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An Endzeitgeist.com review
This massive book clocks in at 50 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 46 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Carnivals are awesome...and creepy. The blending of the alien and the familiar, the oscillation of bright light and deepest shadows fascinate, entice. I distinctly recall a sense of kinship when I first saw the more weirder performances and the sense of freedom implied in such a life, despite the hardships, resonates with me on a primal level. In roleplaying games, specifically the various iterations I've played, I did ten to enjoy the modules and supplements dealing with this topic - whether in Ravenloft's by now legendary "carnival"-supplement, in Necromancer Games' "What Evil Lurks" or many others - the theme just won't let go of me.
The first thing you notice upon opening this book is the custom layout - Rick Hershey has crafted a downright beautiful presentation here that perfectly underlines the theme of the book - red curtains, appropriate fonts - presentation-wise, this is a gorgeous book. Content-wise, we begin with an elaboration of the basic set-up of the carnival grounds and what to find there - only to lead into the perhaps most surprising section in the book: Carnival of Sinners gets something right no other supplement dealing with the topic has: It presents, extensively, I might add, a full-blown thieves' cant-ish section of carny-slang: "Pay the bag man and put up the bills for your dukkering services - we gotta proof we're no fireball show!" AWESOME!!!
A total of 5 sample adventure hooks is provided before we move on to the next section, the trooper's gallery, wherein sample NPCs are provided - and boy, oh boy. For one, each of the builds herein has at least one interesting component - whether it's race, archetype'd multiclass - there is something mechanically interesting going on for each character. However, more intriguing than even that would be the fact that each key performer gets more than just the minimum space to shine - each character receives an extensive background story AND a high-quality, custom artwork. Better yet, the concepts and their execution are downright delightfully wicked - the two-headed man's second head, for example, is his eidolon! The carnival's cook also is a particularly nasty sort - you'll see when you get this book...
Things get truly sinister, though, with the troupe of lay-actors, clowns, stable-hands and the like - represented via diverse mook-statblocks (for a reason...), this component of the carnival hides a secret most dire...and awesome.
Obviously, no carnival would be complete without a cabinet of curiosities - and a collection of oddities and usual prizes, partially represented with great artworks, can indeed be considered nice. Going one step beyond, entry-tickets to print out and hand to your players, a sample advertisement poster (lavishly rendered as another hand-out) and a map are provided - the latter of the kind of style which the characters may find themselves while visiting the carnival.
My only gripe here, ultimately boils down to the fact that I would have liked sample games or a sample performance-schedule to be included herein.
Editing and formatting are pretty good - I had no issues in grasping anything herein and there was no undue amount of glitches to be found. Layout and artworks, as mentioned above, are top-notch - this is a beautiful book indeed, with the handouts providing the icing on the aesthetic cake. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Chris Bayes, Eric Hindley, John Bennett, Kalyna Conrad, Lucus Palosaari, Rick Hershey - ladies and gentlemen, you have crafted a great sandbox/set-piece/supplement herein. This book can be used as both an awesome fluff-book to expand a given carnival, as a sand-boxy module to embellish, flesh out and use as you see fit, or just as a delightful scavenging ground for stats, builds and ideas. This massive source-book is well-written, concisely-presented and the carny-slang provided alone, to me, makes this well worth the...
...wait. There was this one component, right? Well, in case you didn't know: This massive, fully illustrated, lovingly-crafted book is actually "Pay what you want." No, I'm not kidding. You can get this big book and then decide whether it was worth your time. Know what? There is no reason to not at least check this one out and, as for my part, this delightfully disturbing sourcebook definitely deserves to be acknowledged. So if you like this sourcebook, please pay for it a price you consider as justified. While not perfect, the love that went into this book is readily apparent and I'm quite honestly a bit baffled to see such a massive book as PWYW. My final verdict for this inspiring set-piece/supplement that doubles as a drop-in sandbox would be 5 stars + seal of approval.