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Whimsical and Fun

*****

Key Largo is one of those games that nobody knows about, but everyone SHOULD know about. I ordered a copy 2 years ago when I saw that it was only a few dollars. My 6-year-old son wanted to play, so I taught him the rules. Over the past 2 years, I have used the game to teach him math in a fun way. When his teacher assigned "play a game with math" as homework, we broke out Key Largo. This is a great game and one of the classics in my home. We are buying a copy to give away. We have not figured out who to give it to yet, but we will know when the time comes.


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One if by land, Two if by Sea

*****

Disclosure: I was given a pdf copy of this book in order to write a review. However, I strive to be dispassionate in my reviews of all products.
GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing is a compilation of multiple GM-aid products that Raging Swam Press has released in the past. These products center around an outdoors theme. Please note that this product is most useful to a GM designing her own campaign, or dressing up parts of a published campaign. Players will find little of use here. Although this book is sold as Pathfinder RPG compatible, the majority of it is system free and could be used in any role playing game.
What is in this book? The book is 159 pages long. 8 pages are taken up with the covers, OGL, an advertisement, information about the authors and the title page. The entire book is black and white in two columns. This makes the book easy on your printer. There is occasional artwork throughout the book. All the art is black and white either line drawings or woodcut style pictures. It is all of good quality and helps to illustrate the theme of the section you are reading. The majority of the book consists of tables that GM’s can use to either randomly determine campaign elements, or read through to mine for ideas for spicing up their campaigns.
This book has four major sections: Features and Events; Folk; By Land; and By Sea.
-Features and Events: This section provides tables to inspire GM’s to create more interesting sites for PC’s to interact with. Some of the ideas are quite simple, like describing features or animals visible from the campsite. A Minor Events table provides ideas for things to happen during the night; things of no consequence, but that will keep players on their toes. Similar sets of tables are provided for Castles, Ruins, and Caves. This section also has a page of PFRPG haunts that you can inflict upon your players, and 8 pages of ways to insert weather into your campaign.
-Folk: This section contains 13 pages of NPC’s to insert into your campaign. These can be bandits met along the road, or just fellow travelers who may or may not have needs that the PC’s can meet. Most of these NPC’s are not fully fleshed out, rather they each have a paragraph of motivations/ background to get a GM’s creative juices going for a fun random encounter/ side-quest.
-By Land: This section provides Minor Events, Dressing and Random Encounters for 10 land terrains. GM’s can mine these tables for ways to make the PC’s journey from dungeon to dungeon or city to city more interesting. Minor Events are small things that can happen/ be seen along the trip. Dressing is descriptive bites that a GM can use to flesh out what the PC’s see. Random Encounters provide small adventure seeds that PC’s can investigate or ignore.
-By Sea: This section provides Minor Events, Dressing and Random Encounters for 3 oceanic terrains, then spends 7 pages on tables to help create more interesting Pirate Ships (or any ships, really). One page has statblocks for pirate crew members (Captains are left up to the GM to flesh out). Two pages consist of tables for naming ships along with sample ship names and sample pirate captain names.One page provides table for pirate flags, ship figureheads, and even a table of Pirate Epithets!
Overall, this is a highly useful product for GM’s running an outdoor campaign. Formatting and Editing were excellent; I noticed only a few errors in the whole book. I enjoy flipping through this book finding interesting ideas to inflict upon my players. If you are unsure if this book might be for you, check out one or two of the products that make up the book. There is nothing game breaking here, it is almost all ideas that will help to create a more immersive experience for your players by filling some of the quiet moments with mundane occurrences. Overall, I love this book and award it 5 out of 5 stars.


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A Very Useful GM Resource

*****

Full Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review purposes. I strive to review thoroughly and fairly.

This book is over 300 pages of delightful tricks and tools for GM’s to use when building an adventure, or just trying to spice up their descriptions. The book is divided into 4 major sections: Dungeon Design, Dungeon Dressing, Riddles, and Treasure Hoards. There are tables in this book. LOTS of tables. Please note, this book is written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, but much of it is system neutral and could be used in ANY roleplaying game that has dungeon type features.

Dungeon Design is 9 pages long and contains entirely system neutral tips for building dungeons. This is VERY useful information for a GM designing their first dungeon, and good reminders for an older GM. Everything in this chapter is good info, it all is “take what you need and leave the rest,” type of information.

Dungeon Dressing is about 250 pages long. If you have purchased ANY of Raging Swan Press’ “Dressing” products, the format here will be very familiar to you. Each section contains a brief page of information about the dungeon feature you are putting in your dungeon, a table of different versions of that item, a table of characteristics, a table of dressing and features, and a few examples of trapped versions of that dungeon feature. For example: the section on arches starts with a page describing what arches are, different types of arches (inflexed, lancet, etc), and different materials you could make your arch out of (bone, glass, stone, etc). The next page is a percentile table that describes interesting characteristics for your archways (two statues facing one another support the archway). The next two pages are a table describing dressing and Features for your archway (a slight draft flows up from the tiles within the archway). The next two pages describe a few trapped archways. The traps are designed for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The idea is that you can either roll on the tables to generate random archways, or read through the tables for inspiration to build your own archways. This pattern is more or less repeated for the majority of this section and describes a multitude of dungeon features. The first major deviation is in the “Fiendish Traps” section. These are all designed for the PFRPG and they are amazing and challenging traps that far surpass a “roll a disable device check, you pass or fail” trap mechanic. Of note, the Illumination section starts with the most concise rendering of Pathfinder’s Light rules that I have ever seen.

Riddles is about 20 pages long and starts with two pages about designing riddles and using riddles in a RPG. This was interesting reading! The use of riddles essentially depends upon your group. You want to challenge them. You don’t want to frustrate them with riddles that they can’t figure out. You don’t want to give them riddles that are too easy and present no challenge either. The rest of the section consists of different riddles that you could use or use as examples to help you write your own.

Treasure Hoards is the last 40 pages or so and consists of 12 treasure hoards for each character level (assuming levels 1 through 20). This is the sort of thing that you could pull out if your players get a random encounter with an owlbear, then decide to go hunt down its lair for the loot (that you didn’t think to prepare ahead of time for a random encounter!). You can pull up one of these and just hand over an appropriate amount of loot.

Overall, this is a highly useful product for a GM that would use it. The evil GM in me loves the Fiendish Traps and the Riddles sections. Format is 2 column standard in Black and White. Are is black and white stock art and is good. There were very few editing errors at all in the whole document, which is impressive for a book this size from a small publisher. I’ll admit that this is a hard book to sit down and read cover to cover, but each section makes for interesting reading. I found myself either chuckling or commenting, “that’s a neat idea,” or, “Cool!” as I was reading individual tables. I cannot think of any justifiable reasons to take stars away from this stellar product. It’s a niche GM book, but for GM’s who could use it, it’s a very valuable resource. 5/5 stars.


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Two Monsters!

****( )

There are two "Faithful Servants" in this story: Salim and Connell. One unwillingly serves a (presumably) deserving mistress. The other willingly serves an undeserving master.

Connell is deliberately made likeable. He is compared to a puppy. Who doesn't like puppies? He obviously cares deeply about his master. Can eidolons love? The title of Chapter 4: The Greatest Gift, puts in mind John 15:6 - "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends.NLT" I would say, yes, in James Sutter's view, an eidolon is capable of love. This is further supported by the two outsiders in the Clever Endeavor who are engaged in a relationship that is somewhere on the spectrum of lust to love.

Salim is initially made somewhat unlikeable. He is violent, gruff and rather unsympathetic. He gets somewhat more likeable over the course of the story.

Overall the story is good. We get a fun romp through Axis and Ustalav. We get to see some of the stranger outsiders engaging in somewhat illicit behavior. We also get to see the common folk of Ustalav. This story is also the first with an eidolon as a main character! I give it 4 stars!


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Interlude

****( )

This little four-chapter tale, is less of a single story and more of a pair of interludes between two Tales novels. The story shows how both of the "boys" are dealing with all the events that they went through in Master of Devils.

The four chapters alternate between Count Varian Jeggare and Radovan's point of view.

Count Varian Jeggare is frustrated with the Pathfinder Society. During his yearlong absence, the Decemvirate has reassigned all of his agents to other Venture Captains. They are not addressing him as "Venture Captain," or by any other honorifics he is due. While he concerns himself with the slight to his honor, he takes advantage of the Grand Lodge's librarys to increase his repertoire of spells. While engaged in that activity, he meets and old acquaintance.

Radovan has also just gone through a very difficult year. Somewhat against his will, he killed some people. Some of them were very good people. He feels guilty about what he has done. This story shows the beginnings of that guilt. Radovan is tired of killing, so how will he react when someone asks him to kill again?

I appreciate the pun of the title. This short story shows how the boys are "Killing Time" in between books. It is also about how Radovan deals with being asked to kill another person with whom he has no connections. It is Killing Time again for Radovan, but he's tired of killing, he'd rather incapacitate someone and walk away. We get a humorous account of this in his first chapter (Monkey Plucks the Peaches). However, in his second chapter we get to see how Radovan is really a nice guy who wants people to treat each other nicely, but sometimes life takes you the other way.

It's also "Killing Time" for Count Varian Jeggare as an old aquaintance with a grudge has decided that now is the time to enact his revenge upon the Count. Varian uses all the resources at his disposal to avoid death, but at some cost. His already strained relationship with the Pathfinder Society seems to be even more strained. As he leaves The Grand Lodge, he leads us into the opening of Dave Gross' next novel, Queen of Thorns.


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A really fun module!

*****

This is a review by a GM who used the module as intended during the first book of the Carrion Crown adventure path. Spoilers for both the module and the first book of the AP are contained below. You are warned!!

I am currently GMin'g a Carrion Crown game and I decided to use this plug in to keep things interesting for my group. I had noticed that they were starting to get a little tired of all the "investigation" as they were trying to win the hearts of the townspeople (trust points) and complete all the research prior to entering the prison. In order to spice things up, I dropped this module on them.

In order to prepare them for it, I have had caravans of wanderers come through town and play fiddle music early in the morning. That way my players were not on high alert as soon as I introduced something "new" in the form of morning fiddle music.

One of the hardest things for me as the GM was waiting for them to WANT to go shopping at the store so that I could open the module as intended. Once things got started though, my group had an absolute BLAST. We took two sessions to play through the module, though I could see more efficient groups getting through it in just a single session.

A testament to how well this module was written is that my group started out completely rested. After the battle with the zombies, the shadow, the hands and the Skeletons at the posting pole, they were running very low on HP. At that point, however, they met the cleric who helped them out in that department. By the end of the module, everyone was nearly out of resources but having a great time!

At the end, they were shocked to learn that this was NOT actually a part of the AP as written, but that it was a 3PP plug in adventure. We had a great time, Greg vaughn NAILED the feeling of the town. 5 stars.


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Back to the Basics

****( )

***Warning!: This review contains minor spoilers from preceding Tales!
I remember hearing an interview where Dave Gross described his elevator pitch for Hell’s Pawns as, “A fantasy Sherlock Holmes story where Holmes is a half-elven noble and Watson is a Teifling.” This story brings the boys back to their roots.

While travelling from Ustalav back to Absalom to bring the Lacuna Codex back to the Decemvirate, the Codex is stolen. While Radovan and the Count investigate, murder strikes on the boat. Everyone has motive and Count Jeggare and Radovan must sort through the clues.

The mystery is fun, the clues and misdirections are believeable and not transparent. Count Jeggare’s explanation of all the loose ends is very entertaining. Overall, this is a highly entertaining mystery story.


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A Young Varian Jeggare

****( )

A Lesson in Taxonomy gives us the story of Varian Jeggare's last excursion before completing the Bestiary which earns him the rank of Venture-Captian in the Pathfinder Society. For Maximum effect, it should be read AFTER Prince of Wolves.

The opening line, "No reprobate more taxes my patience than a drunkard," is wonderfully ironic, given what we know of Count Jeggare of Cheliax.

This story is quite short, with only two chapters. However, in that short time, Dave Gross manages to develop four characters into fairly well fleshed out people. The story is fun and filled with betrayal and trickery.


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Pirates! Treasure! Ghosts! Sea Battles!

****( )

This Piratey Digital Novella is the 6 chapter story that was published in the Skull and Shackles Adventure Path. This stand-alone story tells the tale of Challys Argent, a Pathfinder pirate captain and her crew of buccaneers. They are seeking a treasure called Far Thallai, racing to get it before the Monster Captain, does. We see land battles, thefts, drowned ghosts, sea battles, and boarding parties.

One of the most interesting elements of this story is the four main adjutants serving Challys Argen. Each is a powerful pirate captain in their own right, but are bound under a spell by Challys Argent’s sword, Siren’s Call, to serve and obey her. They are not puppets, though. They are sentient and free willed, within the confines of the spell. They work very well together, but Argent has to be very careful as they each want very badly to kill her.

The story is fun, the battles are fairly cinematic. I enjoyed the description of how a fireball spell fired into the water might effect a group of Sea Devils (fish people). Hint: It’s pretty horrific.

The art is all black and white, but it is good quality nonetheless.

If the only part of the AP’s that you read is the fiction, I think that the $4.99 price tag is worth it to be able to slap it into my iPad and read on my commute.


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Lots of shop ideas

*****

What you get: Two black and white pdf’s each 13 pages long. One is formatted to provide a quality printed version of the document, the other formatted for viewing on a tablet device. Two pages of covers, two pages of OGL and ads, one title page, one page credits, and one page Table of Contents and Foreword, leaving 6 pages of content.

Artwork: The two pieces of black and white artwork were both of good quality and fit the theme of the product.

Layout and Editing: Layout was two column standard. Editing was excellent, with only one “her” that should be a “his.”

Overall Impression: There’s a very good reason that this product is sold as a “GM resource.” There is almost nothing here for players. For GM’s this is a gold mine of tables of ideas for making your shops more unique and interesting.

The first table is 100 interesting characteristics to make shops memorable. Some are as simple as, “a small wooden shop that smells of fresh baked bread.” Some are complicated enough to give a rough idea of the shop’s Ikea-like layout. If you don’t want to roll percentile dice to decide what a shop looks like, you can still cherry pick shop descriptions for your game.

The second table is 100 different traders and craftsmen that could be working in a randomly picked shop that the PC’s walk into. Other than having a nice list of craftsmen that might be in a medieval-fantasy town or city, I struggle to see what use I could get from this table in my game. However, I can see where other GM’s might find it useful.

The third table consists of 20 hooks or complications that PC’s might encounter in a shop. These could be used as plot hooks to entice the PC’s into investigating a possible quest, or they could just be something that keeps a PC from shopping in that shop. Generally, these are some sort of trouble going on just as they arrive (shelf fell over, shop owner in back complaining of having been bitten by a patron, etc.). This was the most fun table to read, as each entry inspired my inner GM to invent quests for each of these.

The final set of tables consists of 8 table that, used in sequence, allow a GM to quickly roll up an interesting NPC. You get gender, name, race, appearance, mannerisms, purpose for being in the shop, and rumors. This set of tables, could be used by a player as idea seeds for a character, though I’m sure there are better resources available for that sort of inspiration. The prepared GM would use these tables to provide NPC descriptions ahead of time. In a pinch they COULD roll up an NPC at the table with these tables.

Final Rating: This product is darned useful, even if it’s not the most riveting set of tables I’ve ever read. Even a GM running a published adventure is left to their own devices for 90% or more of the material when faced with PC’s in town looking to spend money. This product combined with a copy of one of the “So What’s for Sale, Anyway?” documents would make the prep for a town worlds easier. Despite the dryness of the material itself, this product accomplishes what it set out to do, and accomplishes it well and thoroughly. 5 stars, and I want to check out more of this line of products.

-Aaron


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Woodland Ideas Galore

*****

What you get: Two black and white PDFs, each 17 pages long; one is formatted for printing, the other formatted to be viewed (portrait or vertically) on a tablet. Front and Back Cover, Title page, Ads/OGL, and Credits/Table of Contents/Foreword take 7 pages, leaving 10 pages of content. Two tables (one of minor events and one of woodland dressing) are tables of 100 ideas/hooks/environment descriptions. One table has twelve woodland encounters. One page is woodland features.

Artwork: Artwork was black and white and was of good quality. The style hearkens back to the art in old D&D books. The art does not directly correlate to any items in the table, but is all woodland themed and provides an appropriate “flavor” to the subject matter.

Layout and Editing: Layout was two column standard. Editing was very good. Since the tablet version is formatted for portrait or vertical view, and I read on a landscape monitor on a netbook, I am not able to comment on the difference/convenience of the tablet version over the print version, both provided an identical reading experience for me.

Overall Impression: Raging Swan Press’ books are immediately recognizable by their black covers with white text. This book is strictly a GM resource. There is nothing here for players. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the purchase. Within, you’ll find three tables (two of them MASSIVE) and a page of terrain features to make woodland combats more interesting.

The first table is 100 minor events. They range from animal sightings to trees falling on PC’s to adventure hooks, to creepy ghostly meetings. There is not a lot of information given for each one, but each one seems to be designed to get a GM’s creative juices flowing. Players can interact with or ignore the events as they will, but could end up with some fun side quests or at the very least, believable reasons for having a random encounter.

The second table is 100 items of “woodland dressing.” These items are designed to give GM’s material for making campsites or encounter areas a bit more interesting. You’ve got lots of different tree descriptions and geological features to play with. No more boring circles on the battlemat to signify the campsite.

The third table is twelve random encounters ranging from EL 2 to EL 10. Each encounter has a block of text outlining why the PC’s might have this encounter. Rather than having woodland creatures attack for no reason, you have enough background to make these encounters somewhat believable. Your players may just think that they are still on the main quest instead of just getting a random encounter!

Finally, you get one page of woodland features. These are dressing to make encounter areas more interesting. You get different things that PC’s and NPC’s can interact with in the environment during a battle. If your battle site has a fallen tree in it, how can it be used as cover? How do you adjudicate movement through the leafy top of the fallen tree? The rules governing these sorts of situations are outlined on this page. Of the entire document, this is the one page that I will print out when my players are getting into woodlands.

When I started counting up pages, I was surprised at how many of the pages in the document were “non-content” pages. The 10 pages of content were so densely packed with gaming goodness, that this is not a huge detraction from the product, but I did notice it. To be fair, the document IS short, and the number of pages that are non-content (covers, OGL, ads) are no more than what I find in Paizo’s products, the low page count makes the percentage feel high.

When I first glanced over this product, I cringed, thinking, “How am I going to read through a book of tables?” I was pleasantly surprised to find that these tables were interesting to read! I wasn’t bored, rather my mind flew between thinking, “How would my players react to that?” and “Can I find a good way to slip this into my current adventure?”

Final Rating: Five stars. Any product that is essentially 10 pages of tables, that keeps me reading and keeps me thinking, “I want to use that!” deserves a five star rating.

-Aaron


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Balanced Summer/Fire Options

*****

What you get: You get two PDFs of the product, a printer friendly version and a tablet/laptop version and a Hero Lab file. The printer friendly version is 10 pages; 1 cover, 1 credits, 1 table of contents w/ introduction, 1 OGL, and 1 back cover, leaving 5 pages of gaming content. The tablet version is 15 pages; 1 cover, 1 title page, 1 table of contents w/ introduction, 1 OGL and 1 back cover, leaving 10 pages of gaming content.

Artwork: Artwork is all black and white, and is good to very good. Artwork was all tied to the theme of the book, and, except for one piece, tied back to the material that it was near.

Layout and Editing: Editing is superb, there were very few errors. Layout is two column standard in both formats. Tablet version is in landscape, but it fits nicely on a 10 inch screen that way. Special attention was paid to layout in the tablet version. Only one thing (the mechanical owl familiar) crosses onto another page. This makes reading much more comfortable and natural.

Overall Impression: This product provides summer/fire themed extras for your PC to use. Released to coincide with the beginning of another company’s very cold centric adventure path, your PC can have lots of fire spells and domains to deal 150% damage to cold creatures. This product is also useful to anyone who wants to have a fire-themed or summer themed character.

The spells are well balanced. Some of them are a little complex with more than one effect, or an effect that last while the charge is held, but lost when the charge is expended for a different effect. A little careful reading will solve any questions. One spell (Campfire Forge) lists two different durations (one hour per level and one round per level). The new Bard Masterpiece is fun, and will be useful against trolls! New subdomains are very summer themed, but not overpowered. The new item hearkens back to The Princess Bride, with a Holocaust Cloak. The familiars allow you to gain a Mechanical Owl or a Young Phoenix as a familiar.

That covers the content. I’d like to address the tablet format for a moment. Paizo and the Third Party Publisher (3PP) community should take a good hard look at JBE’s tablet format and imitate it. In my opinion, this format is the best development in digital gaming books since the watermarked pdf. This format provided the most comfortable reading experience that I have ever had on a 10” netbook screen. Every time I have looked through this product, I have done so on the tablet format. I glanced at the printer friendly version to confirm there were no content differences, but I READ the tablet version.

Final Rating: This product is what it advertises: fire and summer themed options for a PC. It is balanced. Editing is good. The tablet format is superb. Overall rating is 5 stars.

-Aaron


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Silly. Deadly Silly.

****( )

Disclaimer: I was given a reviewer’s copy of this book. However, I am not paid for this review.

What you get: This pdf is 14 pages long. Cover (1), Title Page (1), Table of Contents w/ introduction (1), Universal Monster Rules and OGL (2), leaving 9 pages of beasts. At one monster per page, that buys you 9 monsters for $2.99.

Artwork: The artwork was okay to very good. Some of the art looked like a doctored photograph of something holiday themed (nutcracker, gingerbread cookie, meringue cookie), some looked like holiday cartoons, and some was exactly what you expect out of quality monster books.

Layout and Editing: Document is laid out in a standard two column format. Editing is superb. The only error I could find was a missing period in Appendix 2, Psychopomp Subtype.

Overall Impression: This book of Christmas/winter-holiday themed monsters is the first published material (I know of) from JBE’s new editor, Richard Moore. As you might suspect from the Santa hatted lich on the cover, there is significant selection of silliness in this book. You get constructs like the clockwork nutcracker and a golem made of gingerbread. You’ll find singing undead and Santa’s elves and Reindeer as you’ve never seen them before. If your party is hungry for more, you can serve up a killer fruitcake and wash it down with eggnog pudding. Although the theme of the book is silly holiday spirit, these monsters are still deadly serious. Any GM could easily strip the holiday out of the description and serve them up to players. CR’s range from 1 to 13. So, what’s the verdict for a rating? I like silly, so that was a mark up in my book. The monsters are well written and usable (and deadly!), even in a non-holiday themed campaign or adventure. The writing was pleasant to read; instead of slogging through a bunch of monsters, I was excited to see what made each one special. On the down side, it IS a specifically holiday-themed product, which could limit its usefulness for the less creative GM. It is also rather short for the price at 33 cents per monster.

Final Rating: That brings me to a rating of three and a half stars, rounded up to 4. If there’s one thing JBE writes well, it’s monster books!

-Aaron


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Interesting Product

****( )

As my review states, this was an interesting product! It consists of 12 different and imaginative domains that could be used for a Druid. Some grant familiars, others just grant special abilities. I'm not going to comment on balance of the domains, since EZG covered that all pretty well.

I'm interested in trying one of these out in my game next time I get to play a druid.

I would love to see Herolab support for this product line.


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Cinematic and just a bit Spaghetti Western

*****

This is the tale of a “Cobblestone Druid,” named Luma Derexhi. She is the eldest daughter of the Derexhi family, a family that specializes in providing protection for others in the city of Magnimar. Luma is a member of the “Top Squad,” a party of her siblings that act as a sort of special forces group in the city. Robin Laws has, once again, written one of the best adventuring parties in the Pathfinder Tales line. Each party member is an individual and has good reasons for taking the actions they do.

The book starts out as a mystery that Luma is investigating, and then changes over to a revenge story for the final half of the book.

Revenge spoiler:
The revenge story aspect left the same taste in my mouth as a spaghetti western. I was melancholy because the hero gets revenge, but revenge does not make her happy. I feel that this makes for a good ending, despite the melancholy.

One of the neat aspects of this book that I enjoyed was seeing how a PC might perceive the process of gaining a level and the new powers associated with it. It was well written, and did not require knowledge of game mechanics to “get it.” Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the return of Hendregan, the mad fire sorcerer from The Worldwound Gambit. He is an interesting character and I would be interested in seeing him develop more as Mr. Laws writes more books in the Pathfinder Tales line.

-Aaron

Edit:Upon further consideration and in the process of a second reading, I have decided to up my review to five stars. This book is in my top three of the Pathfinder Tales along with Plague of Shadows and Death's Heretic.


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Can anyone lend me two eighty-pound rats?

****( )

I’d like to rid my house of cats.

What you get: This PDF only document is 12 pages long; front and back cover, title page and OGL take up 4 pages leaving 8 pages of content. On those 8 pages you get a new race: “Ratfolk” created using the rules from the Advanced Race Guide and 7 Ratfolk NPC’s of the following CR’s: 1/2, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8. You also get the Hero Lab files for the content.

Artwork: There are 5 illustrations in the book ranging from “Meh” to “Excellent.” One illustration is in color (and would not look out of place in a Paizo AP or Module), and the rest are black and white.

Layout and Editing: Layout is a standard two column layout. Editing was very good, I noticed only one error in the entire document.

Overall Impression: If you came here looking for Wererats, you are in the wrong place. This book is filled with small humanoid rats. Two of the NPC’s listed are low level warriors for another of the NPC’s. The range of listed NPC’s is good. All of them could be helpful or harmful to a party to a greater or lesser extent. Each of the five NPC’s outlined has a reasonable backstory with potential plot hooks that could be used to drop them into an adventure.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Editing was great, price may be viewed as high for 7 NPC’s. The Excellent artwork balanced out the “Meh” artwork. If you are looking to run a sewer themed adventure, this would be a good investment.

-Aaron


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For Heroes of the Night

*****

Disclaimer: I was given a reviewer’s copy of this book. However, I am not paid for this review. That said, prior to being asked to review the book, I had already preordered it.

What you get:
This document is 34 pages long: one front cover, one table of contents, one page of OGL with an add, and one back cover leaving 30 pages of plane of shadows content. The physical book has a color cover with a black and white interior. The digital copy comes with two pdf’s: one is a printer-friendly black and white with color covers. It is basically almost exactly the dead-tree print version in pdf form. The second is a beautiful full-color pdf with parchment background. The digital copy also comes with Hero Lab files to allow you run Shadowsfall classes, races, deities, and all the options in Hero Lab. The digital copy also has hyperlinks to the PFSRD website to allow for easy access to all open Paizo content that is referenced. Now that we have the indisputable facts out of the way, let’s get down to my opinions!

Artwork: Jon Brazer Enterprises did not skimp on the art budget for this book. The artwork is mostly black and white and is good to excellent. The most of the art is better than what was in the Book of Beasts Monsters of the Shadow Plane. There are two pieces of full color art that are very good. The picture of the wanderer is as good as the Player Class artwork that I have seen in the Pathfinder books or in the 3.5 Player’s Handbook. The black and white artwork is still black and white in the full-color-parchment-background pdf, so it sticks out a bit, but the quality of the majority of it is high enough that it doesn’t detract from the reading experience. Some of the highest quality art was of the Shadowfall iconics; I assume that this artwork was commissioned for the Shadowsfall products.

Layout and Editing: Layout adhered to a two-column standard. Editing was top notch. I tip my hat to the new editors at Jon Brazer Enterprises! There were very few errors that I noticed.

Overall Impression: This book is designed to give players and GM’s options for running an adventure or campaign in the plane of shadows. Everything that gets lost on the material plane ends up on the plane of shadows. Undead are much more common on the plane of shadows, and they are less limited there. This is not a nice place to live. All light sources are cut in half, fire and light spells are harder to cast, shadow spells are easier to cast. Zombies are everywhere.

The plane of shadows slowly changes everyone who lives there, so many of the playable races (pulling lots of material from the Advanced Race Guide) are somewhat modified. Halflings are more like Gollum than Bilbo, Elves grow more Drow-like with each generation, and Dwarves slowly turn into Duergar as the generations go by. Some races are playable that would not normally be played: Dhampir, Drow, Duergar, Hobgoblins, Orcs, and Ratfolk are all common races. There are racial traits for all the races.

Two new races are included: The Umbral Kobold and the Wanderer. Umbral Kobolds are, well, Kobolds. They are small, quick, have darkvision and light sensitivity. The Wanderer is a celestial who has lost their immortality and looks human. I like the flavor of the wanderer race a lot.

Archetypes: Dusk Stalker is a magus archetype that allows a kobold magus to be a bit more roguish. Radiant Knight is a fighter archetype that allows a wanderer to use their Vestige of Holiness to provide themselves with some holy light themed abilities. The Radiant Knight archetype really makes me want to play a Wanderer when I play in Shadowsfall.

There is a new cavalier order, modified dragonblooded bloodlines for sorcerers, new evolution point options for the summoner, a Shadow elementalist school for wizards, and a new Witch hex. There are new animal companion options, including the Riding Dodo. It makes sense that an extinct species would end up on the plane of shadows. There are also new options for familiars; Pathfinder wizards can finally pull a rabbit (familiar) out of their hat!

Seven Strongholds (and the area outside the strongholds) are detailed, getting a half page each. Each also has associated traits for adventurers coming from that stronghold. Each stronghold is unique and well written. The traits do not seem to be overpowered and fit the flavor of each area. Room is left in Shadowsfall for an intrepid group of adventurers to establish their own Stronghold.

Thirteen new feats are provided, one of which allows any character to gain 30ft. Darkvision (must be taken at first level). There is a set of feats that amount to a Shadow Style for the monk, allowing you to move faster, bypass a portion of enemy armor and deal strength damage. Combat, Teamwork, and Metamagic feats are all represented.

Some new equipment is available, including two new vehicles using the vehicle rules from ultimate combat. Deities across the alignment spectrum are well written and thematically appropriate. The Oracle’s Joy mystery is interesting; it requires a level of bard to access one of the revelations. The capstone ability is very powerful, but not unbalanced for 20th level play.

There is one page of new spells, which are mostly shadow related. I was a bit surprised at the first level spell Flicker, which functions like Invisibility but lasts only until the end of your next turn. The spells seems pretty powerful for a first level spell, but I would have to see how it played out. I can see Wizard/Rogues abusing it.

There is one page of new magic items, that are mostly shadow or undead related. I like the salve that gives you darkvision! I also liked the cloak that operates differently (and more powerfully) on the plane of shadows. Neat stuff here.

The two pages of “Altered Magical Items” is my favorite part of this book. In the same way that the plane of shadows corrupts all creatures that live there, it corrupts the operation of magical items. My favorite is the Ring of Troll Regeneration, which operates exactly like a Ring of Regeneration, except that it slowly changes your appearance so that you look like a troll.

I read all my gaming products on a netbook which has limited processor power; I found that the black and white version had less “lag” than the full color version. I found that I preferred reading the black and white over the color, though if I were to print it out, I would print the color version.

Final Rating: The purpose of this book is to provide options and background for players rolling up PC’s to run in Shadowsfall. It succeeds in that purpose. There are options for all of the PC classes, there are new races (designed according to the Advanced Race Guide rules) for players (and GM’s) to use. Layout and editing were great. I honestly can’t think of anything bad to say about this book. 5 out of 5 stars.

-Aaron


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Ash Williams is... Darvin

***( )( )

If you, like me, are one of those sick and twisted individuals that actually enjoys Bruce Campbell films, this story is for you. Darvin and Fife are brothers. Fife writes stories and Darvin tells them. This is how they make their living. Unfortunately, the heroics that Darvin claims, come back to haunt him. He and his brother end up exploring a ruin filled with animated, disembodied hands. Their cowardice and bumbling would make Ash proud.

Although this is the most comical story to come out of the Pathfinder Tales, I don't think that the comedy is out of place. It is a lighthearted story set in Golarion. The comedy is (admittedly) influenced by the Evil Dead films, and reminiscient of Terry Brooks' and Neil Gaiman's work.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story! 3 stars.


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Light of a Distant Star Part 1: Old Friends

****( )

First, this is not a review of the adventure. It is a review of only the Pathfinder's Journal. Now that you know that (and knowing is half the battle), let's get to it!

Bill Ward, who previously wrote (among other things), the free web fiction, The Box, returns with Pathfinder's Journal: Light of a Distant Star.

This journal begins with a lone female wandering the streets of Riddleport. Not the wisest choice, but this character is tailing a loudmouthed gnome through the streets. The opening three pages are a phenomenal introduction to the bad Wharf District of Riddleport.

The reason the journals are included in the AP's is to give GM's and players a taste of the atmosphere of the adventure path without any spoilers, this opening journal does that job beautifully! We don't find out who the main character of the story is until the 4th page, but that's okay because in the meantime we learn that Riddleport's Wharf District is dangerous; home to pickpockets, pirates, sailors, gangs and other less desirable elements. We also learn a little bit about the Cyphergate, a giant arch over (circle around?) the entrance to Riddleport harbor. Finally, we learn that our main characters are engaging in a heist of some sort. This heist appears to be the main focus of the six-part story arc (story Cypher-arc?).

Editing is top notch (as expected). The story is well written with the main characters introduced gradually with a nice mix of action and exposition about each one that locks that character in your head so that you don't confuse them. Overall, the story is excellent worthy of 4 stars!


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You may fire when ready...

*****

Like all the bullet points products, this is a very short pdf. It is 4 pages long. 1 title page, 1 page of OGL and credits which leaves 2 misssle packed pages of goodness!

I will not provide a summary of the feats in this product as Endzeitgeist and KTFish7 did a great job at that already. This product contains 7 feats that give you options to use with the magic missle spell.

I forsee this product coming in very handy in the game that I am running as our Magus/Wizard has been researching higher level spells based on Magic Missle. I think that he may find these to his liking.

Format is 3 columns in landscape. No editing issues noted, the geniuses have corrected the editing errors that KTFish7 noted in his review.

At $1, this is worth picking up if you think you might be casting magic missle at any point in the next 10 years.


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Pathfinder... In SPACE!!

***( )( )

This product takes the Pathfinder Rules and applies them to a Space Opera/ Space Fantasy setting. The Module supplies 4 pre generated characters to get any group started running the game. The setting draws on inspirations such as Star Wars, Alien, and David Brin’s [u]Uplift[/i] books. Corporations and governments both vie for control of nations, colonies and space. Aliens are selling surplus military technology to Earth governments and corporations.

Page 1 starts with a beautiful photo of Mars taken by NASA, an appropriate start since the majority of the adventure takes place on Mars. Layout is great, using a two column format. Sidebars are placed appropriately in a way that draws the eye to them at the proper time during reading. The art is good. It is all black and white. There is only art for the pre generated characters. There are no maps, which will create more work for the GM (but I assume was a cost saving measure by the publisher for a free module). No maps frees the GM to expand the environments to his/her liking, and/or allows the GM to pull in appropriate maps from other products.

Editing is less than good. There were multiple occasions where the incorrect word was used (lead instead of led, intended instead of intent, etc. These errors pass spell check, but should be caught by an editor.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this product. I think that anyone who might be interested in running or playing in a Space Opera setting someday should pick this line up. The price point is affordable, and I think that the company has promise to improve over time. The talent of a 2009 RPG Superstar Top 16 is apparent in this product. I wish Eridanus Books much success with future endeavors.

Itchy. Tasty.

-Aaron


Exactly as Advertised

*****

I picked these up because I have had combats grind to a halt while a player flips back and forth between the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary. Now I can just hand him a short packet and tell him to pick one.

Product is 54 pages long. 1 cover, 1 Title page w/ credits, 1 page Introduction, 3 pages listing the Summon Monster I-IX spells and Summon Monster Table, and 1 page OGL. That leaves 47 pages of Summonable Monsters with the Celestial and Fiendish Templates applied.

-This product lists all the monsters available under the spell with both the fiendish and celestial template applied.

-They are listed alphabetically within each spell level (all the Summon Monster I creatures are listed alphabetically followed by the Summon Monster II creatures listed alphabetically and so on).

-Text goes right to the edge of the page, so you can't 3-hole punch them to put them in a binder. However, this layout makes sense as the intent is for players to cut them out and use them as "cards."

-This product is all black and white with no artwork. It is a purely utilitarian product with no frills, which (I assume) allows for the VERY affordable price point.

I plan to print these out and put them in protective plastic sheets in a binder to be available as a resource at my gaming table.

Why 5 Stars?
-The product is exactly as advertised for a very small price. This is a useful aide for players and GMs.


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Required reading for all alchemists

*****

Meet Norret Gantier, a wounded veteran grenadier from the Galtan military. He has returned home from the war to find that everything in his hometown has changed.

Kevin Andrew Murphy brings Galt to life. Yes, there is constant revolution. People live in fear of being accused of being an enemy of liberty. But they are still people just trying to get by in life. Kevin Andrew Murphy's tale gives alchemy an underlying order such that it is almost believable that, with the right reagents, you can augment your strength, improve your senses, or even heal old war wounds.

Not only does Kevin Andrew Murphy bring some measure of sense to alchemy, he weaves his story over a detailed backstory (some of which only he still knows) which allows him to combine art, theatre and science into an allegorical alchemical quest.

If you ever plan to play an alchemist, I strongly recommend that you read this tale. If you are setting an adventure in Galt, read this one. It will help to bring your world to life. I have stated elsewhere that I have yet to read a Kevin Andrew Murphy story that I have not thoroughly enjoyed. The story oozes research and reading that the author puts into all of his stories.

This is one of the best pieces that has appeared in the Web Fiction.


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A rather evil book of monsters!!

****( )

I pre-ordered this book on the merit of the one Shadowsfall Legends tale that was out and the previews posted on the Jon Brazer Enterprises blog. I am still new at reviewing books, I would counsel you to look to KTFish7, Dark Mistress, and Endzeitgeist's excellent reviews for a blow by blow of the book.

The monsters are a lot of fun. Some of them are VERY challenging, some are a very low challenge rating. My favorite in the book is the Cave Fisher Shadow in Appendix 1. It attaches an incorporeal filament to a creature's shadow and drags them away by its shadow. Awesome!

The flavor text for each monster is phenomenal providing some words of advice on facing the creature (usually they say to run away), or providing a hint at what inspired the monster. Artwork is black and white and ranges from good to excellent. Some of the artwork is reminiscent of 2nd edition monster books and on par with the artwork in The Tome of Horrors Complete. Editing was good with very few errors or glitches given the size of the book. Format is two columns with text flowing around the art. One monster per page, until you get to the appendices where they are lists of statblocks in challenge rating order.

If you are a GM or you ever plan to be a GM, you will not regret purchasing this book. The monsters are fresh and imaginative. The descriptive and flavor text is well written and grabs your attention. I will definitely be picking up the rest of this line as it comes out.

4 stars taking the one down because of the spelling errors that I did find.


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A kobold alchemist, what could be better?

*****

Kurdag is a male umbral kobold alchemist with a penchant for explosions. He owns an alchemy shop called The Exploding Herb in the town of Blackbat. When a human adventurer comes to his shop with questions about a gem that caught fire, he ends up in a struggle for his life. That's fine with him, though; it means he gets to throw his beloved bombs.

The pdf is 14 pages long:
1 cover
1 title page
10.5 pages of story,
1 page talking about Shadowsfall and the author

This story deals with a main character who is not especially well liked by the people around him. They tolerate him because of his prowess at making (and throwing) bombs and other alchemical creations. Like all kobolds, life is a struggle, but Kurdag has done better than most. Despite that, he is still discriminated against by a human adventurer (though not for too long).

There is a fast paced, exciting battle between the kobold and some enemies. It will certainly keep you turning the pages (or scrolling down) to find out what happens next. The story gives you a good feel for what towns and cities in Shadowfall are like. Although the citizens band together for safety from the undead that stalk the wilds of Shadowsfall, the citizens are also their own worst enemy, quarreling amongst themselves when not combating hosts of undead.

I enjoyed the story enough to read it through more than once. I will be sure to come back to it as the other Shadowsfall Legends come out. The Shadowsfall Legends are shaping up to be high quality short stories. These compete with Paizo's Web Fiction for quality of author, story and characters. If you enjoy the web fiction, I highly recommend picking this story up.

Editing was top notch. I did not see any spelling, grammar or punctuation errors in the entire piece. Priced at $0.99, this is a perfect impulse buy, especially if you are planning to pick up the Shadowsfall campaign setting. I was very pleased to note that it came as an ePub, PDF and mobi (Kindle format) file.


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