how about this:

One of the greatest joys for me as a reviewer, has always been to find books and showcase material that would be drowned out in the torrent of constant releases. Most significantly, when I managed to find an author, a designer, who created something special, something oozing heart’s blood…and, in very rare cases, perhaps something with genuine artistic value, one of those rare gems that no longer are just gaming books, but that can genuinely be considered to be art.

Not “art-punk”; I’m not talking just aesthetics here; I am talking about content. I am talking about genuine, humanist value. Not since Julian Barnes’ seminal “Nothing to be Frightened of” have I encountered a book on the subject of death that managed to impress me to this extent, and herein, it’s the very medium of roleplaying games, of interactivity, that makes it work. This book is not trying to be literature, to beat Camus or Kafka, because it can’t; but what it does do, is take those concepts, that atmosphere, and transport it into the frame of our elf-games. It does not try to shroud this goofiness; it does not try to be grimdark or bleak.

In these times, most of us have lost someone. A pandemic still rages outside, and people are divided along an ever-increasing array of lines in the sand, with discourse becoming ever more difficult. Online hate rages, and the lynch mobs of today scour social media for the next target to de-person and destroy. The economy is looking less than promising. This can be a bleak age; it’s easy to fall prey to only seeing things falling apart. Or that’s just my morbid disposition.

And yet.

This book constantly tells us, in all aspects, “Memento Mori—Remember that you must die”…

…but it also tells us “Memento Vivere—Remember to live.” And it performs those leitmotifs.

Again and again.

A wakeup call to live, to not just be defined by death and finality, but to embrace this ephemeral existence, for we only get this one life.

It’s exhilarating. Touching. And, depending on your state of mind, it can be a profound experience.

Or, you know, it can “just” be a genuinely novel, fantastic, well-crafted setting and adventure to just have fun with, to enjoy with the people you hold dear. Which we all should do, while we can.

Rating? 5 stars, seal of approval, best of-tag; if I currently had the time for a Top ten list, this’d be a contender. I’ll give it my EZG Essentials-tag instead.

I hope you check out this book and love it as much as I did.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the „Files for Everybody“-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction (which also features advice on using them and some info on their musk in a sidebar), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, mephians…it’s one of the rather interesting anthro races/ancestries introduced by Everybody Games for various systems, and it was always one near and dear to my heart (cue tons of bad Lacrimosa goth in-jokes); much like in previous treatments of such ancestries for e.g. the yroometji, the mephians in this installment receive quite a lot of rather interesting options and flavor.

Now, I know that you may be already familiar with this, but it’s important and something I very much feel like I need to address it: The mephian-treatment herein does feature not only a significant amount of rules-relevant material, the pdf also spends some space to actually contextualize the ancestry, explaining, for example, life cycle and physiology, but also providing a glimpse at the culture, which includes notes on architecture, cuisine, relationship with other species, etc. Their language is also touched upon, just fyi. I won’t ever tire of mentioning how important that sort of thing is to me. This information is what sets apart a different set of numbers for a weird-looking human and a genuinely plausible different species.

So yeah, as far as I’m concerned, this should be standard throughout the industry, regardless of system. Of course, the pdf also includes the “If you are a mephian…” and “Others will likely…”-sections. Rules-wise, the core ancestry provides 10 HP, 25 ft. speed, Medium size, a nonlethal tail slap attack for 1d6 bludgeoning damage, and the ability to secrete musk. This is a one-.action ability, usable once per hour, that has the poison trait. If your next action is a tail slap and hits, the enemy must make a Fortitude save, becoming sickened 1 on a failed save, sickened 2 on a critical failure, and trying to detect the target who failed the save via scent makes the sense one step more precise. On a critical failure, the sickened condition value can’t be reduced for a certain period. Okay, this alone already changes how mephians play when contrasted to other ancestries…which is a good thing.

Ethnicities are included in the discussion of the species as well, and in an interesting and applaudable decision, do NOT correlate with the heritages you get to choose from; a total of 10 heritages are provided. Artisans are trained in Craft and receive Specialty Crafting, and add the feat’s circumstance bonus to checks to Earn Income with Crafting. Atheist mephians get a +1 status bonus to AC and saves vs. divine spells and abilities, plus resistance equal to ½ level against damage from divine spells and abilities. Communal mephians choose a multiclass dedication feat for a class other than theirs, even if they don’t meet the level prerequisite. Other prerequisites must still be met. Empath mephians learn the attitude of targets when they (critically) succeed Sense Motive and become expert in Perception. Honeyfurs get Toughness, and the DC of recovery checks is 8 + dying value. Ironbellies get a +1 circumstance bonus to Fortitude saves vs. ingested poisons and effects that cause the sickened condition. They also can recover more easily from being sickened, Muskwallows get 3 additional musk uses per hour, stacking with other increases. Sojourners get Additional Lore, choose two subcategories and get two additional skill increases at indicated levels that must be applied to the chosen categories. Traditionalists get a 1st-level ancestry feat, and weldbond mephians get a primal cantrip as an innate spell at will, with heightening of up to ½ your level.

Eleven 1st-level ancestry feats are provided, and the benefits include a +4 circumstance bonus on checks to Aid, using Diplomacy instead of Perception to Sense Motive due to your empathy, gaining imprecise scent, and using your tail in a quasi shield-like manner, with the one-action option to raise it; the balancing caveat here is that, if your tail gets disabled by excess damage, you can’t raise it or secrete musk until you’ve been the recipient of Treat Wounds. Speaking of musk: More uses are available, and if you buy into the sequence, you can get rid of the cooldown frequency. Suffice to say, you can make acid -based musk pitch Strikes. The tail-focus can be further emphasized by unlocking weapon traits for it, or add one trait and increase base damage.

The 5th-level feats (4 total) include musk and tail slap Strike in one swoop, Mephian Unarmed Expertise (what it says on the tin), an upgrade to musk that renders targets flat-footed while they Retch (or regardless, on a critical failure), and Fume Musk lets you AoE musk as two actions. Three 9th-level feats further build on communal focus when using Aid, a new degree of success array for musk (that can theoretically maintain the stench for weeks!), and the option to potentially temporarily blind targets. 3 13th-level feats complement the array, with one having an erroneous prerequisite reference: That should be “Mephian Unarmed Expertise”, not “Mephian Unarmed Cunning” (the latter feat does not exist); the feats here include save DC increases, building on the tail slap potency, and a one-action Stance that makes the raised tail constant.

I generally enjoyed the array of options presented here; they are well in line of the default ancestries, and the tail/musk interplay does allow for potentially rather interesting playing experiences. As for the class options included, we do get a new alchemist research field (aromachologist), which is interwoven with perhaps my favorite component of this pdf, namely the introduction of a whole new type of alchemical items, namely perfumes, ranging in item levels from 1 to 20, with power per perfume available in 4 steps. Perfumes can be unstopped, or they can be thrown (different number of hands required!), and they can be offensive or defensive: Ill-Be-Gone Perfume, for example, in its most basic form helps against diseases and the sickened condition, but at increased potency, we’re looking at quickened, but only usable to Retch. Of course, we also have attitude enhancers, perfumes that stupefy targets…or what about a perfume that provides debuffs, but also resistances? 10 perfumes, all with 4 versions (and yes, they do have the Bomb trait), are included.

…I’m a bit of a dandy. I am inordinately fond of some perfumes, including ones featuring Oud. This is right up my alley, and mechanically, the flexibility inherent in the base item category also is something I enjoy. If this sounds cool to you and you want flexible buffing/debuffing/soft terrain control, then this will be right up your alley. And yes, wind-interaction etc. are included in the rules. With the muskologist archetype, mephians can lean into the cool perfume angle, and even learn to infuse alchemical perfumes in the mephian’s musk! Super cool.

While we’re talking about dandyism: The dandy rogue racket is cool: They gain the no-action ability to Showboat, which can add mental damage to Strikes based on your Charisma, and potentially Demoralize or Feint them, and two rogue feats build on that. Nice!  The guardian barbarian instinct is an interesting defensive-minded angle that makes sense within the culture, allowing you to take hits for allies in reach. Bards get four rather cool feats that build on inspire courage/defense and let you grant Sudden Charge, or reduce actions required. A healing song is also provided, with anti-abuse caveats. The final feats unlock the two bard composition focus spells included.

Oh, and guess what? Godless cleric? Yeah, check. If you’d rather be a humanist, someone who cares about connections with mortals…then this one delivers that as well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level and on a rules-language level; apart from a minor hiccup that doesn’t really affect rules integrity, this is one complex and creative operation.  Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the original piece of artwork is nice. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation comfortable and swift – kudos!

Okay, please give me a second for a bit of story time. At one point, I was very frustrated with uncommon ancestries/races; because they felt like a pile of lame bonuses (or excessive ones) jammed on top of what were essentially weird-looking humanoids that didn’t fit. The implementation, back then, tended to be either a) bland, b) overpowered, or c) both.

This stance has since then changed rather significantly, and a large reason would be Alexander Augunas’ design for ancestries/species/races. The author has consistently tackled species I did not like, heck, even ones I positively loathed, and breathed life into the. For Starfinder, he has written some of my absolute favorite playable species. For PF1, he has made vishkanya, wayang, nagaji, etc. unique & interesting, more than just an array of stats.

It should come as no surprise, then, that his ancestry-designs for PF2 have been absolutely inspired so far, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. The flavor is glorious, and actually hits several things I’m inordinately fond of, from the godless cleric to the dandy, finally culminating in perfumes (Can I haz moar, plox?), this touches on concepts I adore.

From a design perspective, the supplement makes great use of PF2’s options and allows you to play a character that manages to deliver a playing experience that is distinct from the core ancestries. Now, at first glance, the perfumes do look a bit weird, but once you put the pieces together and get what they actually do, you’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

This is the best iteration of mephians so far, and it serves as a great benchmark for what ancestry-books for PF2 should deliver: Plausible flavor, unique stratagems, thematically-consistent options.

5 stars + seal of approval. Get this. And while you’re at it, all other ancestry-books in the line as well.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Files for Everybody-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

Okay, so in this installment, we deal with Arcana feats. The pdf features 2 skill feats for second level, 1 for fourth level, 4 for seventh level, and 2 feats for fifteenth level.

The first of the second level feats is Discern Arcane Creatures and lets you “Recall Information” (should be Recall Knowledge) about beasts, constructs or dragons. It’s, of course, properly tagged as secret. Expertise lets you choose a trait that’s associated with a skill you’re an expert in. When you encounter erroneous information about the chosen subject matter, you get a secret roll from the GM, with proper success/failure conditions noted. A handy table lists the respective material.

The level 4 feat Exploit Anatomy requires Expertise. Select one creature you can Recall Knowledge about them; if the chosen creature has an ancestry trait or creature trait you have chosen with Expertise, you treat their resistances or hardness by 2 for one minute; master rank enhances that to 4, legendary to 6.

The level 7 feats include Dragon Hunter. This feat reduces dragon-induced frightened condition value by 1 and nets a +1 circumstance bonus to saves; legendary increases the benefits to 2. Fuel Ritual requires master rank in Arcana, Occultism, or Religion. The feat enhances, bingo, rituals: When you’re the primary ritualist for a ritual with a spellcasting tradition associated with a master rank skill (Arcana, Occultism, Religion), you can expend a spell slot of a level equal to or higher than the ritual’s level to expedite the casting time of the ritual by 1d12 hours; if the spell-level expended is twice the ritual’s level, the reduction is 1d12 + 6 hours instead, but regardless, the ritual’s casting time can’t be reduced by more than half. The feat also properly presents rules for multi-days rituals.

Spell Connoisseur builds on Recognize Spell, and nets additional information, as well as some new pieces of information for critical successes, including additional components, metamagic, etc. The feat is per se nice, but I’m not sure I’d consider it worth a feat. I also don’t particularly like that the feat lets you potentially determine the language of verbal components.

Spellsense builds on Arcane Senses and nets you spellsense as a vague sense; illusion can only be detected with Seek, and in conjunction with detect magic you can notice lingering auras that were there within 24 hours, 30 days if you’re legendary. I like this one, but t does mean that the GM needs to consider quite a bunch.

The two 15th-level feats include Dragon Slayer, which builds on Exploit Anatomy and may be used as a reaction. When you use Exploit Anatomy against a dragon and have a success or critical success, you impose a status penalty on the dragon and it loses status bonuses to AC and saves, except those gained from spells. Also usable as a reaction would be Sabotage Construct, which follows a similar design-paradigm and can stun constructs and force them to take actions on your behalf, with the check required properly codified. However, there is a bit of confusion here: The feat seems to have once been called Override Construct, and one such reference is still here.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting is good on a formal and rules-language level; the glitches here and there aren’t significant. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, and the artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks but needs none at this length.

Dustin Knight’s Arcana feats are interesting, if perhaps not world-shakers. For the low asking price, this is certainly worth checking out. That being said, I wasn’t really blown away by this one. I think this is worth 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price and in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Vathak Adventures-series clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page basic explanations of rules-terms, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review is part of a request from my supporters.

Okay, this adventure is intended for a group of 3rd-level characters, and situated in the Shadows over Vathak horror setting, in Kingarten, near the Moldoveana Forest, to be precise. The module features read-aloud text, and dialogue, though the latter is not designated as read-aloud text; however, the module does start off with a handy Q-A-sequence, and it does include something cool: GMs who have a hard time improvising dialogue will find rather detailed question/answer sections with in-game responses you can paraphrase. Kudos!

The module features a b/w-map, and while the map itself does not note scale, the text does. No player-friendly version of the map is provided. On the big plus-side: The module has a full-color, rather neat handout that covers half a page. Kudos for prioritizing art budget in a way that benefits the players.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Jump to the conclusion if you want to play this.

..

.

Okay, so the module begins with the proclamation of Jarwick, a herald, pronouncing the impending marriage of Lady Malyssa Florin’s daughter Taelerys to Lord Heltyn. Attendance, of course, is mandatory, and the day’s a holiday. The Question and Answer-powered legwork soon clears up that the marriage is politically motivated; it seems like Taelerys wasn’t happy, but that she came around when the lord turned out to be rather strapping. For a bit of beer, the adventurers can also find out that the young lady missed her morning ride for the last couple of days and hasn’t been seen since. Jarwick also thinks he heard crying at night.

Soon thereafter, a messenger arrives and hands the local innkeeper a fully fleshed out a summons for the party by Her Grace, and one that emphasizes DISCRETION.  At the castle, the rather discreet process of getting to Her Grace is depicted pretty clearly. Turns out that Taelerys has vanished; once more, the QA-approach for the dialogue with Her Grace is provided, and the party can investigate the room of the vanished maiden.  In her diary (aforementioned handout), she notes being visited by a dark rider and falling for the entity, as well as confiding in the minstrel Perciwell; the cowardly minstrel could identify the dark rider as the exiled outlaw Reeve Adenot, who colludes with a witch. The minstrel has been browbeaten by the outlaw, and the nocturnal crying? Actually, that’s the minstrel’s guilt.

The trail leads the party to a grove, where interaction with a dryad can lead them farther to a vineyard, where she attempts to charm a character with her wine (great angle for further quests and NOT a gameover!); her associate Terrick knows more about the Reeve’s associate, a witch named Svige, who has since her time as Terrick’s apprentice, sworn allegiance to the Old One Ka’sogrotha, gaining powers from the Worm of Black Earth, self-styling herself as the eponymous Bride of Black Earth. He warns that she’ll be more powerful underground. Terrick also mentions that he lost his eye to her, which the witch still sues to scry on him, and consequently sends minions to take out the party.

From there, the party ventures forth to the bandit camp, where they need to deal with some regular dudes; the Reeve is a knight with a custom ability that allows him to get away. Taelerys is bewitched and harmless, but the magics make her hostile, so dealing with her will be interesting.

Ultimately, the party will need to go underground and deal with Svige, which would be a small dungeon. The dungeon features some sold challenges and includes a magical poison, a properly crafted magic item. The dungeon features several interesting tidbits and is internally consistent and makes sense. As a minor nitpick, there are quite a few minor formatting hiccups regarding rules-formatting, no big ones, but they do exist. The Bride of Black Earth, alas, is a downer of sorts. She is a mage and has a custom spell list, but no unique abilities, which makes the “face her in light” angle not work.

Conclusion:

Editing is very good on a formal level, and good on a rules-language level; formatting is okay; there is e.g. an instance where a textblock that should be italicized isn’t, and on a formal formatting side, there are a couple of issues. The interior artworks are historic b/w-pieces used in a neat manner, and the color cover is neat. The handout in full-color is great. The b/w-cartography is functional, but not spectacular. The lack of a player-friendly version of the map is slightly problematic. The pdf has no bookmarks; while it doesn’t necessarily need them at this length, that’s still a comfort detriment.

Jason Owen Black provides (based on Kim Frandsen’s work), a rather interesting and fun sidetrek. There is some roleplaying, some combat, and the module manages to evoke an atmosphere that feels like a somewhat twisted fairy tale; the module isn’t horrific per se, but hits dark fantasy notes as Vathak’s secondary theme very well, with the setup feeling more feudal (in a good way!) than many comparable modules. For not even $3, you get a rather nifty little sidetrek; certainly, not an earth-shaking one, but the module, as a whole, works and is a fun experience. It’s not an easy one, mind you, but it certainly isn’t generic. So yeah, I consider this one to be definitely worthwhile. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the low asking price and due to it being simply closer to 4 than 3 stars for this low price.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 2 pages, 1 page content and 1 page editorial/SRD, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as part of a series by my supporters, who asked me to cover the entire product line.

This pdf includes 3 different spells, the first being chilling breath, has a non-standard range: The cantrip lists it as a “30 feet cone”, but 5e formats this usually Self (30-foot cone). The spell is broken in some ways: It is a cone, but only targets a single creature or object? How? Its verbiage is also broken. “Make a Dexterity save. If successful then avoid damage altogether. If not, then take 1d8 cold damage and be slowed by 5ft per round for 1 round.“

…RAW, this spell damages the caster. Also: Slowed is not a condition in D&D 5e. This spell does not work as written.

The second spell is wall of cold, a 4th-level spell, which can be cast as a wall maintained by concentration, or as a wave. Unfortunately, the offensive wave is broken in various ways: 1) it doesn’t properly codify its area of effect. I read and read it, and it doesn’t make sense. Secondly, the spell fails to codify its damage type properly. Thirdly, the spell causes 3 (!!) levels of exhaustion on a failed save, which is ridiculous overkill in 5e, even if this exhaustion is removed by a short rest. Certainly not suitable for a 4th-level spell.

The final spell is another 4th-level spell (hyphens missing in the spell headers, btw.), and entraps the target in ice. This spell is broken and not operational. The rules syntax in the first paragraph is borked, but at least kinda functional. The spell makes no internal sense: It has 150 hp, and the imprisoned target takes 25% damage, which is annoying to calculate. The prison is only affected by bludgeoning damage, which makes no sense. (Thunder? Lightning? Fire?) After the spell’s duration, it takes 4 hours for the ice to thaw, which may be hastened by applying fire? Ridiculous: “Magical fire applied to the icy prison will reduce the thawing time by 75%.” Per application? Why isn’t this done via hp? This is extremely clunky, to the point where it’s VERY hard to run at the table. In the aftermath, the victim also…bingo, takes 3 levels of exhaustion.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are bad on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Troy Daniels obviously had problems with the rules-language of 5e and its balancing, and no developer has fixed this either; not one of the three spells is functional or balanced properly, alas. The ideas are neat, but the execution is broken. I can’t recommend this. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book contains 46 pages of content (6’’ by 9’’/A5), not counting editorial, ToC and front/back covers.

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review by my supporters. My review is based on the print version, as I do not own the pdf.

 The interior of the front cover is a nice, full-color isometric map depicting Shurupak, the most stable city ruled by the many-crowned monarch, and from this place sprawl the Thousand Sultanates, with their ever-changing identities, rulers and customs; the spread that includes the interior of the back cover contains a generator for these transient micro-states: With two d6 rolls, you can determine the title of the ruler, and two d6 rolls let you determine competing fads; the interior of the back cover also has 6 troubles afoot and a list of stuff to do.

Beyond these sprawls lie the wastes, where the worms exist and dune-riders (as seen on cover) roam; four-armed metal-workers rise from duneholds to sell exquisite merchandise; in the North, the verdant jungles are the territory of the Azure Apes; the old steel gods that wrought the apocalypse lie to the west, and to the east, the massive plastic sea looms, where the Coated Men travel to have their skin coated in plastic…which promises power, but also an early grave.

If all of this sounds impressive, then because it damn well is just that; this introduction to a campaign setting of sorts is provided within the first two pages, and it had me STOKED.

The remainder of the book contains a total of 36 backgrounds (on reddish pages), and 36 monsters/NPCs (on greenish pages). The aesthetic, as you probably have determined right now, is one of very long after an apocalypse, with a quasi-techno-magical touch and aesthetics deeply infused in (stoner) doom aesthetics, blended with Heavy Metal F.A.K.K., minus the sex/adult angles. Add a touch of Dune, et voilà.

Now, as for the backgrounds, it is very much recommended that the GM read them, for much of the lore for this setting (?) is implied in the backgrounds. Aforementioned Coated Men, for example, are one background, and their text obviously implies that the Plastic Sea mentioned in the intro isn’t instantly fatal at least, and instead serves some weird, quasi-religious function. And WEIRD is allcaps, throughout: For example, one of the backgrounds makes you one of the last Bear Men. You see, Bear Men became somewhat anti-natalist and depressed as a culture, but the background, the Shaved Bear, rejects that, brimming with hope. Yes.

You can play a shaved bear person. The design of the backgrounds is generally pretty well-rounded, and features some interesting ideas, like e.g. a lizardfolk species’ cold blood represented by a reduced number of tokens in the stack if you’re too cold. You might be a worm-rider, a survivor of the old world, or perhaps you’re one of the agents (current or former) of the freshwater grubs. Possessions and skills generally serve alongside special abilities to render the overall power-level within the rather broad parities that Troika allows for; in contrast to many other supplements I’ve read, the backgrounds here feel pretty well-rounded and playable.

The monsters all obviously come with their stats and mien, and include murder cacti, scorpions and various lizards. Of course, the horrible mastermind freshwater grubs (think human-faced grubs in freshwater tank/thrones) are included here with a brief plot-generator, and we learn about dunesharks and beetles that carry massive ultra-hard papier-mâché tower-crèches. Several of these creatures do some neat things with Troika’s basic rules-chassis, for example when it comes to a kind of escalated damage chance. From nanosands to the last hover-tank Hyperion and ancient robots, this book manages to provide an amazing INDIRECTLY-defined backdrop.

And I wish it didn’t have that "IN"-prefix. But that belongs in the…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a one-column standard, with page-use different between sections: Around 1/5 of the page tends to be empty on every 3third or so page, since there (usually) is 1 background per page, sometimes 2; in the monster section, there often are 2 critters per page. The full-color artworks by David Hoskins rock and adhere to the same style you see on the cover; artworks are expensive, so I get why there aren’t more (there already are quite a bunch of them!), but for the bestiary in particular, it’d have been awesome to have an artwork per critter. The hardcover is really gorgeous, with sewn binding, color-coded pages, name of the book on the spine; all in all, high quality.

Luke Gearing does a fantastic job at indirect world-building herein, mostly via backgrounds and monsters; while that worked, kind of, to establish Troika’s aesthetic in the core book and hint at the weirdness of the humpbacked sky, this book presents a more conventional (and, to me, more accessible!) campaign setting that ticks off a TON of my “OMG, HOW COOL IS THAT?!?”-boxes.

Alas, this more grounded setting also perfectly highlights the grating effects of this indirect narrative approach; you don’t read a cohesive sourcebook; instead, you have to piece together setting-information from backgrounds and monsters; there is no place that really explains how anything really works in this world. The setting is as ephemeral and disjointed as the hallucinogen-induced visions that inspire its amazing aesthetics, providing only the barest minimum of contexts, and spreading these contexts out to boot. This would be less of an issue in a super-abstract setting, but in one that is pretty consistent in its themes, it does mean that the GM should probably take notes while reading backgrounds and monsters.

And don’t get me wrong, I am very much aware of the design-paradigm here: “Insinuate, hint, inspire the GM!” Good idea, but it works better if there is a functional skeleton to wrap those insinuations around. Acid Death Fantasy genuinely infuriated me when I realized that a paltry 1.5 pages of brilliant setting would be all I’d get, and while I appreciated and genuinely loved “discovering” more details when reading the backgrounds and monsters, I proceeded to become even more annoyed when I realized that these pieces of information were strewn about like that.

In short: As a person, I absolutely LOATHE that writing this evocative, this inspired, chooses to hamstring itself by adhering to a mode of information presentation and design focus that sells short its brilliant setting.

As an analogy: This is a bit like one of those campaigns where you get a player’s book with basics and hints, bits of lore strewn about, and a GM book that features the monsters and actually provides the information that lets you properly run an immersive game in the setting. Only in this instance, the information that lets you have an easy time running the setting has been cut, and your monsters have been grafted into the player’s guide.

I know next to nothing about Shurupak. Power and Water are leitmotifs of the setting (even set in title case + italics!), but what to do with that? No clue. The bird-like warflock and their culture, the coated men…there is so much greatness TEASED at. In a sentence or two. The barest of minimums of contexts given. Enough to make you want more.

…and enough to frustrate me to hell and back. Where’s my actual setting? Yeah, I am probably intended to improvise that and cobble it together…but I don’t want to.

As a person, this book pisses me off for what it could have been if presented as a more traditional setting, perhaps cutting a few of the less-inspired backgrounds and monsters (which, admittedly, are the exception). As a person, I probably wouldn’t get this again, as all its promise remains just a tease for me, the equivalent of creative world-building and lore blue balls. For me as a person, this is a 3-star book at best.

Then again, if you hate it when settings come with consistent lore and define/explain their concepts in more than rudimentary hints, then this might be exactly what you’re looking for; it is probably with you in mind that this was written!

However, as a reviewer, I try to rate books for what they are, and not for what I want them to be.  And frankly, if you love aforementioned indirect approach, if you want your settings to be fragmentary, full of high-concept tidbits, then this will be right up your alley. In fact, if you didn’t mind these issues in the core Troika book, and figured that the setting in “Fronds of Benevolence” was almost too well-defined, then this will be pure gold for you.

When viewed neutrally, then the whole cadre of backgrounds can be considered to be well-rounded and versatile indeed; the monsters, similarly, are often inspired and endeavor to do interesting things with Troika’s rules-lite chassis. The only neutral gripes I can field against this would be the rare less inspired background (like the hermit, who gets 4 Philosophy and three 2 random spells, no possessions. Boring.) or monster (ruin degenerate being a particularly bland one). That being said, for each such outlier, there are at least 2 great ideas that send the synapses firing.

And considering all of that, it wouldn’t be fair to rate this anything other than 4.5 stars, rounded up. This book may not be for me, but you might adore it. Oh, and if there ever is a “proper” setting book for Acid Death Fantasy, I’ll gladly back the hell out of it.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters and as such moved up in my queue.

Okay, so this eventure works a bit differently from the usual ones, in that it does feature a bit of more contextualization required: This module pretty much requires being set in a coastal city to work as written; the module uses the city of Languard as a default, but conversion to Sasserine, Freeport, Riddleport, etc. is not difficult. The premise, you see, is that the infamous pirate captain Tyric Selflit has passed away, and the consequences of this happening. In a way, the module consists of 3 distinct vignettes that could be run independent of each other, between adventures, or in direct sequence. Part II is a bit more contingent on the other parts, but with some work, it can be run on its own as well. It should be noted that the second part works MUCH BETTER with “A Day Out at the Executions.”

Okay, the eventure begins with 3 hooks and a d8-table of rumors before going into the details of the respective scenes.

The first scene is all about the news spreading, and as such, is complemented by tables that include false and correct rumors, some minor events, and a total of 20 pieces of dressing; the setting of the stage presented here in stages, from bells tolling to rampant speculation, does a good job driving home the gravitas of the situation.

The second scene, then, would be about the deceased pirate getting a funeral of sorts at Traitor’s Gate (see A Day Out at the Executions); here, 6 exceedingly detailed NPC writeups are presented, alongside with a bit of read-aloud text, mannerisms, background, distinguishing features, and notes for interaction with the party. Cool per se, and system-immanently, the eventure works better in 5e than in all other systems. Why? Because it uses the default NPC stats of 5e in its NPCs, which does mean that you have concrete rules for social skills and combat to fall back on if required.

Part 3, then, would essentially be the reading of the Will in a shady pirate’s bar, so whether or not the party actually is there will depend on the morals of your group. The tavern is not mapped, and there is an additional NPC for further complications here. The celebration itself, somewhat to my chagrin, is also bereft of rules – even though knife-throwing, drinking etc. all can easily be gamified without spending a lot of words. The “notary” does hand out maps, and then offers a quest of sort – for a legendary artifact, which, yep, does not come with stats. (Though, if you do have the 3.X-book Elder Evils, you’ll have a good idea for an end-game for it…) Much to my chagrin, the important parts, the celebration itself and the reading of the will, are totally glossed over. The latter, very volatile situation, is even relegated to a single paragraph. No, I am not kidding you. No if/then, no details…it was a serious downer for me. Heck, picture it: a proper tavern, highly volatile situation, lots of booze…it wouldn’t have been hard to devise some proper rules, perhaps even a lair action or two. *sigh*
The eventure closes with some suggestions for further adventures.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-level, the latter being no surprise, since there are next to no rules-relevant components herein. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf offers solid b/w-art, but no cartography for the environments. For Part II, this is not necessarily an issue, but in Part III, it does hurt the adventure. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen use, and the pdfs come fully bookmarked.

Jacob W. Michaels is a veteran designer and author, and it shows in the skillful web of NPCs woven and how plausible they feel. This little pdf manages to set up something we only rarely include in adventures, even though the reading of a will can be rather exciting and a grand source of adventuring options. That being said, I do think that this supplement doesn’t prioritize its content correctly, perhaps due to over-emphasizing NPC-write-ups. This is billed as the end of a notorious villain and the aftermath of his demise, which is a neat premise and something I enjoy seeing.

But the execution? It left me rather disappointed. The eventure spends a lot of time on a plethora of NPCs in Part II, and then misses actually making the capstone of the show, the will itself, interesting. Sure, the web of personalities is neat to see, but combined with the lack of concrete rules, the result of this eventure is that it feels like a very long and detailed adventure hook, not like a social adventure in and off itself.

In many ways, this either needed more content, or it needed to be split in two to make both parts shine: One eventure for celebrating the demise of a villain, and another one for a proper wake/reading of the will.

As presented, this eventure felt like a let-down to me. In 5e, it works slightly better than in the other systems it has been presented for; taking that into account, combined with the author’s indubitable skill and the low and fair price point that my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars. But I’ve thought long and hard…and frankly, I can’t justify rounding up for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters and as such moved up in my queue.

Okay, so this eventure works a bit differently from the usual ones, in that it does feature a bit of more contextualization required: This module pretty much requires being set in a coastal city to work as written; the module uses the city of Languard as a default, but conversion to Sasserine, Freeport, Riddleport, etc. is not difficult. The premise, you see, is that the infamous pirate captain Tyric Selflit has passed away, and the consequences of this happening. In a way, the module consists of 3 distinct vignettes that could be run independent of each other, between adventures, or in direct sequence. Part II is a bit more contingent on the other parts, but with some work, it can be run on its own as well. It should be noted that the second part works MUCH BETTER with “A Day Out at the Executions.”

Okay, the eventure begins with 3 hooks and a d8-table of rumors before going into the details of the respective scenes.

The first scene is all about the news spreading, and as such, is complemented by tables that include false and correct rumors, some minor events, and a total of 20 pieces of dressing; the setting of the stage presented here in stages, from bells tolling to rampant speculation, does a good job driving home the gravitas of the situation.

The second scene, then, would be about the deceased pirate getting a funeral of sorts at Traitor’s Gate (see A Day Out at the Executions); here, 6 exceedingly detailed NPC writeups are presented, alongside with a bit of read-aloud text, mannerisms, background, distinguishing features, and notes for interaction with the party. Cool per se. While we get a rough context line for the power of the individuals (say, “LE female elf fighter 4”), that’s all the mechanics you’ll get. No stats. On the plus-side for all the purists among my readers, it should be noted that the pdf makes proper use of old-school terminology when it comes to classes, and rumors etc. do not come with DCs, but need to be attained via roleplaying.

Part 3, then, would essentially be the reading of the Will in a shady pirate’s bar, so whether or not the party actually is there will depend on the morals of your group. The tavern is not mapped, and there is an additional NPC for further complications here. The celebration itself is also bereft of rules – even though knife-throwing, drinking etc. all can easily be gamified without spending a lot of words. Heck, in OSR, it’d be a sentence. Additionally, there simply isn’t that much going on in the way of descriptions.
The “notary” does hand out maps, and then offers a quest of sort – for a legendary artifact, which, yep, does not come with stats. (Though, if you do have the 3.X-book Elder Evils, you’ll have a good idea for an end-game for it…) Much to my chagrin, the important parts, the celebration itself and the reading of the will, are totally glossed over. The latter, very volatile situation, is even relegated to a single paragraph. No, I am not kidding you. No if/then, no details…it was a serious downer for me.
The eventure closes with some suggestions for further adventures.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-level, the latter being no surprise, since there are next to no rules-relevant components herein. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf offers solid b/w-art, but no cartography for the environments. For Part II, this is not necessarily an issue, but in Part III, it does hurt the adventure. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for the printer and one optimized for screen use, and the pdfs come fully bookmarked.

Jacob W. Michaels is a veteran designer and author, and it shows in the skillful web of NPCs woven and how plausible they feel. This little pdf manages to set up something we only rarely include in adventures, even though the reading of a will can be rather exciting and a grand source of adventuring options. That being said, I do think that this supplement doesn’t prioritize its content correctly, perhaps due to over-emphasizing NPC-write-ups. This is billed as the end of a notorious villain and the aftermath of his demise, which is a neat premise and something I enjoy seeing.

But the execution? It left me rather disappointed. The eventure spends a lot of time on a plethora of NPCs in Part II, and then misses actually making the capstone of the show, the will itself, interesting. Sure, the web of personalities is neat to see, but combined with the lack of concrete rules, the result of this eventure is that it feels like a very long and detailed adventure hook, not like a social adventure in and off itself. And yes, I am very much aware that the OSR version, system immanently, does not have the same amount of rules expected or required, but the structural shortcomings apply here as well, and they do hurt this version just as much as far as I’m concerned.

In many ways, this either needed more content, or it needed to be split in two to make both parts shine: One eventure for celebrating the demise of a villain, and another one for a proper wake/reading of the will.

As presented, this eventure felt like a let-down to me, and it is only due to the author’s indubitable skill and the low and fair price point that my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars. Compared to the other eventures in the product-line, this one fell flat.

Endzeitgeist out.


Now also reviewed here.


Now also reviewed here.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Galaxy Pirates-series clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, and the deal also includes a high-res jpg floorplan of a medical shuttle. Let’s take a look!

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

This pdf contains a total of 6 different dropships for your perusal, and these include one-page ship-sheets that already include the respective ship’s stats filled in, serving as ready-to-use handouts. Additionally, a page contains a selection of paper-model stand-up style artwork versions of the ship you see on the cover; the floorplan of the medical shuttle is included in a version that specifies what’s where in the pdf as well, serving as a nice complement to the VTT-ready jpg, which omits that information and thus can be used for other contexts as well. The awesome artwork is presented, handout-style, on a one-page size, handouts-ready, as well.

Each of the 6 ships features a brief introductory note on how they are used, a statblock, some ship notes and sample names (nice!), and a Computers-table full of DCs (EDIT: Typo in pdf was fixed), so that’s what we get structurally.

Regarding the respective ship tiers, we’re moving in the lower tier-section, ranging from tier 1 to tier 3, with all classified as small shuttles. The standard tier 1 heavy dropship is powered by an arcus light power core, and sports basic short-range sensors; it features mk 4 armor and defenses, as well as a mk 1 tetranode computer; S8 thrusters provide proper perfect maneuverability. No drift engine for the basic version, and three cargo holds. Basic 20 shields are applied in a 3:2 ratio to forwards/aft : port/starboard. Offense capabilities would be provided by a forwards-facing coilgun.

For the tier 2 heavy arms dropship, the shields are upgraded to basic 30, with the shields on port and starboard almost as well-developed as those on front and back. Beyond the crew being better, the primary change here would be that the offense has changed to featuring linked coilguns on the forwards-facing side. The increased power requirement of shields is satisfied by a pulse gray power core.

The heavy armored dropship (tier 2 as well) places s single coilgun on a turret, and uses a micromissile battery as the forwards-facing weaponry. Shields are upgraded EDIT: and now properly classified as light 60. For this fellow, we go with only budget short-range sensors, but upgrade armor and defenses to mk 5. A mk 1 duonode computer is in this one; like the heavy arms dropship, it sports 3 cargo holds as expansion bays. Funny: There is a list of irreverent nicknames for these types of ship: From “Anvil Chorus” to “Aerodynamic Brick Express”—that got a chuckle out of me.

The remaining 3 ships are all tier 3: The medical dropship gets light 50 shields with relatively even distribution, the base mk 4 armor and defenses, and a mk 2 trinode computer; the only weaponry here would be the ole’ forwards-facing coilgun, and 3 medical bays underline the focus of this one.

The science exploration dropship (tier 3) has a pulse gray power core with a signal basic hyperdrive and advanced medium-range sensors, and a mk 3 duonode computer. With mk 4 defenses and armor, is suitable regarding defenses for a non-primary combat ship for the tier, and the shields (6 better on forward and aft) also make sense; Good crew quarters make sense for scientists and two labs plus environmentally-sealed chamber as expansion bays certainly make sense as far as the designated use is concerned. Offensive capabilities would be provided by a turret coilgun.

The recon dropship uses the heavy armored dropship’s offensive capabilities, and also has the signal basic hyperdrive; as noted previously, we have 60 shields, which are distributed identically to the science exploration dropship; we have a mk 3 mononode computer, and also retain the science exploration vessel’s good quarters. Defenses are upgraded to mk 5, and sensors are improved to advanced long-range sensors. The science-vessel’s labs and sealed chamber have been replaced with cargo holds. EDIT: Computers check DC table has been fixed.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting EDIT: have significantly improved, getting rid of some typo-level glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard, which, while in color, remains relatively easy to print, and the ship-sheets are really handy; similarly, the inclusion of a deck plan in full color, including a VTT-friendly, key-less version, is awesome. Weird issue, probably only on my desktop PC, as I haven’t been able to duplicate it elsewhere: The colors of that jpg display correctly for a second when opened, then switch to their negative values. The VTT is tried this with got rid of the issue, though. Just figured I’d mention it. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length, and the dropship artwork provided is awesome (seems to be the heavy arms dropship, fyi).

I really appreciate the ships provided by Paul Fields and Jim Milligan; they take some time off my hands, and help when one needs to improvise; plus, I always maintain that SFRPG needs MOAR ships. And ship plans. Lots more. That being said, I am somewhat less enamored with this installment than with the best of the previous ones. A little bit more variation between the different types of dropship would have been nice to see. EDIT: As a whole, for the low price, and considering the neat plan + artwork, there isn't anything to really complain about, now that the previous hiccups have been taken care of. It's not the strongest of the installments in the series, but it does provide some neat bang for buck. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, but in the end, I think this is closer to 4 than 5, hence I'll be rounding down.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page hyperlinked ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 44 pages of content, laid out in booklet size (6’’ by 9’’/A5). My review is based on both the pdf and the offset-printed hardcover-version. Let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my supporters as a prioritized review.

On the interior of the back page, we have a total of 36 common names, and 36 common occupations, which include cockfight referees, thinking engine specialists, etc.; similarly weird in a good way would be a 36-entry table of golden barge meals, and the inside of the front cover provides two d6 tables of rumors, which state that they want the GM to state whether they’re true or false; one d6-table is for the Northern part, the other for the southern part; facing this would be the point-crawl-style flowchart of encounters/regions that the party may explore. A pointcrawl is a way to depict overland adventure: Scripted encounters/locations are noted on the map, travel distances between them as well; it’s like each encounter/location is one dungeon room. Simple and elegant.

In the back of the book, we get a selection of 12 critters/NPCs and their stats, with some of them featuring Mien-sub-tables.

Regarding the theme, this book plays to Troika’s biggest strength: Full-blown strangeness in a playful manner, and the module, ultimately, is a road-trip like journey; it has a branching path of sorts, and is intended for 4 to 6 characters, but it does not focus on a riveting plot or the like. The module starts in the Duchy of Plandra, which is headed by Duke DeCorticus, a benevolent plant-overlord with a complex life-cycle that depends on rare earths; also known as star loam, this substance usually comes from “The Wall”, far to the south; now, no more shall be delivered. Is that due to the crazed pamphlets of seditionists that have been showing up in Plandra? It’s up to the party to secure the earths their patron/deity/ruler requires to survive.

Structurally, this is a broad-strokes type of module; the journey aspect caters to that aspect, and the GM is encouraged to move things along to the best of their ability; this is contrasted with something rather uncommon…
…but to comment on that, I need to dive into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great!
So, on page p, the timekeeping aspect comes into play: At the module’s start, you roll 4d6; this is how long the Duke’ll have to live. Each day has 4 die-signs showing 6s, and every hour, you fill in a pip. On the pointcrawl page, a specific region lists its travel time, usually in days, to pass through it or to move to a connected locale; this means that, RAW, if the initial 4d6 roll is bad, the module can actually be unwinnable. I intensely dislike this. Say, you roll 4d6 and get 1,1,2,2. Then, the party takes the faster travel option, but might have to wait 1d3 days; the party is lucky and comes up with a 1 day waiting period and rolls travel duration for it: 1d3, comes up as 3. One day left; even with ideal actions by all players, they cannot return to Plandra in time to save the Duke. As an aside: The Duke’s life is on the line—the party should have an express barge set up for them. The delay to even start the journey makes no sense to me. Granted, a pretty bad scenario for the Duke’s life is not that likely, but a minimum value (it’s 6 days, fyi) noted for the GM to save the Duke, or a suggested number for a fair, a tough, an extreme challenge? That’d have been helpful.

Anyhow, I already mentioned branching paths and travel options: The party has two general venues when it comes to traveling from Plandra, first of which would be a Golden Barge; the other being a stilt loper, essentially a massive platform on two goofy mechanical legs. The stilt loper walker can set off right away, but it requires trusting the pilot, and is slower: the very first travel to the first associated area takes 1d6 days. You see where I’m getting at. The randomized deadline doesn’t do the module any favors.

This out of the way, the first of the most likely routes is the one with a stronger intrigue-theme: taking the Golden Barge also means that the party will probably have a fight with a void beast, and there’s a chance that the auric liquidators will attempt to blow up the Barge; these liquidators are the fanatical secret police that serves Green Overseer Feng, the delightfully goofy mastermind behind the brewing sedition and pamphlets denouncing Duke DeCorticus. If the Barge does crash-land, it might end up on an asteroid, which sports the one content-level gripe I could find; the rudimentary culture on this piece of rock is governed by The Calculatronicus, a vast engine capable of firing rays, but which lacks the stats for these rays. The rainbow badlands haunted by the (white) wine-colored raiders would be the second possible location to crash.

Which brings me to a structural nitpick with this module: While there are possible connections between routes and options given for, and where the barge crash-lands is actually noted in a table, there is no real guidance provided there; one silt loper pilot wants to get to the emptied city, which can be reached from the rainbow badlands, the asteroid, and from the eye-bleed badlands, but WHY the party would get there/the connection per se, is weak. The asteroid is another example: It can lead to the rainbow badlands, or to the emptied city, but how? The GM needs to fill in those details.

Thus, as a whole, the module does feel in parts like a well-fleshed out outline, but one that does not sport a consistent connective tissue between all locales, which, admittedly, tend to be outrageous and interesting.

As mentioned before, one way to solve this would be to reach the Wall and best Overseer Feng in his cupola; I generally like this route, but the society atop the wall and the unmapped chambers of the cupola have made this section a bit more opaque than I’d have liked it to be.

The second way to save the Duke would be to find an Yggdrasil-sized tree and reach its roots, where the psychic holy tuber is guarded by 3 undead gardener-knights with unique weaponry, all in a village otherwise only inhabited by grotesque mummies, whose heads have been replaced with roses, which struck me as a truly disturbing and weird imagery.

A big plus of this module would be its significant replay-value; there are many ways to go about solving the module, and e.g. the cultural conflict between the red and white wine-colored raiders is but one of the various strange tidbits; having a species of pseudo-baba-yagas hunt silt lopers? Interesting. Terrain-features with actual impact on gameplay? Nice. I couldn’t help but feel, though, that the module would have been better-served by decreasing the number of locations, and instead providing more details for them…and being consistent in their connective tissues/transitions.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard with a blending of original b/w and full-color artworks in the same style as seen on the cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with the header of each page of the pdf jumping back to the pointcrawl map—nice. The pips of the die-timeline can be marked in the pdf version as well. Kudos! The print version is a solid, well-crafted hardcover.

Andrew Walters provides a nice, fast-paced journey when it works as intended; if the GM consistently pushes the party forward and hasn’t rolled too low on the days-to-live-counter, the module can feel like a truly strange and fascinating roadtrip that taps into the same kind of weirdness that the Troika! core book proposes; hitting this note is impressive. On a downside, if a party does want to think, linger, plan, act methodically, then this module might well be frustrating for the party and GM alike, as the connective tissue between locations, how to actually get from A to B, is more vague than it really needs to be. Quite a lot of pages have between ¼ and 1/2 of a page of free space, so the module certainly had plenty of space to put these final developments in.

In many ways, this module, to me, is slightly frustrating; with one final development pass and some blank spots filled out, this could have easily been a masterpiece. Having a player-friendly map of the pointcrawl, or parts of it, would also have been helpful indeed. In the end of one of the routes, some maps would have been helpful as well.

This adventure is certainly unique, brims with creativity, and has some delightfully outré ideas, but it does lack that final refinement to make everything smoothly gel together; not to the point where an experienced GM is stumped, but certainly to the point where this needs some serious planning to run smoothly. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 9 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction (which does contain new mechanics in the side bar), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with slightly over 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

We begin this pdf with 10 fighter feats for 1st level; among those, the passives are “X Training” feats; Trip Training, Shove Training, Intimidation Training, Feinting Training, Grapple Training and Disarm Training. The design paradigm of these is clear: You use a weapon instead of a skill for a maneuver, provided your weapon has the proper trait, you use an attack roll instead of the respective skill for the maneuver. For the physical maneuvers, this usually means not requiring Athletics, while Deception and Intimidation can be avoided with the respective feats; in these two instances, we also have a modification to prerequisites, allowing you to use a weapon rank’s proficiency rank instead. I am the only one who cares about that, but to me, Demoralize Training would have been a better feat name, and analogue to the other feat names, but that’s just me being OCD, and not a strike against the feats.

The remainder of the 1st-level feats take one action to activate, with Combat Advice being the first: You choose an ally and one opponent and make a fighter roll (explained as 1d20 + proficiency bonus for fighter class DC + key ability modifier); if you succeed, you briefly share proficiency rank for one attack (or until the ally’s next turn on a critical success); on a critical failure, the ally takes a penalty until the start of your next turn. The feat requires both to be within 30 ft, but oddly, not that you actually perceive both.

Parry has the Concentrate trait and lets you make an attack roll, which you compare with the AC of all opponents you’re observing; on a success, the next attack is resolved vs. attack DC (10 + proficiency bonus with used weapon + Strength modifier, or Dexterity modifier if you used a finesse weapon) instead of your AC; on a critical success, this lasts until the start of your next turn, while a critical failure nets you a penalty to AC and Reflex saves against that opponent. This feat is interesting, but it’s also a bit weird, in that it allows the user no control over the enemies against which it applies, save the “observing” caveat; RAW, you check against all opponents, which might end up with you having a critical success against some opponents, and a critical failure against others. Design-wise, I get this decision 100%, but from an in-game logic point, it strikes me as odd, as it potentially rewards limiting your own field of view.

The other 2 first-level feats use a new trait introduced, namely Exhaust; you can only a feat with this trait only once until you take the Rebound Exploration action, which also features the Concentrate trait; one use of Rebound refreshes all your ability to take actions with the Exhaust trait. (That’s the new content on the intro-page, fyi.) EDIT: As an aside, if your group gravitates towards to higher-powered play, an easily-turned balancing screw would be to track Exhaust by feat, and not globally.

Battle Trance would be one of those feats: It has the Exhaust and Stance traits, and it adds deadly equal to the weapon’s damage die to all weapons you wield, and the effect increases as usual for striking weapons; if the weapon already has the deadly or fatal trait, you instead increase the die size by one step. Battle Trance lasts for Constitution modifier rounds and takes one action to activate. Con 14 is a prerequisite to ensure the feat is viable, which also extends to the next feat. For two actions, Second Wind can be used when your current Hit Points are less than your total hit points; this nets you 3 + Constitution modifier temporary hit points that last for 1 minute.

For 2nd level, we have 5 feats: Swift Aid takes an action and can eb sued once per turn, allowing you to Aid attacks of an ally. Which struck me as weird. Pretty sure that the action icon here is wrong, as the vanilla Aid already requires spending an action. Or this was supposed to eliminate the need for the reaction, but I’m not sure here. Size Up lets you Recall Knowledge using Perception, and nets you information on fighting prowess, whether the target uses offensive or defensive fighting styles, etc.; It's nice to see that the control here remains firmly in the GM’s hands. One Step Ahead is a stance and makes you choose an opponent. If said opponent tries to use Manipulate and triggers and AoO, you disrupt the attempt if you hit, and can, on a critical success, even regain your reaction. Stance lasts for 1 round. Bravery is a reaction with the Exhaust trait, and makes a failed fear effect save a success, a success a critical success. Lightning Reload is another Exhaust action (1 action) and requires Dex and Con 14M it makes all trained weapons reload 0 and thrown weapons can thus be drawn as part of the same action as attacking them; the stance lasts for Constitution modifier rounds.

Among the 4th-level feats, we have one that builds on Second Wind, with scaling increases to temporary Hit Points. For one action, Distance Thrower is a stance that increases the distance of weapons you’re a master or legendary with. Half Haft is a stance that lets you one-hand 2-handed melee weapons at the cost of damage die decreasing by one size; when entering of exiting the stance, changing grip appropriately is a free Interact. With the Exhaust trait, we have two feats that also sport the Fortune trait: Unmoving requires wearing armor, and nets you a circumstance bonus to AC, save DC, or saving throw equal to the armor check penalty. I like the idea here; long-term, this is a feat that bears close scrutiny, though. Rebounding Attack is a reaction when you miss a Strike with a weapon you’re an expert with; it nets you a reroll, but can’t do anything for you on critical failures.

For 6th level, we have a total of 7 feats: Boundless Stamina lets you use up to 3 Exhaust actions before you need to Rebound. Armor Training decreases the Speed penalty by 5 feet for every 2 by which your Strength exceeds the armor’s Strength value; it also nets you minor physical resistance based on armor type. This feat makes sense in so many ways. I love it! Assured Strike is a feat with the Exhaust trait and can be triggered when you Strike an opponent and hit, dealing average weapon die damage, rounded down. The second feat with Exhaust, Determination lets you make an ability check against negative conditions, with the ability depending on the condition, and if you succeed, you get to decrease the respective condition value. Minor nitpick: The “Success” line has a formatting hiccup.

If you’re wielding a shield and are expert in Reflex saves, you can, for two actions, use Shielded Evasion to Raise a Shield. Until the start of your next turn, your Reflex save successes become critical. Makes so much sense, 2 thumbs up! Also, for two actions, we can make the classic Dazzling Display, but only if you are a master with simple and martial training and have Intimidation Training; this is a 60 ft. AoE Demoralize that uses your attack roll vs. Will DC of affected foes. Shrug It Off builds on Second Wind, and nets you temporarily half your level as fast healing for 3 rounds when using it.

For 8th level, we have two feats: Armored Assault enhances your unarmed attacks by your armor’s potency rune, and if it’s made from special materials, lets you bypass resistances. Hustled Step is a Flourish and Exhaust feat that requires no action and nets you a free Step. Finally, we have 3 10th-level feats: Quickened Combatant also has Exhaust and Flourish as traits and requires no action but must be used when you begin your turn; you get quickened 1 until the end of your turn and must use it for Strike or an attack action. Bolstered Stamina takes only one action but can be used only once per day: It nets you an instant Rebound. Battle Routine is a Stance with the Concentrate and Exhaust traits, one action to activate, and builds on Assured Strike; you can maintain it for Constitution ability modifier rounds, and while you do, Assured Strike no longer has the Exhaust trait.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, very good on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the artwork featured is nice. The pdf needs no bookmarks at this length.

Alexander Augunas’ fighter options are bold and let you do some rather neat things; from the anime-inspired Battle Trance to the iconic option to use the shield to withstand dragon breath, the supplement offers quite a few feats I’d consider to be gold. The usage of the Exhaust/Rebound-mechanics to balance the more powerful options is nice as well and discourages from building nova-fighters that are very strong, and then need a rest after every combat…which is rather clever, design-wise. I like this supplement; it’s not 100% perfect, but certainly worth getting if you’re looking for some fancy fighter tricks. 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Book of Beasts-series focusing on NPC Codex-style NPCs clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of back cover, leaving us with 19 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, as usual, we begin with a brief introduction before diving into the respective NPC stats; the focus, for the most part, lies on the statblocks, though, like in the NPC Codex, there are a few instances where the statblock is followed by a brief sample NPC personality and potential roleplaying advice for said named NPCs. The rationale here is clever: Essentially, statblocks that do not take up enough room use the extra space to deliver this bonus content of sorts; conversely, this means that these entries mainly show up between the extremes of the level-range.

The pdf includes a total of 20 statblocks, one for each level, thus spanning CRs from ½ to 19. A significant plus as far as I’m concerned: there are no derivative statblocks in the supplement, so you won’t see one statblock at CR 1, and a mildly-modified/scaled version of the same statblock at CR 5; instead, each of the builds actually is independent, which is a great thing as far as I’m concerned. It’s also nice to see that base statistics are included in the builds, as is a proper tactics section.

Beyond this show of genuine passion and care, the supplement also features another aspect I very much enjoy seeing: This book makes full good of PFRPG’s extensive book canon: Ultimate Wilderness, Ultimate Intrigue, and, of course, the older hardcovers (excluding, interestingly, Occult Adventures, pretty much my favorite PFRPG 1e hardcover by Paizo), which helps diversify the content presented in a significant manner. The builds actually represent this broad focus in more than one way: The CR ½ Coven Aspirant, for example, has chosen Defiant Luck, with the spellbook including snowball.

At CR 1, we have a goblin tribal cursecaller, with corresponding low Wisdom and Charisma, and a spell-selection that includes aphasia and mudball. I really enjoy seeing builds like this. Why? Because PF1e, in some of its best moments, uses mechanics to underline the story and flavor of a creature or NPC, generating this cool mutual reinforcement between rules and flavor.

Of course, there also is a rather significant diversity between patrons chosen for the various witches. The CR 2 clandestine practitioner, for example, has the ancestry patron, while the CR 3 draconic debilitator uses the occult patron; the kobold uses the hex channeler archetype, and with flame-retardant outfit and two different grenades, the fellow feels radically different from any builds after and before it.

Need an arcane skirmisher with hit-and-run capabilities? What about a CR 4 grippli using the woodlands patron and blowgun and Opening Volley? Yeah, cool build. At CR 5, we have a hedge witch (with a super-minor cosmetic hiccup: The correctly formatted archetype is listed twice in brackets; does not influence integrity of statblock) that pretty much is a take on the white witch trope; nice!

A dwarf brewing specialist has sensible feats: Brew Potion, Brewmaster, Ironguts…you get the gist; the rules complement the concept; same e.g. for the CR 7 changeling sea witch with a tidal theme, blending “stormy” aggressive and defensive options, resulting in a we—rounded build, including Brilliant Spell Preparation and a properly reserved slot. NICE. In fact, that is probably one of the things I enjoy most about these NPC builds: I can see these characters actually existing in the game world; they make sense.

Need a dhampir caster with a serious vampire mage angle? You can find it here. A sylph with a hard and soft terrain control angle themed around mobility and a theme of mists and air magic? Included. A tiefling with a seduction/enchantment theme? Yep. Want a witch who, spell-wise, cleaves closer to the wizard, representing arcane schooling? Included herein. Want a hermit with a subdued dark fey/thorn angle? You can find ne in this pdf. With the bonded witch archetype and deception as a patron, we have a CR 13 half-elf that makes for a good take on the arcane thief/heist-specialist. The ratfolk skin changer would do skaven proud, with a blend of transmutations & plague-based magic.

The book also includes an evil monarch build focused on domination and vengeance, supplemented by full-blown battle magics, and, on the other side of the spectrum, the most potent witch herein masquerades as a shepherd…and if you cross them, you may end up as a goat…

One of my favorite builds in a while: Fetchling gravewalker 17 that has a spell-selection based primarily on necromancy, with darkness and debuffs plus clever selection of hexes and supplemental options, making this witch a threat in regular combat, but also a surprisingly efficient serial killer style adversary. A genuinely cool villain build that made me come up with a neat adventure outline.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules-language level; well done! Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard, with a black border, and the pdf includes a blend of new full-color artworks and classic stock art pieces. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Richard Moore delivers, big time, in this NPC-Codex-style offering; the builds are versatile, make sense in-game as persons, and still retain a wide variety of tricks that make them mechanically viable for the respective focus of the build. The pdf does everything right that I’d want here: The builds are versatile and varied; they make use of a ton of options and provide a blend of straight and rather out there builds, and all without compromising the viability of the respective statblock as a representation of a character actually existing in-game. Heck, when a statblock makes me come up with a module structure? Yeah, awesome.

This is 100% worth the low asking price and stands as an excellent representation of a damn fine NPC Codex-style book.
Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval. Want a selection of diverse and cool witch statblocks? Get this. Heck, this might be worth getting even if that’s not what you’re actively looking for.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the rebooted Vathak-‘zine, now for D&D 5e, clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page editorial/introduction, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages (laid out for 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 supporters.

Okay, we begin this installment with a cool NPC, a cambion militia captain Zacharia Lammant, who is an interesting ally whose twisted exterior does not mirror his personality; my only regret with this entry would be the lack of stats. Regarding further flavor-centric write-ups, the ‘zine includes a nice two-page write-up a tavern, the “Hangman’s Daughter”, including notes on menu prices, etc.; I love the artwork provided for it, but would have preferred a map instead, but that may be me. There also would be a 2d20 table of strange settlements in the Ina’oth region, which I per se appreciated, but I did not get why it was a 2d20-table. It’s exactly 20 entries long. Weird. There is also a crimereport page that any decent GM can use as adventure-inspiration.

Item-wise, the ‘zine includes the apothecary kit, and 3 magical cloaks: The first is a winner: Once per rest interval, change into a flock of birds as a reaction to being hit; winner. There is essentially a one-use “extra-life”-cloak made of burial masks that gets full points for its creepy imagery evoked, and the third one is actually a cursed cloak that can make you an unwitting slasher. These cloaks are cool.

The ’zine also includes an article on forbidden lore and corruption, which differentiates between 4 types of reading that take different amounts of time, with failed saves resulting in corruption that translates as a bonus to ability checks pertaining to Great Old Ones, and eventual power gains, but also the threat of losing it; the engine per se is solid, and while I’d have streamlined a few minor passages in the verbiages, it’s a system that’s easy to expand and customize further.

On the player-facing side of things, we have a race with the living dolls, who get a Constitution increase of 2 and don’t need to eat or drink (but RAW do need to breathe!) and are Small with a speed of 25 ft.; they come with 3 subraces (porcelain, rag doll and marionette), each of which features also an ability score increase by 2 (Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence respectively), and each subrace comes with its own unique feature. I really enjoy this write-up for what it is on 2 pages, but personally would have leaned deeper into the doll-nature, working with more positive features and some drawbacks, but that’s just my preference, particularly for horror games.

On the class option-side, we have a warlock pact with the Undead Lord; the expanded spell list lacks proper spell formatting here; first level either nets darkvision or increases it to superior darkvision, and also removes the requirement to eat, drink or breathe, and also nets advantage on saving throws versus exhaustion, paralyzed or poisoned, which seems a bit front loaded to me. 6th level lets you shapechange (incorrectly formatted in text) into a Tiny bat or Medium wolf once per short rest interval, 10th level nets advantage on saves vs. being charmed and frightened, and 14th level nets resistance to cold, necrotic, poison and psychic damage, but also vulnerability to radiant damage. Decent, I guess, but, at least to me, not interesting.

There are two brief modules in the ‘zine. One would be “The Rimeguard Trials”, for a party of level 8 adventurers (no number is provided), which is supposed to last for 1-3 hours, which is a solid assessment in my experience. It has no read-aloud text, and no map. The mini module deals with a test of strength and a kind of test that would allow a party member to “gain” lycanthropy as a reward of sorts. This module would be forgettable in many regular fantasy settings but is a total failure for Vathak. It is not even remotely creepy, is bereft of any cohesive atmosphere, has serious amounts of treasure for paltry challenges, and potentially introduces the issue of player character lycanthropy. Not recommended.

The second module fares better: A one-session dungeon with “The Firefly Cult” that centers on the exploration of a former cult’s sealed basement, and the threats therein; no suggestion regarding party size or character level is provided, but the customary 4–6 characters should work; level-wise, I’d recommend level 2–4, though only parties that don’t mind character death or TPKs should attempt this at level 2. Indeed, there is a new critter herein that can wipe out a level 2 or 3 party if things go badly, but really skilled and clever parties can beat this at level 1…or avoid it. Only the best parties will succeed at this feat, though. The module has neat read-aloud text, and a solid b/w-map, though no player-friendly version is included. The module does include a challenge 5 critter, its statblock being a neat representation of the classic mythos critter. The atmosphere of the dungeon is rather neat, but it’d have been neat to have a more focused information on the cult and how they operated; a table for legwork-based information on the cult could have helped here. You know, set up how something happened, then deliver the payoff in the dungeon. A higher degree of interactivity with the per se solid dungeon. Finally, the entry door needs a pretty high DC to even enter the dungeon; while it makes sense here, it can be slightly frustrating. That being said, for a ‘zine-based ultra-short module, this does its job.

We get a couple of solid adventure hooks themed around the war-effort against the forces of the Old Ones, and a fully-statted NPC also features a neat hook; said NPC would clock in at challenge 2, and represent an interesting gangleader with a tragic backstory of poverty, crime…and eventually, notorious; there is a reason the fellow is called “Lobster” as a nickname. Solid writeup, though, for me personally, the fellow is slightly too goofy for my interpretation of Vathak, but YMMV. While we’re on the subject of statted beings, the module also features a delightfully icky undead, but curiously, ability name formatting, something the other statblocks herein got right, is incorrect; other than that, though, the massive amalgamation of evildoers (well-illustrated in b/w, like a lot of creatures/NPCs/environments herein…) is a brutal challenge…and some of the classic ways to survive such monsters won’t cut it here, and it does have some tricks that make it more manageable, so yeah…interesting!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are both inconsistent on a formal and rules-language level; sometimes, we have excellent precision, and sometimes…not so much. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column standard for the most part, though 1-column sequences can be found. Artwork deserves special mention: The original b/w-pieces throughout are numerous and stunning. They rock. Aesthetically, this one gets two thumbs up. Cartography, in stark contrast, is basic, and the lack of a player-friendly version of the map hurts it in the convenience department. I own both the pdf and the perfect-bound print on demand softcover, and I recommend getting the softcover. Why? The pdf lacks bookmarks, making navigation a colossal pain.

Some of these articles are inspired, ooze atmosphere and rock; others…not so much. One adventure is not good, while the other feels like it could have been awesome and more effective with a bit more lore, and only remains a solid sidetrek. The other articles range from hitting Vathak’s flavor in a pitch-perfect way to less impressive fantasy pieces, though the majority does hit the right notes in the themes. Mechanically, the ‘zine is extremely conservative and could have used a bit more experimentation in my book, but as a whole? As a whole, this is a successful and promising Vathak Times; if you enjoy dark fantasy or horror gaming, there is quite a good chance you’ll get some inspiration out of this supplement, and the bang-for-buck ratio is fair as well.

This sports several authors: Ismael Alvarez, Rick Hershey, Lucus Palosaari, Troy Daniels and Geoff Gander wrote this, and it shows in how uneven the ‘zine is. It does have its moments where it shins and executes, and as a whole, I do think that it deserves rounding up from my final verdict of 3.5 stars…for print. The verdict for the pdf should be rounded down for the comfort detriment.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This module is intended for 4 characters of 1st–3rd level, and takes place in an obscure shrine in a forested area, preferably near some water. A variety of hooks are provided, and while intended for use in the Vathak-setting, the module is easily transplanted into other settings, if desired. The module does explain commonly-used abbreviations, and also sports a couple of full-color maps. These are serviceable for the low price-point, but aesthetically stick out a bit from the otherwise impressive full-color layout. To my chagrin, no player-friendly versions of the maps are provided. Not cool. The module comes with read-aloud text, but its formatting is sloppy: The first read-aloud text for the shrine’s interior, 3 paragraphs long, has its regular area text included in the read-aloud section. The term “PC” is also not used for characters in 5e.
On the plus-side, we have a list of treasure and a named spellbook; things I certainly appreciate. What I did not appreciate was that there are instances where the rules syntax for 5e skill checks wasn’t properly implemented. The pdf also e.g. has phrases like “See Animated Armor at the back of this book”…and no duplicated stats for these armors there. I don’t need them, mind you; MM has the stats…but why does the pdf say they’re there, when they clearly are not?

Beyond the referenced standard creatures, the module also features a total of 4 new critters/NPCs with full stats. The stats are, quality-wise, okay; they can be used, but do contain hiccups: a weapon attack that is either off by +1 or -1, but either way, definitely off. Same goes for e.g. a Stealth value. Two of the creatures lack the italics for e.g. “Melee Weapon Attack” and “Hit” in their attack sections. The BBEG’s AC, HP and speed are not bolded in the statblock, one save is incorrect; a once per day ability does not have its frequency listed in the feature name (and no average value for its effect), and the ability DCs of the BBEG are incorrect…you get the idea. If you’re, like me, particular about that sort of thing, this’ll be a bit grating. This also applies to trap formatting, by the way, which does not adhere to either the default 5e-formatting, nor does it adhere to the Unearthed Arcana formatting.

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? The module kicks off when the party reaches the eponymous shrine in a woodland area – and it’s guarded by deep ones. No context, fanfare…they’re just hanging around. The deep ones, if they notice the party, attack or “use a full-round action” to sound an alarm. There is no such thing in 5e. Drinking from the nearby well can cause a sickness (phrasing includes an apostrophe-s-glitch); the verbiage of the disease notes that Wisdom (Medicine) can be used to help characters recover, but guess what? No DC. We also have issues like “poison condition” (should be “poisoned”) and stuff like “Thieve’s Tools”. I usually don’t harp on stuff like that to the extent I’m doing right now, but DAMN. These are rules terms and syntax.

And yes, I’m talking about rules…because, frankly, the module? Where do I start. Essentially, it’s a brief dungeon-crawl in the shrine, with spooooky stuff, and not that much to contextualize everything. It’s certainly a lot of things, but a horror module? Not one of them.
The setup is…at best decent. The adversaries…are not. There is no real atmosphere here, and the plethora of glitches eliminate all immersion I may have felt. For example, in the boss-section, the text talks about a ghast that’s not there. The editing and formatting are so BAD they crush all of my desire to even attempt to further analyze this mess of a module.

Conclusion.
Editing and formatting are BAD on a formal and rules language level; glitches in math, atrocious formatting, typos that render even simple things ambiguous…this is not an acceptable amount of glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard with neat artworks. The full-color maps are serviceable, but the lack of player-friendly maps stings. The pdf has no bookmarks, making navigation a pain.

Rick Hershey and Lucus Palosaari dropped the ball big time here; this module is barely functional, rushed, and shows that it’s, at best, a minimum-effort conversion to 5e. Worse, it’s also a total failure as a horror-module; exchange deep ones with orcs and you lose nothing; this module isn’t creepier than any generic, short dungeon-crawl. At this length and low price-point, I certainly don’t expect the Ulysses of adventure modules, but this one? It is painfully generic, uninspired, and also badly-executed in the mechanics.
The authors can do so much better.
This module is a disservice to the amazing Vathak setting.
I can’t find anything positive to say about this module. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as a prioritized review by my supporters. And yes, I know I should first finish the Quests of Doom-series, but I needed a palate cleanser from them, and this is the first Frog God Games-book where Michael “Mars” Russell was taken on board as a conversion expert to PFRPG.

The adventure is a low-level adventure, nominally intended for 4–6 characters of levels 1 – 3, though personally, I think that it works best for levels 1–2; at third level, most halfway decently-optimized PFRPG parties would curbstomp any opposition in this module. The PFRPG version uses NPC Codex material. The module features read-aloud text and does include a random encounter table that either has two entries cut, or the wrong die noted (the table mentions a d10, when it only has 8 entries), but that’s a minor nitpick. Regarding difficulty, the module is not exactly easy, but neither is it as much of a meatgrinder as the tougher Frog God Games modules; this can be bested without character deaths, and a well-composed party shouldn’t have too tough of a time. It’s no cakewalk either, though! The final fight in particular is designed to include the chance to die in a pretty epic way.

Length-wise, we have a pretty compact dungeon that can be run in a single session, two at most, and which would also work in a convention context. The map of the module notes its scale properly, but also represents a potentially weird logic bug I’ll talk about in the spoiler-section below. On the HUGE plus-side, the module actually does have a player-friendly map, and not one of those fake ones, but one that actually properly redacts secret doors! Huge kudos for that.

All right, 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, this adventure is very “D&D-y” in the way that it feels like it is steeped, lovingly, in the tropes of both modules and CRPG quests, for the party acts as essentially conscripted exterminators. The “where” is important, though: Summoned (literally) by the foppish storm giant Clovis Tempestas IV. To his Stormridge Sanctum, a fortress in the sky, the party is tasked with cleaning up his wine cellar. The young and rather decadent giant lets his henchmen provide a meal before banning the party to the wine cellar of the rather dilapidated and neglected sky castle in the clouds.

This premise takes the much-maligned “kill rats in cellar” trope, and proceeds to infuse some serious high fantasy into it; while the vermin-angle is well-represented by the random encounters (which focus on giant frogs, leeches, centipedes, etc.), and the dungeon that contains all the action would be the wine cellar. The cellar is partially flooded, adding an interesting terrain angle to the proceedings (difficult terrain on the floor), and there is some solid interactivity going on. While the module features lots of fights, it also has at least some stuff going on beyond that. Personally, I enjoyed that quite a few actions don’t necessarily require DCs, as quite a few adventure authors for PFRPG tend to focus too much on that.

The strange knights with holes on their heads? They’re btw. marble knights and the animated salt and pepper shakers, which I considered to be kind of hilarious. They also are a first boss fight of sorts, with solid defenses and hp, particularly for a level 1 party, but on the other hand, the party only has to contend with them if they do something foolish, namely going for the Sunday’s best. So yeah, reap what you sow…

In the dungeon, the party can also find another party that the giant forgot about, and whether or not combat ensues is pretty much up to the party. If the players are smart, they take these fellows along, as the finale can become challenging indeed. Anyhow, this is a good place to note that information presentation isn’t always concise, and shows that the 5e-version was probably used as a template for conversion: we have e.g. “Treasure.” in one room, clearly denoting loot, while in another room, no such clear indicator is given. Personally, I’d very much would have been in favor of retaining that for all rooms. Beyond that, the aforementioned salt and pepper shaker knights have their extraordinary ability names both bolded and in italics, when PFRPG usually only bolds them, and the new critter has its ability also formatted thus, followed by a full stop instead of a colon, but that is cosmetic.

Risk and reward are tied together, and careful exploration can deliver some serious loot for a low-level party, and things that should have mechanical consequences do have that; jumping in the ash can might result in becoming briefly sickened, for example. Much to my enjoyment, the module also features the classic “contained mold freezer”, the dry storage uses brown mold, and beyond a wererat and giant spiders, the final encounter is particularly interesting: You see, Donner (Thunder in German, btw.), the thunder terrier (a new critter) and pet of Clovis, is caught by some giant spiders; the massive terrier is not dead or particularly injured, but frightened…and his bark is pretty damn lethal, particularly for a low level party. The build is neat with only a, even though the colors of the artwork and read-aloud text don’t match.

The goal here is to defeat the spiders, preferably without being killed by the lightning-infused bark of Donner; worse, the bark also causes random sections of the floor to fall away, which can send the characters falling to a horrible fate thousands of feet beneath the sky castle. It’s a cool set-up and calming the dog may be key to survival. There is but one issue with this set-up, and it is due to the premise of instability in the room: There is nothing keeping the party from retreating out of the rather cramped room, which is probably one of the smartest things they can do: Large creature (Donner) + 5 Medium spiders mean that most of the 12 squares are occupied by critters already, so pretty claustrophobic, and there’s a good chance to fall very far or be obliterated by the terrier’s bark, so playing smart? That’s a must here! But the claustrophobic nature of this battle does feel weird.

Which brings me to an issue I had with the entire dungeon: The grid is too small: I don’t get the whole “giant’s wine cellar” angle from the scale of the map; RAW, the storm giant can’t even walk into the cellar in his natural form, as the rooms and doors are scaled for Large creatures instead of Huge ones. I think I know how this happened: I assume that the original iteration had a larger grid, probably 10 x 10 ft., but PFRPG requires a 5 x 5 ft. grid to work smoothly, so the grid-reference was shrunk without increasing the number of squares. Where do I get that from? The TEXT still references 10 x 10 ft. grids, in a pretty glaring editing oversight.
Ideally, the number of squares should have probably increased to make the dungeon less claustrophobic. And no, the excuse that “the servants do it” falls apart when one looks at the very claustrophobic final fight. Ideally, I think the bark-collapse would be more interesting if that arena locked down after entering, with the barking being less deadly, but that may be me. (Cool, btw.: the module does take spider webs vs. falling into account.)

Conclusion:
Editing is okay on a formal and good on a rules-language level, particularly in the latter discipline, the expertise of Mr. Russell shows; formatting sports a couple of hiccups and inconsistencies, but as a whole, works. Layout adheres to a full-color two-color standard with solid full-color artworks. The maps are full color as well, and as noted, the player-friendly map is a big plus. The pdf comes bookmarked for your convenience. I can’t comment on the merits of the print version, since I do not own it.

James M. Spahn is an adventure-writing veteran, and it shows here: This module takes an old cliché in RPGs and infuses some high-fantasy fun into it; the module is dangerous and interesting, requiring and rewarding player skill over good rolls; Michael “Mars” Russell delivers a significantly better conversion to PFRPG than what we’ve seen in the Quests of Doom-series, so that was neat to see.

The angle and dungeon per se are solid, and the ideas are neat, but ultimately, the scale-issue with the maps/set-up is a pretty significant detriment. I also couldn’t help but feel that the issue of the scale of the map is mirrored in what the dungeon doesn’t do: The whole angle of regular-sized characters in an environment designed for larger creatures could have been used to a much higher degree, and indeed, at least for PFRPG, I do have some recommendations: If you want to further scale the module’s size categories, Microsized Adventures is a perfect toolkit; for a level 3 party, more terrain hazards, such as via Ultimate Strongholds, would be a good call.

In the end, this is a good adventure; it’s not outstanding, but I do consider it to be worthwhile. If the scale aspect doesn’t faze you and you’ll just put a new grid on it anyway, then you should consider this to be a 4-stars module; with the aforementioned issue, though, this is only a 3.5-stars offering, and I have to rate what’s here. Ultimately, I do feel like this is closer to the 3-stars than the 4-stars verdict due to aforementioned gripes, hence I’ll round down.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page playtester thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look.

This review was prioritized at the request of my supporters.

This module was designed for Old-School Essentials as the target rules-system, with the module intended to be used for first-level characters, either as a one-shot, or as a kick-off for a new campaign.

And yes, theme-wise, this is WEIRD; one could call it gonzo, but the module does not engage in the all-too-common “Look at me, I’m topical/reference pop-culture”-shenanigans that so many comparable modules dubbed “gonzo” engage in. The adventure is actually pretty darn serious, one could even say grim. In many ways, this did remind me of the Dark Tower-series; there is a certain melancholy in the set-up that is contrasted successfully (!!!) with the utterly audacious concept you could read in the title. That is a feat indeed.

The module is set in the Sage Desert and feels steeped in Americana in its aesthetics, something also underlined by the public domain artwork that is used to supplement (successfully) the b/w line art by Luka Rejec. In many ways, this feels like a fantasy wild-west-y post-apocalyptic setting that never explicitly states its post-apocalyptic nature per se. The use of two particularly neat landscape-shots of the American wilderness also add to that…and made me really long for the landscape of the US.

Anyhow, structurally, it should be noted that the majority of this module is essentially a series of greater events that the referee needs to flesh out; this is closer to an adventure outline of a module than an actual ready to run adventure.
Personally, I didn’t need more, but for inexperienced referees, this might be a taller order. The GM should also prepare maps: There is a rudimentary map of one settlement herein (no scale, looks pretty bad, to be honest), and one b/w-map of a small dungeon of sorts (by Dyson Logos), but the complex’s map lacks a player-friendly version.

The final formal gripe I have with this pdf, and primary reason why I consider it to be a case for experienced referees only, would be its organization.
This is a rather chaotic supplement, and it is definitely required that you read the entire thing, take notes, etc.
In my instance, I had the module printed out, and a gust of wind blew the pages all around. I was in a hurry and didn’t look at the page numbers; I reorganized the pages and the module actually was easier to run/grasp, and when I looked at the pdf again, I was kinda surprised. This isn’t a module in the traditional sense; instead, it is a general, global situation, and then things are sketched out in a rudimentary way. This felt very “new school of adventure design”-y to me, because it structurally is: You *can* run this as written, but if you do, you’ll be running a lot of cutscenes, where linear things just happen, and player decisions are glossed over.
Ironically, one of the most important parts of the module seems to be a cut scene (haha), where the referee is left entirely hanging. If you expect regions prepared, sandboxes for the party to explore, a high degree of interactivity…well, this does not offer that. Instead, think of this is a plot-train, and a sketch of one at that. At one point, the direction of the train can be steered towards the two most likely outcomes, but the supplement requires copious amounts of fleshing out if your party wants to meaningfully engage with some aspects of the module and not just adventure through the most likely progression. Important for this type of module: No, the adventure does not prescribe what players do in read-aloud text (Thank Gygax!), but primarily because there is no such text presented anywhere. As noted before, one of the most important locales in the module actually is missing sufficient information to run it in a non-linear/non-railroad manner.

For a preliminary summary: This adventure is geared towards more experienced referees, particularly those accustomed to improvisation and fleshing out. That being said, I do think that the pdf is worth going through that hassle.

Okay, and that 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 referees around? Great! So, the scene is set in the Sage Desert, where evergreen trees cling to dormant volcanic peaks, with hot days and cold nights, gleaming rivers, etc. – the last of the post cities, Sun Radive, was once built as a fortified lumber town and former military installation, and as such has a 20 ft high and 20 ft. thick wall, an intersection of hot springs and a river. The town features only one-way roundabouts called circles, and there are circles 1-11, with circle 7 omitted due to its mystical meaning. Each circle gets a rudimentary 1-sentence description, and we do get 12 rumors. The town is depicted in the rather not-that-great map mentioned before, fyi.

The rulers of the city are the supremely-creepy Sisters of Clemency: Faith, Hope and Charity, who are all clerics, and all really creepy in that seemingly benign, but…well…creepy religious fundamentalist sort of way. Somewhat to my chagrin, they do have different Constitution values, but this doesn’t seem to be reflected in their HP, but that is a minor aesthetic choice. The sisters are actually one of the possible bosses of the adventure, and as such, are supplemented by a few unique spells: Candle blow has a low range and deals minor damage, but can permanently cause the loss of Charisma on a failed save. Summon lava golem does what it says on the tin, and oh boy will the party suffer if the sisters manage to cast that spell. Interesting: The golem uses dice themselves as hit points of sorts, and when hit, you just take a die and put it in the damage pool. Design-wise, the module is a bit opaque here: The next sentence states that “When it has 6 attack dice…”—that’s the first time “attack dice” are mentioned. This should read “When all its dice have been moved into the damage pool…” Further nitpick: A reference to dispel magic is not properly formatted in the spell. Volcanic storm creates a cloud of smoky heat that deals minor damage, but if you fail two consecutive saves, you pass out. Minor nitpick: This refers to the “player”—that should read “target” or “creature” in the parlance of B/X and its derived systems. Players are the people playing the characters.

That being said, the final spell? It can only be cast be the Sisters’ faithful henchman Jack…wish. As a fourth-level spell. Ouch…literally. Why? Well, there is a reason he’s called “Three-fingered Jack”: He carries a mini-guillotine, and to get the wish, he has to cut off a finger! Suffice to say, he can only do so three more times, but his wishes…well, let’s just say that the party should eliminate him quickly and decisively if they want to beat the sisters, preferably without him having a chance to use this wildcard…
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves: The module actually begins in Sun Radive, with a massive bounty on the head of the local warlord Jhadar Khale, an extremely deadly adversary who has amassed an army and who is particularly loathed for his propensity of taking pregnant women and babies…everyone else who wasn’t slaughtered in combat usually gets to free. The warlord’s background can be determined with a d8 roll, which does change things up a bit—I enjoyed that! The offer to hunt down the warlord also comes with the Sisters allowing the party to take a close look at their armory, which features various magic items of different potency: The Lawful Candle only burns chaotic beings; there is a potato that regrows daily as long as the skins are kept and a glove that allows the user to change hair color at will…but also an axe that casts silence 15’ radius when drawn, which can be deadly indeed! A character who wants one of these items has to submit to a gem being inserted in their neck—an insurance. If the item is not returned within 15 days, the gem will start killing the character slowly.

Once the party is equipped, they are off into the Sage Desert, those endless forests, and en route pass a couple of flavorful environments, with a river of particular note: Drinking from the river causes transformation into a new race-class, the Skellington, on a failed save. This reduces Charisma TO 1d4, grants 2d10 HP, and the Skellington is immune to the party’s cleric’s Turn Dead [sic!] (should be Turn Undead) and is forced into a dual class, keeping original abilities, but now leveling in the 10-level Skellington class. The 10th level is missing, unless that was supposed to be the level of the original class. These get 3d4 HD according to the text, but this seems to be incorrect when compared to the table. They have no allowed armor, but may use any melee weapon. Skellingtons can spend 1 minute and picking up a bone to restore 1d4 HP. They can tell jokes that cause all who hear them to get a -2 penalty to all saves, -1 to attacks, -1 to damage, or -3 HP. These do NOT have a save RAW, and they stack with each other. RAW, they also affect the entire party, so brace for different strategies for the party to attempt to block out the japes. Design-wise, making this targeted and having a saving throw would have been better. NPCs must make a morale check, and flee or attack them. The skellingtons are a good concept, but their execution/design is rushed and hurts the module more than it helps. I recommend skipping them.

Once the party reaches a canyon, they are ambushed by the eponymous tuber dudes, a force of 10 carrots led by one of the rare, spellcasting purple carrots named Tendril: This fellow demands that the party surrenders. Whether or not they comply, the party ultimately will have to face Jhadar…but how this happens is very much left up to the referee. The actual meeting, the operation of Jhadar’s army and the like are totally opaque. It’s a huge blank slate, and considering that the fellow is one of the 2 important factions, this struck me as extremely annoying. The players can’t devise a proper infiltration strategy, can’t wage a war of attrition, etc., because the module/outline lacks the information for the referee to properly improvise these aspects. It railroads the party, hardcore.
If the party is bested by the tuber dudes, they land in prison. As an aside: There is no “stun damage”; that’s supposed to be subdual damage in OSE, B/X, etc.
If the purple carrot has been killed, he’ll be furious, locking up the party…and if the party surrendered or was knocked out, the paths coalesce once more. At this point, the module has a bit of a break and provides a brief one-page summary of the 10 tuber dudes types: Jicima, for example, can heal.

Imprisoned, the party has a timer as they come to: They have d4+1 minutes real time to break a lock, represented by a handout type square with bands of letters; you have to find the words below to break the lock. Really like this! On a failure, the party will lose d4 HP from hunger and thirst. This gets two thumbs up! The complex of the dudes is the aforementioned dungeon; it’s essentially a very sketch-like one-page prison-break; apart from the cool cell-door puzzle, nothing to really write home about. Worse: After the brief dungeon, the whole camp/Army has progressed to besieging the city, I guess. No timeline, no environment, no information on the vicinity, nothing. Everything outside the dungeon pertaining to the tuber dude operation is a huge, amorphous blob of “Don’t know”. It is here that the module starts feeling like a half-finished draft that was abandoned mid-writing.

And here we are at the point where the referee has to really start building/expanding. You see, the 3 Sisters have this Baby, which may or may not be an antichrist-like doomsday figure; Jhadar Khale certainly believes that the Sisters plan on using the child to wreak untold destruction upon the land…so he marches on Sun Radive with his army of tuber dudes.

The siege itself is sketch-like, and comes with a brief table of 10 random things that can happen to the party while getting into the city, and there are 6 rudimentary random encounters. The embedded gems from the sisters can be an asset of sorts: The Sisters’ observatory is defended by a variety of curses (d20 table included), and the gems protect against that…but impede attacks on the sisters, so there’s that…
But whom to eliminate? Jhadar? The Sisters? Both? Certainly, neither of the two factions are nice people, and the fate of the destined child needs to be ascertained. Sun Radive’s supposed to be right in the middle of a war, but that aspect is pretty much cut-scene’d through, so I recommend expanding it as well.

The module then provides some considerations for continuing the adventure, and then the Tuber Dude racial class—while the module sports no option to play one, parties allied with Jhadar might well get one. One can only play 6 types of tuber: Carrots, purple carrots, beet, crosne, mandrake and jicama. Tuber Dudes require Strength and Constitution of 10 or higher, use Strength as Prime Requisite, have d8 HD, 10 maximum levels and may use all weapons, but no armor. The dude-type determines more: Carrots get +1 to hit and damage with polearms and have the XP- and Save-progression of a fighter; purple carrots have +1 to hit and gain 1 spell (which list? which level? I *assume* elf, but it doesn’t clarify that…) each level and progress XP and saves as an elf. Beet have saves and XP of dwarves, and d12 HD. Crosne have XP and saves of thieves and get a “really cool vest with sequins”. Mandrakes use XP and saves of magic suers and begin play with Speak with Plants. (Incorrectly formatted.) Jicima get the progression and saves of a cleric, but cast Cure Light Wounds 3/day. You also roll 3d6: Once for a weapon, once for a personal quirk (which may be +1 to AC, to hit, infravision, etc.), and once for a bonus – like said vest, a gangly potato horse, etc. The concepts here are cool, but e.g. the onion-based tear-grenades fail to state their area of effect.

Tuber dudes can hide as a thief of their level in forests and verdant locales, and unarmed tuber dudes can, if they win individual initiative, grapple an opponent on a successful hit, potentially briefly incapacitating the opponent. Insects and vermin can be a save-r-die situation for them, but they live off photosynthesis. They can bury themselves in earth to heal faster, but have a short lifespan.

The tuber dude class is better designed than the skellington, but know what they’re missing? A frickin’ THAC0. I assume that they use the one of the classes whose saves and XP they use, but the class does not state this anywhere.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; the deviations from OSE’s standards are quite numerous for such a brief module. On a rules-language level, the module is a bit of a mess, particularly regarding the new race-classes, which are not really operational. The pdf has an orange-y background with some cacti on the borders. I generally enjoyed this aesthetically, but it does make the pdf a bit of a drain on the printer. Since the maps are b/w, and since Luka Rejec’s neat artworks are also b/w, they do clash with the remainder of the module – in a way that was kinda unpleasant for me. This would have been better off with a more unified aesthetic. The pdf has bookmarks…one for the first page, and one for the second page…really? This is a comfort-detriment.

By all accounts, I should hate Ahimsa Kerp’s “Invasion of the Tuber Dudes”; while the concepts herein and the set-up remain genuinely amazing and manage to evoke a unique atmosphere, the rules, the design…are just sloppy. This extends to aspects like the lack of bookmarks. Some of the deviations in formatting (which are inconsistent, just fyi – they are NOT intentional) are annoying, but the rules language? Particularly when contrasted with Gavin Norman’s precise and faithful rendition and expansion of the B/X-rules, this hurts to see.

And there is the fact that this “module” isn’t really a module, but instead a kind of event-outline with rudimentary scene-sketches that glosses over one of the most important aspects/scenes of the entire book also is JARRING. It’s a huge hole smack in the middle of the module.

And yet, this has something going for it; a unique atmosphere; a creative vision. One that was abandoned halfway through designing, sure, but damn, do I love the concepts that made it here. As a person, I appreciate this framework and nuanced villains. Ahimsa Kerp has vision…I just wish they had finished the adventure.

But as a reviewer, I can’t look past the structural issues, the rules issues, the unnecessary accumulation of glitches. Know what this is? A great pitch. If this were sent to me as a pitch for a bigger module to develop? I’d jump on that and tell the author to properly develop that, to flesh it out, make it shine, and watch the rules formatting and rules integrity.

…but it’s not. This was advertised as a module, and it is NOT a finished module. Nor is it a sandbox-style adventure. It’s an OUTLINE. Not more.

This is a rough one, it’s neither finished, nor as detailed as it should be, but it has enough of a personality and identity to make it worthwhile. The low price as a gesture is nice, but not sufficient to make me increase my rating and round up from my final verdict of 2.5 stars.

IF, and only if you want to expand the scenario, fill out the HUGE blanks, then this can be a unique and memorable start for a campaign; this might be up to 3.5 stars for you. But you’ll have to do the lion’s share of the work and deal with the problematic rules components. If you’re not willing to do that, then consider this to be a 2-stars-file at best.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Files for Everybody-series clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, on the introductory page, we have a recap of the synergy trait: This trait combines training in two skills, using one to support the other, and the feat is classified usually as a skill feat for the more dominant skill. Additionally, the introductory page features the Acupuncturist background, which nets two ability boosts, one free boost, and one that must be applied to Intelligence or Wisdom. It also nets trained proficiency in Chakra Lore and Medicine and the Acupuncture skill feat.

This would be a skill feat with the synergy trait, and requires an acupuncturist’s kit. Okay, can we have that codified, please? I don’t know about such a kit. There is also an issue between the feat and the background. The background nets trained rank in Chakra Lore, but the feat requires being trained in Occultism. Which is it? From the other feats, I assume Chakra Lore to be the wrong skill, since e.g. Align Chakra does not require it. Anyhow, the Acupuncture feat lets you, when treating a target for 1 hour with Treat Wounds, counteract ANY one effect on the target with Medicine. This sounds OP, but the counteract level is half your character level, rounded down, the target is immune to Acupuncture for 2d12 days, and critical failure has serious repercussions, so yeah. I can get behind this.

The 2nd level feat Hostile Acupuncture requires one action and makes you roll Medicine vs. Fortitude DC; the next successful Strike with an agile or finesse weapon you make can cause the target to become sickened, with severity depending on degree of success. At 7th level, Acupuncture Master can build on this, increasing total healing, and decreasing the immunity to Acupuncture; the debilitating conditions of critical failures also are mitigated, and the feat accounts for legendary proficiency with additional benefits. I already mentioned the 2nd level feat Align Chakra, which is also a synergy skill feat with Occultism, and lets you grant a target temporary focus points. Higher DCs can be attempted for more focus points, but at increased risks of failure, obviously. The feat has a 24-hour cooldown, and a cosmetic typo “ten” instead of “then”.

At first level, we have Battlefield Diagnosis, which requires being trained in Medicine. It lets you use Medicine to Recall Knowledge about any creature that spreads an affliction, such as disease or venom. I love this. It makes sense in many ways. Two thumbs up! The final level 1 skill feat requires three actions and has the Flourish trait. This one maximizes alchemical elixirs or potions when you apply them to a target. If you have Battle Medicine, this can be sued as one action. I *assume* that the once per day caveat of Battle Medicine doesn’t apply here for the reduced duration. Personally, I’d still have kept this at 2 actions in such a case.

False Death is one of those really nifty story-relevant feats, in that it lets you induce coma in willing (and unwilling) targets, which can even fool divination. There is a weird hiccup in the feat, when it suddenly starts talking about a spell, though, and the critical failure condition implies that the feat’s user, instead of the target begins to choke. Not ideal; not something that destroys the feat, but something that decreases utility. Also at 2nd level, we have Forensic Analyst, which lets you make autopsies of targets for Recall Knowledge and learn information about the creature, potentially even profession, role, cause of death, etc. Really cool for investigations. At 7th level, one can build on that with Forensic Master, which lets you gain information sans forensic examination and lessens the failure condition.

Finally, we have Pharmaceutical Apothecary, a 2nd-level synergy feat with Crafting, which lets you harvest samples from recently-slain poisonous critters to Craft an antidote in one action; the antidote is Infused and lasts only to the next daily preparation, or 24 hours. The antidote only applies regarding the creature’s poison. This is GOLD. It’s brilliant, tons of narrative potential, excitement…this one is pure gold.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay to good on a formal and rules-language level; there are a few typos here, and a few instances where the rules-integrity is slightly compromised, Not significantly, but yeah. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard, and the artwork is nice. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Dustin Knight’s Medicine Feats show genuine talent: There is a lot I love about this little pdf: The design paradigm knows when to balance potent benefits with proper caveats, and the ideas herein enhance narrative potential; particularly Pharmaceutical Apothecary is a feat that definitely is going to feature in my games. Similarly, in spite of some rough patches here and there, I think this is worth getting for many of the feats herein. Conceptually, this’d be 5 stars + seal of approval. As a reviewer, I have to account for the glitches herein, though. Usually, this would make me round down from 3.5 stars, but considering the high-concept nature and how much the feats hit home, I’ll round up.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Files for Everybody-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page of introduction, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Before we dive in, it’s prudent to briefly talk about the introductory page, because this time around, it does matter, as it provides a brief context for the ancestry and advice on using them and clarifies an important aspect: Yroometjis all have pouches, regardless of their sex. While this may not be “realistic” in a way I’d usually favor, I wholeheartedly agree with the author that pouches are an iconic feature, and as such, a sexual dimorphism mechanic would make no real sense here. Good call!

So, yroometjis are one of the weirdo races that I’ve grown rather fond of since their initial inception in other systems: They are essentially kangaroo people, and ones that are somewhat laidback, less bookish, and in many ways simply interesting, courtesy of the author’s indisputable knack for making ancestries feel like more than just a series of mechanical benefits. Ever since e.g. the Dynastic Races Compendium for PF1, Alexander Augunas has managed to constantly make me appreciate species I was, at best, lukewarm before his treatment of them, and the details presented here regarding physical description, life cycles, etc. help contextualize these beings.

Mechanically, they are Medium, have a Speed of 25 ft., ability boosts to Charisma and Constitution, ability flaw to Intelligence, 2 starting languages + Intelligence modifier additional ones, and a pouch: The pouch can hold 1 Bulk worth of items, and transferring an item from hand to pouch or vice versa is an Interact action. One important caveat: While wearing medium or heavy armor, you cannot access the pouch...unless you take the level 1 Pouch Convenience ancestry feat that requires being trained in Crafting…which makes sense. While we’re on the subject of languages, it should be mentioned that we do get a sidebar that notes the Yroometji language as having a whole array of pronouns, so if you’re into nonbinary hymns à la “Poppy – Am I A Girl?”, you’ll certainly appreciate this tidbit of cultural lore.

This is not the only aspect regarding yroometji culture that is touched upon, though, so if you prefer to keep identity politics out of your game, you’ll still find a LOT to attach to: From the obvious cultural references regarding their oral history traditions to the notes on cuisine and their origin myths, the result of the presentation here is a well-rounded and genuinely compelling ancestry, which also includes notes on three ethnic groups. On the rules-level, no less than 10 (!!) heritages are presented: Arboreal yroometjis are Small and trained in Athletics, and climb faster (yes, takes Quick Climb into account). Riverland yroometjis are adapted to Swimming, following a similar design-paradigm as the arboreal ones.
Bushborn yroometjis can partially ignore plant-based (greater) difficult terrain, and the ability takes Woodland Stride into account. Desert yroometjis are well-adapted to the extreme heat and cold of deserts, decreasing their severity, and can withstand the fatigue incurred by starvation and thirst. Stargazers get low-light vision; striders increase their movement speed, also regarding overland travel, provided the region isn’t too rough. Stewards get one primal spell-list cantrip as an at-will option, and the cantrip chosen can be changed with a 10-minute concentration meditation. Wanderers only get one boost, but also no flaw. They get to choose one skill to be trained in, which upgrades to expert at level 5. Wayfinder yroometjis are trained in Survival (upgrade to expert at level 5), and receive know direction at will. Spirit speakers get Sylvan and guidance, and a +1 Circumstance bonus to Diplomacy checks to Make an Impression or Request stuff from nature-related entities.

The pdf contains a slew of ancestry feats: 10 that unlock at 1st level, and 3 each for 5th, 9th and 13th. As a minor cosmetic nitpick, the intro text that states when the ancestry feats are unlocked erroneously references nashi instead of yroometjis, but that’s a cosmetic hiccup. Ancestral Markings is a feat that lets you choose from 6 actions during daily preparations, which provide minor bonuses with a 1-hour cooldown and activation actions ranging from free action to reaction. At 9th level, a follow-up feat can let you choose two per daily preparation, and 13th level lets you increase the bonus gained by them with another feat.
The level 1-feats also include options to double the cone to Seek undetected creature to 60 ft. while your hearing is unimpaired (and a bonus while creatures are in the regular range); there is an option to get imprecise sense (scent) with a 30 ft. range, a 1d6 bludgeoning unarmed kick in the brawling group, with finesse, unarmed and versatile P traits. 5th level lets you build on that with agile and deadly 1d6, as well as a critical specialization depending on the damage type you dealt with the kick. (Good catch there!)
A 5-foot Speed increase and a familiar can also be taken at 1st level. Tail Spring is interesting: It’s an action with the Concentrate and Flourish traits, and can be used when you aren’t fatigued. You Step, and then, if you make a melee Strike next, you deal +2 damage. The Lore and Weapon Familiarity options are also here, with the respective upgrade feat for the latter at 13th level, and a mastery feat at 5th level.
Hopping Gait requires Powerful leap and lets you Stride and Leap during the Stride, with how often you Leap depending on the success/failure. This one can be made more reliable with a level 9 feat, essentially eliminating the critical failure condition. 9th level also has the option to get a 2nd-level multiclass dedication feat with the druid, monk, ranger or sorcerer trait or a list of proficiency rank of expert or better in Nature. At 13th level, you can access and stow stuff in your pouch as a free action with the right feat, but only once per round.

The class options included for the yroometjis include a new druidic order (Life), which nets trained rank in Medicine, Nature’s Cure, and +1 Focus Point as well as nature’s remedy as an order spell: This is an uncommon spell that takes two actions to cast (somatic, verbal); you touch a target, choose a Medicine action and make a spell attack roll; the latter is used as your Medicine check result. Nice! The order includes a total of 10 druid feats that, unsurprisingly, focus on healing and counteracting; the options also feature a feat that makes you gain and lets you modify the resurrect ritual, and, apart from one instance where italics are missing, is presented in a neat manner. One of the feats nets you spell slots you can only use for curative spells, so you won’t *just* be healing.

The monk options include 3 feats: One for ancestral weapon synergy, one must be taken at 1st level and makes your ki primal, and nets you wild stance (minor formatting snafu here); this is btw. a Focus 1 spell that probably has one casting icon too few, or one component too many: One action for both somatic and verbal strikes me as odd. The stance nets imprecise scent and low-light vision, and monk feats with the stance trait and those with an animal’s name may be entered as part of casting the spells; the spell per se, as one with Polymorph and Transmutation traits, allows heightened versions to also provide polymorph benefits. Tight and interesting. The 4th level feat Spirit Guide Form nets you the second new spell of the same name, with crocodile, kangaroo and thylacine as options.

Beyond those, we have 3 hunter’s edges for rangers: Ambush does pretty much what it says on the tin, Menace makes you better against creatures that are afraid, and Pack Tactics enhances your options regarding Aid. The pdf includes the cool pouch ally ritual that lets you put allies in the pouch, asleep, maintaining them; success-degrees influence e.g. whether the target dreams what the yroometji sees, etc. Really interesting! The pdf also includes 7 yroometji weapons that are boomerang-inspired, with an interesting array of traits, with one being a melee weapon with the thrown 25 ft. trait. The Multistrike trait is also introduced, which lets you make two strikes, which must be made against adjacent targets, with the multiple attack penalty applied. A total of 9 different magical body paint types finish the pdf, though it should be noted that each entry features a variety of different versions for different levels. The effect include becoming incorporeal, extradimensional pouches (6 – 150 Bulk), better navigation of tight spaces, cosmetic adjustments, resistance to physical damage, size increases at the cost of being slightly clumsier (clumsy 1), anti-magic bodypaint, and options for polymorphing and infiltration.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level; while I noticed a few minor hiccups, apart from one instance there was no instance that would hamper rules-integrity. Layout adheres to the series’ neat 2-column full-color standard, and the artwork by Chan Yue Rong really rocks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a bit of a comfort detriment. At this page-count, it’s still okay, but I still would have loved to see bookmarks.

I have a soft spot for Alexander Augunas’ yroometjis; they are one of the most unique anthro-ancestries/races/species I have come across, regardless of system, and in PF2, they feel even more yroometji than they did before; the ancestry allows for playstyles that are truly distinct, and the bang for buck ratio is excellent. Moreover, the ancestry feels cohesive and sensible in its entirety, and indeed, makes me want to see more: Their rich oral tradition almost begs for some bardic options I hope to see in the future. The pdf as a whole does no shirk away from complex operations and, as a whole, manages to present a potent array of options that allows for interesting things that no other ancestry can do, and it does that without breaking the system’s tightly-coded math. Is the pdf perfect? No, but I rather have exciting with minor imperfections over blandness sans hiccups. Thus, I’ll gladly round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars, and also grant this my seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Enzdeitgeist.com review

This adventure/mini-setting clocks in at 43 pages of content; this is content, not taking SRD, editorial, etc. into account.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

It’s been MUCH TOO LONG since we’ve been to the World of Xoth, my friends, so please let me start with a brief recap: In the bad ole’ days of D&D 3.X, when pretty much everyone pumped out atrociously-balanced cookie-cutter stuff, and everything seemed unified and bland, there were a few companies that stood out, that generally delivered quality. One such company was Necromancer Games, but there is one book that is only relatively rarely talked about, and that would be Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia. A true, underappreciated and imho maligned classic, this book breathed the spirit of Clark Ashton Smith, Howard, et al.

As such, when PFRPG came around, I researched whether the author had written anything else, and one of my very last purchases for 3.X was a 200+ page colossus of a module-collection that doubled as a setting-introduction to the world of Xoth.

Xoth is radically different from regular D&D 3.X, PFRPG, etc. in one major way that radiates through the entire series: Xoth is SWORD & SORCERY. Yes, the classic sword & sorcery that deserves allcaps; the one from the classics; gritty, dark; sorcery is subtle, healing super rare, life is brutal, and alignment mostly irrelevant. There are bad things like slavery, sex and drugs, and yes, these are an integral part of the setting and its aesthetics; this is for mature audiences. This is a GOOD thing. Because, do you know what doesn’t work? Frickin’ sanitized sword & sorcery where every bit of edge has been sanded off; if your “Sword & Sorcery” setting is family friendly, you’re imho doing it wrong. Similarly, overemphasizing these less wholesome aspects makes a world feel schlocky and sleazy, and not in a fun way.

Xoth walks that tightrope PERFECTLY. The mature themes are here, but they are not explicit. Personally, I can’t fathom anyone getting offended over these, but then again, I’m a European.

HOWEVER, none of these mature themes are handled in a gratuitous manner, at least not to my sensibilities. In short: If you can read classic genre literature without being offended, this should not be a problem. If you’re one of the professionally-offended, steer clear of the entire genre.

Another important difference between Xoth and other examples of RPGs in Sword & Sorcery settings would be that its aesthetics hearken closer to the plausible; yes, there are supernatural monsters and cosmic entities and dark gods; but traditionally, the core aesthetic is one of relative grit when compared with plenty of other settings out there. And Xoth manages to excite within this frame of understatement, which is much harder to achieve than when you’re throwing high magic concepts into the world.

…in case you haven’t noticed: I am very, very fond of Xoth.

Okay, so, the module I’m tackling today is the last Xoth module released for PFRPG’s first edition, but frankly, you may want to stick around even if you’re playing another system. The adventure is nominally designed for 4–6 characters of levels 4th to 6th, but due to how different Xoth is, this does require some caveats from yours truly: For one, the module is not designed for high-magic classes, etc.; checking out the FREE Player’s Guide (also available for 5e, review of that one forthcoming) and blog makes sense, as the balancing of Xoth is old-school and operates with some paradigms that are more often observed in DCC or OSR gaming; there are high DCs, considering the low magic item density; there are instances where acting dumb will get you killed quick, and there even is one instance that is de facto a kind of story gameover, where the party tries to deal with something that doesn’t even have stats. It still has a save, though, which makes it kinder than my games sometimes are.

In short: This book puts a refreshing emphasis on player skill over simple character skill for a PFRPG module.

While we’re talking about mechanical aspects of the module: Considering that, apart from artwork/cartography, this is the work of a single person, the editing and creature design is really good; I noticed some minor hiccups in statblocks (like an initiative being off by +2), but as a whole, the new critters introduced here work. This is also, as you could glean from the above, a passion project of the highest order; it is peak-indie in many ways, but actually sports several gorgeous pieces of original b/w-artwork, as well as a surprising amount of b/w-cartography that looks aesthetically pleasing.

Which brings me to something that is perhaps the biggest strike against this adventure for me: The maps are nice, but no key-less, player-friendly versions are provided; labels all around; some maps also don’t have a grid; this does work better than it has any right to in Xoth’s interpretation of PF1 due to the reduced emphasis on magic, but it still struck me as galling.

Structurally, the module is a sandbox set on a tropical archipelago that consists of one bigger and two smaller islands (yes, hexcrawling! Nice!) and can be run as a sandbox; the author also proposes a kind of mini-campaign of sorts that the GM can tweak and adapt; this outline has but one potential issue, namely that it assumes (a trope of Sword & Sorcery) that a party member has to stay behind as a hostage…or a henchman. While great for when a player can’t make it to a couple of games, this can lead to a bit of rough patch for less experienced GMs and parties less familiar with the genre’s aesthetics. Easy enough to solve, but since it’s in the outline, I figured I’d mention it. Speaking of newer GMs: this module has no readaloud texts, so you should prepare it properly.

The eponymous silver lotus, just fyi, doubles as a super-potent magical drug (full rules provided) that can even replenish spells quicker. Why am I not screaming for blood, death and vengeance? Simple: the drug is unreliable; it’s the good ole’ d100, with several effects, and some are brutal. Oh, and silver lotus? Once you’ve seen that stuff, you probably really want to think twice about snorting/smoking it, even if you’re a power-hungry sorcerer. Random encounter tables are provided, and there is a LOT going on.

Oh, and that “a LOT”? It’s primarily player-driven and makes good use of a smart set-up as well as of indirect narratives, so while there is the possibility of an exposition dump for the GM, if so desired, at some points in the story, it is by no means required.

But in order to go into details, we’ll all have to enter SPOILER-territory. If you’re a player, PLEASE do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. This one has some serious oomph to unpack!

..

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All right, only GMs around? Great!

So the silver lotus only blossoms in the darkness, burned to ash by sunlight, enhanced in its potency by the silvery sheen of the moon; its volatile power makes the drug a sought-after commodity for those dabbling in the dark arts as well; thing is, it only seems to blossom on the archipelago ruled by a rather unpleasant, decadent pygmy king, whose settlement (including two claustrophobic warrens, one for him and one for his shaman) are provided. But things are not as simple as they first appear.

For example, there is a Taikangian pirate junk current anchored at the island, and while the captain is nothing to sneeze at, the passenger and pirates can act as an interesting wild-card.

The obviously degenerate pygmies of the island are also not as unified as one would think: You see, while the pygmy king I mentioned before may be nasty and power-hungry (and he’s not above providing quests, if required), he’s still better than the swamp-dwellers, who are full-blown cannibals with crocs and aquatic juju zombies and a really nasty magical item that can make you walk into the swamp to drown yourself to the beat of the drum. Oh, and they worship carnivorous giant slugs as gods! The only thing missing was the archmage who fused his golden skeleton with one of those. (Kudos if you got that obscure reference!) Kidding aside, the slug god cavern complex is a nice dungeon example for what can go wrong if the party aren’t smart, because their slime is REALLY sticky.

But I was talking about the background: As any such island is wont to, there is a place that is taboo: The Forbidden Mountain, from which a massive waterfall erupts. There is but one strange thing here: There should be a rainbow, but there isn’t. Well…turns out that, obviously, there once was a potent civilization atop that mountain; there are frequent rainstorms on the plateau, so two subterranean rivers flow through the rock: One was used for drinking water, and one in a ceremonious manner, as a sort of Duat-like river to the afterlife for the deceased; the dead would be consigned to it, and said river would become the waterfall. At one point, though, an extremely (for Xoth) powerful mage hijacked the rainbow, trapping it in 7 stones, all of which provided benefits, but also corrupt the user. These stones, ultimately, turned the wizard into a lich (!!) who promptly took care of rivals, now banned as VERY angry spirits.

The pygmies, though, took 3 stones, and thus, the lich was dissembled in a way; the corrupting influence of these stones were the origin of the schism between the pygmies, and resulted in the even-more-tainted cannibal crew. Guess who wants all stones? Bingo: Pygmy king. The shaman doesn’t want that to happen. Oh, and OF COURSE the ancient ruins have their guardian monster! And yes, any foolhardy enough to bring the stones to the Gate of the Underworld of the old civilization will make the lich reform. Yeah, that probably is a story-gameover. A deserved one.

What does all of this have to do with the silver lotus? Not as much as one might think, but the plants are important as power-boosts to deal with the harsh module, and as a touch of horror: Silver lotus is essentially yellow musk creeper on speed; or at least, the regular and younger plants are; they are dangerous, make zombies out of you…you get the idea. Oh, and consuming the drug? Yeah, that may infect you. However, even beyond that, there is a nigh-bottomless chasm deep below, and from it, the plants rose; below is a vast network of titanic, ropy tendrils. The true silver lotus? No, you can’t beat that. And trying…well, you may end up wishing you hadn’t. The plant is supremely creepy, but also has the advantage of providing a very good reason to engage with it. This source, though? It’s pure cosmic horror regarding its potency; the thing doesn’t even have stats, and adds this cosmic revelation when the party realizes the vast power and reach of this plant-thing. This, to me, was the icing on the cake, blending the traditional archmage-reborn theme with sheer strange and alien weirdness/horror.

…have I mentioned that I like this module very much?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, particularly for an indie production such as this; on a rules-language level, the same can’t be said, and this gets only an “okay”; we have a few rough spots here and there, but the functionality of the content within Xoth’s paradigms is maintained. My review is based on the stitch-bound PoD, because I have all Xoth books in print. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard. The original artworks in b/w deserve special mentioning and are awesome; the cartography is per se solid, but suffers from a lack of player-friendly/VTT-friendly maps, though, as noted before, less than a PF1-module has any right to.

Morten Braten’s “Land of the Silver Lotus” is, to me as a person, a no-brainer purchase and frankly, phenomenal. He just *gets* Sword & Sorcery like very few people do and has the gift of evoking the correct atmosphere without drifting off into high fantasy, horror, or dark fantasy; it’s always like one of the glorious Savage Sword of Conan b/w-comics when they were at their peak.

However, it is possible, if unfair, to poke holes into some aspects here: There is no “bone damage” as a type in PFRPG; sometimes damage types are missing; the cartography having no grid puts the PFRPG GM in a tougher spot than people running most other games. The lack of player-friendly maps hurts, there are hiccups in the statblocks, etc. This would have really benefited from a tight rules-edit.

In short, I can totally see this module being, at best, a 3-star file for some groups.

Personally, though? I love this. To frickin’ bits. And it’s not a rules-book, it’s an adventure, and one that oozes passion from every single page.

I have read and run a lot of sandboxes, and even more modules, and frankly? This is as far from the mediocrity of a 3-star-file as you can get, in a good way. This presents a captivating, awesome baseline, a ton of hooks to latch on to, and if you can’t make those factions react in a dynamic manner to the impetus of a party of PCs, then I don’t know. There is so much potentially going on here; there is a strong leitmotif to pursue if you want to; the set-up even makes capture and immediate sacrifice something that certain individuals would have a vested interest in interfering.

This is a sandbox in the best way; full of things that jumpstart the imagination; and their proximity escalates that; considering that we also get an outline to use or modify as a structuring tool, we have a genuinely amazing sandbox here. The emphasis on player skill is another plus, and the at times savage difficulty (when run in Xoth paradigms)  works in the adventure’s favor without ever becoming unfair.

That being said, as a reviewer, I have a responsibility to my readers; if you can live with a couple of formal glitches and want some top-tier Sword & Sorcery, then get this ASAP; for you this probably ranks as a 5-star + seal file.

As a reviewer, I have to take the module’s shortcomings into account; as such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars…but this does maintain my seal of approval. It may be a rough gem, held in the fist of a corpse from which strange, swaying blossoms grow, but it is a true gem. If you polish it even a little, it’ll shine very bright indeed.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial (Containing some rules-relevant material), 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so, on the editorial page introduces the synergy trait for feats; a skill action with this trait combines two skills as complimentary and taking a skill feat with it requires training in both; for classifying, they are assigned to the skill that is more important. If, for example, you have a Medicine feat supplemented by Arcana, and it requires being an expert in Medicine, but only being trained in Arcana, it’d be classified as a Medicine skill feat. Simple, right?

Okay, so let’s take a look at the 12 feats herein; we start with two feats available at 1st level, both of which require expert in Stealth. The first is Conceal Efforts, which is interesting in design; it lets you attempt an Interact or skill action while observed and compare a Stealth check with the Perception of all creatures present, allowing you to theoretically perform the action without it being noticed. I do like this as a concept; I also appreciate the fact that the feat sports a caveat that states that the GM might require higher proficiency ranks for some actions. In many ways, this feat aims to fill a blank space between Thievery and Deception; the most common applications would be those related to the Thievery skill, and Deception’s Create a Diversion delivers what this feat offers. As such, the question is whether you’d prefer covert Interact to be feasible via Stealth. Personally, I’d consider this to be closer in the providence of Thievery, or simply require a diversion, which intrinsically draws attention away, but I can see some groups preferring the approach presented here.

Ambient Cover is interesting, in that it conceals you in crowds and makes you treat crowds as regular terrain; it also lets you treat crowds as cover when you begin and end Sneak in one. This is a pretty nifty tool, and reminded me of the origin story of Garrett in the Thief franchise, you know, back when those games were good.

4 feats are available at 2nd level: Snipe requires that you are concealed or behind cover or greater cover, and lets you, as one action, Strike with a ranged weapon, then Hide AND also Interact once or draw a thrown weapon or reload a ranged weapon. If you have Legendary Sneak, you can use the feat even without (greater) cover. I like the concept of this feat; I am not sure it’s situated well at second level; the action economy provided seems VERY good. My suggestion would be to make Interact as a substitute for the attack, also for the purpose of potential weapons that require more than one action to reload. Quick Conceal is triggered by a reaction and is triggered when you pick up a small object, or use it as part of another action, including wand-based Casting a Spell. Essentially, this one lets you make that Conceal an Object as a reaction. This is interesting, and it is kept somewhat in check by a cooldown: Subsequent uses within 1 hour yield diminishing returns, with increasing circumstance penalties. I’d allow this one. Cautious Prowler is another reaction-based one, and nets you a second chance of sorts: When you become observed as part of Seek or Interact, you treat the trigger as a failure, and then resolve Stealth vs. Perception. This one is GOLD for infiltration-heavier scenarios. Conceal Trap does pretty much what it says on the tin, save that it also applies for hazards, using the crafting DC for traps, the disable DC for hazards. It’s also only one action, which struck me as interesting; since Pick a Lock and Disable Device require two actions to perform, I’m pretty sure that this one should fall into that category as well.

For level 7 and up, we have 5 new feats: Misleading Snipe builds on Snipe, and requires two actions to perform, and adds a critical success effect that makes you undetected if the critter could see and if you are at least 15 feet away from the target of your ranged Strike. Ambush Master makes you, whenever you perform a Strike against a target and are undetected or unnoticed, treat the creature as flat-footed versus your Strikes until the end of your turn, regardless of whether your first Strike hits home. Solid. Disappear requires a smokestick in hand, or Quick Alchemy and the smokestick formula; for one action, you Interact with the smokestick and get to Hide or Sneak. Iconic puff of smoke move, solid in execution. Like it. The rules language is also phrased in a way that does not let the Manipulate trait go missing. Nice. Silent Dispatch is a free action, and triggered while undetected or unnoticed and use an action that kills a creature of your size or smaller or makes them gain the dying, paralyzed, restrained or unconscious condition, and can make the triggering creature unobserved or unnoticed by a creature observing it. You do this by Sneak into an adjacent square, and dragging it to (greater) cover. Two thumbs up. Gold.

Seek Synergy would be a skill feat that utilizes the aforementioned Synergy trait; it requires master in Stealth and expert in Perception, and makes any success with Seek to locate hidden, unobserved or unnoticed targets a critical success.

Finally, there is one new skill feat for 15th level, Spirit Away builds on Silent Dispatch, and also muffles restrained targets temporarily. Neat.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf has a nice piece of original art. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Dustin Knight’s Stealth feats contain some serious gems for a campaign that focuses on clandestine operations; there are several herein that I’d consider to be great picks indeed, and a couple of them are serious seal of approval-material; at the same time, you have noticed in the discussion above that I’m not as happy with all of them. That being said, I do think that this pdf is very much worth its low asking price; Conceal Efforts and the Snipe feats in particular should see some GM oversight, though.
As for a final verdict: I consider this to be 4.5-stars pdf, rounded down. Well worth getting.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5.

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

This review is based on both the pdf and the print version; the print version is a perfect bound PoD-softcover, with a b/w-interior. Special mention deserves the b/w-artwork: With one exception, the b/w-artwork is actually pretty top-tier and rather surprising in its number of pieces; the convention of DCC-adventures featuring pretty lavish maps can also be found here; the maps feature artworks and are gorgeous—Valentí Ponsa deserves applause in the aesthetics department. But my players will never get to seen them, because, alas, also like many a DCC-supplement, the module lacks player-friendly versions of said maps: One of the maps has the annoying number-labels next to the rooms (out of sight when using VTTs), but the others do not, and e.g. secret door indicators are clearly visible. *sigh* Annoying about the maps: The first level has a clearly visible grid; the second level has no grid, and the final level has a half-visible grid. The functionality of the second level is somewhat compromised at least, thus.

The module is intended for a 2nd-level party but does not specify a number of characters. I recommend 4-6; at 6 characters, the module isn’t that hard. At 4, it’s pretty challenging.

The module features no read-aloud text, and as a whole, I wished the organization of the respective text was a bit smoother; as presented, it’s very much a classic form of presentation sans any highlighters. The sequence of presentation for the keyed locales doesn’t prioritize information to be quickly accessible to the judge. I usually don’t mind that too much, but without read-aloud text, the relevant information is buried pretty deeply.

To give you an example: “Here the Geometrist would carry out his experiments involving living beings, dead beings, dead that were later alive again, undead, and…well, experiments.” That’s the first paragraph of a keyed locale. Information-content relevant for the judge? Next to 0. If you want to run this adventure, you should most assuredly have carefully prepared the entire module.

The text above should also provide some pieces of information for the astute reader. While not to the extent that it’d be a game-breaker, it is obvious that the team did not employ an English native speaker or someone with the proper skillset to properly proofread the module. DCC-purists may also scoff at the lack of the hyphen in “un-dead”, and indeed, in some ways, this is a thematic indicator for the module. The aesthetics of the adventure are significantly closer to the classic fantasy adventures laced with a few slightly weird components; this makes conversion potentially easier regarding the themes, but if you gravitate closer to the more Sword &Sorcery-esque themes in many DCC-adventures it’s certainly something to note. In many instances, the module takes a classic D&D creature and puts a somewhat horrific spin or alternate twist on it. The amount of loot also should be reduced and DCC-ified, imo.

On a personal pet-peeve level: The module does extend this at times verbose angle to rules-language; I usually don’t mind some tongue-in-cheek humor, but when I have to see “…it will start choking its victim (big surprise!) …” in the middle of a statblock, it’s really grating.
I’m not just annoyed by the use of “will”, but by the snark in the middle of the rules-relevant information. That’s the stuff a judge has to *quickly* reference. It’s NOT the place to put snarky comments.

Anyhow, there is more to talk about, but in order to do so, I have to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


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Only judges around? Great!
So, the module starts in the small settlement of Shadypass, which was recently wracked by a quake; and ever since, people have started falling ill, with “geometrical nightmares”, and then later, geometric shapes in front of the sick. Okay, this is cool, and the angle points towards, how should it be different, a wizard’s sanctum, namely that of the aforementioned Geometrist.

You see, a magical stained-glass window was broken, and from it, the illness spread, as the imprisoned Hound of Tindalos is also the carrier of the virus. (And yes, the hound is a potentially brutal “super-boss” of sorts.) The tindalos-virus is pretty cool and acts as a multi-stage ailment, with stage 4 = death by hyperpyrexia (blood boiling).

Structurally, the module is a pretty linear dungeon-crawl, with particularly level 1 being essentially a corridor of rooms, with the second being a mincer of grinding gears. So, the thief gets to the other side and clears the path? Heck no, that would be sensible and reward player skill. Instead, the room requires the proper magic (not a given in DCC), and falling can split the party between two levels in the unlikely event of the falling character surviving. So yeah, this is also what I meant with the D&D-aesthetics; I can’t help but feel that this module was written for a system that assumes a higher degree of reliable utility spellcasting available than DCC.

On the plus-side, some rooms do have a pretty high degree of interactivity, with e.g. a gallery of detailed art coming with its own description; the area also includes e.g. one of the creatures that exemplifies the creature design: The darkmoantle, a twist on the darkmantle with cloaker-esque fear-moaning and some debuffing ability; this also is one of the leitmotifs for one of the dungeon’s factions. These include the amalgams, which are the caretakers of the halls and there’s also essentially a flesh golem by another name. The other factions are a spider/human missing link, the attercopus that creates spider-vomiting husks. Essentially, this is an Ettercap-y character. Finally, there would be the “survivor” of a failed adventuring party; a middle-aged halfling who has become the ”husband” of a choker-lady and now is essentially a grotesque, fused amalgamation with her, not unlike how in some species the females start absorbing the males. This latter aspect is certainly horrifying and interesting, but the entire impact of the horrific fate of said adventuring party is something the module could do a much better part at showcasing; having the party find out the truth as they explore? That’d have been neat. As provided, the unfortunate adventurer probably will have the function of a grotesque and icky bossfight, perhaps a rather sad one, but yeah.

As you can glean from these ideas, the twists on the “classic D&D concepts” executed here are actually GOOD and interesting; similarly, e.g. a lavishly-illustrated generator room that includes terrain effects is pretty interesting, and I do think that, making the flesh golem-y thing use skills from various adventuring classes, is mechanically an interesting angle. As far as a combat-relevant aspect of module design is concerned, it does an interesting and competent job. When it comes to the non-combat aspects, the adventure flounders somewhat.

Now, ultimately, the party tries to find a cure for the virus in the halls, while navigating these twisted “bosses” and…wait. There was something about this, right? Something…
…oh yeah. These were supposed to be “vertical”, right? Well, let me divest you of any notions of a proper vertical dungeon. Essentially, this is a regular dungeon with one prolonged encounter/half level that is actually vertical. This level is awesome and has one simple rule: As long as one limb touches the “floor”, you don’t fall. AWESOME, right? Particularly since this environmental rule ties in with the aforementioned attercopus’ webs etc., this encounter can be great…but it’s just that. One encounter.

Calling the dungeon “The Vertical Halls” borders on deceptive marketing as far as I’m concerned. More like “The Vertical Half-a-Hall.”

…and that is perhaps what galls me most about this module; it’s not that the module employs a “D&D with a twist”-angle; and I can live with the less-than-optimal information-design. Particularly since it does D&D with a twist pretty damn well. Structurally, I object to the instances where the module could do a much better job at rewarding player-skill over character-skill. There are also quite a few unrelated filler critters like the darkmoantle, a fire elemental, etc.

But my main gripe? This is one of the worst instances of lost potential I’ve seen in a while. For one, I was really aggravated as a person by the halls not being, well, vertical. Why not actually present a vertical dungeon? Because it’s hard? Secondly, and even worse: The module introduces this cool Tindalos-virus as a ticking clock, as a motivator. I like it, but it could be any other magical ailment as written.

Picture this: First, the entire dungeon operates like the vertical half hall, which means lots of potential for falling and actual vertical adventuring! Awesome! Secondly: It’s the TINDALOS virus. What if those infected by it could tap into it and jump through angles? That would be a GLORIOUS way to jump from certain death to another place; it could have been used to make the halls a truly unique puzzle dungeon. Picture it!!
And, of course, tapping into the power of the tindalos virus will worsen the sickness! Perhaps the hound is freed if the virus-powers are used too often? Each use = one vision of the window’s crack spreading further and further… so it’s a question of how well the party can navigate the complex without tapping into these powers.

Come on, you know you’d want to play that! I would! After I read about the virus, that’s what I was stoked for.

And then I got a relatively conventional and pretty cookie-cutter dungeon. Not a bad one, mind you, but also not one that left me impressed in any real sense of the word.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. There were a few minor nitpicks, but nothing crucial. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with nice borders and plentiful neat b/w-artworks, and original ones. The cartography is also aesthetically pleasing, but as noted above, the lack of player-friendly maps and the lack of grid etc. are comfort detriments. The pdf has no proper bookmarks (only one for front cover, editorial, back cover), so it loses points in the comfort detriment as well.

Gabriel García-Soto, with the English adaptation by José Manuel Sánchez García and proofing by Tim Snider, delivers a solid D&D module with some DCC-ish twists to the classic themes. For the most part. But that’s all this is.

The module has a PHENOMENAL idea and all the components to make it a genuinely UNIQUE and creative module…and then fails to capitalize on all of these components. Instead, it delivers a challenging dungeon, but not one that will rock your world. If you’re looking for a DCC-module that hearkens closer to traditional fantasy in both its aesthetics and its design, then this may well deliver.

Compared with the many excellent DCC-modules, though, I can’t help but look at this as anything but the sum of its lost potential. As a person, I felt deceived by the module’s title. As a reviewer, I will not take this into account.

But add to the lost potential the comfort-detriments, and even the low price-point can’t make me rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement consists of 2 pages, 1 page content and 1 page of editorial/SRD, so let’s take a look!

So, the survivor background gets proficiencies in Perception and Survival, as well as with one type of artisan’s tools. The background also nets a language and a suitable equipment loadout.

The background’s feature is “Not on my watch!”, which is really nice: Attempts to sneak up on you have disadvantage. Even if the enemy succeeds, you can act during the surprise round, but with disadvantage to attack rolls. You also are considered to be awake for half the 8 hours of rest, and you can rest while standing. This sounds too potent? Well, here is the kicker: It doesn’t work if you’re inebriated, and it also doesn’t work while another person is sleeping next to you. This ties in with the grizzled survivor themes, where they finally find someone to trust in, only to have their talents fail them. There is serious narrative potential here. Awesome.

The background also provides the usual tables for personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws, which as a whole, are intriguing. Minor nitpick in the formatting department: The names for the individual entries in the Ideals table should have been bolded.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard; the pdf has no bookmarks but needs none at this length.

Ismael Alvarez delivers a great background here. Flavorful, interesting, built-in narrative potential, where rules supplement roleplay; no serious complaints. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

So, this generator, ideally, cuts up an image you choose and disperses it among scrolls, which the players can then use to solve a puzzle.

The deal includes a 3-page “How to”-pdf, which explains the process; you choose an image for the puzzle. Then, you choose a background image; you also select a scroll and a paper image.

Then, you determine the parameters of the puzzle:
The number of scrolls and the height of pages, and a bottom buffer: The larger that is, the easier the puzzle can be solved. The puzzle generator (html-file) also includes an option for a background change and a message overlay option.

The archive included here features a series of different artworks from Mind Weave RPG’s library. These include some cover artworks, backgrounds, some paper textures, etc. The archive features one image folder that includes the aforementioned, and also a puzzle-folder that includes 3 pregenerated puzzles. The puzzles you generate must be copied into this folder.

Additionally, we have a 3-page pdf that provides a kind of in-game context for the puzzles, providing a sort of sample encounter, which comes with some advice on using checks as hints. The encounter set-up was intriguing, and it assumes a 5e frame.

The pdfs also explain the core mechanic of these puzzles, and a kind of b/w handout-seal of the NPC that contextualizes the generator.

I have tried making scroll puzzles in both Firefox and Chrome; both browsers worked perfectly.

The main criticism I can field against this generator would be that the image selection is very limited and not that appealing; getting more paper textures or artworks/sigils for the actual puzzles would have been nice. On the plus side, you can use your own images, if you have any.

Structurally, the puzzle is VERY simple as far as I’m concerned and is more a matter of perseverance than genuine brains, but that may be years of adventure game-experience speaking; I can see some groups being rather challenged by this puzzle. Unfortunate: Once you realize how the puzzle operates (which I did within a minute or so…), the gig is up and solving the puzzle remains a matter of slogging through it. Some means to modify the factor behind the solution would have been nice; a scramble variable would have greatly enhanced the longevity of the puzzle generator.

How to rate this? The generator works but didn’t exactly impress me in either depth or complexity, but for a single buck, this might be worth checking out. As a whole, I consider this to be a mixed bag, and as such, my final verdict will be 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This adventure-toolkit clocks in at 114 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover, 3 pages of editorial/front matter, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 108 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’/A5, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters. My review is based on the pdf, the LotFP-released softcover, and also the version included in the limited edition Zzarchov’s Adventure Omnibus Vol.2. For the purpose of this review, only the softcover and the pdf are taken into account for the verdict, though, as the omnibus cannot currently be purchased by the public.

Okay, so what is this? Remember those Ravenloft adventures where you’d use cards to randomize key aspects of the adventure? Yeah? Well, now picture that the randomized nature was amped up to not 11, but 12, and beyond. Scenic Dunnsmouth is intended for a well-rounded party of adventurers levels 2-5, but it is not a classic adventure. Instead, this is an incredibly potent randomized “assemble-it-yourself” toolkit. The replay value is VAST, and the depth of the content provided is also impressive. It should be noted, though, that this toolkit is not one you quickly assemble. While the creation-process is pretty quick, the intricate combinations and variables do mean that you should take some time, though you won’t need more than for most module-preparations. With one exception: I hope you like drawing maps. None are included. I hate that.

Theme-wise, the toolkit is firmly entrenched in the dark fantasy/horror genre, so if you’re easily offended and want your fantasy fluffy and clean, steer clear of this. This is grimy, gritty, and contains taboo subjects. At least to my German sensibilities, it is never gratuitous, though: This is frightening and mature without devolving into a grimy schlock-fest. Dunnsmouth is, as implied by the name, cursory related to the Innsmouth theme popularized by Lovecraft, but only in the theme of a remote and xenophobic community; there are thankfully no Deep ones or other tired mythos critters in this book. Dunnsmouth is supposed to be an isolated, perpetually mist-shrouded community, and the most likely adventure hook provided would be that of the tax collectors, which did make me smile.

So, how does the generator work? You need a deck of playing cards, a d4, 10 d6s, a d8 and two differently colored d12s. Then you take a sheet of paper and roll all dice on the sheet, taking note where they fall; the d4 denotes the location of an important artifact, and its value denotes the infection level; each d6 is a home in Dunnsmouth. If the value of the d6 is equal to or less than the infection level, then the home is infected. For each home, you also draw a playing card, and each playing card corresponds to a specific inhabitant of Dunnsmouth. The suits of the cards are aligned with one of the 4 “great” families of Dunnsmouth.
The value of the respective d6 also determines certain properties of the inhabitant. The d8 is the local church, and its value determines the state of mind of the priest, and if the d8 is less than infection level (only if it’s less!), the priest is infected.

The two d12s are special: On a 1-6, they are another home; on a 7+, they are a special location; each of the two dice has different special locations. The die that lands farthest from the d4 is the home of Uncle Ivanovik (more on that later), with the die result denoting the fellow’s level. The total tally of dice is used for determining treasure. 1 inch is considered to be 10 minutes of travelling by foot, 2 minutes by boat. The “step-by-step building Dunnsmouth”-explanation is provided twice; once at the start of the pdf, and once in the back, where the generation process is illustrated with various diagrams. 9 pages are devoted to the step-by-step sample process in this appendix. The toolkit also includes a handy quick reference appendix of 3 pages of statblocks; 3 sample spells properly balanced within the frame of the rules-set (which is LotFP, i.e., Lamentations of the Flame Princess – no surprise there) and 6 magic items are included, not including the aforementioned artifact. This back of the book matter also provides some sample suggestions to clarify beforehand: One of the great families is partially defined by an ancient shame, and two sample ideas are presented. Both are interesting.

While we’re on the playing card angle: It is HILARIOUS to me that particularly kooky characters and somewhat intrusive NPCs are assigned to the cards you were supposed to take out of the deck. So yes, if you left the jokers inside, the poker rules card or an advertisement card…you actually have an associated NPC for those as well. There are a ton of b/w/red-artworks for the inhabitants of Dunnsmouth: Jez Gordon uses an interesting combination of b/w-art and red shaders that gleam almost in a metallic manner in the softcover for a rather neat aesthetic identity, and the sheer amount of mugshots included (alongside other artworks) is neat to see and helps establish the theme. Usually, each set of inhabitants, say, the 4 of clubs, gets their own page that lists the card, the NPC/home description and the mugshot-artworks for (almost all) inhabitants, with presentation switching to a one-column standard, making organization pretty easy on the referee. The downside of this is that there is quite a bit of blank space on most pages; the majority of NPC-write-ups come with approximately half a page of blank space.

It should also be noted that each NPC clarifies what’s different when they are infected, and in a pleasant surprise, I often found the non-infected write-up sections more interesting than the infected scenario; the depth and potential interconnectedness is VAST. I created a whole slew of Dunnsmouths, and how differently they turned out was impressive; the sheer replay-value for the referee is GINORMOUS, and indeed, this is one of the very, very few adventures that you could run once per year with the same group and still have radically different experiences without becoming redundant. Of course, it’s very tempting to make Dunnsmouth LARGER. Frankly, one can get an incredibly deep and complex web of relationships by increasing the d6s and NPCs included, but adding in stuff you didn’t roll, even though that’s not the intention of the toolkit.

Okay, in order to discuss this in more detail, I will need to go deep into SPOILER territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. Seriously. Don’t SPOIL yourself. (Even if your version of Dunnsmouth will be different from all I have made.)


..
.

Okay, only referees around? Great! So, let us talk about the 4 families and other players, shall we? The Duncasters (Heart) struck me as southern upper middle class, with impeccable joviality and friendliness, but also strong familial bonds; they are probably the closest to a traditional allied family the party may have. The Dunlops (Diamond) are moderately-wealthy, and in contrast to the Duncasters, are somewhat elitist. The Samsons (Club), allied with the Duncasters, curiously are perhaps the most unpleasant of the families – they are angry, xenophobic, inbred and consistently aggressive, and they manage to fill that role superbly and without treading into the classic Lovecraft themes. Finally, the Van Kaus (Spade) are quasi-Dutch/Germanic and have a kind of austere, almost Amish style and a hidden secret that the referee needs to specify. We have 13 cards per family, and the aforementioned 4 wildcard cards. These families are an example of fantastic writing; they feel organic, nasty, plausible and captivating; some of the best webs of NPCs I’ve read in all my years of roleplaying. I’m not doing them justice with these short breakdowns.

Beyond these NPCs, we also have e.g. Uncle Ivanovik, who delivers your crazy trapper/hermit-angle, and his lair is modular as well; there also would be Magda, an ageing Romani magic-user, who is very likely to be a solid ally for the party. (And she is, unlike most LotFP magic-users, not some ridiculous psychopath.) There also would be Father Iwanopolous, the priest…and yes, Magda and Ivanovik can theoretically be here. There are a lot of changes that might happen depending on infection level, and individual Dunnsmouth creation. The special locations that you can roll with the d12s include elven spies, an inn, a foundry, a sawmill, a fort, etc. To give you an example for the modularity: let’s say, you rolled the sawmill: There are special considerations if Aces were drawn, if Uncle Ivanovik is in the sawmill, if Magda is here…or if the original spider is here.

Original spider? Yeah, there are two sources of malign weirdness here, the first being the spider. You see, there is one type of spider whose bite charms those bitten, making them consider the spider akin to a child. And with the strong family-theme…well, you get the idea. Those thus inducted and bitten tend to have a rather good chance of producing spider-human hybrid creatures as offspring; these are not cursed, but naturally born that way…and there is a chance that, when infected parents procreate, a whole swarm of these spiders may be born. The genetic corruption of humanoids is simply a part of the lifecycle of this spider. (The power of the spider is pretty much randomized as well, just fyi) This and the NPC set-up means that the party will need to make a ton of hard decisions.

Now, while it is very likely that this spider-cult is a driving force of the hostility in Dunnsmouth, it is not guaranteed. There actually is a chance that there won’t be a cult at all, and that the original spider has already died! I love this!

The second angle of weirdness is actually a subtle cultural reference: The artifact that influences the mist-shrouded and rather nasty atmosphere of Dunnsmouth would be the Time Cube. In-game, the artifact is sufficiently alien and dangerous, volatile and odd, and manages to be that without being yet another “Lol, all die 11!!!! So grim, so mature”-b&~+*~%+. It’s high impact in a good way and may manage to pit you against Old Man Time, who may well be an allusion. Anyhow, for the purpose of this toolkit, I’m pretty sure that the author actually read the b%%$@+~-crazy Time Cube theories and used them to, at least partially, influence the subtle numerology mirrored in the spider-theme, in the corruption of family ties, and in how these insane notions affect the choice of the actual NPCs.
To give you some context: Picture one absolutely harebrained, but incredibly complex theory of everything and its random rules and dictates, and then picture using that as a structuring and incredibly subtle principle to build a dark fantasy structure atop it. From a design-perspective, this is so subtle and elegant it made me smile.
If you are not familiar with the tragic story of the crazy pseudo-Weltanschauung of Time Cubism and want to learn more about it, I recommend watching the “Down the Rabbit Hole: Time Cube” documentary on youtube.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a rules-language and formal level. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard with red/purple-ish shades used for accentuating the artwork; as noted above, the NPC-write-ups adhere to a 1-column standard. There are a ton of artworks, primarily mugshots, included...which is actually my main point of criticism; see below. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The softcover is perfect bound and has the name on the spine (good), but it also didn’t survive the rigors of constant use too well; the glue of my copy is coming apart.

Zzarchov Kowolski’s “Scenic Dunnsmouth” is a frickin’ masterpiece of adventure design; this toolkit spits out modular and compelling swamp backwater sandboxes like nobody’s business, providing compelling adventuring time and again; it is testament to how incredibly good this is, that I consider its results to be more compelling and interesting than almost all fixed adventures with such themes. If you’re doing Innsmouth-like horror, get this, roll up a sample Dunnsmouth, and if your module isn’t better, then learn from this. The writing for all those NPCs is brilliant. The HUGE replay-value this offers is pretty much unparalleled, particularly considering how WELL this runs. And if you disregard the die-limitations in creation, you can create a super-Dunnsmouth of sheer unrivaled depth. And yes, it can be funny in the author’s darkly-hilarious way. Particularly if you don’t remove those cards that you were supposed to remove from the deck, so if humor in your dark fantasy isn’t your thing, you do retain full control over that aspect.

Now, I do consider this to be a true masterpiece, yes. But not one I love sans reservations.
Why? Well, creating Dunnsmouth is, by necessity of its modularity, a pretty involved process. That’s all fine and dandy. But for me, the process of settlement creation got much more involved, and to the point where I do not want to do this too often. You see, I suck at drawing maps. I *HATE* drawing maps. It takes me forever, and I derive no joy whatsoever from it. Know what’s conspicuously absent from this toolkit? MAPS.

And the thing is, each location/house/shack can have quite a few rooms/areas in theory; cellars, hatches. The map-drawing for Dunnsmouth can occupy you literally for months. Which brings me to the artwork. You know, I like artwork as much as the next fellow, particularly if it’s nice. But the art-budget for this book? In my opinion, it was wasted on a wealth of pretty but functionally nigh-useless NPC-mugshots, when getting actual maps (or modular map-components that we can assemble, like in e.g. “Do Not Let Us Die In The Dark Night Of This Cold Winter”) would have taken a huge boatload of work off the back of the referee. Considering that Dunnsmouth has paranoia and xenophobia as leitmotifs, and considering that details are the spice of an investigation, I do think that the lack of maps genuinely and truly hurts this product. I like theater of the mind playstyles as well, but here? Here so many instances basically scream for maps. This holds particularly true for the special locations, but frankly also extends to the regular homes.

In many ways, this is what derives this book of my “best of”- and “EZG Essentials”-tags, and if there ever is a revised version, I certainly hope for an inclusion of proper maps, because right now, that is what prevents me from using this again. The thought of drawing so many maps.

As it stands, this is still a truly phenomenal piece of dark fantasy/horror-writing that I consider to be a great investment even if you’re playing in a completely different system. For most referees, this will be a masterpiece, perhaps even become the annual Halloween-module. If you’re like me and loathe the map-drawing aspect of the game, then consider this a limited caveat emptor: This is still worth getting and investing the time and effort in, but you probably won’t do it more than once.

My final verdict, though, will still remain at 5 stars, because this is a masterpiece by any metric I can apply to it. Except for the lack of maps. Did I mention that the lack of maps really annoyed me? Did I mention that this should have maps? …that was actually the sole point of contention for me. I really wanted to strip this of my seal of approval because of the lack of maps…but as a reviewer, that would be a disservice to the design and narrative depth of this supplement in favor of a pet-peeve of mine. So, there you go. With gritted teeth and grumbling, this does get the seal of approval, even though, for me as a person, the lack of maps would derive it of that.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Shoony get +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Constitution, 2 HP, are Small and have a speed of 30 ft. and low-light vision. EDIT: The bonus types have now been codified properly. They get a +2 racial bonus to saving throws against inhaled threats such as gasses, stench, etc. courtesy of their short snout, and they get a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics checks to move through threatened squares. They also get +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff, and may change attitude by up to 3 steps, and get a +2 racial bonus to Survival checks. Shoony get Practiced Improvisation as a bonus feat. Personally, I'd have enjoyed a tighter version here, but they work as written.

The flavor information has been properly adjusted, including notes on homeworld, playing a shoony, etc. Alternate adjustments include +2 Intelligence and Charisma, -2 Constitution; -2 Charisma and +2 Constitution and Dexterity; and -2 Charisma, +4 Strength.

The alternate racial traits from the PFRPG version have been modified; you can still exchange the snout and the feat (Practices Improvisation) for scent. Snout and feat may now also be exchanged for claws (with damage type codified properly and the usual level 3 specialization) The social boosts can be exchanged for +2 Bluff and Intimidate (type missing). The feat may also be exchanged for a 1/day reaction that lets an ally within 10 ft. roll a save twice and take the better result. The ability to walk through swampy natural terrain is even more circumstantial in SFRPG and doesn’t make for a good exchange. The social skill boost and Survival bonus can be exchanged for skilled, and as before, the Survival bonus can be exchanged for cold resistance 5.

The feat-section has been expanded: Sodbuster still nets 10 ft. burrow speed; Practiced Paddler nets ½ land speed swim speed, but only for one shoony sub-species. Practiced Improvisation makes clubs and improvised weapons no longer count as archaic. Imperial Combat Training makes natural attacks count as unarmed, and you may use them sans using hands, including combat maneuvers, even if hampered in some ways. Catch Off-Guard adds Weapon Specialization bonus damage, if any, to attacks with improvised weapons, and unarmed opponents are flat-footed against attacks you make with improvised melee weapons; also eliminates the atk penalty.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, good on a rules-language level. One alternate racial trait is still missing the bonus type, but that's a minor hiccup. Artwork employed is a selection of neat, comic-style pug artworks, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf comes in three versions: One regular-sized one, one with a smaller file-size for mobile devices, and one printer-friendly iteration. KUDOS!

Glen Parnell’s conversion of Michael Mars Russell’s shoony species is solid, but pretty unexciting; quite a few components have just been copied. Now, I get it: SFRPG doesn’t have the same design space for races as PFRPG, but more than some alternate adjustments would have been nice. Similarly, the lack of a subtype graft for the species did disappoint me a bit.

All in all, this is an okay conversion; it’s not exactly spectacular and is less meaty than the PFRPG-iteration, but for a buck, it’s worth checking out for pug enthusiasts. My final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up due to the very low price.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover/thank you, leaving us with 13 pages of content.

This review was requested by one of my supporters and moved up in my reviewing queue at their request.

Okay, so this is an adventure for 4–5 characters of 4th level; while the pdf does have boxed text, it’s not really read-aloud text, but rather what some NPCs might say; the module, structurally, is pretty linear and included a really nice full-color region map. The regional map is missing a scale and grid, and there is no player-friendly iteration included, which struck me as a huge pity. The module also sports a smaller and significantly less-impressive mini-dungeon map, which does have a grid, but no scale. There also is no player-friendly version of it, and the map is very small, so not that useful for VTTs. The artwork used herein is impressive indeed: Raven Metcalf provides artworks that reminded me of some of my favorite creepy gothic manga like Bizenghast; for the non-otakus: Think of a slightly more sinister aesthetic than Tim Burton; more scratchy lines and slightly more wicked. Love that. As a system, this uses Swords & Wizardry.

Now, an important warning note: This is an incredibly dark adventure in more than one way. I don’t think it can be called grimdark; for me, this edges straight into misery-tourism land. You have been warned if you’re sensitive. Here there be dead children.

Okay, in order to talk more about this, I will need to enter SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the adventure is set in the small settlement of Lorview, which is not really detailed; in a somewhat puzzling decision, the name of locals and the information they provide have been relegated to an appendix, which makes rendering the start of the module a bit weird. It should be noted that one of the background knowledge entries refers to 2:00 AM, which does imply a church or the like, or other form of reliable time-measuring, so that’s something the GM has to bear in mind. The module begins with the party patrolling near the settlement, finding a doll; the tracks to follow are really hard and no consequence for failure is given, which is odd, since that’s the sole lead-in provided for the module. There also is a hidden stash here. Hope your party includes someone who gets an autoroll…

This is the best point in time to note that this module does not do a particularly good job at OSR design, alas; we have a creature reference that is a 5e-remnant; we have references to e.g. STR checks; disorientation mist suddenly is anti-magic (why? No clue), and Know direction isn’t taken into account. Like in the 5e-version, read-aloud text and NPC statements are not clearly set apart from the remainder of the text. In an investigation, some details “may be noted” by the party, but no “how” is really presented. This is bad; really bad…but at least it’s not as borked as the 5e-version. Design-wise, this doesn’t get that part of the charm of OSR gaming is the decreased emphasis on fighting, with a higher focus on problem-solving and the like; this module railroads the party into several combats that can’t really be avoided, stacked in favor of the party, etc.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is: If rules-integrity or ease of use is important to you, then this’ll test your patience to the limits. If you’re really into the whole problem-solution-angle of OSR-gaming, then this will also be something that disappoints you.

If that were the only issue, though, this could still be salvaged. Alas, it is not.

You see, the hard to follow trail leads to a weird sight: A local girl, Lottie Fisher, having tea in the forest with a troll! And yes, with an appropriately dainty tea-service. How would your party react? If the response was anything else than “Troll, kill it with fire! (Or Acid!)”, then this module may not be for you; the chance for a social encounter, for the party not murderhoboing towards the strange pair isn’t even considered. The troll lifts up Lottie, and runs, quite literally, for the hills. What follows is a sequence of bland encounters as the party runs after the troll: Wolves, vine blights and bugbears. Oddly, the “chase” is scripted in a way so that the party only loses the troll if they rest; it’s also weird that the wolves can’t be dealt with by druids/rangers, and that the bugbears may be negotiated with, but that’s about it. The pdf is also littered with remnants from the (Pseudo-) 5e-version.

Lottie is returned to her grateful parents, and all seems, kinda, well in Lorview. On the next day, the schoolteacher’s terrier is found gruesomely murdered, its entrails used to form some sort of rune; after a VERY rudimentary investigation (we don’t really have much regarding locals; much of this needs to be improvised/designed by the GM), the party will find one villager missing, Joey Blakely, who is found murdered and sunken in One-mile Creek. Late the following evening, a local woman claims to have seen Lottie run by, and she has left the head of a local handyman. A fire also erupts and fails to specify what it takes to contain the flames. If all of this sounds railroad, btw., then because it is. This is preordained, and the actions of the party matter not one bit.

Anyhow, Lottie flees to the family barn, and seems to have written pleas in blood to a local bogeywoman to save her; some floorboards are loose, and under them are 12 dead children Lottie murdered.

12. Dead. Children. Just for shock value, mind you. They make no sense whatsoever.
No, there is nothing the party can do to prevent that. No, they curiously don’t seem to draw the attention of a ton of flies, maggots, scavengers, etc. You see, Lottie is essentially a night hag spawn, a kind of changeling, so she is kinda possessed, but not really because she is also somewhat intrinsically predisposed to be evil. *sigh* Anyhow, if the party uses the toys of her, they can cause her to briefly pause. Okay. So, the fellows who slaughtered her buddy…Ach, never mind.

…Yes, it’s ALSO one of those modules. This module’s plot revolves around a way in which night hags procreate that is different from established D&D canon.

The module concludes with the party going into the crags, finding Sleepless Sally’s hideout, dealing with two generic rooms in a nano-dungeon of sorts (two keyed rooms, two dead ends) …and that’s it. Lottie’s actual mom’s dead, Lottie, a child, is essentially a magical psycho-serial killer…but now that Sally’s dead, surely that will have no repercussions. Right? Right??? This module either forces the party to kill a kid or assume that a settlement is totally A-OK with a kid who killed more than 10 (!!) other kids.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are bad on a formal level, and also fails at the simple job of rules-language for an OSR-game. Ouch. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard, and as noted in the beginning, I genuinely liked the artworks by Raven Metcalf. The cartography is okay, but extremely limited in its actual utility, and the encounters that needed maps don’t get any. The pdf comes with two basic bookmarks and a second printer-friendly version – kudos for that!

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Whisper in the Crags” is, design-wise, a disaster. The OSR-version doesn’t suck as bad as the 5e-version, but still is a long shot from being good for the system; structurally the module is bereft of almost any player-agenda. It’s a straight railroad from start to finish, and one that forces the party into cruel, unpleasant decisions.

How unpleasant? I consider this to be more mean-spirited and depressing than “Death Love Doom”; DLD was at least so over-the-top and grotesque, it kinda came out on the other side as a gory schlock-fest, and it had player-agenda. It also didn’t force the party into the roll of unempathetic murder-hobos and present essentially a child serial-killer; it went for mercy-killing, which was dark enough. And yes, I’m a frickin’ edge-lord. I liked Death Love Doom for what it was. I did not like this. The ramifications and reactions of the village and party are pretty much a joke.

This reminded me of The Last of Us 2; a sucky railroad that forces you to make bad, miserable decisions due to a lack of any agency and then constantly asks all players “Are you feeling bad/guilty yet?” That, or it assumes that we just LOL the hardcore themes away.

Thankfully, I don’t have to take the moral implications of this module into account at all. Why? Because this is structurally so bad it sinks itself even if you and your group are totally okay with the themes. Because it’s a boring, miserable railroad that knows combat, combat and more combat. Because, for OSR-versions, the rules may be less important, but the structure underlying a module becomes more important, and this fails miserably there as well.
The “investigation” is nothing but a series of cutscenes; the party has no real bearing on the story, and this has plot holes so large I could fly a dragon through them. I can make out no saving graces. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page back cover/thank you, leaving us with 12 pages of content.

This review was requested by one of my supporters and moved up in my reviewing queue at their request.

Okay, so this is an adventure for 4–5 characters of 4th level; while the pdf does have boxed text, it’s not really read-aloud text, but rather what some NPCs might say; the module, structurally, is pretty linear and included a really nice full-color region map. The regional map is missing a scale and grid, and there is no player-friendly iteration included, which struck me as a huge pity. The module also sports a smaller and significantly less-impressive mini-dungeon map, which does have a grid, but no scale. There also is no player-friendly version of it, and the map is very small, so not that useful for VTTs. The artwork used herein is impressive indeed: Raven Metcalf provides artworks that reminded me of some of my favorite creepy gothic manga like Bizenghast; for the non-otakus: Think of a slightly more sinister aesthetic than Tim Burton; more scratchy lines and slightly more wicked. Love that.

Now, an important warning note: This is an incredibly dark adventure in more than one way. I don’t think it can be called grimdark; for me, this edges straight into misery-tourism land. You have been warned if you’re sensitive. Here there be dead children.

Okay, in order to talk more about this, I will need to enter SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the adventure is set in the small settlement of Lorview, which is not really detailed; in a somewhat puzzling decision, the name of locals and the information they provide have been relegated to an appendix, which makes rendering the start of the module a bit weird. It should be noted that one of the background knowledge entries refers to 2:00 AM, which does imply a church or the like, or other form of reliable time-measuring, so that’s something the GM has to bear in mind. The module begins with the party patrolling near the settlement, finding a doll; the tracks to follow are really hard: DC 22, and no consequence for failure is given, which is odd, since that’s the sole lead-in provided for the module.

This is the best point in time to note that this module does not understand 5e’s rules. At all. The high DC is the least of the adventure’s issues, with formatting off, and even worse, off in a way that is not even consistent: “DC 15 INT – Perception”, as an example. Anyone who ever played 5e knows that Perception is not governed by Intelligence. That is literally the system’s 101. We also have instances where it’s obvious that the author has no firm grasp on when to use a check and when to use a saving throw. The module also uses a critter that are WotC’s closed IP and NOT in the SRD, but that just as an aside. Modifications and additional attacks provided for one creature are formatted wrong, range in a ranged attack? Wrong. Sequence? Wrong as well. In the hazards, there is a spell-reference sans the appropriate DC. The one fully statted creature’s statblock has more than 10 glitches I noticed on a cursory glance. It’s actually quite difficult to get 5e-stats that wrong. The one magic item is also boring and wrong.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is: If rules-integrity or ease of use is important to you, then this’ll test your patience to the limits.

If that were the only issue, though, this could still be salvaged. Alas, it is not.

You see, the hard to follow trail leads to a weird sight: A local girl, Lottie Fisher, having tea in the forest with a troll! And yes, with an appropriately dainty tea-service. How would your party react? If the response was anything else than “Troll, kill it with fire! (Or Acid!)”, then this module may not be for you; the chance for a social encounter, for the party not murderhoboing towards the strange pair isn’t even considered. The troll lifts up Lottie, and runs, quite literally, for the hills. What follows is a sequence of bland encounters as the party runs after the troll: Wolves, vine blights and bugbears. Oddly, the “chase” is scripted in a way so that the party only loses the troll if they rest; it’s also weird that the wolves can’t be dealt with Animal Handling, and that the bugbears may be negotiated with, but no DC is given. The troll, ultimately, will fight the party at the precipice of the eponymous crags, and has a custom attack (that includes several glitches) that has a chance to push the characters over a cliff. No map or DC for that is included. Anyhow, troll is slain, child is duly traumatized her buddy was killed. Great job, adventurers. The crags have a couple of interesting hazards, but all that are not combats are, well, not operational in some way.

Lottie is returned to her grateful parents, and all seems, kinda, well in Lorview. On the next day, the schoolteacher’s terrier is found gruesomely murdered, its entrails used to form some sort of rune; after a VERY rudimentary investigation (we don’t really have much regarding locals; much of this needs to be improvised/designed by the GM), the party will find one villager missing, Joey Blakely, who is found murdered and sunken in One-mile Creek. Late the following evening, a local woman claims to have seen Lottie run by, and she has left the head of a local handyman. A fire also erupts and fails to specify what it takes to contain the flames. If all of this sounds railroad, btw., then because it is. This is preordained, and the actions of the party matter not one bit.

Anyhow, Lottie flees to the family barn, and seems to have written pleas in blood to a local bogeywoman to save her; some floorboards are loose, and under them are 12 dead children Lottie murdered.

Dead. Children. Just for shock value, mind you. They make no sense whatsoever.

No, there is nothing the party can do to prevent that. No, they curiously don’t seem to draw the attention of a ton of flies, maggots, scavengers, etc. You see, Lottie is essentially a night hag spawn, a kind of changeling, so she is kinda possessed, but not really because she is also somewhat intrinsically predisposed to be evil. *sigh* Anyhow, if the party uses the toys of her, they can cause her to briefly pause. Okay. So, the fellows who slaughtered her buddy…Ach, never mind.

…Yes, it’s ALSO one of those modules. This module’s plot revolves around a way in which night hags procreate that is different from established D&D canon.

 The module concludes with the party going into the crags, finding Sleepless Sally’s hideout, dealing with two generic rooms in a nano-dungeon of sorts (two keyed rooms, two dead ends) …and that’s it. Lottie’s actual mom’s dead, Lottie, a child, is essentially a magical psycho-serial killer…but now that Sally’s dead, surely that will have no repercussions. Right? Right??? This module either forces the party to kill a kid or assume that a settlement is totally A-OK with a kid who killed more than 10 (!!) other kids.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are bad on a formal level, atrocious on a rules-language level. Layout adheres to a nice 2-column full-color standard, and as noted in the beginning, I genuinely liked the artworks by Raven Metcalf. The cartography is okay, but extremely limited in its actual utility, and the encounters that needed maps don’t get any. The pdf comes with two basic bookmarks and a second printer-friendly version – kudos for that!

Lloyd Metcalf’s “Whisper in the Crags” is, design-wise, a disaster. The 5e-rules are botched in pretty much every way, and worse than that, structurally the module is bereft of almost any player-agenda. It’s a straight railroad from start to finish, and one that forces the party into cruel, unpleasant decisions.

How unpleasant? I consider this to be more mean-spirited and depressing than “Death Love Doom”; DLD was at least so over-the-top and grotesque, it kinda came out on the other side as a gory schlock-fest, and it had player-agenda. It also didn’t force the party into the roll of unempathetic murder-hobos and present essentially a child serial-killer. The ramifications and reactions of the village and party are pretty much a joke.

This reminded me of The Last of Us 2; a sucky railroad that forces you to make bad, miserable decisions due to a lack of any agency and then constantly asks all players “Are you feeling bad/guilty yet?” That, or it assumes that we just LOL the hardcore themes away.

Thankfully, I don’t have to take the moral implications of this module into account at all. Why? Because this is structurally so bad it sinks itself even if you and your group are totally okay with the themes. Because it’s a boring, miserable railroad that knows combat, combat and more combat. The “investigation” is nothing but a series of cutscenes; the party has no real bearing on the story, and this has plot holes so large I could fly a dragon through them. I can make out no saving graces. 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so we get the usual information regarding society etc. for the shoony, including notes on interesting aspects such as an inability to sweat; rules-wise, shoony get +2 Dexterity and Charisma, -2 Constitution, are Small and have a speed of 30 ft. EDIT: Minor syntax glitch in the pdf was fixed. They get a +2 racial bonus to saving throws against inhaled threats such as gasses, stench, etc. courtesy of their short snout, and they get a +2 racial bonus to Acrobatics checks to move through threatened squares. EDIT: Bonus now properly typed. They also get +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff, and may shift creature attitude by up to 3 steps, and get a +2 racial bonus to Survival checks. EDIT: Bonuses now properly typed. Shoony get Catch Off-Guard as a bonus feat and have low-light vision.

Catch Off-Guard and the snout may be exchanged for scent; the acrobatics bonus can be exchanged for ignoring natural difficult terrain in swamps; these paddler shoonies can also take one of the racial feats to gain a 20 ft. swim speed. The Survival bonus can be exchanged for cold resistance 5.

The pdf comes with a TON of different favored class options, which include the ACG and occult classes and the vigilante; these are generally interesting, and e.g. barbarians increasing armor bonus of hide and bone armors? That got a chuckle out of me. Neat! I was also fond of the rogue option to reduce non-proficiency penalty, gaining even proficiency when the penalty is reduced to 0.

Beyond the racial feat I already mentioned, there are two more: Small but Vicious nets a 1d3 natural bite attack. I know that’s not always consistently listed by Paizo. The author still took the extra mile and spelled out damage type. Thank you! Sodbuster requires 5th level, and nets a burrowing speed of 10 ft.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, and now also on a rules-language level. Artwork employed is a selection of neat, comic-style pug artworks, and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length. The pdf comes in three versions: One regular-sized one, one with a smaller file-size for mobile devices, and one printer-friendly iteration. KUDOS!

Michael Mars Russell delivers a charming little playable race; the shoony are well-made, and while the pdf is pretty basic in what it covers (no race traits, no racial archetypes), it also costs a grand total of one buck. And for one buck you get a solid, well-wrought race. The fixes for the minor glitches elevate this to a straight 4-star file.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised edition

This is the review of the revised version – kudos to the author for fixing some snafus!

This pdf clocks in at 5 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so comeback traits are traits for people who hate failing; as the author explains, they are named after Strong Comeback and the pdf acknowledges the existence of exemplar comeback traits, with one provided. It should be noted that exemplar traits occupy both trait slots, but eliminates the usual 1 trait per category restriction that traits are subjected to.
The exemplar trait provided for comeback traits would be Certain About One Thing lets you 1/day instead of rolling an atk, save or skill check take 10. You may do this an additional time for every 2 other comeback traits you have.

The other traits do not have this issue, though: A Little More Left in the Tank has been properly rebalanced and revised, and is now a neat kineticist option.

Accidental Flourish lets you 1/day when you roll a natural 1 on an attack and miss by 10 or mor reroll the attack. Solid. Duck and Weave is the same design-paradigm, but for saving throws. Not Nearly As Incompetent As I Look would be the skill check version, but its failure condition is 1 or failing a skill check by 10 or more.

Grazing Strike lets you 1/day ignore a natural 1 attack roll when the attack would otherwise hit, and deal minimum damage instead.
Just Breathe On it is a bit weird: Whenever you reduce an enemy to 0 or less hp in melee and do not kill them, they drop unconscious. Okay, that usually happens? What if the target has Diehard? Ferocity? This one still isn’t operational as written.

Conditional Success helps you negate natural 20s of enemies when they negate non-damaging spells or abilities, having them suffer the effect until the start of their next turn; usable 1/day. Really like it! Forceful Spells is one that I really didn’t like, but not due to design concerns, but simply because I can’t wrap my head around how this trait’s effects manifest within the logic of the game world: when you cast a damaging spell, if all targets avoid taking damage, one target instead takes force damage equal to the spell’s level. I get the design intent: Reliable, minor damage as a consolation; I just don’t see the logic within the magic system in the world. Your mileage may vary for this one, though.

That Should Not Have Hit lets you 1/day when an enemy rolls a natural 20 that would otherwise not have hit instead take minimum damage. I REALLY like this aesthetically, and it now also has a caveat that covers effects like e.g. vorpal weaponry and similar effects that trigger on a 20. Kudos for cleaning that up!

Frenzied Defense nets you a +2 trait bonus to AC and saves when you miss with all attacks in a full attack, but only against the targets of your full attack. Can see that. Saving Grace lets you 1/day if you roll a natural 1 on a save, but otherwise pass, ignore the failure.
On Second Thought lets you retry recall information checks as a move action within 1 round of the first attempt. Nice. Once More With Feeling can be very powerful, but also extremely rewarding: A 1/day ability that fails to have an effect may be regained by becoming fatigued. I love this, particularly since the rules have been cleaned up further, now accounting for immunity to fatigue, etc.. Kudos!

Maximized Minimum lets you 1/day treat all rolled damage dice 1s as 2s. Rub Some Dirt In It is the healing version for channel/lay on hands. Solid. Pooled resources ties in all those pool abilities: When you spend 2 points on an ability and it has no effect, you are refunded one point. Nice. Rain of Arrows lets you reroll a ranged attack you missed against an enemy adjacent to an ally, with an equal chance of hitting each creature adjacent to the original target. Odd on a design level: This requires the permission of every ally adjacent to the enemy, which makes no sense in-game. I get it: It’s to prevent inner-party strife, but that sort of thing should not require rules. Heck, any halfway competent party can work with that. Perhaps I’m too hardcore there. Not a complaint, mind you.

Saving Magic nets you a spell’s level as temporary hit points when you cast a non-damaging spell and all targets negate the effect; nice: temporary hit points have a duration and the proper non-stack caveat. Slow and Steady Wins the Race is interesting: It nets you a +4 trait bonus to initiative, but only if you ROLLED lower than all enemies. Note the emphasis here, as the result is not what counts. Interesting, and due to its unconventional rules, not something one can cheese.
Training Trumps Luck, finally, lets you 1/day when an enemy rolls a natural 20 to avoid the effects of a damaging spell or ability that would not normally suffice, ignore that and instead deal minimum damage.

Finally, there is a new feat, Comeback Kid, which makes a 1/day ability of a comeback trait usable 3/day instead. The interaction with the exemplar trait is noted properly.

Conclusion:
The editing and formatting, particularly on a rules-language level, has improved significantly: Kudos! Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column standard with some solid b/w-artwork familiar to fans of Frog God Games. The pdf has no bookmarks and needs none at its length, but much to my pleasant surprise, it comes in three versions: One for the PC, one for devices where HD-space is more important (smaller file-size) and one that is printer-friendly, omitting colors and artwork: NICE!

Michael Mars Russell delivers a rather intriguing array of traits here; traits are a difficult design space: One doesn’t have much room to maneuver in, and it’s easy to either be boring, redundant, or too strong; now, for the most part, this pdf does a solid job at presenting pretty open traits with a unified theme that I very much enjoy; the revised iteration has gotten rid of the majority of wonky bits, leaving only one instance where the functionality of a trait isn’t given.
The pdf is inexpensive, though, and this is the author’s freshman offering (apart from conversion work, which is a different beast); that does grant this a bit of leeway. The revised edition is a significant improvement in almost every way, which means that the final verdict will be upgraded to 4.5 stars, rounded up in spite of the one remaining minor hiccup.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This bestiary clocks in at 27 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look! My review is based on the pdf; I don’t have the print version.

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

Okay, so, the first thing you should know about this booklet would be that, yes, this is a bestiary, but it’s not a book of things designed to be hacked apart as throwaway monsters; this bestiary focuses on what I like calling “narrative monsters”, so creatures that have a more significant impact or that are intended to form the center of a narrative. The second thing would be art: Co-author Nahid Taheri has a truly unique style. Look at that cover. Each of the creatures herein has an illustration done in the same style, which I’d call uncanny and slightly creepy old fairy tale illustration. I like that style; it gives the book a genuinely unique visual identity and helped me retain my memory of these monsters. It’s been a long time since I first read this bestiary, and I still could recall every single critter herein.

Now, on a less impressed level, it should be noted that this book does not actually subscribe to a specific OSR-system. You know what this means: We only get very basic stats, and depending on the old-school system you favor, you’ll need to do some adjusting. It also makes it more difficult, at least for me, to actually decide how hard a critter should hit. If I e.g. run a B/X-Old-School-Essentials critter in a retro game based on AD&D 2e, I know by how much I need to upgrade it; same goes in reverse for running e.g. an AD&D 2e critter is OSE, obviously. These “general” OSR supplements lack this frame. Some of my readers might shrug this off, while some will very much think that this does matter. Anyhow, each creature notes an alignment on the law-chaos axis, a movement (120 seems to be the default value), an ascending AC value, the number of HD, the number of attacks, the damage dealt, and a single save value, which uses a descending value. Each creature has its special attacks and/or weaknesses listed after their flavor text.

Thematically, the creatures herein are partially original creations, and partially drawn from the rich and oftentimes untapped resource of Persian folklore, with which I share a particular fascination. That being said, the book does manage to maintain a sort of consistence in its themes and feeling I enjoyed. An old-school non-Disney fairy tale/folklore-esque angle suffuses the supplement.

Okay, so, the pdf doesn’t start on its best foot with the Al, an invisible roughly female thing that hunts mothers and seeks to kill their newborn and steal their livers; their teeth can cause bleeding wounds, and interestingly, they will be hard to confront: They free sharp objects. This is a great creature, but the prose accompanying it, the description, felt rough. To give you an example: “Al appears as a tall and slender older woman with long and unbound rough black hair. It is naked though covered in very short fur. It has long fangs that reach past its chin. Its teeth act as blades that never dull or chip.” Now, thankfully, this somewhat staccato-like aspect does not extend throughout the pdf, but since it shows up on the first critter, I figured it’d be worth mentioning that the prose gets better.

Cord legs are AWESOME. They appear as a person in need, and ask to be carried on the back; if they are, they wriggle their cord legs around the adventurer, and can quickly and efficiently kill those they are riding. The poor sods being ridden by a cord legs have Charisma 8, or -2 Charisma if less than 8. Okay, what if one has Charisma 8? No penalty? Hmmm.
Carrying them around can permanently enhance your Strength if you get rid of them, which is codified. In spite of my nitpickery, I like these critters: They have the folklore angle, need to be outwitted, and there is something gorgeously grotesque about them.

Ejdohogo is a plot device disguised as a weird dragon, wingless and plumed…and its tail has this classic trick, where, if all present fail to save against it, the next adventuring session will be bizarre and weird, and actually a completely illusory adventure. If the adventurers live through it, they awake dehydrated and starved with 1 hp. Okay. What effect does the tail have if NOT everyone fails the save? No clue, no rules or even suggestions are provided.

Faux sirens are another puzzle boss of sorts: They actually are plants and have an ability that causes one random target to defend them – no save. Yep. Not even a save. I don’t like that, and think it’s essentially GM railroading. Not cool. And they have a siren’s call that lures targets to them, and while it notices that this is enough time to drown in bogs, the ability and generic OSR rules provide no frame of reference regarding whether this operates more akin to a charm or a dominate.

Hair that had a human, on the other hand, is grotesque and amazing in all the right ways: Long locks of floating hair with a human face, the long locks concealing a child’s body. Oh, and they are FAST, can become even faster and if they catch you, it’s save or die! And that save or die? You only get it if you’re adult. Kids are screwed. Need a good folklore-ish horror critter? This one fits the bill and is actually one of the few times where I consider an instant-kill move suitable. Two big thumbs up!

The lich queen…is weird. She has an entourage of zombies and skeletons and style galore, sure, and yes, she has not one, but two abilities that are save or die, but at a paltry 4 HD. I fail to see the appeal, and the two save or suck abilities are horribly lame. The one saving grace of this critter would be her hand-wand dependency: If she loses the wand, she casts “all her spells at half strength.” But she has no real spells. Just zombie/skeleton summoning and two instant-kill abilities sans rhyme or reason. Also, what does “half strength” mean? Do you only die half? This doesn’t work as written.

Loot wyverns are cool: Little winged lizards that eat treasure that are good at surprising targets, and a good bite can consume silver/treasure. Their claws scar over with gold. AWESOME. How much is such a gold scar worth? No clue. This is frustrating, as the treasure-scar mechanic is cool…but it WILL be cheesed and could wreck entire economies, obviously…but it has a lot of potential. Does the scar reduce maximum hp? This BEGS for proper rules.

Night hags take the shape of shadowy ravens in this interpretation, and lie down on the sleeping, stealing their sleep. They sport this intriguing section of text: “They might kill the person if no one is awake around, but they are not always interested in killing. They cannot rest, so often they steal sleep from humans in this manner.” Guess what we get no rules for? Bingo. For stealing sleep. For potentially killing the sleeping. Nothing. A perfect example of a cool, evocative critter tarnished by subpar design.

Peri are little fey-ish creatures with butterfly like snorkels that can sing and duplicate anything they heard, including spells; they drain Constitution and grow, and take additional damage from iron weapons; they come in two castes of sorts, the lesser wingless and the greater winged peri. Keeja, the chief of the peri, is also included in the book’s second section, and can dine on the saving throws of adventurers, and use a dandelion puff that actually is quite lethal. Two thumbs up, though adherence to a system would have made this one work slightly better.
The tremulous troll is the last troll in the world; she takes next to no damage from all attacks, and has 6 types of magic fungi with spell-like effects…but she fears blades, and she fears light even more, for it is the one thing that truly hurts her. An interesting NPC-style creature.

The second part of the book is devoted to the creatures of the wood, and ties in, to a degree, with the aforementioned array: The first critter presented in this section would be the faun that s also depicted on the cover, lord of the peri and the wisps; he can alter memories of those it meets, and it can initiate raves, which may or may not tie in with Meatlandia Chaos DJs. Wisps, just fyi, are sentinet magic focused on a crystal set in a vial, and they increase in power by finding wisp stones, of which 6 are codified; an alternate, the wisp wizard, is also presented – these are pretty deadly, as one can imagine. They also want to get their hands on the torchbearer.

Who is that? Well, this lady was once an adventurer, but had to witness her fellows being slain; now, she is a quasi-mystical being who might show up to those in need and lead them to safety, sate their hunger, or even grant them Wisdom! A really neat mystical ally. Flying goldenfish are also amazing: They, when consumed, can, for 24 hours, grant you significant boosts to your stats (but you can also lose maximum HP)…and you’ll incur the ire of denizens of an extra-dimensional town…and they may well send the AL after you!

Harpy summoners are something rather different: Occupants of the Lajwardian mountains, these women left the realms of men behind to live free from the reign of men, and as such, they have the power to call harpies to defend them. Interesting flip of the traditional harpy mythology. The spate nymph is a creature of beauty; so much so that the apathetic lady causes those that witness her to forevermore lose Charisma…but her flying fish, if beseeched, can grant wishes. Keeja does hate her and wants her dead. And yes, there are more connections between the creatures than I’ve mentioned.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are…uneven. The supplement oscillates between sufficient precision and aggravating opaqueness, which is only partially due to not subscribing to a specific rules system. This phenomenon also extends to the prose. Layout adheres toa two-column full-color standard, and while the artwork of Nahid Taheri is most assuredly a matter of tastes, I really, really liked all these original full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and I can’t comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the print version.

The Monsterarium of Ahimsa Kerp and Nahid Taheri left me torn like very few bestiaries over the years. To make that abundantly clear: Conceptually, I adore this booklet. It has a distinct identity, and not one of the creatures herein is boring or bland; even when the creatures make use of classic folklore tropes, they have an execution distinct from the defaults. In some creatures, this reminded me of how Alana I. Capria’s feminist twists on fairy tales, just in a less grotesque and gratuitous manner, so if you enjoy flips like that, this’ll be intriguing. Similarly, if you enjoy your monsters as creatures informed by folklore, then this has a lot to offer and contains some true gems.

That being said, the decision to not properly adhere to a system hurts this book to a significant degree; in some instances, it breaks the functionality of the creatures and leaves the referee scratching their head of what was actually intended here. Combined with the inconsistent editing, this renders the bestiary a study in contrasts, and not in a good way.

To make that abundantly clear: If you’re after concepts and ideas, then this should be considered to be a 5-star file; if you also want mechanical integrity of the creatures, then this pdf unfortunately loses a lot of its splendor, and does so without any actual need. If find myself wanting to slap my seal of approval on this, but I simply can’t; for that, this is too flawed a gem. Still, I do encourage you to take a look if the above even remotely intrigued you. My final verdict, though, can’t exceed 3.5 stars. And while I will round up, I do so for the concepts. If you want the rules to properly work so you can simply plug and play, then I suggest rounding down instead.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 7 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, on the introductory page we actually get content, namely a new background…the surfer. This one nets you an ability boost for Strength or Dexterity, and a free one, and makes you trained in Acrobatics and Ocean Lore. Additionally, you get the Surf feat, which brings us to the new feats herein, which all, to some degree, require, no surprise there, at least being trained in Acrobatics.

Surf takes an action, and lets you surf horizontally over the surface of a liquid, using the Athletics check DC to swim through it, and you thus ignore terrain features that would usually impede you, but wouldn’t impede your board. Helpful: Even though snow is technically not a liquid, the rules-text does mention it as a valid surface, and the rules also mentions the requirement for force acting upon you, such as gravity, the push of a wave, etc., and if said force would push you farther, you must keep surfing each round or fall, with a proper differentiation between critical successes, failures, etc. being provided.

Quick Grab is one of the feats that may not sound like much, but that is super useful and will see tons of use: Stride up to your speed and Interact to pick up an item if it was within reach during your movement. The feat accounts for alternate movement modes, and your proficiency in Acrobatics determines the maximum Bulk of the item you pick up. Cool! Okay, so these are the level 1 feats.

For level 2, we have 3, all of which require expert proficiency in Acrobatics: Blinding Squall requires a fly speed and flying at ground level and lets you kick up dust in a short-range burst to generate a concealing cloud that briefly lasts; this is obviously contingent on material to kick up. And nope, it doesn’t actually, you know, blind targets. Confounding Tumbler adds critical success and success effects to Tumble Through, allowing you to render the enemy flat-footed against your next attack, or attacks until the end of your turn. Skillful Contortion makes the enemy trying to Grapple you instead target your Acrobatics DC, and if you’re a master or legendary, you get some benefits if an enemy critically fails to Grapple you.

At level 3, we have Trap Dancer, a one-action feat with the secret and move tags, and which requires that you’re aware of a hazard. With it, you can make an Acrobatics check to move past hazards sans minimum proficiency to disable, and with a critical success, you can even trigger them in a way that prevents them from affecting your allies. If your proficiency in Acrobatics is higher, you can manage to use this feat with traps that require a higher minimum proficiency rank to disable. This one is gold for NPCs escaping, and for characters that enjoy planning/setting up ambushes.

At level 4, we have Perfect Balance, which builds on Steady Balance and requires a rank of master, and makes Shove and Trip attempts against you target Acrobatics DC instead of Fortitude. It also lets you Grab an Edge if your hands are tied or restrained. Level 5’s Cat Pounce builds on Cat Fall, uses your reaction, and lets you weaponize your falling when landing on enemies. The feat scales and, being situational, even a critical success will see an enemy take minor damage. The interaction with Cat’s Fall is also smooth.

At level 12, we have another reaction-based feat, namely Pin the Blade, which lets you retaliate against a missed weapon attack from an adjacent enemy (“Adjacent” is important – the feat works against ranged weapons as well this way, but only if they’re used in close quarters; clever and makes sense!): You make an Acrobatics check vs. the target’s Reflex DC, jumping on the weapon to reduce its effectiveness. The success/failure effects represent rather well what you’d expect here. Neat.

Finally, there would be Step In, another reaction-based one, which requires legendary proficiency in Acrobatics and which may be taken at 15th level; it’s triggered by an enemy of your size or larger using an action with the attack, manipulate or move traits, and makes you use Acrobatics vs. Reflex DC, and can immobilize the opponent and render them flat-footed AND unable to use actions with the concentrate trait. The effect ends, obviously, when you move or are forcibly moved.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level; on a formal level, the pdf is very good as well, though I did notice a few minor things, like “Expert” in the prerequisite-line being title case, when it usually is lower case, but that is cosmetic. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports a really nice original full-color artwork. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Dustin Knight’s Acrobatics Feats were a pleasant surprise to me. Cat’s Pounce is a bit situational as far as I’m concerned, but as a whole, the feats include several definite winners, not a single sucky one, and with Quick Grab we have a feat that should have been core. That gem alone warrants imho getting the pdf. The feats that emphasize the slippery scoundrel angle also help a lot here. As a whole, this is a great example of an unpretentious and extremely useful little pdf. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf clocks in at 21 (!!) pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 17 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the nashi might be familiar to fans of Everybody Games; to summarize them: They’re raccoon folk with extremely sensitive hands. They get 8 HP, are Small, have a 25 ft. speed and their ability boosts are to Intelligence and a free one; their precise touch nets them tremorsense 5 ft., but not as a vague sense, but rather as a precise one. This is already a pretty awesome component that makes them potentially contribute something to the party that other ancestries wouldn’t be able to do. Oh, and there is something else I adore: This ancestry is not simply a collection of stats: The pdf explains the species’ culture, architecture, etc., making it genuinely feel like an organic and viable addition to the gaming world. Their language, rooted in Sylvan is explained alongside their cuisine, their nations, etc., and yes, their ethnic groups, including the tanukun and the seafaring Zumei!

There are no less than 10 heritages to choose from, which includes a knack for filching items, low-light vision and better chances of noticing concealed creatures with Seek, magical talents, being a socialite, etc.—oh, and yes, there is a heritage that actually represents a tanuki heritage, represented by making you a shape changer!

Unless I have miscounted, there are 11 level 1 ancestry-feats, which include being swifter, a representation of the nashi knack for tinkering regarding their proficiencies, a jaws attack, keen senses, a climbing speed, and means to further capitalize on the excellent tactile senses of the species. We also have the means to use Athletics for initiative as a reaction to scramble up inclines with Climb. This one can be very helpful if your GM is as hardcore as I am. Just sayin’…

The pdf also presents 3 5th-level feats: Sensate Strike is particularly cool: It combines the tactile sense with unarmed attacks, and lets you combine a Strike with actually looking for concealed objects! Among the 3 9th level feats, the one that lets you concentrate to enhance the range of your sense deserves particular applause as far as I’m concerned, and 4 13th level feats complete this part of the pdf.

Beyond that, though, we do get MOAR. Alchemists, for example, will like to hear that we receive a new Gunpowder research field, and this leads me into another aspect of this pdf: This file actually includes tight and well-crafted gunpowder weapon rules, including weapon traits for revolvers (chamber), weapons that let you fire bombs, weapons with spreads and the like. Malfunctions and means to clear them and basic combat actions for Spread Strikes complement this system…and seriously? Paizo’s system will need to best this one. It’s ridiculously cool. Bolas cartridges? Check. Flamethrower-y cartridges? Check. Cartridges that let you infuse alchemical items in them? Check. Rock salt? Smokescreen? Essentially flechette? Check, check, and check again. This system interacts incredibly well with the new alchemist feats, and the whole alchemy-trick-gunslinger build array that you can craft with this pdf? Pure gold. If you want to play a trick-shooting alchemist? Get this. It’s incredibly awesome.

Beyond that, we have a new sorcerer bloodline supplemented by 3 focus spells, two of which deal with reshaping your body, with one even allowing you to make fingers or other body parts into items, Mr. Fantastic/Plastic Man style, and yes, this interacts properly with the item level system. Did I mention Spell Sake, which makes it possible to make your spells into potions? And yes, these will render the imbiber buzzed; the “sake” moniker is not cosmetic. Magitechnician wizards focusing on Crafting are also covered, and the pdf also features the tinker archetype, supplemented by a couple of feats. Particularly shield-users will welcome the fact that this one lets you swiftly cobble together shields, but the utility of this one goes beyond that. Obviously.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level, and the pdf also excels on the formal level. Layout adheres to an elegant 2-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports really nice original full-color artworks. The pdf has no bookmarks, which does constitute a comfort-detriment at this level.

…a comfort-detriment that would usually make me rate this lower. BUT hot damn, does this file deliver. This is a perfect example of not going one, but several extra miles. The pdf offers a genuinely compelling ancestry for your game, one that offers a distinct playing experience with a lot of customizing options…and it makes the nashi species feel organic, plausible, vibrant. And then you also, you know, have this very smooth and elegant alchemy firearm system as a frickin’ bonus. And all those class options. Alexander Augunas keeps piling cool stuff on an already excellent species.

The result? Frankly, the bang-for-buck ratio for this one is superb. Even if the firearm system is not something you’d want to use, I’d genuinely recommend giving it a shot (haha!), and once Guns & Gears releases, this’ll be the system it has to compete with/beat as far as I’m concerned. Now, usually I’d axe a star or my seal for the lack of bookmarks, but considering how much cool stuff we get, that’d be mean-spirited and asinine at best. This deserves the full 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module set in the Dungeon Age setting (easy to drag and drop into any other world) is presented for two systems: OSR, and 5e. Before you have the impulse to groan, wait a second: We don’t get one of these annoying, jumbled messes; the low price of admission actually includes two versions, one for OSR, and one for 5e, so you can just print the version you want. Kudos for that.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a printout of the adventure.

Both versions come with okay b/w-maps, but we do not get unlabeled versions for VTT-use, and the maps lack grid and scale, which does limit their utility. The module comes with read-aloud text and pretty clever information design – I’ll comment on the latter more below. The read-aloud text is well-written and atmospheric. Structurally, this is a sandbox module that depicts a desert city that long remained dormant, and now has different factions in it; the module manages to evoke a sense of genuine jamais-vu: If I had to describe this and its atmosphere, I’d call it an almost Dark Souls-like sense of antiquity and mystery coupled with aesthetics that reminded me of some of my favorite stoner doom metal bands. That’s the soundtrack I heard in my head when reading this. I’d also ask you to read the entirety of the review, because this’ll be a polarizing one, and I’m extremely torn about it.

Also very important to note, and something I structurally love: This module sports A TON of interactivity. There is a huge amount of stuff and things for the party to actually *do*. So that’s a huge plus.

The OSR-version does not adhere to a specific system, which isn’t ideal, but as far as system-agnostic OSR goes, it does a solid job: The book states HP, HD, gives AC as an equivalent of e.g. unarmored or plate, and attacks list an ascending attack value plus damage, with saves given as analogues to e.g. fighter 5. The module assumes differentiated saves, you know, like save vs. poison, but adapting it to a single-save system is very much possible without much hassle. The OSR version clocks in at 41 pages, with 37 pages of content. For OSR-games, the module is just noted to be for mid-level parties; I’d adjust that to state that mid-to-high-level works best; at e.g. level 5, this’ll be one brutal module.

The D&D 5e version clocks in at 48 pages, with 44 pages of content left; the increase in length is obviously due to the extended length that 5e’s stats etc. require. The 5e-version is billed at intended for levels 5–8, and it can be solved at this level; it is a difficult module, and certainly can be called “old-school” regarding its difficulty; personally, I enjoy that.

Now, there is one pretty big strike against the 5e-version, and that would be the integrity of the rules and statblocks. On the plus-side, we get the proper ability scores listed, and all that is required for the stats to be used? All of that’s here. However, the stats cheat in some ways. For example, the HP-values don’t list the formulae used to calculate them, and since the creatures also don’t list their challenge, the whole mechanical aspect becomes pretty obscured.

This is in as far relevant, as the builds for the creatures are, no two ways around that, wrong in quite a number of ways. This is never as bad as I’ve seen, though. To make that explicitly clear: The author does know 5e and hasn’t just written one of these aggravating pseudo-5e-supplements. The majority of aspects of statblocks? They’re actually correct. Yet, there are hiccups in most of them. To give you some examples:

For one, no 5e-critter usually nets 2,000 XP. Challenge 5 = 1,800 XP, Challenge 6 = 2,300 XP. And yet, e.g. the dwarf miner herein notes 2,000 XP. While we’re on creatrue-issues: The dwarf miner is listed as having a Strength saving throw of +7, a Dexterity saving throw of +5, and a Constitution saving throw of +6. Due to the missing information on challenge, determining the proficiency bonus is a bit opaque, but it is clear that +3 is the intended value. Why? Because that checks out with the attack values and the Strength saving throw. (The fellow has Strength 19 (+4), Dexterity 16 (+3), and Constitution 17 (+3).) This, however, does mean that the Dexterity saving throw is incorrect, and should be +6. When one takes a look at the listed skills, Athletics +10 and Intimidation +5, the build gets it right: Double proficiency + Strength modifier = +10 for the fellow, and the same goes for the saving throw DC of one of the attacks. Said miner is also missing the senses line, when dwarves definitely have darkvision, and thus leaving out the line can’t be just explained away with “only listing relevant information.” Passive Perception is also sometimes incorrect: The fleshflood (NOT a typo!) has, for example, a -4 Wisdom modifier, but still passive Perception 10, and it doesn’t have proficiency in Wisdom (Perception). The most likely proficiency bonus would be +3 for the creature, which’d mean passive Perception 9, Perception -1 for a proficient creature. On the other hand, the attack value and escape DC? Correct!

How the jaghul, with a Dexterity of 15 (+2) can have Stealth +3, is beyond me; pretty sure that should be +4, based on the irregular XP value, which places the critter below challenge 4, and thus, at proficiency bonus +2…something the author got perfectly right when it comes to the attack values. Contrast that with e.g. the statblocks for a NPC, where saves and skills are perfectly correct.

On the formal level, creature feature names and action names are only bolded, not bolded and in italics; while e.g. Melee Weapon Attack is properly italicized and the attack sequence correct, Hit, oddly, is not set in italics. The damage values caused by creatures also do not list average values. These are quality of life aspects for the consumer, but I personally can live without them. However, as noted above, this tendency also has some glitches as a consequence that are, well, not cool.

Spells are not properly set in italics, okay, that’s not pleasant, but cosmetic. But spellcasting fails to specify the spellcasting ability score used by the NPC, and also fails to list spell save DC and spell attack bonus. That sort of thing compromises function and is annoying for the GM, can grind the game to halt. I do not have an issue with statblocks only listing relevant aspects; but I couldn’t help but feel that the decision to do so here has engendered a rather wide variety of glitches in the critters that the author would have been more likely to catch if he adhered to the default presentation for the stats. This also extends to magic items, and their rules-language. To give you an example from the adamantine shield: “Enemy must make a DC 13 CON save or be blinded by this shiny shield until the end of their next turn.” Okay, how does that work? Does it work at range? Only in melee? Shouldn’t this require a bonus action or reaction on behalf of the wielder? Adamantine helmet lists that the wearer is immune to psychic damage and head injuries. Okay, what is a head injury? No, I’m serious. Would e.g. a mind flayer’s Tentacles attack be a head injury? I think not, because they can do damage otherwise with them, but then again, this sets up Extract Brain, so it is a head injury? And that’s why concise rules-language is important. Items also do not come with the customary ubiquity-rating, or information on whether they require attunement. We have items like Ketil’s Adamantine Cuirass, which is a breastplate that nets AC 19 for 7,000 gp. Another charm protects from stinging insects (okay, does that keep them away, or just prevent damage?), and “grants resistance to all poisons.” Does this mean resistance to poison damage? What about the poisoned condition? No clue. Again, this is why rules-language is important. In OSR, does that mean one is immune to poisons? Or a bonus to saving throws? Because, you know, resistance is not a rules concept in the classic sense in most OSR-games? No clue.

And it’s puzzling, because the module per se does an excellent, and I mean EXCELLENT job, in both iterations, when it comes to presenting information in a way that’s useful to the GM…which does include highlighting spell references. These are title case, bolded and set in italics in the module text (when 5e’s standard would just be italics), but I can live with that, as it makes sense from a house style perspective. DCs, whether checks or saves, are bolded in adventure text, and key terms for each location are bolded and underlined: When you read “…flowering vines…” in the well-written read-aloud sections, you can look at the bullet point list below the readaloud text, and immediately skip to the bolded header for the Flowering vines-section that starts the information for this aspect. This is AWESOME. You also tend to have all relevant information for a keyed location on one page. So yeah, in the “comfort-to-run”-department, this module is top-tier…once you have fixed the statblocks in the 5e-version/adjusted them in the OSR-version to your system of choice, that is. So yeah, top tier in information design, subpar at best when it comes to the actual integrity of the rules that one requires to run the module…not, let us talk about the actual module’s content.

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

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All right, only GMs/referees around? Great! Deep within the desert, the sheltered city of Yumar, nestled among sheltered cliffs, thrived – and then it happened: The earth was torn asunder and spat acid, and among the earthen poisonous bile, a mysterious metal sphere was catapulted into the air by geysers of poisonous corrosion. The light of the sun, reflected off the sphere, proceeded to set the city ablaze. The city’s people diverted water to thin the pools, built a roof over the sphere…but alas, it was too late. The city of Yumar died the obscure death that only settlements can, falling into a semi-mythological half-existence, as its reputation was, unsurprisingly, a teeny tiny bit tarnished.

Now, a team of dwarves has found their way into the city, mining the metal sphere for its mighty adamantine, while three nuns, adherents of Zerah, the angel of chaos and change, have taken up their silent vigil…and they are not happy with the dwarves. Of course, a desert city of ruins was also a hide-out of thieves…but said thieves now hear a voice in their head, and the voice tells them to repent; they are days from starvation, and pretty repentant…or so it sure seems.

The regions in the city come with a ton of notes on rumors, random encounters, small treasure, little pieces of flavor such as a barely audible giggling, and when run, manages to evoke an atmosphere so dense and unique, so suffused with wonder, it’s a marvelous and unmitigated joy. Encounters presented differentiate between night and day, and there is a ton of environmental stuff, unique mundane treasure (like a glass butterfly and the like), and the hazards? They are neat. That murky water? First, it’s poison damage from the fumes; then it’s acid damage from touch/immersion, and then, if you’re still alive, you’ll have to content with silver leeches in the acid, which’ll have a blast eating you. And yes, these acid-leeches can make you into a leech-walker. The NPC write-ups, with their bolded key-words like Wants or Plans also adhere to this level of detail and play.

But the level of detail is not what sets this apart for me. It’s how…magical this is. Like the Dark Souls games, this module emphasizes the importance of attentive players, and it is suffused with lore; it is indirect storytelling, and it is awesome. There, for example, are nightmares…and one of them may have the party meet a strange woman…and touching her? Well, that’ll be one mutation for you, gratis, no save. And yes, in this instance, I’m very much fine with there not being a save. Actions and consequences, right? There are several belltowers throughout the city as well; there are ghoulish jackalfolk…and there is the gilded shrine. There is magical ink that can provide similarly magic, but chaotic tattoos…did I mention the spiral tower with its swirling rainbow lights? The collapsible hand glider that provides unreliable flight? Well, in a book with this sort of equipment, we also get aerial encounters. Not even kidding you. I love that sort of thing. I would love it even more if that sort of transportation was required to access some places, but that’s just me nagging at a very high level.

That being said, as a whole? As a whole, I adore this. And fyi: The sphere contains a herald-level powerful angel-being that is all about change for change’s sake, whether good or bad. A bit like old “Bald Anders” from German folklore—which btw. translates to “Soon Other/Different”. She was scheduled to be unleashed ages prior, but wasn’t…well, that may well change due to the party’s meddling. And, well, even in dreams touching her can mutate you. So…yeah. This’ll be interesting times for the party…

If this wasn’t abundantly clear by now: I genuinely LOVE this module. I think it is inspiring in just the right ways. It can't be smoothly run as written, but everything about it makes those GM-neurons fire and elaborate upon what’s here. Did I mention the geckos?

Conclusion:

Editing is good on a formal level. On a rules-language level, it’s bad. Not atrocious, but not at a level where I can even call it okay. There are plenty of glitches that compromise the functionality of rules-relevant aspects, errors in the math, etc. It can still be run as written if you play loose and fast with rules and don’t care too much about consistence or balance, but as far as I’m concerned, this is borderline functional at best, with pretty severe creaking in the mechanics-department…at least for 5e. For the OSR-version, we have the usual issue of needing to adjust the material to a specific system and reevaluating balance etc., and the rules-language also has hiccups in components like magic items. Formatting, on one hand, does a ton right: Read-aloud text is clearly set apart, the pdf uses bolding to structure information flow exceedingly well, and as far as that is concerned? Great! Then again, there are a few instances where things that should be bold due to the house style aren’t, and e.g. formatting of spells, magic items etc. deviates needlessly from the defaults and compromises the integrity of the content. This also extends to deviations from 5e-defaults that compromise rules integrity or slightly diminish the direct utility at the table.

Layout adheres to an efficient 2-column color-standard with a white background: printer-friendly, and unlike many color pdfs, the book loses nothing of its ease of navigation when printed out in b/w. Kudos for that, but there is generous white space here, also due to how the module tries to have relevant information for a locale on one page. The pdfs come with massive, nested bookmarks for easy and comfortable navigation. The cartography is solid, but the lack of scale and grid, and the lack of player-friendly versions of the maps would be another comfort-detriment.

Oh boy. Joseph Robert Lewis is an exceptional talent when it comes to adventure writing. I genuinely mean it. This reminded me, in price, in ambition, in vision and what a single person can accomplish, of talents like the legendary Richard Develyn, whose 4-Dollar-Dungeons are some of the best modules ever written for PFRPG. (And beyond; seriously, each of his modules is worth the asking price, even if you’re playing totally different systems.)

What I’m trying to say is, that this module is serious “Best of”-material…or rather, it would be. I adore this. As a person, this module blew me away. It scratched the right itch. It inspired me. It’s AWESOME. But it also made me yell at my screen and at my printout more times than I care to count. Because this is so close to excellence. It’s not that the author can’t do the math. There are plenty of examples where math checks out in 5e.

In many ways, the issues with the details in the design-parts is less pronounced in the OSR-version, which only has a couple of hiccups in the items. On the downside, I actually prefer the 5e-version, warts and all. Why? Because of the sheer density of stuff that is rules-relevant, that has genuine effects…that sort of thing just works better in D&D 5e, because OSR tends to solve a lot more via narrative/cosmetics.

And here I am. I’m looking at a book that is absolutely fantastic and inspired, dirt-cheap for what it offers…and I can’t sing the praises that I so desperately want to sing, even though the book is *so close* to actual greatness, to “best of” hall-of-fame-levels awesome.

Were I the soulless mechanics-review-bot that some seem to think I am, and rate this solely on the virtues of its mechanics, this wouldn’t get past the 2.5 stars, rounded down, for 5e. For the OSR-version, I’d probably settle on something in the vicinity of 4.5 stars. However, if one does take the time to go through the 5e-iteration and fixes it/polishes it, one has a genuine masterpiece.

So, how in all 9 hells am I supposed to rate this? This does deserve a pummeling for its shortcomings (including the map situation), and I can’t just ignore the serious issues herein. But neither can I bring myself to put this even remotely close to the, at best, 3 stars that the module would deserve from a technical point of view. The situation becomes even more complicated, because I have to settle on one single verdict for the D&D 5e and OSR versions. The OSR-version is, craftsmanship-wise, more refined…but it also loses a bit of the artistry that make the 5e-version shine so brightly.

In the end, my official final verdict will be 3.5 stars, rounded up, and this is one of the exceedingly rare books that gets my seal of approval, in spite of its glaring flaws. It is INSPIRING in just the right ways, and it served as a great reminder why reviewing can be so fulfilling. Now I genuinely hope the author manages to iron out these last hiccups regarding rules and formatting, and we’ll have one true master right there.

If you’re like me and want your modules precise and proper before running it, expect to invest a few hours fixing stats, items, etc. If that bothers you and you’re not willing to invest that time, then consider this to be closer to 3 stars; conversely, if your group plays fast and loose with the rules, or if you want to convert this anyways, then consider this to be closer to 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This class clocks in at 46 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

The etherknight base class gets ¾ BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, d8 HD, 2 + Intelligence modifier skills per level, and they are proficient with simple weapons and void blades as well as light armor and shields, excluding tower shields. The etherknight does not incur arcane spell failure when wielding these. The etherknight begins play with an etherfusion known, and gains another at 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter. The begin with 3 techniques known, and learn an additional technique on every attained class level. More of these later.

Unsurprisingly for most, this class makes use of the ethermagic engine, which is essentially a refreshing infinite magic source particularly geared towards blasting, and it’s imho still the most unique and rewarding to play infinite blaster for PFRPG. (Kineticists are not infinite blasters.) This pdf works as a stand-alone file, though I do suggest checking out Strange Magic 1 first, as this class is geared towards experienced ethermagic players. (It *IS* complex!)

Balance-wise, the ethermagic framework uses its resource as a refreshing resource per round, and power-level-wise, the class works sufficiently tightly to not unbalance even more conservative games. Ethermagic is measured in EP (ether points), and an etherknight has class level + Charisma modifier EP. The etherknight regains 1/3 their class level (rounded up – important!) every round. Ethermagic consists of two components – the etherheart (which is a kind of core template/theme) and the manifestation, which modifies the respective ethermagic. Alterations have different manifestations than e.g. voidmelds. The etherknight gets two etherhearts: Alterations, which are used for (self-) buffing, and voidmeld. Alterations are old companions for ethermagic users; they cast as a standard action, and have an EP cost of 1 + ¼ class level, rounded down. The etherknight gains them at 5th level, and the etherknight gets an additional alteration every odd level beyond. Voidmelds are cast as a swift action and have a duration of 1 round/level, with an EP cost of 1 + ¼ caster level, rounded down. I am pretty sure that this should be class level. The etherknight begins play with 2 voidmelds known, and gains an additional one at 2nd level and every even level thereafter.

To cast a manifestation, the etherknight needs to have a Charisma score of 10 + the respective manifestation’s level, and the saving throw DC is 10 + the highest manifestation level sued in the etherspell + the etherknight’s Charisma modifier. While a manifestation is in effect, the caster’s maximum EP is reduced by the total EP cost of the etherspell in effect. If multiple casting times conflict, the longer takes precedence. All etherspells have somatic and verbal components. An etherknight may not have more high-level manifestations than low level manifestations; so, let’s say an ether knight knows 2 1st-level manifestations and 2 2nd-level manifestations; the etherknight would need to take a third 1st-level manifestation before being allowed to take a third 2nd-level manifestation – this is also called the “pyramid rule”, though I personally tend to think of it more as a pillar.

Now, etherfusions were rarer in the core system, but they become more important here, as hinted at before; these are powered by ether jelly, classified by the fusion pool; fusion pool contains fusion points (FP), and has a size of class level + Charisma modifier, but it only replenishes after 8 hours of rest. Etherfusions count as etherspells for counterspelling purposes, and have a duration of instantaneous, unless otherwise noted. These also have modifiers that unlock over the levels; if an etherfusion has multiple modifiers, it can be taken multiple times. If two modifiers of such a shared origin are applied to the same effect, any FP cost of 0 is treated as FP 1 instead.

Starting at 2nd level, the etherknight can, as a full-round action that provokes AoOs, reduce her maximum EP by 1 to add 1 to her fusion pool; this reduction to maximum EP lasts until the etherknight finishes the customary 8 hours of rest. 3rd level nets a variant of lay on hands, with each ability costing 2 FP, healing 1d6+1 for every 2 etherknight levels attained. This is a standard action when sued on other targets, swift action when used on self. Etherknights can use ether to heal constructs and undead as well. 5th level builds on that with a class feature that applies a limited amount of mercies, and includes a modification of Extra Mercy for the feat; 5th level starts off the mercy aspect with one mercy, and adds one mercy every 4 levels. Etherknight mercies can remove conditions caused by curse, disease and poison without eliminating the source; in such an instance, the effects return after 1 hour if the underlying ailment has not been taken care of. 5th, 9th, 13th and 17th levels unlock new mercies to choose from; those that can be unlocked at 5th and 9th level cost no FP, while those that can be unlocked at 13th and 17th level cost 1 FP. Some have prerequisites. Minor formatting snafu: the “Staggered:”-relieving mercy is the low one that doesn’t have its name in italics.

While we’re still talking about etherfusions and give you an example: Buffering Infusion targets 1 creature and has a duration of 1 minute, and nets the target 1 hit point, +1 for every 5 etherknight levels; the modifiers for this one increase the hit points granted by +3 for 1 FP, while another nets DR 3/- while they have temporary hit points. Ether Restoration heals 1d4 temporary ability damage, freely divided, and the modifiers let you remove temporary negative levels, heal all temporary ability score damage to a single ability score, or heal ability drain at a minor gp cost; the modifiers have different class level prerequisites. Ethergel Aegis nets +2 deflection bonus to AC and +2 resistance bonus to saving throws for 1 round/level. Sharing damage, rerolls, etc. are also available here. At 7th level, the etherknight gains +1 Focus the first time he casts an etherfusion each round – see techniques below.
These also can, btw. interact with lay on hands, set targets aflame, etc. – it is a rather neat engine, but only a component of the etherknight’s entire package.

The etherspell manifestations, obviously, do include old favorites like the initiative booster A Thousand Eyes or the Ultraviolet Shift manifestations that made one of my players’ PCs an incredibly fearsome assassin by trade, if not by class. Beyond these classics, though, the pdf does include a variety of new tricks that tie in with the novel parts of the class. This also holds true for the voidmeld manifestations, obviously: If you are new to this etherheart: Think of it as the godblade etherheart; the weapon-shaped hole in the multiverse. It’s essentially one-handed or light, and enhancement bonuses are hard-coded into the class, with 10th and 20th level upgrading the damage die.
The volatile black-hole-blade. The manifestations of this etherheart include bleeding damage, additional damage, having the weapon also cause force damage in low-range cones, adding mighty cleaving. And yes, this means that “I manifest my voidblade with Kiss of the Nuclear Fireball, Icy Grip of the Outer Spheres and Greater Knife Edge of Nowhere.” Is something you can and probably will say. Call me cheesy, but I love that. And that’s just the shape of your blade, not the sword laser martial arts you’ll do with it.

But wait! That’s not all! Remember those techniques I mentioned at the very start? Well, it’s time to start talking about them. Their DCs are 10 + highest manifestation level known + Charisma modifier. New techniques are unlocked at class level 2nd, and every 2 levels thereafter, with the higher-level options tending to be rarer: 10th, 12th and 14th level only unlock a few new ones; the lion’s share of techniques are unlocked before that. Techniques are, in essence, a modification of the engine championed in the rather awesome assassin class presented by Interjection games. Techniques have a so-called “Focus”, and at 1st level, the etherknight is locked into a technique with a Focus Change of +1 as one of their choices; this is a safety precaution so the player can actually use them. Focus is measured by a focus pool, which caps at 4; the focus pool begins empty, and is charged by using techniques with a positive focus change; similarly, some techniques decrease the focus and thus first need building. Focus only works in combat, and is lost after Charisma modifier minutes without combat. Puzzling: This lacks a kitten-caveat, so if you can antagonize those furry kittens, you can pre-build focus RAW. Uncommon oversight as far as I’m concerned.

That being said, the etherknight’s technique engine does come with so-called ether crashes available since level 1. These are essentially finishing moves and can only be performed with a focus of 3 or 4, and have a -3 Focus Change. They are used as a standard action, and one chooses three techniques, with the following limitations: One technique has a Focus Change of +1; one has a Focus Change of +1 or 0, and starting at 6th level, a technique with a Focus Change of 0 or -1. The ethercrash has the longest range of all techniques; if one technique is supernatural, then the crash is supernatural; otherwise, it is a spell-like ability. If at least one technique is delivered via ranged touch attack, then it is delivered as a ranged touch attack; otherwise, it is a standard ranged attack. Using a melee weapon you are wielding, you make an attack roll against a creature in range (of the technique!); if you hit, an arc of energy slams into the enemy, applying the combined effects on a hit.

If you’re familiar with this type of engine, you’ll know what to expect: The ethercrash has an escalation that unlocks at 11th level. 20th level btw. eliminates the distinction between Focus and FP (and via FP, also with EP), using FP to pay for Focus, etc. – up to a maximum of Charisma modifier points per day.

Okay, so what about those techniques? These allow you to temporarily grant shields to allies, execute melee attacks at range, bypass some types of DR. With e.g. Breath from Beyond you can sicken targets, and alternatively, sue the escalation at higher Focus Change and Cost, nauseate targets. Subverting resistances first and then, after the 3-round duration ends, adding class level damage sans save? Neat insult to injury. These btw. also include the ability to temporarily steal a part of a target’s magic, which depends on style of casting for the effect; this includes truenaming, ethermagic, psionics, etc.. I also liked the ability o swap two targets you hit, provided they both botch their save…if only one botches, things become painful. Hitting with a sword-laser and then granting a temporary hit point buff?

Yeah, at this point Strange Magic veterans will have realized the core difference between the etherknight and the ethermagus on a thematic level, right? The ethermagus is essentially the assailant that goes in for the assassin-style kill; the etherknight, on the other hand, is essentially a ranged laser-sword combatant with a combo-engine!

Of course, this wealth of engines and combo-options in the ethercrash-finishers also means that there is bound to be a plethora of feats that allow you to tinker with aspects of the engines: Unless I have miscounted, we have 27 feats, which include classics such as Zero Master, but also new ones like Technique Specialization. These feats do come with a bit of flavor, and sometimes even humorous. I really got a chuckle out of: “Okay, fine. They're all sword lasers, but you have a favorite nonetheless.“ The feats also include the ability to immediately get 1 Focus when your FP to drop to 0 for the first time per day…this might sound like a lame benefit, but when planned properly, it ca make that final expenditure really matter more. (And yes, standards like Extra Etherknight Technique etc. are included.) The interjection of systems can also be seen in the manifestations, btw.: The Artificial Focus Alteration nets you 1 Focus, for example.

Of course, the pdf also includes a variety of favored class options for various races, including a selection of general ones that everyone might take. Some of these favored class options are btw. really brutal: Elves may, for example, once they have taken their FCO three times, reroll technique attack rolls as an immediate action, and may be used 1/day for every 3 uses. Dwarves can gain DRs from their techniques, and vishkanya and drow can unlock a special etherfusion at +0 FP via these. Much more meaningful than usual for FCOs. Of course the usual +1/6 of XYZ etc. style options are also here.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. The book juggles ridiculously complex rules concepts and engines with panache aplomb; a few minor hiccups have found their way into the entirety, but these are primarily cosmetic. Artworks are b/w-pieces, and the pdf adheres to Interjection Games’ two-column b/w-standard. The pdf comes with bookmarks, but generally only for chapter headers, not for individual techniques/manifestations, or e.g. the favored class options. So yeah, minor convenience detriment. I do recommend printing this and working with it that way.

…but then again, I do recommend that anyway. The etherknight, even more so than Bradley Crouch’s usual classes, is not a plug-and-play thing. You need to invest some prepwork to make your sword laser paladin work, but when you do, you’ll have a rather remarkable and rewarding-to-play class on your hands, and personally, I am very, very fond of the notion of making my own finishing moves via the ethercrash-engine. Plus, the relative proximity in concepts to Bradley Crouch’s other Focus-based engines does mean that a talented designer can create MOAR and/or convert techniques from other classes.

So yes, no surprise, I do very much enjoy this class…with one caveat: Please, do yourself a favor and increase the poor sod’s skills per level to 4 + Int. 2 + Int sans Intelligence as key ability modifier just sucks.

That notwithstanding, I had a blast with this class; it is really cutting edge.

Okay, I’ll stop; this gets 4.5 stars, rounded up, and my seal of approval.

As a final sentiment: As per the writing of this review, this was the last thing the author published. I do hope he’ll one day return to game design. I very much enjoyed his unconventional classes and alternate systems.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as a prioritized review.

So, now that Traveller 2e has come around, Jon Brazer Enterprises took a bold step, creating the first supplement not situated in the Foreven Worlds sector; this does not mean that the Foreven Sector support’s been canceled, mind you – but it’s a nice way of diversification within the Traveller game. All of this is explained within the introduction, and the book is framed in a way that features a new customization option for studios on the final page, which also includes a handy index.

Now, this book contains, no surprise there, vehicles, but it deserves some kudos for how it does that and how it organizes its content: Each vehicle type fits neatly on one page, with the stats at the top, followed by equipment/traits, and then, if relevant, environmental variants alongside modified costs and equipment/trait changes if relevant. Flavorful descriptions complement the vehicles. If there is sufficient space left on the page we also get an artwork (a few b/w, others full color and CGI-ish). Additionally, the vehicles are organized by TL, not alphabetical, which makes more sense to me from a utility standpoint. Kudos! It should be noted that this is also represented in the bookmarks-organization, which means that this book excels in the utility sector, big time. Actual use at the table is really smooth.

Okay, so, let’s talk about the respective vehicles! For TL 8, we have the rotary autonomous deliverer (Aka RAD), a pilot-less cargo-delivery system that comes with variants for corrosive, hostile and insidious environments. The second TL 8 vehicle would be the Stock Ground Car Racer, employed by the SCAGRI (Stock Car Association of Ground Racing). What’s that? Well, think of a ridiculously upgraded version of NASCAR, but each racer also adopts a public persona, somewhat akin to wrestling’s kayfabe. Statwise, these have a fast (high) speed and a range of 800 (1,200) and an impressive 9 Hull for such a small vehicle. I’d certainly watch that sport, and the vehicle actually made me come up with cool adventure and character ideas…so yeah, big plus.

At TL 9, we have the book’s first military vehicle, the J-235B Trifighter, armed with 2 light autocannons, classified as something closer to a wavesled than a waverider; it also reminded me of the crafts of certain rebels against a dark empire in a galaxy far, far away. Terrascouts have a massive 50 K communications range and solid sensors as well as Recon DMs, making them good recon vehicles for planets inimical to human life.

While we’re on that: In TL 11, we have the Instartech AV-8BC Prospector is also a vehicle designed for staying on hostile planets, but it’s not a scout, it’s a workhorse: It can hold a crew of 4 for a week sans food or atmosphere resupply before having to return to base, but in contrast to the scouts, the communications only have a 500 km range, and the prospector’s mining equipment (digger blade + manipulator arm) can be used in defense, if required. The recycling and refuse hauler once more comes with environmental variants, but also features a version specialized for vacuum, and is one of the vehicles that I very much enjoy seeing in scifi, because it adds that level of realism…and because I‘m sometimes a bit of a soft-hearted tree-hugging hippie who very much want to think that humanity in the future wouldn’t litter. ;)

TL 12 has a massive 5 vehicles: On the utility side of things, the AN-72 construction mech comes with loadouts for various environments, including vacuum, and in a nice piece of flavor, it’s not just used in construction anymore, but also in Mechball! Really cool allusion to a cult classic there, and not on the nose either! The Eagle 5 recreational vehicle promises a fun experience for the whole family, including mini-kitchen and vacuum protection; the skill level 3 autopilot and +2 Navigation DM also make sense. And Armour 4 everywhere? Makes sense. At the same armour, we have the Ginstar 385 family grav car, also known lovingly by its moniker “Pete”, and as a grav flyer, it actually also has some massive storage space in trunk and frunk.

Continental gravjets are another vehicle that just makes sense to me, and with variants for cargo, vacuum, and vacuum cargo, these’ll are sure to feature in games. 1,000 km range communications also make them good places to run adventures in. Forget snakes on a plane! Think of weird extraterrestrial things on the gravjet! Not enough? Want to amp up the stakes? Jumbo gravjets, once more in aforementioned 3 variants let you amp up the scale further! As an aside: I really like how cargo/passenger space are handled in these: The cargo variants obviously have less passengers, but massive cargo holding capacity.

Oh, and guess what? This pdf has stats for the K.N.I.G.H.T. Rider, for the discerning customer whose life is in serious danger. 16 Armour, on-board life support, electronic decoy, stealth mode, smart wheels. Damn, this made a kid in me ridiculously happy. Oh, and the SFS-56 Quadwing interceptor, kinda akin to X-wings, with gauss cannons. Oh, and in case you were wondering, their nickname is “DIE”, which obviously stands for Dual Iconic Engines. Obviously. You know. ;) The quadwing is, oddly, not listed among the bookmarks.

For TL 13, we have 6 vehicles: On the utility side of things, there would be the PNG Motors G118 G/Bus, essentially a shuttle bus for ferrying travels to planetary and orbital destinations in style and comfort. Want more comfort? With the House G/Yacht, the rich and famous can get a smooth vehicle with hot tub., holosuite, wet bar, etc. – all for the low, low price of slightly over 31 million credits…
Rather funny: The Chandria gravitic DB-32 news skiff has the farthest communications range of any vehicle in the book, with 100K km, and comes with an armored variant for use in dangerous regions. With long term life support, advanced stealth capabilities and advanced electronic countermeasures, these are focused tightly on what they should do…and gave me some neat ideas for adventures.

At this TL, we also have 3 military vehicles: For airborne combat, we have the P.173 transatmospheric flyer, equipped with plasma missile racks and gauss cannon, and actually has a function closer akin to a bomber than a regular flyer, but without sacrificing much in the vein of mobility. Beyond that, we also have two walkers, the first of which would be the dual gun battle walker, which sports two plasma gun-Cs, and with prismatic aerosoal dischargers, decoy dispensers, etc., they are actually a kind of urban legend: No holo-capture of them exists, so some do think they are still in the concept phase…or, well, this might also be due to the advanced stealth and camouflage capabilities…you decide. Definitely existing: the Voidspace Goliath battle mech, equipped with a fusion gun-x, 2 rocket pods and a Vulcan machine gun, these are the classic walkers with a crew of two and brutal capacity to deal out punishment. Need a lethal mech boss? There you go!

Minor nitpick in the otherwise excellent bookmarks: TL 14 has erroneously been folded into TL 13. Where there is a NASCAR equivalent, we obviously also have a formula equivalent, right? Right! With ridiculous hypersonic speeds (cruise speed of “only” supersonic), these things are fast and have a 10k km communications range, and obviously, this is a highly-lethal sport, so these racers focus on more picturesque environments. The second TL 14 vehicle would be the medium autonomous cargo hauler, which works sans crew, and comes with the usual environmental variants as well as in a version equipped to haul life cargo in short term, at the cost of half a ton of cargo space. Also, you know, the acronym for them is the MACH truck. That got a bonafide chuckle out of me.

Last, but certainly not least, we have the TL 15 Terran hypercycle G/bike. Open design, supersonic speed, these super-smooth vehicles are particularly enjoyed by law enforcement, and, it being Imperium tech, some loyal citizens are also allowed purchasing them…but this loyalty condition obviously also marks the owner as a target for anti-Imperium groups and extremists.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no snafus on a formal or rules-language level. Layout adheres to an efficient 2-column standard in b/w, with the full-color CGI-artwork as color-nuances. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks; as noted before, there are two extremely minor hiccups there, but neither compromises the utility of the pdf.

Dale C. McCoy, Jr. delivers big time in this collection of vehicles: Inspired and interesting, these vehicles help flesh out culture and how things operate in the game, adding a sense of plausibility to aspects of life that I very much adored seeing. While the pdf does feature pop culture references here and there, they are actually executed gracefully and with enough skill to render them a welcome addition that can be just ignored or glossed over, if you choose to. That’s actually difficult, mind you, and helps make the pdf more timeless, and also makes it not simply a cultural snapshot.

All in all, I really, really enjoyed this pdf. It is executed skillfully and stylishly, and did inspire me. As such, this gets 5 star + my seal of approval, in spite of the minor bookmark snafu.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 2 pages, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content.

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

So, the one page of this supplement contains 3 new feats, with the first being Bestow Piety, which requires proficiency in Intelligence (Religion) or the ability to Channel Divinity to take it. The feat nets you one use of Channel Divinity, or increases your uses of the feature by 1 before you need to finish a short or long rest. When you take the feat, you choose one of 3 options: Purity lets you create a cylinder that protects from poisoned condition, grants resistance to poison damage if the targets do not have it, and those affected by poison or disease get a reroll to end the effect unless it’s caused by a curse. Cool! Hope lets you ward up to three creatures against fear for 1 hour, and also nets inspiration; frightened creatures get a reroll. Clarity nets a 1-hour aura that nets advantage on saves against madness or effects like confusion, and it can be triggered as a reaction—I assume to such an effect, though the verbiage does not specify this. That being said, this is a minor nitpick, and the feat can be chosen multiple times, it effects stacking, and each time nets a new ability.

The second feat, Disciplined Mind, requires a Wisdom of 11+ and increases Wisdom by 1, to a maximum of 20. It nets advantage on saving throws vs. the frightened condition, and to remove it. The feat also nets advantage on saves vs. the charmed condition if it originated from an aberration, fiend or undead, and you are always aware of attempts to read your mind. Interesting!

Slayer of Horrors, finally, has no prerequisite and lets you choose either aberrations, fiends or undead. Against the chosen type, you 1/turn add proficiency bonus to damage and 1/turn ignore one type of resistance of the chosen enemy when making an attack. (So does not work for spells etc. that require no attack.) Thirdly, you may, as a reaction, distract a creature of the chosen type as it attacks, but before it rolls. The creature makes the attack at disadvantage. This one only can be sued once before needing a short or long rest to use it again. I am generally not the biggest fan of specialized creature type hunting abilities, but as far as they are concerned, this is a solid payoff, considering the cost of feats in 5e. There is but one thing my personal aesthetics would require: Stating that the character needs to know about the creature facing them being of their chosen type. It’s a small thing, but considering the prevalence of body-snatching, possession and illusions, it’s imho an important one.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules level. Layout adheres to a nice full-color two-column standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.
Ismael Alvarez’ three feats herein are pretty cool and worthwhile. They balance cost and benefit well, can unlock some cool adventure scenarios, and are presented in a tight manner. Apart from minor nitpickery in the final feat, I have no serious complaints, which means that my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, and I’ll be rounding up due to the low and fair price-point.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 2 pages, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content.

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

So, the one page of this supplement contains three new spells, each of which does state the core classes for which it is intended. Good!

The first would be a cantrip, bellow of the grave, which is a necrotic damage-based combat spell; it has a relatively short range, is opposed by a Constitution saving throw (so no spell attack required), and its damage output clocks in below e.g. fire bolt; its unique angle is that a save failed by 5 or more causes the target to be frightened. Cantrips are a tight design-space, and this does something solid in the design space. I like it. The damage progression is also in line. The classes for which it is available make sense. No complaints!

The second spell would be the 1st-level hands of the dead, and causes the hands of the deceased to erupt from a 5-ft. square within the 50 ft. range. You get an additional square for every two spell slot levels above first that you use to cast the spell…and there is something interesting here: The grasping hands grapple Medium or smaller targets on a failed Dexterity saving throw, and if you affect at least two squares, Large creatures can be grappled as well. Escape DC is spell save DC, of course. So, a suckier version of entangle? Nope, because this spell has one crucial advantage: It doesn’t need concentration! This makes it a nice tool for low level villains to cover their escape, for example. I have two nitpicks re formatting to complain about: Size categories in 5e are in title case, so the reference to “medium” size should be Medium instead. Secondly, the “At Higher Levels.” Subheader should be both bold and in italics.

The third spell would be howl of the beast, a 3rd-level spell for bards, druids, sorcerers and wizards – class selection makes sense. This spell is interesting, in that it is a kind of fear-based sanctuary: You emit a keening howl, and can maintain it for up to 1 minute, provided you can maintain your concentration; like fear, the opposed saving throw is Wisdom. The radius is an impressive 50 ft. centered on the caster – but there is a crucial difference in comparison with e.g. fear: Enemies are frightened on a failed save, yes, but they do not drop their weapons: Instead, they cannot willingly move towards you, and are compelled to move to the edge of the spell’s area of effect. They can still use ranged weapon or spell attacks to assault you, but attacks are made at disadvantage, and subsequent rounds equal new saves to shake off the howl. Oh, and the effect doesn’t break if you move towards the enemy, but enemies that are cornered can very much hit you with melee attacks as well if you get within reach. This has serious narrative potential…and horror story potential. I like it. It’s the only spell without a neat material component (the other two are fitting!), but that’s just personal aesthetics.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have a few minor hiccups, but nothing that impedes functionality. Layout adheres to a nice full-color two-column standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Ismael Alvarez delivers 3 solid spells here; they all have something going for them, and while they are not all brilliant, the narrative potential of howl of the beast does make up for the minor hiccups. All in all a solid little pdf. For a single buck? Yeah, worth taking a look at. 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 2 pages, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page content.

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

So, this supplement contains 6 magic items, 2 weapons and 4 wondrous items.
Two are classified as uncommon: The first would be the undertaker’s oil, which, when applied to a weapon, makes a regular weapon temporarily capable of hitting undead as though it were magical; Geralt would be proud. :)
The ghost ward lantern requires attunement and burns holy water; it glows eerily even when not lit (but sans mechanic effect regarding lighting), and when lit, incorporeal undead must succeed on a save to approach; those incorporeal undead within the 50 ft. radius when lit must succeed on the save or be briefly frightened and unable to enter the radius…but they are already in the radius? Do they have to move to its edge? Not sure. I love the concept, but the execution contradicts itself RAW.
One wondrous item has a weapon-like function for monks:
Gladiator’s blood gloves require attunement, and for good reason: They let you add twice your Strength bonus to unarmed attacks, can grapple a creature one size larger than you, or 2 creatures of “the appropriate size” (should be your size or smaller), and you can initiate a grapple as a bonus action. This can be one hell of a benefit. I wouldn’t allow this item as written in my game, at least not as a rare item; this looks legendary to me.
Longswords of piety are rare and require attunement; the sword is essentially a +1 weapon, and has one charge, which you may expend to automatically succeed at a saving throw; the charge is regained by bathing the sword in holy water while in sunlight. COOL! But…how long? How much holy water is required? Otherwise, I can see rather ridiculous scenarios in daytime warfare. On a cool angle, the sword falls from the wielder’s hands if they seek to harm an innocent, even while under compulsion, and can’t eb wielded by evil creatures. The latter struck me as odd, considering how Vathak tends to promote a more nuanced shades of gray morality than your average 5e-setting.

Swords of pursuit are also rare, require attunement, and are +1 weapons. They have 3 charges and are rather cool: When you hit a target, you can expend a charge to designate the target as someone you track: Until dawn, you gain advantage on checks to track the critter, and at dawn, you can expend another charge to maintain the effect, making this a cool bounty hunter’s/blood hound weapon. Charges replenish at dawn unless you are actively tracking a target. Minor complaint: The pdf confuses query with quarry.

The final item would be the teeth of the dead, a rare wondrous item that lets you 1/day insert them in a corpse to make it speak. A corpse that has been dead for more than a year only speaks its last thoughts, while younger corpses can converse. The teeth must be cleaned with a paste from cremated ash before using them again. See, this is cool. Relevant for narratives, cool, magical-feeling recharge, and yet limited. Really like it.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, we have a few minor hiccups, but nothing that impedes functionality. Layout adheres to a nice full-color two-column standard. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none.

Ismael Alvarez delivers a mixed bag of magic items here; there are some hiccups herein, but also some neat, if not revolutionary, ideas. As a whole, I consider this to be a good example of a middle-of-the-road pdf; for a buck you can do worse, but I don’t consider this to be a must-have. My final verdict is 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This toolkit for Neoclassical geek revival (NGR) clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Before you skip ahead: While this has been written for NGR, its generators per se are useful for any fantasy game, particularly ones that tend to gravitate to the side of gritty realism.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue because it’s the only one of the NGR toolkits that I haven’t yet covered, and that triggers my OCD.

So, what is this? Well, if you’re familiar with Zzarchov Kowolski’s often absolutely amazing wilderness modules, such as the classic Gnomes of Levnec, you’ll recall the cool random encounter engine they use: One rolls a d8, a d6 and a d4, and the results let you check on tables that, together, make for an encounter that is more interesting. The cool thing, though, particularly for longer treks, would be the additions: If you roll doubles, called “dubs” (say, a 5 on both the d6 and d8), or triples, called “Trips” (say, a 1 on all three dice), then you get a rarer, often more fantastic encounter. If you have a run (say, 1, 2, and 3 on the dice), you also get special things, and when you roll the maximum (so, 8, 6, and 4), you get the special “Max” encounter, often dealing with high risks and rewards. The cool thing about this engine is that its very design lets you maintain and control the degree of the fantastic/weird rather well. It works.

The generators herein also use the Σ-sign, which denotes the sum of all dice rolled.
After a brief one-page explanation of the engine, we get one of these generators per page, with the region also noting a travel speed and the health of the environment. The d8 denotes “Where” the encounter happens; the d6 “What” and the d4 something “Weird”.

To give you an example, I rolled 3,4,4 on the farm country generator. This yields: Where? Rotten remnants of huts or other outbuildings overgrown with shrubs. Hat? Wild game. This has an additional roll to determine the type of game—I rolled pheasants. And the weird aspect would be a small pond. If I had rolled 3,4,5 instead, I’d have gotten a special “Runs”-encounter: “Charcoal burners are heading to the nearest town. They carry backpacks of charcoal and hatchets.” A maximum result might see the outlaw king holding court in a commandeered farmhouse!

As you can see, these generators are rather useful and handy. The regions covered in addition to aforementioned farm country would be the royal woods, the river, the scrublands, hill country, olde woodes (druid, fey county; Margreve-ish), haunted forests, the barrens, the swamp, the coastline, the foothills, the mountains, the undermountain, the caves, the plains, the desert, the sand-swallowed civilization, the dust choked lands, the jungle, the endless savannah, and last but not least, the land that time forgot (dino country). So yeah, apart from proper oceans or tropical isles, this does cover quite a wide breadth of biomes/regions.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to a no-frills 2-column b/w-standard, with a few b/w-artworks thrown in. The pdf, alas, has no bookmarks, which is really annoying when using the generators. I suggest printing the relevant pages when using the booklet.

I really enjoy Zzarchov Kowolski’s wilderness-encounter generators, and I maintain that they are useful far beyond the confines of the NGR-system; if you enjoy your fantasy on the gritty side of things, then these encounter-generators provide compelling dressing with just the right degree of strange sometimes just…happening. The fact that the special encounters are automatically rarer is also neat.

So, is there something to complain about? Well, the island/tropical angle and oceans are missing, and there is the lack of bookmarks; the latter is particularly egregious for a book that you want to use time and again. As such, I feel I can’t round up from my final verdict of 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The player’s guide/rules book for the Mothership RPG clocks in at 44 pages (in 6’’ by 9’’/A5), 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 42 pages of content. Yes, I mean 42 pages of content. In the saddle-stitched softcover version, the back cover is a handy player’s cheat sheet, and the player sheet is 2 pages, as is the ship sheet; if you take away these pages from the total, we’d be left with 37 pages, but these sheets are very handy.

This review was requested by my supporters and thus moved up in my reviewing queue.

It should be noted that this book is a great example for extremely tight information design: What at first glance might seem like a mess of arrows on e.g., the character sheet, quickly becomes a rather clear and easy to read example of very tight compression of information. This extends to the inside of the front cover doubling as a page of all weapon stats for easy reference. Mothership uses d10s for everything.

So, character creation is pretty simple: You roll 6d10 4 times and record the results in order: These are your attributes (aka stats in the game) Strength, Speed, Intellect, Combat. When you check something, you roll a d% under the stat to succeed. Unsurprisingly, you can have advantage or disadvantage (rolling twice and taking the better or worse result, respectively), which, as customary, cancel each other out. Advantage is indicated by [+], disadvantage is indicated by [-]. Simple, easy to grasp. There is an interesting twist here: If you roll doubles, it’s a critical! (so 11, 88, 77, etc.); if the roll would be a success, it becomes a critical success instead; if the roll would be a failure, it becomes a critical failure instead. 00 is always a critical hit, 99 is always a critical failure. In opposed checks, whoever rolls higher WITHOUT going over their own stat wins.

This mechanic ties in with skills: Each class (we’ll get to that in a bit) comes with skills. If you aren’t trained in a skill, you roll a stat check; skills are grouped in three layers: Trained -> Expert -> Master. Trained nets +10%, Expert +15%, Master +20%. These values are added to the stat check you roll, and the skills have a skill tree of sorts; in order to take an Expert or Master skill, you need to have ONE of its prerequisite skills. So, e.g., a Trained skill would be Piloting; once you’ve learned that, you can unlock the Astrogation expert skill, and from there, you can unlock the Hyperspace master skill. Trained costs 1 point, Expert 2, and Master 3 points. For prolonged tasks, you may need to succeed at multiple checks in a row—this would be a crisis check, and you can reroll a failed check by taking 1d10 Stress. Even with master skills, the more mathematically-inclined will notice that the average success rate based on the stats isn’t that high.

This is intentional; this is a scifi horror RPG, and as such, it is deadly. It also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and trying to get that precious advantage. And that you’re pretty screwed if you’re alone… Anyhow, there are 4 base classes, each with their own starting skill array, and individual points for skills to allocate. The classes (plus my unsolicited comments in brackets) are teamster (crew, aka monster-munch), scientist (probably mad), android (killer and/or creep-azoid model) and marine (shoot the hull/go berserk in 3.2…1). The classes determine the save values, and boyo, here you’ll have fun: There are 4 saves (sanity, fear, body, armor): Teamsters have 30, 35, 30, 35; androids 20, 85, 40, 25; scientists 40, 25, 25, 30; marines 25, 30, 35, 40. The choice of class also notes modifications to the stats on arrows: Scientists net +10 Intellect; androids +5 Speed and Intellect…you get the idea. Now that you have really determined your stats, you can multiply Strength with 2 – that is your Health.

But back to saves: They work like stat checks, but if you fail, you gain 1 or more Stress (you start with 2 Stress) and suffer some other consequences as well, depending on the save; critically failing makes you subject to a panic roll. More on that later.

Combat is fast and deadly and is classified in the traditional turns and rounds; a turn is when one creature/character acts, a round is the time during which everyone acts once. When you’d be surprised, it takes a fear save to act in the first round. Initiative is handled by the players making Speed checks. On a success, they act before the enemies, on a failure, they act after them. You get two significant actions per turn, such as attacking, checking wounds, opening doors, etc. Attacks are an opposed check of the assailant with Combat against the defender’s armor save. In close combat/melee, the opposed check can be Combat or a Body save instead. You can Aim by using both your actions. If you do not take damage during the round, you gain advantage with your next shot. Reloading is simple and actually has a small and efficient rule for trigger discipline being a factor with automatic weapons. Nice. Ranges are classified in three categories: short, medium (-10%), long (disadvantage). Cover nets advantage on the Armor save. Some weapons might penalize the Armor save, help with Combat checks, etc. Note that some weapons note their damage with an underline, e.g. 3d10. This is shorthand for a damage range of 30-300.
You can move half your Speed stat in meters each round as a significant action, but in heavy suits, you might need a Strength check, or you move only half the distance.

When you take damage exceeding ½ your max health, or when you are critically hit, you need to make a panic roll. When resting for at least 6 hours, you make a Body save, and if you succeed, you heal Health of an amount by which you succeeded the save. If you failed, your wounds won’t heal naturally and need treatment, and on a critical failure, they become worse, and you take further damage. You can only heal wounds from resting 1/day. When you reach 0 Health, you make a Body save; on a failure, you die; on a success, the GM (dubbed Warden in Mothership) rolls on a nasty consequence table.

Well, that’d be the basics, but there is more to note: Beyond equipment and the usual shopping, the book also offers some flavorful patches to roll if you’re so inclined…and the XP system, particularly the optional aspect, deserves mentioning. Mothership knows 10 levels, and saving e.g. another crewmember’s life nets 3 XP, interacting with strange beings might net an XP, etc.; the cool stuff though, would be relegated to an optional list: XP by class. Marines, in that system, would gain 1 XP when they kill an enemy. Scientists when they secure a piece of tech or an organism; androids when they interface with alien tech…you get the idea. This rewards the players for acting in a way that is consistent with the genre tropes. It might not be WISE to do that…but few are the roleplayers who can withstand the delicious lure of XP…

When you level you can increase one Stat by 5 and another by 3 OR improve all saves by 4 – in both cases, the system caps advancement at 85. You also choose a minor benefit: 1 Resolve, remove one phobia or addiction, or heal all Stress. You also gain 2 skill points. The game is lethal, and as such, progression is pretty quick. Food & water and oxygen rules are provided. The booklet also provides the information for hiring mercenaries, determining their stats, motivations, and some sample personas.

But yeah, Stress and Panic. When you fail a save, when the ship’s hit, etc., you gain Stress. When you rest, you can attempt a Fear save to get rid of Stress: For every 10 by which you beat the save (rounded down), you lose 1 Stress; crits double that. Docking in civilized environments, therapy-related skills, drugs etc. can also help you deal with Stress. A panic check makes you roll 2d10 over your current Stress; on a success, you don’t panic and reduce Stress by 1. Equal or lower, though? You panic. This is bad news. You roll 2d10 on the panic table (which ranged from 2-3 to 30…with 30 being instant death), and this includes developing phobias, a death drive…or, if you’re lucky, a laser focus/adrenaline rush. For every Resolve you have, you reduce the result by 1. (so yeah, high results on the panic table are worse.)

The game also includes a rather succinct and simple, yet effective ship-builder system with some serious customization options; instead of Health, it has Hull, and 75%, 50% and 25% thresholds are important. Some basic ship classes are provided, or you can just take a careful look at the ship sheet: The good news here is that the engine used for characters also applies with variations to the ships. (As an aside note: Yes, there are rules for what happens when really big weaponry hits paltry small critters like player characters…MDMG. Mega Damage.)

Sooo…was that everything? Not exactly. You see, each of the 4 classes has a special feature: Teamsters may 1/session reroll panic; whenever a scientist fails a sanity save, every ally takes 1 Stress. Androids have great Fear saves (85!), but everyone else in their vicinity has disadvantage on Fear saves. And when a marine panics, every ally nearby must make a Fear save. Nice.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting of the current iteration of this extremely densely-packed RPG is impressive indeed, on both a formal and rules-language level; not perfect, but impressive indeed. In my print copy, there is one single example where the otherwise superb layout and information design falters slightly: The sample ship sheet that illustrates the ship rules covers two pages, and has 2 other pages in between the example ship sheet stuff. This *may* be intentional, but since the ship sheet also uses arrows from relevant components to explain how stats and other components are tied together, this imho makes grasping how it works actually a bit harder. Getting the full ship sheet first and then the rules, or vice versa, would have been the didactically smarter move, but I’m complaining at a very high level. The saddle-stitched softcover I have is b/w; its artwork (apart from the ones for equipment, which are solid), are okay, but probably won’t be the main reason for you to get this. The pdf is PWYW…and I can’t recommend it. Why? Because it…*drumroll* DOESN’T HAVE ANY BOOKMARKS OR HYPERLINKS.

It's a roleplaying game that is an exercise in incredibly TIGHT design; the booklet manages to cram a ton of well-wrought content into its few pages. It is an impressive achievement regarding how one conveys information. It requires close reading as a consequence, but yeah. Considering this, considering that Mothership actually has quite a lot of helpful “see page XYZ”-references, it’s doubly puzzling to me that the pdf has no hyperlinks, and no bookmarks. This makes navigating the pdf a colossal pain. In short: Consider the pdf t be a kind of teaser, but if you actually want to run the game, I suggest printing this, or getting the rather affordable print version. Using the pdf in its current state was aggravating to me.

That being said, this game written by Sean McCoy, with development by Donn Stroud, Nick Reed, Tyler Kimball, and Fiona Maeve Geist, actually succeeds VERY well at what it tries to do.

If you want to play a game of high adventure among the stars, of heroes fighting monsters…then this is not the game for you.

Mothership is focused on scifi horror. You will fail, even in your specialties, and do so quite a lot. There’s a good chance you’ll only rarely have a 50% success chance; without teamwork and care, you will fail and die. This is intentional.

The GM needs to adopt a fail-forward mentality to a degree, and indeed, I think that a Warden’s/GM’s guide as a companion tome to this pdf would be helpful, as getting the degree of lethality right isn’t as easy as one might think. Similarly, creature design, prolonged campaigning, when to allow for a proper rest, etc…there is a lot of stuff that lurks on the side of the Warden that definitely requires an experienced roleplayer, which might be an unnecessary complication for an otherwise well-presented game.

That being said, this review is here not to bemoan the absence of a Warden’s guide, but to rate these core rules/player’s guide, and what can I say: The game does a pretty darn fantastic job at depicting a gritty horror framework where player skill is important, but certainly won’t be enough to save everyone. Indeed, a part of the fun of this game is that it encourages, with its composition and class-specific tweaks, the escalation of plots alongside the lines of established tropes. The characters do have a good reason to take that sample on board, to kill that googly-eyed alien thingy; the game rewards the players for playing their roles and having the situations, as a consequence, escalate.

I really like Mothership. In its print version. The booklet is delightful to handle, and it does a great job conveying information. That version gets a serious recommendation from yours truly—5 stars. The same can’t be said for the pdf-version; the lack of bookmarks and even hyperlinks renders it a mess to use, and that’s a big no-go for a rules-book. The pdf gets 3.5 stars; in total, that’d amount to 4 stars, but there is one more factor to consider: The pdf is PWYW, and the softcover is really inexpensive. That has always counted for something on my scale, and in this instance, I’d give this +0.5 stars for being so fair. You can just check out the guide, and see if it’s something for you. This leaves me with 4.5 stars, and I’m going to round up. Why? Because all of my real gripes beyond the navigation aids amount to me wanting stuff that should not be in a player’s guide.

Will a get a Warden’s guide if we get one? Heck yeah. Until then, I’ll grumble, but also chuckle with glee with this highly lethal scifi-horror-game.

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.

Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.

The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list race, alignment and classes/class-combination, but do not come with stats.

Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.

Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.

Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.

And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. At least for the PFRPG-version of this eventure, I am happy to report that this is NOT the case here. While I would have liked to see a sidebar dealing with auras and troubleshooting “detective-magic”, the module actually does a better job pulling off a mystery than many comparable modules I’ve seen.

And this cannot be understated: It is amazing to see a module for the system that does not devolve into a big monster jumping out and being bashed to smithereens. The fact that this eventure managed to stick to its themes of subtle, yet ever-increasing wrongness and unease? I love it for that.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.

Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.

Now, usually, I’d penalize the module for the lack of player-friendly maps…but it genuinely doesn’t deserve it. This is a great change of tone and pace, particularly for a game like PFRPG. I adore this, and considering the limited page-count and budget it had to pull off its excellence? Impressive indeed.
5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended if you want a change of pace from modules that can be solved by murder-hoboing everything.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.

Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.

The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list race, alignment and classes/class-combination, but do not come with stats. Particularly for PF2, referencing the default roster or giving some brief adventure-relevant abbreviated stats might have been prudent.

Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.

Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.

Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.

And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. The PF2-version does have me more torn than the other versions; while it manages to properly contextualize e.g. locked chests and the like, the module doesn’t offer the degrees of success/failure benefits associated with PF2, and I couldn’t help but notice that this version is slightly less beefy when it comes to crunchy bits than the version for the first edition of PFRPG. I would have liked to see a sidebar dealing with auras and troubleshooting “detective-magic.” More so, I do think that PF2’s systems lead themselves actually to representing the concept of the module VERY well AND explain how its mystery works, but the module doesn’t make full use of the system’s potential.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.

Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.

PF2 is a system designed to allow the GM and designer to tell amazing stories, and, somewhat to my chagrin, authors and game designers right now seem to still not be as confident in leaning into the system’s strengths as they should be. When I look at PF2 and this module, I see a match made in heaven, but the execution provided is functional, yes, but also a shot short of what this could have been: Going just by the system and its possibilities, this should have been the best of the 4 versions. It’s not. It’s still a very good, atmospheric sidetrek, a well-executed adventure, but it falls slightly short of the excellence it could have attained. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.

Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.

The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list race, alignment and classes/class-combination, but do not come with stats. The OSR-version tends to use proper old-school class references like “thief”, but for the purists, it should be noted that the supplement does use “wizard” instead of “magc-user”; not a bad thing, mind you, but some of my readers want to know that.

Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.

Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.

Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.

And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. The OSR-version was probably the easiest to pull off of the 4; in contrast to the other systems, we have less of an issue with “detective magic” here, and the supplement tends to use roll under mechanics where required.

Philosophy-wise, we tend to award roleplaying instead of checks, which fits with system-aesthetics.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.

Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.

Now, usually, I’d penalize the module for the lack of player-friendly maps…but it genuinely doesn’t deserve it. For OSR-games, this module might seem a little bit less novel, as more modules system-immanently focus on trying experimental things. Now, *personally*, I prefer it when an OSR-supplement commits to an actual rules-set. Why? Because the power-levels of, say, B/X (or OSE), LotFP and, say AD&D 2e (For Gold & Glory) diverge rather significantly, and having a concrete system with concrete mechanics helps me to contextualize a game in the rules-set I end up using, but this is a general note and will not influence my final verdict. I maintain that this retains an excellent bang-for-buck ratio, which makes up for the lack of player-friendly maps, and as such, this deserves a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.

Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.

The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list references to 5e’s default NPC-roster, which means you have full mechanics arrays to reference if required.

Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.

Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.

Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.

And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. At least for the 5e-version of this eventure, I am happy to report that this is NOT the case here. While I would have liked to see a sidebar dealing with auras and troubleshooting “detective-magic”, the module actually does a better job pulling off a mystery than many comparable modules I’ve seen, and its 5e-conversion is not simply “skin deep”; it actually uses proper phrasing and checks.

And this cannot be understated: It is amazing to see a module for the system that does not devolve into a big monster jumping out and being bashed to smithereens. The fact that this eventure managed to stick to its themes of subtle, yet ever-increasing wrongness and unease? I love it for that.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.

Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.

Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.

Now, usually, I’d penalize the module for the lack of player-friendly maps…but it genuinely doesn’t deserve it. This is a great change of tone and pace, particularly for a game like 5e. I adore this, and considering the limited page-count and budget it had to pull off its excellence? Impressive indeed.
5 stars + seal of approval. Highly recommended if you want a change of pace from modules that can be solved by murder-hoboing everything.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the sub-series of the Star.Log-series dealing with more modular playable races clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page introduction, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

In case you’re new to these pdfs: The series essentially focuses on rewriting a whole host of playable species in a manner that emphasizes player agenda and lets you customize the experience to a higher degree than usual. This design paradigm is very much indebted to how Pathfinder’s 2nd edition deals with species/ancestries, and is also a design-paradigm that I could see in Everybody Games’ upcoming and highly anticipated RPG Eversaga. (Seriously, Eversaga is right now my most anticipated game!)

To recap the system: Write down all 6 ability scores and put 10 next to them. You get an ability boost, which you assign and can’t reassign without a mnemonic editor or the like and add 2 points to the ability score for the boost. You can also choose a flaw, which means you need to subtract 2 ability points from a chosen ability—if you do that, you get another boost, and you may not apply a boost and a flaw to the same ability score.
A species’ vital traits entry lists the ability scores you can boost, but flaws remain yours to freely choose, at least usually. Then, you apply the theme’s ability score increase, and after that, you get 10 point to customize your character on a 1-for-1 basis. You can spend these however you want, but at the game’s start, ability scores cap at 18. Points must be spent and can’t be saved for later.
Simple, right? So, how does the engine proceed to work? Well, each species gets its vital statistics, which note the eligible scores for ability score boosts (and flaws, if relevant), the Hit Points, sizes, speed, sense traits (designated with the word “sense”), inherent abilities (designated as “inherent”), heritages (which may be specific or universal), and the character chooses two species traits, chosen from the character’s species or the “universal” list. The character gets an additional species trait at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. Minor nitpick: The “universal” list is not actually in this pdf, but the explanation of the engine does refer to it with “see page $$”-references; while this is not a deal-breaker, considering that the engine actually gets better the more of these pdfs you have, it still was worth mentioning to me. As a whole, I do recommend getting the entire product-line if you want to run with the species reforged anyways.

Worth mentioning: This pdf does uses two terms I enjoyed seeing: Recuperate refers to spending a Resolve Point in a 10-minute rest to regain Stamina; daily preparations is the term employed referencing when 24 hours and an 8 hour rest have passed. This makes the rules language MUCH more elegant than usual. Two thumbs up.

The first species herein would be the brenneri (Alien Archive 3, I think), who get their boost to Dexterity, Constitution, Wisdom or Charisma, and can get a second boost to any of these by accepting a flaw; they have 4 HP, 30 ft. speed, 20 ft. swimming speed, darkvision 60 ft., 4 HP and hold breath…oh, and if you don’t have AA3, they are humanoid otters! (*insert around 10.000 South Park allusions*) There are 3 heritages to choose from: Lakedweller brenneri get two additional class skills, one of which must be Diplomacy or Sense Motive; Riverfliters increase their HP by 2 and get an additional Stamina at 1st level and every level thereafter. Seaborn brenneri, finally, increase swim speed to 30 ft. and also increases their hold breath capability further. The traits provided include using Acrobatics (if trained) instead of Athletics for swimming, +2 racial bonus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive, blindsense (vibrations) 30 ft., +1 skill rank at 1st level and every level thereafter, and there is one trait that lets you designate a favored object; when recuperating with it, you once per day also recover ½ character level Hit Points.

Gentle combatant nets Improved Combat Maneuver (grapple) or Improved Unarmed Strike; linguist’s magic nets at-will message or 3/day share language. Mimicry of sound via Bluff is really cool, and there is a trait that nets you +1 racial bonus to saves vs. emotion effects, and by spending a Resolve Point as a reaction when failing such a save, you can retry next round, potentially shaking off the effect. Can be used once per recuperate interval.

The second species would be kalos (AA1), who are kinda like aquatic, humanoid bats (or rays), with boost to Dexterity, Intelligence or Wisdom, and an additional one for a flaw to Constitution. kalo get 2 Hit Points and have a speed of 20 ft. and a swim speed of 50 ft. They are also aquatic monstrous humanoids and get blindsense (sound) and low-light vision. I assume the range of blindsense to be the customary 60 ft., but the pdf doesn’t explicitly state this, which does somewhat compromise functionality. On the plus-side, the trait does explain both of these sensory abilities, which means you won’t have to flip books. Nice. Kalo get to choose from two heritages: Deepborn kalo get an additional kalo trait, and floeborn kalo can hold their breath for 10 minutes. This is important, since kalo are aquatic and not amphibious, and as such, need to hold their breath when on land.

The traits include two difference weapon familiarity traits: Aquatic weapon familiarity nets proficiency with basic melee, advanced melee, small arms and longarms with the aquatic weapon special property group. Now, here rules-syntax is ambiguous: The sentence could be read as the longarms being the only ones that need the aquatic special property, or that the restriction applies to all weapon groups; I assume the latter to be correct. The verbiage would be more precise if it stated: “…gain proficiency with weapons in the aquatic weapon special property group that are basic melee weapons, advanced melee weapons, small arms, or longarms.” 3rd level nets the customary weapon specialization.
Alternatively, the trait nets you Weapon Focus applying to all aquatic weapons. Here, the phrasing is weird once more: “If you already have Weapon Focus, you gain Versatile Weapon Focus instead.” But…usually one can’t have Weapon Focus in all weapons with a special property? Is this trait supposed to be available multiple times for the taking? This genuinely confused me. Cryo Weapon Familiarity nets proficiency with basic melee, advanced melee, small arms and longarms in the cryo weapon group. (Same syntax thing applies here.) 3rd level nets specialization. The Weapon Focus consideration applies here as well.
…and there is something really weird. The trait is listed twice, as the 4th and as the last trait. :/

The other traits include character level cold resistance, +1 circumstance bonus to atk when moving at least 5 ft. and assaulting a creature in zero-g. flight or in water who doesn’t have a swim or fly speed. Stealthy swimmer nets a +4 unytped bonus when using Stealth in water; pretty sure that should be a racial bonus. One trait nets you a class skill and a free rank for the skill every level. Jet charge provides ferocious charge under water and lets you trip in place of an attack when charging, sans the usual penalties. If you already have a similar ability, you can now charge thus through difficult terrain. Athletic swimmer nets Athletics as class skill, and lets you take 10 in the skill, and if you already can do so, you instead can take 20 to swim as a full action, making 5 ft. progress.

Morlamaw (introduced in AA3, unless I’m mistaken) get their boost to Strength, Constitution or Charisma, and a second boost to them for a flaw in Dexterity or Wisdom; 4 HP, Large monstrous humanoids, they have a 20 ft. speed, swim speed 30 ft., and are amphibious and get 60 ft. darkvision. The Morlamaw are…walrus people! Awesome! Less awesome: We only get one paltry single heritage, no choice. :/ The one heritage, the frigid morlamaw, treats environmental cold as one step less severe and get an untyped (should probably be racial) +4 bonus to Fort saves vs. cold, but also a -4 penalty on saves vs. heat, and they gain cold resistance as a bonus trait, which nets character level cold resistance.

The traits include +1 skill rank per level, blindsense (scent) 20 ft., which changes to blindsense (vibration) 40 ft. in water. We also get Stealth as a class skill (and +2 racial bonus to Stealth if you have it already instead); submerged in water, the morlamaw counts as having cover under water when using Stealth to hide from blindsense (vibration)—cool! The species can also get ferocious charge. Another trait nets a circumstance or morale bonus to AC, atk, saves or skill checks, they also get a +1 insight bonus to it. By contracting and expanding their blood vessels, some morlamaw can, as a standard action, fascinate targets within 60 ft., with the save governed by Constitution and if you beat the save, you’re immune until the morlamaw recuperates. Yes. PSYCHEDELIC WALRUS PEOPLE. SIGN ME ON!! :D I LOVE this!!

Mystic heritage nets Mysticism as a class skill and Connection Inkling; if you’re a mystic, you instead get Spell penetration. Natural weapons, unsurprisingly, is also included. (As an aside: Some Everybody Games pdfs do classify the natural weapon damage type; this doesn’t. Not a bash against the pdf, but something to note. Personally, I enjoy the damage being properly typed.) Finally, rapid swimmer lets them upgrade their swim speed to 40 ft.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules-language level…but not as meticulously precise as I’ve come to expect from Alexander Augunas. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf sports neat full-color artworks for the species. The pdf comes with basic bookmarks; one per race would have been nice.

Alexander Augunas’ aquatic species leave me torn; in contrast to other species reforged pdfs, this one shows signs of a rough (or sped up) genesis; from the doubled kalo trait to minor hiccups, this feels like it suffered a bit in production. The morlamaw are awesome, but where is the heritage that gets hollow tusks and sonic abilities? Come on, siren morlamaw! (Yes, I genuinely think that’s a cool idea; they can already kinda strobe, so the whole musician/raver/stoner doom angle seems something worth pursuing…) Only getting one heritage for them was a bit of a downer.

That being said, do I love the 3 species? Yes. Do I think that they are superior in their reforged iteration? Yes. In fact, this would be an easy 5 stars + seal of approval once it gets rid of its hiccups, but as written, I should probably rate this 3.5 stars and round down…but I can’t bring myself to doing that, because the ideas? They are pretty cool. The psychedelic walrus people alone? Pure awesome. It’s based on the strength of the ideas that I justify rounding up from 3.5 stars, in spite of the rough patches.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module in the Quests of Doom-series clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 24 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This module is intended for 4-6 characters of levels 4th to 6th, and is set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, though adaption to other settings is pretty simple. The module features read-aloud text for encounters and areas, and a total of 4 fantastic b/w maps by Alyssa Faden, who is one of the best cartographers out there. The maps are stunning; while one doesn’t note a scale, the maps do something cool one doesn’t see too often and use different shading for different ceiling heights. The maps are stunning, impressive…and guess what we don’t get? You guessed it, alas: No player-friendly versions of the maps. Particularly considering how absolutely stunning the maps are, it hurts me within the dark recesses of my soul to see that.

Genre-wise, this module is a mystery/investigation with some strong old-school gothic leanings; the module is essentially a kind of passion-play mansion crawl, though, obviously, fantasy elements do exist. The tone suits the Lost Lands rather well.

Okay, 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! Sir Varral et-Casan was a fabled hero once; called by Thyr to a life of service, and in the process of his heroics, gathered loyal companions like Demoiselle Arbasa, the exiled Joln, a large raccoon pet called Dari. Two of these NPCs are statted, and both are not impressive from a build-level; they are functional, but…yeah. The statblocks also have some glitches in the math, something that extends to the remainder of the module.

How is this relevant? Well, as the adventurers cross the eponymous covered bridge, they read an inscription “In whose hand did the poison lie?” carved into the floor planks; reading it turns day to night, and the party stumbles into a battlefield against The Lord of Crows and its minions; this is essentially a sequence of combats. The combats are solid, if a bit unremarkable; it’s a test of endurance, if anything, and I wished it set up the cool boss a bit better. It is here that the party meets Sir Varral, and is invited to the Manse Loga, the mansion where the majority of the module takes place. The module presents the staff and dramatis personae, and also presents essentially an event-driven encounter array, with dressing needs outsourced to the Tome of Adventure Design, though I’ve found that the maps do help there (if only there were player-friendly versions); after dinner and some initial encounters and a murder committed by one of the guests, the adventurers have to venture to the menagerie, where, provided they survive the monsters there, they’ll find the murderer to be mad.
In the mansion, the weird occurrences intensify, and ultimately are identified as the consequences of a particularly potent cloaker and a nightmare node…and then, the inevitable murder of Sir Varral happens, as it always has. The whole reality is a weird interaction with the dream world, so if the party does murder-hobo suspects, they’ll just return; the goal is not t prevent the murder, but to find out how it happened! Once Sir Varral dies, the party will be back on the bridge – and will have to present their findings to the paladin’s now-undead specter to identify the true culprits...and the situation is complex.

The man driven mad did poison the paladin, but so did all of his compatriots (courtesy of the telepathic whisperings of the true culprit)…and the raccoon is actually the demonic instigator. Yeah, the latter is a bit too close to one of the twists of a certain mega-adventure set in the Lost Lands that I adore. Still, this “Agatha Christie with Undead”-style whodunnit in the end was really enjoyable to me.

So, all well? Unfortunately, not really. While the poisons employed are sufficiently deadly to make it plausible that the paladin died to them, in spite of a good Fort-save, the module cheats in the most aggravating manner: I do not object to the vials of poison reappearing/thwarting attempts of PCs to prevent the murder; it has already happened, after all. And here, the dream-logic effect makes sense. But know what’s really, really weaksauce? The module just DM-fiats investigation spells away. Detect magic, detect evil? Poof, suddenly don’t work anymore. This is capital letters BAD DESIGN, taking player-tools away as one desires. The party should at least have some means to use them; one does not work against player capabilities, one works with them. This becomes even dumber if you realize that Sir Varral’s downfall must have meant that he and his allies are really, really dumb. Why? Well, the non-functioning PC-capabilities can at least be explained away by the weird nightmare-curse thing going on. Badly, granted, and it’s really BAD DESIGN, but it does at least make a tiny degree of in-game sense.

The quasit-masquerading-as-raccoon, though? It has no ability to actually evade...*drumroll* detect evil. I am not kidding you. The signature at-will SP of a paladin, and the module literally tells us that the critter has been observing the paladin for more than A YEAR without triggering that. Is that possible? Theoretically. Is it plausible? Heck, the f*** no! Which paladin would be so damn incompetent when he realizes that the raccoon is tougher than usual, something the GM’s btw. supposed to play up according to the module! W-T-F? How did this get past any inspection? And no, the good Sir does not have Int and Wis as sub-8-dumpstats; Int 11 and Wis 17. Yeah…well…NO. This makes no frickin’ sense in-game. I guarantee you that this is not something esoteric—it will be the first thing that players comment on once the true nature of the demon is revealed “How in the infinite planes of the Abyss did he not notice that??”
*SIGH*

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; on a rules-language level, this module doesn’t fare well, but it’s serviceable. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ classic two-column b/w-standard, and features nice b/w-artworks. The cartography by Alyssa Faden is fantastic and detailed in just the right ways; the absence of player-friendly maps hurt me all the more. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Kevin Wright’s “The Covered Bridge” (conversion by Dave Landry) is a great example for a 5-star module that stumbles, very hard. The set-up is interesting, and the investigation actually challenging. The atmosphere evoked is grim, foreboding and right up my alley. And the set-up gets everything, structurally ALMOST right. Now, granted, the GM/author-fiat to strip PCs of stuff they should be able to do? That’s the laziest way to handle this, and the least fun one. Why not work with the spells? Have them react with the unique set-up in ways that provide information that is not necessarily useful? It wouldn’t have cost more words, but made the module better. A similar issue applies regarding the in-game logic bug of the BBEG. One is subpar design, one is an error in setting-internal continuity, and both severely tarnish this module. BUT.

But both can be fixed by an experienced GM. And I genuinely think that this module is worth doing that for. There is fun to be had here.

As a reviewer, the module’s flaws do accumulate, though: Some rules-glitches, player maps missing, then add the two structural problems…and I can’t rate this higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down. This might well be the best Quest of Doom-module I’ve read in the series so far; it almost reaches the awesomeness it deserves to attain, so if you’re in the mood for some mystery and don’t shirk away from the two issues mentioned, please consider taking a look. The module deserved better, yes, but at least it can be salvaged with relative ease. And it deserves being fixed.

Endzeitgeist out.


Now also posted here!


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

And no, that was no typo; an eventure is essentially an adventure-like set-piece that does not focus on combat, and instead emphasizes actual roleplaying. This one is intended for low to mid-level characters, with lower levels imho working a bit better.

Okay, so, this one deals with something you almost ever see in RPGs, and when one does, it’s usually executed badly: The auction. At this point, I’ve encountered that set-up less than 5 times in my reviewing career, and most of the time, these auctions only served as a cutscene-heavy backdrop without much actual player-choice involved. So, how does this supplement handle things?

Well, for one, there is great news right off the bat: The book actually comes with a fully player-friendly, detailed b/w map, and we’re speaking 4 floors + cellar. AWESOME. If you’re like me a great fan of the city of Languard and its associated Languard Locations-series, you’ll be happy to hear that Raisa’s is indeed situated in that city, though, for everyone else, it should be noted that it’s a 0-effort-required job to plug the auction house into pretty much any other fantasy city. Additionally, the pdf does suggest some handy dressing files from the #20-Things-series that you can employ to further enhance the experience, if you need some additional dressing.
Indeed, one advantage this one certain has over previous installments in the series would be the utility of the art-assets: We, for example, get a massive 1-page artwork of the eponymous Raisa, and the pdf actually does come with a one-page handout-flyer. AWESOME. This is how art budget should be used; so the players actually get to see it. Big kudos!

The supplement begins with a brief run-down of the notable NPCs working at Raisa’s—fluff only, as usual for Raging Swan Press; and as usual for the 5e-versions, we do get references to the standard NPCs, for all but one of the NPCs. This automatically renders running the auction easier. Why? Because you can have those Deception vs. Insight rolls, that Intimidation roll versus a NPC-bidder to step down. This makes gamifying the auction easier in the 5e-version than in all other iterations. (The one NPC sans reference statblock would have warranted values, though…) 3 hooks and 12 whispers and rumors are provided as means to lead into the eventure, and as usual for Raging Swan Press supplements, we also get this nifty list of minor events (12 rather detailed ones this time, taking up ½ of a page) that help an environment feel alive.

Now, design-wise, an auction represents an interesting conundrum: If you do plot out the auction in detail, you are essentially teeter-tottering around the risk of it devolving into a railroad, an extended cutscene, where the GM has to depict multiple NPCs, the party interacts with that, and everything becomes confusing or bereft of player agenda. This pdf does things in a smarter and more playable manner that sacrifices being something you can spontaneously pull off in favor of the auction actually mattering, an excellent decision as far as I’m concerned.

Beyond the aforementioned set-up regarding hooks, events, etc., the supplement handles its auction by giving the GM fluff-centric brief notes on NPCs (3 of which get a slightly more detailed take, including a paragraph of read-aloud text), and then presenting 8 curios that may or may not have actual rules-use…these can be items for the auction, sure. But the main star? That would be the 5 lots included. These are specific treasures, including a read-aloud description. They have main powers (usually core/standard magic items) and additional powers that can be useful/elaborated upon, if desired.

The section “Provenance” provides a story-context for the item, and with reserve price and notes on bidding and further development, the lots do a surprisingly good job at contextualizing items that would usually be considered to be less than interesting. How good a job? Well, there is the Ever-True Blade (in a formatting glitch, the “ever” isn’t properly set in italics), which is actually just a +1 weapon with a light effect; and yet, its story context and brief notes did make me actually interesting in an item that couldn’t be duller on a mechanics level if it tried. But the nice thing here is: The pdf seems to be cognizant of the limited direct allure of the items for some GMs and provides design notes for the items, providing some guidance for the GM, for example when it comes to Agananxer’s Wondrous Rod. Will I make the items more unique? You bet I will! Am I going to change the set-up/context? No need.

This is a clever way of handling an auction; sure, it requires a bit more GM mojo and prep-work than the previous eventures, but it certainly has its priorities straight and execution down. The prices of the items have been adjusted accordingly, and actually tends to gravitate to the lower end.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. I noticed no serious glitches apart from very minor things like the aforementioned instance of italics partially missing. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ two-column b/w-standard, and the artworks deserve special applause: I am a big fan of properly used art-budgets, and getting two handouts and a player-friendly, amazing b/w-map in such a small pdf? That’s fantastic indeed! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, and in two iterations – one intended for screen-use, and one intended for people like yours truly, who prefer to print out their pdfs.

Creighton Broadhurst’s take on roleplaying-centric auctions is precise, executed in a clever manner that prioritizes the right things, and as a whole, represents a supplement I really, really like. And in the 5e-version? That enhanced playability aspect, more or less coincidentally granted by the referenced default statblocks? It adds tremendously to the experience of running this fellow. And one NPC where one has to (perhaps) improvise a skill/ability score value? Not enough to penalize this supplement. In direct comparison, this is the strongest iteration, and gets 5 stars + seal of approval. Certainly, a pdf worth the low asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.

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