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Pretty Useless

2/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Here we have another Map Folio for Campaign use, this time for the War for the Crown AP. I judge these Map Folios on their looks and usefulness as game aids, with their ability to enhance a campaign being the most important criteria. I understand why they are in the Campaign Setting subscription: They generally have maps that further detail regions of Golarion and thus have some use outside of the campaign they are designed for. They are usually made up of three maps, one of which is a colourful representation of the region in which the campaign is set. This folio is no exception to that rule.

The first map in the folio is a stunningly illustrated map of the county of Meratt, where the second part of the campaign takes place. It is an amazing medieval style map with side portraits and everything…and it is totally unlabelled. Seriously, this is just ridiculous. No cartographer would release a map with only the name of the county it is depicting and nothing else. No one would believe this handout looks like a map they might purchase in game without it being written on by the GM. And if the GM isn’t a calligrapher, it’s going to mar an otherwise beautiful map. What a waste.

The second is a standard gaming map of Oppara, one of the biggest and most important cities in the Inner Sea region of Golarion. It has labels of the various districts, but no specifics. Compare this to the map of Magnimar from the Shattered Star Map Folio and there is no contest. The detail and usefulness of that map far outstrips this rather lacklustre presentation of Oppara.

The third and final map of the folio completes the failure. Once more a beautiful painted map of Taldor with no labels beyond saying that it is Taldor. What is the point? How can this be used for any other setting when Taldor is written right on the map? And if the intent is to not let it be used in other settings, why not mark the various places on the map? I saw improvements with the Ironfang Invasion Map Folio and hoped the trend would continue. It was not to be. If perhaps I could know the reasoning behind the lack of labelling? That might help.

Final Thoughts: The title of this review is a play on words. These maps are very pretty and as game aids all but useless. I would actually give this folio one star if not for the absolute magnificent job the cartographer/artists did on the graphic visuals of these maps. With a little work, these can be used as game aids. But the point of buying something like this is to reduce the amount of work as a GM, not add to it. I am very disappointed. I really wanted a lovely map of Taldor to add to my collection of maps of Golarion and once again have been handed wall art. Two out of Five stars.


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Expanded, Improved, and all but Essential

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

I reviewed the original New Paths Compendium when it first came out and loved it. This new expanded edition has an extra forty pages, but it actually has more new material than that: some of the classes from the original have been revamped and some of the options available in the first have been expunged. Add in new art and new material replacing that which was removed, and this is a brand-new beast in most respects.

The first chapter deals with classes. The original seven classes were the Battle Scion, Elven Archer, Savant, Shaman, Spell-less Ranger, Theurge, & White Necromancer. They are all back after a fashion; the one exception being the elven archer which has been replaced with a completely overhauled Mystic Archer, once the name of a single variant form of the elven archer class. It really is a whole new class effectively combining magic and archery.

The savant has been streamlined and simplified, making for a much easier to understand class. The class now picks up skills and abilities through observation rather than tale-telling (the original story based savant is still available as the raconteur archetype). The ability to pick up, adjust, and use new abilities is impressive and greatly improved over the old savant.

The shaman has been re-named the Spirit Shaman to keep from overlapping with the Shaman class from Paizo’s Advanced Class Guide. It is largely unchanged except for the addition of a 20th level capstone ability that makes the spirit shaman part spirit with several advantages.

In addition to these classes are added the following new classes: the Priest, a divine caster that resembles the arcanist both in spell casting and the extra abilities they gain, though obviously of a religious/divine nature. Their combat is like a wizard or sorcerer, but they get divine gifts that modify their powers and spells to make for a powerful caster. Really cool concept.

Skin-changers are closer to the shape-changing class that players were expecting with the Shifter from the new Ultimate Wilderness. It is the primary ability of the class, and it is a full BAB warrior to boot. Able to shift at first level is quite powerful, but until 4th level it is a very limited ability, so I don’t see significant power creep in the class overall.

The Tinkerer is a master of constructs and cool clockwork devices. It gains a clockwork companion much like a summoner’s eidolon, with “modifications” taking the place of evolutions. Outside of that, the tinkerer gets grenades to use in a fight and is the absolute master of traps, both in the finding and setting of them.

Tricksters are arcane/rogue combinations that uses the arcanist prepared spells/slots for use system. It only goes to 6th level, but uses the sorcerer/wizard list for versatility. An optional rule is suggested, removing evocation and necromancy spells to keep them from being too powerful. They also have sneak attack as well as the ability to apply spells to sneak attack damage. There is an area of specialization called a forte that each trickster can only take once; they may be acrobatic, a spell pilferer, good at sneaking, etc. Their chosen forte gives them special abilities related to their specialization beyond their normal faire. Probably the most intriguing ability is filch spell which allows the trickster to take control of a spell being cast by someone else. Love it!

The last new class is the Kobold Press take on the Warlock. Much like a witch version of the magus, it is a six-level spell-caster with a weapon he bonds to instead of a familiar. They get a dread bolt (read “eldritch blast” to all you 3.5 fans out there) and—like several of the spell-casting classes here—uses the arcanist prepare spells/number of slots to cast. This looks like a solid transfer from the old 3.5 class while really finding its own way. Nice!

The other classes are pretty much the same as before with a few editing and cosmetic changes. You can see my original review for those. Next, we get something that was lacking in the first compendium: favored class options. These are a very nice addition, but some of them are for races from KP’s Advanced Races Compendium and won’t be of much use without access to that tome.

Chapter two covers archetypes, and while a number from the original compendium made it over, not all did or have been adjusted a little. The absentees: Hellfire Preacher (cleric), Coilgunner (gunslinger), Monk of the Glorious Endeavor (monk), Monk of the Peerless Mountain (monk), Six Talismans Monk (monk), and Mist Stalker (ninja). Monk of the Compliant Style Rod is now called Iron Staff Monk.

Of more interesting note are the additional archetypes: Wild Scion (battle scion) which is a spontaneous casting arcane warrior, Chosen of Nature (priest) a druidic priest, Guarded Priest (priest) which swaps out divine gifts for a summoner’s eidolon, Raconteur (savant) which is closer in theme to the original savant with story avatars delivering abilities, Shadow Stalker (spell-less ranger) more assassin less woodsman, Dual-Forte Trickster (trickster) can take two fortes instead of one for reduced spellcasting, Forte Master Trickster (trickster) becomes extra capable with their forte for reduced spellcasting, Dimensional Traveller (warlock) that can teleport about the battlefield, and finally Death Warden (white necromancer).

This last archetype is a real pleasure to see. One thing I mentioned in my review of the original was the lack of a death focused archetype. The white necromancer is based around the necromantic triad: life, death, and undeath. The two original archetypes—Necrotic Healer and Grave-bound—covered life and undeath focused necromancers respectively. I saw this as an obvious hole in which something could be placed. The death warden is focused on making sure creatures that die stay dead. They are powerful combatants against undead with channel energy as a weapon and spell-like abilities designed to aid in the hunting and destruction of the undead. Well done!

Chapter three covers feats, and it has a few new feats which can work with some of the new classes like Delay Detonation which works with the Tinkerer’s grenade class feature and Powerful Channel for those with Improved Channel to do more at the cost of becoming fatigued. Gone are the feats that worked with the old savant—as one would expect—as well as a few other feats such as Ring the Bell and Savage Terrain Warrior. Space as a requirement for some cuts? Don’t know, but it doesn’t really affect the list much.

The next section covers alternate feats which are quite different. First up are Death Feats, feats that can only be taken by those who have died and been brought back to life. An interesting idea of adding flavour to an event that is sometimes glossed over in higher level games. I particularly like Reversal of Fortune which uses your successful defiance of fate to allow you to change a natural one into a natural twenty once a week. Makes dying almost a desirable event in the game. They come accompanied by Death Flaws, which the GM may require as an additional prerequisite for taking a Death Feat. This of course makes the Death Feat an entirely bonus feat outside of normal feat acquisition, and would be the rule as I am going to use it.

The scaling combat feats of the next section are from the original and are just as good as they were then. They dump the firearm traits from the original tome and instead give us a new optional split version of leadership which makes getting the cohort separate and necessary before picking up followers. Great for those interested in keeping a power balance steady and for those who really don’t want a whole lot of followers tagging along on adventures.

Chapter four covers spells, and reprints the ones from the first compendium with a few new ones that have some evocative imagery. I like claws of darkness for sorcerers, wizards, and witches. It’s only first level and not powerful, but it fits the warlock well with claws forming out of shadows on the hands to inflict cold damage. Low-level coolness!

A new section covers spells called Combat Divinations. These are divination spells ranging from level one to six that allow spell casters to gain combat advantages over foes as immediate actions. This is a neat tactical addition to the game, especially for battle scions, magi, and warlock characters. Obviously the usefulness of the spells increases with the level, with low-level spells like alter arrow’s fortune adding a small penalty to an upcoming ranged attack and higher-level spells like energy foreknowledge casts resist energy of the type just cast on your character or altering the energy type of whatever resistance has already been cast!

Chapter five covers gear and magic items and is essentially the same as the original compendium chapter, though better organized than the first. Chapter six includes the same tracking sheets as the first compendium, as useful as they have always been.

The presentation of the overall book is greatly improved over the original with new art and a far more polished style. The old artwork wasn’t bad at all, but it pales compared to the look of the new book. The old art looked much like coloured sketches; these are paintings.

One thing to note is some editing problems I encountered on reading through. On the table of contents, the Tinkerer Modifications are not indented so it has the same sort of heading as a class, and the Noble Shootist archetype for the Gunslinger is completely missing from the ToC. The Monk archetypes are missing, and the Ninja and its archetype are set like they are the monk archetypes. Minor quibbles, but noticeable. Also the Warlock archetypes didn’t get their own intro: it was the text from the white necromancer archetypes! This is a little more serious, but since it is only the intro, I’m going to let it slide.

Final Thoughts: The New Paths Compendium: Expanded Edition is an absolute joy to read. Marc Radle and the team at Kobold Press have tightened up the class presentations, strengthened the options and filled in some gaps. The changes don’t render the old compendium completely useless either; there are still classes and options within that book that were not transferred over, so the old volume still can have some value at the table. But where the two contradict, my advice is go with the new. The improved savant and addition of a death-focused white necromancer archetype would make me recommend this for the PDF, but the whole volume is worth purchasing in hard copy as it is a worthy addition to anyone’s table.

I gave the first compendium a four star as some of the elements might not be to everyone’s liking. While I stand by that review, this volume overwhelms those options with so much good material that concern is gone. This is a fantastic book and it will see play at my table. Five out of five stars.


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Essential Rulebook for Wilderness Themed Campaigns

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Ultimate Wilderness is the latest entry in Paizo’s line of Ultimate guides for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Each book of this line tries to expand the PFRPG ruleset covering a specific area to such a degree that further hardcover books are rendered unnecessary; hence the “Ultimate” part of the title. In this case we have a book covering wilderness adventuring, the next most common area for RPG adventures outside of dungeons. As such it seems odd that we have had to wait eight years for this volume; I would have expected it a lot sooner.

The first chapter covers Wilderness Heroes, giving us three new PC races and a new class—the Shifter. The Gathlain is the first race, which were first introduced in the Advanced Race Guide as an example of what could be built with the Race Builder ruleset and then later as an entry in Bestiary 4. Small, fey creatures with wings made of wood, the gathlain are an intriguing and unique creation. Here they get a full six page overview including alternate racial traits, favored class options, archetypes, equipment, feats, magic items, and spells.

I especially like the Fey Prankster rogue archetype which grants the gathlain control over plants to aid in trapping and tricking their opponents and the ability to cast an illusion stealing the appearance of one creature or object and swapping it with another. This fits in with classic faerie tales and fey tropes, taking what was once an exercise in rule-testing and creating something deep and memorable.

The second race is the Ghoran, a race that appeared initially in the Inner Sea Bestiary and then later as an entry in Bestiary 5. As a PC race they have been modified slightly, removing some plant immunities so they work better within the rules. They are essentially humanoid flower people and they get a five page spread similar to the gathlain. I like how the leafshifter shifter archetype allows for topiary forms instead of actual animal forms when shapeshifting. Rather cool!

Vine Leshys are a new leshy designed specifically to be a PC race. Like the modified ghorans, they lack the primary plant immunities to keep balance with other PC races. They get a full six page write up and are full of neat little leshy type items like a feat that lets you heal using sunlight and leshy spells that let you grasp items and creatures with an extendable vine or summon a swarm of tiny leshys to overwhelm your foes.

After the three new races come the new class, the shifter. The shifter is a Full BAB martial class with the ability to draw upon aspects of animals to enhance her combat abilities. She augments her lack of weaponry (her weapon proficiency list is small and select) and armor (limited to non-metal, light and medium plus shields except tower shields) with claw attacks that increase in damage over time and an AC bonus based off Wisdom like a monk. Indeed, the shifter seems to be a hybrid monk/ranger with a limited druidic wild shape as well (starting at 4th level).

The core of the class seems to stem from using the powers from an animal aspect to enhance their combat strikes and—over time—add more aspects to further improve their melee combat abilities. For example, a shifter gets one animal at first level and might choose bear as her aspect. She would then get four minutes a day at first level (3+level minutes per day) enhancing her Constitution score by 2. She would use these in one minute increments, so she would likely have four encounters a day with one extra hit point and a +1 to Fort saves.

At fourth level, she could use wild shape to become a dire bear. At fifth level she would gain a second aspect—let’s say owl. For eight minutes a day in one minute increments, she could gain a +4 bonus on Stealth or the +2 bonus to her Constitution. She would also be able to wild shape into a Medium sized owl. At 8th, these abilities go up: +4 bonus to Con and +6 bonus on Stealth.

At 9th the Shifter gains chimeric aspect, allowing her to use two minor aspects simultaneously, in this case both the bonus to con and the stealth bonus. This adding continues on creating a versatile combatant over time.

What the shifter is NOT is a class whose primary ability is shapeshifting. Although an important aspect of the class, it only becomes versatile around 10th level, where the shifter has three aspects and can wild shape four times a day. If you are looking for a flexible shapeshifter at 1st level, this isn’t it.

Overall, I like the class. While limited in shapeshifting, it is a full BAB martial with some very unique combat options. With the right feats and magic items, it could very easily fulfill the role of melee combatant in a party while retaining a good range of skills (4 + INT) and unique natural world connectivity.

The second chapter covers archetypes and class options. There are eighty-five archetypes in this section, covering most of the base classes to some extent. There are some excellent ideas here; I especially like the Brawler archetypes as they trade out only a few abilities each to gain the flavour that is being looked for. The Venomfist only loses close weapon mastery and knockout to gain toxic unarmed strikes—they do a bit less damage in return for poisoning opponents! This could be combined with the feral striker archetype—-which loses martial flexibility for gaining a shifter aspect. A third level snake aspect venomfist using snake style combat would have bonuses for and against attacks of opportunity with poison strikes that can do bludgeoning or piercing damage. That’s just great!

My favorite is the oozemorph—a shifter archetype that is much more flexible in shapechanging abilities, being a person who becomes an ooze that can take humanoid form for initially short periods of time. This has some strong limitations for the first three levels, but eventually becomes much more versatile in shapechanging appearance than the core shifter—including the ability to appear as just about anyone!

Many of the archetypes are updated reprints form the Player Companion line of products, so will be familiar to those who have copies of the various issues in question. By placing these in the PRD (eventually) they open them up to more use for the general public, so I don’t mind the reprints. Others do not like this practice, so judge for yourself.

In addition to the archetypes we have a large number of other options with ties to the natural world: six alchemist discoveries, seventeen barbarian rage powers, a new cavalier order (Order of the Green, dedicated to the Green Faith), two new druid domains (Erosion and Vermin), the Wood Element for kineticists (updated and repaired from its initial appearance in Occult Origins), four slayer talents, four witch hexes, six witch patrons, two psychic disciplines (Ferocity and Symbiosis), a shaman spirit (Wood), an eidolon subtype (Plant), and four warpriest blessings based on natural disasters. All in all, a massive amount of material to use in creating wilderness based adventurers.

The third chapter covers new feats, most of which run the gamut from meh to really good, as per usual. I see feats as a means of customizing a character to fit the vision a person has for it in their head, so I like the selection and variety presented. As always a feats usefulness is mostly dependent upon how often the circumstance in which it will be useful comes up. For some designs and play styles, what is useless to one player may be critical to another.

Some of the more interesting feats work with rules found later in the book, such as Cultivate Magic Plants under Item Creation and the Natural Poison Harvester feat chain which makes harvesting poisons from natural settings easier and with better results. There are four more combat styles with a nature focus and five new teamwork feats.

Chapter four is the heart of the book for me: Mastering the Wild. Here we have the additional rules and flavour text for really bringing wilderness adventures to life and separating them from dungeons and urban outings. The first section codifies exploration and allows a GM to prepare a wilderness area for the party to explore and quickly without having to become overburdened by every rock and bush. It works much like the research rules from Ultimate Intrigue, but with more danger and physical challenges.

We are then given an overview of the First World which is almost all flavour text. I like this, as there is enough information out there mechanically for the fey that what we really need is a thematic overview for writing adventures involving the First World. They do include a series of hazards and haunts connected to the FW to help with mood setting.

Next up are rules for foraging and salvaging, expanding on the basic survival skill roll. These really are straight forward rules without much complication that add a level of verisimilitude to the process of finding supplies and equipment in the wilderness.

The overview on the Green Faith is much like the First World: lots of flavour as mechanics are already established. It establishes the various druidic orders that make up the Faith as well as its hierarchy. Details on the roles various adventure classes play in the faith and how alignment ties in are also discussed. Two green faith archetypes accompany the section: one for druids and one for Inquistors. Pretty much everything a GM needs to incorporate the Green Faith into their adventures without much fuss. Nice!

Then comes a section on harvesting poisons from the natural world and crafting antitoxins. It comes with a list of fourteen natural poisons, their effects, and how they can be found in the wilderness. This can be used either as a skill challenge for a group looking for a specific poison or as a list of new poisons for use in the game.

Hazards and Disasters make up the next section and cover everything form common brambles to volcanic eruptions with thin ice, earthquakes, and fording rivers in between. These are great additions to those found in the Core Rulebook and may be the most useful six pages in the book for running wilderness adventures. I particularly like the vampire orchids, whose pollen can put you to sleep so they can drain your blood! A nasty twist of the field-of-flowers-making-you-sleepy encounter.

Herbalism is then covered with a series of eighteen different herbs, where they can be found, how they can be prepared, and what their uses are in game. Simple rules for gathering and preparing are presented which wouldn’t slow down the game much. It could—like the natural poisons—simply be used as a list of available new items of course.

Six pages are then spent on explaining how to use spells already in the game effectively in wilderness settings. This is in many ways a strategy guide on how to use magic to make exploration and travel easier. Even simple spells like create food and water and purify food and drink are shown to go a long ways toward making survival much easier.

Trophies and Treasures is a ruleset that covers making money from animals and things you might find in a wilderness setting. A simple set of skill rolls can transform a monster without treasure into a treasure itself! The section comes with monster types and subtypes and what items may be “harvested” for fun and profit.

A more robust weather system covers seven pages, allowing a GM to make more believable weather patterns should he wish to expand on what is in the CRB. I myself prefer usisng weather as appropriate to the mood of the story, but for others who want a more sandbox generic experience these tables and rules will be of great use. There is also a section on severe weather, covering the mechanics and effects a party would have to deal with should they find themselves caught in a weather event.

The last section of chapter four deals with traps built by survivalists and trappers using natural items. A list of ten traps ranging from CR 1 to CR 5 are presented, including classics like the deadfall and spring snare.

Chapter five covers animal companions and familiars, and it is quite extensive. It lists magic item slots for various animal body types, a list of fifty-two animal companions (including grizzly bears—which are eventually Large sized!—plant, and vermin companions), sixteen animal companion archetypes, nine variant familiars (same stats as an already established familiar but with flavour changes), forty-six familiars (favorites: ravenous tumbleweed, giant tardigrade, and razor fern), fourteen familiar archetypes, thirty-one companion tricks, and twelve companion feats.

There is something there for almost everyone who has an animal friend. A lot of the familiars and rules come from Familiar Folio and Animal Archive, but as I stated above, I regard moving this from the companion line to the main line as a good thing.

Chapter six covers a list of new spells for the game with a wilderness bent. Some are reprints, some are new, but all follow the standard addition of magic found in most books. A few of the spells—such as snowball—are updated and corrected on the way in. Also included at the very end of the chapter are five nature based rituals. I love rituals; they feel more like magic to me than regular spells in the game do. I really like return to dormancy; although designed for kaiju, it could work quite well on the spawn of Rovagug like the Tarasque.

The final chapter covers wilderness adventuring gear and magic items. They include carrier backpacks (for carrying you cat familiar and the like around along with your gear), a cooler chest (for perishables), and a goblin fishing lure (why fish would want to eat something that looks like a goblin head is anyone’s guess).

The coolest addition to magic items are Magic Plants, cultivated from seeds, roots, and cuttings by spellcasters for their magical properties. There are sixteen plants in all, each one having a magic effect from the use of its leaves, bark, or fruit. I like the helping hands vines, whose hand shaped leaves help people trying to scale the walls they are growing against. Neat visual image!

Final Thoughts: I like this book a lot. There are loads of new character options for the main line of the game (admittedly, some of these were available in Golarion specific soft-cover expansions earlier), great sets of simple rules for expanding on wilderness adventuring, and many new items and animals to interact with. The overviews of the First World and Green Faith are solid and will help build an atmosphere appropriate to the setting and creatures involved. The shifter may disappoint those who wanted it to be something other than it is, but it seems a solid new character class to me. All in all a great book and a must for wilderness themed adventures in the Pathfinder game. Five out of Five Stars.


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A very useful and well made map set...mostly.

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

So once again we have a series of maps designed for use with an Adventure Path, in this case the Ironfang Invasion. To be of use in what is essentially a war campaign we will need a map of the area involved in the fight plus some major adventure sites within the campaign itself. There are some SPOILERS ahead, so if you are going to play this campaign skip to the final thoughts section below.

The first map is a city map of the Dwarven Sky Citadel of Kraggodan, an important location in the campaign to be sure. It is a beautiful city map with a scale and labeled locations that would make adventuring in the Dwarven city pretty easy. Only major points of interest are marked and none that a cartographer wouldn’t know about. Excellent job!

The second map is an overview of the Vault of the Onyx Citadel, with a scale and locations marked that the pech community the party first meets when entering the vast Vault would know about. As such this could be picked up right away as an actual map. It is filled with landmarks, even ones that are not essential to the adventure at all. This obscures the importance of the actual adventure sites and is perfect as a handout should the players want one. Excellent work!

The final map is an artistic map of southern Nirmathas and Northwestern Molthune. It is the same map that is reproduced inside each front cover of the AP minus the area marked as Ironfang territory and each of the communities being labelled. Secret locales or items unknowable are all unlabelled, just vague images of possible threats or ruins. This is what I have been advocating for some time, and it is glorious! Just one issue…

…it has no scale! The other two maps are scaled and are of great value because of it. By leaving off the scale, a GM will have to use the maps from the Inner Sea World Guide to figure out distances, reducing the usefulness of the map as a game aid. It is a shame, as in a war campaign a scaled map is essential. It can be used and is workable overall, but it requires extra effort that a simple scale marker would have rendered unnecessary. It also lacks a compass rose which, while not essential, is something that should be included with all maps.

One map that is missing from the collection is a map of Phaendar, as it starts the campaign and reappears in the final installment. However, since there are massive changes between the two appearances of the town, it is understandable that the designers would want to vary things up a bit. So I’ll let that slide.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I am impressed. This is a good collection of useful maps that are important to the Ironfang Invasion campaign and can be used for other campaigns with ease. This is what I have been looking for in the Map Folios. However, the lack of scale or compass rose on the main Campaign regional map reduces its standalone usefulness as a campaign play aid. All in all though it is a very good collection of maps. Four out of Five stars.


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Quite Possibly the Best of All the Bestiaries

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Bestiaries have three purposes: first, to provide adversaries for the player characters in the game; second, to help GMs with building their worlds and populating them with potential allies as well as threats, creating legends to draw adventurers in to the plots they’ve contrived; and third, to entertain the reader with a list of fantastic creatures both baleful and benign to stimulate their imagination, as well as beautiful artwork to please the soul.

This is the sixth Bestiary put out by Paizo for their Pathfinder RPG and some would rightfully point out that there are now more monsters in existence for this game than could reasonably be encountered in any campaign. Is there such a thing as too many monsters? Let’s take a look.

First thing to be noticed is the amazing cover by Wayne Reynolds, featuring a Brimorak demon, Charon, and Mephistopheles. It is a brilliant intro to the book, which covers threats for low-level adventurers (like the brimorak) to stuff of nightmares for the toughest mythic heroes (the boatman and THE archetypal devil).

The artwork throughout runs from the very good to the spectacular. My particular favorites are the portraits of Tawil at’Umr and Krampus by David Melvin, the Olethros Pschopomp by David Alvarez, the Whisperer by Will O’Brien, all of the members of the Wild Hunt by Roberto Pitturru, and the Animus Shade by Audrey Hotte. The artwork is up to the usual standard of Paizo: superb. There are a few I don’t like as much due to their caricature nature, as I prefer images as realistic as possible to help feel the threat level, but that is a personal preference and by no means a slight towards any of the artists who contributed to this volume.

The monsters are varied and intriguing; a good number are drawn directly from world folklore, literature, and even occasionally film. The fact that there are so many monsters of unique appearance and abilities after six volumes shows the depth of those resources have yet to be fully tapped. There are also constructs made especially for the game and at least one old classic from Gary Gygax’s AD&D Monster Manual II: The thessalhydra. Having it in Pathfinder in all its vicious lethal glory warms my nostalgic heart.

The threats range from CR ½ to CR 30 and all points in between: yes, ALL. It something that they have been careful about at Paizo to make sure each Bestiary has threats from the entire range to make sure a GM has options to challenge his players accordingly.

The arrangement of the book is the same layout as the previous and this is an example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” design philosophy. You can quickly find what you need to run any monster in the book without much fuss. Lists of types of monsters, terrains, animal companion stats, monster roles; in short, everything a GM needs to create populate her adventures with appropriate threats.

As to the threats themselves, this is one of the strongest showings in some time. The variety of creatures is quite mindboggling. I’ve looked through it and there aren’t many entries that I could call weak. There are some that look mundane like a piranha swarm, but then you realize things like, “how many swarms work underwater?” The ones we are familiar with have a practical use; the ones we don’t recognize fire the imagination.

I’ll bring one of my favorite entries: the Wild Hunt. This is based on Celtic folklore about fey who charge through the world on a manic hunt, trying to bring down prey; sometimes human prey. People who hear the horn of the Master of the Hunt are often drawn to join in and follow, not necessarily of their free will.

The write up takes the real world folklore into account and weaves it in with Paizo’s take on the Fey—which is easier than in many games as the Fey in Pathfinder have been deliberately kept close to the real world folklore. They add in their own game mechanics and describe not just one monster entry, but the descriptions of five different creatures that make up the hunt. They describe the different types of hunt that occur, including drawing in characters and making them Fey members of the Wild Hunt, right out of the folklore. I can think of not just side-treks or adventures, but whole campaigns out of the Wild Hunt entry alone. Wonderful.

There are Kaiju to slake the disaster monster fan in all of us, Archdevils and Great Old Ones to act as masterminds behind the scenes or end bosses for Mythic campaigns. There are creepy undead (whoever thought up the Lovelorn…wow, that’s disturbing. EDIT: It was Crystal Frasier!) and Empyreal Lords to champion the good guys. As I said the range is truly amazing.

If I am going to lay a criticism here it will be about the Dragon entries. Sadly, the format given that Paizo has admitted they are stuck with leaves little room for flavour text for each specific dragon type. A few lines to help convey the mood really doesn’t do them justice, especially these planar dragons which are just magnificent. I am at a loss to how to correct this problem, so I will let it slide.

I’m going to call out my favorite monster as the Conqueror Worm. Drawn from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe, it is a disturbing mastermind, manipulating beings from the shadows for its own amusement, eventually taking its minions and devouring them after making them destroy their entire civilization. Its actions as described in the entry could explain the country of Galt in Golarion quite well and makes you wonder whether the eternal revolution is the result of human depravity and corruption or something far more sinister. This is a campaign in a single monster entry.

Final Thoughts: All in all, Bestiary 6 fulfills all the criteria I gave at the start and then some. Adversaries for every level of play, creatures with back stories and flavour to inspire world and adventure building, and beautiful artwork and strong characterizations of motives and actions to fire the imagination. You really can’t get better than that. This may be the best Bestiary of them all. Five out of Five Stars.


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A Sadly Disapointing Entry in the Map Folio Line.

2/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The Strange Aeons Adventure Path is a Pathfinder campaign of Lovecraftian Horror. Some may wonder what that actually means. To me it indicates it should have the atmosphere of the pulp cosmic horror of the twenties and thirties, with the protagonists (PCs) sometimes feeling like they are out of their depths and in danger of all manner of horrific endings. Any game aid designed for use with this campaign should help build that atmosphere while easing the job of the GM to maintain the pacing and running of the Adventure Path. So let’s take a look at this Map Folio and see how it pans out from that perspective.

Most Map Folios come with three poster sized maps and this one is no different. The first map is of the town of Thrushmoor in Ustalav, a place that has a very significant role in the campaign. This map is well drawn and very serviceable, but I think I would have preferred numbered locations with a side key. This would have allowed a larger number of locations to be marked on the map and not just the ones significant to the adventure. By increasing the number of marked locations without cluttering up the map, it would have hidden the significant locations in a forest of unimportant places. When building atmosphere is an important consideration to a campaign, having only places that could have significance to the campaign marked removes some of the mystery necessary in a Lovecraftian style adventure.

The second map is of the alien city of Neruzavin and is beautifully drawn…and all but useless. It has only three locations marked on it, looks more like a terrain map than a city map, and doesn’t help create the alien vibe a strange eldritch location should evoke. This sort of thing might have been better served by an isometric map, showing the city as a three dimensional place rather than just a top down view. I really can’t see how this map is better than just showing the players the map from the volume itself; they would get just as much information for helping their vision of the city.

The third map is a gloriously painted rendition of Ustalav, with the many legendary threats of various locations painted by the communities in a striking and lovely style. But this map has no labels save one, the big shield with the banner reading “Ustalav.” Why? Without labels, this becomes nothing but wall art. If I wanted wall art, I would buy it; these maps are supposed to be game aids. How is this useful in a campaign? It has the atmosphere of Ustalav which is generic horror; Strange Aeons is a particular sub-genre of horror, and this map doesn’t contribute to it. Indeed, mystery is a large part of Lovecraftian horror and having accurate depictions of threats throughout the country actually undermines some of that mystery. It can’t be used as a generic fantasy map, as it has “Ustalav” printed large on the page. Ultimately it is very pretty but almost useless as a game aid. The map of Ustalav from the Carrion Crown Map Folio is far more useful as a Ustalav campaign map—in fact that product would be all but indispensable for a homemade campaign set in that haunted country.

Final Thoughts: Colour me disappointed. This really isn’t a very good game aid for such a complex and deep campaign as Strange Aeons. Only one map is of any real use and it could be said to reveal a touch too much in a campaign in which mystery is such a key component. The most beautiful map is actually wall art, not in my opinion a game aid. I’m very sorry to say that this is the first purchase I have made of a Paizo product that left me flat. Two out of Five Stars.


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Brilliant way to Introduce New Players

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box uses simplified rules to introduce the game to new players. This is very important as the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook is somewhat…intimidating to people who have never played a Tabletop RPG before. So the objectives of the Beginner Box is to get people who with no RPG experience familiar with the concept, a firm grasp of the basic rules, and have fun doing it. A challenging task…let’s see what they have done with it!

First let’s look at what is included in the Beginner Box. It comes with a cover page to get people reading the right volumes whether they are a player or GM; a Hero's Handbook, covering character creation and the general rules; a Game Master's Guide with a ready to go dungeon, monsters, magic treasures, and advice on how to create your own dungeons and the basics of game mastering; a set of 7 polyhedral dice; a mass of cardboard pawns to mark both heroes and monsters; four pregenerated character sheets; four blank character sheets so you can make your own hero; a double-sided Flip-Mat with a dungeon on one side and blank with grid on the other; and finally a transition guide that explains how to transfer your character over to the full rules version of the game.

Outside of the books, the extras are really great. The cover page is the standard “Read Me First!” type pamphlet you find with any new piece of technology or complicated instructions these days. It points the would-be players in the right directions and gives them an idea of where to begin. A simple, helpful guide. The pre-generated character sheets and blank character sheets look great and are very easy to read. The only problem I can see with them is that they have—by necessity—been designed to work with the limited rules presented in the Beginner Box. This limits their usefulness once the players move on to the full rules.

Flip-Mats are beautiful, time-saving, and great for getting the players to really understand and visualize the action. Having one built for the dungeon provided is a practical god-send. The blank other side is exactly what would be needed for a new GM starting out, so spot on there. A full set of good quality dice plus character and monster pawns to act as placement markers fills out the rest. The dice are an obvious addition, but the pawns are fantastic. Beautiful representations of every monster portrayed in the dungeon provided and the bestiary included in the Game Master's Guide. One extra is a goblin dog, which for some reason does not have stats anywhere. Could have been used for another goblin or orc or something instead. Obviously the stats were originally intended to be in, but something got changed in development. Not a big deal, really.

The Hero's Handbook is wonderful: beautiful art, an excellent solo-adventure to get a newbie understanding the basics of table-top roleplaying games, and simplified rules that explain how to make a character, how they work in game, and how to advance them all the way to 5th level. It begins with a step-by-step guide to filling out a blank character sheet on the inside front cover, a useful reference. After the intro and table of contents, a solo pick-your-path adventure is included to help a newcomer get what players actually do in a RPG session. After that is a sample of play written out so that the reader gets what is goes on with more than just one person playing.

This is a good way to introduce a new player to the game. I’ve seen the sample of play in virtually every RPG from the very beginning with my Tom Moldvay version of Basic D&D. But I like the way it was coupled with a pick-your-path adventure. A new player gets to experience what it is like to play and sees what a games session could be like before starting. A good, practical one-two punch.

The rules section is next and the rules are simplified and pared down so that a new player isn’t overwhelmed. It goes through the character creation process in a bit more detail, keyed entirely to the character sheet. This really helps streamline the process and keeps everything easy to access. Only three races (human, elf, & dwarf) and four classes (fighter, cleric, wizard, rogue) are available, but that’s good; keeping things pretty basic is what this whole product is about. The book guides a player through character creation and levelling up in a very easy to read and understand format. It allows for choice, but limits the number of choices so as not to confuse a new player. It also explains the basic consequences of each choice so that the player doesn’t have to worry about having made the “wrong” choice. It is a very good and easy way to learn.

The rest of the book covers basic adventuring rules and the basics of combat and spellcasting. It is succinct and to the point and there is a glossary of common terms on the inside of the back cover. A combat guide is placed on the back cover of the book, so it really is of great use throughout the game.

The Game Master's Guide has a sample dungeon to run a group through as a first game mastering experience that includes a GM’s version of the map on the inside front cover. It’s a neat little dungeon that includes all the standard tropes found in your average RPG: monsters, traps, treasure, and what used to be referred to as “tricks”: items that can be beneficial or baneful or nothing at all depending on how you interact with them. The dungeon is an ideal training ground both for GMs and players.

The next two sections cover basic methods of game mastering and building adventures respectively. It’s all easy to follow and understand, with sound advice that will really help bring someone new up to speed quickly. It ends with the basic framework for a sequel to the sample dungeon, giving the new GM the opportunity to build the adventure her own way given the tools already presented. It is a good way to get the creative juices flowing; it’s sort of like having training wheels on a bike then removing them.

The next section covers advice on building encounters within unique environments, from underground dungeons to urban settings. It’s followed by a section covering traps, with a good variety available as samples. Next up is a magic treasure section, with images by each of the limited selection of items available. I like this; it’s as if the authors gave recipes for building campaigns and adventures then provide the component ingredients for use. Mix carefully…

Completing the ingredient list we have a selection of low-level monsters follows with random encounter tables for each of the previously discusses environments and how to use them. This plus a setting—Sandpoint—completes the new info section of the book.

After that we get a number of reference pages at the back which are easy and quick to access for rules adjudication. My favorite of these reference pages are the list of conditions: from blinded to grabbed and all the way to unconscious, each of the common conditions found in this limited rule set—and most of those found in the game—are explained clearly and are accompanied by a picture of a goblin afflicted by it. Incredibly useful and cool to look at. The inside back cover has a number of common map symbols to use in making your own maps and the back cover itself has the most common conditions accompanied by a quick combat reference guide and an explanation of cover. All in all, a very useful reference book.

The final book is the Transition Guide, a brief explanation on how to convert your game over to the full rules when you are ready to expand. It’s clear, simple, and a very good aid in expanding to the full rules. But what I really like about the book is the fact that there is a chapter dedicated to converting full rule adventure modules into Beginner Box rule adventures! This is a classy move; with the PRD available for free online, gamers could simply use the Beginner Box without buying anything else should they so choose. By giving advice on how to convert an adventure over, Paizo has made available all the myriad modules and scenarios available for Pathfinder for the Beginner Box as well. They use the free downloadable module Master of the Fallen Fortress as a conversion example and do a very good job of it.

On top of all this are the free to download resources available on Paizo’s website on the Beginner Box page, HERE. They include printable character sheets, both blank and of the pregenerated characters; a Player Pack with a fifth class (Barbarian), new options for the other four classes, new feats, and new equipment; a GM’s Kit with a new small adventure, a few new monsters and magic items, plus more advice on using published adventures; a Pathfinder Society Beginner Box Character Creation Guide, helping let players get involved in the PFS; and Bash Demos—short mini-adventures to get people involved quickly and can act as seeds for bigger adventures. The value of all this simply cannot be overstated.

Final Thoughts: As an introduction to the Pathfinder RPG, this is simply a brilliant product. The Beginner Box has everything needed to help brand new players learn the basics of the game and get a good idea of what tabletop role-playing is all about. With the support it’s been given on the Paizo website and the ability to easily convert all the many low-level adventures out there to this rule set, this is all that anyone needs for quite a lot of adventuring. Add in that the Flip-Mat, pawns, and reference materials will be of use to anyone who plays the game—even the Core Rulebook and beyond crowd—and this becomes an indispensable addition to every Pathfinder player who wants to introduce someone to the game. 5 out of 5 stars.


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An Excellent Delve

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Before I begin this review, I will mention that the author, Monica Marlowe, is a friend of mine. I do not intend to allow that to affect my review, but I want everyone reading this to recognize it up front so they can judge the review and my comments honestly.

As with most adventure reviews, this one contains SPOILERS. You have been warned.

What I have always appreciated about Pathfinder Society scenarios is their scalability. Being able to take one adventure and run it for any group from 4 to 6 players and anywhere from 5th through 9th level is just awesome. It really ups the usability of the adventure outside PFS as a quick side jaunt for a regular campaign. Here we have what is a basic explore and rescue mission given by the elders of the Pathfinder Society to replace the currently vacant position of Master of Spells with the old Master who went missing on an expedition some 12 years prior.

The plot is set up quite well with an unstable ioun stone and a special wayfinder combining to a) get the PCs to their destination in Orv and give them a return time 24 hours later, b) explain why the stone should only be used as a gate and not an information gathering device (they only learn what is on the other side of the gate created by the device when ready for transport; excessive use of this particular stone is not recommended), and c) why it has taken 12 years to figure all this out (obscure references buried in requisition orders deep in the archives). That is a very clever plot device using magic items that can still be used as regular magic items outside of the adventure. Well done!

The encounters are very cinematic, with all three combat scenarios requiring more than just a straight-up fight. There is one encounter that is entirely roleplaying, with a Shaitan who needs the PCs’ aid. This is a very interesting scene that feels like an encounter with a genie should: larger than life personality, passionate emotions ranging from sadness to mirth, careful negotiations, and wish magic is discussed. I loved it! It gives a GM a real strong role to ham it up with.

If a party of characters approaches this as a standard dungeon crawl, they may very well fail in everything that matters even if they happen to survive it. The goal of this adventure isn’t defeating monsters and picking up treasure (although those are a part of it) but rather rescuing a survivor, recovering the remains or locations of pathfinder members, and collecting valuable information. Losing sight of the real goals may result in hardly any reward for their efforts at best and an incredibly long journey which they may not survive at worst. The final combat encounter is a classic example of this sort of design, where the party has to work fast and using the normal tactics for combat at mid-level would result in a great loss of information: the sole reason they are in that encounter to begin with! This is a great way to make a moderately challenging encounter a lot tougher without buffing up the monsters.

There are some clever lines given to a number of the NPCs, all of which are interesting and have small idiosyncrasies that make them quite memorable. I really love fully realized NPCs, so this was of great appeal to my personal style of gaming. The events portrayed in this adventure are also of great import to the Pathfinder Society, so you can feel as though you have accomplished something important in this scenario.

Final Thoughts: This is a great adventure filled with combat, role-playing, problem solving, and careful planning. I love this sort of thing, especially when the story matters and the characters are full of life. It has a good flow, good plot, and good characters. Add in that it is so versatile that it could be used as a side-trek by virtually any mid-level campaign, and it is an excellent addition to any group. 5 out of 5 stars.


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Solid Darklands Adventure

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Before I begin this review, I should point out that I consider Monica Marlowe a friend. We shared hosting duties on the RPG Superstar New Viewers Guide and have stayed in communication outside of that thread. Having said that, it is my belief that honest criticism is important in helping people grow as artists. So I will be looking at this adventure with as honest a point of view as I can give. I mention my friendship with the author so anyone who reads it may judge for themselves whether I let my connection influence my opinion and weigh my words accordingly.

I will also point out that in reviewing this adventure module, I will be giving out parts of the plot. So if you plan on playing this adventure be warned that there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

Down the Blighted Path is the winning module design entry for RPGSuperstar 2015. The main adventure covers a revenge plot by an evil fey creature named Zohir Totek, who is a death obsessed type of faerie called an orphne. She wishes to revenge herself for the loss of her mentor and potential mate by destroying the family of one who killed him: Delbera Axebringer, a famous dwarven hero. Though the hero is long dead, Zohir plans on raising Delbera as an undead servant and—using the dwarf’s magic axe as a focus for her ritual—kill and do the same to the entire Axebringer clan.

The adventure starts with a cool little mini-adventure in which the PCs can participate in a friendly competition to celebrate the coming of spring in the dwarven town of Davarn. The attached foldout map has the obstacle course used in this part of the adventure detailed out for miniature use, making for a great start. I wondered at the decision to make a minor part of the story the fold-out map, but most of the other encounter areas are very straight forward and this one is somewhat complex. So I’ll give it a pass, but given what comes later I’m really not sure this was a great idea. Still it’s a fun opening mini-game of sorts and a good way to get some connections made with the NPCs

At the feast afterwards the town is attacked by undead dwarves, skeletal warriors made from the guards of Firebrand’s Redoubt. After defeating the undead, the townsfolk ask the PCs to investigate the old fortress/tomb while the town guard mops up any remaining skeletal dwarves. The Redoubt is a very cool fortress designed like the dwarven axe it is named for (and based off the absolutely amazing map done by Monica as her Round Two Entry). It has duergar, a forlarren spy, and the shattered spirit of Lady Delbera Axebringer. There are a series of haunts that not only are very cool and evocative, but help the GM gives clues to the PCs about how to get to Lady Delbera’s ghost and get important information from her. This whole area is a really neat mini-dungeon with a great combination of role-playing, problem solving, and combat. I really appreciate the information in the sidebars to help with tying the party emotionally to the adventure in addition to the usual background expansion.

The second chapter takes the party down the Blighted Path itself, a series of caves, tunnels, and mine shafts polluted by an unusual outcrop of radioactive lazurite. This substance is usually only found in the lower reaches of Sekamina and anyone who dies within its radiance has a good chance of rising up as a ghoul. This is what gives this route its name. There are a good number of interesting encounters on the path to Phaedextrin’s Maw, a massive underground canyon where Zohir Totek’s fortress lies. They are for the most part combat or hazard encounters, but there is an unusual cleric of Rovagug who can actually be —somewhat—helpful if approached properly. A touch of roleplaying again amongst the combat and problem-solving.

Among these is a modified version of Monica’s encounter entry submission. That original encounter has been divided in two: the dread glutton (now renamed a fear eater) is moved to the Blighted Path itself while the Hanging Gardens of Karexin have a whole new set of monsters to fight. I like this as it keeps the hanging gardens a significant encounter, but not the penultimate one that it felt like from the original submission. It also lets the fear eater shine in all her repulsive glory without taking from the plot.

Here I will bring up my first real problem with this module: a major lack of encounter maps. ALL of the areas between the Redoubt and Zohir’s tower in the third chapter have no encounter map. None. Now that said the descriptions of the areas are fairly straightforward as are the encounters themselves. Fairly easy to set up for miniatures or for general “theatre of the mind” style play. But it also means that the encounters lack any depth with cool terrain or hazards. Straight up fights are OK for some, but I like them frequently changed up with something more complex. We do get such encounters in the Redoubt and the tower, but having such a long section free from such variety is not a good choice in my opinion. That the fear eater’s garden doesn’t get a map is almost a crime. It is something I would have loved to see. If space was an issue, why not place the maps on the inside of the back cover instead of a retread of the cover image? It’s a beautiful painting, but not much use in a game session.

At the Maw, the party has an opportunity based on role-playing decisions to get help from a local Svirfneblin village. But it is also possible to lose that help entirely by not helping some desperate gnome rangers with a couple of redcaps. Regardless of how that turns out, the party then has to locate Zohir’s tower built into a giant stalactite and then figure out a way across. The way Zohir and her servants use to get across is provided (trained mobats), but other options are available.

Once across, the party makes its way through a fairly standard dungeon—albeit a fairly cool looking inverted stalactite tower. What works here are the characters and the logic of the whole set-up; these monsters are in their rooms for a reason and will respond to threats in a way that makes sense. The final fight with Zohir could be quite chilling if her undead and necromantic abilities begin to take a toll on the party membership. With the adventures conclusion, it is possible to use the maps and route taken to open up the campaign to the Darklands, or use Davarn as a base for adventures in the Five King Mountains, Andoran, or Druma. Very flexible and thus much easier to insert into an existing campaign.

Overall, I like that there are options at almost every point in this adventure to move in multiple approaches to the encounters. That said, the arc of the story is quite linear and the order of the encounters is fairly rigidly set—excepting Firebrand’s Redoubt. Unsurprisingly with a name like the Blighted Path, it moves in one solid direction. But enough options and variation are included that this feels very natural and has a good flow. Too many adventures end up with a locked down encounter series that feels like the party has no say in what happens. Not so here: the party can decide to go against the grain a little and the module doesn’t collapse. In fact it covers a number of the contingencies well in sidebars and other in-text suggestions. It feels organic and keeps the players in control of their actions. That’s good game design.

As for the story, it is tight and well thought out. That said its plot is very simple and has been done in various forms many times over the years: town threatened by evil force, players recruited to deal with the threat, investigation leads to journey to evil lair, kill the big bad. That’s fine; most stories and adventures follow along a few simple setups like this. One form—the Heroes Journey—has been used in everything from Star Wars to the Harry Potter series. The heroes and villains are what make each story unique; the players provide the heroes, so it’s up to the villains to make this adventure fly.

That is very well covered. Each antagonist from Sarxa, a forlarren spy, to Zohir herself is well thought out and acts in a believable manner. The orphne come across as David Bowie’s Jarod from Labyrinth with a death fetish. Regal disdain covering deep passions and twisted evil makes for a very striking and memorable final battle. In fact I will go ahead and say that between the description, write-up, and art the orphne have now become my favorite fey. They are the perfect blend of gothic glam and dark faerie tale. Wonderful!

The first appendix include a gazetteer on the town of Davarn which is interesting and can easily be used as a base of operations for adventures in the Five Kings Mountains. I like the above ground farms and villagers connected with an underground dwarven town. Most dwarven communities are all underground or great stone fortresses; this makes for a unique town and a nice change of pace.

The remaining second appendix covers monsters created for RPGSuperstar 2015 and the module, and the third is a collection of magic items from the first round of that season of the contest. I like the final monsters and items selected, but I am somewhat surprised by how few items made it in. Monica’s own spectre blight didn’t make it in. Limiting the numbers makes some sense and spreads around the credits, but with Monica’s monster entry—the narrik—in (and an encounter added to the adventure as well), it was just one spectre blight away from every entry she made in the contest being involved. That would have been a first and very cool.

The presentation is top notch with the interior art (especially of the monsters and NPCs) being as good as I have ever seen. My personal favorites are the duergar fighter on page 18 and that of Zohir on page 46. They really are amazing! I will have to point out to the negative that there are a number of typos lying around. The loss of an ‘n’ produces a “Dow the Blighted Path” in the sidebar on page 5 and there are a few “thes” and “ands” missing here and there making for awkward sentences, as well as a repeated “fire damage” on page 16 in the haunt description. I was startled by the number; usually Paizo’s proof readers don’t miss this much. But this is a quibble that hardly makes the module less enjoyable or useable.

Final Thoughts: Overall I really like this adventure module. It is beautifully put together, has an exciting and challenging adventure with cool villains and interesting NPCs. The flow is linear but not dominantly so and the visual elements in the encounters are very good. Lacking is map support which would have allowed for more varied encounters through the middle section (the Blighted Path itself). While not revolutionary, it is a very solid, well written adventure that can act as a doorway to the Darklands for a campaign or as a stand-alone adventure. I'm giving it 4 stars out of 5 as while it is a very solid adventure it has some definite deficiencies (Maps!), and doesn't have enough of new ideas and material to make it "must have."


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Top notch Characters Ready for use in Skull & Shackles

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

OK, first up a disclaimer: I wrote Tarin’s Crown with Matt Goodall for the Islands of Plunder series of adventures for Legendary Games. This was not a paid job, just an opportunity to get published and I have not worked on any other project for the company. I was part of a discussion group in which the Islands of Plunder were hashed out, so I have avoided reviewing all of those including Tarin’s Crown. I have had no connection with the creation of Nautical Heroes and have never worked with Neil Spicer. However, I felt it important that anyone reading this should know of the connections to Legendary Games that I have in order to judge for themselves the unbiased nature of this review.

This document is forty-two pages long, of which thirty-three pages are content and two are introductions to how the pre-generated characters were made and their reasons for use. Each of the eight characters get four pages each and there is a page of paper minis that can be printed out at the end of the content.

The introductions briefly explain why a group of pre-generated characters for use in the Skull & Shackles AP is worth having and the methods that have chosen to use in making them. The prime explanation is simple and straight forward enough: if the player’s want characters that have been built to have a good shot at survival while still being useful and rules compliant, why not use characters provided by the writers who Paizo enlists to write the APs in the first place? It’s a logical argument, but most of my players prefer taking their own character concepts and building characters on their own. So this isn’t a good reason for my group. Still I can see it having value with people who are either new to the game or really want a well-balanced character and are unsure of how to proceed.

My reason for wanting this supplement comes at the end of the explanation: GM NPCs. Having a group of complete characters designed for the flavour of a campaign and ready to use is a godsend, especially in a sandbox style game like Skull & Shackles has been designed to be. Any GM worth his salt will tell you that NPC design is the hardest and most time consuming feature of the hobby. Having eight characters that allow you to add colour and excitement to simple ship encounters makes it flow much more easily.

The characters are created using the 20-point Character buy creation method for determining attributes, so they are legal for use in the Pathfinder Society campaign. If you prefer the characters to be built to the standard 15-point buy system, suggestions for altering are given with each character’s entry so they can be modified correctly swiftly. They also each include a Campaign Trait from the Skull & Shackles Player’s Guide built into their character’s background to better connect them to the campaign and the initial adventure, The Wormwood Mutiny. Only Ship’s Surgeon and Dockside Brawler are not covered by the characters presented.

The character pages are all presented in the same way. The first page has the character’s name, a nice piece of art showing the character, and a quote of theirs to help establish the character in the reader’s mind. The following two pages cover their first level stats, background, personality, and recommendations for advancement (detailed up to fourth level with recommendations for continual advancement). The fourth and final page of each entry contains role-playing notes, rules for shifting from a 20-point buy to a 15-point buy, and any notes on familiars or animal companions if any exist for that character.

I love the characters backgrounds and how Neil has woven the alignments, traits, classes, races, and histories into whole characters with solid reasons to be involved with the campaign. Each is intriguing and will be invaluable for fleshing out crews of rival ships or barroom brawls. For players these notes and information simply hand them completed characters. Any tweaking and adjustments should be fairly simple and straight forward. They have a wide array of race/class ideas here, from the somewhat expected (human swashbuckler, half-elf cleric, halfling bard) to the a little different (elf sea-witch, one-legged human oracle, human gunslinger (buccaneer)) to the very unique (evil tengu rogue (swashbuckler) and undine monk (!)).

My only criticism of this section is the female art. While some cheesecake art is fine, all cheesecake art is outdated and bothersome. I have no issue looking at scantily clad attractive females with noticeable cleavage, but it can be off-putting for many female players. I don’t suggest getting rid of the eye-candy, but mixing in a few practically dressed women would go a long way to broadening the audience.

The final page of content is the Paper Minis. These are simply the full body portraits of the characters shrunk down and placed on mini templates for printing and construction. A very useful and thoughtful addition for personalizing the characters for those of us who use minis.

Final Thoughts: Overall this is an excellent product. If your players are having trouble developing a character for a pirate campaign or if you are a player looking for a shortcut, this supplement is for you. As NPC rivals, allies, or even opponents, having richly detailed and rule legal characters these eight entries will find great use in my campaign. So even if your players create their own characters, as a GM you should consider the value of extra NPCs and seriously think about this product. My only criticism is of the female art, and that really only docks a half-point off the total in my opinion. That would give this supplement a final score of 4.5 stars, but I’ll round up as the art does not detract from the overall usefulness. 5 out of 5 stars.


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A Challenging Introduction to Osirion and the ACG Classes

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Risen from the Sands is Paizo’s contribution to Free RPG Day 2014 and introduces players to the Egyptian themed setting of Osirion—which is the setting for the early 2014 Adventure Path Mummy’s Mask—as well as four of the classes from the Advanced Class Guide. The adventure itself is detailed from page 3 to 11 so it is quite short, just enough for one evening’s worth of play. *WARNING*: This review contains spoilers. Skip to the Final Thoughts section at the bottom if you intend to play through this module rather than GM it.

I like the dungeon layout; there are quite a few forks and different directions from which to tackle the encounters. My party explored beyond the concealed doors before tackling the obvious route and ended up dealing with the encounters in a much different order than would be normal. This feels much more organic and allowed the players to drive the action rather than the GM. Sometimes something as simple as a dungeon map can affect the whole feel of an adventure.

The encounters ranged from easy to VERY difficult for 3rd level characters, but none were impossible to overcome or outstripped the party’s resources. By the end of the evening all the resources the party had with them had been used or exhausted. That is very good adventure design and took into account the threats they would face when equipping and selecting spells for the pregens.

There was even careful thought given to the magical treasure present. The periapt of health gained in one chamber could be used against a cursed item found at the end. And when the investigator opened up the burial chamber while the battle against the Anubis statues had just begun, I was convinced that I was about to witness a TPK as two very dangerous encounters merged into one. But the player used a fire elemental gem found in another room without knowing what it was exactly (but hoping it would release a fire effect against the main mummy). The large fire elemental followed the investigator’s last commands before the fear aura took him out and destroyed the Pharaoh of Sphinxes in two rounds. The party survived (barely) and got a great dramatic moment out of it.

Thematically the adventure really delivers. It has a Tomb Raideresque quality and felt like adventurers breaking into a royal tomb. The encounters were not just typical kick-in-the-door affairs, but had strategy, unique situations, and even a little role-playing depending on how long the players were willing to deal with the Pharaoh’s wives. Egyptian mummified undead, hieroglyphs, and curses: all the appropriate tropes are there. Very well done with cool backstory material that can be gleaned from the writing on the walls.

Pages 12-15 detail the pregenerated characters for use with this module: a bloodrager, an investigator, a swashbuckler, and a warpriest. They are equipped well for the adventure, and all but the swashbuckler found their abilities to be very useful throughout. The investigator’s Knowledge skills and trap abilities made him indispensable. The combat abilities of the bloodrager and warpriest combined to devastating effect. The bloodrager’s energy attacks were useful in taking out the scarab swarms—along with copious amounts of alchemist’s fire—and the warpriest’s healing kept them alive even if it was all gone by the end of the night.

I think players would have been better off with a brawler instead of the iconic swashbuckler; although the player using the swashbuckler definitely participated and had fun, it was easily the least effective of the four characters. The swashbuckler’s combat style was stymied by all the undead resistant to piercing weapons and constructs with hardness damage reduction. A Brawler could have adjusted her combat style to suit the situation and since bludgeoning was very effective would usually have been unhindered by the encounters.

Final Thoughts: Risen from the Sands is a difficult and very well written module that I highly recommend. It is a great introduction to Osirion and all its trappings. If you use the pregenerated characters it is a little more challenging than with a group specifically built for tomb raiding, but it is still doable. I will say again that it is very challenging and really isn’t appropriate for players new to RPGs. Experienced gamers could love it. 5 out of 5 stars.


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Quite Possibly the Best of all the Player's Guides to Date.

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

This is my first review of a Paizo Player’s Guide—I did review The Freebooter's Guide to the Razor Coast, but that is a supplement for use with the setting as much as a Player’s Guide. Player’s Guides are free supplements designed to help players going into a given Adventure Path the insights they need to make characters that will work both thematically and mechanically throughout the campaign. Mummy's Mask is a highly anticipated AP thematically based on the classic adventure setting of ancient tombs and monuments of Egypt.

Right up front we are given the information that the party has already assembled for the express purpose of exploring the tombs of the Osirion city of Wati and are awaiting the results of a lottery to determine which tombs they are allowed to explore. This is a great in media res style opening, and gets all of those awkward intros out of the way. The party is encouraged to select a name for themselves to let them stand out from the other adventuring groups with a sidebar making a number of good suggestions.

The next section covers tips on character creation: which selections of traits, feats, skills, and abilities will work well thematically with this AP without tipping the players off to what awaits them. This is a traditional section of every Player’s Guide, but this one is especially well done. In the early days of these guides each race and class was given a write up, but with Golarion now well established in its own right it was felt that was a lot of work rehashing what had already been said. So they cut that section down to a few suggestions for classes that would have significant choices made blindly otherwise. Unfortunately the sections became so short they weren’t as generally useful as they could have been; fewer classes got helpful suggestions and though they still fulfilled the job, it wasn’t clear how well these suggestions would work or how they would fit into the campaign.

Not so this time. This guide has individual sub-sections on archetypes and class options, bloodlines and mysteries, familiars and animal companions, favored enemies and favored terrains, character origins, languages, races, religion, skills and feats, and finally traits. There is even a sidebar telling us where we can find Pathfinder rules for the Old Egyptian gods. They still don’t cover all races and classes in detail like they used to, but a lot more information about good thematic choices are presented than any of the guides since they stopped doing that. I think this is the best balance and provides endless ideas for character creation in and of itself.

The next section covers appropriate equipment for the campaign, even some suggestions for purchase after the party gets some money. This is excellent for setting the appearance of the party and the image of a well-equipped expedition over looters.

Next up is a brief overview of the city of Wati so the players will know the town before the start of the first adventure. We have a brief history and a description of the districts. A map can be found on the last page of the guide. This is great for establishing where the players are likely staying, where they can find information and goods, etc. This makes it easier for the players to visualize their surroundings and for the GM to not have to explain as much and slow down the gameplay. A sidebar here allows GMs & players to get their hands on even more information about Osirion and extra tools for running and playing in this campaign.

The next section gives us ten different Campaign Traits for the AP. I am amazed at the wide breadth of motives and origins presented here. We can have native Osirions descended from royalty or serfs, foreign scholars, tomb raiders, and undead slayers all well situated to enjoy the campaign! These many diverse options allow people to make the sorts of characters they want to play rather than one dictated by the needs for a tight plot. This may very well be the most imaginative group of Campaign Traits I have ever seen. Excellent work!

Then the guide does another very useful thing: it reprints all the essential desert wilderness survival rules altogether for easy reference. Considering how often these are going to be used in such a campaign, this is a time saving gift. Finally an exploration hex-map is provided for later on in the campaign when the opportunity for desert exploration comes up. A great set of tools all in one place so that cracking open heavy books and slowing down play is all but eliminated beyond that for any game.

Finally we have the art and layout, which beautifully capture the feel of adventurers dealing with ancient Egyptian themes. I’m especially taken with the images of two Garundi in North African-style nomadic dress, one on the cover and one on page five. Really amazing!

Final Thoughts: What more can I say about this other than I’m amazed that it is free? This PDF sets a very high bar for Player’s Guides and what information they should provide. I really can’t think of anything that was included here that would not be of use in making a great and appropriate character for the Mummy’s Mask AP. This level of helpful information and cultural inspiration is just about perfect. 5 out of 5 stars.


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Wall-to-Wall Crunch of Good to High Quality

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The New Paths Compendium from Kobold Press is a compilation of the various entries in the New Paths series of supplements. It has seven new classes, twenty-eight new archetypes, and a lot of feats and traits. It’s a large rules supplement for players that opens up a great number of new possibilities in character creation.

The first thing I notice is a lack of introduction or forward. While I can appreciate the concentration on crunch and getting the product in at a set page count, leaving out some overview bothers me. I like the commentaries on DVDs and appreciate knowing why certain decisions were made. I love the designer sidebars that come up in some products to give further reasoning behind the rules as presented. Why? Because it allows me to understand the design better, to make my own decisions for what kind of game I want to present to my players. By knowing why something is the way it is, I can project what altering or removing that rule could do. Lacking such sidebars, I look to an introduction for at least a background on the material, when it was begun, the intent, etc. Without this, I learn nothing of the design concepts involved. It’s a personal nit-pick, and I’m not going to drop the final evaluation for this supplement because of it, but I am saying for those of us who do read the introductions the absence of one is very striking.

There is a small problem on the Table of Contents page where the Spells are listed as being on page 44, instead of 104. Small problem, but annoying.

The first Chapter is on the New Classes. The Battle Scion I reviewed some months back HERE, and I quite liked it.

The Elven Archer is quite obviously the Arcane Archer prestige class made into a full base class, but that is alright as it comes with good flavour and decent balance. The precision damage is intelligent in its use. My only problem is with the three variants given at the end. They are so similar to the prime class that we have multiple repetitions of the exact same powers behaving in the exact same way in the book that introduces them. This is a wild waste of space and print that could have been edited down and each variant made into an archetype and placed in that section. This seems to indicate that the editing was pressed for time and that Kobold Press basically copied the document exactly as the original. That’s OK, but it does lead to wasted ink when this book enters print.

The Savant may be one of the most original classes I have ever read. The ability to mimic the powers and strengths of legendary heroes and items the savant has seen in action is very unique. They have built in a system of Knacks which limit how many powers may be used at once, and from what I can see the savant will never be as good as one of the classes it tries to emulate. That’s OK though, as for versatility it is unmatched. This is easily the most complicated class I have ever seen, in that you create not one character, but several characters which are changing all the time. This would be gold for role-players and I commend the design here. Very impressive!

Kobold Press’s take on the Shaman is as a spontaneous caster druid essentially. Some powers are changed and there is a far more spirit world over natural world slant to the class, with many powers designed specifically to deal with spirits. There are Totem secrets that they select as Barbarians choose rage powers and Rogues choose rogue talents. These generally have good flavour and add to the spirit abilities of the Shaman well. I like this class overall.

The Spell-less Ranger should really have been converted to an archetype instead of alternate class. There are already two Ranger archetypes from Paizo that have no spells (the Trapper and the Skirmisher) and this makes a third. Like the Skirmisher, the Spell-less Ranger loses spell-casting and gains a series of Talents from which to choose. The Skin-changer variant is far more interesting, but it also repeats what the Ranger and Spell-less Ranger have for abilities. The Skin-changer places Wild shape in for spell casting. Great idea: Beorn from the Hobbit is not well represented in fantasy games, and this does the trick.

The Theurge is the Mystic Theurge prestige class made into a base class. While a good idea and the mechanics are solid, this class suffers a little from lack of flavour. It is a magic-user, full stop. All of the class’s abilities revolve around spell casting and nothing else. This makes sense, but it does force the player to do more to create an interesting character. Very good class that seems to have little direction.

I own the White Necromancer supplement, and it is very good. Where the Theurge lacks flavour, the White Necromancer is practically overflowing with it. A non-evil practitioner of necromancy that uses the magic of the dead to battle against the perversions of the life-death cycle by evil forces is very cool. They even believe in redeeming and helping undead go to rest or complete whatever task is keeping them from moving on. A spontaneous caster with powerful abilities with the undead, this is a wonderful addition to the game. I particularly like the form of necromantic arcane healing they have: transferring some of their hit points to the person they wish to heal.

Chapter 2 introduces the archetypes for some of these classes as well as for other base classes from the core Pathfinder rules. The Battle Scion archetypes I discussed in my review. I found both good, but the Force Blaster could be a touch over-powered in the right hands. For the Elven Archer, the Royal Guardian is an archer defender while the Plains Rider is a mounted archer. Both are simple and not out of balance, though I note a change in format style of the Royal Guardian that slipped through editing. For the Gunslinger archetypes, I refer you to my review HERE of The Expanded Gunslinger. It’s all good and I’ll just give another shout out for the Hellfire Preacher: Clerics with guns and attitude!

The Monk archetypes are quite varied. The Beast-Soul Monk gains an animal companion and the ability to change shape to match that companion instead of flurry of blows and standard unarmed combat. Very cool. A Clockwork Monk is a racial archetype for clockwork beings such as the gearforged from Midgard, so this is very niche, but still quite interesting. The Monk of the Compliant Style Rod is a staff weapon specialist. The Monk of the Glorious Endeavor is a weapon specialist that exchanges some of the character’s normal hand-to-hand abilities for improved weapon combat. The Monk of the Peerless Mountain focuses on kicks in spectacular whirlwind type fashion over the traditional flurry of blows. The Paper Drake Monk is quite unique, using paper as the medium to be emulated and even gaining the eventual ability to become a swarm of paper cranes (!) This is probably my favorite of the group. Finally there is the Six Talismans Monk, who creates little paper talismans that explode in flames when attached to opponents or cast a spell-like ability that can blind or paralyse the opponent in some manner. I don’t see any balance issue here of significance, and the themes and visuals behind these archetypes are very interesting. Good stuff!

The Ninja archetypes are the Elemental Ninja, who combines elemental magic with their Ninja skills but only if they take the appropriate ninja tricks to pull off these energy attacks. Two new tricks, elemental fist and elemental fusion provide options beyond a modified ki charge to accomplish this. The Mist stalker doesn’t even get an intro explaining it, which is a significant oversight in my opinion. The Mist Stalker is essentially a ninja of smoke and mist. There are two new tricks to back this up: Empty Form (able to become mist) and Smoke Demon (allowing the gaseous ninja to solidify part of her body in a person for damage). Lots of flavour here, but some missing without an intro to the Mist Stalker.

Elemental Shamans deal with elemental spirits and even wild-shape into elemental form. The Primal Shifter is more focused on wild-shape than spell-casting, and are more combat oriented as a result. The Witch Doctor brings out the old clichés of communicating with the dead and increased spell capability while still remaining balanced by diminishing wild-shape; sort of the opposite direction from the Primal Shifter. I like how they managed to specialize the class while still adding theme and story elements.

The two Spell-less Ranger archetypes are noted as being useable by any ranger. One learns two combat styles over one at the cost having no more than one favored enemy, while the second builds up the animal companion ability to utilize in combat at the expense of much of the woodland skills a ranger usually has.

The White Necromancer has two really good archetypes: one focused of the life aspect of the triad (life-death-undeath) and is a great healer. The second deals with undeath and even has an undead companion! Here there is a failing that I noticed in the original document: no third archetype dealing with death. A mercy killer who also acts as an assassin of those who need to die could have been a very cool addition, and nothing was done. I’m not sure if that was just an oversight, or if an attempt was made and wasn’t able to come up to the level of quality required. Still a little disappointing.

Chapter 3 covers new Feats and Traits. There are new style feats that augment the monk archetypes, as well as a large assortment that enhance the new classes. Of special note are the scaling combat feats which I reviewed in the first issue of Gygax magazine HERE. Essentially, instead of feat chains and trees, you replace a group of feats with a single scalable feat. I love this, as it adds to the variety of feats that a character can select. The new traits are those from the Expanded Gunslinger, and are quite good.

Chapter 4 is about new Spells. Overall they are little different from other spells of the same level, but do add a certain amount of style to the various casting classes presented in the book. Quite a few are arrow related spells for the Elven Archer and would be of great use for Arcane Archers as well.

In Chapter 5 we have Magic Items and Gear, mostly alternate monk weapons (including a garden hoe) and magic items geared for Battle Scions and Archers. This chapter is short and pretty much to the point.

The final chapter has a number of tracking sheets for favored terrains, animal companions, wild shape statistics, summoned monsters, spirit guides info for shamans, prepared spells, and arrows (all those magic arrows characters can use). These are great and of high value for any group.

Final Thoughts: There is a HUGE amount of material here, and it is mostly of very good quality. There are some editorial concerns as the various supplements that went into this compilation feel rather shoved together. There is practically no pure flavour material as was found in the original documents beyond what was written into the various entries. Some context was removed and format errors have crept in here and there. Perhaps another editorial pass could have caught these minor flubs, but that still would not make up for a certain inconsistency that can be felt throughout the document. Not in the quality of the gaming material; that is consistently high. But the presentation and format of the classes produces a slight dissonance between the parts.

Still, if all I have to quibble on is a few editorial oversights I’m not overly concerned. This supplement is wall-to-wall crunch with a lot of character and story elements baked in for good measure. I prefer a balance with a little more fluff, but that is my preference only. I would place this at about 4.5 stars out of 5, because it is better than a 4 star product. But that is the score I’m going to give it on the grounds that some of the best material (Gunslingers and White Necromancers) are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. From my perspective, an excellent compilation of optional game elements. 4 out of 5 stars.


A Good Read, but More Practical Use Material is Needed.

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Gygax Magazine number two has a beautiful Jeff Easley cover, and I feel like it’s the early eighties again. However, that is what I felt when I first read Gygax #1. A number of the articles were documents about historical gaming events and activities—which fascinate myself, but might not be other people’s cup of tea. So hopefully this issue will have less reminiscing and more advice and crunch for modern gaming; in order for this magazine to flourish it will need to remain relevant to modern gamers. Jayson Elliot makes it clear in the editorial that they are listening to the gaming community, so they have a good opportunity to accomplish this goal.

Starting the issue is Tactics in Samurai Battles by Tim Kask. It is as advertised and unless you know how the game is played, there will be little of value to you. For those not familiar with the Samurai Battles game by Zvezda—such as myself—there is a sidebar by game co-creator Richard Borg describing the basics of the evolution of the game and how the components came together. A more detailed overview of the game may have served better to introduce it, but I was able to ascertain quite a bit about it from Kask’s article and the sidebar. Sort of like picking up the concepts from watching and doing instead of being talked to. I like that style but it isn’t for everyone. A good read for those who play the game or are interested in playing it.

The Evolution from Wargaming to Role-playing by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr. This reminiscence covers the evolution of the early years of D&D from the wargamer origin to the game it would become and how Gary Gygax would use ideas from many sources—especially players of the game such as EGG Jr. himself—to develop and grow the game. Nice for us closet gaming historians and a decent example of how to properly play-test and experiment with rules systems.

Hitchhiking in Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space by Jay Libby. This is interesting stuff! Inspired by the late Douglas Adams’s work on Doctor Who in the late seventies and early eighties, Libby has merged elements from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into the DW universe and given them stats for use in the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG. Very imaginative and funny, including thinly veiled versions of the babble fish and the Guide itself. There are even a small assortment of towels. I like integrating ideas and concepts from different sources into campaigns, and this is a fine example of that.

Leomund’s Secure Shelter by Lenard Lakofka. Lakofka introduces some old system—1e and Oe—rules for dealing with dying in the game. I like what these rules allow you to do thematically within the game: the character whispering his last dying words, hiding an item of import, or taking one last desperate action before the darkness takes him. The rules could be adapted to more modern systems without much difficulty, but that’s a lot of tables—nine in all!—and dice rolling for me. I would rather use GM ruling on the subject. But for those who really like to keep random events with dying as part of the game, these tables are really good.

A Forgotten Grimoire, and its Curse: The search for the earliest version of Dungeons & Dragons by Jon Peterson. Another look into the early days of D&D, this article deals with the authenticity of what Peterson calls the Dalluhn Manuscript (after Keith Dalluhn, the first man to really look into the documents veracity). He concludes that it is a transitional form of the game from Chainmail to the original boxed release. While I enjoyed reading this article, it is a second article in this magazine that has more to do with what has gone before rather than what is happening now. Third, if you include Lakofka’s article for 1e games. Looking to the past to help track where you are going is great, but too much is just nostalgia. This magazine cannot afford to use the nostalgia card much longer; it will grow old quickly.

From One Geek to Another: An etiquette guide for gamers by Jess Hartley. I’ve seen a number of “etiquette guides” over the years, but this one keeps it simple: she emphasizes the art of the introduction. It is simple advice that is sorely needed from my experience, as it really helps initiate conversation and that is the heart of the game. A simple quick article that can be applied to any gaming group dealing with new members, or social/con settings in which few people know each other.

Building a winning spellbook in Mage Wars by Bryan Pope. Much like the article on Samurai Battles, I found this article to have little for those who don’t already play the game or aren’t interested in it. One thing about having a number of games covered: the articles supporting those games should inspire ideas for use in different games. Jayson Elliot mentioned this as a desired effect from the broad coverage of the magazine. These strategy articles are sadly of little use in cross-pollinating ideas. This one lost me even though it was a quick overview of the strategies involved. It did not inspire me to look for the game at all. Hopefully it will be of use to those that do play Mage Wars, but I can’t say one way or the other.

Heroes, Kings, and Champions: Ordinary characters in fantastic worlds by Ken St. Andre. This article asks far more questions than it answers, but they are very good questions. The style of heroic fantasy you approach as a GM or as a player is the point of interest; not the roll-play vs. role-play debate that so often rules the message boards, but rather the ordinary folk versus heroes of legend approach to game design and play style. St. Andre doesn’t come down on one side or the other, but does put forward the idea that non-heroic play can be just as fun if that suits the style and mood of the group. An important read for any GM and definitely worth a look for any player who is trying to figure out what he wants out of the RPG experience.

The old-school renaissance by Vincent Florio. This is essentially a primer to give people who are a little intimidated by the heavy prose of the old editions of D&D encouragement to keep going. As someone who has gamed since the early eighties like the author, I get the difference in styles of play and appreciate the open-ended systems of old. Useful for anyone who wants to try and play it old-school without having ever played that way before.

Weird Vibrations: Leave the familiar realms of fantasy for strange new lands by Jeffrey Talanian. This article chronicles Talanian’s creation of a very different sort of bard, once built on the concepts put forth by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. The point of detailing this unique—and very cool!—bard is to show how you can take any classic trope within a campaign and change it up using material from divergent literary sources and film. I am now thinking of including a bard NPC like the one described in my next campaign.

The Inkubus: A devious new monster for the Savage Worlds rule system by Gordon Dritschilo. Before we get the stats for this monster, a nice piece of fiction pulls us into the Savage Worlds setting and describes the small malevolent creature which drains life from it’s victims while appearing as a tattoo. A cool monster idea and very adaptable to many different games (especially nautical based campaigns).

The Blighted Lands: Adventuring in the lands of Okkorim by Luke Gygax. This is a simple introductory bug hunt adventure to introduce the players and GM to the new Arabian Nights inspired setting of Okkorim. The maps are spectacular—done by Stefan Pokorny of Dwarven Forge fame—and the setting looks very interesting. This could be a very good entry into the settings market, especially with the strong lack of Arabian themes at present. The rules used in the adventure are AD&D compatible, so some changes may be required to make use of it with your system of choice.

The Hare and the Hill Giant - A Dale-lands adventure for The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild by Shane Ivey. This is a very well thought out adventure full of role-playing and meaningful combat. It is a story plot about hill trolls molesting a farming community, with NPCs with strong personalities and enemies that actually have conversation and motives. I am not familiar with The One Ring RPG, but this entry has impressed me with many of the interesting points of the game. It really captures the feel of the books of Tolkien, and that is just as it should be. Excellent work!

The Kobold’s Cavern: Edited by Wolfgang Baur. Now we have three articles in the last refuge of Kobold Quarterly:

1. Super-science in fantasy games by Eric Hindley. This is an article for including super-science items in a Pathfinder campaign. It doesn’t get into the details on doing it yourself to much, just suggesting using different descriptions for standard magic items and making them tech-based instead of magic. Simple enough, and it works. The bulk of the article is a series of “tech” items that are statted out like magic items (with three different ray guns!). Included is a feat for crafting super-science items that can be used by characters of an engineering and tech bent, although still reserved to the magic crowd (one prerequisite is another item crafting feat). A good article that covers the subject simply and well.

2. Dueling through the AGEs by Rodrigo García Carmona. A neat article about how to put a duel—a one-on-one fight with cultural rules—into the AGE RPG. The methods here can be adapted to most fantasy RPGs, and there is something for everyone. From arm wrestling, through jousting, all the way to the pistol duel. This accommodates a lot of different styles and makes for great role-playing possibilities.

3. Lost wonders of Caelmarath by Brian Liberge. This…is kind of strange. No intro to explain it is given, and it appears to be an outline for an adventure into a newly discovered tower of lost Caelmarath. It is a well thought out outline…I’m just not sure what I would do with it. A bit more of an explanation could go far. It looks like a great adventure, but would require a lot of work to bring it to usable status.

We end with two comic strips, magazine specific versions of Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams and Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew. Good Stuff!

Final Thoughts: I’m a little torn here. I enjoyed reading through this magazine a great deal and thus can recommend it. But there were two articles right up near the front that were just strategy guides to games I don’t play. These articles didn’t really peak my interest in them either. We also had some more history lessons, which—while fascinating to me—will be for a very limited audience. Three more articles were solidly in the old-school camp, one of which was the new setting that TSR is putting forward soon. If the items that interested me but are of little use in game don’t appeal to you, score it a 3. So while there was a lot of good material here, my overall impression was “Better than ‘Meh.’” That’s not really a ringing endorsement. If you are going to have a magazine that covers a wide range of games, each article should be of use outside that game if in no other way than inspiration. Nostalgia will only go so far, and this magazine has to find a better balance if it is to get the wide audience it requires. What is here that does inspire is really good, so I put the score at about 3.5 and round it up to 4 because of my personal tastes. Yours may vary. 4 out of 5 stars.


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A very good collection for Nautical and Razor Coast Campaigns

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Heart of the Razor is a collection of four adventures for use with the Razor Coast campaign setting/adventure. The idea is to be able to plug these adventures into the campaign at the appropriate time for extra xp and fun. Razor Coast actually has references to these adventures in the second chapter so that integration can be smooth. I'm going to rate these adventures on three points: Is it a good adventure? How well does it work with Razor Coast? Can it work on its own? The last question improves the value of this module collection for those who may not buy any of the other books in the Razor Coast series.

***SPOILAER ALERT***: I intend to talk a bit about the themes and a small amount on the plots of these adventures in this review. I will NOT be giving any information that will be of tactical advantage to players. But they may get some surprises spoiled for them if they read this. I could put my review under multiple Spoiler tags, but I really don't see that as necessary since I won't be giving any encounters or stats away. If you are going to play in this, you really don't need to read a review of it: just play it and you will know whether you want to buy to run it yourself sometime. If you are thinking of purchasing for running this, I think some discussion of themes and villains is important to establish if this fits the type of game you like. You have all been warned.

Angry Waters by Richard Pett: An adventure for 10th level adventurers. This is a great adventure! The whole theme is around a treasure hunt in waters controlled by a psychotic pirate lord. There are monsters guarding a city of gold, an ancient evil that should not be released, and possible betrayal of allies by NPC ...or even the PCs! The whole thing reads like an outline for a really exciting supernatural pirate movie. There are some dark and disturbing elements, but we are talking about a Richard Pett adventure after all.

Captain Mercy, the pirate who introduces the party to the hunt, can become a dear friend or hated rival entirely on the basis of the PC actions. Pett includes a point system to help gauge the reaction, or you can run it entirely by role-play. Admiral Uriah Tame is one of the more disturbing villains I have ever encountered in an adventure; and yet, he may not even become an adversary! This adventure is very much in keeping with the feel and playability of Razor Coast. It is set up so that it can start anywhere, so it could easily be used by any GM who wants a fun, slightly dark, pirate themed adventure for any campaign. My only concern for integrating this with the Razor Coast campaign is that it assumes your party of PCs does not have their own ship. At tenth level that seems unlikely. But it isn't an unworkable problem. Excellent work and of great use to anyone who wants a pirate adventure for their game.

The Black Spot by Gary McBride: An adventure for 5th level adventurers. This is one wild and original bit of work. The BBEG is a neh-thalggu, a brain stealer. This is an alien being with advanced technology. In a way, this adventure is sort of a cross between Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. As a standalone adventure, it is very well done. There are references for each section on the mood and atmosphere that should be used. Careful consideration on how to play the NPCs and the main villain are spelled out so that even a novice GM should have an easy time running this adventure. There is even a trouble shooting section at the end to deal with the various problems that might arise while running it.

My problems with this adventure aren't in its design or structure. The first minor one is that the PCs are considered to not have their own ship. For most campaigns this won't be an issue as 5th level characters rarely have their own ship. It would only take a little work to make this adventure viable for those that do (having Captain Riggs and the colourful crew members described ask for transport on the PCs' ship to their destination to pick up the Sealord's Blessing—their vessel—and have the route take them past the Trident). The second one is more aesthetic in nature. Although there are subtle Lovecraftian themes in the Razor Coast adventure, they are very understated. The undersea otherworldly monster in RC is still a classic demon spawn and not an actual alien entity. The neh-thalguu Engineer in The Black Spot is pure Lovecraftian horror, undiluted by standard fantasy tropes and settings. This could make for a jarring mood-swing to the whole campaign. Ironically, this adventure works better for its modularity and ability to be used in any nautical campaign than in the Razor Coast. This may just be a personal preference though, and doesn't affect my absolute admiration for this adventure.

The Black Spot also misses on one very important point: the theme of the black spot itself. Thanks to Treasure Island, the black spot is usually thought of as a pirate curse and is connected to pirate themes and superstitions. Although the sailors in the adventure regard the spot with superstition, there are no pirates in this story whatsoever! I see this as a failure to take advantage of the themes presented by such an iconic pirate symbol. This is a great adventure, but it really is missing or over emphasising the themes of the Razor Coast.

Jungle Fever by Owen K. C. Stephens: An adventure for 11th and 12th level adventurers. The highest level adventure of the four, Jungle Fever—absolutely NO connection to the Spike Lee movie of the same name—is a wonderfully written, story-strong, pirate/horror story. It fits in very well to Razor Coast in both theme and tone. That said the horror sequences can be quite disturbing. The imagery of the Festering Cave encounter made me stop reading and walk away for a bit. It is seriously grotesque! The plot is an open-ended investigation into a strange disease that is affecting a group of dwarf courtesans at a small brothel. There is a lot of background material and the GM is given a lot of help in how to disseminate it to the players in a natural way. I love this, as many adventures have great backgrounds and no means to convey these stories to the players. It also assumes that the adventures have a ship of their own or can charter one easily by not even getting into the details of how the party travels from place to place. They leave that up to the GM, which I like.

The NPCs are very well written and have believable motives. Butcher Jill the greedy pirate is not the only source of the evil, so is the power hungry shaman Hingu-Hingu and the dragonsmoke addicted dragon turtle Gam Onisha. We get a tragic figure in Kamkamata, a Tulita tribesman whose attempt to save his tribe doomed it. There is a lot of plot and character to explore in this adventure, and it all seems to run quite smoothly.

We get a number of new monsters which include cannibalistic undead that have fiery teeth, a disease spawning half-shadow undead, mutated young dragon turtles, and an abomination that is born from boils and pustules of a person that…I did mention the disgusting Festering Cave, right? The monsters are quite cool and we even get some designer notes for them in sidebars. The adventure is set up to be free form and go in any order while still leading to a great climatic battle ending in a volcano erupting! There are some amazing visuals tied to the story however the PCs approach the plot. This is great design. There are a few missteps in the editing, such as a dragon turtle going from “it” to “he” and finally being undeniably “she”. But it will take more than a gender-confused dragon turtle for me to give this adventure any significant black marks. No, my only real problem is the intensity of the horrific imagery in that damned cave. I can see some players of mine not being exceptionally happy about that. I may tone it down a little when actually playing. Otherwise this is my second favorite adventure of the collection, right behind Angry Waters.

Sinful Whisper by Tom Knauss: An adventure for 5th level adventurers. This is a good adventure with a central NPC that can change over the course of the story. Jacinth Deepwarder is an elven noble of Port Shaw that is designed to rub the PCs the wrong way, and yet can become an ally and a good person if the PCs make certain choices. The adventure is set around a rescue mission for the elite of Port Shaw on an island that no one wants to go to. The main foe is a shoggti qlippoth that has been imprisoned on the island for some time and has corrupted people stranded there into monsters with it’s perverse mental “whispers”. Lust and sexuality are involved, and the creator suggests that some of the imagery may not be for younger audiences. I quite agree, although nothing here is as bad as that Festering Cave in Jungle Fever. The horror here is far more psychological than visceral, as stated in the adventure description at the beginning of the chapter.

Choice plays an important role in this fairly linear story with many interesting story-driven encounters (like possibly being marooned on the evil island by a whale), but the choices are more either/or than true free form gaming. At various points the PCs are given a choice between two options and which they choose has an effect either in this adventure or in the larger Razor Coast campaign. Sadly some of the choices really only affect the RC campaign and have little to no effect on the adventure itself, making them unimportant to someone using the adventure outside of the setting. Obviously this adventure is far more tied into the Razor Coast setting and adventure than the other three in Heart of the Razor, but even with the afore mentioned choices manages to keep itself separate enough to not be necessary for that campaign or for that campaign to be necessary to run. That said, of all the adventures in this collection this is the one that benefits most from being coupled with the Razor Coast main book.

There are still many different ways to play through this scenario and overall it is a well thought out and designed work. My one fear in running it might be the players reaction should they have their ship sunk by a whale!

Final Thoughts: Reviewing an anthology is always tricky. Essentially it is all but impossible for four separate authors to produce four different adventures of equal value and craftsmanship. While all four of these adventures are very well done, they all have very different takes on the Razor Coast setting. The adventures provided range from good (Sinful Whisper) to the very good (Jungle Fever and The Black Spot) to the great (Angry Waters). And all that from my opinion which is by no means the last word on the subject. Individual taste will really come into play in these sort of collections, altering the overall usefulness of the product for each GM. So I have to approach an overall recommendation taking this into account and looking at my use of the five star system. Is this item a must have book? No, but I still highly recommend it for anyone with a nautical campaign or running Razor Coast. Some of the adventures may not be to your personal taste, but I guarantee that there is a lot of material that a creative GM can still use in his own campaign. A very good collection of adventures. Four out of Five Stars.


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Beautiful Maps that are both useful and improve the versions that came before.

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

I have been looking forward to this map set. Since I started getting the Map Folios, I have been very impressed with the quality of the art. While the Skull & Shackles Map Folio was unfortunately unlabelled, the Shattered Star Map Folio was by far one of the best map sets I have ever had. I rate these map sets on how useful they would be for the Adventure Path they are designed for and how much use would they be for someone just running a campaign in the regions depicted. Beauty and art are important in maps, but ultimately this is a gaming product and must be judged accordingly.

As with most of the Map Folios we get three poster size maps. The first is the ink and parchment style map first introduced with the Skull & Shackles set. Using light blues and greys, this is just as beautiful as the previous two (of the Shackles and Varisia, respectively). The little details on the monsters shown and the significant communities is striking. I especially like the little huts on chicken legs patrolling the borders! This is a magnificent map, as useful as a work of art, player handout, or as an actual campaign map.

The second map is a detailed map of the barbaric "kingdom" of Iobaria. It is the first such large map of any region of Casmaron, the continent that makes up the eastern half of the super-continent that also includes Avistan. This map goes hand-in-hand with the Iobaria Gazetteer found in AP#33 The Varnhold Vanishing, and would be of use to any whose Kingmaker campaign has decided to expand beyond the River Kingdoms.

The third and final map is a more detailed version of the Whitethrone map than the two previous versions in Cities of Golarion and Irrisen, Land of Eternal Winter. It takes all the beautiful blues of the Irrisen map, and appears to be the same map with additional depth painted in. This is especially apparent on the coastline, where the cliffs have a more dramatic appearance. They actually have height, which wasn't nearly as obvious in the older version. I loved the maps in Irrisen, considering them to be art as well as functional. This map improves upon it. That is amazing.

Final Thoughts: As always, there is nothing printed on the maps that will cause the GM any grief; these are player friendly hand-outs with no adventure secrets spoiled and that can be used in a multitude of ways. The maps of Whitethrone and Irrisen are of particular note. A wonderful addition to any fantasy map collection and essential if adventuring in Iobaria or Irrisen. Five out of Five Stars.


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An Excellent Expansion of Gun Powder Rules

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Gunslingers remain a controversial topic in fantasy role-playing games. I for one love them and currently have a player using a gunslinger in my campaign. I haven't seen any significant overpowered actions by that PC and we are now at 13th level. I believe that rules become overpowered only when the GM loses control of the game. Still, guns can use touch AC to do significant damage round after round and with very little effort new additions could make reigning in the chaos an almost impossible task. So let's see how Crystal Frasier expands on guns and gun fighting and find out if she has been able to keep it in line.

First we get the warning that this material is subject to GM approval. I like that it is said right up front. Many GMs find themselves on the defensive when they won't allow a book or rule that has been published. I think players do need the occasional reminder that part of the GM's job is deciding what is in and out of the game.

We begin the rules expansion with eight new Firearm Traits. These are pretty straight forward and have good flavour, although Gun-shy seems almost a feat with a drawback attached for balance. That is pushing the envelope on what constitutes a Trait. Also—in regards to the Saltpeter Birthright Trait—is there really a need to declare Craft (alchemy) as a class skill, since all classes in Pathfinder have Craft as a class skill anyway? Just a thought. Otherwise, I really like what is written here.

Next we have Firearm Feats. We have eleven new feats, four of which are Grit Feats. All seem fairly balanced and most have to do with style and flair over damage output. I noticed that the Thundering God Stance feats (three of them) do not have the first as a prerequisite, even though the other feats are useless without the first. A minor quibble. I like the idea of shooting a construct at its weak spot from Disabling Shot but I would have also like to have seen an expansion feat that would allow you to hit a machine, let it function a bit, and then collapse. Personal style preference and easily added by myself, so no real criticism there. My favorite of these feats is Serpent's Bite, which allows you to make an Attack of Opportunity on anyone closing to within 30 feet after readying your shot. Would only be used at the beginning of combat, limiting its use while producing a very cool and unique action. That is good feat design.

The final section on Firearm Archetypes takes up most of the book. There are three gunslinger archetypes, and one each for barbarian, cleric, fighter, and witch. The Noble Shootist is the closest thing to a "standard" gun fighting archetype of the seven, describing a gunslinger that uses leadership and precision to accomplish their objectives. The fighter archetype—the Gunfighter—is a good take on a professional combatant's approach to guns. The Black Powder Reaver is a barbarian with guns, and is more like a lunatic with explosives than anything else. I can see it being very popular with goblin characters. The Black Hat is a strange combination of witch-like jinxes and gunslinger shooting. It is kind of moody and would make for an interesting character within a campaign.

The other three archetypes are the ones that really stand out for me though. Two of them are firmly set in steampunk style gaming with vril magic and technology . The Coilgunner (gunslinger) uses a vril magic style rail gun instead of the usual firearms. It gives off electric discharges in addition to normal shooting damage. The changes seem in line and it doesn't appear any more powerful than a standard gun in normal operation. It is much harder to repair and get parts for, so it's added abilities are compensated for somewhat. The Futurist (witch) seems like it was lifted right out of Girl Genius. No familiar or patron, but the character specializes in alchemy, mechanics, or natural philosophy. A mechanics specialist can even build their own clockwork familiar! This is wonderful, and I believe a must have for any steampunk style campaign.

In spite of my love of steampunk, it is the Hellfire Preacher that is my favorite of them all. This archetype presents a cleric that is losing her faith to cynicism and despair but desperately is trying to hold on at the same time. The imagery and style are intense, gritty, and evocative. The changed powers and abilities really reflect the image well and bring to mind a number of different movie preachers —Jacob Fuller of From Dusk till Dawn and Father Adam from John Carpenter's Vampires in particular. Both are very different and their disillusionment with the church take on very different forms, but the fact that both came to me as I read this is a good sign that the flavour of the archetype can be flexible and adapted to many different character concepts. This is wonderful work.

We have two side bars with information on coil guns and guns in the Midgard campaign setting. Both do a very good job of helping a GM visualize how to integrate these wild concepts into a game with verisimilitude.

Final Thoughts: There are a few mistakes in the form of typos here and there, but nothing to distract from what is a very good addition to the gun rules from Ultimate Combat. There is nothing here that ups the damage potential of guns by a significant degree while giving a lot of flavour and cool additions to the game. The steampunk archetypes are fantastic and a must have for that style of game. The Hellfire Preacher really puts this over the top for me. Probably the best addition to the gunpowder rules that I have seen so far. I would give this supplement four and a half stars out of five, but will round up to five for the Hellfire Preacher. Five out of Five Stars.


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A Solid Adventure with Great Supplemental Material

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The Sunken Pyramid is an adventure module designed for the Pathfinder RPG. It is set for 7th level characters and is an aquatic dungeon. I have seen a lot of underwater dungeons lately, so it will be interesting to see what Creighton Broadhurst and Marc Radle bring to the table. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Please be aware that I will be making reference to parts of the plot and opponents within this review. If you are planning to play in this adventure, you should read no further or just read my final thoughts. You have been warned.

Right before the forward we get a quick summary of the monsters used in the adventure. It is sorted by CR and gives alignment plus a few other small details such as race and class level (if any) plus the page where they can be found. I like this feature: when running an adventure, I often have to flip through various pages to find the stats I'm looking for. Having a directory with names and basic info makes this task much easier.

Next is a section on how to read the stat blocks for the monsters. I assume this is standard for Raging Swan Press, but having never read through an adventure from them before now I can't say for certain. I can see this being of use to a beginner, but for me this is a loss of a page. The format is pretty similar to Paizo's standard, and that is fairly straight forward. For new GMs this could be useful as the stat blocks can be a bit ponderous in length.

The next page if far more interesting to me. It is a section on how to use the module. It gives a breakdown of their encounter format, reading trap blocks, and identifying treasure. This is a great reference, and now paints the previous page in a new light: a general reference for running any adventure with simple rules and guides all in the same place. I like that. So in the first pages we get a reference guide that is easily found that will help you right in the middle of play. That shows very good organization and thinking about how the adventure will be run and what the GM will need to do it. If this is standard for Raging Swan, they are already ahead of the game compared to other publishers.

Now we get an adventure overview. The Sunken Pyramid is an ancient underwater structure now inhabited by a vicious tribe of sahuagin. They are planning on sacrificing a large number of people to a monstrous aberrant devil shark living below the pyramid in a religious ceremony three days after the adventure begins. I like the three day limit; it forces the adventure to move along and will punish the PCs with some nasty consequences if they dally about. Sahuagin are a good choice. Not since the old days of Saltmarsh have the sea devils gotten much support, though lately with the various pirate and nautical campaigns coming out they seem to have been finally getting their due. A warning is provided to make sure the GM supplies the water breathing apparatus the party will need for this adventure and how to get it in without seeming to obvious.

Before we get into the actual adventure, we get alternate beginnings for GMs to tailor the entry point to suit his players and his campaign. A great point that is often overlooked by game designers is making an adventure usable in many different styles. Excellent suggestions here.

Next we get a two-page ecology-style article on the sahuagin. This is very well written with many interesting bits on sahuagin society and religion. This can help creative GMs add flavour to the encounters with the sea devils.

We also get the fishing village of White Moon Cove detailed out, including rumours, interesting NPCs, and events that can happen while the PCs are in town. I could play two or three whole sessions just on what is in this section alone! It has been set up to feel like a real village where things are happening off-stage. Some of the rumours have absolutely nothing to do with the adventure but with the local brothel. The map is old-school black and white but very nice and clear.

We have a timeline of the adventure, so now we have a setting plus an event schedule. As with the material just within the fishing village, we are given enough information that the PCs can choose to do just about anything other than leave and it will have an effect of what happens and what they encounter. If the party waits it can change the state they find the sahuagin in, but at a terrible cost. And the party won't know any of that before it happens. If they take too long, they can get new allies. But the death toll at that point would be heinous. I like that the PCs' actions and inaction can have tangible results.

Now that we get into the adventure itself. The whole is divided into five parts: An introductory battle in White Moon Cove leading through an event chain to get the party to the dungeon, three dungeon levels, and a sub-level. The entire pyramid is laid out in classic multi-level dungeon style that is entirely underwater. The events section lays out how to make sure the party has the underwater gear necessary for this adventure and covers a lot of eventualities and player choices.

Throughout the module we get scalable encounters. Every encounter comes with instructions to increase or decrease the EL of the encounter by 1. This means the characters can become seventh during the adventure, before the adventure begins, or after it is done and the challenges will still be balanced. The suggestions are simple and most are easy to do on the fly. This makes it very easy to introduce the adventure when it would fit the campaign organically and not when the numbers demand it. This increase the usability and modularity of the whole. Well done.

The second level of the pyramid has a table of Dungeon Dressing suggestions that add points of interest to the dungeon. I really like this as it gives a GM readymade tools to accent the adventure and mood. I'm a little saddened that these are only included for the middle layer, but I suppose the table can be used in other sections where appropriate. The three main levels contain some fairly straight up fights, but the tactics provided make the foes much more canny than a simple kick-in-the door-style game. If you want to play kick-in-the door, you can. You want to play with intelligent foes, you can do that to, and all with the scalable EL system. This section also has many different notes about sahuagin culture that both affect game play and introduce neat interest points for those who are curious. There are even individuals that the party can gain as allies; one is a sahuagin who is in disagreement with the rest of his band! Thus players who like to try and talk can be rewarded as well. I like that there has been such care towards a wide range of playing styles.

That said, the encounters are fairly simple matters. There is little variation or great ingenuity in the combat design. That is ok; not every adventure has to be played out as chess matches between the GM and his players over fiendishly wicked hazards and traps. And the monsters do respond to the party's actions, moving into different areas to help fight off the adventurer's attack. But one or two more encounters that relied on more than just the individual capabilities of the combatants would have been better. The first attack had elements of this driven by the plot with the sahuagin capturing victims as they fought. In the dungeon I would have liked to have seen a few truly unique encounters beyond defend the young or BBEG fighting hard. The end encounter has potential depending on how it is run, so there is that. A creative GM can add these elements easily enough, but they could have been there from the start.

The final sub-level is where the big final battle takes place against an evil, huge, aberrant shark-monster. There are also the prisoners, and how many there are left and how many survive depends entirely upon the capabilities and decisions the players have made so far. This encounter is also somewhat scalable, but with a few differences to account for the complex stat blocks involved. The aftermath has a great deal of role-playing potential with the rescued NPCs and their back stories. Finally we have some suggestions for lasting repercussions to the adventure, including a free download supplement encounter with sahuagin out for revenge. This makes the adventure truly a part of the campaign, and not just a throw away one-shot.

To wrap this up we are given three appendices. The first covers the new monsters and magic items presented in the module. The second is a nice two-page piece summarizing the rules for drowning, underwater movement, and combat. It is good to have them all in one place, and the module suggests printing these out for the players as guides. The third appendix has six pre-generated player characters for using this module outside of a campaign, with character images drawn from Larry Elmore's work.

Final Thoughts: One of these days, I'll get something from Raging Swan that doesn't get a four or five star rating from me. That is not today, however. This is a really good adventure with great supplemental material and overall design, easily placed into an ongoing campaign or acting as a standalone one-shot. The versatility of the encounters, the support for many different styles of play, and the depth of character on the many different NPCs is remarkable. The support material makes this a supplement worth having by any GM intending to use the sahuagin as opponents. If there is a flaw it is in the straight forward nature of most of the encounters. More diversity would have put this adventure over the top into classic territory. I am still rating it very high, somewhere between four and five stars. I'll round up because the supplement material is of such great use. The Sunken Pyramid is a truly fun and entertaining adventure with a lot of substance. Five out of Five Stars.


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An Amazing Amount of Material for so Limited a Space

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The Isles of the Shackles supplement for the Pathfinder Campaign Setting covers the archipelago south of the Eye of Abendego in the world of Golarion. It is a mix of Caribbean and African style culture all centered around piracy. If you were to take the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries and put them in a fantasy setting, this would be pretty close. The Shackles are a loose pirate led confederacy ruled by a pirate council out of the capital city of Port Peril. This supplement tries to do what should be impossible: cover an area roughly 80,000 square miles with hundreds of islands in decent detail. The author trying this Olympian task is Mike Shel, an experienced writer with a solid background, so he might pull it off.

The book is in two parts. The first is the Shackles Gazetteer. This makes up more than two-thirds of the material in the supplement. It starts with a quick introduction to the Shackles and the nature of their government—such as it is—and their source of "trade": piracy. We then move on and get a description of the six "civilized" centers of the Shackles—Port Peril & the Mainland, Bag Island (Halfling anti-slavery community), Devil's Arches (Ruins of the ancient cyclops empire of Ghol-Gan now held by Chelaxian ex-pats), Motaku Isle (A pirate haven run freely by a popular half-elf pirate lord), Shark Island (Sahuagin infested land rules by a werewolf), and Tempest Cay (an island constantly battered by the eternal hurricane to the north and ruled by a powerful druid). Each gets two full pages and a piece of art the goes with the island in question. The detail here is really great, with many plot hooks and adventure ideas built in. From tentacled horrors lurking in Methoth Lake on the Devil' Arches to the lover's rift threatening Oyster Cay, almost every form of adventure imaginable has been placed just within these six regions. This is classic gazetteer style, with simple outlines and community descriptions for a GM to build adventures upon.

But where are the maps? There is a small scale map of the Shackles on the inside front cover, but this doesn't show most of the locations described in the various entries. This makes it hard to understand the relative distances and the like when constructing adventures. One of the things that I have always loved about fantasy campaign settings was when I could locate an entry on the map provided. Being unable to do that really limits the functionality and enjoyment of this work. A free web supplement with what may very well be one of the best maps for a fantasy campaign setting ever was added after the fact, which sadly means the print version has no reference to it. You have to download the map with all the detail you could want off the website. Not an issue for me, but it does leave those with just the book with limited usability. Remember what I said about this being impossible to do? This is where we have come up against it. Still the info in the gazetteer is phenomenal, so with the download I can forgive a lot of this.

The next part of the gazetteer covers an island a page, and there are a lot of them! Twenty-two islands in all, each with its own history, lore, and adventure hooks. The variety is amazing, from cannibal tribesmen and ancient ruins, to an Asiatic port of call where a daimyo rules, to elven supremacists, to raging volcanoes, it's all here in loving detail. You could run multiple campaigns in the region without ever duplicating yourself. This is great stuff, and all with just enough detail for a GM to run with it. This is exactly what a gazetteer needs to be. The final pages of the gazetteer give a brief overview of eighteen islets, rocks and atolls of the Shackles. All in all, a very thorough accounting of the archipelago.

The second part is a Bestiary for use with the Shackles. It starts with wandering monster tables, an essential ingredient to any sandbox style campaign. This bestiary is huge for a supplement this size! It has twenty-three entries, not counting variants ranging from CR 1/2 to CR 23. Add the variants in and you have another five adversaries. Some of the entries are NPCs written up specifically for the Shackles (mainly pirates) and the undead pirate entry has three direct variants plus a description of ghost ships and haunts. It's all great pirate themed material, with a certain ridiculous movie monster made over into a true terror of the deep (the lusca is a three-headed gargantuan sharktopus. I'm not sure if that is cool or really ridiculous. I'm going with cool!).

Final Thoughts: All in all, this is an amazing piece of work. Mike Shel pulls off a minor miracle, packing this thing from cover to cover with absolutely astounding material. Whole campaigns can be made out of any four or five pages of material here, and the gazetteer covers a full thirty-eight pages. The bestiary is massive and offers threats for any level of campaign. This is a near perfect supplement with a significant flaw: because of the size of the campaign setting books, there was not enough room to include maps. This is offset by the gorgeous downloadable map, but not having that ready to go at printing and a reference to it in the printed version was a glaring oversight. The download does reduce the usability of this supplement a bit as well. So I will have to drop a star from what I consider one of the best campaign setting source books ever written. Four out of Five Stars.


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An Absolutely Amazing Set of Maps

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

I love maps, and I am always glad to have more. I was a little disappointed with the Skull & Shackles Poster Map Folio but I am always hopeful. And the Shattered Star Poster Map Folio is so much superior, my hopes have been fulfilled.

We get three poster maps: one ink-and-parchment style artistic map of Varisia, and two clear and well labelled maps of two of the important cities of the country: Magnimar and Kaer Maga. The artistic map is in the same style as the beautiful one supplied in the Skull & Shackles Folio, but this time with labels! It includes the major trade routes throughout the country and the distances that each route takes. It is probably the most single beautiful and useful campaign map I have ever seen. It's use with any campaign set in Varisia means that it can be used with no less than five of the Pazio Adventure Paths. That is amazing adaptability.

The Poster Map of Magnimar is great. It is beautiful to look at and is labelled in a way that shows all the locations a party could know about by asking a local for directions or information. No secret lairs, encounter locations, or adventure information provided. This is a great player and GM aid.

The Map of Kaer Maga has each separate district colour coded, making it easy to use with the information provided in City of Strangers. Everything that has been labelled on the other general maps of Kaer Maga is labelled here. Again, all the information that a GM would want the players to know about and none of the material they shouldn't know.

Final Thoughts: All three maps are absolutely beautiful to look at (especially the artistic ink-and parchment country map) and of use to anyone running a campaign set in Varisia. As a great appreciator of maps, these are going to be beloved additions to my collection. Five out of Five Stars.


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A Beautiful set of Maps with Limited Usefulness

3/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

I have loved maps since I was a child and still love them today. I would spend hours with an atlas, learning all about the different places and studying the different coastlines. The maps that were included with Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings amazed me, as did those of Anne McCaffrey's Pern. When I got my first copy of the World of Greyhawk, I was in seventh heaven with the brightly coloured map showing all the fictional countries for use with D&D. The Map Folio product line from Paizo would seem a natural fit for me. So let's see what we have in my first acquisition.

The Map Folio format is to give three poster maps all related to a single Adventure Path, in this case the Skull & Shackles AP. We get highly detailed and beautiful maps of Port Peril and the Isles of the Shackles, plus an amazing ink-and-parchment style map of the Shackles that is just astonishing. The ink-and-parchment handout is breathtaking: it really looks like and actual nautical map that a ship's navigator could use to plot courses through the archipelago. There are even stains on the map, including where some clod placed his grog mug! It is a wonder to behold.

But now we come to the problems. The two clear maps of Port Peril and the Shackles have no place names whatsoever. I get the idea is to make the maps "player friendly" and to allow GMs who make their own worlds to put their own names in. But most maps that could be purchased in the game world would still have the names of islands and major ports on them, so including these without putting in the "secret entrance to the pirate lord's treasury" points would still be player friendly. So the main reason for leaving these blank would be for those GMs who want to put their own names in.

This is a mistake in my opinion. Those GMs who do make their own worlds will also name island chains and ports. So having the names "The Shackles" and "Port Peril" right on the maps as they do runs counter to this approach. Further, those GMs who do have time to build their own worlds do not need this sort of product. They have their maps already detailed. I have done this myself for campaigns in the past, and produced beautiful maps with some simple computer software and a little time. It was fun to do, and a part of the fun of making your own world. So these maps would be of no real value to those people who would put their own names in. This is a real shame, as the cartography is amazing. I have a PDF download of the Shackles map provided by Liz Courts for the Isles of the Shackles campaign setting which is the same map with the labels put in. It is amazing, and what should have been included with this set.

GMs who pick up map sets do so to have an area already developed for them. They do not need unlabeled maps no matter how nice they look. They need maps that are ready for use, not ones which they will have to add material to for them to be usable. The point is to cut down on the workload. This leaves much of the workload the same but makes the results "more pretty." That is not enough for me.

Another problem is that there is no way to get from Merchant Marina to High Eastwind in Port Peril (the port and the raised section in the town). There are no roads connecting High Eastwind to anywhere, even through the Knotworks (the cave systems of Port Peril). I made an inquiry about this in the product discussion, and Liz came up with a great suggestion to deal with it, but this was an error that crept in somewhere in the production process and got missed.

Final Thoughts: Sadly this is a rather disappointing product for me and not a great way to have my first Paizo product review go, but there it is. By leaving the labels off the maps they are of far less value to the average GM and of limited use to GMs with homebrew campaigns. By putting the names of Port Peril and The Shackles on the two standard maps, they make them all but useless for those GMs. The inclusion of the stunning ink-and-parchment handout is a saving grace, but it actually makes me wonder if that was for the players, why couldn't the standard map have labels? All in all I love the nautical map handout and the beauty of the cartography, but am not a fan of leaving off the labels. Three out of Five Stars.


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An Excellent Player Friendly Resource

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

The Freebooter's Guide to the Razor Coast is the player's guide for the Razor Coast Campaign Setting/Adventure from Frog God Games. Like the player's guides for Paizo's Adventure Paths, this guide is designed to help players build characters that will work well within Nic Logue and Lou Agresta's massive pirate-themed campaign. At 87 pages of material, this is much larger than your average player's guide and is being printed in hardcover. Effectively this makes this book a full supplement unto itself.

Chapter One covers the races of the Razor Coast. There are two ethnicities of humans on the Coast, the colonists and the native Tulita tribesman. Both are well described, especially the Tulita who have many minor sub-ethnicities within their group. The cultural differences and the trait differences of the sub-ethnicities make them a varied and interesting people. Also in this section are the languages spoken commonly on the Coast described. Two new races are introduced: the Dajobasu—the "cursed" spawn of the Shark God that are occasionally born among the Tulita—and the Menehune, a gnome-like race of beings blessed by Great Pele the volcano goddess of the Razor Coast. Both of the new races are well described and are given Alternate Race Traits (as per the APG) and new Favored Class Options. The traditional races of Pathfinder are then given their place within the Coast. Finally we have some additional character Traits for use with the Razor Coast. The text states that these can be used to replace specific racial traits, but they are actually standard Character Traits. There seems to be a disconnect here: these should have been in another section of the guide. There are actually no racial traits given in this section or any traits that should be replaced with each entry. A small mistake, so I won't penalize it too much for this.

Chapter Two is about the base character classes within the Razor Coast campaign. It gives a brief overview of the core classes in the campaign setting and then provides new archetypes for most of them. Some are a little disturbing—such as the Cannibal King barbarian archetype—although that is to be expected given the overall tone of Razor Coast. The wizard archetype—the Scrimshaw Fetishist—is a somewhat strange and interesting development using self-mutilation and body piercing for spell acquisition and use. I like it. It gives no real change in power; it gives the manner in which spells are gained and cast to a flavourful and tribal quality.

Chapter Three introduces two new base classes: the Disciple of Dajobas—an evil, not quite druid, not quite cleric, not quite raving lunatic part spell-caster—and Yohunga—a shaman-like part spell-caster with a construct familiar (called a Tikiman). The Hunger Domain is described here allowing clerics of Dajobas and disciples of Dajobas some new abilities. The Shark God's minions are very combat oriented with a wide spell range even though they cast spells more like a bard than a cleric. This class seems more like an adversarial role than protagonist, but I like that players and GMs have been given the option of disciple PCs. I really like the yohunga for the addition of a Tiki powered class. I have never seen a truly Polynesian style class before, and it deserved to be added to the game. Neither class could have been easily converted with archetypes, so I understand the addition of these two new base classes.

Chapter Four gives a quick overview of the history of the Razor Coast, paired down a little from the Campaign book for player consumption. All of one page, it says its bit and gets off. Chapter Five is about Port Shaw, the central settlement of the setting. It is a well-detailed guide to the city, both in locations and customs in a Player friendly manner. Chapter Six details four organizations that have dealings and influence on the Coast. All are presented as organizations that the PCs can join and vary in style from the pure explorer (Cartographers and Explorers Guild) to resistance fighters (The Broken). This variety is great as the PCs are sure to find an organization they can join or at least ally themselves with.

Chapter Seven details the gods and the various religions of the Razor Coast. It covers everything from Great Pele and the other various divergent beliefs of the Tulita (including use of the Loa of Voodoo fame!) to the imported gods of the colonials. Nice additions, although the imported gods will undoubtedly be replaced if the Razor Coast is placed in another game world (as I intend to do).

Chapter Eight introduces some new Prestige Classes for Razor Coast. Of the five classes, all but one are of the old 3rd ed. five level "specialization" prestige class style. These small prestige classes adjust the nature of a character and give him different abilities, but otherwise leave the character pretty much the same class as before. They exist as much for flavour as power options. Of these, the Old Salt sailor PrC is my favorite. It and the Grand Captain of the High Seas are designed for use with Fire as She Bears—the ship-to-ship combat rules for Razor Coast—and really comes across as the skills an experienced sailor would pick up. The 10-level PrC is the Shaw Sheriff, a self-appointed lawman trying to clean up the streets of Port Shaw (whether for themselves of for the general good is up for questioning). This is a PrC for gun using characters, and is an interesting combination of social skill, sneakiness, and trick shots. You also get a price on your head from the Municipal Dragoons of Port Shaw. Now this is what a prestige class should be about: campaign specific flavour and abilities with plot hooks built in. Fantastic!

Chapter Nine covers setting specific equipment. None of the new equipment is really any better or worse than standard equipment, but really helps evoke the flavour of the setting. There are also lists of valuable commodities, poisons, and drugs common or unique to the Coast. One thing I particularly like is that every large ship available for sale has a name and a history in addition to the price. In the CRB they just list a ship type and the price. Here the purchase becomes something far more real and keeps up immersion.

Chapter Ten is a list of new feats appropriate for the setting. Some are a bit detailed—Catch Them Napping is a gun feat that is almost a rule-set unto itself—but none seem to be overpowered or game breaking in and of themselves. There are some interesting rules here in a side-bar on Standoffs; essentially, rules on a Mexican standoff for Pathfinder! These plus a feat that improves your ability to surf (!) round out a great thematic selection of feats. Chapter Eleven lists setting appropriate spells. None are particularly powerful and are all either tied to the sea or Tulita culture. Chapter Twelve gives us some new magic items for the game. They are a neat collection of cool stuff that are generally more important for skills and role-play than combat, though a few are combat oriented. The magic tattoos are terrific. There are the sailor standards—compass roses and mermaids—as well as Tulita tribesman standards. This is great fun!

The first Appendix covers animal companions, all three of which are close to my half-Kiwi heart: the Haast's Eagle, the Moa, and the Wetapunga. All three are native to New Zealand, although the first two have been rendered extinct in our world they continue to live on the Razor! The second section of this appendix briefly describes the flora unique to the Razor and their uses. Most of this part can be used for gathering materials for crafting, export, or direct use.

Appendix II is a player friendly Gazetteer of the Razor Coast and its immediate environs. There is a lot of plot hooks here which means no matter what you follow up on or interests you, adventure awaits! Finally, we are given two pages of a Razor Coast specific character sheet.

Final Thoughts: To say that this book is essential for players going into the Razor Coast adventure is an understatement. It provides all the background that any character would know beforehand and gives some very good character options for development within the campaign. For those who want to supplement a nautical campaign with Hawaiian style characters or sailing feats and class options, this could also be of some use. There is some confusion between racial traits and character traits, but that is a minor confusion generated by the Pathfinder system using the same name for two different things. That is a very minor quibble however. This also presents what I believe is an example of how a prestige class should be designed. All in all, and excellent resource and supplement which is all but mandatory for Razor Coast players. Five out of Five Stars.


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Great for Inspiring Interesting Encounters and Establishing Mood

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Alright, for any who don't know the reason that this has become a free publication please see this THREAD. I may not have reviewed this PDF without all of this bringing it to my attention, so I'm glad it happened for all that I feel bad for the grief Creighton got hit with.

I originally thought that the Dungeon Dressing series of supplements just added some colour to an otherwise ordinary item in a dungeon. Since I have a lot of experience coming up with this stuff off the cuff, I really wasn't interested. I found this supplement to be so much more than that. It gives examples of traps, treasures, and other interesting features as part of what would ordinarily be a boring piece of window dressing.

The first section is Table A: Characteristics & Appearance. It gives simple rules for portcullises, rules for different construction types (from bone through metals all the way to adamantine), rules for adjusting characteristics based on the portcullis condition, and what type of winch and lifting mechanism it uses. This allows a GM to develop unique barriers that fit the style of the dungeon and reveal what is beyond them to the party. There is a lot here, and I found myself contemplating various scenarios where I could use a portcullis to dramatic effect. The table itself has forty-six different characteristics for random generation or selection. Some are simple variations (such as portcullises opening sideways instead of up and down), while others suggest treasures and whole trick corridors (the very first entry with linked portcullises suggests a puzzle corridor to me, which I want to start working on immediately!). This is a great section that is full of material that can inspire dungeon design. Really great!

Table B: Dressing & Features is what I first thought of when I read the words Dungeon Dressing. It is a list of one hundred different features and appearances for portcullises. This is an area where I need little help, so this is of little use to me other than as encounter design inspiration. But for someone who isn't experienced making it up as they go, this could prove very useful. It is of best use, in my opinion, when trying to establish mood and atmosphere or creating an artificial history of the dungeon. Portcullises with obvious attempts at breaches or corpses in various places suggest a world in which events happened before. Such attempts at emersion are subtle and really enhance the game.

Finally we have Table C: Traps & Tricks. This section sets up two very basic portcullis traps and one magical trap. It also comes with suggestions with regards to the actual effect of a portcullis falling in a dungeon and rules for the GM to use them as a weapon in game (I really like the idea of the bad guys triggering a fast falling portcullis just as the party is passing under it!). The wailing portcullis is just brutal; you have just got to love any trap that gets even more dangerous when destroyed! That is, as a GM you've got to love it. Players opinions may vary. This section is fairly straight forward and has enough rules, suggestions, and examples for any GM to quickly build a unique, trapped portcullis. Calling this section a 'table' when there isn't one is a little odd. I know that the previous sections had tables—so it is in keeping with the overall structure—and it is a minor nitpick.

Final Thoughts: Dungeon Dressing: Portcullises is an excellent addition to any GM's collection. The ideas for using portcullises in new ways are very good and I found many sparked my imagination. The name Dungeon Dressing suggests a lot less than what is presented. I'm not sure how that can be addressed as it is a fairly apt description of the contents. But the uses of the contents are much more than simple window dressing of a dungeon. From simple material like this can great encounters be made. Five out of Five Stars.


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A Fairly Well-Balanced Warrior-Mage Character Class

4/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Gish characters—characters with both combat and arcane capabilities—have been a part of the game from the very beginning. In the very first editions of D&D there were the elf and half-elf multi-class fighter/magic-users. The Elf class from the D&D Basic game was also gish. The key to keeping these elves that could cast magic-user spells while wearing full armour and wielding swords and bows in balance with other, more specialised classes was three-fold. First, they could only be elves or half-elves from the start. Although humans were given the ability in 1st ed. AD&D to dual-class, this was less useful in that each time a new class was taken the old class was abandoned and could never advance again. So only characters with elven blood could advance in both combat and spell crafting at the same time. Second, they advanced very slowly. All experience points were divided between the two classes. In Basic D&D this was replaced with a single but incredibly slow advancement pace. Third, there was always a level limit, allowing humans to surpass them in both combat or magic.

Third edition did away with all of these restrictions, making gish type characters far more common and usable. The new restriction was given as the reason for no armour on wizards: somatic components. Every time a wizard or sorcerer wearing armour tried to cast a spell with somatic components, they had a percentage chance of failure because the armour restricted their movement too much. Various types of classes, armour, and feats have been added to the game to help overcome this restriction (some of which have been subsequently removed due to imbalance or broken nature). Still, the popularity of these style characters has resulted in new classes and new rules constantly trying to find that fine point between allowing the cool warrior-mage and maintaining game balance.

The Battle Scion is Marc Radle's attempt at this delicate game. It uses as its template the paladin, a class that includes magical power (of a divine source) with full combat capabilities. This is an interesting approach that makes a lot of sense: if the class your making stays close to an already fairly balanced class, you will find the balance point easier to achieve. Let's see what we have here.

Let's start with the Base Class. At first level the battle scion has all of the combat abilities of a fighter without the bonus feat. A battle scion gets a bonus to his Will save instead, same as a paladin. He also gets a replacement for smite evil: force blast. This is effectively a single, powerful magic missile available three plus the battle scion's Intelligence modifier times per day. It also scales up as the battle scion rises in level like a rogue's sneak attack damage. Since it is usable only a few times each day, I don't see it as too overpowered unless the party games the system and stops for rests a lot.

The battle scion gains a deflection aura that adds to his AC at second that increases slowly as he increases in level. Considering that he gains the ability to cast spells in armour without restriction later on, this seems like a superfluous extra ability. It isn't even an aura in that it only affects the character himself.

As with a paladin, a battle scion starts casting spells at 4th level. The battle scion is far less of a spell-caster than many gish classes I have seen, and that is not a bad thing here. He can gain any spells for his spellbook from the Sorcerer/Wizard lists, and the levels are the same—unlike paladins, for whom some spells are of a different level. This unlimited resource only seems very powerful; because the battle scion uses a spell-table fairly similar to a paladin's, the highest level spell any battle scion can ever cast on his own without multi-classing with wizard or sorcerer levels is 4th. This is a good choice, as it allows fireball flinging warriors without giving access to the really powerful magic. It also means they get far weaker spells to cast than a full-caster of the same character level. I like this very much as the flavour and balance are well addressed.

The battle scion gets a few bonus feats as he advances, though not as many as a fighter. He is allowed to qualify for "fighter-only" feats as though he were a fighter of 3-levels less. This opens up all of the combat feat trees while making a fighter better at them. A nice touch and continuing on the pure-caster-or-combatant-is-better-at-each-method approach.

The battle scion can enchant his weapon with magical power starting at 5th level. This enhances an already magic weapon or makes a mundane weapon magic. With a careful consideration to what can be placed as an enhancement and a limit on the times per day it can be used, this seems balanced to me.

The final abilities gained involve tactical spell-casting (making spells work better in combat), fighter-type armor training, and the capstone ability of casting a spell automatically on the target of a successful critical hit. Although the battle scion also gains a caster level and fighter level of 20th at 20th level, being a 20th level fighter is pretty useless as it effects nothing unless advancing beyond 20th. I'm not really sure why it is even included.

Archetypes are given as well: Force Blaster and Bonded Scion. The force blaster gives up the arcane aura, some bonus feats, and a tactical spellcasting ability for more powerful and plentiful force blasts. As the damage of each blast is actually enhanced and not split up among various bolts I am somewhat concerned about the multiple blast options as being a touch overpowered, especially as it gets to a point where you can blast and cast in the same round. The bonded scion seems much more balanced and intriguing. His weapon becomes a unique bonded item with the same powers as a wizard's arcane bond, picks up extra powers as the battle scion advances, and even eventually becomes intelligent! This has great flavour without adding too much power.

The New Feats seem well-suited to the class and don't appear to be broken. Some, like Improved Arcane Bond, are available to wizards as well and are very cool options. The New Magic Items are all Legendary Items of Gax the Great, perhaps the first battle scion. There is a lot of flavour here, as well as magic items that scale up as the battle scion advances in level. As someone who has used Weapons of Legacy in the past and still am—adapted heavily for Pathfinder—I found these new rules intriguing, and will have to look at the Legendary Magic Item supplements from Purple Duck Games more closely—thanks to the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter, I have the first one in my downloads. :-)

Finally a Prepared Spell Tracking Sheet is provided for ease of tracking the battle scion's spells. A nice addition, but a little unnecessary. I would have preferred a page of non-legendary magic items that would augment a battle scion. But that is a nit-pick.

Final Thoughts: All in all, this is a well thought out gish character class. The actual spell-casting and fighter abilities are well within game balance while preserving the heart of the concept which all of us must recognise: fireball flinging warriors in armour! I found the force blaster a bit questionable in power level as I believe that an optimizer might be able to use this to break the game. I also found the arcane aura ability a bit redundant since the battle scion can wear any armour he likes. The core of this class remains balanced, however, and the flavour seems spot on. This is a very good warrior-mage. Four out of Five stars.


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Finally! Ship to Ship Combat that Can Work!

5/5

For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Aside from a riddle oriented review and my first review (that of Gygax Magazine #1) people may be noticing a piratical theme to the products I am reviewing. Since I am preparing to do a Skull & Shackles/Razor Coast/Freeport mash-up for my next campaign, I am looking at A LOT of pirate oriented material right now, so as I start reviewing this is the stuff that is at the forefront of my thinking and putting down my thoughts helps me organize those ideas. Fire as She Bears! is a supplement that I was really hoping would be funded as I felt somewhat let down by the ship combat rules presented by Skull & Shackles.

In the Introduction, the goal of this supplement is explained as bringing age of sail sea battles to the Pathfinder game system while engaging all players sitting at the table rather than just the "captain" and the GM. The introduction explains some different terms that are going to be used, from Point of Sail to Weather Gauge, but does not go into too much detail. It is just to get the concepts out there before we get into the specifics of the rules.

Chapter 1 explains how to build a ship ready for use with the new combat rules. Every ship has a character sheet, just like a PC. It details the number of hit locations on the ship, the number of hit points each section has and the AC of each of those sections based on the size of the ship and the design you use. Hull locations and rigging locations are assembled like blocks for ease of initial calculations and making unique ship design relatively simple. That said, calculating the various attributes and other numbers can get a little long; much like generating a moderate level character from scratch. When it is all done, you have a fully statted out ship with overall cost, attributes, carrying capacity, movement , and movement type (sail, oars, etc.) Rules for movement—both tactical and long distance (called Overland Movement in a terrible misnomer)—are also described here in detail. But it is a ship without gear, so...

Chapter 2 covers equipping your new vessel. Whether you are going for a basic "it floats, that's good enough," or fully loaded with all the cool gear, this chapter covers it all from armor and weapons to hold pumps and brigs. It gives the cost and the weight of each item, changing up the carrying capacity. It is a very simple and straight forward. It also helps give a limit on the number and size of siege weapons that can be mounted on the ship based on the number of hull locations dedicated to guns. An aside explains that realism has been dumped a bit in order to feel more like the fun you would expect in a place with fireballs and black tentacles. So reload times and cannon ball sizes have been altered accordingly. I think this is a good choice as realism isn't what I'm looking for in RPGs. I want a cool story, and this helps with that. Onto the crew!

Chapter 3 is all about the crew compliment. Not just the extras who run around following orders in the background of scenes, but the roles of officers and the naval actions they can take in those roles. These are for the PCs to give them something to do in the middle of ship-to-ship combat. Information about the benefits and penalties of having officers fill these roles or having them be empty is also spelled out, as is the importance of crew loyalty and the advantages of having a few experienced crew members.

Chapter 4 is what we have been waiting for: Combat! And yet here we run into the first confusing part. Back in the introduction the concept of Ship Initiative was put forward and explained as the ship's Captain rolling a d20 and everyone modifying their initiative for naval actions off that number based on what type of role they are playing in the crew and which attribute that allows them to use. But here in the combat order the instructions are that every character must roll initiative twice to determine when they perform their normal round actions and when they perform their naval actions. This method is what is described in detail in this section, so I'm going to assume that it is correct and that the intro is in error. Since this could lead to confusion, it is an important bit of errata to fix.

Combat order goes from determining who has the weather gauge (tactical advantage based on wind direction and position), initiative, perform actions in order, determine ship damage and effects from naval actions taken, count casualties, move crewmen, recheck who has the weather gauge, and then keep repeating steps three through seven until battle is complete. By giving each character a leadership role onboard the ship, they will be able to give orders to up to 20 crew and still act as normal in a melee round. This is a unique approach that makes a lot of sense: talking has always been a free action—even out of turn—so giving orders doesn't conflict with the core rules of the game at all. This allows each character to go twice each round—once as normal and once with a naval action. So the whole thing works more like it would in a battle in a pirate movie rather than bored players watching one of their number playing a weird version of chess with the GM.

There are a number of standard naval actions that you can take under combat that are listed here, as well as special actions—such as ramming—to give the PCs a lot to use. There are some great suggestions for how to deal with casualties among a large crew and mass hand-to-hand combat on a ship deck. The whole is left open and easily understood, making it simple for a GM to create cinematic battles with massive ships and hundreds of crew!

Chapter 5 gives us new uses for Pathfinder skills and spells, new feats, an explanation of how far one can see from a crow's nest, and new spells for use onboard ship. I rather like the new feat Bellow—which allows you to command 40 crew instead of just 20—just for the imagery alone. The spells are not overpowered destroyer type spells, so they shouldn't affect game balance at all. In fact, most of the spells are movement or defensive in nature.

Chapter 6 gives us new magic items for use at sea. There are a lot of cool items here, but my favorites have to be Blatcher’s Rum (which gives you a bonus to Strength and fearlessness at the expense of Dexterity, Intelligence, and being sick later) and Featherfall Mast (everyone in the rigging is automatically protected by a featherfall spell) for wildly different reasons.

Chapter 7 has some advice about constructing and running naval battle encounters. This includes a really great section on pursuits, with the PCs being either the pursuer or the pursued. Obstacles and weather terrain features can be set up to make it more challenging and dramatic. The rest of the chapter gives sample captain stats and colorful NPCs that are fully detailed, essentially a bonus NPC codex for pirates and naval types. It also includes the lyrics to a rather great pirate drinking song, "That Blatcher's Rum," which I would love to hear the melody for (although I can come up with a pretty good one myself and which maybe a point in its favour). There is also a self-loading cannon construct that any ship's Captain with give his good eye for.

The Appendices include a blank Ship Record Sheet, some sample ships from Razor Coast, and one hundred ship names for use with whatever encounters you may need.

Final Thoughts: Aside from the minor confusion over Ship Initiative, the rules in Fire as She Bears! are internally consistant and are ultimately just an extension of the familiar Pathfinder combat rules. Yet they manage to convey the differences that fighting with large ships filled with crew at the same time. Simplicity and accomplishing the goals of narrative without loss of speed is difficult and having worked on many ship-to-ship combat systems over the years to try and get this feel myself, I am impressed. I will definitely be using these rules in my upcoming campaign and I recommend this supplement for anyone who is running a nautical based adventure or campaign. Five out of Five stars.

EDIT: I orignally gave this only 4 stars out of 5 because of the length of time to convert ships to the system and a little confusion over initiative. On further reflection, this is really a must have item for nautical adventures and I would up it to 4.5 stars if I could, but will give it all 5 instead.


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