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Ultimate Ethermagic

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 19 2014 - 12:22
Ultimate Ethermagic

This massive book clocks in at 94 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 91 pages of content, so let's...wait. First, here's my

DISCLAIMER: I have a history with ethermagic. When Bradley Crouch first made the ethermancer, I was skeptical - another warlock-style "blast all day"-class? Urgh. In my experience, they boiled down to inflexible blasters that at the same time made logic for the very existence of bows et al. tenuous at best, were utterly OP OR resulted in plain boring gameplay. Upon diving into the class, I realized two things - a), it is a complex class indeed and b), I'd have to playtest it to properly judge it. And oh boy, did it playtest well! One of my players fell totally in love with the class and wrote an optimization guide for it. The only reason I did not completely gush about it was the existence of quite a few options that did not make much sense for the ethermancer. Fast forward to the Strange Magic Kickstarter, of which this is the first release. At this point, I had seen half a year of ethermancer in action in my main campaign and started tinkering with the system to expand it. When Bradley asked me to join the KS as a guest author alongside Jason Linker, I jumped the chance. I feel obliged to mention that I was compensated for my work on this book. However, there are significant bunches of content I had no hand in whatsoever. Additionally, I have before criticized products I contributed to and thus, will do my best to analyze, break, etc. this system, just like in all my other reviews. I felt obliged to mention this and should you consider my involvement a conflict of interest, feel free to tell me so - I am confident, however, that analysis of this book will suffice to prove the validity of the points I make in this review.

All right, that out of the way, let's dive in! If you are familiar with the basic ethermancer, you'll be surprised to see that the first class herein is NOT the old one, but rather Jason Linker's Ethermagus. But before I jump into the meat of the 3 classes, let me explain how ethermagic works, all right?

Ethermagic can be explained as pricking a whole into the fabric of reality, channeling the very stuff that separates planes and realities in a unique manner - the ability to channel this power is measured in etherpoints, or EP - so far, so common. However, unlike many similar resources, EP regenerate each round, depending on the formula of the respective base class. The EP regeneration rate is also featured for convenience's sake in the respective class-feature-tables. Ethermagic is generally treated as evocation magic and tight rules for counterspelling ethermagic are provided - though regular caster should be advised not to try to outcast an ethercaster. Additionally, much like spells, manifestations are grouped by level - the higher your level, the higher the level of manifestation you may learn. Wait, what? Manifestations? Well, yes. Etherspells have two components - the etherheart and the manifestations applied to it. Etherhearts are gained at specific levels in the class progression and allow the respective class to do different things - think about them as a chassis, to which manifestations can be applied. To use a manifestation, an ether-using class needs to have at least a cha of 10+manifestation-level and the save DC is 10+highest manifestation level used + charisma modifier, analogue to spells. However, not all etherhearts become available to all classes. Let me give you a run-down:

The most basic of etherhearts would be the lesser blasts - these have a close range and constitute touch attack rays that deal 1d3+cha-mod bludgeoning damage, +1d3 for every caster level beyond 1st for the ethermancer. Ethermagi and etherslingers have significantly less scaling at 1/2 and 1/4 class level respectively. Up to 3 manifestations can be applied to them and there is no minimum number of manifestations.

Greater blasts, exclusively available to the ethermancer, have the same range, but deal 1d10+cha-mod damage, +1d10 for every 2 caster levels beyond the first. Like its lesser brother, a total of 3 manifestations can be added and there is no minimum number of manifestations.

A further, pretty basic etherheart available to all ethermagic users would be the alteration etherheart - this can be considered the utility/defense etherheart with a range of personal and a duration of 1 min/level. Duration deserves special mention here - with the exception of one etherheart, etherspells cannot be dismissed. Additionally, alterations can be modified by exactly one manifestation and only one alteration can be in effect at a given time.

The Bestow etherheart would in effect be similar to the alteration etherheart in that it sports a duration, requires exactly one manifestation to be added to it, but unlike alteration, bestow etherhearts in effect reduce the maximum EP-pool for as long they persist - essentially, the EP used in maintaining the etherspell are only regenerated once the etherspell has run its course. Unlike alteration etherspells, those cast via the bestow etherheart need to be delivered via a touch attack and cannot be targeted at the ethermagic-using class.

The Genesis etherheart, available for ethermancer and etherslinger, conjures objects out of thin ether - once again, exactly one manifestation can be added to the etherheart. The effect is permanent, as long as the object remains within close proximity of its creator, however, like bestow effects, EP remain reduced for as long as the genesis etherspell exists. Unlike any other etherheart, a genesis etherspell can be dismissed at any given time.

The ethermagus' exclusive etherheart, Voidmeld, also has a personal range and applies to the void blade of the ethermagus (more on that later). It also reduces the ethermagus' maximum EP analogue to Bestow for as long as it persists, but unlike it, voidmeld etherspells can be dismissed by dismissing the void blade upon which they're cast. Unlike all other etherhearts, voidmeld etherspells have a base casting time of only a swift action, as opposed to the default standard action. (Which can be superseded by manifestations applied - only the highest casting duration counts.) Another peculiarity of the voidmeld etherheart would be the fact that one may apply as many manifestations as one likes, provided the total of their combined levels remains below the highest manifestation level the ethermagus knows. Once again, only one voidmeld can be in effect at a given time.

You may have noticed that obviously, etherspells seem to scale with levels and this is reflected in their cost - to cast an alteration etherspell, for example, one has to pay the base cost of the etherheart, plus the EP-cost of the manifestation applied. The base EP-costs of the etherhearts scale with levels - in the case of alteration, the base cost would be 1+ 1/4 caster level, rounded down. There is one more restriction imposed on ethermagic - you cannot learn more manifestations for a given etherheart than you have at a lower level - if you for example know 2 3rd level blast manifestations, you can't learn another manifestation unless you have at least 3 2nd level blast manifestations - think of it as a pyramid rule for each etherheart.
While all of this may sound complex (and the math behind it *is* complex, believe me...), it's really easy to understand once you wrap your head around it - whether by a manabar or pool or by cooldown timers, the ways to visualize the system are plentiful.

Okay, before I go into the basics of manifestations, let's take a look at all the classes and goodies herein, all right?

The ethermagus comes with a 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort and will-saves, d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor (and no spell failure chance in light armor), a maximum manifestation level of 5 and an ether regeneration rate that scales up from 1 EP per round to 7 at 20th level. An ethermagus has access to the voidmeld etherheart at 1st level, learns the lesser blast etherheart at 2nd level and the alteration etherheart at 5th level. Ethermagi learn up to 12 voidmeld manifestations, 13 lesser blast manifestations and 9 alteration manifestations over the course of their 20-level progression. At 10th level, lesser blasts executed by the ethermagus receive a damage-bonus equal to 1/2 class level.

Additionally, starting at 1st level, ethermagi can manifest void blades drawn from the ether - these can be either light or medium one-handed weapons that deal either slashing or piercing damage, chosen upon the manifestation of the blade. The entry also features information on hardness and hit points. Starting at 4th level, all void blades receive a +1 enhancement bonus, +1 every 4 levels thereafter and at 11th and 20th level, their damage dice increase by one step. At 7th level, the void blade receives the defending quality and at 9th level, the ethermagus may expend 3 EP to temporarily entangle targets hit by your blade.

At 2nd level, ethermagi may execute so-called etherstrikes, delivering lesser blast etherspells with their void blade analogue to spellstrike - and yes, the wording gets it right. At 3rd level, the ethermagus can regain 1 EP whenever he reduces a target creature of at least 1/2 class level HD to 0 HP or below via an attack with the void blade or a lesser blast etherspell. Particularly interesting, at 11th level, the improved ether surge allows for the addition of one non-stacking additional non-shape manifestation to the next lesser blast he executes.
At 5th level, the thoroughly solid ether variant of spellcombat (sans concentration penalty-ambiguity!) is gained. At higher levels, the ethermagus additionally receives a bonus to concentration checks made in ether combat and at high levels, double the opted penalty is received as a bonus instead.

Continuous exposure to ether hardens the ethermagus' musculature and thus, the class receives a +2 bonus to one physical attribute at 13th level, another +2 to a score not chosen at 13th level at 17th and at 15th level, the ethermagus may 1/day knock a foe prone and pin the foe; +1/day at 20th level, where this can also be executed with blasts. A decompressing shock can be used with EP to end this prone condition/pinning, but deal nasty damage. The capstone, beyond aforementioned effects, can now also be shaped and create/dismiss the void blade as a swift action.

The class comes with excessive FCOs for core races, plane-touched races, puddlings, orcs, hobgoblins, drow, kobolds, vishkanya, kitsune and vanara.

Kickstarter backer Mathew Duckwitz has sponsored the Mad Evangelst archetype, who replaces spellcombat and its follow-up abilities with a metamorphosis pool of class level + cha-mod. Upon slaying targets, the mad evangelist may expend metamorphosis points equal to the slain creature's HD to revive it as a zombie under the control of the evangelist after creature's HD rounds. To maintain the revived creature, the evangelist has to spend the points again upon their regeneration, essentially making this a kind of minion pool. At 3rd level, these revived creatures may be modified at metamorphosis pool cost via an array of so-called "Aspects of the Master" - an array of options that becomes expanded at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter by +1 aspect. Some of these aspects have the [variant] descriptor, denoting that only one such piece can be applied to a given zombie - somewhat akin to tinker designs.
From touchy cilia to flanking prevention sores, applying various templates (aforementioned variants) and similar tricks, the aspects allow for some damn cool modifications...and they have rather cool synergy with the base class - think of it as a cooler version of the Battlefield Defiler archetype for the magus, with truly unique, customizable zombies.

Instead of aberrant musculature and bonus feats, the evangelist also may choose from an array of gifts from beyond - from developing a vast plethora of eyes, to fast healing and even an ether powered gaze attack, these gifts are pretty damn awesome - mostly due to simply not being boring - want an example? Well, fast healing sounds bland, right? Well, this kind of fast healing can be activated reflexively to e.g. survive the effects of being vorpal'd as a severed head - if the head is healed to max HP within one minute, it regrows the body and is fine; Otherwise it dies - now come on, is that a unique, cool last-second save mechanism or what? Or what about a whippy tentacle that can be used to deliver voidmeld manifestations as an exception to the void blade only rule? Yeah, pretty awesome! Also rather interesting from a mechanical standpoint - at 14th level, the mad evangelist becomes immune to either fear, disease or poison - but at the cost of susceptibility to the other two!

The second archetype would be the Void Stalker, essentially a more roguish ethermagus with increases skills per level. In addition to light and medium weapons, these guys may select double weapons as void blades and receives sneak attack at 2nd level, +1d6 every 3 levels thereafter, but pay for these tricks with the lesser blast ether heart, etherstrike and ethercombat. Rather cool - they can dim the lights (at the cost of 1 EP per round and no ether regeneration), greatly boosting stealth and even providing a miss chance at higher levels instead of ethersurge. The void stalker also receives a rogue talent at 4th level (advanced talents at 13th level) and every 3 levels thereafter, but may not choose the same talent twice and cannot select ninja tricks, but pays for this flexibility with the alteration etherheart - which is good, since the combo-potential would have been pretty insane - but don't fret: The iconic ultraviolet shift is gained at 10th level (in a unique modification with reduced costs, analogue to the stealth-enhancer mentioned above) and uncanny dodge, evasion etc. should help get over the absence of this etherheart. The vorpal capstone is also nice.

Next up hereafter would be the voidstar - instead of a voidblade, 3+1/2 class level void star shuriken constitute the targets of the voidmelds of this archetype and receives an increased limit of voidmeld manifestations to apply to these shurikens, scaling up to +3 at 13th level. Instead of etherstrike, 5th level grants the ability to treat said stars as either silver, cold iron or adamantine for the purpose of bypassing DR and instead of void shield, this one receives keen shuriken - while this looks nasty on paper, the math checks out - nice, kind of ninja-ish/halfling-ish throwing specialist.

Ethermancers are the full casters of the bunch and since I have already written a more than excessive review on them AND already explained the basics of ethermagic, I will refrain from going through this guy in detail - though it should be noted that the previously somewhat uneven multiuniversal philosophies (the taking of which also determines the capstone!) have been streamlined and expanded - limited x/day reduction of EP-costs for bestow etherspells, increased raw damage output for less- or unmodified greater blasts, resistance reduction - these class features have been upgraded from "well, that exists, too" to cool enhancers that can be used to increase the effectiveness of various playstyles - increased hit points, limited instant EP-regeneration equal to cha-mod etc. - so much choices and by now, they're actually pretty hard and diverse, eliminating one of my gripes with the original iteration of the class. A fortification-like scaling effect and a 1 immune, 2 susceptible choice is still in the ring. The FCOs are more diverse than before as well!

Kickstarter backer Alexander W. Corrin has granted us the etherfuser, a class that can generate a fusion pool by reducing the maximum EP available on a point by point basis, allowing you to essentially trade the regenerating EP for the non-regenerating FP in the form of ether jelly. This gooey stuff can be used to create etherfusions that are treated as etherspells of the highest manifestation level known with a range of 30 ft., etc., but unlike etherspells, they scale with levels in an additional way - they unlock modifiers over the levels. The fusion that nets temporary hit points on a round by round basis can thus e.g. be increased to provide more every round and/or also net minor DR. What about curing ability damage and freely diving the points cured among damaged attributes? Defense buffs? Setting targets on fire?

Well, things get better - the archetype receives a unique, FP-enhancing philosophy (accessible only via a feat, alas - the general class feature is not gained!) AND learns a variant of lay on hands powered by ether jelly AND even the option to learn mercies (and duplicate the effects of cruelties via an etherfusion...), modifying even extra mercy et al. to properly work with this unique new take on healing. Essentially, these guys are ethermancers that can spontaneously reduce their pool to provide healing for their allies - damn cool concept and glorious execution!

Next up would be the Herald of Creation, essentially a specialist of alteration and genesis etherhearts, complete with increased EP-regeneration while under the effects of alterations, 2 unique multiuniversal philosophies (one of which allows for alteration-blankets at increased costs a limited amount of times per day) and thus also two new capstones - essentially the first of what I'd call specialist-archetypes. The second would be the Herald of Madness, who receives access to gifts from beyond, with some overlap with aforementioned mad evangelist, but also quite an array of exclusive gifts that help the different playstyle - hanging on walls, better touch attacks - rather cool options, including a +2d4 initiative boost, which may see you staggered on a roll of twice the same number - rather nice gamble! The archetype receives an exclusive philosophy for more gifts, the option to lace his bestow etherspells with confusion effects, but also makes the spell mind-affecting. Then again, bestowing is so much easier with a handy tentacle growing from your body... Oh, and the capstone has a confusion-causing aura as well as an aberration apotheosis. The final Herald would be the Herald of the Void, who is a specialist of greater manifestations -but more on that system later. The interstitial philosopher then would be an ethermancer who forgoes greater blasts, aberrant physiology and aberrant form in favor of more multiuniversal philosophies and feats for massive flexibility.

The third base-class in the book would be mine, the Etherslinger, so let me explain to you the basics of the class - essentially, I noticed that gunslingers don't play particularly versatile or interesting. I love a bunch of the design decisions of the class to death, but especially in low powered campaigns and low levels, the action economy penalty, the costly ammunition, the inability to use guns with stealth - all these conspired to make the class less interesting than it should be. On a design perspective, at high levels full BAB touch at close range makes hitting ridiculously easy and the auto-granted deeds, while cool, do not allow for much customization - per default rules, there's not much variety between gunslingers. This class is designed to get rid of all of that and more. The class thus receives d8, 3/4 BAB-progression, 4+Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons and firearms and light armors and bucklers, the latter sans spell failure. Etherslingers receive class level + cha-mod EP and EP-regeneration equal to 1/3 class level, rounded up. The etherslinger's caster level is equal to 3/4 her class level. Her blasts only scale up every 4 levels, but has no etherheart at 1st level - so what does she do with the EP? Well, the class receives a linear set of base abilities called etherslinging that improves in a linear way over the levels - up to cha-mod EP can be spent per round in etherslinging abilities. These allow the etherslinger to expend EP for skill-bonuses, bonuses to her next attack...and more importantly, make the use of firearms more versatile. How?

Well, first of all, the etherslinger can repair her starting gun with ether clear as an EP-costing standard action - no more "damn, I botched, now my gun is done for the battle"-crap. (Oh, and it can be further hastened by also expending grit - more on that later!) Additionally, the etherslinger may stabilize the gun to decrease misfire rates. Now at 3rd level, the etherslinger may directly generate etherbullets and propellant in her gun - these do not cost anything! No more annoyed eye-rolling at the slinger for the expensive ammunition and bullets. These ephemeral bullets, though, at least at low levels, dissipate beyond the second range increment, thus not invalidating regular bullets. At 9th level, they increase their range and at 17th level, proper sniping with these bullets becomes possible. Better yet, the action-type required to reload them can be lessened by the expenditure of EP and grit and at higher levels, free action reloads can be executed. Have I mentioned the ability to select damage types at higher levels, including elemental damage-types starting 13th level? Additionally, the etherslinging allows you to treat your guns as if they had an increased capacity for etherbullets - capacity +1 at 5th level, +2 at 15th level.

An etherslinger also receives a grit pool of up to wis-mod points of grit that follow the usual rules, but do not apply to deeds - instead, the etherslinger, beyond the ways to expend grit via etherslinging, has several unique tricks that require at least one grit or that require the expenditure of grit. Speaking of which - while the etherslinger needs guns to cast etherspells (now that's gun-obsession for you...), the class can also gaze 1/day as an immediate action at her gun to regain 1 grit, +1/day at 10th and 20th level. So, instead of grit, etherslingers receive etherslinger talents - one at 2nd level, +1 for every 2 class level after the 2nd. These talents range from passive gains of abilities while she has a minimum amount of grit available to special, active tricks that let her combine the casting (or duration-extension) of an alteration manifestation with a ranged firearm attack. What about shooting targets with the firearm and transporting the otherwise woefully short-ranged bestow etherspells to the target? Beyond that, there are quite a few unique things this class can do: What about shooting haunts and determining their destruction conditions? Making your guns water-proof and functional for that underwater adventure you've been dreading? Wrapping allies in bestow effects while you put bullet holes into the opposition and spontaneous doppler dodges? Etherslingers can also cushion their own fall by shooting at the ground, cause misfires of opponents? I also made a couple of Lucky Luke-talents that allow the etherslinger especially fast draws of the weapon, particularly compelling for those planning a lot of ambushes.

Slightly increased damage output for blasts, using grit to temporarily boost your EP-regeneration rate provide a distinct array of options and builds. A pet-peeve of mine can also be eliminated - know how a firearm-user on board wrecks any infiltration? Well, talents for the etherslinger allow them to actually participate in scenarios like that, silencing their bullets - yes, these guys can go full-blown hitman with magical silencer! Like those movies or books, where special ammunition is prepared? Well, etherslingers can do just that - against creature types and even specific creatures, with increased damage output. The cost for stabilizing guns can also be permanently reduced by talents and causing flashes of light, ricochets and the like do sound like fun don't they? Indeed, the class can also learn to treat the target of the firearm as the origin of an etherspell (relevant for shaped blasts). But, as you may have noticed, the class is not primarily about damage output - it's about terrain control, versatility and non-crippling firearm use and both the blasts as well as the talents support that - but I have failed to mention so far the exceedingly cool option to shoot bullets into unoccupied squares, creating essentially Schrödinger's bullets - as soon as a hapless fool steps in the square, the bullet is unleashed, allowing you to generate either short-lived traps or, if you choose to select a couple of talents, energy-damage dealing minefields. In playtest, mining dungeon corridors for escape or for holding positions proved to be ample fun indeed, not to speak of the nasty ambushes you can make with these short-lived pocket-dimension bullet-mines. High-level etherslingers may also destabilize their guns, increasing misfire and critical threat range and yes, making ether facsimiles of her gun is not beyond the capacities of the etherslinger - nasty surprise for those bandits that caught and disarmed all of you...

Oh, and then there are the capstone talents...what about e.g. the one that lets the etherslinger know when an intelligent creature willingly utters here name and means her, allowing her to teleport to the target? Yeah, there are quite a few of tricks like that here...have I mentioned that the class receives access to all non-class-exclusive etherhearts? Now I know this may look very powerful on paper, but MAD, small power pool, etc. result in a balanced overall contribution - most importantly, though, one that is versatile and fun. I am extremely proud of this class and I guarantee it's playing style is much more rewarding if you prefer variety over repetition and a certain level of complexity and tinkering.

One final note for the WuXia-aficionados - yes, there is a feat in here that grants you a grit-powered ki-pool (and the option to spend that ki on spontaneous bonuses to AC), opening quite an avenue of even further tricks if you want to use books like "Heroes of the Jade Oath", "Dragon Tiger Ox", etc.

(Feel free to tell me about your etherslinger's exploits via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab - I'd love to hear how my baby is doing out there! One last piece of advice - stay out of melee...)

We also receive a whole slew of new feats, which have since the original ethermancer-pdf's inception been redesigned and vastly expanded - from vastly improved base-feats to glorious feats that allow etherslingers to gain a small time-manipulation genesis manifestation to changing voidblade damage to your etherstrike etehrspell's energy type, the vast array of feats allows for some damn cool combinations indeed - including casting a limited array of alterations as spell-like abilities a couple of times per day!

Now the manifestations - oh boy! Not only are there * a lot*, they also are exceedingly flexible, from temporary EP to energy-damage buffers to reflexive damage and even tricks to convert energy damage into ether - the amount of fine-tuned and expanded alterations is awesome to see, especially since the choices that before were sub-par for the ethermancer now definitely work well for the ethermagus and etherslinger!

It should also be noted that especially alteration and bestow have received quite an array of damn cool options, many of which could be considered exceedingly interesting - what about e.g. making the target a conduit for madness - potentially spreading confusion to those nearby? Or what about trapping a target creature in dream combat with a deadly shadow of the subject's mind's own making? What about becoming a haste-like hyperspace beacon that can extend its benefits to the closest ally? What about linking two creatures with quantum indeterminacy, allowing them to swap places? Ever wanted to enable your allies to blast foes as with batteries of comets? Yup, now you can! Or what about making your allies into laser batteries that pummel foes with potentially blinding rays of light? The heretofore rather underrepresented greater blasts by now have a whole array of unique manifestations that can only be added to them. What about e.g. bouncing blasts? Yeah - damn cool. Speaking of which - genesis has also seen quite an array of new, cool options. Take e.g. the option to generate an anti-gravity (or gravity) well or making a blade with a stored blast etherspell inside? (And yes, the well allows you to use the rope of teh well to pull buckets of gravity from it...I laughed so hard when I read that...) Or perhaps you fancy a sand-filled hourglass wristband that allows you to increase your actions, but have time take its toll thereafter - pretty cool! Speaking of which - making ephemeral copies of objects can be quite helpful when playing investigation-heavy scenarios. Or how about making a book of ether that stores your knowledge-skill for you, allowing others to benefit from it, but at the cost of not having the knowledge available for yourself? What about a short-range beacon to which to teleport back to?

The voidmeld etherheart, completely new, has a vast array of new tricks at your disposal - from fishing crits to power lesser blasts to breaking the +5 enchantment limit (and yes, the math checks out and is NOT broken) and receiving a non-kitten-able hit-healing trick are part of the deal. And you know you always wanted to hit something with the force of a black hole's event horizon...right?

Now I mentioned Greater Manifestations - these are an optional system you may elect to ignore, but in my opinion shouldn't - two options are provided: 1) An ethermancer may lose a manifestation and a multiuniversal philosophy slot to learn one of these. Option 2) opens them for all classes, including ethermagus/slinger via a feat - whether you allow limited access, full access or none - all left in your hands -and that is awesome. Greater manifestations can be cast 1/day and essentially constitute the true "OMG, did you see that?" hard insta-death, crowd-control etc. tricks - 5 feats can be taken to enhance them/learn them and yes, the aforementioned multiuniversal philosophy also comes with an apotheosis. And greater manifestations are damn powerful -reducing the next etherspell's cost to 0? Yep. Black Hole? Check. But the very cake is taken the new and advanced Clockwork Universe: You choose a sun and planets that provide varying passive and active effects as you craft a miniature galaxy - and yes, inhabited planets in this galaxy may send forth motherships to destroy your enemies whenever one other satellite in your clockwork universe is destroyed or consumed by throwing it at your foes. Oh, and, of course, desert planets (one of the various additions to this already brilliant manifestation) have especially high capacities for mother ships...Have I mentioned moon bases and their capacity to fire teeny-tiny-planet-cracker missiles at your foes? This massive greater manifestation was a beauty before - now it is just one gigantic, splendid piece of awesomeness. Insta-kills, maximized numeric effects - don't get me wrong, I love the other manifestations, but this one is just too cool. What about erasing all energy-affinity from a creature? Speaking of which: HAMSTER BALL OF DEATH. Okay, It's called Firmament, is made of crystal and protects you from just about every damage, but it also allows for particularly devastating charges, hamsterball style. I *love* it! And yes, +3 manifestations for utterly massive blasts can also be chosen, as well as granting allies a taste of ether magic and a small, temporary pool. Oh, and yes, one may even resurrect creatures thanks to the powers of white holes!

Editing and formatting were top-notch even before I went over it and by now, all potentially game-glitch issues are gone and wording should be fitting- at least I found none. Layout adheres to a damn cool, unique, 2-column b/w-standard with original b/w-character artworks and thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf is rather printer-friendly and excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Even before, ethermagic was awesome - but it suffered from being the playing ground of just one class and not all options being made for it. Then this book came. Jason Linker's Ethermagus' concept of godblades and lead designer Bradley Crouch's new and *vastly* improved ethermancer, with all their awesome ideas and tricks, their combos, their glorious fluff and crunch - these two alone would have carried this book. Well, I am admittedly biased towards my own etherslinger class - however, I have received quite a lot feedback - from both my players AND complete strangers how much they love this class. So there has got to be something going for it, right? ;)

Kidding aside - this system makes resource-management fun. It lets you blast or magic-slice...or shoot ALL DAY LONG without breaking the game. Each and every class and archetype herein is unique and has something to offer - this is literally an all killer, no filler crunch book of awesomeness and ever since I have it in my hands, it has become a permanent fixture in my games - as indispensable as psionics or pact magic. Have I mentioned that its system could easily be used for the representation of the force or similar scifi-themed power-sources by just changing fluff? Yeah. For me, this is an EZG Essential, a candidate for my top ten of 2014 and deserves a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. This is, even without anything I added, the best crunch-book I've seen in ages - innovative, fun, complex and yet, pretty easy to grasp. (And if you need explanations/advice or just want to tell me about your experiences with this book, don't hesitate to contact me via my hp's contact tab.)
You can get this superb, inspired tome here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Stefanos the Lich

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Sun, Dec 14 2014 - 15:57
Seems like the villain Stefanos is all grown up... BWAH HAH HAH. A commission for Kassil .

Categories: Art

Broken Earth Campaign Setting

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 12 2014 - 09:55
Broken Earth Campaign Setting

This massive tome clocks in at 195 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 191 pages of content, so let's take a look!

First of all - what is Broken Earth? the easy answer would be that it is a post-nuclear campaign setting for Pathfinder, set in an Allotopia (an alternate reality of our own world for non-literature mayors) - this means that no magic is assumed to exist per se, though adding in rare magic would be no issue at all.

Now the book kicks off with a vast array of crunch - from new races (ape-men and synthetic humanoids) and then receive archetypes - a lot of them - from the chem-head alchemist to scrappers, we get a cool selection here - now one peculiarity I *LOVE* about Broken Earth would be its awareness - its awareness of what's out there. If you're like me and have this great sub-system from 3pp XYZ, you want to use it - only every supplement seems to add a new one instead, often less refined. well, not so this book - from nodding towards Kobold Press' Spell-less Ranger to Rogue Genius Games' Anachronistic Adventurers-series (and the superb research-rules therein!) to Dreamscarred Press' psionics, Broken Earth provides support for all of them and still manages to maintain functionality without access to them - everyone wins. Beyond that, a mechanic that balances character creation modularity with mutations and drawbacks makes for a cool way of handling racial restrictions and still maintain flexibility. The pdf also provides an array of equipment and vehicles, rules for radiation, overland hexploration and even sample communities and associated traits. We even receive a MASSIVE array of different supplemental options for the kingdom-building rules of Ultimate Campaign! Sounds familiar so far? Well, that's because the generally known components have been released before in the separate player's guide to broken earth, which I've also reviewed in much more detail - thus, if you're interested in the details of the crunch, please check out this review.

Now a general look at the page-count shows you that this pdf mostly of new content, but what exactly? Well, for one, the book is a campaign setting - but it's also something different. When you hear "campaign setting", you usually expect write-ups of different locations and nations, politics, history and the like - here, Broken Earth, while still providing that, sets its focus in a completely different way - and is better off for it. First of all, you'll notice an unusual amount of scrappers, NPCs etc. all ready to drop into your campaign. Secondly, you'll notice something different - think about Fallout, Wasteland and games like that - what's their draw? Scarcity, exploration, a sense of desolation and lack -and the constant fear and wonder what lies beyond the next hilltop or dune. While the crunch sports rules for fuel etc., while there are pieces of information, extensive ones, that is, on tech levels etc., the result could have ended up as something a kin to a fantasy world with a post-apocalyptic spray-paint. That is NOT the case.

From proper army statblocks to enclaves of high-tech hopes for a resettlement of earth, from mutants and supercomputers to drones, the narrative potential here is perfect - to the pitch. Whether you like your post-apocalypse gritty or over the op, this book supports all playstyles from Mad Max to Katmandi at Earth's End to The Last of Us - whatever your preferred flavor of end-times would be, a certain spirit of the end-times suffuses every single component of the writing, an endzeitgeist if you will.

Yeah. I'm gonna punch myself in the face later for writing that. (And no, I am not affiliated with this book in any way!) Essentially, the rest of the book is a DM's toolbox akin to one massive, huge survival wilderness module - or AP. This book essentially doubles as its very own, superb campaign outline-collection - player-driven exploration and a vast collection of iconic locales drive an overall experience that is, by virtue of its very presentation, radically different not only in its spray-paint, but also in the experience. Exceedingly detailed hooks that can be developed in less than a couple of hours into inspiring scenarios suffuse the pages of this tome. Whether you just want a depths-of-humanity's-depravity theme or rather have your PCs fight cyber-enhanced apes - this book has you covered and oscillation between themes and tropes can be handled exceedingly easily. From giant ants to telekinetic wolves to dragons (mutated, irradiated eagles with radioactive fire breath), everything you would ask from a basic post-apocalyptic bestiary is here.

As a mostly wilderness/survival-themed sandbox, random encounter tables are obviously non-optional, and they do come in excessive detail for each general locale. The NPC-Codex like array of generic stats, rare item tables, lists of psioncs used and even an index and an appendix of media for further inspiration are provided. (The latter deserves a ruffle though -each appendix like that ought to reference the grandfather of post-apocalypse movies, "A Boy and His Dog" - if you haven't seen that gem, it has aged pretty well!)

I could go on spoiling the details, the truth behind "Phoenix", what can be found in the monster lands, comment on the pseudo-neo-feudal kingdom of Geneva...but I won't.


Editing and formatting are very good - while there are some typos and glitches in here, the overall quality, especially for a "small" 3pp like Sneak Attack Press, is damn impressive. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard that manages to remain printer-friendly. The original pieces of b/w-artwork are awesome and the cartography (the main map also comes as a full-color pdf with the book!) can also stand up to this level. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience, with one bookmark out of order - no biggie, though. I can't comment on the quality of softcover/hardcover, since I do not own the print-version.

Matthew J. Hanson has written singlehandedly what usually takes a team of authors. Usually, that is cause for alarm or at least, deep scrutiny. So I went through the checklist in my head: Settlement statblocks? Check. Full-blown kingdom building support, with modified end-times appropriate new content galore? Check. MASSIVE 3pp-support, though always modular/optional? Check. Proper grasp of psionics? Check. I'd drop the f-bomb now, but I know that some filters don't like it. Just imagine me uttering it.

I honestly didn't expect to like this book - I, like so many others, have been waiting for Warlords of the Apocalypse for a LONG time. I have grown fond of RGG's anachronistic adventurer-classes and did not expect them to be supported here. I was firmly in the WotA-bandwagon. Well, they are and this massive tome manages to get post-apocalypse just RIGHT. In all its facets, in its peculiarities and different flavors. Could you introduce banned classes and elements? Yes. Could you annihilate anything super-natural/sci-fi for a full-blown extreme-gritty campaign? Yes, you could. Vehicles, survival radiation, rebuilding civilization and settlements - this book offers just about everything I could ask for. And even if you don't plan on playing in this Broken Earth, going full-blown steampunk, refluffing just about every rule herein to fit your tastes will still deliver a vast amount of content. Magical wastes, desolate planes - this book's massive array of content, even when used in unintended ways, makes for a glorious grab-bag.

Broken Earth is the benchmark that any future take on the post-apocalyptic will have to surpass -and have an exceedingly hard time doing so. Is every component perfectly finetuned? No, but seeing how much we get, how much of that just oozes the right spirit, like a possessed radiation sore, this book has slowly taken me over. Broken Earth is one exceedingly awesome tome, one that will have anyone even remotely into post-apocalyptic games grin with glee. Add to that the more than fair, very low price and we have a glorious tome indeed - well worth of 5 stars + seal of approval and a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014.

You can get this awesome post-apocalyptic survival-hex-crawl-toolbox/setting here on OBS!

You prefer Savage Worlds-rules? Here's the SW-rules-version!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Zeitgeist: Act One - The Investigation Begins

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 05 2014 - 07:20
Zeitgeist: Act One - The Investigation Begins

The massive collection of the first Act of the Zeitgeist AP clocks in at 559 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 6 pages of ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 549 pages of content.
So let's...wait. Let me get this straight - this is the compiled version of the first 5 Zeitgeist-adventures PLUS Crypta Hereticarum, Player's Guide and Campaign Guide; It also includes (with 2 hick-ups) cleaned up nomenclature regarding elves/eladrin high/wood elves that resulted from conversion. All of these components are simply glorious - 5 stars + seal of approval badassery in its truest form. I've also reviewed all of the modules, so if you require details, please check those out.
The book also contains "Seas of Zeitgeist", which provides the quick and dirty (imho VERY BAD) naval combat rules of "Admiral o' the High Seas" for the AP -and constitutes the one component of the AP I don't love o death. In design philosophy quite remote from Pathfinder, it pales before Paizo's naval combat rules and especially before Frog God Games' superb "Fire as SheBears", which I will use to provide proper naval combat rules for this AP. Beyond these, item-cards, a metric ton of maps, hand-outs and supplemental information help running this beast.
Conclusion:Wait, what? Well, production-wise, this killer tome is a layered pdf that can be made printer-friendly, the maps can be made player-friendly if they aren't already. The writing by Ryan Nock, Matthew J. Hanson, Jacob Driscoll and Thurston Hillman is superb. The book comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience.
I will cut this review far shorter than the page-count would suggest since I've already covered the constituent pdfs. This is the most ambitious AP you can buy and also the most intelligent - with a focus on a complex weave of narratives, deceptions and espionage, it cannot be compared to any other AP in scope and focus and is ambitious to an unprecedented level. The story is so compelling, diverse and challenging, it is bound to become a legend, far surpassing even War of the Burning Sky and similar epics with its daunting focus on smarts and roleplaying over killing everything that moves. The sheer amount of glorious mini-games and decisions make Deus Ex run to the corner and cry itself to sleep and apart from the subpar naval rules, there is NOTHING on can truly complain about - and honestly, these are easily replaced.
Now if you are a new DM, first master something less demanding - Zeitgeist is intended for experienced dungeon masters and the amount of plots, characters, etc. you have to juggle is significant. However, this also makes the AP exceedingly cool, challenging and SMART. This is a thinking man's AP, one that dares to assume that its audience is intelligent and capable -and I *love* it for that. In fact, the *only* reason I'm not running this AP RIGHT NOW is that I'm waiting for it to finish. This may very well be one of the best APs ever written, depending on your taste, possibly the best.
It is to my eternal regret that I cannot comment on the premium hardback edition in color - my meager funds do not allow me to get this book as per the writing of this review. That being said, this is still a milestone for storytelling in a d20-based system, the first AP to reach the narrative complexity and depth usually reserved for legendary CoC/ToC/etc.-campaigns. If am of the firm belief that this tome belongs into a DM's arsenal and that running this, will one day be a kind of rite of passage. If you thought the "War of the Burning Sky" was good - it has NOTHING on Zeitgeist. My final verdict will come as no surprise, seeing how the first 5 installments were the first ever AP to succeed at such an unbroken string of superb ratings from yours truly; it will clock in at 5 stars, seal of approval, nomination as a candidate for my top ten of 2014 and a shed tear of longing for the physical book. If you can, get this NOW!
This book is available here on OBS for PFRPG!If you prefer 4th edition, here's that one!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Zeitgeist #5 - Cauldron-Born

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 05 2014 - 07:10
Zeitgeist #5 - Cauldron-Born

The latest installment of EN Publishing's Zeitgeist-AP clocks in at 95 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 90 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
It's been too long since I took a look at one of the Zeitgeist-modules, but before I do, here the obligatory warning - this review contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion....No, really. Jump to the conclusion....Only DMs left? Good.This adventure is the conclusion of the first act of the epic ZEITGEIST-saga, and as such, provides guidance of running it stand-alone (or the first campaign-act alone - just eliminate the conspiracy elements and there you go!) - which renders it longer than one would have expected. The constables of the RHC will have A LOT on their hands, so better hope they have honed their investigative skills.
A peace-summit is looming between the nation of Risur and Danor, finally bringing peace to the strained relations between the nations - including, btw., a list of the points of contention. In one sentence - there are a lot of elements invested in seeing the summit fail. Beyond a turf-war, a mad fey and radical eschatologists all have their own plots, which means that the constables will have to wrap up no less than THREE threads: In order to cope with this, magical long-range communication and the B-team are provided - the latter being only 4th level characters the players may play...and, of course, as always, characters may very well die.
And yes, on their way to meet the king, the PCs immediately are subject to a well-planned, rather deadly assassination attempt, including carriages, which should make clear the stakes are high - crimelord Lorcan Kell (backed by the two-letter-abbreviated conspirators) wishes to take them out. The king himself briefs them with the severity of the situation (as well as dropping some hints of ravenloftesque ties of rulers to their realm and citizens...) and tells them about the conspirators having some means of access to the Bleak Gate - something the PCs should better unearth as soon as possible.
Now the B-team will be busy with escorting the minotaur-ambassador Brakken - hopefulyl without attacking his dire-bear companion. Meanwhile, the PCs may see an old acquiantance from module #1 show up at the royal palace- the high elf Asrabey Varal asks, veiled, for assistance in hunting down aforementioned rogue fey. The B-team, escorting both the minotaur and the dwarven eye of Drakr at the summit will right NOW have their hands full -a deadly ballet of death is unleashed upon the city by a cadre of deadly dwarven eschatologists - perfectly timed bombs, sniper nests - the B-team will have its hands more than full trying to save what's there to save! Alexander Grappa, the golem-maker, has his mind currently inside the head of a demolished bronze golem and may just be the additional piece of information the constables need regarding the Bleak gate - though a clever geas prevents him from divulging crucial information. Now as an additional mini-game, the PCs will have to generate and train a task force of people to take down Kell et al, which also provides various means for complications - essentially, they have to order a shadow war against Kell and his associates - in a damn fun, cool mini-game. Better - if the PCs have good relationships with the Cipiano, they may utilize Morgan Cipiano's resources against Kell...for a price that will influence further adventures. Speaking of which - if the B-team can ensure that their outgunned fight in a night-club is successful, they can influence this mini-game as well - and actually get Kell's lawyer!
Espionage and counter-espionage very much determine how well the final crackdown on Kell goes -if moles are not exposed, the PCs may find themselves at a significant disadvantage. Now the investigation into the renegade fey with Asrabey turns out to be rather interesting - the haughty elf still vastly outclasses the constables and thus, combats tend to have certain things for him to do - and yes, the fey-opposition of the Unseen Court is rather deadly. While the main group dukes it out with powerful spellcasters, the B-team will have "fun" calming superstitious folk and hopefully prevent multiple lynchings due to the fear of a curse. Capturing and interrogating a gremlin may see the PCs finally in a position where they can confront the fey-lord Ekossigan - in the process of a ritual sacrifice, clearly mad and mumbling about dread things hidden...but more on that later.
If the PCs have made friends with Kvarti in a previous encounter, the dwarf's divergent take on eschatologist philosophy may provide a simple means for them to gain information - Kvarti is unhappy about the radical plan of mass-bombing the sub-railway system and wants to help prevent the unleashing of dangerous beasts bound for the harbor and a hostage situation planned by a particularly cold eschatologist - hopefully also diffusing the deadly bomb in a nail-biting finale.
The massive banquet scene that is to follow the happenings will be just as nail-biting and tense - there is a lot at stake and after the rather exquisitely detailed scene - which unmasks a particular NPC as a telepath and also provides the PCs with a means of maintaining an element of surprise over the obscurati in Cauldron Hill - depending on the means the PCs chose during the module, the finale's assault on the Obscurati base will happen under vastly different constellations. Beyond infiltration, the utterly EPIC boss-fights that reward making allies and smart choices here deserve special mention.
But this is not the end - the titan of adamantine is unleashed upon the city, and while, for now, without direction, it needs to be dealt with - the king assembles a makeshift fleet (plus allies PCs may have made!) and tries to lure the titan to sea, while the king executes a powerful ritual aboard the vessel to banish the titan. The PCs will have to hold off the deadly, nigh-indestructible creature while dealing with the deadly witchoil horrors generating from the titan, for one of the most epic climaxes I've seen in any module.
Pages upon pages of handouts and GM-guidance to running this beast are provided as well.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to EN Publishing's 2-column full-color standard with plenty of glorious, original pieces of art. The pdf comes layered to the extent where you can make it easily player-friendly. Cartography is glorious as well.
Thurston Hillman has done it. The fifth zeitgeist-module manages to live up to the utterly INSANE standard the first 4 modules set, all of which manages to score 5 stars + seal of approval, rendering this AP the only one among those I've reviewed that managed to maintain this level of quality. The ONLY reason I'm not playing this AP right now is that I'm waiting for it to finish - I never start APs that are not yet done. That being said, this module is glorious and the first ACT of this AP has more going on, more memorable moments, than many full APs I've read. Superb in writing and ambition, this killer module is simply brilliant and utterly captivating - my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this installment of the AP here on OBS for PFRPG.
Prefer 4th edition? (To each his own, I do not judge...) Here's the link!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Ultimate War

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Nov 28 2014 - 02:40
Ultimate War

The third expansion of the kingdom building/mass combat rules presented in Ultimate Campaign, expanded by the very man who wrote the original rules, clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages on how-to-use/what to expect, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This supplement kick off by eliminating two of my most serious gripes with the base mass combat rules from Ultimate Campaign. Number one: Ultimate Campaign does not distinguish between ranged and melee capacity, instead subsuming both under the termino umbrellone of OM, Offense Modifier. This resulted potentially in ridiculous scenarios of elven archer beating orc berserkers in melee. Ultimate War gets rid of OM in favor of separate Melee Value and Ranged Values, abbreviated MV and RV. YES!!! Secondly, the hit points as an abstract measurement to determine an army's deceased is replaced with casualties - which can be tracked individually/separately for sub-units etc., allowing much more detailed and finer tactical nuances. Best of all - both allow for easy downscaling back into Ultimate Campaign's base system, if you prefer the simpler take.
Leadership Bonus of a commander is equal to +1 for every full 5 ranks in Profession (Soldier) and high BABs (+6, +11, +16), Wis or Cha modifiers, certain feats etc. can further increase this bonus. The rather rudimentary selection of command boons is also expanded by this supplement - and the boons are great - Battlefield illumination (or making light-conditions worse!), autosupplying itself, con/desecrate battlefields,  divine healing or barrages, smoke screens or particular proficiency when deployed against aerial armies - glorious! Have I mentioned the awesome effects of war chants or the option to execute precise, less damaging assaults via surgical strikes? Brilliant!
Speaking of which - combined arms. Where the general army as a base unit type would be the catch-all default, the rules provided herein allow for a finer distinction. Via these rules, armies are made up of units, which in turn can be made up of several divisions. This is analogue to the distinctions between  fleet->squadron->ships. The number of soldiers in a unit is the same as the one in the default rules' army. Creating a unit follows, according to these rules, simple steps - you pay and gather them, you assign a commander (with PCs being particularly potent!) - which influences the amount of divisions in a unit a commander can handle - 3+ cha-mod, max 5 divisions can be contained and losing a division penalizes the unit. Each division can take casualties equal to its ACR before being defeated - this concludes that each unit has hit points equal to ACR times 5. Divisions reduced to 0 hp can be healed normally, but additional damage annihilates them. MV and RV are ACR+leadership bonus of the commander, provided the unit is properly equipped. If not all divisions are equipped to execute one type of attack, the overall value suffers - cool!
Morale score is the kingdom's loyalty divided by 20, min 1, max 10 and determines all the psychological components. A default value and advice for using morale sans kingdom building (Kudos!!) can also be found here. Determining overland movement, scouting capacity, camouflage, name and home-base - in 12 easy steps, just about every DM should be able to create an army - on my first try, it took me less than 5 minutes to properly apply these rules and generate a unit - WITH double-checking that I got everything right.
Each army may contain a number of units equal to the general's cha-mod+3, further increased by leadership, certain boons, etc. Battle Phases are influenced by the new distinctions between ranged and melee values - hence, a concise run-down of the phases is provided, thankfully including proper inclusion of not only the new casualties mechanic. It should also be noted that recruiting armies works perfectly in synergy with Ultimate Rulership as well as the base system. Applying simplified combats between aerial and naval ships etc. would also be discussed here. Now I've already mentioned aerial combat and indeed, aerial reconnaissance, altitude levels, visibility, concise effects of different wind strengths - the peculiarities of aerial combat are well addressed in sufficient details - from balloons to flying carpets and floating fortresses, this chapter adds the third dimension to mass combat - war rockets, solar sailors - every companion of the firmaments-using campaign should consider this the way to add mass combat to their arrays - glorious! (Be honest - you always wanted to fight dragons while aboard a war rocket!) And yes, this does provide full DVs, cover, dmg, stall, crash etc. values - and if that doesn't mean anything to you by now, then only because you don't have the  pdf before you - the system is ridiculously easy to grasp and concise in its presentation.
Easy to grasp stats for vessels with drift speeds or those being able to climb altitudes, hovering etc. - all here and supplemented further by 12 unique tactics - from soaring sweeps to dogfighting and strafing runs, aerial combat has scarcely been this awesome and tactical! Now, of course this opens a whole new field - i.e. the combat of earthbound units versus airborne assailants - and from options like digging in to using grapnel shots, a whole new dimension, literally, is added to mass combat. Now if that isn't yet enough for you, let's take a look at yet another expansion - the one to the sea. "But wait, EZG," you say "I already have 3 systems for naval combats to choose from and didn't you say that Frog God Games' "Fire as She Bears" was absolutely awesome? Yes, I did, and I still consider the system the best naval combat system available for any d20-iteration. However, we're not talking about skirmishes between a couple of vessels, we're talking about the clash of whole fleets! And for that, well, let's just say that the rules herein apply the same thoroughness to naval warfare as to that in the skies - depth zones (which allow for submarines and magical threats), wind effects and naval units...ask and ye shall find herein. By the way: All you require, once again provided in detail including required buildings to procure them (forgot to mention that regarding aerial units - yes, when used with kingdom-building, required buildings etc. are provided!) alongside massive tables of sample vessels in one handy tome. Want to know the level of detail these rules support - the difficulty of fighting back once your vessel's been sunk may impose a massive penalty, but it doesn't mean that your unit can't take down a hostile ship. 
Which also becomes relevant since the system utilizes one unified frame of rules. Why is that important? Let's say a unit of sahuagin on board of a balloon has attacked your galley; You manage to put down the balloon and it crashes into the sea - you can continue playing all levels of combats like that with one single system. Want to play the fantasy-equivalent of the D-Day? Go ahead, these rules have you covered!  Now while there is bound to be some overlap with the aerial tactics, I should not fail to mention that naval combat also receives quite an array of unique, naval tactics that add even more options to the fray.
Now sooner or later, assault on fortifications is bound to happen - and if you ever tried to use ultimate combat and campaign in one and the same campaign, you may have noticed some discrepancy there - instead of assuming abstract siege engines to be a part of a given unit, we receive a special, Knowledge (engineering)-and int-based LB to determine how commanders of units of artillery work - which makes MUCH more sense and allows for generals to specifically target these weapons...
Speaking of strategies - the array of ranged and close-quarters siege weaponry and the vast array of associated strategies, from bombardment (e.g. via smoke, plagued corpses, etc...) to infiltration and scatter volleys makes for a superb selection of choices - even before the 7 new magical siege weapons - like apocalypse zombie siege shots, adamantine rams or ooze-siege shots - glorious!
The pdf also comes with a neat index of the tables for quick reference and it should be noted that perfect rules-synergy with Ultimate Campaign, Ultimate Rulership and Ultimate Battle is maintained.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to legendary Games' two-column full-color standard with awesome full-color artworks. The pdf is relatively printer-friendly and comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf also contains the good type of hyperlink, making the rules presented even easier to grasp.
Jason Nelson took a *long* time making this final piece of the triumvirate of expansions and refinements to Paizo's kingdom building/mass-combat system (which he also wrote, just fyi). It is not a big surprise then, that the resulting books, unfettered from the limitations of page-count and relative simplicity, have been an utter BLAST to read and use. Offering options to get rid of some overly generic simplifications of the base system, the first two books were beyond superb and managed to add so incredibly much to the base systems I never, ever want to play kingdom building and mass combat without their options again.
Now the thing is - Ultimate War was pending and its task was to close the final gaps and cover the true clash of armies, remembering all the small modifications AND refining the base system. I'll make this short:
If you even remotely plan to run mass combat BUY THIS NOW. The additional options, even if you use neither aerial, nor naval or siege combat, are GOLD: The fact that they work perfectly together makes for truly dynamic mass combat. the vast expansion of boons and tactics translate to mass combat that is infinitely more exciting, strategic and ultimately fun. Now it's perhaps due to approximately 15K points of warhammer miniatures in my attic, but I expect some tactical options from a given system and Ultimate War's expansion fits the bill perfectly - indeed, the variance and peculiarities of aerial combat and naval combat allow for a finer gradation in these areas.
The most impressive component of these rules, beyond their modularity and synergy, though, would be the fact that this one system supports not only all those particular special cases, it allows for transparency and overlap between them - ships that can turn aerial? Why not! Cadres of wyrms rising from the waves to take to the skies, then land and wreck havoc among the elven archers?? Go for it, with this book, you can properly portray that - and the dogfight between the draconic assault and the giant eagle riding knights in the air! The assault of the gnomish submersible-riding saboteurs on the siege-weapon bearing frigate. This book is glorious, a must-buy for everyone who considered the base rules of Ultimate Campaign too simple, too rudimentary - with this, you could conceivably play a thoroughly compelling, interesting, strategic CAMPAIGN of warfare - and honestly, I'd probably have a nerdgasm if Legendary Games released a full mass combat-AP using these rules. For now, I have to plot, devise strategies and generate *a lot* of adventure material; I just have resolved to up the emphasis on war in my current campaign!
this book is brilliant, a worthy successor to its stellar companion books, and well worth a final rating of 5 stars + seal of approval + nomination as a candidate for my top ten of 2014. An absolute must-buy-level tome and one that also receive the endzeitgeist essential-tag as one of the must-have tomes for a campaign!
You can get this superb tome here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

Categories: RPGs

Town Backdrops: Wolverton

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Nov 28 2014 - 02:25
Town Backdrops: Wolverton

This pdf clocks in at a massive 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page statblocks by CR-index, 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let's take a look!
First of all, this is a kind of full circle for me - when I started reviewing, Raging Swan Press' free mini-setting The Lonely Coast immediately grabbed my attention and made me buy Retribution, their first module. Now, hundreds of reviews of Raging Swan Press-supplements later, this book provides the fully detailed information on the largest settlement in that remote stretch of land, the town of Wolverton. Hence, it is only appropriate that we begin this book with a proper introduction to the stretch of land, including traveling distances, weather etc.
Now, if you know the village backdrop-series (and you SHOULD!), you'll be familiar with the formula used for this town - we receive a full-blown town statblock, information on what magic items can be bought, town lore, nomenclature, dressing habits, etc. However, as befitting of a larger settlement, Wolverton is more than just a village on steroids.
This becomes readily apparent from the extremely detailed map to the sheer number of notable places provided. (As always, player friendly maps can be downloaded on raging Swan Press' homepage.) 28 different notable locations at a glance are provided, and for conveniences sake and to help navigation, we also have them grouped by type - see, THAT is considerate! Wolverton is a walled city at the coast, situated atop some cliffs and the castle of the local pseudo-aristocracy, the Lochers, situated on a promontory. The town features a quarter separated from the rest of the town by cliffs (keep the rabble out) and sports a massive river flowing through it, the Arisum. Hence, the town also features several bridges that span the river and the town is fortified with solid walls.
So far, so good - but what is going on in the place? Well, a metric ton of things: let's begin with whispers and rumors - as opposed to just 6 for a village, we receive a FULL PAGE of 50 rumors, each of which has the potential to spark a full-blown adventure! Another example for this pdf going above and beyond would be the inclusion of information for kingdom-building and using Wolverton in conjunction with such a campaign. Festivals and traditions like "Wolf's Night" provide more than just a bit of local color, in the aforementioned example, townsfolk bake wolf-shaped biscuits and children get to eat fang-shaped sweet bread while adults in wolf skin walk the streets to scare children. Now if you can't use this festival to e.g. convert something Halloween/samhain-themed or make a lycanthrope-plot more interesting, I don't know! Weekly markets and a total of no less than 50 entries of sights and sounds (think of them as mini-hooks, dressing, etc.) spanning two-pages further enhance the unique and detailed perspective one gets of the glorious town.
Of course, if you prefer hooks to be less subtle, perhaps the 50-entry strong, two-page spanning table of events might do - from street urchins trying to steal from the PCs to being recruited for the theatre to pouring rain that renders the muddy roads difficult terrain, these events not only are interesting, they are, most of the time, downright inspiring, especially for the brevity with which they have to work. Oh, and if THAT still is not enough, you'll be happy to know that properly and fully developed hooks are interspersed throughout the whole book.
Now the town itself has plenty of truly interesting locales and places to inspire the prospective DM - take an inn, " The Hare and the Ass", which has recently been taken over by a half-orc. Said half-orc was raised by dwarves and thus knows the recipe of the Thunderhammer clan's famous beer, seeing quite a few visitors as a result - in spite of the latent xenophobia exhibited towards the green-skin.
While at no point obtrusive, fans of Raging Swan press will rejoice at e.g. small Easter-eggs and tie-ins with Hosford and other locales in and around the Lonely Coast.  What this pdf acts like, can be best described as the massive linchpin that ties the whole of the Lonely Coast and its peculiarities together, rendering the whole picture more concise - while adding flourishes to just about every component of the area.
The various taverns, people controlled by intelligent helmets - we have *a lot* going on here - including strange experiments, no less than 3(!!!) major smuggling gangs (including their own conflicts,  moralities, leaders and headquarters), burgeoning sorcerous power among those that should not e able to exhibit it (and some intrigue there...) - we have * A LOT* going on in this town - enough to cover a bunch of PC-levels!
Beyond this extremely detailed town, though, we also receive statblocks of its inhabitants - from merchants and peasants, reeves and high priests, rulers, veteran watchmen and a whole slew of smugglers and low-lives can be found herein - including the signature detailed fluff to supplement all of the named NPC-statblocks - background story, personality, mannerisms, distinguishing features and character-specific hooks - anything you ask for, it's here.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to raging Swan Press' b/w-two-column standard, is printer-friendly and generally nice to look at. The artworks range from thematically fitting stock art to pieces I haven't seen before and the cartography is awesome - the town makes sense and looks rather neat. The pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one to be printed out, and both come excessively bookmarked.
I can't comment on the print-edition since I do not own it (yet).
John Bennett delivers the final missing piece of the puzzle that is The Lonely Coast and much like many a puzzle, this one piece makes the whole picture seem all the more enticing. As a hub full of adventuring potential, Wolverton elevates the other pdfs in and around the Lonely Coast by serving as a plausible, cool town full of local color, nice customs and adventuring potential. Even when used on its own, though, the town shines -  Wolverton has taken to heart all the little improvements of the "small" series- extremely detailed, with rumors, sights and hooks galore, it also provides a multitude of flavors of adventuring it supports: Wilderness? No problem. Dungeon? Why not. Coastal caves? Covered. Courtly intrigue? Possible. Shadow War? Jup, feasible. You name it, this place has the means to provide an extremely detailed canvas for your brush.
Wolverton is more than just an oversized village backdrop - it is a full-blown, thriving, pulsing town rife with adventure potential, a place filled to the brim with details and local color, expertly crafted to serve as a hub for PCs, to support a plethora of playing styles...and still retain a unique identity. An impressive feat indeed and well worth 5 stars + my seal of approval, as well as a nomination as a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014.
You can get this awesome town here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews The Key to Marina

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Nov 21 2014 - 15:57
The Key to Marina

The latest module by 4 Dollar Dungeons clocks in at 79 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 75 pages of content, so let's check this out!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. No. Seriously. You don't want to spoil this one.......Okay, only DMs left? Great!Now DMs may wish to know the following - like all 4$D-modules, this one does provide some guidance beyond the usual synopsis in modifying the hook for the DM to fix issues with encounters that might come up, rendering this module easier to prepare than most comparable resources. This level of foresight by the way also extends to the copious maps provided for the module - DM and player maps are NOT identical in every case - two thumbs up. Scaling advice, handy lists of encounters, treasures etc. - all provided, rendering the running of this module as easy as one can possibly make it.
Now let's dive into the plot, shall we? We begin this module in the coastal city of Morphoton - or any other coastal city. Here, a note on adaption should be made - the module delivers a handy list of criteria a city has to fulfill for the module to run smoothly and this advice, once again, renders running this module easier - 50+ years, predominantly stone buildings, districts for different classes, a strong mercantile presence and a council among the governing bodies are rather easy to fulfill.
So, how does this scenario begin? Well, it (probably) is autumn, when, by some relation or friend, the PCs are bequeathed a picture depicting the Gardens of Marina, a local park in a less than popular neighborhood, with a cryptic hint that there is some mystery to be found there. Depending on your players, their innate curiosity may even suffice - for mine it did! Checking out the park the PCs encounter a scene of neglect and decay - the gorgeous statue in the middle of the park has been vandalized and several of the decorative statues from the park are missing. However, between nostalgic old people and the occasional loner frequenting this abandoned, dilapidated park, they may also notice a ring of odd, symbols around the fountain and a discrepancy in the composure of the statues. There is obviously a mystery afoot and the missing statues are obviously tied to the task. Hence, the PCs will have to hunt down the park's former statues - wherever they might be.
Thankfully, at least one man can help the PCs, the by now over 90-year old senile gardener Arbitan, who may very well be the park's only frequent visitor - it is via the interaction with this man (a nice way to once again enforce a theme of decay and finality and the fleeting nature of life, btw.), the PCs can glean the first hints - and much like in a good mystery/adventure-movie, the detective work begins - from the unpleasantness of essentially forced labor weaving to the bureaucracy of the council, dealing with greedy art dealers and snobbish custodians, the trails lead towards a crab-merchant, a bell-tower, a crypta and even a maze - and we haven't even started the deadly part yet! Still, the individual encounters collectively manage to set a tone that starts resonating as one plays, slowly developing the mood in an excellent example of indirect storytelling.
Now from the plinths of these statues and their signs, provided as hand-outs for the PCs, btw. - after all, visual puzzles sans visual aids are hard and a total of 9 jpgs make visualizing the puzzle exceedingly easy. Have I mentioned that all combat-relevant aforementioned locations sport player-friendly maps? So finally, the secret is unearthed, the access route opens to perhaps one of the best examples of secret dungeons I've seen in ages - and we enter the dungeon below - which is highly uncommon. Why? Well, first of all, the place is essentially an example for a vertical, rather than a horizontal dungeon, with cross-section maps being provided as well (and secret rooms not included necessarily in the default map. Secondly, the module's dungeon sports massive tanks that can be modified and accessed via special keys - and which require some thinking. Essentially, this whole level can be considered one gigantic logic puzzle - not every room, not every creature is relevant, but the system per se is concise and well-wrought...and it makes one thing pretty clear - If your PCs are dumb, they can die horribly here: Diving into a mix of water over-saturated with oxygen? In case you've never played Metal Gear Solid 2, let me enlighten you: No, you can't swim in it, yes, it's a bad idea to try. The same can be said about diving headfirst into a tank as a level 1 character that contains a massive giant zombie shark - of course, you can just empty the tank and then kill it at range, though it will take some arrows to put down...
 Smart tactics and smart playing will be required to properly navigate this part of the dungeon indeed - but the challenge does not end there - in order to proceed further, at one point the PCs quite possibly will have to deal with a rather lethal demonic adversary...only to stumble upon an evil seamstress (who do you think makes all those cultist's robes?) and a massive chapter of Asmodeans. Thankfully, if the PCs are not dumb, they'll be disguised in Asmodean robes. Walking the floors of this place should send torrents of sweat down the PC's backs - multiple high level clerics, high-level outsiders - the PCs are well in over their heads and with imps buzzing to and fro, unmasking is suicide. Thankfully, the cult has not taken one thing into account  -the reservoir. They have not been visited for ages. No one bothers them. Why guard the ingress? And who would have thunk that a certain tank now is filled to the brim with 1.5 tons of water? Some crowbars, a little bit of force and a massive, crushing tsunami-like floods can be used to annihilate the opposition that is so far above them, they will just be cheering. At least my players were. Thankfully, the water drains and with the missing head of Marina's statue, the park can be restored to its former glory, the PCs rewarded and blessed and the module brought to a satisfying conclusion.
As always with 4$D-modules, we receive handouts of the artworks for your PCs, properly detailed maps, stats for all creatures, hazards, spells and yes, even creature qualities as well, rendering this literally the only book you need to run this module.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch, I did not notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column full color standard sans backgrounds and the pdf comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience. As an additional benefit for people like yours truly, we receive two pdfs - one in A4-format and one in US-format, making the printing of this module easier and better looking for Europeans like yours truly. Cartography is provided in full color, of just about every combat-related environment, with player-friendly maps and even cross-sections galore. It should also be noted that, as always, each encounter features the respective DCs for skill-checks and results in a handy mini-table.
No 4$D-module is like the other - but ever since "Horn of Geryon", all three have been superb in their own, distinct ways. They all sport a subdued, mature humor that makes reading them a joy and provide a level of detail and logical cohesiveness seldom seen in any other publication. Instead of resting on his laurels, after "Journey to Cathreay" became one of my favorite wilderness modules of all time, author Richard Develyn instead opted for something different - and made a module that is equal parts investigation and essentially the exploration of a vast, magical and logical dungeon. Suffused with a sense of decrepitude, the module's theme is enhanced by just about every step building atmosphere along the way - and this is good. Why? Because this module requires respect to beat. I am not kidding when I'm saying that this module is difficult - in an uncommon, very rewarding way - from the beginning to the end, this whole module is all about BRAINS over brawn. If this were a GoT-character, it would probably be Tyrion Lannister.
What do I mean by that? Organically, the dungeon and its challenges prepare the PCs (and players!) mindset-wise towards a most uncommon finale that would not work with another mindset. It's essentially like the glorious classic "Tomb of Abysthor" and the author does not kid when the CR-rating for a particular room is denoted as "infinite" - at their level, the PCs have simply no chance to prevail other than being smart -something that would come out of left field in any other module and result in unfair TPKs here works as the logical conclusion of the things that have come before.
All right, I'll come out and say it - this is the brainiest module I've had the pleasure to run in quite a while - and I mean that as a compliment. Mind you, there are enough combats in here and a skeleton whose skull is inhabited by an undead octopus and similar weird creatures make for fantastic changes of pace throughout the module and the fights before furthermore enhance the emphasis on tactics, strategy and using your brain.
This module can be deemed a love-letter to all the glorious modules that could not be solved by rolling a 20 every time, an homage to the brainier of mystery/adventure movies and is just plain fun to run. That being said, DMs should carefully read (and understand) the full module before running it - its modular nature and complex dungeon are not something you can pull off on the fly. if your players and you are bored by roll-playing, if you want concise and logical puzzles that do not require trial and error to solve, then this will be a true blessing for you. The Key to Marina is a glorious module that once again shows what was once considered to be the best of old-school adventure-writing and puts it into a new, polished form. At this point, I am using 4 Dollar Dungeon-modules as a type of balm for my reviewer's soul - after reading flawed math, the oompteenth supplement dealing with xyz, after being frustrated by a logical glitch or railroading - this is when I open one of these modules, read them, run them...and all is well. And no, that was no exaggeration. Add to that the exceedingly low price-point and I guarantee that you won't find something similar around.
I am aware that I must be sounding like a fanboy at this point and honestly, I kind of am - but deservedly so. The level of quality provided is staggering for this price-point and the amount of superlatives I can heap on this module are rather impressive as well - but you've heard those before, I wager. Hence, let me just reiterate that this is a module for the advanced player, for the thinkers, a module steeped in glorious detail, one that could be easily transplanted into e.g. Ravenloft or any other setting. It is also yet another flavor of awesomeness from the penmanship of Richard Develyn and the fourth (!!!) module in a row I consider a candidate for my Top Ten of the given release-year. Yeah. this is getting creepy. still, once more, let me spell it out - final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval, candidate for the Top Ten of 2014. Go buy this now - it's cheaper than a pack of cigarettes or a proper meal, even in a fast food chain, and it will stay with you for much, much longer.
You can get this ridiculously awesome module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Psionic Bestiary

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Nov 21 2014 - 06:36
Psionic Bestiary

This massive bestiary clocks in at 105 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with a massive 100 pages of content, so let's take a look!
First of all - this is a massive bestiary and as such, I can't go into the details of every creature herein without bloating it beyond belief. Additionally, I have reviewed the ongoing subscription (with the exception of ~2-3 installments, I think), so if in doubt, there are some reviews in the ether that are more detailed regarding the respective creatures. Finally, if you're like me and have accompanied the evolution of PFRPG's psionics, then you'll notice that Ultimate Psionics no longer featured monsters - well, that's why this book exists - handy player/DM separation by book - nice.
We begin this book with some explanations on how psionic creatures work, what to look out for etc., before 2 new feats that are used in this book are depicted - the aberration-only feat that nets you acidic blood, plus one 6-rank-prerequisite feat that allows the creature with it to avoid detection by e.g. blindsight etc. - while I get the intent behind the feat and applaud it, I do think that different abilities should add different bonuses to the perception-check for fairness's sake - after all, quite a feat creatures are very much dependant on blindsight and more often than not fail to invest ranks in perception. Now rest assured that this is a VERY minor nitpick and will not influence the verdict, but I'd urge DMs allowing this feat to take a look at eligible creatures and potentially reassign skill-ranks.
All right, got that? Neato, then let's dive head first into the array of psionic creatures presented herein - and, as per the tradition, we begin with the iconic astral constructs and all the table to customize them...but I assume you're familiar with these guys. Much cooler would be the psionic inevitables, the automata - crystalline machinery, deadly tricks, a regeneration only foiled by sonic damage...these guys are nasty and the direct foes of aberrations and similar creatures!
Classics like the crysmal, caller in darkness, folugub, psion-killer or cerebrelith can be found in these pages as well, though more often than not, I have to admit to by now simply having a higher standard for monsters - when compared to quite a few critters herein, the "classics" feel a bit conventional at times.
Now if you've followed my reviews, Hellfire aura-bearing devils, cerebremorte undead, beetles with a  truly disturbing life cycle and brain parasite worms may sound familiar - and if you haven't encountered them, the phrenic hegemony, heirs to the illithids, may very well be the more disturbing (and complex) type of creature - they were awesome in the WiP-pdf and by now have more artworks - and these are simply awesome. Speaking of awesome - when I complained about the polearm masters of the Pyn-Gok race not getting any cool signature tricks via their plummage, I was heard - they now have quite a bunch of cool additional tricks! The T'artys have alas, not received a similar treatment - they still are ye' old mischief-causing fey, only with psionics. *shrugs* Their artwork ahs been upgraded, though!
A nod to Forgotten Realms' Saurians can be found in this pdf alongside some delightfully demented plant creatures  -from the classic udoroot that now has some actually unique tricks to strange, mouth-studded trees, many of the artworks perfectly drive home the utter weirdness and partially alien flavor of psionics - take the humanoid plants with EYES, the Iniro. One look at their nightmareish artwork and you'll know you want to use these fellows! The Mindseed Tree is no less disturbing to me and just a fun adversary as well!
Dreamborn, colossal magical beasts adrift in the ether, the last members of a dying race, a strange array of mutated creatures that have been driven insane by a cataclysm, only to endure...how? Upon death of one , another member of their race hideously splits in two... The crystalline shackle using Dedrakons and similar hunters make for iconic magical beasts as hunters that work well in a context of a given world requiring appropriate predators.
And speaking of predators - beyond the awesomeness that is the phrenic hegemony, we also receive  examples of psionic apex predators - psionic dragons. A total of 5 dragon types are provided - all of which radically different from the gem-dragon tradition: We receive the Cypher, Imagos, Keris, Lorican and Scourge dragons. Cypher dragons are travelers of the planes and do have some rather cool, unique abilities - they can disrupt patterns just like the Cryptic-class and indeed, their age-category abilities gained fall in line with this concept and remain their uniqueness.
Imago dragons do not cause fear, instead using confusion and are the wilders among dragonkind, coupling wilder-style tricks with a theme of oneiromancy etc. - cool! Now if you're like me, at one point, the color-coding of dragons annoyed you - while templates etc. by now allow for ways past that, simply introducing the energy-type changing Kerris dragons and their tricks might do the trick as well. Two thumbs up! Speaking of which - the Lorican dragon's tricks are imaginative as well - these guys can wrap essentially a pocket astral plane around themselves and exert control over this area, modifying magic affinity, gravity etc. - innovative and just incredibly cool!
Finally, the Scourge Dragons would be the dread-equivalent to the cypher dragon's cryptic-affinity  -masters of fear with an affinity for the plane of shadows, they should be considered  rather awesome as well. But this would not be all - beyond these trueborn dragons, there also are Ksarite dragons and drakes, partially composed of psionic force  -compared to the true born dragons, though, these guys feel less impressive.
In case you're looking for templates to apply to creatures, we also receive fodder in that regard beyond aforementioned brain worm hosts - take the Marked One (CR +3) template - studded with psionic tattoos they can spread, these guys are obsessed with order and there might very well be a global agenda behind the phenomenon... narrative gold hiding here. Speaking of which - by now, you can create your own deranged trepanner-constructs -cool to see the missing crafting information showing up herein. I just wished the psychotrope drugs of a shambler variant had received similar treatment.
A massive appendix of creatures by type, by CR and by terrain makes this bestiary easy to handle for the DM - kudos!
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch: At this point a shout-out to Anguish on the Paizo boards who did a massive bunch of editing for this book, checking statblocks for even the most minute of errors. My hat's off to you, sir (or madam)! The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and layout adheres to Dreamscarred Press' two-column full color standard. The artworks provided for the creatures herein are universally full-color and belong to the more gorgeous, unique of artworks you'll see. While not adhering to a uniform style, the artworks are great and the less than awesome ones from the WiP have been exchanged with higher quality pieces - neat! It should also be noted that the pdf of this book comes with an additional, more printer-friendly version - nice! I can't comment on the print-version since I do not have it.
The team of designers Jeremy Smith, Andreas Rönnqvist, Michael McCarthy, Dale McCoy Jr., Michael Pixton, Jim Hunnicutt, Jade Ripley and Dean Siemsen have done a great job - the psionic bestiary offers quite an array of damn cool psionic creatures, studded with unique signature abilities, using the rules to their full extent, often significantly improving the less than superb examples among the WiP-files. Indeed, the majority of the creatures herein have something significantly cool going for them. Now if there is something to said against the pdf, it would be that there is no template to turn non-psionic creatures into psionic creatures and wilder in the class rules of the respective psionic classes. This is especially baffling to me due to the cover offering an aboleth, of which there is a distinct lack of in the book - why not provide some psionic versions of these iconic foes?
This would constitute the only thing truly missing from this book - a way to codify psionics in a massive choose-your-tricks template - other than that oversight, this book is a glorious bestiary, especially if you're looking for far-out creatures...and for fans of psionics, there's no way past this, anyways. My final verdict will hence clock in at a high recommendation of 5 stars, just short by a tiny margin of my seal of approval.
You can get this great psionic bestiary here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.

Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Dragon Tiger Ox

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Nov 14 2014 - 01:28
 Dragon Tiger Ox

This massive book by Little Red Goblin Games clocks in at 172 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,  7 pages of SRD (with some pages duplicating text from the adventure at the end of the book), leaving us with 163 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now if you've been following my reviews, you'll know that I usually take apart crunch for races and classes in a pretty detailed manner. The problem with a book of this size and my approach is evident  -were I to do that here, the review would bloat beyond compare. Hence, I'll be somewhat less detailed than usual in this review, picking out the cherries and the less than awesome components and highlighting them. Got that? Great!
So after a short introduction to the topics and tropes of WuXia/Wushu and the implied setting of Dragon Tiger Ox, we delve into the basic supplemental pieces of information. A basic introduction to a third alignment axis in the guise of honor can be found here,  as can be new uses for knowledge skills to identify styles. Unlike in a standard assumption of a setting, each character receives a favored style through which they progress, counting their class level as BAB-prerequisites for the purpose of taking these feats. A similar terminology is established for ki-level - that means it class levels in a ki pool gaining class.Additionally, a new combat maneuver may be used to disrupt styles, canceling their benefits and allowing the maneuver's executor to increase the amount of time entering a style takes. While not particularly effective in itself, the maneuver lends itself to a versatile array of possibilities to follow up on. What rather impressed me with its simplicity and yet, genius, would be the diversified martial arts - headbutts, kicks etc. all get their own damage-columns and bonuses - kicks tend to do more damage, but inflict the new off-balance condition on a character executing them. This system not only immediately makes flurry of blows actually interesting, it turned out to work in a rather balanced and cool manner when I tried it out. These alternate rules indeed are glorious and should be deemed a nigh must to make monks and martial artists in general a more interesting playing experience.
Now if you want to go for full-blown WireFu WuXia à la "Hero" and similar movies, an array of solid rules to achieve just that would be provided as well. On the downside, the suggestion to default gestalt as monks with other classes makes sense and fits the tone, but the lack of advice regarding power-levels of characters and adversaries when implementing these rules make them feel more like an afterthought. And yes, gestalting is explained in x guides online, but I maintain that introducing a suggestion like this should also be accompanied by a thorough examination of its ramifications.
Now for the more light-hearted among us, the bad dubbing rules that have you pantomime what your character means and another player say the words might not suit my tastes for a prolonged and serious campaign, mostly due to me trying to explore questions of ethics and psychology as well in my games, but for a fun evening with sake or beer, I can guarantee that the results can be utterly hilarious.
Now race-wise, aasimars and vanaras may choose new alternate racial traits (including a draconic breath weapon). The Guaiwu, one of the new races herein, would imho be just a tiny bit too strong with both darkvision and low light vision, though not by much - still a good example why the RP-rules from the ARG don't work as smoothly as they ought to and by no means broken. That being said, one could nitpick a bit here and there. The second race, the Samebito can be rather overpowered in any aquatic campaign - gaining fast healing in saltwater, these guys are per se a cool race, but one DMs should be a bit wary of in the context of nautically-inclined campaigns. Shishi are awakened from statues of foo lions/dogs and are celestial guardians - and here, I have not even the slightest gripe. On another note - the Guaiwu remain the only race that specifies its RP-cost, in case you were wondering.
A total of 11 racial feats allow half-breeds to have two favored styles, Gaiwu to shoot elemental blasts (with a VERY high range), gain blindsense under water, wield larger weapons etc.  -especially the Gaiwu gain the brunt of cool tricks here, with one-handing two-handed weapons and gaining regeneration temporarily for eating oni-flesh being two examples that skirt what is balanced and what is cool. Generally, I do like the feats on their own, but the concentration of awesome tricks for the Gaiwu and relative lack of coolness for other races bespeaks a kind of favoritism here. Seeing how the race already is powerful when compared to the base races, the damn cool and iconic toys might push them over the edge for *some* DMs, so please read this one carefully. The good news would be that the options provided by themselves are not broken.
A short primer on languages had the linguist in me excited, though the level of detail of e.g. Necropunk's supplements is not reached herein. Beyond a new wildblooded draconic bloodline for sorcerors to represent the eastern dragon's flavor and a new one for ki-centric sorcerors that helps them not suck at ki-tricks/unarmed tricks - at least not as much. The ki/metamagic synergy gained at higher levels also makes for an interesting design choice here. We also receive the ki domain, whose ki-powered channel and the potentially extreme increase of radius for it can easily break the balance when taken in combination with variant channeling or simply a powerful channeling specialist, so take that one with a grain of caution.
Next up would be the 3 new prestige classes – in all brevity, 2 are full BAB-progression classes, the third a ¾ BAB-progression. The Shifu would be a master of one style on the verge of developing his own style – hence, the PrC receives a secondary pool, so-called prowess points, to modify his strikes with. In an interesting take, some of the class abilities depend on the base-class used to class into this PrC. If you happen to know the movie tropes – these guys learn the hardcore martial arts – dealing the same damage as last round via mirror palm (explicitly working with vital strike!) and elemental blasts make for iconic techniques that are powerful, but limited by daily uses. Beyond these, the PrC also receives a disintegration-style killer strike and an insta-death attack – especially the latter is not something I’m generally a fan of in classes that are not the assassin. Yeah, it exists in the literature and movies, but still.
The second PrC herein would be the Jade Warrior, which can be summed up best as a kind of holy warrior that strives to become a balanced paragon of stoic virtues, a kind of anti-dishonor-paladin, if you will – though one powered by ki with quite a few more unique abilities than I would have expected – I particularly liked that their wounds inflicted on dishonorable targets resist magical healing and may leave jade green scars unless treated by restoration.
The third PrC herein would be the Wolong – a hardcore strategist martial artist that learns tactician and similar tricks. While I am not a fan of the general option of a mechanic that allows for counter-strikes and ties the mechanic to initiative (d20 vs. d20 minus 5 – too much variance), I do like the ability – for while I don’t enjoy this component of it, the option to pick their turn apart and e.g. take move actions at a different initiative than standard actions etc. makes for some very interesting changes in tactics. The ability to command allies pales in comparison and has been done in more interesting ways in other classes. However, with the very strong and iconic round-break-up, more would have been unbalancing. That being said – NOT a fan of adding int to damage, even with a max class level caveat – stacking up multiple attributes to base damage is too easy to game.
A couple of rage powers and rogue talents allow for the parrying of unarmed attacks via blades and even monk-style tricks for barbarians, just before we delve into the meat of the setting information with a general overview of the celestial bureaucracy under the emperor. An assortment of suggested deities and heroes is presented, alongside a massive chapter on the diverse sample of clans, orders and schools. If you have access to LRGG’s Heroes of the East-series, you’ll also notice some synergy with the styles established therein, allowing you to easier weave a tangled web of diverse martial traditions and ideologies competing for supremacy.
Of course, no such book would be complete without a new chapter on feats and Dragon Tiger Ox surely delivers in that regard with a massive chapter and MANY, many feats. Rather weirdly, the necessary index-table  shows up after the first couple of feats, but that is admittedly a nitpick. The feats themselves, as befitting of the theme, make ample use of ki and allow non-ki-classes to wilder in this territory; It should also be mentioned that these feats have been built with regards to a kind of compatibility regarding the “Heroes of the East”-series, which generally is rather neat. The fact that the exceedingly cool upgrade to Ki Cannon does not feature the prereq-feat from the HotE-series may gall some people, though. Beyond a significant array of regular feats, we are also introduced to so-called Forbidden Feats – these feats come with significant benefits, usually in the guise of significant damage to the character, even attribute damage, but allow the respective character to regain ki-points. Surprisingly, I have found no easy way to cheese these feats – while it *is* possible, it would require some deep digging and uncommon race/ability combinations not usually available t PCs, so…well done. On another note – it is a bit weird that follow-up feats to Forbidden feats not necessarily are forbidden feats themselves – there seems o be some minor thematic inconsistency going on here, but once again, that’s a nitpick.
As a nice nod towards the glorious Ultimate Campaign supplement, we also receive some thematically appropriate story feats that let you prove that YOUR style is the best…or that your school should be considered supreme to your rivals. Another array of new feats would be introduced herein – qinggong-feats, which essentially represent spell-like abilities that are unlocked via taking the feats. These abilities, while powerful, are tied to ki and burn quite a lot of this resource. The dispelling strikes that allow you to counter magic via ki deserve special mentioning, though I consider the forbidden technique that allows you to convert incoming spells into ki a perpetuum mobile of a finite resource that does require careful oversight. And yes, THAT one can be cheesed, but only at high levels. So yeah, no significant issue.
A total of 5 new styles can also be found within these pages – from the elven Drambor that rewards tumbling through and over foes to the leg irons using Rattling Chain, the styles are one thing – unique. They breathe a kind of inspiration absent from quite a few  published styles out there. Now personally, I consider the Sacred Lotus Style’s option to substitute caster level for BAB for the purpose of delivering touch spells to be rather nasty – while it allows for certain builds to actually work rather well, it also has the potential to go rather awry and become OP depending on the resources you allow as a DM – essentially, as soon as you have a touch attack based class like the warlock-variants (e.g. Interjection Games’ superb Ethermancer), you may wish to think VERY hard before allowing this style. It should be noted that this remains the exception in an array that is otherwise rather interesting – rope-darts, ki-draining – generally, this chapter deserves accolades!
Now the styles have been ample clue here – yes, there also is quite an array of new equipment herein, namely cool stuff like Bond-style throwing hats, flying guillotines etc. – the latter would constitute the one totally broken weapon herein – not only does it have an x5 multiplier (as if x4 wasn’t bad enough…), it also has a damage dice upgrade when used in conjunction with Throw Anything. And yes, it does require a swift action to retract, but still…I don’t see the fun in luck being rewarded this much. Other than that, Umbrella Spears etc. make for interesting options that even allow for some unique tactics.
Where there are mundane items, there are magical ones and this book does deliver in this regard as well – beyond jade and peach wood as materials, an array of ki-powered jade masks, fans with the powers of the wind, wooden oxen figurines, leadening weights, enchanted gourds – quite a diverse array, often with primary passive benefits and additional, active ones that require the expenditure of ki. New magical armor and weapon properties as well as advice on the pricing of these items can be found within this chapter as well.
Now remember those forbidden feats I mentioned? Well, there also are the immortal clans and styles – taught directly by the immortals, theses styles are very powerful, but have significant, story-based drawbacks that really have a massive oomph – from slowly turning into a tree to becoming utterly reckless, these styles work exceedingly well  -why? Because they use the ROLEPLAYING aspect to codify drawbacks in rather unique ways that can enhance the game rather than only relying on sheer numbers. These are feats for mature groups, yes, but damn fine ones – powerful, narrative gold here!
Becoming immortals would also be a distinct possibility and perhaps, most appropriate when going Mythic anyways – yes, this also provides advice on mythic adventures in the cosmos of DTO – From Universal to path-specific abilities, a vast array of mythic versions of feats etc. mean that there indeed is *A LOT* of mythic content herein to use. That being said, the balance, even within the context of mythic rules, has been stretched very thin by some of these options – being treated as always having 1 ki point and adding yet another way of regaining ki can be combined with these abilities to make some truly fearsome combos – now don’t get me wrong; I don’t necessarily consider this inappropriate in the context of Mythic Adventures – but the options herein are powerful indeed and may be considered too much for some DMs not going balls to the wall-crazy with mythic adventures.
A total of 4 different mythic-exclusive styles further increase the fantasy-factor here – clad, for example, in righteous flames, delivering negative levels by the attack – the mythic styles are extremely lethal, but also risky – more so even than the regular immortal styles. Once again, the caveat that they’re intended for the higher power-levels of gaming applies, though these provide less potential for abuse than the vast assortment of path abilities due to story-based limitations of their accessibility.
The final pages of this book are devoted to different ready-made encounters, which, among others, feature the challenge of a 36-chamber pagoda – and generally, I do enjoy these encounters. Alas, the statblocks provided here are rather opaque and the one time the layout failed – no bolding, no clearly distinguished attack/defense-sections – mind you, the words are there, but presentation-wise, the statblocks feel jumbled when they’re not – a good example that layout *is* important.
Conclusion:Editing can be considered very good; I noticed no significant glitches that would have impeded my ability to understand the content; formatting is less impressive, though – I did notice a bunch of glitches especially in the formatting department: From feat names at the bottom of the page, with the rest of the text on the next page to flawed paragraphs and the aforementioned statblock-presentation, this component is simply not that impressive. Which is especially surprising considering the layout – DTO features a beautiful, elegant full-color 2-column standard that manages to still be printer-friendly. However, the book also sports  rather broad borders, which means there’s less text per page. Additionally, many a page sports quite a bit of blank space – some optimization there would have probably spared me quite a few pages when I printed this out. The artworks deserve special mentioning – especially the character art throughout the book is drop-dead gorgeous and on par with the awesome cover. The pdf comes with massive, nested bookmarks that allow for easy navigation.

Designers Dayton Johnson, Scott Gladstein, Caleb Alysworth, Jeremiah Zerby, Ian Sisson and Mike Myler have provided a massive, interesting book here – the love for the genre breathes from the pages and the fluff inherent in quite a few of these options remains compelling and cool. Now don’t expect a campaign setting here – this is a crunch-book with some setting-hints; If you’re looking for a setting, then this might not be for you. Continue reading, though.
Why? Because this massive book is essentially, for better and for worse, a huge grab-bag. Here and there, LRGG devises an alternate rule for something already codified by mainstream Pathfinder in another way, so an awareness and weariness of overlaps and stacking is required of prospective DMs. If you’re willing to approach Dragon Tiger Ox under this premise, though, you’ll be rewarded – unlike many books that feature complaints like the ones I fielded in the above paragraphs, Dragon Tiger Ox breathes the spirit of a true labor of love. In fact, rereading this review, it may even seem less positive than I intended it to be. Yes, there are potentially problematic options in here – but there is also a veritable treasure trove of options to scavenge, allow and use in your campaigns. From the iconic styles to the uncommon items, to the nice codification of ki that opens these tricks for a plethora of builds, Dragon Tiger Ox can be considered a great achievement and most importantly, a fun book.
Is it perfect? No. Do I consider all in this book good or balanced? No. Can I see myself using the vast majority of content herein? Heck yes! While not perfect, I do encourage any fan of WuXia or those wishing to run eastern campaigns to check this book out – it makes for a nice resource to have and its price is rather fair as well. Hence, in spite of some rough edges and the formatting glitches, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars with the caveat that a system-savvy DM should carefully contemplate the content herein prior to using it – some pieces might be inappropriate for some campaigns/rule-book combinations.
You can get this cool resource here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Star Wars Commission: Twilek Sniper

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Mon, Nov 03 2014 - 12:38
Character commission for a twilek sniper. Drawing guns is hard. ;_; Copic Markers on Crescent Rendr paper.
Categories: Art

Star Wars Commission: Mirialan Medic

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Mon, Nov 03 2014 - 12:37
Character commission for a mirialan medic. Her hair got more 80s fabulous than I initially intended, but I think it worked out well. Copic Markers on Crescent Rendr paper.
Categories: Art

Peculiar Ride: Gilly and Alvah

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Mon, Oct 13 2014 - 23:16
The main protagonists of my weird west comic, Gilly Vail and Alvah Schieffelin. More details are on my Patreon page.
Categories: Art

Joumana Medlej Skintones for Photoshop

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Mon, Oct 13 2014 - 13:30
A collection of skintones from Majnouna 's excellent "Drawing People" book. Made in Photoshop CS6.
Categories: Art

GM's MIscellany: Dungeon Dressing

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Wed, Oct 08 2014 - 05:04

GM's Miscellany: Dungeon Dressing 

This massive tome clocks in at 399 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 3 pages of short author bios (which should be included in any roleplaying game supplement - seriously, help the talented folk that craft these books get all the recognition they can!), 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than 388 (!!!) pages of content, making this one of the longest books I've ever reviewed, so let's take a look, shall we?
When I reviewed "Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands" and similar adventures by Raging Swan Press (if you haven't checked these out - get them!), the one thing that caught my eye the most was the sheer brutal amount of details - you know, terrain features, things to actually do, that rendered them so...alive. Concise. Believable. The details mostly absent from many new-school modules, the level of detail lost in many a module since the 3.X days in favor of long statblocks. Well, the series that spawned from the genius realization that details are important would be the Dressing-lines, which contain some of the most ridiculously useful information for any DM you can find - not only for Pathfinder, but for any system.
This is not all that made Raging Swan press modules stand out - remember those dungeons where monsters were placed with neither rhyme, nor reason, wondering how the dragon got into the dungeon etc. - and the annoying rationale "MAGIC!"? Well, this book can be considered the ultimate rebuttal to this type of sloppy design - providing concise information on how to craft intricate dungeons that actually make sense. Basic observations from "Who amde the dungeon?" and "For what purpose?" to former roles it may have had to who actually knows about these tidbits of lore are only the tip of the ice-berg: Considering food and water, access, predators and the like, making good unoccupied rooms that tell stories. Every DM and especially any worldsmith should check these out. Advice on handling a dungeon's physicality (vertical shafts, terrain threats etc.) are provided alongside special considerations for mega-dungeon design and even alternate dungeon designs (of which one can now find a new series by RSP...) - the advice provided here is presented so concisely, it could be deemed a proper checklist for making good dungeons, one that any DM should take a long, hard look at.
Now you may already know that this book collects the numerous Dungeon Dressing-pdfs in one handy tome - but do you realize the extent of what is in here? The following installments are collected herein: Altars, Archways, Bridges, Captives, Ceilings, Chests, Corpses, Doom Paintings, Doors, Double Doors, Dungeon Entrances, Dungeon names, Fiendish Traps I + II, Floors, Fountains, Gates & Portals, Goblin's Pockets, Legends I + II, Mundane Chest Contents, Pits, Pools, Portcullises, Sarcophagi, Secret Doors, Simple Magic Traps, Stair, Statues, Tapestries, Thrones, Trapdoors, Walls and Wells. Additionally, the 3 "So what's the Riddle like, anyways?" are part of the deal and an extensive excerpt from the immensely useful "All that Glimemrs"-compilation has also been provided, sporting a total of 20 treasure hoards at your disposal - after all, dungeons need treasure!
Now you probably have seen that one coming - but I have written reviews for ALL OF THE ABOVE. Yeah. Looking at it from my current vantage point, I feel somewhat OCD...be that as it may, you can easily look up all those reviews, so no, I won't repeat myself and cover all of these again. Even if I did, the resulting review would probably clock in at more than 20 pages, so yeah.
What I *do* focus on here would be the new content provided - let's begin with new Fiendish Traps, shall we? A total of 3 new ones of these nasty, complex traps are provided, making essentially "Fiendish Traps III" a part of the deal here. The first here makes for an exceedingly smart trapped puzzle-lock for an undead (or similar creature's) lair: Different alcoves contain different skulls, with each skull representing one of the bare necessities of life - hunger, thirst, etc. - in order to open the vault door, all traps have to be triggered at the same time, resulting in magic-induced thirst, famine, suffocation and an attack by an animate dream...Ouch and oh so iconic and cool! The defense-hallway sporting poisonous gas and fetchling snipers is nasty as well, as is the traps that is a variant of the classic endless falls, which also adds a temporal distortion to the whole deal - awesome!
Now one of the most overlooked and easiest way to make a dungeon not work is to not get the illumination/sight-question of the inhabitants right. Sans darkvision, inhabitants better have some sort of way to provide for sight - and since this one is also combat-relevant, it will come up - I guaranteed it. Hence, we have one of the most useful DM-cheat-sheets of the whole series in this new chapter, providing everything you need to know in that regard rules-wise at one glance. Want to know how this goes even faster - whether braziers, candelabras (1 page each), fireplaces (2 pages), lanterns, magical lights, torch sconces (all 1 page) - the book actually provides so much variation, you'll never need to reply with "ehem...there are torches." ever again - detailed, versatile and downright brilliant, this chapter is glorious in its evocative details, even before the 2 new light-based traps.
Now of course, one can note that the topics of the book mentioned above do not cover every potentiality of dungeon exploration or design - hence, the book also covers carpets and rugs, evidence left by previous explorers (foreshadow those hostile NPC-groups!), grafitti,, junk and rubbish, mirrors, eeerie atmospheres (!!!), clothes and possessions, strange magical affects, strange smells, strange sounds, specialized priest's and wizard's chests, provisions, mirrors,  odds and sundries, clothes and miscellaneous possessions and YES! LOCKS! The oversight of all door-pdfs now receive their own table! Each of these new tables is at least one page strong, with several covering 2 pages and the locks coming with DC/cost/quality-cheat-sheet mini-table. Wow. Just wow.
It should be noted that, for your convenience, the book also provides 2 pages of index for traps by CR ( with the CR covering the range from None to 15 and providing page numbers) and statblocks by CR (ranging from 1/2 to 9, also with page numbers) for easier navigation.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are thoroughly impressive - I have seldom seen a book of this size with this high quality in these two regards - top-notch and awesome. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf can be considered printer-friendly. Artwork is fitting b/w and the pdf comes in two versions, one to be printed out and one for screen use. But unless you went full-blown tablet, I'd suggest you get the gorgeous hardcover - I have it and its binding is professional and both paper and glossy cover make this tome a beauty of elegance indeed.
The authors Ben Armitage, Alexander Augunas, Aaron Bailey, John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Jeff Erwin, James Graham, Brian Gregory, Eric Hindley, Ben Kent, Thomas King, Greg Marks, Andrew J. Martin, Jacob W. Michaels, Julian Neale, Chad Perrin, David Posener, Brian Ratcliff, Pierre van Rooden, Liz Smith, Josh Vogt, Mike Welham can be proud indeed - why? Because this book is a milestone.
I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I say that this belongs in the arsenal of every DM - period. I had the individual pdfs before and I used them - quite extensively, mind you, but this is something different. Sit down with it and start rolling - in less than 30 minutes you'll have an extremely detailed dungeon at your fingertips, with players not realizing that the complex you created not stemming from a professional module, but from your pen. That is, they may realize it, since this book renders your dungeons memorable, awesome and makes SENSE.
Much like the superb "Wilderness Dressing"-book, the organization in this tome is one of the subtle, yet downright brilliant components - the arrangement of the components may be neat - but there's something apart from that which makes this work so much better than its component pdfs. Beyond collecting all in one handy tome, this book eliminates the small blank spaces left by the component pdfs - the small odds and ends, the carpets, the locks - what has been missing before now is simply there.
Another scenario - you've bought a module and like the dungeon, but it feels sterile, perhaps due to page-count not sufficing? Use this book and in less than 10 minutes, you'll potentially have a dungeons your players will talk about for years to come.
I've beaten around the bush long enough - not only for Pathfinder, but  for just about any fantasy-system, this massive book is a godsend. If you have a dungeon, you need this book - it's simple as that. I've been using it in my game ever since I got my greedy hands on it and the sheer massive amount of content and awesomeness in this book is enough to make dungeons feel alive once again. Yes, not all components are super-duper-mega-awesome, but that fact remains that the majority *is* just that - and that the sum here is so much more than its component parts.
This is one of those very few mile-stone supplements that simply offer no reason not to get them - the extremely fair, low price point (for this amount of content!) adding a significant, further dimension to the awesomeness that is this book. I wouldn't ever want to miss this glorious tome and
I'm running out of superlatives fast - so let's end this  -this book is a must-have.
An instant classic.
One of the most useful books I've ever had the pleasure to review.
If you don't have this book, it's high time you'll add it to your library. I guarantee that you'll love this - and if that's not enough, Raging Swan Press does have a money back guarantee if you're not satisfied.
This book is a hot contender for the number 1 spot of my Top Ten of 2014. My final verdict is 5 stars + seal of approval - the maximum of my scale and had I any other scale, it would score that high still. This book henceforth also is part of the books I consider essential for any campaign - hence, it receives the "EZG Essential"-descriptor.
You can get this monument of a book here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Peculiar Ride: Sailor Gilly

DeviantArt - Liz Courts - Tue, Oct 07 2014 - 10:17
This is what happens when you stay up late talking with other artists. You get Sailor Moon mashups.

Also, Peculiar Ride is a webcomic that I'll be starting up Soon™. More details are at my Patreon page, but to sum up: a giant armadillo riding circuit judge travels in an antebellum Weird West where magic and technology have collided.
Categories: Art

EZG reviews Dunes of Desolation

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Oct 03 2014 - 05:58

Dunes of Desolation

This massive book clocks in at 193 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive array of 188 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!
So "Dunes of Desolation", hmm? This pdf's name would be considered audacious when used by most publishers  -"Desert of Desolation" as a boxed set made some of my most precious, fondest memories back in the day - the glorious maze, the sky-boat at the pyramid's top, the logical, cool social sandbox at the oasis, the sheer level of detail, the sea of glass - this beast had so much going for it. So how does this one fare?
Well, first of all, this Book should be considered part of a direct line with Necromancer Games/ Frog God Games' Glades of Death and Dead Man's Chest - i.e. an extremely detailed environmental source-book in the style of publications of old, with a focus on information instead of x lame variants of races/classes as some other *cough* environmental supplements delivered.
Thus, we begin this massive sourcebook with an array of considerations regarding deserts  -from desert-types (hot and dry deserts, for example), to how they come to be to transition zones and handy tables to determine water availability, this section should be considered somewhat educational as well as simply useful and inspiring. The next logical concern would pertain to travel and settlements, which include not only handy tables to determine settlement types, concerns of tolls and desert animals of the fantastic variety and how to purchase them. Deserts as a dangerous place also sport a variety of hazards, which would be represented in e.g. proper stats for agave-poison and even peyote - but beyond that, the dangers of impure water are also addressed with a variety of nasty afflictions the PCs can receive.
Taking the details one step further, the corrosive effects of deserts also receive their own rules and mirages, quicksand and similar iconic challenges are addressed alongside dangerous animals and vermin, rain...and, of course, temperature. The handy charts for temperatures, wind speed etc. are simply glorious (though I wished they were included in °C as well as in °F - while not complicated, my European mind still has to make the conversion and I always have to think a bit when I read °F until I remember  the way to do it.). Among the more mechanic options, sliding on sand and dunes via acrobatics makes sense and the challenging survival DC-modifiers feel appropriate.
We also receive  an array of new feats and while the majority of them are okay, a couple really stand out - e.g. one that allows you to put ranks in fly sans a means of personal flight or one that allows you to deal regular damage to swarms. Much more enticing, at least for me, would be the selection of desert equipment provided  -from detailed outfits to waterskins that contain al-haloon kidneys that can purify water to magical treats like a sonic crack of doom-rattlesnake whip, enchanted ankhs and astrolabes to better flying carpets (4!!!) to magical dates, enchanted harem veils, and, of course, genie lamps. What about an array of damn cool magical hookahs?
We also are introduced to quite an extensive collection of new monsters, all of which come with beautiful, original b/w-artworks. Now regarding the beasts - from jackal shapechangers to serpentine threats, undead gunslingers, deadly cacti - a solid selection of creatures, including deadly demons, are provided. Many of these guys, gals and...things have unique signature abilities, which is nice to see, but even when they don't they tend to evoke a distinct sense of...belonging. Much like reading old monster manuals, these creatures feel distinct - what about, for example a cherub-like being with a  slumber-inducing breath? An evil killer-bunny relative to the Al-Miraj? It's surprisingly hard to put the appeal of the creatures into words, for while they do not bombard you with awesome signature abilities or exceedingly clever builds, they feel like they've been taken straight from a mythology book of another world. They have this sense of cohesion and combination of imagery and concept that makes them feel, for lack of a better word...real. Or at least possible. Granted, the superb artwork does its fair share of the job here, but still - impressive.
The same partially goes for the spells  -getting a cactus-body, a buff to remain chaste, counter cursing - sabotaging divinations, excavating a den of thieves to hide inside - the spells have a very classic touch to them that should assure them finding homes in plenty a campaign. What about trapping foes in a giant hourglass of sand? While not all of the spells herein can be considered truly iconic or glorious, there is quite an assortment that does feel magical. The core classes also receive ample support in the guide of archetypes (and in the sorceror's case, respective exclusive bloodlines) - from camel-riding mounted barbarians to scalp-takers, seductive concubines, the genie-hunting sha'ir, the keepers of the dead, palace guards, dervishs, sadhus, janissaries, to trance warriors, bazaar thieves and Viziers - while mechanically, these archetypes have in common that they're solid, if not awe-inspiring, they do have something different going for them - they are unique. They feel right and concise and they are anchored within the context of the environment and setting. Their very concepts resonate and make them feel...cool. Yes, preventing foes from attacking you is one thing that can be achieved via many means, but as soon as your courtesan PC accomplishes this with an ability called "1001 Nights", you'll be grinning a bit broader, won't you?
The massively detailed chapter on religions follows this level of detail - providing essentially a massive origin myth, an explanation for the providence of the churches that adhere to one faith, but still are very distinct and different, taking cues from what amounts to saints turned deities, this chapter is massive in detail and the primary deities come in excessive detail - while sans e.g. obediences and the like , they otherwise stand in no way behind the deities provided by e.g. the Inner Sea Gods, with copious information on doctrine, clothing, clergy etc. being provided Comparably in short-hand, but also there would be two full additional pantheons, adding ample chance for religious strife, cults, etc.
And here begins the section of the 3 adventures, so players beware, for the djinn pronounce woe upon the thousand year damnation of those players bound to tread within the following paragraphs.
All right, DMs only remaining? Great! The first module, Child's Play, is nasty - a particularly sadistic efreet has crafted a devious scheme - in the House of Thousan Delights, he grants people everything they ever wished for, offering for them to stay forever or return to their downtrodden, despondent existence - with the other option, of course, being a trap most foul, sending them to an extradimensional dollhouse replica of his palace to be hunted down there. When a djinn-blooded child runs afoul of this dastardly plot, her unusual physiognomy instead transports her brain and other parts of her into dolls - enter the PCs, who have to willingly enter the deadly playing ground and rescue her...of course, unbeknownst to the PCs, everything is MUCH more complicated, starting with the true master of the place being not as he seems - but in the case of nosy players still straying, I will not spoil the reveals - HINT: They're awesome.
The second module, King of Beasts, begins with beasts suddenly targeting men and becoming aggressive - coinciding with the notorious hunting troupe "Game Over" - to unearth the truth behind the attacks, the PCs have to deal with the grief of a sphinx in the guise of the lionweres serving it, prevent a dread curse from spreading, brave the desert sands in a rather epic trek through the hostile terrain, hone their detective-skills and finally, hopefully, manage to wrest the soul of an erstwhile force from good from the metaphorical clutches of a grimoire most foul.
The final module, My Blue Oasis, asks the question when it is required to let go of life-long obsessions and dreams and what kind of cost one is willing to pay for a change for the better. Oh, have I mentioned that a dragon, derro, and a potentially cataclysmic 42 million tons of water are there to unleash upon the world? Yeah, if you want to make your world Cerulean Seas as a change of pace, here's a very good option - and yes, here we have a type of artifcat that may spawn whole campaigns...wars even.
The pdf concludes with a random encounters-table for desert creatures and a table of random desert events, much like a miniature wilderness dressing.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are excellent - in spite of the book's size, it sports next to no glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book comes with MANY awesome, original b/w-artworks. I have rarely seen this amount of great art in a non-kickstarter book - this one is beautiful in all the right ways. The massive tome also comes with neat cartography, though I wished key-less versions of the maps t hand out to players had been provided in an appendix. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the print-version since I don't have it yet.
Designer Tom Knauss and conversion content editors Erica Balsley, Skeeter Green and John Ling have done a great job here: Frog God Games is not known for crunch-mastery or the like, but among the crunchy bits in their supplements, this ranks as one of the best so far. But you don't buy this for the crunch, anyways, do you? Figured. At least if you're ticking like me, you get Frog God Games-supplements because they feel concise, because they have this mythical flair, because they treat magic and the fantastical not as a commodity, while still managing to instill a sense of logical cohesion that makes the supplements and modules plausible and ultimately, relatable.
This ephemeral quality extends to just about everything herein - even the crunch; The material provided herein in that regard is superior to Dead Man's Chest and Glades of Death...and indeed, this is one glorious beast of an environmental source-book...even before the modules. Kudos to the conversion team and the obvious effort that has gone into making the feats et al. actually contribute something neat to the game - crunch-wise, this is perhaps the best book by FGG so far. And the monsters and modules...let's just say there's a reason I've been this opaque. Even in Frog God Games' oeuvre, they stand out. The 3 modules are detailed, breathe the spirit of Arabian Nights and the fantastic in equal measures and deserve the moniker "...of Desolation" in that they do not stand one inch behind the legendary boxed set in imaginative potential and believability, perhaps even transcending it.
Now in a book of this size, not all crunch is perfect, not every item can be a winner, not every spell mind-boggling - I do not claim that it is. What I can wholeheartedly claim is that this is the type of book that makes reviewing worthwhile - the writing is actually so good, I felt hard-pressed at times to step away and let sink what I've read. This made me dust off my 6 Arabian Nights-print-out and  makes for a superb addition to any desert-campaign, even if you choose to ignore the Lost Lands-fluff. Add to that the low price-point and superb production values, and we have a collection of adventures that no self-respecting DM should pass by....whether you go for the Desert of Desolation, the Southlands of Midgard or to unearth the Legacy of Fire/Mummy's Mask - I guarantee that this tome will make your desert more alive, more real. This is a glorious tome, a fun read, and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, while also qualifying as a candidate for my best-of 2014 - get this awesome beast of a book!
You can get this awesome tome here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Sep 26 2014 - 04:30
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat

This massive tome clocks in at 168 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of backer-list, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 160 pages of content, so let's take a look!
But before we do, full disclosure: After receiving the Beta-version of these rules and thoroughly enjoying them, I was asked to be a stretch-goal for this book and thus have contributed some content to this book. I do not consider my verdict in any way compromised by this, but felt obliged to mention it anyways. The archetypes I contributed are clearly discernible (since the book properly credits its guest authors - which is awesome!), so judge for yourself.
Got that? All right. So the basic question this book poses is one that has haunted me for multiple iterations and roleplaying systems - why are critical hits so boring? Yeah, bonus damage may be nice, but let's face it - the additional numbers just aren't that cool. In older systems I essentially scavenged and homebrewed components from e.g. rollmaster, but those brought their own issues. When the critical hit and fumble decks hit shelves, I went for them. They didn't do the trick for me, being not extensive enough and a tad bit too random for my tastes. Just taking and modifying systems from other rule-sets also proved to be not the best option.
Enter Laying Waste. The base system is ridiculously easy to grasp - all crits deal max base damage. There are no more critical confirmation rolls - these have been replaced by so-called severity checks: These are essentially a d20-roll + the the excess amount the attack beat the target's AC and also fractures in the critical modifier of the weapon and the size of the weapon. Even bonus damage, different size categories etc. are taken into account. What sounds moderately complex in a review's text is actually exceedingly simple on paper and thanks to the concise examples given. Now additionally, severity checks then result in no additional effect, a light wound effect, a moderate wound effect or a severe wound effect. Some of these wound effects have saves to mitigate - so yes, while you make chop off nose, puncture eyes or even behead foes, they will have to have failed a save to suffer such debilitating effects. Once you have determined the severity of the wound, you roll a d% to check the effect, with each table offering a massive 50 entries of different wounds  that makes 150 for piercing, bludgeoning and slashing EACH. While there are some overlaps of wounds between the respective damage types, these are the exception rather than the rule, resulting in the diversity and uniqueness of the remarkable occasions of criting being significantly increased - it's no longer: "Remember how I dealt 47 damage to the ogre in one stroke!", but rather "Remember how it took that ogre's arm clean off?" Yeah. You probably get why prefer systems like this.
Now in case you haven't noticed - this results in a significantly increased gritty-factor and a kind of increased realism that gets rid of an, at least for me, unpleasant abstraction in the rules. Now another part of the effect would be the prevalence of bleed-effects - it never made sense to me that bleed doesn't stack and for the purposes of this system, it does. Means of recovery and the heal skill also are properly implemented - no longer is the latter a waste of skill points, but rather a nice option to help keep your battered allies together. Now this base system can be further modified rather easily via a couple of optional rules that worked well in my tests.
Now, of course one would assume that synergy with e.g. already published feats would become wonky, but since severity replaces the critical confirmation roll, the bonus added can be simply carried over - elegant. Now this book does sport a vast array of new feats to support the system - the table alone covers over 5 pages, just to give you an idea of the scope. If I don't want to bloat the review worse than Kaer Maga's bloodmagic practitioners, I'll have to resort to giving you a general overview, all right?
The feats generally interact and expand with the new system - take the very first feat, acrobatic reflexes: Instead of a ref-save, this allows wounds that prompted a ref-save to avoid the wound's effects via acrobatics. Other feats allow you to treat the base damage (e.g. piericing) as another damage type. Of course, just about all common class/race features can be expanded as well - racial foe/hatred? There's a feat for it. Better threat range against foes unaware of you? Yep. Increased bleed damage whenever you cause it? Bingo. On a plus-side - shields receive more relevance: With the right shields, you receive a chance to negate the critical hit. Yes. The whole hit. Why do I consider this a good thing? Well, at first, I didn't. In actual game-play, it did add a level of dynamics, a roller coaster of emotions to the combat: When my Death Knight scored a decapitation against the paladin, who then proceeded to negate the attack, the player was sitting on the edge of his chair. Now some of the feats admittedly are "only" a good idea that could use proper expansion into a full-blown system: Take critical channel - Roll a d20 every time you channel: On a 20, double the effects. While this one won't break any game and gives the channeling player some of the criting satisfaction, I still maintain that a full-blown system would work better here. I'm also not a fan of adding a second attribute (like e.g. cha) as a modifier to damage, even if it's only on critical hits, but that's a personal preference and won't influence the final verdict. Now Deflect Blow is also an interesting feat - as an immediate action, you may opt to be hit by an attack, but receive DR /- equal to you BAB against the attack. No way to exploit, tax of one feat, action-economy-restriction - this is an example for a damn fine feat. Why? Because it makes combat more dynamic, adds some tactics and can't be cheesed via items, buffs etc. Opting to increase the threat range at the chance of an increased fumble-rate.
Another peculiarity of the feats herein would be that, beyond the weapon damage type finally mattering more, the feats also often require specific weapon qualities to work, lending the respective builds towards a more diverse weapon selection and thus, fighting styles. While by far not all feats herein are winners, the vast majority actually work in rather awesome ways and serve to neatly expand the base system's impact. Now Laying Waste would not be a massive book on mechanics without new archetypes -a total of 16, each crediting the respective author (and yeah, these include Rachel Venture, John Reyst, James Olchak, Adam Meyers, Clinton J. Boomer (!!!) and yours truly). Now generally, the archetypes are rather high-concept: James Olchak's Bajquan Imperial Bodyguard, for example, makes for one of the coolest bodyguard archetypes I've seen in a while - and while regaining ki by receiving damage can be cheesed with regeneration and fast healing, it is at least slow - still, that particular ability imho requires further restrictions to prevent all-out cheesing. Brian Berg's sinister Blood Archer, firing arrows clad in virulent poison with bone bows just oozes cool imagery. On teh other hand of the spectrum, Rachel Ventura's woodland snipers bounded to nature spirits, teh Dakini, are less sinister, but still damn cool. 
My Disembowler archetype is all about wielding oversized weapons (and yes, I plainly disregarded the cluster-f*** that is the Titan Mauler FAQ in favor of a simpler solution)...and gaining, at later levels a friggin' one-man cannon. This barbarian archetype also is all about NASTY severity-effects and may wilder somewhat in the gunslinger's arsenal. Now some Otakus may start grinning right now - If you haven't realized it: I made this one as a personal love letter to the character Guts from Kentaro Miura's legendary dark fantasy Manga-saga Berserk. Conversely, my master of 1000 cuts, a fighter specialist of bleeding criticals actually came, concept-wise from my 2nd edition-days, before the bleeding rules were nerfed to smithereens - with Laying Waste fixing that, I could finally update the cool concept and modernize it. James Olchaks fighting-style analyzing Mockingbird-rogue is cool and Rachel Ventura's take on the Amazon actually makes a low armor, agile barbarian based on CHA work. Now if you've seen any WuXia-movie ever, I probably won't have to explain the concept of the pressure point master I wrote - Iless damage, better critical effect control would be what to expect here. (On a personal note: Thanks to all the reviewers that explicitly commented how they liked this one!) Adam Meyers also has something rather cool up his sleeve - the head honcho of Drop Dead Studios provides some cool Sneak Attack Substitutions. Now I don't have to tell you that Clinton J. Boomer's contributions are high concept and awesome - heavily armored dwarven barbarian? Ninja? Yeah. Brian Berg also provides a more down-to-earth sword master and a mace specialist. James Olchak's Spiked Gauntlet/Armor-specialist also makes for a neat take on the trope. John Reyst's Vandals are barbarians all about stealing and destroying.
Now it's only fair in a system of cool critical hits to apply the same thoroughness to critical fumbles -a distinction between melee, ranged and natural critical fumbles covers all the bases for the mundane ways to botch. This part of the system is just as optional and modular as the base system, but also damn cool. Now going even beyond that, Laying Waste takes groups that play with Armor as DR and Called Shots as variant rules into account and provides rather extensive advice on using the systems in conjunction, should you choose to. While I liked both base systems (introduced in Ultimate Combat, if my memory serves right) idea-wise, their execution did not work for my group when I introduced them, but since some groups will like them, kudos! Now I already mentioned the increase in significance the poor heal-skill receives and yes, the rules here are concise as well.
Beyond that, magical items and item qualities, a nice piece of short fiction and the fully statted Cr 15 fetchling magus on the cover as an iconic round out the book.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting, not the biggest strength of TPK Games, is better here than in any other book they've released so far - while minor glitches can be found, their frequency is low enough to not impede one's enjoyment of the book. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly 2-column b/w standard (with red highlights) and the b/w-art is original, old-school and nice, apart from the full color cover and single pieces here and there. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked and hyperlinked for your convenience.
This critical system is AWESOME. There's no way around it. If I had not considered it great, I wouldn't have agreed to work on it. Now, quite some time has passed and the system has seen some use and I can wholeheartedly say - it has improved the game. Combat is more dynamic, crits are more memorable - and best of all - the system is ridiculously easy to learn and master, elegant in design and modular: Don't like the fumbles? Ignore them. Don't like a feat/archetype? Ignore it. Even better, the system does not require other supplements to be specifically designed for it - each new supplement you buy can easily be made to adhere to Laying Waste's rules - this system will remain relevant. That being said, I wouldn't be Endzeitgeist if I had no complaints - some feats and archetypes didn't blow me away, but that's all right. A more significant catch would be that this book, by intention, is all about martials and martial crits - alchemical, magical or psionic crits will have to wait for Laying Waste II, which will also be made. So yeah, there's a gap in the system there, but one that is acknowledged. After several months of playtesting this beast, I can say that neither I, nor my players ever wish to return to the boring, bland default rules. This book may not be perfect, but you can cherry-pick it very well and the general system is elegant and downright genius.
If dark fantasy, horror, scars or just a gritty, more realistic fantasy is what you're looking for, if crits no longer result in excitement at your table - then you MUST get this. Even if you just want an array of wounds or additional effects for your own critical system, this beast is well worth the fair asking price. My final verdict will take all of these into account, but ultimately reflects one fact: There are few books that see this much use at the table, that so effortlessly increased fun - and while I can't always play with it (since I do a lot playtesting), it has become a permanent fixture in my main campaign. Now when do we finally get book 2? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval plus a nomination as a candidate for my best-of 2014.
You can get this great system here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Plight of the Tuath II - Vasily's Woe

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Sep 05 2014 - 06:32

The second installment in Mór Games' epic saga clocks in at a massive 101 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 94 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
This being and adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here?
After triumphing in the former module, Philiandrius the mage contacts the PCs again to travel to the town Innskittering to reclaim the so-called "Antecedent of Easement" as a first step towards foiling the invasions of the Fomoire and their dread deity.  Providing them with a means of contacting him and some scrolls, the PCs are sent on their way toward the town of Safeharbor - provided they can prevent their ship from being sunk by magma elementals. In Safeharbor, the PCs may unwittingly gain the attention of the Sect "The Culling" - people that hunt good clerics and wizards because they want the peace bought from the evil gods to remain intact. Morally interesting, this fascinating nod towards the structure of deities and belief in the Imperiums Campaign Setting makes for a compelling set-up that adds a unique dimension to the setting, but one you can easily ignore or reappropriate. Which also brings me to a point - in case you have not played Plight of the Tuath's first module, you are not left alone - the module offers ample advice on running this as a stand-alone, though it mho loses some of its glorious fluff if you do so. Advice on additional tricks to challenge exceptionally capable parties also can be found throughout the module, which renders running it for pros (like my players) easier.
Now back to the plot - I mentioned the Culling already, and know what - the first killer of them the PCs may encounter actually gets a massive, concisely-written background story and actually is a well rounded character. Now Innskittering, guarded by magical mists, hits a soft spot with me - the sinister village, with its old hagish barkeeper, the module's eponymous creepy rhyme-song "Vasily's Woe" and the subtle sense of decreptitude and death, the town and its non-too-friendly inhabitants may well end up as troop-style mobs out for the PC's blood - after all, the temple the PCs will have to enter is taboo ground for strangers. In the exceeding, cool flavor of the module, the very guardian statues of the temple receive their own legends. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the recent outbreaks of plagues (which, as a backdrop of looming despair, is also reflected in tinctures and long-nosed plague masks as available items to purchase - including a stunning artwork for the mask) has had the despairing villagers transform people into soul-bound marionettes  -and the path of breadcrumbs leads to Petrov Manor.
In the dark manor, the PCs may save a gnome as they explore the place - now if you're like me, here's one final example why this module is such a great read: A small box fills us in on a gnomish custom - the small folk have been hunted by doppelgangers for generations and thus tend to show their "colors" by picking their skin and bleeding, believing doppelganger blood to be of a different color than red. This also influences jewelry, which often comes with a means to picking one's skin. Now mind you, small cultural tidbits that make sense on a very fundamental logic level within the context of a setting might seem paltry to you, but you *notice* these things on a subconscious level and they all come together.
Now, beyond the investigation of the manor, which in its dressing and challenges, remains distinctly medieval (and unlike most haunted manor scenarios ), the PCs can also explore the manor grounds, where a dread cult taken root -or go directly to the witch Yaga Petrov, who makes for essentially the boos of this module - if they manage to survive her unique spells, the demonic infestation and oh so much more.
The module also comes with a full-page hand-out of stats for a certain gnome, information on the 4 exceedingly cool emergences the PCs may receive during this module (think of trait-like/spell-like rewards for actions that may be lost...or further explored...), fully detailed and statted villages with legends, properly narrated and phrased galore, 10 magic items with EXCESSIVE background information, 6 original monsters, optional rules for minor and major divine rituals, write-ups for the religions of 4 deities (including rituals, SAMPLE BLESSINGS and subdomains...) and finally, 4 pregens, all with their own full-color artworks.
Easy to print-out b/w-cheat cards for DMs to show or have ready for key-NPCs and player-friendly versions of 6 of the maps (all they could conceivably research in the module) are provided.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch - while e.g. one of the statblocks has a "1" missing before the 6 in the AC-entry, the modifiers remain and that was the most grievous glitch I noticed - for a module of this length, quite impressive. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that is easy to read...and makes me weep that I don't have this in print...yet. Seriously, the first "Plight of the Tuath"-module was beautiful, this perhaps is even more so. The artworks are, no hyperbole, on Paizo-level, depending on your tastes, perhaps even beyond it. It should also be noted that the module is internally hyperlinked and excessively bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is line-drawn and nice - and plentiful.
"Vasily's Woe" is an exercise is great story-telling that even has some sand-boxy, non-linear qualities to it. While, in its heart, a relatively simple investigation/explore spooky places-module, this adventure actually made it hard for me to put it aside. I'm not kidding.  I do not often come across a module I want to read to the end, taking my laptop to bed with me after staring all day long at text. William Moomaw's "Vasily's Woe" did just that. Where the first module by Mór Games had some slight issues with a potentially overshadowing NPC, some non-standard rules in the climax etc., this one also provides unique rules - but ones that actually make sense within the context of the module, and sans contradicting existing ones. But you don't necessarily will want to buy this for the crunch.
You want to buy this for the atmosphere, the ingenuity of the writing, the mastery of the little cultural tidbits that make a world come alive. The atmosphere can be perhaps described as a captivating blend of Russian and Gaelic myth, dosed with a nice sprinkle of danse macabre, an a coherent world-building that may be based on systems and creatures we know, but gives them a whole new dimension. This is more "The Witcher" than Golarion - grittier, but not necessarily darker. The amount of detail provided for...well, EVERYTHING, steeps everything in a sense of antiquity that utilizes subtle techniques of myth-weaving to create a beautiful tapestry of interconnecting dots PCs and players alike may explore at the same time, generating an (Almost always optional) level of detail scarcely seen in modules. Better yet, the overall panorama drawn here is one I really, really love - while managing to generate a sense of antiquity, of an old and ancient world, at the same time, this module succeeds in being FRESH.
This module and its setting, from what I could glean of that, manages to be at once defiantly old-school and suffused with a sense of the ancient and mythological (in the proper academic term's various notions), while at the same time carving its own identity and making a defiant stand against settings that have bloated themselves with races, thinking that by adding a race with x modifiers, they can create a richer backdrop of cultures, when they can't even get proper human cultures right. This module has more awareness of what makes a world believable than the vast majority of settings I've read (and enjoyed). It boils down to the attention of detail and the proper THINKING THROUGH of its components, which come together as something greater than the sum of its parts.
You may have noticed that I have remained relatively opaque throughout the review - this is not due to an inability to describe the plot, but rather from my desire to not spoil this one and the reading experience, this offers.
William Moomaw and Mór Games deliver a module, which, while not flawless, makes for a superb reading, a compelling adventure and top-notch production values. Add to that the fact that this is only the second product of Mór Games and I'm really stoked to see where the company and its Imperiums-campaign setting will go in the future. I remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and a nomination as a Candidate for my Top Ten of 2014.
You can get this glorious module here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Perplexing Puzzles #1: A Crystal Puzzle is Forever

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Sep 05 2014 - 06:17

This FREE pdf clocks in at 14 pages, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let's take a look at what this offers, shall we?
As you can see, this pdf is FREE and about PUZZLES. Yes, puzzles. Remember those? You know the type that, back in the days of 1st and 2nd edition, provided the awesome brain-teasers, the food for your grey matter beyond crunching combat-numbers? Yeah. There aren't many around anymore, which I consider rather a pity - so what are these about?
Essentially, the idea is relatively simple - you have crystals and rods to poke the crystals with. There are three types of rods - one red, one green, one blue. Crystals can have up to 4 different colors - red, green, blue and clear. Each of the rods has a specific result when poking a crystal. Taking for example a blue rod to poke a crystal will have the following results:
-It makes a red or green crystal blue.-It makes a blue crystal clear.-It also affects all adjacent crystals (not those diagonally adjacent) to the crystal touched.
Each rod has a different array of such rules that make figuring the puzzles out rather fun - and easily expandable.
Each Puzzle herein has a base configuration of colored crystals and a goal configuration to reach and the difficulty ranges from child's play to challenging - the penultimate puzzle took my group about 30 minutes to get right and my guys are good at solving logical puzzles. If you as the DM can't be bothered to solve this, sample steps to solve the puzzles are provided, though it should be noted that these not always are the most efficient way to solve these.
Now if this looks rather underwhelming on paper, rest assured that it's actually fun if your players enjoy  actually thinking and flexing their mental muscles. I know my players enjoyed it enough to to make me make puzzles like these the basic technology of hotwiring the creations of one particular ancient civilization in my game.
While primarily intended as a mini-game while waiting for the one guy who's late, the 5 sample puzzles provided can easily be expanded by an enterprising DM to include many, many more.  A total of 4 pages of dot-cut-outs to represent crystals is provided as well, if your players need a visual cue - for advanced groups, I'd suggest not providing these, since it makes the task slightly more complicated and is a nice memory-training exercise.
Now the pdf also offers some advanced tricks - If your players have too hard a time, provide a multi-colored rod that can change colors - especially nice if your PCs failed to find one of the rods. If you're sadistic (or to reflect botched UMD-checks, there is a variant which changes a random crystal's color every 5 moves. This should NOT be used for the more complex puzzles, though - your players won't be happy about it. Finally, there is a kind of template for a golem who can be tuned to a color, with different special attacks based on the crystal color they're attuned to.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor non-standard rules-language in the end, that is not something problematic or grievous in a free product. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has rudimentary bookmarks.
Okay, I'll come right out and say it - I love this pdf. A) It's FREE. B) It inspired me - the possibilities of this deceptively simple system are endless -  more complex patterns of crystals? Possible. A Ziggurat that needs to be solved, with crystals strewn throughout the dungeon, requiring exploration to get the pattern and then solve it? Possible. Creatures that have superb defensive powers (Vastly increased DR etc.) and need to be solved first, requiring attacks with the rods while they try to bash you to smithereens? Possible. The potential of this humble little book is staggering and it simply is FUN. Now granted, if your players don't enjoy logic puzzles, then this might not be for you - but come on, give it a try. Remember those days when gaming was a teaser for the intellect as well as the imagination, from the time to which we point when we tell ourselves that gamers are above average in intelligence. Unleash your nerd and dare to use some fun puzzles - you literally have nothing to lose with these - they're for FREE and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval - an awesome free product by Bradley Crouch.
You can get this neat pdf for FREE here on OBS!
Interjection Games also currently has a kickstarter running for "Strange Magic" - check it out if you're by now bored by Vancian casting and want to see a Tome of Magic-style book done right!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs
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