Night Monarch

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Clerics and Wizards like to get drunk, too!

5/5

This review will also be published at drivethrurpg.com and my own blog, Wormy's Worlds.

Weekly Wonders – Drunkard's Grimoire by Necromancers of the Northwest is a collection of 12 alcohol-based spells presented in the artistic style typical for those products (nice tome-like cover, a few black and white illustration inside the book.) As stated in the introduction, those should serve to extend that theme on spell-casters and is partly inspired by the Cult of Dionysos, while so far, mainly Monks and Barbarians had alcohol-themed archetypes. Also in the introduction is printed a list of official alcohol-based content. It seems not to be complete (a short Google search pointed me at the official combat trait „Accelerated Drinker“), but I still give bonus points for including that, because it is also stated that the part of the spells work in conjunction with those class features and archetypes, so to have this ready as a reference may come in handy. There's also a hint at another Weekly Wonders Issue (Drunken Feats), that also might work with those spells, but as I don't have that product (yet), I can't say if that's the case.

With two exceptions, the spells are cast at either a living creature or at a drink that has then to be imbibed for the spell's effect to take place. In those cases, the drink in question can be drunk as part of the spell casting, so the casting time is unaffected by that (same goes for alchemists that might use such a spell). To give an impression, a short description of some of the spells follows:

Beer Goggles: impairs the sight of the drinker, who gains save bonus against gaze attacks, but also becomes more susceptible to diplomacy checks and charm effects.

Blackout: impairs the target's ability to form memories, so they can't remember what happened after.

Deadly Tankards: makes tankards into weapons. Also, you won't spill the content while using them this way.

Valorous Whiskey: Drinker gains cold resistance and a morale bonus on attack rolls saves and some checks.

In the end, if I had one thing to criticize, then that some of the spells would require the GM to work with the player spell-caster (because there's no use casting a spell on some drinks if the NPCs simply won't drink them), which might be a con for players who don't like such dependencies. On the other hand, as the GM, I immediately had some ideas how to use some spells even to introduce the players into a new adventure, so at least to me, they have a positive inspiration factor. And that you can use some of them as buff spells with (rum) flavor is something I really like very much. Mechanically, the levels of the respective spells seem right to me, and I wouldn't have any problem if one of my players would want to use some of them. So if you like the theme of this product, I think it's well worth it's price and grant it full five stars


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Ancient beliefs are not extinct, they are just waiting to be found

5/5

Ancient Idols from Legendary Games, written by Julian Neele and Jason Nelson, comes in as a 32-page PDF with 25 pages of actual content. The layout is well-done, I also didn't stumble about glaring errors when I read the book first. Artwork is good to great and has not to fear the comparison with the Big Brother.

Ancient Idols, as defined by the designers, are “essentially a combination of artifacts and intelligent items", so a combination of actually those two categories of items I normally absolutely don't care about, because artifacts normally don't come into play at the level range I use to play in and intelligent items, especially those speaking swords, are kind of stupid as far as I'm concerned. So that I'm actually thinking about giving those idols a central place in the home-brew setting I'm working on might already give you an idea about how much I liked this product. But let's not get too far ahead…

What the designers actually do here is taking the age-old idea of deities whose power are depending on the number of their followers and meshing it with the idea of Idolatry, the worship of an image, statue or icon. So their idols are magic items with ability scores, the ability to perceive their environment and communicate with the people in it, an alignment and specific abilities. Most central to them is the Ego score, a “measure of the total power” of an idol, that depends on the idol's mental attribute modifiers as well as on the number of followers it possesses. This Ego score is not a static thing but rises and falls with the increase or decrease of those values. One way to increase it's attributes and thereby it's Ego score is through sacrifices which also get discussed in this product. There is a monthly limit to those sacrifices but like a deity, an Idol also has specific holy days and on these days you can basically sacrifice a month's worth of offerings which do not count against this limit.

Depending on the Ego score is also the number of abilities an Idol gets. 14 of those abilities are listed in the PDF, including for example Channel Energy, giving the Idol the power of the cleric class ability, or Divine Source, granting the Idol's followers access to certain domain spells.

Next follows a template, the Idol Champion, to be used for especially loyal followers of an Idol. The relation between Idols and Ley lines is shortly discussed as well as the relation between Idols and the spirit world.

The next chapter is about “Designing animated Idols”, presenting rules to create such idols, expanding on the rules for animated object and so making it possible to even have CR20 Idols with mystic abilities and the ability to partake in the fight, should the PCs try to destroy the Idol's cult (or joining them in the fight against a common enemy). The chapter also presents 42 short stat blocks for Idols from CR ½ to 20 to be expanded on and to be used for the creation of individual idols.

The book concludes with two class options for Idol-worshipping characters. First is the Qahin, a shaman archetype which also puts a good bit of Occultist into the mix and in fact changes so much, that it might deserve it's own alternate class entry instead of an archetype description. I'm not sure if I like the Occultist inclusion too much, because it will force a player to read through several class descriptions just to find out what his PC can and cannot do. On the other hand, due to the connection between Idols and Ley Lines, it makes a lot of sense to give the Qahin this occult aspect that gets only strengthened with the Idol nexus ability and the Nexus hexs that come with it. So apart from this minor gripe, I really like what the authors did here.

Last, but not least, there's the Idolator Prestige class for divine or psychic spell casters. There is a slight redundancy in the class description as the class abilities Idol Worship and Idol Focus do the exact same thing, in that they both gift the Idolator with the Idol focus ability of the Qahin. Apart from that the Idolator gains some nice abilities that helps them fight beings from the spirit world and at level 10 becomes a part of the spirit world themselves.

Conclusion: As I hinted at in the beginning, this product has grown on me very fast. I really like how the designers take different concepts already known in the Pathfinder Universe and create something truly original from it. There is a lot of story potential about Idols and I probably would have liked to have some fleshed-out example for it instead of only generic stat blocks. On the other hand and no matter what level your PCs are, if you want to challenge them with an Idol you'll probably find the fitting stat block in this product and might have a better idea how to weave it in your campaign than the designers anyways. And even if the product officially belongs to the Egyptian AP product line, it's generic enough to fit into any other setting background you might imagine. Additionally the Qahin and the Idolator are great additions to the PC class option library, especially if you use them in an Idol focused campaign. The Qahin is probably not suited for newer players as it is more complex than the average class and would (in my mind) have probably done better as an alternate class, but in the end, that's splitting hairs and I give 4.6/5 points (rounded up to 5 stars) for a product that I think is worth the praise.


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Archetypic villains for your game table

5/5

Villainous Archetypes: Vol. II is the latest entry in Necromancers of the Northwest's Weekly Wonders series. As you may guess from the titles, it's about archetypes usable for evil characters, but is equally usable for GMs to create evil NPCs. It's an 8-page PDF with 4 pages of actual content (the rest is front and back cover, credits and license stuff) which contains 5 archetypes.

The first one being the Brutal Oppressor, a barbarian archetype. With this one, you get to Swap Trap sense against Bully, which gives you a real nice use out of your Intimidate class skill. Which you can further improve with the Gory Display rage power which gives you an additional bonus on Intimidate with each successful critical hit. The other rage powers presented are Grab by the throat, which is more useful for the grappling barbarian, and Stay Down, which gives you an increasing damage bonus against prone opponents. And then there's Bloodlust, a class ability replacing Tireless Rage, which potentially increases the number of rounds the barbarian can rage per day.

The second is the Elemental Defiler, a nice nod to the Dark Sun defiler of old and an archetype for the Kineticist. This archetype replaces Internal Buffer by Drain Energy, ability that basically does the same but is a bit more versatile, because you can use it, when you need it, and that you don't need to accept burn to fill your buffer. On the other hand, you must use the won energy directly in the same round and the action provokes AoOs. And at Level 19, Drain Creature replaces Metakinetic Master and allows you to ignore burn according to the points of Constitution damage your opponent suffers.

The Extortioner is an Investigator archetype prone to blackmail his victims with the secrets he finds out. The Extortioner gets the Secret Finder class ability which improves and expands his trapfinding skill while losing his 3rd level Investigator Talent. Guilt Sense is a quite intriguing class ability which replaces boring trap sense. At the start, the extortioner gets a bonus on Sense Motive checks. At higher levels he also can cast detect thoughts as a spell-like ability, and even later on, he can force his victims to spill out secrets they are ashamed about. At fourth level, the extortioner replaces his swift alchemy class ability with [i]Lingering Threat which improves upon the use of his Intimitade skill.

It seems as if the designers of this archetype felt it being a bit too strong, though, so they added Stunted Inspiration, which subtracts 1 point of Inspiration from the Extortioners inspiration pool. Seems more of a cosmetic change because in standard games, he might not really need all those inspiration points anyway.

The next one is the Villainous Bloodline for the sorcerer. Without going too much in detail, I generally like the conceptual idea, though the mechanics make it too easy to use it with actually good aligned characters. Ok, to inflict damage while simultaneously healing yourself (as the first level bloodline power Draining Touch allows) may not sound very goodish. And to paralyze your opponents and use them for protection (Hostage Taker at level 15) may also not be a sign for a true hero (though the problem is with the protection part and you don't need to do this). On the other hand, neither Getaway (which allows you to escape via dimension door from narrow situations) nor the capstone ability Master of Deception are particularly evil in design and might come in handy for good-aligned characters as well.
And then there's Villaneous Defenses, which might be much more powerful when used by good-aligned characters than by true villains. Reason being that you get DR/good, which might not be as efficient for a villain against a heroic group of adventurers, but can really help the Hero when fighting evil opponents.
This all said: you surely can use this with evil characters (especially when used in adventures where the opponents might even more evil), so it doesn't actually goes against the designers' promise.

Last but not least, we have the Eldritch Slavemaster. This Summoner archetype forces his Eidolon(s) into his service rather than building a link to them. Which may have consequences in case he loses control over the summoned eidolon according to Conjurer's Leash the replacement of 1st level's Life Link. As this ability also comes with some restrictions regarding the distance allowed between summoner and eidolon, the designers added Slavedriver, an ability that let's the eidolon cause more damage with successful hits, but also causes damage to the eidolon itself. At 4th level Shield Ally is replaced by Slave Shield. This ability lets the summoner decrease any hit point damage he suffers, but causes the eidolon to suffer twice the damage that its' slavemaster avoids. At 12th Level, Greater Slave Shield decreases the damage the Eidolon suffers this way. At 14th level, Drain Summoned Monster (self-explaining) replaces Life Bond and at 16th level, Explosive Summons replaces Merge Forms and allows the Summoner to use his summoned monsters as living bombs. And at level 20, Slave Army replaces Twin Eidolon and allows the slavemaster tohave summoned monsters and eidolon simultaneously, He can even have more than one summon monster or Gate spell active.

Summary: From 4 out of 5, the only archetype I would consider to be outright evil is the Eldritch Slavemaster. The other 4 can be surely used by evil, but also by non-evil characters. I mention this because I'm on of those GMs who normally not allows evil characters at his table but would probably allow those archetypes when set into the fitting context. But that's not the important part. The important part is that you can create great evil PCs with them, and you can also use them to create interesting NPCs for your PCs to oppose. So the product does what it says, and it is doing it (in my opinion) without arising balance issues. I also didn't stumble about glaring editorial issues. Meaning that I didn't find anything which lets me substract points from the end note (maybe a half star for my issues with the Villainous bloodline sorcerer, but that I'd be inclined to round up).

So, 5 stars out of 5 it is.


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Plug'n'play settlements for your setting

4/5

Rite Publishing Presents 10 Kingdom Seeds: Hills by Liz Smith is part of series providing the GM with short town descriptions she can easily plug-in into her game. These settlements are intended to be used as PC bases and/or as foundation stones to use with Pathfinder's Kingdom Building Rules, but can as easily just be inserted into your setting, to fill empty regions between your big cities. And while they are written with hill terrain in mind, most of them aren't so specific that they couldn't be used with other terrain types as well.

The PDF consists of 9 pages, with 6 pages filled with actual content (plus cover, credits and OGL). Layout and page design is on a professional, high-level standard and I especially dig the artwork which would be worthy of any major publisher. Actual content are around half-page long descriptions of 10 settlements, ranging from Thorps to Villages. Each entry starts with the rule description (as seen first in Paizo's Gamemastering Guide), followed by a short description of the look and the economy of each town. The last one being something I especially like as this is often the main reason why a settlement is founded at all and it immediately creates imaginery. One thing I also like is that those settlements are very varied as far as their main inhabitants' race is concerned. A chaotic good thorp inhabited by half-orcs can excellently serve to play with the player's expectations (and if you'd rather have humans there, just change it, it's no big deal).

Each entry also describes one or two important locations and concludes with some rumors about the settlement or its inhabitants which, while they sometimes feel like created with a random generator (which must not be a bad thing), still immediately add potential plot hooks and ideas to develop own adventures. I mean what could happen if a caravan with a holy sword comes to a village ruled by a CE cleric? (just to give an example). Here you find a village ruled by a bronze dragon, you have ghosts in the streets, cats stealing magic items (for what reason ever) or simply wandering hamlets made out of wheeled huts. So what this products really is successful at is to spark imagination without losing many words. The GM will have to work, if she wants to use these ideas, but she'll have something to start with.

There are some things I have to criticize for honesty's sake. The main criticism is directed at the rules section of each entry. As it seems, the designer forgot to include the modifiers from Table: Settlement Statistics into the settlement modifiers of each entry. There is also one major layout error in the Seahollow entry where the rules section has been divided by the text description. Minor mistakes (at least I think it wasn't done intentionally) can be found in the rules sections for Starrywyn (Danger modifier should be -5 instead of +5) and Redhurst (being a thorp but using the magic item line for villages in the Marketplace section). I'm not the big rules guy, so this is nothing to put much importance in (maybe there are even reasons why there are so many items flowing around in Redhurst and why danger is higher in seemingly peaceful Starrywyn?) but if you're using the settlement modifiers in actual play, you should be aware that you have to recalculate the modifiers according to the rules.

This all said, I can recommend this product. If you are building your own setting or if you're using published settings, there will be empty places to fill and to do so, this product can be immensely helpful. This may not be obvious by the first look, but if you're taking the time to really read the entries, you'll find little, creativity sparking ideas helping you to really bring those settlements to live. So I'll give it 4 out of five stars (a half star removed for the rules inconsistencies, another half star because some of the rumors seem a bit to random for my taste), because while not perfect, I'll probably use all ten settlements in my homebrew (meaning that each of these settlements is worth way more than the 15 cents it costs, and that doesn't even count in the splendid illustrations)


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Some love for lizardfolk fans

5/5

Village Backdrop: Ossoko Draconsha (VA:OD) is the latest installment in Raging Swan's Village Backdrop Series. It is my first issue though, so I can't compare with former installments, but if this one is indication for the backdrops' overall quality, I may have to start collecting soon.

VA:OD comes as a 10-page, fully bookmarked pdf with 5-and-a-half pages of actual content (the rest is front and back cover, some legal stuff, OGL and an advertisment for Raging Swan's own Patreon campaign). The 2-column layout is clear, well-structured and easy to read. There is one half-page black and white map of the location, so the actual text is 5 pages long.

It starts with „Ossoko Draconsha at a Glance“, a 2-page long description of the history of the village (which is basically a lizardfolk village built around a holy site and serving as a trading hub with other people), some of the events happening there (there's something wrong with the holy site), the village's demographics, important NPCs and notable locations. Add some Knowledge check results and some rumors and you've already quite some information to work with.

Notable Locations get expanded on on the next two pages. Short descriptions including the people living there offer some roleplay opportunities and add information about the mystery surrounding the village. There are also two stat blocks for NPCs important for the action behind the scenes.

The last content page explains a bit about what life's like in Ossoka Dragonsha especially with regards to Trade and Industry as well as Law and Order. A d6 random table offers events, that can happen while the PCs are around and also can serve to draw the PCs into the events soon to unfold. Here's also the stat block for Xrakka, one of the two lizardfolk leaders.

It's hard to write about this product without spoiling too much. Personally I really like the story that can be told with the information contained in this product. In fact, there is more than one story to tell. The way Ossoka Draconsha (which is Draconic for Dragon's Defeat) origined could easily translate into its own adventure. Then there are several NPCs not directly tied into the main story, whose background suggests adventure possibilities. That is something I really value in a product, if it succeeds in inspiring ideas with only a few words. And in this respect, VB:OD really delivers.

Ossoka Draconsha is an unusual location generic enough to be put into any fantasy setting (and if you're not using lizardfolk, it's easy enough to change the demographics according to your preferences). It's short and compact and still contains a lot of ideas to peruse four your own campaign. It's an instant hit for me deserving of five stars.