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Fantastic value from a new company!Steven T. Helt (RPG Superstar 2013) —
*Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this product in order to evaluate the designer as a prospective future freelancer. I didn't pay for the product, and the publisher didn't expect me to publish a review when she gave it to me.*
I rarely do reviews. First, I have precious little time marketing my own writing group and completing the assignments we have. Second, I believe the best way to increase the quality of third-party publisher products is to be honest about what I see and work with clever designers to benefit multiple publishers, and of course roleplayers at large. So when I say nice things about a product and give it three stars, I generally feel I've done my part by being honest. Sometimes publishers don't like honesty though, they want to sell products. I can't blame them or judge them, so I just generally don't do reviews unless something is fantastic or seems to get a lot of undeserved hype.
So here we are, reviewing. I asked for a designer's sample work in the even I might hire her for a freelance project I'm developing. We had no conversation about reviewing it, but I have to recommend this product. Check it out:
Trio of Taverns from Dire RUgrat Publishing is an interesting piece of supplemental design. It maps and describes three establishments (the Angelic Imp is my favorite) where player characters can eat, rest, or meet for business. We get maps of each location, which already helps prepare the GM and distinguish the locations from one another. We get the establishment employees and notable figures, some of them are even statted out should things get rough. That kind of preparation saves the GM work and also helps fuel spontaneous games—if you ever need a meeting or other tavern scene, having them fleshed out for you means they're handy with no preparation.
What are taverns without rumors? Designer Kelly Pawlik provides mixed truths with upcoming events so your players can further immerse themselves in roleplay, or so you can throw short adventure elements at the them further tie them to the locals. I want to be clear: this $2 product offers you three very different taverns so you can rest and meet. But it also offers maps, stat blocks, rumors and encounters that fit into the staff's stories. I recommend products primarily on content and value, and Trio of Taverns is about the most impressive thing I've seen at this sort of price point. Even better, the company stays caught up with the rules, providing a small product with a Pathfinder class as recent as a mesmerist included. Finally, if I knew about this product but dind't have it, I'd buy it as a player and make one of these taversn my party's home base. Maybe I buy Blackberry Bill's to get a measure of contorl of the environment, but let Bill stay on as managing partner to steer riff-raf away from the adventurers.
If there's a knock on Trio of Taverns, it isn't the smooth prose or the value and convenience the product offers. It's the art and layout. There's no question Dire Rugrat is a brand new operation, looking to sell a few copies of a few products until they can upgrade at artist and layout and start offering us color. That featureless field on the front cover needs attention and the layout should be higher quality over time. But it's clear that with a few sales and a little experience, Kelly Pawlik and Dire Rugrat Publishing will earn the chance to do more for Pathfinder players (and roleplayers in general).
Up to date design, great value, and a handy product to have for both planned and spontaneous campaigns demonstrates a lot of value for all of your Pathfinder games to come. That combined with the tiny price of $2.25 for a 21-page product makes this an easy 5-star purchase with tons of repeat utility. I would say, your next $2.25 should be spent picking up this .pdf so the games you run forever after have complete, detailed establishments for your parties to do business in.
Part Gold and Part LeadSteven T. Helt (RPG Superstar 2013) —
Please note that a copy of this product was furnished for the purposes of this review.
I was pleased to be asked to review Secrets of the Alchemist, as I am a huge fan of extending player options and customizability. Moreover, I really love the Advanced Players’ Guide for Pathfinder, and I think each of the new classes included in the book are solid gold. After reading the document, putting it aside and reading it again, I decided my review would boil down to two issues: the concept of the simple class expansion, and the specific mechanical information contained within Secrets of the Alchemist.
I think the idea of a simple guide for character builds using the new classes is brilliant. The chance for new feats and other options to choose from while I reconcile my own character concept with the Pathfinder rules is too good to pass up, and the $4 price for the print or .pdf version is completely reasonable. Though I am very picky about the supplements I spend my money on, this is exactly the sort of small purchase that can add hours of fun discussion and character building to a core mechanic. Already, there are two players thinking of playing an alchemist in an upcoming evil game I’ll be involved in. The deeper the support for a brand new character class, the more exciting the prospects for those characters. I fully expect to see a similar treatment from Open Design for other APG classes and maybe even some core classes if they suffer a lack of attention (meaning bards). In this way, brief books like Secrets of the Alchemist are necessary additions to the gaming libraries of both players and game masters.
As for the specific mechanics and other material presented in this first guide, I think of it as part gold and part lead. The feats have a few great choices, among them Fire in the Hole, Hardy Brawler, Organized Inventory, and Practice Makes Perfect. Not only do these feats impact (ha!) the alchemist class, but they are interesting options for other classes also. I think the feats also have some offerings that could have benefited from more playtesting or review. Some (Reliable Bombs, Craftsman) duplicate the effects of already existing feats, while others are poorly balanced by low prerequisites (Minor Damage Reduction, Primeval Fury, Suicide Bomber). The Create Wondrous Creature feat is remarkable in its design: it lets a low-level PC create life forms (instantaneous fireball, or permanent choker or morlock?), it allows a weird change in required caster level at 10th level, and it does not allow an alchemist to create a construct or undead, which makes more sense to me.
While there are parts I liked and didn’t like about the book, perhaps the most remarkable thing to me is what it’s missing. A treatment of the alchemist class seems like it’d be brimming with a variety of mechanical goodies, like new poisons or a poison feat, one or two alternate class features, one or two mundane mechanical items. Probably I am just looking for a more involved product that deserves several editorial passes and demands more of your money, but I think consumer reaction to this line of books will be one of frustrated or satisfied expectations – when I opened Secrets of the Alchemist, I expected lots of neat choices designing a potential PC or villain. I got a list of feats I am unlikely to use (or ever let any of my PCs use, like Create Wondrous Creature or Suicide Bomber), and that’s almost all. I like the idea of building a few sample characters and explaining their options and archetypes, but I’d like more than I got.
In summary, the potential for an exceptional product is there, but a number of things had me wishing for a more thoughtful design. I note this product is a first offering, and I admit I am not privy to the amount of information about the class Open Design might have had prior to print. This book has things I’d recommend every alchemist player or DM take a look at, but some of the feats may require a little DM polish to maximize the fun and balance they bring to
Pathfinder #16—Second Darkness Chapter 4: "Endless Night" (OGL) Print EditionPaizo Inc.
Add PDF $13.99
Sidetrek Adventure Weekly #1: Blood on the Waterfront (d20) PDFLouis Porter Jr. Design
Our Price: $2.99Add to Cart
Pirates VS Ninjas!!Steven T. Helt (RPG Superstar 2013) —
BotW offers a single encounter for low-level characters. It fits easily in any urban setting, but scores high marks for being useful in typical DnD game worlds as well as oriental adventures. The katana vs cutlass theme appeals to the kind of players who love combats involving cut-throat pirates or sinister ninjas.
The encounter begins with a shady exchange between a secret society and the pirates who have obtained their object of obsession. The PCs stumble on this secret meeting just before an attack by ninja monks devoted to protection of the secrets sought by the first set of villains. The encounter is complex, requiring preparation on the part of the GM.
The adventure does contain a few mistakes and questionable design choices. During preparation, you may want to check the math of the statistics blocks and correct things that should have been caught during editing. Likewise, some of the descriptions for the encounter would benefit from a careful rewrite. For example, the warehouse where the encounter takes place is a whopping fifty feet tall, but that isn't included in the text until the sixth or seventh page. The read-aloud text is not italicized most of the time, so background descriptions and 'boxed text' might be a little confusing if you haven't prepared the adventure before running. Curiously, the pirates are the most Intelligent band ever at 13 each, though they speak in phrases like "hehe...arsewipes" and "Me gold, you criss-cross bugbear turds!"
Despite its flaws, the scenario promises exciting combat and the opportunity to create more than one future nemesis for your party of fledgling adventurers. While this is not an encounter to run when you didn't have time to prepare, the promise of a low-level, 3D combat means BotW is already reserved to kick off a campaign I'm preparing to start by the end of the year. If you don't mind a little work to take full advantage of a good concept, this adventure is certainly worth the investment.
EDIT: A couple of months ago, I did in fact start my Rokugan campaign with this scenario. Eveything I was excited about translated well to the palyers: fighting on the roof and rafters, short bow snipers from cover, little exploding balls of smoke, kung fu-esque scenes where two adversaries turned on the PCs to finish them off before resuming their combat, and maybe the best part: a determined Daidoji jumping into the water below the warehouse to pursue the getaway guys, resulting in very close combat, miss chances,cover bonuses, and a chance to show off her yari-fu. The campaign received a strong introduction and is still going strong. Buy this scenario for only $3 and give yourself an hour to tinker it: pure fun!