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An Endzeitgeist.com review

Okay, the first thing you’ll notice upon downloading this, is that you get an archive that contains 6 files – one is a read me, while three are cheat sheets; the other two files are Monkey Business, and the “Appendices”-file – which may be rather misnamed, but I’ll get to that below. The adventure booklet is 51 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover left blank, 1 page editorial, 1 page introductory quote, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 46 pages; the Appendices booklet clocks in at 55 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, leaving us with 52 pages of content. The booklets are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5).

Now, I have received print versions of these booklets in exchange for a fair an unbiased review, and said booklets are saddle-stitched and rather nice; the author is currently working on PoD, but if that takes a while, you might contemplate asking for such a copy. Anyways, I primarily used these booklets in my review, though I did also double-check the respective pdfs, obviously. Suffice to say, as per my usual policy, receiving print copies made me move this up in my reviewing queue.

As far as rules are concerned, this employs the Labyrinth Lord (LL) rules, which means, in case you’re not familiar with them, HD-ratings, descending AC, saves referencing class tables, and movement rates that tend to assume 90’ (30’) as the default, but which can oscillate rather significantly. Morale values are included. From my experience, conversion from LL to other OSR-rules systems is pretty simple; in this instance, the relative danger of the adversaries herein means that I can see this working in more high-powered OSR-games very easily. Important for purists: The module borrows the advantage and disadvantage terms from 5e, so if you dislike the use of those, be wary of that. The booklets are intended to provide gameplay for low to mid level ranges, and I’d second this – the tougher challenges work best in the mid-level range and remain dangerous there.

Okay, so, the formal part out of the way, let us talk a bit about what this is, and what it isn’t. Monkey Business proudly wears the DIY-component of DIY OSR as a huge badge; this is NOT a finished adventure you just read and run – instead, it is an exceedingly reusable toolkit with a part of a story, a set-up; the rest happens, for better or worse, in emergent gameplay. Personally, I’d argue that it’s fairer to review Monkey Business as a toolkit, rather than as an adventure, for that is where an obviously serious part of the focus went – so that’s what I’ll do. One thing you need to be aware of: The text throughout is very conversational in style: “Well. Who doesn’t like cannibals?!” and similar interjections suffuse the text of this supplement, and don’t stop throughout – the like usually rubs me the wrong way, but considering the themes of the adventure, I found it oddly appealing – when it stayed out of explanatory sections or rules.

While the toolkit components are obviously entwined with the specific situation presented within these pages, the toolkit component per se can be utilized beyond the scope of this booklet and its themes, so let us start right there, with making the actual site of the adventure/sandbox we have here – a vast, gonzo jungle.

Gonzo? Yeah, and I mean big time. This is closer to the fourth-wall breaking, pop-culture referencing original iteration of Crimson Dragon Slayer or to Fever-dreaming Marlinko, than to the other Hill Cantons books; in a way, “gonzo” is a not a descriptor for the genre here; it *IS* the genre. There is intrusion of 1920s tech, plentiful quoting of exploitation-themed movies and pop-culture references, and the very concept of the book; so if you don’t like that sort of thing, this might turn you off. It should also be noted that this comes with a “Mature Content” warning – that, at least to my German sensibilities, is not necessarily required. Then again, the themes include drugs (central to everything herein), and there are some fade-to-black-style mentioning of sexual intercourse. And a LOT of swearing, so if that sort of thing bothers you, you have been warned. The author is also not a native speaker of English, and while I have read plenty of non-native speakers writing lavish prose, there are a couple of glitches in this one: Some examples for glitches include “under her ban” – as a fellow German, I understand the origin of this one: “Unter jemandes Bann stehen” in German means “to be under sb’s spell”; “set/sat” and similar (near-) homophone errors are more common hiccups herein. That being said, I have seen plenty of books by native speakers that fared worse.

Thankfully, you can get this module for PWYW, so if those are potential deal-breakers for you, you can check out the book and leave a donation if you enjoy the material.

The generators included herein are somewhat entwined with the content of the module, so there will be some SPOILERS below. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


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All right, only GMs around? Great!
So, the central theme of the book would be “intelligent drug pusher apes and monkeys.” Told you this was capital letters GONZO. These fellows are the primary antagonists, and as such, you begin the jungle generation by taking a hex-map, and putting their base smack in the middle – this is the Gorilla Headquarters, a no-longer-abandoned temple. The other “factions” are ruins, cannibals, mushroom people, and aliens.

From the central hex (hex A) that contains the Gorilla HQ, you move clockwise through the adjacent hexes in a spiral pattern, and designate them with letters. You roll a d100 for every hex field: The d% of the roll determines the Elevation of the hex, while the d10 of the roll determines the Complexity of the field, which denotes how easily it is traversed. The two parts of the d100 also determines the number of vistas that may be found 1 – 3 on either die means one vista, 4-6 two vistas, and 7-10 three vistas. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we’ll just be rolling lots of d100s and putting the numbers down on the cheat-sheet, one for each hex. Then, we check the results: There are 9 different sub-categories of the table: So, for example, entries 01 – 10 denote mountains; 21 – 30 denotes lakes and moors – you get the idea. Each number has its own little entry. If some rolls make no sense in proximity to each other, you can modify them relatively easily on the fly. These categories feature something important for the whole generation process, the component of the engine that generates setting-inherent dynamics: The resource-level, or RL. Each category has a resource level ranging from 1 – 4, with some of the individual entries modifying resource level further. The presence of underwater lakes or deep caverns can mean essentially an extra environment with extra resource levels, while e.g. a jungle-less plateau can reduce resource levels by -2. You also put the resource levels down in the hex cheat sheet.

We have now established the lay of the land – now, let’s return to the factions. For each faction, you roll a number of d6s equal to the resource level, and compare the results with the respective “faction” table (ruins are a faction primarily because the engine treats them as such!) – anyhow – each faction has several things they might or might not have: The result of the resource level roll is used in a point-buy manner to purchase stuff: Mushroom folk can pay for a village circle with 6 points, mushroom artworks cost 1 point, and the mighty Father Shroom costs 14 points, with a maximum of one per hex. Gorillas mighty be constructing roads (5 points), seed hidden stashes (1 point per stash) or create a hidden base for 10 points. This is generally a really amazing system, and I kinda wished we had more entries for each faction, particularly because each faction has a kind of threshold value – usually 15 or 20: If the resource level exceeds these values, we have each ruins with still functional magic properties, apes proceeding to the next phase of their master plan, or there might be an alien ship around! This system is elegant, pretty easy to grasp, and made using the generator, surprisingly, pretty FUN for me. Perhaps it’s my German nature, but I loved this little engine and how it gamifies what would be potentially bland busywork. It also appeals to my OCD-tendency of providing details for everything, giving me a solid framework that suffices for fluid gameplay. Is it required? No, not exactly. And I think the threshold value for the completion of Phase 1 is much too low. But it does almost feel like engaging in a Sim Gonzo Jungle-like mini-game.

You write down what each hex has for the factions, and you can obviously expand upon this engine, add other factions and effects – the elegant system is exceedingly easy to modify. Heck, you could go full-blown RTS and make the replenishment of creatures slain contingent on resource levels, cost points, etc. – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s now take a look at the cannibal village generator – for this one, we roll 1d4, 1d6, 1d8, 1 d10, 1d12 and 1d20 all at once. The sum of these rolls is the basic population. The pattern your dice show on the table, like on a die-drop table, is copied (doesn’t have to be perfect) on the Cannibal Village cheat sheet. D4s represent sick huts; d6s represent big communal huts; d8s storage huts; d120s initiation huts; d12 is the shaman’s hut, and d20 the chief’s hut. You check each of the entries, which influence reaction rolls, culture, and sometimes have quest angles. These results also indicate the presence of potent individuals like magic-users and more potent combatants. If you roll the same number on two different dice, that indicates a strong bond between the inhabitants of the respective huts. As written, these dice represent abstractions, but with minor modifications, you can use additional dice and modify the system by e.g. throwing more dice. A minor complaint regarding didactic sequence – the sum of culture modifications is called “basic culture”, which can cause some slight confusion regarding terminology, and its actual use is explained AFTER these tables; the culture value is used as a modifier to the reaction roll (2d6 +/- basic culture).

Now, I mentioned before that this has a kind of resource management engine, right? A tribe uses resources equal to 1/10th of its population (rounded up to the closest multiple of 10) per week, and a tribe gains Resource Level times d6 per week – so abundance may quickly turn to famine on unlucky rolls. This engine is elegant, cool, and really helps propel gameplay – I just wished the book did more with it. Apart from facilitating the illusion of an organic, dynamic world, this has no real repercussions. Storage, feasts and events, raids, etc. would have helped. Resources also always remain abstract, so if your players want to steal them, you’ll have to improvise regarding weight, etc. This generator is really cool, but it doesn’t live up to its full potential.

Ruin generation follows a similar paradigm, once more starting with a die-drop like throw of dice, but omits the d4. Instead, you roll a d100 – which is the ruin’s limit; if you make larger ruins, you add 50 to this roll. Additionally, you put a circle divided into quarters on the table where you roll – upper left denotes ruins being above and plain, lower left that they are in the plain and hidden, etc. You then take the dice from left to right where they fell, and reference brief and basic tables to denote first impressions, inside, features, etc. – minor complaint: There are three entries designated as “1.”, which made this aspect of the generator somewhat hard to grasp at first glance; once more, the procedure how to do this is explained after the tables. Granted, the generator walks you through its use, and once more, the pattern and even/uneven numbers denote connections, with hidden spaces designated by dotted lines. The results of die rolls are detracted from the initial d100-roll, and you keep rolling for as long as this budget is not emptied. I like this per se as an idea. Two complaints: 1) The treasure is not formatted properly (and PAINFULLY boring); 2) I fail to see the benefit here; where the village generator resulted in dynamic environment and gameplay-facilitators, this one is an awful lot of work for a backdrop generator sans dressing; particularly the ruin budget (the d100 from which you subtract your rolls) is an unnecessary complication without much benefits. Using simply a point-buy method would have probably been a) simpler and b) quicker. Speaking of treasure being not exactly exciting – there is a 1-page jungle treasure generator, and it’s honestly not very exciting; it has you roll 4 dice, and doesn’t really deliver anything interesting.

The final generator lets you make your own monkey monsters – and it’s per se a cool one: 4d10 to determine body, fur, tail and face, 4d6 for organization, intelligence, abilities and motivation, done – that’s pretty smooth…but lacks stats or mechanical meat. This is particularly evident regarding the abilities, which e.g. talk about howling potentially causing sonic harm when executed by a group. Okay, how much? Range? How many monkeys required? Where is the means to determine HD? Monkeys that automatically return as undead? Heck yeah! Stats? Nada. This is a good dressing-generator, but it falls short of immediate usefulness at the table to make mechanically-distinct adversaries. The appendices also contain a fully mapped Gorilla HQ (including sideview, etc.) designed by Mark van Vlack, which is actually a pretty nice compound – I enjoyed this one as the culmination!

Now, remember that I mentioned those pop-culture references? Well, this is nowhere more apparent than in the bosses (also collected, alongside other stats, in its own chapter) – there is, e.g. King Kolossus, who grows whenever he’s hit; there’s a drill sergeant (Seargent[sic!] Mincy) who gets to continue attacking as long as he hits; there is Bling Kong, a gorilla super-scientist (The Brain) and his Pinkie-henchmen…and, of course, there are monkey ninjas, orangutan drug pushers, former noble turned scrummy drug addict Tarzang…you get the idea. Somewhat asinine: The stats sometimes omit abilities that the creatures have – King Kolossus, as the module notes, has the power to command addicts – guess what’s never managed in the bestiary section? Bingo. This is particularly grating regarding Bling Kong, who shreds armor, and breaks bones – guess what’s not mentioned in the statblock? Bingo. You have to essentially cobble together the combat stats from both books. It should also be noted that “The Brain”, RAW, has “devices with effects as a level 20 magic-user has spells.” This fellow is working on a tank. That’s imho overkill. If a GM even remotely play this fellow to his full capabilities, he will ANNIHILATE the party, regardless of their plans – particularly since there is no limitation provided for these devices. Here, a little generator to determine devices and effects would have made sense. Or at least give us some cursory rules for their use to set them apart. Can the party use them? No clue, but I assume that the answer’s “no.”

But what is this module actually about? Well, the party finds themselves in the jungle, and there are several rumors and adventure hooks provided. So, essentially, the gorillas and other apes are subservient henchmen controlled by a sentient fungoid rhizome – the drug furthers its nebulous agenda: Simians consuming the drug become super-intelligent, thus explaining their sudden leap on the evolutionary ladder; other species experience different effects: Goblins (like The Brain’s Pinkies) become suicidal and explode upon death, making them essentially Warhammer goblin fanatics (Heck yeah!) minus the ball-and-chain. Tarzang is a junkie, as noted before, and dwarves become stronger, but slowly turn to stone; halflings experience a sort of devolution, and poisonous reptiles? Well, these have their poison changed into an even more potent drug! Normal reptiles under the effect may end up possessing you and make you engage in unpleasant activities – pretty random, that one. Other animals have their own entries and display erratic behavior, and yes, the book species what it takes to get off the drug – cold turkey, essentially. Here’s the thing: For humans, the drug is a potent boost, and may result in special powers in a select few. Half their Intelligence is siphoned off while under the influence, though – this siphoned off Intelligence of magic-users is used by the fungus in some manner that I genuinely failed to understand and grasp, even upon rereading it multiple times.
On the plus-side, the drug is a perfect in-game validation for the presence of so many cannibals – eating human flesh dampens its effects. Oh, and if you’re an elf? Well, then you’ve just entered a dangerous area – you see, elves drop essentially comatose, and the monkeys attempt to get them home. Why? Because they are connected to the mushroom and used as a kind of living RAM, sending them into a disturbing shroom-Matrix. For what purpose? That’s never specified – the book has this super-asinine insistence that the high-concept stuff remains up to the GM. No. That’s literally the reason why get modules.

But wait! Weren’t there other factions? Yep, and they are pretty awesome: The aliens masquerade (VERY BADLY) as British gentlemen explorers. Okay, they may fire plasma guns at cuddly animals (because they’re really afraid of small and fluffy things) and their camouflage is pretty sucky, but they are essentially the wild-card. They have powerful weaponry, and while they don’t grasp the intricacies of humanoid mating protocols and the like, they certainly are a welcome addition, and a good way for the GM to provide some help in combat against the superior simian forces. And yes, the book covers different romance options. Here’s a clue: They will be awkward and quite possible not fun. The aliens come with their own surprisingly detailed random encounter/event table that makes it very obvious that something’s off – the juxtaposition of the uppity British explorer trope with weirdness works well here, and the section actually had me a chuckle a few times.

The other faction would be mushroom pygmies (who, like monkey ninjas, get a kick-ass original artwork by Mark Van Vlack) – these fellows are easily one of the most hilarious takes on the mushroom man trope that I’ve seen in a while: They are friendly, and unless you’re high as a kite on fruit they offer, you’ll not really be able to communicate with these harmless fellows – before that, their speech sounds like farts and giggles, with occasional exclamations of “Yippieh!” Even after that, the pdf suggests communicating in Dadaist manner, and as though affected by a draw of helium – bonus points if you actually do that at the table, when roleplaying them. This may not be groundbreaking, but the levity provided by these genuinely friendly folks was very much appreciated – and in an interesting angle, they are good, but serve the evil fungus-network: They figure they have to balance the deeds of their deity. Oh, and eating them temporarily grants you super-powers, with their dots denoting the ability. Just don’t become too greedy. They reminded me of Zzarchov Kowolski’s Gnomes of Levnec, non-grimdark gonzo edition, and I sure as hell mean that as a compliment. Annoying: The can do something about the monkeys when they grow a Father Shroom” as per the generator rules, but otherwise are harmless. No stats are provided for either, though. The main book references the appendix book, but no mechanical information is provided, just a general notion for the GM to make it badass. That’s not helpful.

There is another micro-faction/surreal cadre of encounters contained herein – a traveling circus, whose performers were changed by the drug in strange ways. Hopelessly knotted contortionists, pantomimes that create actually existing things, trapped in an invisible labyrinth…these NPCs are genuinely cool, particularly in one instant, where a potent enchantment requires clever roleplaying to solve: Affected characters tend to become aggressive and hear the opposite of what’s said – and this needs to be understood and exploited to break the spell. LOVE that! Did I mention the magician, who is essentially Penn, with hapless PCs filling in as Teller…with the minor issue of potential death and mutilation, of course? Even beyond those, we get a surprisingly detailed and cool list of random encounters and some guidance regarding setting of the scenery etc. – and that’s it.

Yeah, there is no real masterplan provided – partially due to the focus on generator-powered emergent gameplay, sure, but also, well…due to that aspect of the book simply ending. This is a crazy set-up. Throw in PCs. Watch. End-game plans, NPC motivations and the like? The meaning of it all, if any? You’ll have to come up with that yourself.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting leave something to be desired on both a formal and rules-language level: On a formal level, as mentioned, there are quite a few typos and sentence-structures that feel a bit off; you can easily discern what’s meant, but particularly when the conversational tone intrudes upon explanatory text and/or rules and sports such hiccups, things can become a bit grating, which is a pity, for quite a few of these digressions are genuinely funny. On a rules-language level, I am primarily annoyed by some (but not all!) special abilities being split between description and stats, requiring you to cobble together the actual stats. Formatting of rules-elements can also be off at times, but that particular snafu happens rarely. Layout adheres to a 6’’ by 9’’ (A5) one-column b/w-standard, with the artworks sourced from thematically-suitable public domain, and, as noted before, some surprisingly neat original b/w-images by Mark Van Vlack. The HQ of the primary antagonists is presented in a nice b/w-map, but no player-friendly version is included. Inexcusable as far as I’m concerned: The pdfs lack bookmarks, making navigation painfully inconvenient. I STRONGLY suggest printing this; without the ability to reference my print copies, particularly considering the generators and split stats, I’d have been much more annoyed.

Jens Durke’s Monkey Business (with contributions by Mark Van Vlack) is a tough nut to review. On the one hand, it does a lot of things right. At no point does Monkey Business devolve into a “Lol, oh so random!” disaster, the most common pitfall of gonzo modules, particularly ones that seek to retain a sense of plausibility. And indeed, this module, in spite of its weird factions and Hitchhiker’s Guide and Donkey/King Kong references always retains this ephemeral plausibility, of making sense within its own bonkers world. In short: This never devolves into numbing weirdness for weirdness’ sake, like e.g. “Isle of the Unknown.” It is cartoony and funny, but those aspects are contrasted with the more mundane aspects of the jungle, thus avoiding falling prey to becoming a numbing sequence of quirkiness. They have (mostly) a singular source, they have a raison d’être, if you will. That’s pretty important to me

It is also very much evident that this is a passion project, a freshman offering, and a very ambitious one at that. The attention to detail provided for the system to render the jungle dynamic? It is genuinely amazing, and particularly if you want to simulate a dynamic hex-wilders with different factions, this aspect of the module will be a godsend: Just reskin the factions, and you could e.g. simulate a conflict of tribes in the prairie, you could simulate city-states clashing, etc. – I absolutely ADORE this toolkit. Heck, from Carcosa to the pretty much any other long-term wilderness, I’ll be tweaking this one. It’s a seriously awesome tool for detail-oriented dynamics.
It is genuinely inspired.
However, not all generators can claim as much – as mentioned, the ruin generator is, at best, over-engineered for what it delivers. If it resulted in actually interesting material, it’d be amazing, but the individual entries are painfully obscure and cookie-cutter. And this dichotomy between bombing hard and being nigh genius extends beyond that. The mushroom pygmy faction is awesome, detailed, funny – contrast that with the absence of any notions of what their Father Shroom is, how it works, etc. Or random encounters that have subentries like “Playful and colorful birds” featuring in the same table as “A group of animals working together to build some sort of machine from earth, bones, stones, wood and spit.” “Make it magnificent and scary!” has no place in a dressing table. That’s what dressing/encounter tables are for, so the GM doesn’t have to come up with it.

And this is Monkey Business’ primary issue: It is very apparent where the authors’ passion lie – these sections tend to be funny, clever, and often provide some nice roleplaying cues as well. The other sections, though? They feel like afterthoughts. In a way, it is pretty apparent that, at one point, the author wanted to be done with this – as a module, Monkey Business is simply unfinished. From the wildcard super-weapons of non-simian factions not properly codified to the split stats, we have a couple of instances where the module struggles. This is most apparent due to there not actually being a plan beyond phase I (which is to spread the drug) – I was reminded of certain gnomes from South Park:
1. Spread the Drug
2. ?????
3. Profit!
This is a half-finished module in many ways; there are SO MANY ideas herein, and a LOT of them are great – but go nowhere. Okay, so reptiles possess you! Cool! Do they have an agenda? Will there be a new shaman tradition to exorcise reptile spirits? With the presence of super-science, why are there no super-science items, and instead we get one of the lamest treasure tables ever? (Seriously, not one cool piece of loot. Not one. Okay, perhaps one: Tarzang’s sword is kinda funny, but its rules are not codified well.) Answer: Because the author wasn’t interested in that. We get efficient, cool generators for cannibal villages – but no such dynamics for the other factions. We get the utterly unique and often genius circus performers that are seriously super-creative…but their abilities often don’t go into enough depth. I mentioned the pantomime, whose performance becomes real, right? Okay, so can e.g. the ability to see invisible see the labyrinth he’s trapped in? Can you just walk though it? Does the labyrinth exist only for him, or only once you’ve seen it/believe in it? I LIKE roleplaying-based abilities that can’t just be solved by rolling the dice, and this module BRIMS with them. However, they often just shrug and ignore the mechanical representation that should accompany them. The circus folk? They are normal humans. Kinda. The strongest man alive, whose even barest of motions can cause devastating damage? Awesome. What’s the range? No clue. He also suffers from banana-phobia, something I can relate to. See, it’s funny. It’s weird in a good way. It’s unfinished.

If I got this in my capacity as a developer, I’d send it back with a lot of “develop this” and “cut this” notes attached; the book buckles under the weight of a vast amount of awesome ideas, which regularly suffer from the execution simply being not nearly as precise as they should be. Which is kinda heart-wrenching for me.

You see, in spite of its copious amounts of flaws, I genuinely LIKE Monkey Business. In fact, more often than not, I found myself loving some aspect of the adventure and its kits. But these moments always were cut short by some sort of obvious oversight, by some component that feels painfully phoned in, at least in direct contrast to the cornucopia of genuinely neat ideas directly preceding it.

And yet, I can’t call this a failure either; the procedural generation systems, even when their presentation isn’t always as smooth as it should, genuinely are inspiring and they represent a truly valuable tool. Many of the special abilities, if you care to iron off the rough patches here and there, similarly are absolutely inspiring. And then you notice that the generator for monkeys lacks proper codification for the few special abilities it notes. And then you realize that yet another entry tells the GM to make something cool up. No. Just frickin’ no. That’s what the frickin’ module is for. If I feel like it, I’ll do that anyways, on my own terms.

How, by Asmodeus’ goatee, am I supposed to rate this? What we have here is a flawed indie production with glitches galore, one that feels like it just stops and tells the GM to do the heavy lifting for several key components. At the same time, we have pretty mighty tools that allow you to procedurally generate complex environments and a pretty darn amazing dynamic landscape with different factions – and said tools can easily be transplanted into pretty much any context. There is serious value to be found herein. In many ways, Monkey Business is saved by this system, and by it being available for PWYW, which is, considering the amount of effort and time that went into this, stunning. You can easily check out the book, and leave a tip if you like it. I’m willing to bet that if you even remotely enjoy gonzo ideas, then you’ll find some cool angles herein.

This module/toolkit is, when all is said and done, a prime example why it’s important to have someone edit or develop your material; with some polish and refinement (and all the half-finished bits completed, perhaps a treasure table that is not an analgesic), this could easily have been a 5 star + seal of approval masterpiece; heck, it could have ended on my top ten lists. As presented, this is one of the most frustrating books I’ve read all year; It could have achieved true greatness, and has several hints of brilliance, but like Tarzang, Slacker-King of the Jungle, squanders its potential. If anything, this module shows that the author is smart, has potential. Ironically for a German author, the crucial flaws can be summarized as a lack of discipline when it comes to rules, and once more, ironically for Disoriented Ranged Publishing, a lack of orientation and direction, of meta-structure. (I’m German myself, I’m allowed to crack that admittedly sucky joke.)

On the other hand, Monkey Business is, with precious few exceptions (Treasure! Ruins!) not boring and oozes genuine creativity; it s impossible to not experience a strong reaction to this, whether positive or negative. As a person who is well-versed in rules-language and design, I genuinely loved a lot about this book. When I started analyzing it, though, the flaws and shortcomings started piling up. As a reviewer, many of these can be considered to be dealbreakers – from the missing bookmarks to aforementioned snafus, there is unfortunately also a lot to be contrite about. I find myself at once wanting to recommend this to everyone, and to tell everyone to steer clear; “Zwei Herzen schlagen, ach, in meiner Brust”, to paraphrase good ole’ Faust.

To sum it up: This is, on a formal level, not a good adventure; it relegates too much of the heavy lifting to the GM, is too unfocused and flawed; however, it also is an inspired adventure toolkit, and the procedural generators, even the one with the weakest execution, are exceedingly useful if you are looking for a concise, detailed engine. You can love or hate this for a wide variety of reasons; this is a deeply flawed book. But it is also a deeply inspiring one. Rated only in its function as an adventure, disregarding the formal hiccups, this’d be a 2-star product, simply due to being unfinished. As a toolkit and book to scavenge ideas from, this’d be closer to the vicinity of 4 stars.

As such, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars. If you even remotely like gonzo themes, please download the PWYW and take a look. This is worth your time and HD space. And I’ll also do something I have only done once before, I think, in my entire reviewer’s career: For its mighty toolkit-functionality, this gets my seal of approval as a symbol of how much I, as a person, liked this and the sheer amount of utility I’ll get out of the engine in years to come.

I sincerely hope that there will be a refined, revised and expanded edition at one point. With the proper refinement, this could easily turn into a gonzo masterpiece.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The sixth installment of the Undercroft-‘zine clocks in at 26 pages (laid out in 6‘‘ by 9‘‘/A5) if you ignore the editorial – though I did really enjoy it this time around – the text flows around a medieval image of the Rittertod (Knight’s death), with the text on the left and right of the artwork continuing the previous paragraph independently from each other, only to once again coalesce below – kinda like an alternate timeline in textform. …this made me sound like a pretentious prick, right? Sorry.

Anyhow, rules-wise, the default system intended for this ’zine would be LotFP (Lamentations of the Flame Princess), and, as always, the material can be adapted to other OSR-systems with relative ease. This is a horror/dark fantasy supplement, and as such, reader discretion is advised – if you’re easily offended or triggered, this is your warning. This review is based on the stitch-bound softcover of the ’zine.

Okay, so, the first article (penned by Forrest Aguire) deals with Jonas Ludolf, the celebrated Flemish tapestry cartoonist (XD), who embarked on a trip towards Formosa to learn from the best of Eastern philosophers; of his effects, only the tome known as Ludolf’s Folly remains – a grimoires penned in an opium haze, referencing places like Leng – the storied item is depicted in detail, which is pretty awesome. Content-wise, the book has a genius angle that LotFP, if the company is smart, should take under serious consideration as a new magic system: You see, the book contains various spells you may be familiar with, like divination, detect invisible, wizard’s eye, etc. – you can see a divination focus here, but the exciting thing? Ludolf was in the throes of various drugs and insights while scribbling his notes, which had a dual effect: ANYONE can cast these spells…or at least ATTEMPT to cast them. You roll 1d6, and on a 1 or 2, the spell works…and on higher results? Catastrophic failures. These actually relate to the spells: Take wizard’s eye: A mild failure may end up with you vomiting eyeballs; a more serious one might see you blinded for months, and a really bad failure may see your eyeballs pop from their sockets, with obvious consequences. I love the book’s story, though it primarily makes sense for low-fantasy games; why use a potentially fatal spellbook if you can easily cast a spell? So yeah, the appeal might be slightly limited, but that notwithstanding, I consider this to be pretty much the best suggestion for a global modification of LotFP’s magic system. Having a whole book that provides this treatment to all spells? I’d put down money for that.

Things get weird with Evey Lockhart’s contribution, which provides two unrelated artifacts from other dimensions – these have nothing to do with each other, but their combination can be rather fatal. The unknown disk may be held in place to generate a portal to the strange, overgrown post-apocalyptic jungle-world beyond; the pyramid of flesh is more visceral: It’s what it says on the tin, with each side of the super-quickly regenerating and thus indestructible pyramid sporting a line, a fold, like a mouth or eye pressed close. Turns out, it’s both – the mouth-eyes might open, and contact to flesh will see the pyramid fuse to you, potentially requiring amputation. It also replaces your innards potentially, which can result in vomiting worms and becoming oddly inhuman; attached to the head, it bombards you with secrets. ALL THE TIME. What your childhood crush thought about you, what someone did – no rhyme or reason, all the knowledge of the cosmos, but no filter. If the pyramid is inserted on the disk, things go horribly wrong – the first couple of times, the effects are vast swathes of destruction, annihilating everyone in an ever closer-drawing circle…and eventually allowing a horrid chthonic entity access to our reality. Yes, this being is properly statted. I enjoyed this one as well.

Daniel Sell provides what would have been my favorite section herein – the Wolfmother. A twisted fairytale that is truly horrific, haunting the Kairnlaw, where the men marry early, and not well, before the stag-dreams; the fear of the entity includes potentially forced marriages, which can be pretty frightening proposals. Unmarried gentlemen in the region have a 1 in 20 chance of attracting the Wolfmother, a woman with the face of a wolf, dressed for a spring wedding. She will offer a gift – and those not offered one must save vs. magic to wake up. The person offered the gift can choose to refuse the gifts or accept them – the gifts are delightfully twisted: An immovable rope with a tied sorcerer dangling from it; a song so beautiful, it might strip you of your ability to enjoy music…the gifts are unique and strange. Accepting three of them will make you leave with her, never to be seen again. If you refuse the Wolfmother, she will attempt to rape the character (she has the might of an Ogre), to give birth to resentful wolves that will hound the character. Here’s an issue I have with this otherwise genius critter: It doesn’t provide stats, which is legitimate for horror-creatures that behave more like story obstacles (see Undercroft #2 for a great example on how to make a creature-as-story-obstacle work); however, there is a good chance that the Wolfmother will be fought, and needs to be faced in combat. The text even notes: ”if defeated..:”, so the absence of stats is a downside. In spite of this, any GM who likes dark fantasy/horror with a fairy-tale-ish slant should consider this to be a gem: I’d see this as a great creature for the Witcher RPG or Dolmenwood, for example.

Ezra Claverie’s Furnace Athropoids are next – these are essentially power-armors for a race of alien explorers accustomed to scorching heat. As such, their suits are potentially dangerous to be around; more importantly, their telepathic messages can influence the brains of stupid humanoids, and cause compulsions. I should love this. The writing is excellent. And yet, this is easily one of the weakest offerings in the entire run of the Undercroft so far. The rules-relevant material is buried in flavor-text, and inconsistent. At one point, the text suddenly mentions different HDs, and flavor-text and rules-relevant information is blended everywhere. Using the material herein is a total mess, and having proper sequence of presentation, proper stats, would have made it shine as much as the concept per se deserves.

The final section also showcases how multiple HD-creatures work – Anxious P. Introduces the most twisted creatures here, with the Noble Giant families. We begin with essentially a confession/diary of a kind of crypto-anthropologist researching the giant family called the “Manifold Crust-Whippets”; these giants lair in a state of primitive savagery, and the author claims they do not differentiate the Self from Want, which is an interesting take to make the giants less human. Indeed, the scientist seems to develop a strange and disquieting obsession of trying to be like them (making this a great read) – as it turns out, this is due to the drugging pollen the plants they bring around. They also have a honey-angle on a mechanical level, and there are guidelines of how giants of different sizes and local populace interact (“fight or flight”-size, etc.), with stats grounding the content in mechanics. The effective horror hits at the end of the scholar’s account – when he witnessed what they do in their disturbing orgies with the bears they capture, when the small clues fall into place. It’s not pretty. Honey…could kinda work as lube, you know…This one really made me shudder. It’s that well-written.

Conclusion:
Editing is generally very good on a formal level; formatting and information sequence, as noted, could be better in some of the sections herein. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard, with two nice original artworks. The print version is certainly worth owning.

So, this installment of the Undercroft penned by Daniel Sell, Anxious P., Evey Lockhart, Forrest Aguire and Ezra Claverie had a tough job – I consider the Undercroft, alongside with Dolmenwood, to be one of the best ’zines out there, easily. The Undercroft features some of the best pieces of content I’ve seen, and is remarkably bereft of filler. Against this backdrop, this installment struggles slightly. For example, I absolutely adore Forrest Aguire’s grimoires in every way, but I couldn’t help but feel that it would have warranted an application of the system to the entirety of the gaming system in a full-blown book. Daniel Sell’s Wolfmother is a GENIUS creature, and it’s so close to being perfect, but the need to stat the creature’s combat encounter, etc. makes it less comfortable to implement than it should be. And then there is Ezra Claverie (whose writing I love) clearly struggling with the presentation of the concept – only to have the next article, Anxious P.’s giant families, showing how it’s done. (As an aside: I always love what I read from Anxious P. – please write a big book. Please? Publishers, get on it!) As a whole, this Undercroft-zine feels uneven not in the quality of the concepts, which are awesome, but in their precise implementation and scope. As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 4 stars.

That being said, if you even remotely consider the concepts in this installment to be cool, get it – it’s certainly worth the low and fair asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables. The layout of the tables has been streamlined and looks better now than it previously did.

Frost giants are not as primitive as their hill giant brethren, and thus, looking at the area outside the lair, we may see intricately-carved arches, streams of melt-water, and lavish carvings of bearded faces depicting proudly the heroes and jarls of this wicked race. As for what’s currently happening, we have old giants tending herds of furred cattle; we have slaves freezing while under the stern auspices of their giant mistress; we can see youths chip away at ice walls to form spikes and blades of ice. Hammer-throwing at icicles, breaking of polar bears to heel – this feels very distinctly like a frost giant place.

Major lair features include steam pipes melting hinges of gigantic ice doors, bizarre Superman-style museums of things encased in ice, fences of mammoth-tusks and the like – this table is gold. Minor lair features include heads draped, with looks of terror in the icy walls, slaves lying shivering surrounded by sharp icy spikes, sunlight filtering through a mirror-sheen-like lens of ice – this is really cool!

The pdf also sports a table for frost giant appearances, which include heavy furs and plate armor, and a general focus on war attire and furs. Treasures include walrus-tusk horns, crowns topped with fluted spikes, reindeer hides featuring beautiful paintings – rather cool! The table for trash includes shed fur cloaks, squashed helmets, oxtails tied to sticks, used as paintbrushes – rather nice ones that grant an insight into their culture.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Steve Hood has manages to sufficiently differentiate the frost giants from their brethren, and all without tapping too closely into the obvious Norse associations – well done! 5 Stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzietgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables. The layout of the tables has been streamlined and looks better now than it previously did.

In this installment, we take a look at the steadings of the notoriously hungry and wasteful hill giants, and indeed, the table for outside the lair, with its discarded sheep carca
sses and skeletal legs protruding from huge boulders giving good hints for the smart and perceptive player. With long-horned cow skulls and deep footprints we have further hints befitting the less than subtle nature of these giants.

The pdf also presents a table for what’s currently going on, which includes females in the process of horse-butchering, neglected wolf-dogs fighting over scraps, giants hollowing a horn or less than safe attempts to repair the roof. The leitmotifs of waste and subdued laziness are represented well here. Major lair features include neglected palisades that nobody bothered to repair, ramshackle doors on rusty hinges, carts used as dining tables – some cool ideas here that smart players can use in combat or stealth.

Minor lair features include bodies of unruly slaves, haphazardly-stocked piles of logs and rocks as ammunition, skulls used as beer-tankards and the like. If you need individual appearances, you can find podgy and stinking giants, greasy-haired females wearing rotting furs, or giants imitating (badly) a noble’s attire with crudely-woven-together rabbit fur coats. Cool! The treasure to be found include silver mirrors dabbed half in feces, rotted wedding dresses, magically shrinking boar hide belts and the like – nice ones! The final table deals with trash, which can include rusted breastplates used as doorbells, lice-ridden sheepskins, rows of teeth lined up – weird, suitable, like it.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Steve Hood’s take on hill giant dressing manages to capture their folksy laziness, manages to make them frightening and funny, weird and wicked, all without dipping into truly degenerate components reserved for ogres. Great little dressing file, worth 5 stars for the low asking price.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Monstrous Lairs-pdfs clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, leaving us with 2 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Sometimes, you just need a bit of dressing for a wayside encounter – or something specific to a monster type. Finding appropriate entries can be rough, and so, this series attempts to remedy this shortcoming on 2 pages, with a total of 7 d10-tables. The layout of the tables has been streamlined and looks better now than it previously did.

Outside the lair of fire giants, smoke and steam may reduce visibility, and the unwary may have to face superheated landslides; similarly, black basalt devoid of vegetation may be found. You’ll notice here, that not all entries actually have a reference to the actual giants, which is a bit of a pity – while there are cultural artifacts in some entries, they’re only in less than half of them. The table that sports current proceedings suffers from a similar issue: “Lava oozes down a side of a volcano in the distance.” That’s background dressing, not what’s actually going on in the hall. “A fire giant, his back to the party, jogs back to the hall.” We don’t need a dressing entry for that. You could replace “fire giant” with anything, and it’d work. :/ Not a fan of this one.

The major lair features cut copy pasted the first entry of the outside table, and add that it’s hard to breathe. Deep shadows in the high ceilings? Similarly, not a major feature per se; had beams been there? Had there been a kind of pattern? Something like that? Sure. As written? Not impressed. Cracks crisscrossing the floor, though? Nice. Pit traps that drop targets in lava, though? That’s not exactly interesting. Minor lair features include smooth floor that might make you fall, hot, but not dangerously so, walls. Sculpted basalt furniture and more – this table is thankfully somewhat stronger than the previous ones.

Fire giant appearances include put-helmet wearers, flame- and spark-spewing hair, scintillating skin and the like. Some solid entries here. The pdf also sports treasures, which include “a heavy dwarven waraxe leans in a corner of the room.” That’s a toothpick for giants. Or is it giant-sized? Lame. Contrast that with a massive tapestry of strangely beautiful volcanic vistas – that feels like a giant treasure! Polished white dragon scales, carved coffers – there are some nice ones here. As for less valuable objects – smashed remains of axes awaiting being smelted, ragged capes, skeletons hung on (many, I assume) cleverly positioned hooks, draped in a kind of fight scene – we have some strong entries here, and some generic ones. A ragged flag of a rearing griffon? That could kinda lie everywhere.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious hiccups. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant two-column b/w-standard, and we get a nice piece of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, in spite of its brevity (kudos!) and is included in two versions – one optimized for screen-use, and one for the printer.

Robert Manson’s little dressing file on fire giants isn’t bad per se, but it also is a bit more uneven than Steve Hood’s excellent dressings for the other giant types; there is less direct correlation between the dressing entries and the fire giants, and there are more entries for which you simply don’t need a dressing file. Smoke and heat reduce visibility? A banner on the ground? That’s not unique, thetas generic; where is the correlation to the creature? As a whole, I consider this to be one of the weakest Monstrous Lairs-installments out there. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to the low price point.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

Okay, so this massive RPG/campaign setting comes with a couple of pdfs – a one-page cover of the player’s handbook and host’s handbook, which seem to have been combined into this book, a separate cover, a char-sheet and a pdf that contains 10 pregens as well as a sheet; if you take away the cover, editorial, etc., we arrive at 343 pages, not counting the two-page index; said index is devoted primarily to campaign setting concepts; the couple of times I wanted to use it to look up some game term, I couldn’t find it.

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters. I also received a hardcover copy, and my review is primarily based on the PoD-hardcover, though I also consulted the pdf-version.

Now, to state the obvious – Ironclaw is a game and RPG-setting focusing on a world inhabited by anthropomorphic species; it could be designated as a furry-RPG, but unlike many of the less serious attempts on the genre, this is not about sexuality or the like. Instead, this focuses on being a game for everybody to enjoy; you can have potentially have fun with this, even if you’re no furry. That being said, I’m no furry and only tangentially aware of the discrimination fielded against these individuals; having been maligned and discriminated against myself, I will attempt my best to give this a fair shake. If I do miss (or think that I might have missed) something that is generally taken as a given in the subculture, please feel free to enlighten me. I will try to include as much relevant information as possible without bloating the review.

If you don’t like the artwork on the cover, you’ll be happy to hear that there are two other styles present herein as well, both of which are imho superior to the one depicted on the cover – there are somewhat realistic, old-school-y b/w-artworks herein, but my favorites? Each species herein gets their own full-color piece, often reminiscent of the illustrations seen in old-timey fairy tale books. These illustrations are genuinely charming and high quality, and to me, encapsulate better than one would think the atmosphere of the campaign setting. It should be noted that mammals (and two avian species, Sparrow and Raven) constitute the different types of species available; there are no playable amphibious or reptilian species.

Okay, so the book begins by explaining what an RPG is, with different frames of references taken into account: There is an explanation if you don’t know anything, one for veterans, etc. For our purposes, we need to state a few things: The GM is called Host in this game…and that, if this is your first RPG book ever, then whatever deity you may believe in have mercy on your soul. Why? Because this book is one of the most needlessly obtuse games I’ve ever tried to review, and primarily because its organization is really bad. If you want to play the game, don’t just start reading the book – the character creation takes up over 100 pages of real estate, and the rules that explain how to actually play the game? They start on page 109. Start reading this book THERE. After you’ve understood how it works, return and make your character. This is particularly important, since the game’s system is pretty different from d20, BRP, WFRP, TinyD6, etc. – it is a rather unique system, and once you can get beyond this huge hurdle, one that does have its merits.

The first thing you need to know, is that there is a difference between declaring and claiming; if you declare something, your character tries to do something, and you have to state it BEFORE rolling the dice. If you claim something, you can do so after the fact; for example, take cover when shot at; essentially, if you’d consider it to be something you do as a reaction or as an immediate action in other games, you’d claim. The game uses d4s, d6s, d8s, d10s, and d12s. Dice are not added together; If you roll 2d6, and have a 3 and a 4, you don’t get a 7, but instead compare your results of 3 and 4, depending on the roll in question, to determine outcomes. The highest die value you achieve is called “The Score.” The standard difficulty is 3, and in order to get a success, you have to roll HIGHER. Hitting 3 is a failure! In the above example, we’d have one success. If the character had rolled 5 and 4, we’d have two successes. Interesting here: As a consequence, there simply are quite a few tasks that not everybody can succeed at – if you have to roll against e.g. 8, you can disregard any dice below d8. It’s simply not possible for most people (with only d6s) to succeed at such a task.

The more successes you have, the better – and some specialized tasks may require more successes. You usually roll at least two sets of dice; for example Speed and Mind, to resolve a given task. This mechanic is also used for contests; you compare your results versus that of your adversary, and the highest showing number wins. Ties are resolved sometimes by the check type, and sometimes by call of the Host. Rolling all 1s is a botch – a spectacular failure. Long-term tasks can have quotas, successes you amass over a longer period of time, like building a house, etc. A bonus is an extra die to roll. A penalty is an extra die rolled against you. Help is interesting – a task has one primary person who tries it; others attempt to assist by beating the standard difficulty of 3. On a success, they add a d8 to the primary character attempting the roll; on a botch, though, something goes horribly wrong for everybody! Sure you want that assist? These mechanics are only relevant for non-combat aid. Combat uses somewhat different mechanics. If a roll is not under stress, or if you’re super familiar with it, you can do it by rote, which means that you maximize all your dice. Rotes speed up the game when you have two dice and only need one to succeed. On the other hand, sometimes, you suffer a limit – e.g. if you don’t have your proper tools, the Host may impose a limit that you can only roll d6 instead of your usual d10s.

The consequence here is obvious – the game has a pretty robust manner of depicting jobs and long-term tasks without having the often ridiculed 5% failure chance under duress that a d20 brings in many games; a crucial difference from many roleplaying games is something you may have noticed – this game attempts very hard to eliminate the need for adding up bonuses or penalties after rolling the dice.

Okay, these basics out of the way, let us take a look at character creation. This does a few things right, in that it specifies a couple of game terms (not that those’d help without a context of how the game actually works…), but they are still appreciated. A character has a career – a kind of job; there are 6 Traits – these are essentially your ability score, and they are Body, Speed, Mind, Will, Species, and Career. You begin play with one d4, three d6s, and two d8s. You assign one of these dice to each of your Traits. These do have in-game ramifications – a high die in Species, for example, denotes that your character is more animal-like, with a low die denoting a more human-like physique. You then choose a starting species. These determine your preferred habitat, diet, activity cycle, senses, natural weapons, and the like. More importantly, each species has 3 species gifts, and 3 instances of certain checks with which the species dice are used: Squirrels get the species dice for climbing, digging and jumping, for example. As noted, each species also gets three species gifts, but more on these in a bit. It should be noted that not all species are that different. The difference between the gray fox aristocracy and red foxes, for example, is that gray foxes include the species dice with climbing, red foxes with digging. Other than that, the difference is purely based in the setting.

Ironclaw’s setting and system are closely entwined, but for once, this is actually a strength of the game; in contrast to what you’d expect, Ironclaw can be considered to be a somewhat Elizabethan tale of class/race-struggles, which focuses on a comparably realistic vision in its details, with magic generally less earth-shattering than in comparable fantasy games; this somewhat grounded nature, interestingly enough, does render many components of the setting more plausible. As noted, gray foxes, per definition, are aristocracy by birth, and as such, there is a decent reason for the lack of distinction between them and their red brethren from a mechanical point of view; while I still maintain that a more pronounced difference between them would have made sense, the setting here provides a sufficiently viable excuse.

Next up, you choose your career from a list of 24 – these behave in much the same way as the species – you get three types of rolls where you include your Career dice, and three gifts bestowed by the Career. If there is overlap, you instead get Increased Trait – this increases the Trait’s die-size by one step, up to a maximum of d12. And no, the text doesn’t specify that – you have to look up the Increased Trait text much later in the book, in the gift list. No, no cross reference is provided, no page number noted. (For reference: Pg. 65 of the book.) You write your Career dice down for the skills granted by career, the species die for the skills granted by the species.

Then, you decide on a personality gift; which is chosen from a list. You also decide on a motto, and a starting region, which you are assumed to be familiar with. Regarding personality: These are defined by a combination of a more simplistic take on the teachings of humors, and the eight virtues and vices – these are essentially the 7 deadly sins and cardinal virtues, plus selfishness/selflessness, respectively. This Christianity-adjacent theme struck me as a somewhat odd choice, considering the anthro-angle, but I might be missing something here.

After this, you assign 13 marks among your skills; these are not skill points, but instead describe the die you get. No marks = no dice; 1 mark = d4, etc. At the start of the game, you can’t have more than 3 marks (d8), and more is only possible, if you have Gifts that add marks. Once you’ve reached d12, a further increase will net you an extra d4, which will then increase to further d6, d8, and so on. You get the idea. The book does feature a skill-chapter, which contains 26 skills. This brings me to a structural weakness of the system as a whole, namely that quite a few things are not really covered by skills, or that they are rather uneven. Academics, for example, includes geography, history, law, medicine, mathematics, physical sciences. Two other skills? Gossip and Deceit. Yep, those are two skills. Dodge is also a skill (and you really want that one); Inquiry and Negotiation? Two skills. Presence and Leadership? Two different skills. And Tactics is yet another skill. The examples don’t help that much either. From Tactics “When led by a particular leader”; from Leadership: “When outnumbered.” So, you need Tactics to follow orders? WTF? Granted, I am being slightly facetious – things become a tad bit clearer in combat, but honestly, not by much. While I love the little cartoons of fox-thespians playing the skills and providing examples, it’s pretty hard to draw strict lines between them. Plus, skills encompass e.g. Throwing, Ranged Combat, Brawling and Mêlée Combat. All of these are resolved in the same manner, as all are skills, but this makes plenty of skills simply mandatory for certain occupations. Odd as well: Endurance is a skill, applied to foraging and hiking. Okay, what about hunting? Is that ranged combat? What about using harpoons to whale? Throwing or Endurance? This is in so far weird, as the math kinda falls apart due to the insistence of trying to avoid the subtraction or adding of static values, which can result in weird situations.

Let’s say you have someone with a skill in something, right? Let’s say, this fellow is really good in their chosen field, e.g. Digging, and thus gets a d12 – the equivalent of a whopping 5 marks invested in that skill! They are competing against someone who only has a species and/or career die and a paltry 1 mark. Here’s the thing – if your species grants you a d8 in Digging, and you put 1 mark in the skill, which grants you a d4. These two dice don’t combine into a d8 or a d10 – instead you roll a d4 and a d8. This makes catastrophic failures, botches, MUCH less likely (because you have to roll two 1s, instead of 1 – basic probability calculation), but prevents the character without the Skill from beating the super high tasks. Okay, that does not make any sense. So, the untrained guy, by courtesy of the species, is pretty much better on average in Academics than the specialized scholar?  So this is one issue of the system that bothers me to no end; perhaps it’s me being OCD, but it really stresses me out. Your mileage may vary; you may not care. But this, to me, undermines the mechanical foundation of the system’s base check-system to a degree.

Secondly, the Skill-system is missing a bunch of areas. Jobs not related to crafting? No idea. Hunting? No idea. Forging documents? Heck if I know. Do you use Weather Sense or Vehicle for steering ships? Both? This section is missing a LOT of stuff I expected to see, and doesn’t do a good job differentiating some of the skills that are more similar to each other. Also, if you want to be a martially-inclined dude, you’ll be having a lot less skills; heck, if you want to fight and survive, plenty of skills are basically mandatory. Thirdly, the organization is once more pretty asinine – you can’t make an informed decision about many of the combat-related skills, unless you’ve read the combat chapter (Starts page 114, for reference). And finally? No sample difficulties for suggested tasks are provided.

Okay, combat. You roll initiative by rolling Speed and Mind Dice. (Though a gift called Danger Sense nets you a d12 as a bonus); the difficulty that you can detect the adversaries ranges from “Near Rage[sic!]” to Further than 10 paces away. So, is it the Observation skill or initiative? Do senses influence that? I have no frickin’ clue. Is Stealth rolled against Initiative? No idea. The RPG attempts a coop-out by stating that combatants act n the logical order, which is a non-resolution if I ever saw one. You can see that I have plenty of issues with the game in how it presents its rules; but don’t get me wrong – particularly regarding combat, the game does quite a few things right – it does not feel like yet another D&D-adjacent combat-resolution. Instead, the game does several clever things: It uses, for example, conditions (called “statuses” in the game’s parlance): Your initiative roll will determine, for example, if you start the combat with Focus, reeling, etc. – and these have SERIOUS mechanical repercussions. From a mechanical point of view, the game feels closer to playing Shadowrun crossed with a JRPG, and I mean that as a compliment, for the most part.

You see, the gifts granted by career and species, +3 of your choice, act in a way like feats, spells, special abilities – some have prerequisites, some don’t; some may be taken multiple times, and there are plenty of means to differentiate between builds: This game HAS tactical depth! But oh boy, the presentation. To explain the combat, we need to talk about values you need to fill in on your character sheet – the so-called battle array. As noted, Initiative is Speed + Mind Dice; Stride is 1 and can be improved. What does Stride do? It’s a movement. So is Sprint- Sprint uses your Speed Dice. If something is in your way when using Sprint, you risk crashing; you roll 1d6 for every point denied, and on a 5 or 6, you take one damage. This means that you can seriously injure yourself using Sprint. Your Run is the maximized Body dice, plus maximized Speed dice, + Dash. Oh, forgot about that one, right? Dash is half the maximum you could roll on the Speed dice, with a +1 if Body is greater than Speed. Run is btw. a stunt, i.e. you gain the reeling status after using it. You do NOT take damage when crashing into something. Why? I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t get it. This hurts my brain.

Are you beginning to see what I mean by issues in organization and rules-presentation and structure? Did I mention that there is an entire chapter devoted to rules like chases, hiding and sneaking, mounted combat, etc. Why are they all lumped in a chapter of their own, without rhyme or reason? No clue. Mounted combat should, you know, be in the section on frickin’ combat. And how does vehicle combat work? No clue. This chapter seriously made me angry; it feels like an “oopsie, forgot to put that information where it belonged, oh well, stick it in an appendix chapter”/bolted-on errata. On the plus side, this does have a table that provides conversions from the abstract “pace” measurements to both meters and feet. Know what’s ironic for a game set in a quasi-Renaissance default setting? Disarming is explained at the very end of this rules-addendum. Not even kidding you. Oh, and obviously grappling also should be here, where nobody’ll ever find it quickly; not in the section with the Brawling skill or with appropriate weapons. That’d have made sense.

Okay, so you at least have the Dodge defense, which is your Speed dice and dodge dice, if any. If someone attacks. You can also attempt to parry or counter, depending on situation and weapon involved; Attacker Succeeds, Tie and Defender Succeeds are options . Defenders may have to retreat, and hits can send you reeling – the engine per se manages to do the whole cloak and dagger/Swashbuckling feeling come off rather well. You compare dice values. Then, you check your Soak, which is the Body dice. Armor adds to the Soak roll, and may be layered – at the cost of being slower (automatically) and less dodging capabilities.

So, you roll an attack. The defender rolls dodge, fails. Then you cause damage 1 per success, plus, oddly here, fixed values for some values. Some weapons also ignore armor, help parry, etc. Equipment matters; once more, there is depth here. And then, you have the results – provided there are no reactions that are taken, or that the resolution of the attack didn’t necessitate further things. That’s a LOT of rolling, and, as the math-foundation of the game is not exactly even, can also result in odd scenes. Also: Throwing weapons get three dice: Boy., Speed and Throwing, versus just one Trait and the respective skill dice for all others. Doesn’t take a genius to see an issue here. Clearly, the Franziska-wielding equivalent of ancient Franconians would have conquered all of the land according to these rules. So yeah, there is some serious cognitive load imposed on the Host here, and frankly, the “don’t do math, just roll angle” might have made things more difficult here.

…this is starting to sound really bad, right? And yeah, it kinda is – but don’t get me wrong: The system presented? It actually works, and it actually works in a rather interesting manner. Combat feels very tactical and interesting, considering how many gifts have different refreshment intervals, and how the status-based angles can really add some tactical depth to fights. Being hit will send you reeling, and, much like Shadowrun, there is a death spiral going on – 5 points of damage = dead: 2 points of damage, and you’re hurt and afraid (can’t attack) – so you better hope an ally Rallies you. In a way, the basic premise of the combat system, when divorced from the flawed skill-chassis, is super interesting; I could e.g. see a Darkest Dungeon-style hardcore survival-game to work pretty well with a hack of these rules! There is some gold here, I mean it! It’s just buried under layers of unnecessary obscurity and some questionable design decisions.

Anyhow, you probably won’t be playing a dungeon crawler with this game; in fact, you probably won’t be playing a too combat-centric game, considering how lethal it is, in spite of its impressive depth. Instead, as briefly touched upon, Calabria, the default setting, is more of an Age of Sail/pseudo-Elizabethan setting, closer akin to the Three Musketeers than the medieval period, with e.g. the horses as the erstwhile knights still clinging to their old status and ideals; it’s a time of change, an age of mercantilism – though the world, it should be noted, is distinct and doesn’t simply mirror our own. As a whole, this is once more where you can feel that the authors genuinely cared. The setting is thematically consistent, makes a surprising amount of sense, and can be deemed to be an enjoyable reading experience. The campaign setting is easily the most refined part herein; it sports a gazetteer-section, a general overview, and we also get a small bestiary.

I do have one serious question, though: It might be my own ignorance regarding the tropes of the Furry-subculture, but in a setting where anthropomorphized animals like Mice and Wolves coexist, in a game with that much emphasis on the theme, that you put your dietary habits on your character-sheet…what do all the carnivores eat? Do they eat the other species? If not, why not? If so, how does the law handle that? If not, what do they eat? This is particularly weird, considering that the flavortext sometimes uses “animals” as a shorthand for the species “…not content to live their lives as noisy, smelly animals, volunteer for the active life of a mercenary.”, and at other times for the animals the intelligent species consume. I *assume* that reptilians are eaten, as those are primarily the beasts of burden of the setting, but that would lead me to question how e.g. bears and wolves and (sub-) arctic animals survive. I know. This may not matter to you, but if you run a game in the setting, this WILL come up. It’s the one thing, lore-wise, that really left me wondering.

Anyhow, after all that, we’re done, right? NOPE! Because, you know, the wonders of atrocious information design have elected to put all the NPC-careers in the back! And these include nobles, diplomats, beggars, etc. – sure, they have a stronger focus on a role, but plenty of players will consider them to be interesting. There also are 42 of them. Oh, and magic? That’s also cut apart! The apprentice-level magic is in the front, the rest is in the back of the book! There’s also a bit of cognitive dissonance going here…and throughout the book. I tried to focus on the big picture, but as an example for the “glitches” in the details, i.e. the logic flaws, there is a magic school of sorts called Atavism, which is essentially about embracing the animal aspect. These represent special gifts to choose, and are per se a super-cool idea. The flaw here lies in the execution. How being particularly sparrow-like (minimum d8 Species die) can grant you a battering charge? No idea. If anything, this section should have focused on species-exclusive tricks. As written, it can result in some seriously weird benefits that don't fit the species.

The book also features three unremarkable, brief adventure-outlines without read-aloud text, and closes with a handy summary of statuses. If you want to play this game, tape these to your screen. You’ll thank me later. The final sections of the book are devoted to the calendar/time-aspect of the setting (why should it be in the setting-section, let’s put it in the back!) as well as yet another selection of variant rules, because, 3-4 different places where they could be are not enough. (Seriously, steer clear of those until you’ve mastered Ironclaw.)

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are not good on a formal and rules-language level; while the rules-language isn’t bad per se, its utterly arcane and Byzantine presentation is very aggravating. On a formal level, there are a lot of typos and stuff that should have been caught in editing. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard; it is not impressive, but functional. Artworks range from the Disney-ish style seen on the cover to the fantastic pictures for the species. The PoD is a solid hardcover, and the pdf, as a final formal insult…has NO BOOKMARKS! I am not even kidding you. A core game this labyrinthine in its presentation, and it has NO F**** BOOKMARKS.

Jason Holmgren, Chris Goodwin and Van Pigtain wrote the most infuriating RPG-system I have ever reviewed. No hyperbole. Not because of the subject matter, but because it feels PAINFULLY rushed, and certainly not like a second edition. Not even close. And because the game is so close to being genuinely interesting. The weapons that matter, the setting, the depth of the combat options – there is a lot here to genuinely like and enjoy. Once you understand the game and play it, you can have fun with it. Provided you can look past its myriad, accumulating, small glitches, hiccups and logic errors.

But you’ll have to fight tooth and claw (haha!) to get there, pun intended. This book gave me migraines trying to understand it. I am not kidding. Its information-design is worse than that of the PF Playtest was.

And the game has to stand that comparison, because it pays for its “we don’t add stuff to dice rolls”-aesthetic with outsourcing all complexity to the act before dice rolls, the sequence of dice rolls, or what you do after dice rolls. Things that are usually abstracted instead turn into MORE rolling, which needs to be compared, which needs to be interpreted. This works pretty well for non-combat scenarios, but considering how much detail and love is put into the whole combat, in making it feel genuinely different, it still becomes readily apparent that this is NOT a game for novices. This rivals and surpasses in complexity PF2. No, I am not kidding you. There is more rolling going on here than in Shadowrun. And I’ve played for years in a Shadowrun-campaign where everybody had amassed more than 300 Karma.

I maintain that, with a strict design-lead streamlining the base skill system, and some even decent information design (or mediocre one – heck, 5e-levels of rules-presentation would have sufficed), this could have been a genuinely enjoyable game, a breath of fresh air. All the makings of an interesting, rewarding game are here. But their presentation is the didactically-worst thing I’ve read in my entire reviewer’s career. Its an intricately interwoven system of rules-concepts influencing each other that never properly explains its basics. That tries the “let’s start with character creation”-angle, without realizing that you literally can’t make an efficient character, that you can’t make any semblance of informed choice, without, you know, actually knowing what you’re doing. The brief tables explaining rules-themes are appreciated, but I’ve never screamed at a book before. I now have. When, for the oomphteenth time, the game threw a term at me sans explanation, I seriously started hating my time with this game.

…not because of the themes, but because it is one of the most frustrating books ever. It seems to labor under the delusion that “no math = easy to learn”; it’s not. I’ve never had as hard a time trying to grasp how a game is played as with this book. And I have read A LOT of RPGs. Whether it’s 5e, PF2, Genesys, BRP, B/X, GUMSHOE, Storyteller, PbtA, any other OSR-game – I’ve never struggled so much with even getting the slightest idea of how a game plays. Did I mention how e.g. reactions and triggers are not the same? Can you remember which of the movement options did what? Which was the one where you halved your Speed dice? Which is the one that can damage you? Did that one send you reeling? Now imagine a book FULL of options like that, with information spread far and wide. And the nine hells have mercy on your soul if you only have the pdf and no bookmarks.

Is there a demographic to which I can recommend this book? Sure: If you’re a furry AND don’t mind wrestling with a system, if you don’t mind learning a highly complex game that has a thoroughly confusing presentation and a wealth of terminology rivaling Pathfinder, then you genuinely should take a look. Particularly if you gravitate to a more low-key aesthetics for magic, and still want some serious tactical depth in your game. In spite of all of its flaws, this is not a cynical cash-grab. It does show in many instances that the team did care. And if you invest serious time, you can streamline this and make it work for you and your group. I can see this work for a very select group of people, for those willing to invest a lot of time into trying to grasp this game. I genuinely hope that my review will help you in this task, that it’ll at least make getting into the game a tad bit easier. If you feel you belong to this group, round up from my final verdict.

Personally, I’ve come to LOATHE this book; not the setting, not the system per se, the BOOK. I like the world and many ideas herein, but I will never open this horribly obtuse game ever again. Analyzing this book has been painful for all the wrong reasons. I am just thankful that I didn’t get to tackle the first edition – if this is the refined version, I can’t imagine what the first one may have looked like. That being said, I do wish Ironclaw the best – perhaps, a third edition can get it right, can properly capitalize on the significant potential this game has…but my 2nd edition omnibus will not be used again. It has managed what few books ever did – it frustrated me and made me genuinely angry.

I’ve thought long and hard about how to rate this book; and in the end, my final verdict will be 2.5 stars, rounded down. Ironclaw’s second edition is too obtuse: A game of this complexity (particularly a complexity that is as layered as the one of this game) needs a precise, easy to grasp presentation, or at least one that makes sense - and this is the antithesis of that; add the missing bookmarks (insult to injury for pdf-customers) and the utterly messed up organization that makes philosophical treaties of applied objective hermeneutics seem easy to grasp at times, and we have a book that, no matter how much love and passion might be oozing from its pages, frankly is too flawed to even consider mediocre.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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


..
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All right, only GMs around? Great!

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

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

A separate booklet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


..
.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first publication of Skeeter Green Publishing clocks in at 44 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a print copy in exchange of a fair and unbiased review. I have consulted both the pdf and the print version for the review.

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

A separate booklet.

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

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

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

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

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

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


..
.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh boy.

Oh boy was I not prepared for this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

After this, the PCs visit the concentration camp Buchenwald.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out..


An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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An Endzeitgeist.com review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

Blackhill Gaol once was a one-way-trip – the place was conceived as a forced labor camp for debtors, for political prisoners, for the wicked – for those that were to never be free again. As such, the village was constructed in a pretty remote area that is known for being pretty darn dangerous. The prisoners, alas, revolted against their overseers in a coup masterminded by Lady Ephael Areva (who now has her base n the clock tower), and now remain a self-governing entity of sorts – they avoid reprisals as long as they don’t stray too far from the village, and as a result, this place has garnered a reputation for offering pretty much any blackmarket goods you want.

If you’d be thinking that the revolt resulted in a type of anarchist utopia, you’d be sorely mistaken – the leaders of factions have been vying for control ever since, making Blackhill Gaol a dangerous spot to visit. The 5e-version does not include a proper marketplace section.

As always, the supplement does include information on local nomenclature and dressing habits alongside several whispers and rumors – one of them mentioning that the well’s been poisoned, which, alas, remains a non-sequitur. It’d had been nice to have this represented mechanically as well. Most buildings once were conjoined cellblocks, and the pdf mentions an “DC 30 Open Lock“ in an obvious PFRPG remnant. One of the healing potions that may be purchased here also still follows the PFRPG nomenclature.

A significant plus, as always, would be the section that provides 20 different entries on local dressing and events, as these act as an easy way for the GM to introduce some action and local color to the proceedings. As a supplement very much driven by factions, the place does come with 7 sample NPCs, all of which are presented in the fluff-only type that we’ve come to expect from the series – i.e. they note background, mannerisms and personality traits. They also come with a bit of read-aloud text depicting the NPC, and information on class/race/etc. if applicable; in the 5e-version, the pdf references the default NPC-statblocks.

A total of 11 keyed locations may be found within this supplement, with all of them sporting a descriptive read-aloud line – where applicable, they list their own section regarding things you can purchase there, and a few of them also feature short quest/adventure hooks. Interesting here would be that many of the beings here have explicit or implicit consequences for interaction with the PCs. For example, a remaining staffer who survived the riot may well turn down a dark road unless confronted by the PCs. The commander of the “watch”´, Skella Grint, may recruit the PCs to help her clear up ritual murders and the like – a standard scenario, but one made more interesting by the village’s unique angle.

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

Jacob W. Michaels’ Blackhill Gaol is a per se cool supplement – with a clocktower and the cellblock angle, it has a unique atmosphere to it, one I genuinely consider to be fun. I’d have loved to see a bit more in the goods-department or sample prices for services rendered, but that is nothing that a good GM can’t provide. The 5e-version has a bit less meat on its bones than the PFRPG-iteration, and feels slightly rushed, particularly considering how few crunchy bits may be found herein. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars for this version.

Endzeitgeist out


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

Blackhill Gaol once was a one-way-trip – the place was conceived as a forced labor camp for debtors, for political prisoners, for the wicked – for those that were to never be free again. As such, the village was constructed in a pretty remote area that is known for being pretty darn dangerous. The prisoners, alas, revolted against their overseers in a coup masterminded by Lady Ephael Areva (who now has her base n the clock tower), and now remain a self-governing entity of sorts – they avoid reprisals as long as they don’t stray too far from the village, and as a result, this place has garnered a reputation for offering pretty much any blackmarket goods you want.

If you’d be thinking that the revolt resulted in a type of anarchist utopia, you’d be sorely mistaken – the leaders of factions have been vying for control ever since, making Blackhill Gaol a dangerous spot to visit.

As always, the supplement does include information on local nomenclature and dressing habits alongside several whispers and rumors – one of them mentioning that the well’s been poisoned, which, alas, remains a non-sequitur. It’d had been nice to have this represented in some way. The buildings of conjoined cellblocks have a PFRPG-remnant that refers to a “DC 30 Open Locks”-check. On the plus-side, the sections pertaining goods to be purchased have been adapted properly to the realities of old-school gaming.

A significant plus, as always, would be the section that provides 20 different entries on local dressing and events, as these act as an easy way for the GM to introduce some action and local color to the proceedings. As a supplement very much driven by factions, the place does come with 7 sample NPCs, all of which are presented in the fluff-only type that we’ve come to expect from the series – i.e. they note background, mannerisms and personality traits. They also come with a bit of read-aloud text depicting the NPC, and information on class/race/etc. Kudos: These pieces of information represent the proper old-school nomenclature.

A total of 11 keyed locations may be found within this supplement, with all of them sporting a descriptive read-aloud line – where applicable, they list their own section regarding things you can purchase there, and a few of them also feature short quest/adventure hooks. Interesting here would be that many of the beings here have explicit or implicit consequences for interaction with the PCs. For example, a remaining staffer who survived the riot may well turn down a dark road unless confronted by the PCs. The commander of the “watch”´, Skella Grint, may recruit the PCs to help her clear up ritual murders and the like – a standard scenario, but one made more interesting by the village’s unique angle.

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

Jacob W. Michaels’ Blackhill Gaol is a per se cool supplement – with a clocktower and the cellblock angle, it has a unique atmosphere to it, one I genuinely consider to be fun. I’d have loved to see a bit more in the goods-department or sample prices for services rendered, but that is nothing that a good GM can’t provide. All in all, I consider this iteration to be slightly superior to the 5e-iteration – as such, my final verdict will be 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 Galaxy Pirates series of Ship-supplements clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

When infamous pirate captain Vayla Hollan (fully presented in the fluff-centric style of the series; one of two NPCs getting this treatment) met her match in a particularly nasty storm, she barely managed to steer her vessel, the eponymous “Kerwyn’s Pride”, into the relatively safe Ballisco Bay. Here, she found opportunity – three baronies vying for supremacy and control over the water-based trade routes. Instead of simply making her ship seaworthy once more, she went a different route – ships were converted into buildings, wood was salvaged from the wrecks, and from the wrath of a storm and an enterprising mind grew a floating village, bastion against storms and pirates alike – and, of course, also a haven/monopoly of sorts for illicit activities at the same time – a tiger can’t change its stripes, after all!

Kerwyn’s Pride, thus, is not a safe place – this is still a village full of semi-legitimate scoundrels, after all. As always, we have notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as information on local rumors. No marketplace section is included. As a transitional place, the village sees pretty vast amounts of wealth transit through it; law and order (haha) and the local customs are explained, and the supplement does include a list of 20 dressing entries and/or events; these can be sued to jumpstart the action.

The surrounding land and waters are explained, and the respective keyed locations provide the relevant information – the Inn notes prices for food and drink and accommodations, and both Inn and holding pen sports their own 6-entry specialized event-tables to further add to the game. All of the keyed locales come with well-written read-aloud text describing them, and even better – quite a few of them have adventure hooks added. In one instance, the nasty, insect-ridden bog has even a properly statted disease, providing some pretty nice hazard information! And yes, we have the disease properly converted to old-school aesthetics! Kudos! These bits also extend to e.g. a fully realized trap, where applicable – this trap doesn’t specify its saving throw type, though, when e.g. the disease did that – a slight inconsistency.

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

Mike Welham delivers here – this place, potentially kinda-mobile, can make for a newcomer to a region; it could be used as a smuggler’s haven, a pirate-hunter’s fortress, etc. – and it does not overexplain its angles. It offers potential, but what you do with the place and the narrative angles provided? That remains fully up to you! In short, this is a great example of a unique little supplement that provides a great time. While the system neutral version is a tiny bit weaker than the other two versions, it’s still a supplement very much worth getting. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

When infamous pirate captain Vayla Hollan (fully presented in the fluff-centric style of the series; one of two NPCs getting this treatment) met her match in a particularly nasty storm, she barely managed to steer her vessel, the eponymous “Kerwyn’s Pride”, into the relatively safe Ballisco Bay. Here, she found opportunity – three baronies vying for supremacy and control over the water-based trade routes. Instead of simply making her ship seaworthy once more, she went a different route – ships were converted into buildings, wood was salvaged from the wrecks, and from the wrath of a storm and an enterprising mind grew a floating village, bastion against storms and pirates alike – and, of course, also a haven/monopoly of sorts for illicit activities at the same time – a tiger can’t change its stripes, after all!

Kerwyn’s Pride, thus, is not a safe place – after all, it is still a settlement of semi-legitimate pirates! As always, we have notes on local nomenclature and dressing habits, as well as information on local rumors. No marketplace section is provided in the 5e-iteration. As a transitional place, the village sees pretty vast amounts of wealth transit through it; law and order (haha) and the local customs are explained, and the supplement does include a list of 20 dressing entries and/or events; these can be sued to jumpstart the action.

The surrounding land and waters are explained, and the respective keyed locations provide the relevant information – the Inn notes prices for food and drink and accommodations, and both Inn and holding pen sports their own 6-entry specialized event-tables to further add to the game. All of the keyed locales come with well-written read-aloud text describing them, and even better – quite a few of them have adventure hooks added. In one instance, the nasty, insect-ridden bog has even a properly statted disease, providing some pretty nice hazard information – and yes, this has properly been adjusted to 5e’s rules! Minor nitpick: There is a repel vermin reference here, and I think there is no 5e-version of that spell. It’*s self-explanatory in effect, though, and doesn’t hamper functionality of the material unduly, though. These mechanical bits also extend to e.g. a fully realized trap, where applicable – and these components, or so I found, really add to the convenience of the supplement; the fact that they have been properly adjusted to 5e is a nice plus.

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

Mike Welham delivers here – this place, potentially kinda-mobile, can make for a newcomer to a region; it could be used as a smuggler’s haven, a pirate-hunter’s fortress, etc. – and it does not overexplain its angles. It offers potential, but what you do with the place and the narrative angles provided? That remains fully up to you! In short, this is a great example of a unique little supplement that provides a great time. While the snafu regarding the spell reference was avoidable, it doesn’t hamper the functionality of the supplement; as such, this version also is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.


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


An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first (and so far, alas, only) installment of this ‘zine depicting the lands of Azurth, a hilarious take on fantasy as seen through the lens of old-time Loony Toons/Tex Avery clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 30 pages, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), so let’s take a look!

We begin this ‘zine with an introduction by the commodore Cogburn Steamalong, a navy captain who also happens to be a steam construct, and who proceeds to present comments on the material provided within. This character is also fully statted with a proper statblock; that being said, the HDs are missing from the write-up, and the Perception values are incorrect. This, unfortunately, is bound to be symptomatic for the remainder of the ‘zine.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: The pdf begins play with 4 different islands, the Motley Isles, and the brief gazetteer is actually really nice and playful, and the whole section is supplemented by a new creature, the dread Frogacuda! This statblock is mechanically the best thing in the ‘zine – it’s a solid write-up and gets all the math right. It also fits in well with a region that has a settlement governed essentially by ritualistically consulting a magic eightball. In these instances, the supplement feels very much like someone had made a Monkey Island/D&D-crossover. A fluff-only pirate generator is also included – 24 names, 24 occupations, 12 notable traits and 12 trinkets act as a solid little supplement. A pirate captain generator with 12 names, 12 ship-names, 12 instances of stuff the captain is known for and 12 pieces of exotic beauty makes for the second generator.

The pdf also includes notes on the homelands of frogfolk (here called “frox”), the chain of fools (An archipelago where you don’t want to tread), a massive mechanical fish. Weird indigenous bird-people “amazons” (well, kind of…) in service to a male priest caste may be found, and the pdf contains 10 smaller entries as well – it should be noted that both Motley Isles and the Candy Isle, which acts as a module of sorts, come with nice full-color artworks. There are no keyless, player-friendly versions included.

The following discussion of the Candy Isle does contain a few minor SPOILERS. Potential players may want to jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

All right, only GMs around? So, the Confection Perfection is basically a divine pastry, and it acts as a linchpin for the angle to explore the location – the Candy Isle! This region, including all of its inhabitants, is made of sweets. The indigenous gummy people (shown on the cover) are an interesting angle, and we do get top-down AND side-view map versions of their temple – once more without a player-friendly version. The mini-module does not have read-aloud text, but does note random encounters. The general presentation is nice, though the set-up would have benefited from a bit more space. And yes, they do want to sacrifice the PCs on their chocolate-y altar.
/SPOILERS

That being said, the module also exemplifies well a misconception that is common for designers coming from old-school games to 5e, namely that an abbreviated statblock suffices. They do not, and I don’t get why this booklet doesn’t provide properly presented and laid out crunch when it has proven that it well can. To give you an example, you can read the following: “Melee brittle candy
spear (+3, 1d6+1/1d8+1 piercing), Ranged (+3 1d6+1); S +1, D +0, C +1, I -1, W +0, Ch -1;“ You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice that the ability scores are missing, and that statblock formatting is not even close to acceptable. There also are errors in these shortened statblocks, and this puzzling inconsistence annoyingly also applies to two sample NPCs, who also get the formatting of features wrong – when the very same booklet offers two instances where they’re correct. I don’t get it. At all. And yes, these NPCs also have more relevant errors in their stats.

Conclusion:
Editing is very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, there are a lot of glitches herein – much more than in Mortzengersturm. Formatting, as noted, often needlessly diverges from established 5e-standards. Layout adheres to a nice two-column standard that is mostly b/w, but uses full-color for boxes, maps, etc. – this is a surprisingly nice-looking book, courtesy of Jeff Call’s neat artwork. The cartography by Jeff Call and Jason Sholtis is also nice and full-color, though the lack of player-friendly versions is a bummer. I do not own the print version, so I can’t comment on it. The pdf lacks any type of bookmark, making navigation an unnecessary hassle.

Trey Causey can do better. This digest, alas, while amazing and funny regarding its ideas and creativity, is mired with an unfortunate amount of errors in the rules, non-standard rules-syntax and things that Mortzengersturm did better. I want to like Azurth as a setting, and I genuinely do and want to see more, but this digest, alas, remains a flawed supplement. Add to that the lack of bookmarks, and we have a bit of an issue on our hands. And I really wish this wasn’t the case.

The supplement perfectly shows that it *can* get 5e right, only to then shrug and fiddle those inconsistent half statblocks together, to botch math etc. Much like the candy theme, this started with a smile, and then proceeded to develop into a moderate tummy-ache for me. That being said, this is still an inexpensive supplement with great ideas – I just wished their implementation had been better. My final verdict, alas, can’t exceed 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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