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Path of Shadows

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, May 08 2015 - 10:37
Path of Shadows





This freshman offering of Ascension Games clocks in at 81 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 75 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?                                                                   Disclaimer: This book went up in my review-queue do to me receiving a dead tree copy and not having to print everything out. My review's verdict was in no way influenced by receiving this copy.
Ah, shadow magic - scarcely a concept in 3.X has been so prominent and yet so utterly ill-defined and mechanically sucky. Thankfully, 3pps have a knack for singling out such systems and then developing them  -take a look at Radiance House's Pact Magic, Interjection Games' Truenaming or Dreamscarred Press' Akashic Mysteries, for examples. In the meanwhile, Interjection Games has provided us with two classes, which, in theme, oscillate between light and darkness, the edgewalker and the antipodist, but that's it, to my knowledge. One massive issue of the original shadowmagic was its exceedingly restrictive nature and the balancing just...well. Not working, at all.
So can this pdf remedy this much maligned, but utterly stylish power-source? The pdf kicks off with a massive introduction, including explanations for the reference abbreviations used and then dives into the Nightblade base class - the nightblade receives d8, 6+Int skills, proficiency with simple weapons, longsword, scythe, rapier, short sword, shortbow and spiked chain and light armors, but not shields. Shields and armor heavier than light incurs arcane spell failure chances. Nightblades also receive spontaneous spellcasting via Charisma of up to 6th level, drawn from their own spell-list. The class also receives 3/4 BAB-progression and good ref- and will-saves. Evasion is gained at second level and this level also provides access to the so-called shadow surge - this is an expendable resource that can be gained as a standard action that provokes attacks of opportunity. Several nightblade abilities require the expenditure of a shadow surge - think of it as the class's analog of the psionic focus. with the additional caveat that a nightblade may expend shadow surges to reroll Stealth checks - for actually competent sneaking. At 8th and 17th level, the nightblade can store +1 surge, so that's a deviation from psionic focus. Abilities like increasing darkvision (with worthwhile alternate benefits if you already have it!), hide in plain sight at 8th level (where I can stomach it!) and yes, dimension doorhopping - with caveats for feat-qualification etc. High level nightblades may see perfectly in the dark and when they cast shadow conjurations etc., they increase the real component of their shadows.
At 3rd level, the nightblade receives a nightblade art, +1 every three levels thereafter - think of these as the nightblade's talents; when applicable, the save scales via the plus half level + cha-mod-formula. Now while you can get combat and metamagic feats via these talents, they actually provide very unique benefits for the discerning gamer  -benefits that significantly deviate from rogue talents etc. and help enforce a unique identity - while effects like full speed stealth plus miss chance upgrade for concealment gained from darkness to total concealment-levels, increases to touch attack AC and higher level options to expend shadow surges to attack against touch AC would pretty much all be options I'd somewhat expect a shadow-themed character to be able to pull off. On paper, attacking versus touch attack by expending shadow surges may look pretty nasty, but the 1/round limit imposed by action economy and the need to regain shadow surges means that this option is powerful, but thanks to the level-prereq and the requirement for set-up, in game actually worked rather well. It should be noted that tank-y creatures, dragons and similar creatures with bad touch ACs should take heed around nightblades, but that is something that is just as true for magi and similar characters, so no balance complaints there.
However, beyond these more conservative ones, there are some talents that can be considered ambitious from a mechanical point of view: Take force teleporting foes or shifting shadow/darkness-related spells from target to target - these are not simply concepts to translate into crunch, much less crunch that is concise enough to withstand my nitpicking of terminology and looking for loop-holes. Kudos where kudos are due - I consider tackling such complex options in a freshman offering, with this level of competence, nonetheless, an impressive feat!
Obviously, now, the defining feature of shadow magic back in the day was the structure of paths, which required some planning, yes, but also provided a feeling of organic development. Nightblades must select a path at 1st level - but within each path techniques loom: One is gained at first level, one at 5th and every 5 levels thereafter -these can be likened to the linear gain of order or bloodline abilities. They are also more than just the addition of techniques - each path comes with a path power, modifies the shadow surge to sport additional options AND modifies the list of available nightblade arts by adding exclusive arts to the list available, providing an element of player agenda that is absent from the linear ability progressions of cavaliers, sorcerors etc.. So yes, the choice of one of the 5 paths is the most important one for the nightblade and radically changes the way in which the given classes play - this extends to the point where the paths offer a more distinct variety in playing experience than most archetypes offer over the base classes they modify. It should also be noted that e.g. path powers scale in their potency and the paths also determine the capstone ability gained.
So what are the paths about? The path of the Bloodied Chain offers the option to conjure forth umbral shackles that entangle creatures, while also adding fear-based effects at higher levels - i.e. you receive some rather powerful and unique terrain-control options. The theme of fear-based debuffs also is represented in the shadow surge ability, which allows you to extend the fear-based conditions on your adversaries. This and the fear-themed techniques gained render this path a good friend to Dreamscarred Press's Dread-class; in my playtests, the two worked together as a nasty double-team that could actually offset the lack of a primary melee class. And no, I do not consider this one to be broken, though combining the dread's immunity-breaker with the nightblade proved to be very efficient. It should also be noted that intimidate can cause full-blown "frightened" as a condition for this path. The exclusive arts here provide for some awesome visuals - beyond detecting fear, adding bleed damage to the umbral chains at 9th level or centering the chains on the nightblade, rendering the effect mobile at 15th level.
The second path, the path of the darkened fortress, can be likened to shadow magic's kind-of-but-not-really magus, blended with duelist-tricks: For example, weapons can be conjured forth and enhanced with special abilities, but they remain shadowy. The shadow surge can be used as an immediate action for a significant self-buff that starts as being applied only to a single attack (GOOD!) and then scales up to lasting a turn at 10th level. The path abilities net you arcane bond, but with a variant - both object and familiar-choices can be blended with your form - which can be rather significant in the context of infiltrations. The path also helps with the crafting of magic items, allowing the nightblade to ignore progressing amounts of spell prerequisites. Fortification-style effects are also part of the deal and high level nightblades with this path receive their own pocket dimension in the plane of shadows. The arts available allow for the extension of weapon qualities and also sport e.g. the option to enhance the bonded object/familiar with unique benefits. Extending the ability to create shadow armament to ranged and dual weapons should also be considered pretty interesting, especially since the latter (one playtest candidate, btw.) sport a balancing mechanic that is simple, yet efficient.
The path of eternal night provides you with a means of creating a short-range energy vortex of negative energy that may not heal, but frighten undead. The shadow surge use here requires a standard action to enforce a reroll of a d20, but can only target a creature once per 24 hours. The path abilities of this rather sinister path allows the nightblade to destroy creatures that are dying and use them to power himself - think of it as a powerful, death knell like effect. This ability would be very strong, especially since the action economy scales and goes down from standard action to swift action - however, the smart choice of a daily limite rendered this a viable ability in game. Interesting would be an immunity not gained by most classes - the path renders immune to negative energy damage, which renders these folks exceedingly effective at killing hostile clerics - interesting! The path also sports an option to make a foe's shadow rise up against the adversary. The arts allow for additional means of enhancing corruption, with e.g. damage upon leaving the aura etc. All in all, an interesting path as well.
The path of the ravaging void gets a very interesting path power, which allows you to change the energy type of energy spells - which is pretty much an awesome trick and though it extends to supernatural abilities, the wording covers those. So far, this has been pretty much a homerun, but alas, the shadow surge herein imho can require a more distinct scaling mechanism - the shadow surge is a ranged touch attack with a range of 30 ft. that deals 1d6 cold damage, +1d6 per 2 levels +cha-mod. While the damage itself is not impressive when thinking about the fact how shadow surges etc. eat actions, the scaling feels a bit off still - perhaps I'm spoiled by Interjection Games' ethermagic, but as far as warlock-y blasts go, this, while not bad or broken due to the limited range, could have imho used some more versatility. The path techniques provide elemental resistances and allow you to suffuse your elemental spells with shadow energy, adding debuff effect insults to the elemental injury - I really like this idea-wise! Now where things become very interesting would be the option to expend spell-slots to duplicate elemental energy damage dealing spells, which, however, only remain partially real. A handy table spares you making calculations or the like, so kudos. All in all, this can be considered the battle mage among the paths, with severe distortion effects that play well with damage-casters and psionics.
The final path would be the path of the twilight veil and I LOVE the path power - based on HD of the target, the spatial distortions caused by the shadows can provide devastating debuffs to the target creatures and 2nd level nightblades of this path can additionally turn invisible via shadow surges. Where the ravaging void is the sledgehammer, the twilight veil would be the scalpel - several illusion-themed techniques and arts allow for serious customization of illusion tricks. Furthermore, the power-enhancing arts are pretty cool here, allowing you to affect creatures usually immune to your distortions. This is kind of the oddball, the one among the paths that imho requires the most investment, but in the hands of a capable player, it may very well be the most rewarding - the exceedingly nasty distortion power can cover somewhat the terrain control and the almost unlimited invisibility are powerful indeed when handled correctly. Why am I not shrieking for the nerfbat? Easy - the invisibility can't be stacked/prolonged, keeping the character from staying out of sight ALL the time. Still, this enables a nasty guerilla style gameplay that has found its fans at my table. The class also sports FCOs for aasimar, dhampir, drow, fetchling, tiefling, wayang and core races.
The next chapter is devoted to a plethora of archetypes and new class options with shadow magic, obviously, as a unifying theme. Alchemists can e.g. modify their body to benefit from the nightblade's enhanced concealment efficiency or craft bombs that duplicate effects of darkness and better sight etc. are part of the deal. There is also an antipaladin who receives a potent, scaling aura of darkness that allows himself and his allies to see through the, later damaging blackness. Barbarians can choose from two totem power trees (and an unaligned one), wherein an already existing bite is enhanced or add str-damage to her attacks while also receiving defenses versus certain conditions. Both have in common that they require certain build types and enhance them and both, to me, feel a bit on the strong end - dice increase + crit x3 for a bite via one rage power is a tad bit too nasty in my book, especially seeing how this also nets full Str-bonus when using bites in conjunction with other natural attacks...And yes, I do have such a claw/bite-barbarian in my game and if they do not need one thing, then it's a way to deal even more damage...
Shadow priests channeling darkness instead of regular energy, bloodragers with a new custom bloodline, anti-disease lunar guardian druids - all pretty solid. The stygian striker magus can be envisioned as the nightblade crossover - less frontlines, for skirmishing (with evasion etc. and modified saves to back this up) and the monk archetype provided is also one that should be considered relatively solid, with ki allowing for more flurry attacks. Oracles can suffer from a curse that makes people forget them and choose a new mystery, while paladins can opt to channel light to dispel and suppress all those nasty effects. Rogues may wilder in nightblade arts and shamans may choose the new darkness spirit.
Nightblades, thankfully, also can join the archetype-fun: Caster/summon-themed Dark Conjurors, a more martially-inclined one (thankfully with path restriction to avoid warlock-y abuse),a  rogue-crossover with sneak attack et. al and an infiltration-specialist can also be found. Finally, there is an archetype that pays for the access to two paths at once with a crippled progression of the shadow surges, paying for an increased array of options with less on-the-fly-flexibility and spells.
Fans of shadow-themed races like fetchlings and wayangs may enjoy the feat-section particularly - there are quite a few racial feats for them to set them apart, with generally a fitting theme of shadows, darkness-enhancing, etc. - modifying a summon-list's half-celestial/fiendish creatures to instead be shadow creatures would be an example here. Overall, these feats felt solid, but didn't blow me away per se. Good craftsmanship.
The spell-chapter does provide a cool rules-clarification for spells utilizing the shadow of the caster and provide, obviously, a significant means of providing shadow/light-control. Interesting for other classes - there are spells herein which interact with e.g. shadow surges, making the latter not just an isolated class feature. Interesting would be terrain control spells to confine targets in e.g. areas of darkness, while shadowy wings that can also be used to attack foes and furthermore, allows for channeling 1/cast - nasty and versatile, but I like it. From the ageing capstone, there are other interesting effects - for example, a complex spell which alters an illusion to allow for the execution of quasi-real attacks via the infusion of shadow stuff - as such area attacks, attacks, energy etc. are covered with unique benefits. There are also lunar prophecies or the option to conjure forth the all-consuming maw of the nightwave. Ways to suppress extraordinary senses would also be an interesting move for spells. However, there also are minor modifications/improved versions, like e.g. a darkness/cold-based variant of flaming sphere. Shadow-based necromancy spell-duplication is also covered, as are chaotic overlaps between planes. I also like the concise definition of shadow length for attacks on a shadow, which reflects its damage to the origin of the caster. A new spell-class to summon evil, horrific creatures also can be found herein. There is also a highly complex class of spells that allows for the conjuration of umbral servants for the nightblades, which essentially act on their own after a nightblade's turn  -these are fun, allowing e.g. a called magician to freely apply metamagic to certain spells cast close to it, etc.
The final chapter provides ample new magical weapon/armor qualities and specific items - with artworks depicting them that are downright inspired and rank among the best such I have ever seen in any given supplement - WOW. The twilight reaver scythe looks so badass, I just NEED to show this picture to my players, even without knowing that it's a +2 cold iron keen greater umbral scythe that allows for surge storage on crits...
The pdf also sports a handy two-page index and artist-credits.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are excellent - I noticed no significant issues while reading this - none. The 2-column full-color layout used in this book is GORGEOUS. I mean it. This is one of the most beautiful roleplaying book I've seen any 3pp produce, an impression also underlined by the GLORIOUS original full-color artwork by Jasmine Mackey, Bryon Oshihiro, Danielle Sands, Al Savell, Nicoleta Stavarache and Trevor Verges - the artworks, from vistas to spells to characters adhere to a glorious style that is uniform and concise. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that this book, in visual, aesthetic quality, could have been a Paizo-book. It's that beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but I'd sincerely advise you to get this in print - unlike quite a few PODs, there is no big chance of an errata invalidating this book. This book looks better than quite a few kickstarted books I could name. Yes, THAT beautiful.
What a furious first offering! This is quite frankly the best first offering of crunch I've seen a novice designer produce in ages. Last year saw plenty of adventures of newcomers providing an extremely high quality, but new crunch tends to require most designers some time to get right. Well, this is Ascension Games' first product and it does NOT require any leniency on my part. Author (and layout/editor!) Christopher Moore seems to not only be able to edit his own texts, quite a feat, imho, he also provides a level of professionalism with regards to rules-language one sees scarcely, almost never among novices. The language is so precise, it can be considered on par with the errata'd, good Paizo-books. Beyond that, this pdf offered a level of system-mastery and a level of awareness of obscurer rules I quite frankly almost never get to see. While I have some personal gripes against one component or another herein, none really hold up on a professional level and boil down to personal preferences; number-wise, including extensive playtests, this book held up admiringly well. Few books can claim to withstand this level of deep scrutiny to such an extent, especially considering the level of interaction with obscure and complex elements among the design elements. I was positively surprised to see all of this - but where the book shines most is with the material that takes chances and provides things to do that no other spell or system can achieve - it is the unique effects, which stand out and while I absolutely adore the coverage of just about anything one could ask for in sucha  context, I still would have loved to see even more of the inspired, unique effects that can be found herein.
Remember, this is just me being an utterly spoiled bastard of a reviewer - this book is, without engaging in hyperbole, up to the level of crunch-mastery exhibited usually only by established, experienced crunch-masters and blends this with production-values out of this world, visually more on par with Paizo than what you'd expect from a 3pp, much less a new one sans a KS providing the funds. This is a hugely impressive book that catapulted Ascension Games to the landscape of my table and to my radar; I can't help but be excited about the things to come and more such supplements and I certainly hope we'll see more material for the Nightblade - the class is inspired and fun and clearly, its potential is not yet tapped. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given without the slightest hesitation, falling short of becoming a  candidate for my top ten of 2015 only by a tiny margin. Still, this is thoroughly, exceedingly, impressive. Congratulations to the Ascension Games-team - you have impressed a jaded reviewer.
You can get this impressive book here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Cyclopen Deeps Vol. I

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Apr 24 2015 - 06:51
Cyclopean Deeps Vol. I





The first book of the two-part Cyclopean Deeps-Saga clocks in at 198 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 192 pages of content, so let's check this out, shall we?
So, let's, for now, process as spoiler-free as possible: Do you remember the Dungeoneer'sSurvival Guide released for 2nd edition (1e AD&D, if you count that way...)? It's a timeless classic indeed and showcases a significant component of what I consider flawed with most modern underdark/underworld modules. Let me describe it from this venue - have you ever been spelunking? There is an appeal to the hobby that is hard to describe, but I'll try - at the same time, you feel like you have entered a new world, a place where your civilization and all of its comforts do not stretch to. You enter a place wondrous that differs significantly, via all of your senses, from the tactile to the olfactory, from what we are used to - reaching the surface once again can feel a bit like a shock after some time - loud, bright...all those smells. However, accompanying this general sensation, one is (or at least I am!) constantly and keenly aware of insane amounts of solid rock, balancing precariously above one's head - whether as a sense of foreboding or respect, caves and caverns elicit a different perspective. Now, recently AAW Games has captured the proper sense of wonder rather perfectly with their Rise of theDrow saga.
In Rise of the Drow, we saw an unprecedented sense of realism applied to the section of the underdark that is kind of akin to the surface world, if not in environment, then in its social structures - we have dangerous animals, humanoid cultures (most evil) vying for dominance - it's the surface world on crack and the RotD-saga can be counted among the few that managed to instill this sense of wonder in the vivid pictures painted. However, there is another underdark - a place where neither light, nor surface-dwellers usually tread. If you're familiar with the Dark Souls games, think of this as the place that would have come below the lowest, blackest gulch. A place, where even the underworld-denizens fear to tread, a place forlorn and forsaken by the light. Below even Rappan Athuk, thus extends this place, one that can easily be transplanted to any setting - courtesy of there simply being no comparable supplement or module that goes quite that deep - usually, places like this are hinted at in the equivalent of telling the PCs "Don't go there!" So there the fools go - here dwell the things no man has ever laid eyes on, here is the Deep Horizon, here are the Cyclopean Deeps.
If the hex-sporting map is not ample clue - this constitutes a sandbox in the truest sense - that is, this a player-driven, old-school module with ample sample random encounters. Also: Know how old-school sometimes is used as a buzzword? Well, not so here. Indeed, this place is defiantly old-school and LETHAL. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk, the Cyclopean Deeps are deadly - very deadly. So yeah, if your group is looking for a challenge, a module worth winning - this is what you want. How nasty can this place be? Brutal enough to actually require no work on my part to make the module more challenging. 
Want an example? All right, but to provide you with one, I'll have to go into SPOILERS. Players should jump to the conclusion.......Still here? All right! If you were one of the lucky ones, Rappan Athuk's KS back in the day provided two teasers of this massive module - and one detailed Ques Querax, gateway to the Cyclopean Deeps, wherein strange minotaur golems guard the premises. The local temple sports 3 priests, always in the same position, unmoving, catering to the whims of a strange head - only if you resist the unearthly fear of this place do you receive healing - but you never actually see it cast - upon leaving the temple, the effects suddenly...happen. Curiosity, alas, much like in CoC, may kill the cat, though - and like in the old truism, turn it into a multidimensional horror with puckered tentacles that is coming right for YOU! (Yes, actually trying to find out *how* these guys cast spells may shatter your sanity and provide a neat new career choice as a terrible servant of the mythos. A tavern owned by a denizen of Leng, an intelligent giant slug slaver, a dog-headed perfume-creating alchemist - not only are plenty of these folk EVIL, they also are WEIRD in a rather uncanny, horrific way. And the interesting thing is - this is civilization in these parts. It literally does not become better than this, so the PCs better figure out means of making this place work for them - a dangerous, but moderately secure base is better than none! Have I btw. mentioned the living eye of Gaaros-Uaazath, arguably one of the most powerful and odd entities herein, secretly creating a mind-bending, centipede-like war-machine?
But beyond the gates of Ques Querax, beautiful and precious wonders await - finding e.g. gems worth thousands of gold may be a reason for joy - until you read the entry of said random treasure - it reads "kidney stone." I am not kidding. The book *brims* with these little tidbits - and each and every one is tailor-made to come together in a vista exceedingly tantalizing and disturbing. From chain-bound jack-in-irons giants to mists of concealing, detection-blocking darkmist and the dark stalker/creeper enclave of Izanne, there are politics to be found, and yes, civilization - however, each veneer is distorted and odd, a threat underlying just about every step, every interaction - while never losing the evoked, profound sense of wonder that oozes from each and every encounter - and yes, some purists may scoff at decisions to smack down truly wondrous effects that lie beyond the capacity of spells here and there - but as for me, I love this decision - it drives home the need for care, the sense of magic...well, being truly magical. What level of detail am I referring to? well, what about a whole array of options, should the PCs elect to run across the rooftops of the fully-mapped Izanne? Or perhaps the PC's friendly nigh-ghoul guide wants to sell them some slaves and palanquins from his third cousin - the resounding themes of civilization can be found herein, though they are twisted in a grotesque way - a fact that also is reflected by the copious missions provided - and in the messages, that partially are traps, partially are odd - but ultimately, are different. Unique aberrations and strange folk abound, demons trod the streets and even here, a sense of decrepitude, of civilizations most vile, fallen to magics even worse, suffuses the paragraphs, with details upon details drawing a picture of a world that could be another, a place so wildly different, yet familiar, that it could be considered an escalation of the concept of the uncanny.
What about spellbooks that have been folded into the fourth dimension, pods that may transmit memories, odd, singing crystals - there is a lot of wonderful, enigmatic stuff to be found; and if your players prefer making an impact, the nasty and inscrutable people, from serpentfolk to aboleths, are all actually playing their own games, with subquests, goals and the like handily organized for your convenience. Now if you're not familiar with some old-school rules, you might be surprised to see e.g. a reference to percentile rolls and chances to decipher a lost language - this is a remnant of old-school gaming and should have been updated to PFRPG using the Linguistics-skill. And yes, some remnants like this can be found herein. However, in which other supplement are the players tasked (on an optional basis, of course!) to awaken a death god? Eat energy-bars of strange fungus or find out that the nice magic items they found are powered by energy infusions generated by constant sacrifice of sentient beings? It should also be noted that the NPC-builds, while sporting some straightforward ones, also feature some more complex ones.
But honestly, I don't love this book for its mechanics - but where else can you find human-faced, giant ants, unearthly flowers and air, spatial distortions and ways of thinking (properly explained for the DM) that may seem starkly in contrast to our logic...and have I mentioned the importance of the Leng rubies?
Now if the nomenclature and overall array of options seemed confusing to you, a massive glossary should help. The new monsters herein are copious and weird, as are the short, fluff-only write-ups of the elder things. The appendices also contain the numerous unique items - though, much like in the crunch, there are some examples of old-school mechanics to be found herein - e.g. an artifact that requires you to roll multiple d6s and score below your attribute score. The pdf contains various, cool maps, all of which receive player-friendly versions - and there are hand-outs.

Conclusion:Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to FGG's printer-friendly, two-column b/w-standard and the module comes with A LOT of awesome, unique original b/w-art. The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the cartography in b/w is neat.
Author Matthew J. Finch delivers quite frankly one of the most imaginative, awesome books in the whole Frog God/Necromancer Games-canon; much like the stellar Dunes of Desolation, this book constitutes a prime example of why I want to see as many new FGG modules as possible. I own all Necromancer Games modules, even the boxed sets, and yes, even the rarities. That being said, I do think that FGG's modules surpass those of NG. Cyclopean Deeps Volume I is such a monument - this book reached a level of imaginative detail, of sheer creativity, that one only finds perhaps once in a blue moon. The literally only comparisons I could draw in that regard would be to the best of FGG-modules or to the 4 Dollar Dungeons-modules by Richard Develyn - and you probably by now realize how much I adore them. That being said, this book is far from perfect; the remnants of the conversion not being carried out properly in all cases do stick out like sore thumbs to me and formally, constitute a blemish that you should be aware of.
Then again, this massive book is intended for experienced DMs and experienced groups - beyond the lethality of the module, the sheer amount of sandboxing, of entwined things going on, means that A DM has to have some experience under the belt to run this. But know what? The complexity doesn't faze me and neither do the conversion relics matter to me - for one, in some cases, one could chalk them up to mechanics simply working differently here as well. On the other, capable DMs can easily fix these minor problems. And none of those minor hiccups matter to me in this case - what would singularly break the neck of lesser books just falls under the rag here - the writing is THIS good. Beyond a level of detail that can only be described as excruciating, there simply is no other module, no other environmental supplement tackling anything like this; the only other underworld sandboxes that approach this in terms of complexity would be the second Act of RotD or the classic Open Design "Empire of Ghouls" and both have a wildly different focus, completely different themes.
This manages to elicit a sense of cultural wonder akin to the writings of the classic titans like Gygax, a breath of the magical and uncanny, while also breathing the spirit of the mythos and classic pulp fiction akin to Howard or Haggard. Cyclopean Deeps managed to evoke something I almost never feel anymore these days - a sense of jamais-vu. This is not yet another rendition of some tired old, much rehearsed tropes - this is the antithesis of exceedingly tired level 1 module with goblins and an ogre or shadow as the final boss. This massive tome breathes more unique ideas in a chapter than some whole series of books. Even when compared to Rappan Athuk et al., this tome dabbles in themes and topics far beyond the focus on demonic entities, creates a sense of wonder and, paradoxically, realism. As odd and alien the vistas portrayed herein are, they still feel uncannily organic, realistic and alive - which drives further home the point of this book being not only unique, but inspired in the very best way.
The formal hiccups here and there might annoy you, but if you are missing out on this monumentally inspired world/setting-building due to them, you are depriving yourself of perhaps one of the most captivating reads I've had in any iteration of a d20-based system. And if you don't mind some old-school remnants or perhaps even enjoy them, then this should be considered a true milestone. I've been struggling with myself for quite a long time on how to rate this book, but as far as I'm concerned, the vast imaginative potential this book offers trumps just about any minor blemish or criticism you could field against it; to the point, where complaining would seem disingenuous and downright petty-minded. There are few books of this size that have managed to captivate me to this extent during the whole lecture of them and this massive sandbox should be considered a must-have addition to any DM looking for the deep below - even as disparate encounters and for the purposes of scavenging elements, this book is well worth the asking price. I thus remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, a nomination for the Top Ten of 2014, a longing for Vol. 2 and the regret that I am too poor to get this glorious tome in print.

You can get this awesome book here on OBS or here on d20pfsrd-com's shop!
Prefer the S&W-old-school version? That one can be found here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Want to get this and its sequel for a reduced price? The current KS by FGG offers just that - I know I'd buy them and Dunes in a heartbeat as add-ons if I could afford it! Here's the link!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Dance Macabre

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Apr 17 2015 - 05:15
Dance Macabre





This module clocks in at 90 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 86 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Now the first thing, before anything else, you should know that this literally is the only book you need to run the module - no switching to thousands of different books, not a full bag of supplemental material - this module provides more supplemental material than you can shake a stick at: First, we get all spells used in the book; then, there would be the rules-reference section, which includes  all those handy special abilities, from ability drain to breath weapons, handily explained for your convenience. The same goes for magical items, btw. And yes, there even is a nice array of animal tricks explained for your convenience, rendering this module exceedingly comfortable to run. Beyond even that, though, we get something you can use even when not running the module - the bestiary-section does provide ample Knowledge DC-checks to deduce information on the respective creatures featured in the module. Oh, and the module does sport all artwork handily collated at the back of the book in the form of a collated appendix, allowing you to print it out as a kind of look-see-artwork-booklet. 
Think that takes up too much space? Let me assure you, it doesn't - the module, even after that, clocks in at a massive 52 pages - there is *A LOT* of content to be covered. It should also be noted that this module, like all 4$D-modules, does provide handy lists of CR, adversary, XP and treasure for each relevant encounter, including options for extra treasure, depending on your playstyle (and extra PCs - up to +2 PCs are thus supported without you having to do ANYTHING). You should also be aware of the vast amounts of maps - while not necessarily beauties, I've seen worse and EVERY relevant location is covered - the sheer amount of maps provided deserves applause, especially since they also come with high-res jpegs and player-friendly iterations.
It should also be noted that the unique town herein does sport an extra mini-gazetteer for the players and that a clue-flow-chart helps running the module.
So far for the formal criteria, now let's take a look at the module itself, shall we?
Now before we dive in, this is the SPOILER-WARNING. Potential players should immediately jump to the conclusion. Seriously, you will be so sorry if you spoil this one for yourself.......All right, so this module begins common enough - a drunk father and ratcatcher, bereft of his daughters (who have chosen the adventurer-lifestyle) have recently taken off and the grief-stricken father immediately tries to pick a fight with the PCs. However that works, in the end, the PCs will have been tasked by the man to track down his daughters and ensure their safety - and the trail leads into the aptly-named twisted moorland. Now if you have played the supreme "Journey to Cathreay", you'll immediately realize the sheer massive amount of detail you can expect from 4$D wilderness trips - and this module does feature just that - random weather-tables (with all relevant rules), random encounter chances by time - the level of detail is staggering and from lone guest-houses to the farm where the two adventurers hang out (sans the daughters, mind you, and very much hostile...), the level of detail provided is interesting indeed - take e.g. a druidic stone circle, where the devout PC may acquire a temporary elemental servant - not required by the story in any way, but it does add the sense of cohesiveness and realism to the magical world depicted herein.
Now whether on friendly or hostile terms with aforementioned adventurers, the PCs sooner of later will make the acquaintance of a dryad of a forest most dilapidated and desolate, who ahs struck a deal to ensure her survival - and in case you haven't noticed, yes, there is a subtle theme at work here, but more on that later. Her combat tactics come with a level of detail scarcely seen and from TPKing to less lethal failure scenarios and the like, the encounter with the pragmatic, corrupt dryad offers quite an array of different options. Now, alternatively, the PCs may have found among the adventurer's belongings a call for help in clearing out an evil temple or have been bluffed by them - in either way, the temple is just another elaborate anti-adventurer trap, much like the dryad's gambit. If this does not look to exciting so far, rest assured that the way in which this is handled is superb - and the level of detail provided here is staggering as well - take a skeleton with a foreign pterodactyl bone rattling in its rip cage - and yes, this is a curious and intriguing foreshadowing of the things to come.
Either way, the investigation sooner or later will bring the PCs to the aptly-named town of Twisted Bridge, where a special kind of evil flourishes. The town is not a poor place; in fact, it is quite wealthy (and fully statted). However, it is a town rules by egotism and passivity-  we have a macabre blending of gillmen working menial labor and a kind of aristocratic upper class, sneering at the irrelevant, marginalized people that do not belong to the illustrious crowd of the village's people - here, everyone is in only for themselves and their immediate friends and family. Mind you, this is not a depiction of a town that is suppressed or "kill 'em all"-vile - it can be considered almost a subtle satire of a mentality that is all too real in our very world. Sounds too dreary? Players not into subtle, unobtrusive social commentary? No problem, just spring on them the top-hat wearing deinonychus currently running a errand for his master and they'll be right back in the fold. And yes, this is one of the colorful sight &sound-style random encounters form the table. On a mechanical level, the mentality that considers "evil" behavior a matter of discussion and the townsfolk's fun when looking at paladins whirling from all the evil they can detect is not only rationale and concise, it makes surprising sense and adds a whole new spin on the black-white-morality conundrums.
Twisted bridge itself is not only mapped, but also sports what essentially amounts to a lavishly-detailed gazetteer-section that had me reminisce about the weird cities in 3.X's Scarred Lands, though, obviously, in less depth, Twisted Bridge definitely can be considered a town so unique and dripping with flavor and tangible magic, it exudes an allure that is difficult to describe - from undine sorcerors to lizardmen, from chocolatiers to female-only hair-saloons (aptly and humorously named "Rapunzel"), twisted bridge equally breathes a sense of decadence and wonder, of despicable passivity and carelessness and intoxicating wonders - and allows one to easily see how one can be sucked into the moral choices such a lifestyle may engender. The massive investigation-potential and related clues definitely allow for one glorious free-form investigation, set against one of the most compelling backdrops I've seen in quite a while.
The trail of the girl's horses, though, can sooner or later be tracked to a farm - where matrons grow narcotics to allow the people in town to sedate their children, should they act up - have I mentioned, that, much like many a good fantasy or scifi novel, this module can be enjoyed on a consumerist perspective and still has some serious social commentary going for, should you be so inclined as to delve into it, all without shoving an ideology down your throat? Among the narcotics-inducing plants, though, jack-o-lanterns loom, including a moderately intelligent one, with whom the PCs can talk, alternating quickly between settings of potentially psychedelic horror and abject comedy - oh and then there is a level of detail that borders on the ridiculous, the ridiculously awesome, that is - the fields actually note which plants are grown where: From chai to chilies, the handout provides the detailed notes on this. Yes. *That* is a realism that can only be described as staggering  -and whether you use it or not, it does add immensely to the sense of immersion. The trail, then, leads to the cathedral of bone, the macabre abode of the town's de facto dhampir-ruler and aforementioned, top-hat wearing dinosaur companion. There *is* a macabre axe-beak skeleton to be found here, but whether or not hostilities break out depends very much on the PC's actions - and yes, the reason *why* a friggin' axe-beak skeleton is here, is also given - and the pterodactyl bone mentioned before may give the PCs away, so let's hope their investigation skills are on par.
Among the weird places to be found (potentially via the nasty adventurers), an alchemist (vivisectionist) and the way golem he created as an automaton to sate the depraved desires of the townsfolk can also make for interesting encounters, the latter even for a potential cohort of the oddest kind. Tzitzimitle, the main antagonist of the module, currently resides in a clock tower most unusual - in that e.g. it sports a pool that is inhabited by piranha-level voracious, bad-tempered killer-goldfish. No, I'm not kidding. This is a thing - and it is glorious. My players actually started laughing as their PCs started to be chomped by the little buggers. The exploration of the tower, alas, yields no satisfactory results (apart from further leads and the satisfaction of destroying clockwork creatures and braving the traps with which the place has been laden) - and so, a further stop along the way may be the massive Necropolis of the town, where the bored, amoral gargoyle Gabriel, a picturebook sociopath, awaits - alongside Enya, one of the kidnapped girls, who is currently trapped within a mausoleum that is both warded and dangerously unstable - and hence, rescuing her will prove to be difficult.
Have I mentioned, that her statements (or the alchemist's investigation) can lead them to essentially the same goals, namely the sewers, where the whispers of the dead abound and a worm-that-walks, the gaoler of Enya, provide further evidence of the horrible things to come: And it is at the very latest here that the pieces will *click* together - Tzitzimitl, an exceedingly powerful oracle (level 10) who has gleaned the circumstances of his death, but not the particulars, has entered an unholy alliance with a powerful wraith named Yetaxa - with combined efforts, they have not only engineered all those nasty anti-adventurer traps the PCs had to face; they have also introduced a truly decadent festival to the town, wherein the living dance with the wraiths under the control of Yetaxa - at the low price of just one innocent to be wraithified per festival - and who cares about strangers? Hence, the first of the daughters, alas has already been transformed by Yetaxa in the general rehearsal of the last festival  -for today, shall be different. Wraiths cannot endure the sunlight, but a total eclipse renders a festival today possible - and also the only way in which Tzitzimitl's prophecy of his own doom could come to pass - hence, he has engineered this rather elaborate plot to prevent just that. Alas, the festival, detailed with a concise timeline and hearkening to a carnival, through a glass darkly, proceeds - and provides the PCs with an option to save Enya - provided they have been smart enough to provide her with an amulet they can acquire, which renders her impervious to Yetaxa's cruel attempts of transferring her to undeath - so, in a finale both decadent and epic, the PCs will have to destroy Yetaxa in the catacombs - success frees the wraith and spawn from his control, resulting in a massacre and the prophesized death of Yetaxa, while also putting the PCs in dire peril, as they are shepherded into a dead end by now free, vast amounts of undead - only to be saved alongside Enya by the rays of the sun emerging from beyond the eclipse - and yes, if played right, this *is* one hell of a finale that also sees a town made uninhabitable by the undead - as well as killing the powerful Tzitzimitl and setting him up for potential sequels as a new undead threat to face!
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though I noticed a couple of minor typos - "intimation" instead of "intimidation" can be found once, as can be "wont" instead of "won't." The language-geek in me also cringed whenever I read "coup-de-gras" instead of "coup-de-grâce" - that has nothing to do with fat, greasy or the like, but refers to the deathblow. Layout adheres to 4$D's printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The pdf comes in two versions, one for the US-paper-format, one in A4 for Europeans like yours truly - love that! The artwork provided is copious and I have seen none of the neat, old-school B/w-art before - really nice! The cover, as always, is also breathing the spirit of old-school awesomeness. The cartography is functional, as are the handouts, and make up for not being the most beautiful being provided for just about EVERYTHING.
Okay, let me get one thing out of the way - my complaint about the typos above? That is the only negative thing I can say about this module. At this point, all of the following things are a given: 1) Whenever Richard Develyn releases a module, my players want to play it asap, even if it means putting the main-campaign on hold. 2) I actually go to these modules when I require a break from reviewing; when I'm frustrated and need a reminder of why I actually do it. 3) Every module has a radically different style.
All of these hold true with Dance Macabre - even though formally, like the Key to Marina, it can be considered an investigation module. Alas, the way in which it works is pretty much radically different - less of a scavenger hunt, more of a detective tale, it reminded me in the best of ways of the first Gabriel Knight game in the atmosphere it evokes - what we have here can be called a blending of far-out fantasy with the underrepresented panache of proper, fantastic Southern Gothic. From the themes provided to the imagery evoked, the glorious sense of decadence oozes from each and every pore of the module - you can play this as pure entertainment...or emphasize the striking themes it evokes: If you want it to, this module can serve as a social commentary and a rallying cry against indifference and cold-heartedness. 
The absurd amount of details provided help running the module immensely, and so does the flow-chart, though novice DMs still should read the whole module before trying to run it - this one is very much free-form in its flow. The true genius here, at least in my onion, would be the blending of the horrific and the absurd, of horror and comedy - and the optional nature of either. A competent DM can easily ramp up the comedy factor and make this module genuinely funny. Or utterly horrific. I ran this module twice prior to writing this review; the first time emphasizing a Ravenloftesque sense of horror for my mature players - and it worked perfectly. The second time around, I mastered this with a mixed group that contained some kids - and emphasized the fun and odd parts. Yes, there are some dark elements here, but nothing kids (talking about the 8 - 12-range) can't handle - make e.g. the courtesan a menial laborer à la Cinderella and we maintain the message, but make the theme child-friendly - cosmetic reskin and that's it. One of them surprised me when she mentioned that she had understood that fear of death can lead one to horrible choices, that one should instead do good and that the town exhibited traits of our own society - and that payback for such a behavior might come in some guise or another. Subtle themes, clearly understood - yes, this can actually be played as a morality play with some educational value.
Southern Gothic horror, absurd, but still exciting comedy or a means of teaching about the world - the module provides a lot of playstyles - and it ran completely differently both times I ran it, so it has replay value to boot! I *ADORE* this module. It is unique in every sense of the word and sports yet another facet of Richard's capacity that sets him apart as one of the few authors who push the boundaries and raise the level in the art of adventure writing. And yes, this module, in my opinion, can be called art...or proper literature. It is excellent and while the odd typo here and there may be slightly annoying; it is mainly due to the exceedingly high level of quality of the whole book this catches one's eye. Still, I implore you to get this awesome piece of adventure-writing. It is unique in all the right ways and acts as one glorious example of what adventures could be beyond rolling dice and slaying monsters. Highly modular, versatile and with replay-vale, oozing with details, this module once again receives my highest honors - 5 stars + seal of approval and since this was released in 2014, candidate for my Top ten of 2014-status.
Do NOT let this one slip by!
You can get this awesome module for just 4 bucks here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores - Creeping Beauties of the Wood

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Apr 03 2015 - 08:50
Faerie Tales from Unlit Shores - Creeping Beauties of the Wood (DCC)





This module clocks in at 49 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 47 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
This being an adventure review, the following contains SPOILERS. Not only for this module, but also for its direct predecessor, the ennie-nominated, superb Prince Charming, Reanimator. Potential players of either one should definitely jump to the conclusion. Really. You don't want this spoiled.......Still here? All right! So, after being press-ganged into an adventuring-life by a non-too-friendly Prince Charming, the PCs were witness to the psycho reanimating a girl, only to have his still living head being removed by said undead bride, who subsequently escaped into the dreaded Grimmswood. Unfortunately for the PCs, the baron is no less charming than his heir apparent - the solution to his dilemma is obvious - those pesky commoners better get moving and bring back some stability to the dread wood. Being not as totally an utter prick as his eccentric son, though, the baron does promise a chest of gold as well as the hand of his daughter in marriage. Things become more complicated even - the PC's bumbling interference has ended the faerie curse on the "ghost" of Doctor Chapman - who in fact in direct conflict with the Desert Faerie. This shadow war behind the scenes is further complicated by the interference of the Yellow Dwarf - who are what do these entities want? Only time (and more modules in this series) will tell!
Doctor Chapman manifests himself in the dreams of one PC, providing further assistance - he assures them that prince Hubert Charming's now-undead brides still roam the forest and that they have been entwined with a dread faerie's curse  -all have to be defeated/saved - so it's up to the PCs to venture into the hex-mapped, color-mapped Grimmswood to track down Cinder Ella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, preferably while not falling to their brides and grooms. Each of these minions have specific, unique abilities reflecting the theme of the respective original faerie tales through a mirror exceedingly and joyfully darkly.
Now the exploration of the Grimmswood is interesting in that haunting rhymes may provide much needed warnings for PCs - the detailed random encounters include stalking/animated apple trees, the Big Bad Wolf (including windstorm-strength breath), cowardly lions, talking owls, jabberwocks, strangling vines - the table alone is more inspired than a few comparable whole modules I've read! Elven players can receive their due mithral equipment in an organic, cool way on the sacred anvil of the forest. A goblin knight seeking a duel has increased prowess the more PCs enter the fray, rewarding honorable conduct in a rather interested scaling mechanism. The PCs may also find a severed head and incur either his wrath or boon while resting in a dilapidated ruin of an inn. Let's hope the head is treated kindly, for he has an interesting clue to offer to the PCs (and his curse is dire!).
In Cinder Ella's cottage, her wicked stepsisters, terribly executed back in the day, still roam the place, their wounds seeping still after all those years. Her mother is no-where to be found, but a blackened skeleton that may bless them, the fire-infused undead and the grimorie of the curiously absent wicked stepmother, made from the skin of infants, speak a rather obvious language - poor Cinder Ella did not have a jolly good time...even though the PCs still have to defeat the now undead bride - hopefully without her fire-control and own volatile nature setting the whole house ablaze!
A cenotaph devoted to forces both disgusting and malignant is hiding within the forest as well. Christina Rosetti's poem (reproduced here), "The Goblin Market" also serves as a complex and iconic encounter - including the options to learn new spells by having body parts grafted to you, paying with reflections and dreams...and the option to be, alas, deceived. Wax servants, goblins whispering in your ear, vials from the fountain of youth, wondrous companions, eyes in jars - delightful and breathing what fey ought to be all about - this section alone would make for a superb source-book and a massive table makes running the place even easier/more versatile. Snow White is awaiting teh PCs in the confines of the mine of her erstwhile allies - and the vampiric, cold-themed bride and her hobyah-servants make for deadly adversaries. Oh well, if push comes to shove and the PCs have kept their eyes peeled, the reanimator serum they may have found could well save them...or inadvertently create an undead horror...but hey, no risk, no gain, right? Right?
After defeating the second of these brides, the good doctor will urge the PCs onwards to Sleeping beauty, the final challenge that awaits. But she may very well know all - for there is a hidden war going on between the talking owls and talking crows of the forest and one side is spying for the beauty... That being said, the PCs may still run afoul of the psychotic tin man-analogue, an unpleasant artifact marked by X (NOTHING good's ever marked by Xs...) or the dread undead guardian of the crossroads before they find the caverns that hide both Sleeping beauty and what remains of prince Hubert - i.e. his reanimated head...and an array of severed, spellcasting hands. Ending his undying existence in the otherwise gorgeous caverns (including crystalline flowers...), the PCs now "only" have to tackle Sleeping Beauty. Alas, she has grafted her parent's heads and limbs to her bodyy, rendering her a deadly shredder of just about anyone, provided the PCs were not smart enough to deal with the other two brides before that...
Doctor Chapman as a patron is covered and so is Hizzgard, a dread demonic patron for all things creeping and crawling - who also comes with options to revive the dead via worms and an alchemy of essential salts. Finally, an appendix for quick and easy faerie animal generation is provided.

Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to PDG's printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard with cool pieces of original b7w-art. Additionally, full color cartography, also provided as DM and player-version high-res jpgs help running this module. The pdf, alas, has no bookmarks, but I'd suggest to print this out anyways - it belongs to the shelf containing the good modules.
Okay, I'll say it outright - at this point, Daniel J. Bishop is pretty much one of the few adventure-writers I'd buy blind. I adore his absolutely, mind-bogglingly compelling prose, the depths of his imagination and the sheer wonder each and every supplement of his exudes. The first FT-series module was great - this is one step beyond. Fairy Tales, reimagined through a glass most darkly, but at the same time, suffused with an underlying sense of wonder and yes, humor even, this module is quite frankly absolutely superb in every way. How good is this? Well, you know how many good modules for PFRPG exist? I have more of them than I can ever conceivably play, but still - I sit down for these modules and convert them. And I never, ever regret the work. Now don't get me wrong, I did play this one with its intended DCC-rules, but the thing is - no matter what your system of choice is, this module is worth every single second spend converting it. Whether 0e, 13th Age, D&D 4th or 5th edition - believe me when I'm saying that you NEED this beast, that you want to invest the time to play this in your system of choice. Its ideas, its glorious creativity both are that pronounced. This is one of the most compelling, dark faerie tales I've ever read, no matter the medium. Quite a lot of novels and short stories in the faery tale/mythpunk/whatever genres can't stand up to the level of imagination herein. I guarantee that, with a modicum of system-savvy knowledge of DCC, even as only an idea-mine, this still is worth its price ten-fold. Get this masterpiece!
My final verdict will clock in at an unsurprising 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get ths superb module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.



Categories: RPGs

Age of Electrotech

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Mon, Mar 16 2015 - 02:55
Age of Electrotech





This book clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 94 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
So what is this book? Well, it can be thought of as a huge campaign-template akin to LPJr Design's Obsidian Apocalypse - the age of electrotech has dawned and now, super-science and magic exist side by side, with electricity-based gadgets and the like influencing how everything is run. A fitting analogy would be a kind of Tesla-Punk - how to integrate this (e.g. just one country - à la Golarion's Numeria or Ravenloft's Lamordia) to the full world - all depending on the DM's whim.
The book kicks off with the Technician base class, which receives d8, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with light armor, simple weapons and shields, 3/4 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves and a so-called maximum tinker-level scaling from 1st up to 6th. The class also receives 1 battery point, scaling up to 105 at 20th level...but what does all of that mean?
Well, first of all, obviously, technicians receive Electrotech Proficiency as a bonus feat as first level and they also receive + class level to Craft (electrotech)-checks analogue to alchemist et al. High intelligence increases the battery points the class has and battery points recharge after 8 hours. They are essentially the technician's resource, which powers his gadgets, tinkers and similar devices. hooking up a device to the battery pack requires 1 minute. Technicians may construct so-called gadgets - these can be used by paying their base cost, upgraded by allocating additional battery points. At 4th level and every 3 levels thereafter, the technician can craft progressively better upgrades from +1 battery point cost to +5 at 13th level. Gadgets take up one of the item-slots - chest, hands, head or feet and equipping/removing them requires 10 rounds, with the option to hasten it at the chance of rendering the gadget broken. Effect generated by gadgets are extraordinary effects, but unlike most such abilities, they are subject to SR and can potentially be counterspelled/dispelled - we have full system-transparency here.
Tinkers on the other hand are devices that can be wielded like wands to duplicate effects, functioning pretty much like spellcasting. Unlike spells, though, a tinker may be charged with battery points to increase the daily amount the tinker can be used. The formula for their creation are marked in a tinker manual, somewhat akin to a spellbook. Now beyond this exceedingly flexible base system, the class ALSO sports so-called innovations - gained at 2nd level, +1 every 2 levels thereafter, these constitute the talents of the class and allow for even more options - for example combining multiple gadgets into one, on-the-fly reassignment of battery points etc. Better driving-skills (more on that later), weaponized tinkers, better weakness analysis of foes - this is very much a scientist-class - but the technician does NOT stop there - at 1st level, the class also decides on a trade (though, again, this can be modified by innovations!) - trades work somewhat akin to oracle mysteries or bloodlines in that they provide a trade skill as class skill, a bonus-feat selection and a linear progression of special abilities gained at 1st, 3rd, 9th and 15th level. Sounds like a bloodline, not a mystery? Yeah, but I also evoked mysteries due to one fact - each trade add certain, exclusive innovations to the array the technician can choose from. The trade provide for a focus on crafting, firearms (including grit), junker's jury-rigging, vehicle/driver-specialization, soldier, tinker, trap and symbiont specialization - more on that later. And yes, were I to go into details regarding these options, this review would bloat beyond belief. More than one page of favored class options can be found herein. It admittedly took some time to properly analyze this complex class...and know what? It WORKS. Superbly so. One note - if you're using Interjection Games' Tinker or Gadgeteer-classes, I'd suggest renaming the technician's tinkers and gadgets. ;)
The technician's flexibility does NOT end here, though - beyond the absolutely astounding flexibility provided by the base class, we also receive archetypes for the class - beyond providing more than superb crunch, these guys cover quite literally everything cool I would have wanted from technician archetypes - Cyborg? Check. Electromedics (who needs clerics?) - check. Pact Magic-crossover occult esotechnicians? Check. Grenadiers? Check. Holotechnicians? Check. Necrotechnicians creating techno-undead? Friggin' yeah and check! Transmogriphiers that specialize in transmuting and mutagens? Check! At this point, picture me drooling wide-eyed and grinning at the screen.
Now a complete subsystem of items and a class should render it no surprise that the pdf also sports quite a significant array of different feats. These include metatech feats (guess what these do...) and the usual improvements for additional uses of limited daily use-abilities etc.
At this point, the 32-page mark, we enter the electrotech gear chapter -  yes. I'm not kidding. So, the weapons. The table covers a whole page. And yes, modifications like double barrels can be added to e.g. nucleonic rifles, while sawridge shields and splinterhail grenades as well as stock prods breathe the spirit of scifi, super-tech, tesla-punk...however you want to call it, the chapter is glorious. Beyond these implements of death, several defensive items and household items can be found herein as well - chamber lamps, air stabilizers, heaters, iconographs, phonographs - it may seem like nothing special, but without these, the book would be missing vital pieces that really help get into the mood of the material Specialized tool and skill kits also help portraying a society that has moved beyond the traditional confines of medieval society.
And then, there would be madnesses. These truly go off the deep-end and constitute technical wonders beyond what is readily available in a default society - what about e.g. a pod that can modify your age, pigmentation and even gender or race? Stasis pods? Helms that can be used to stimulate or hamper a character's performance? Hypnotist's helmets? Color-coded mind-influence? The equivalent of an atomic bomb? A machine to purge foreign subjects from a target? Pleasure-hazes creating orbs, with truly nefarious extensions? A chair that allows you to extend the reach of your magic to miles? Röntgen booths? Machines for forced alignment changes? Yes, these essentially artifact-level wonders run the gamut of traditional scifi and weird fiction, making me constantly envisioning my favorites of the classics - I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that EACH of these items can change a campaign, nay can even power a whole campaign. They're this iconic, this interesting.
Of course, classic science-fiction is, more often than not, also defined by the fantastic vehicles sported within - especially Jules Verne has become pretty much the default association just about anyone would have in that regard. And yes - from flying saucers to hover-vehicles to jetcrafts and tanks - vehicles upon vehicles, all ready for your perusal...oh so AWESOME!
Now I mentioned gadgets - these do not simply pop up, as one could have expected - instead, concise and easy to grasp rules for research and crafting them can be found within these pages alongside comprehensive tables of gadgets - from ant-inspired better carrying/less armor issues (and even wielding oversized weapons) to blasters, jetpack-like vastly improved jumps, the gadgets are surprisingly versatile - and, more often than not, do something utterly, completely UNIQUE. The gadgets alone would be cool - but combine their neat basic premises with aforementioned, rather interesting special tricks AND the 5-step upgrade system for maximum customizability and we have a system that ends up as not only flexible, but downright brilliant. And yes, we get grappling hooks, bionic commando style, scanners, magnifiers...even personal translators! Beyond these, there are symbionts - and, as an old Venom fanboy, I was pretty much looking forward to them, their concise rules and implementation. And yes, these symbionts are rather interesting - though surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly mundane though they turned out to be. What do I mean by this? Well, first of all, there is nothing wrong with the symbionts - there rules are concise, their benefits unique and they make for a very cool way to reward players even in campaigns that sport no electrotech - just explain it via aberrant stuff etc. and you're good to go. That being said, they are pretty much one note-augmentations - no detrimental effects, no symbiont-highjacks - nothing. Again, this does not make them bad and their acquisition, recovery and death-rules are concise, but especially when compared to the rest of the book, they feel very static and ironically, inorganic when compared to the vast panorama of options provided by gadgets et al. One deserves special mention, though - the animan symbiont can transform normal humans into an animal-like race called mutamorphs, one of two new races.
The base mutamorph race receives +2 Con, -2 Cha, count as both mutamorphs and humans, receive -4 to all cha-based check and get low-light-vision. Additionally, they may select one of 8 basic sets, which align them with e.g. bears, wolves etc. and influence thus their movement rate, a further +2 bonus to an attribute etc. Here, the rules-language could be a) slightly more precise and b) balancing is off. Natural weapons fails to specify whether they're primary or secondary and bite attacks, for example do not adhere to the standard damage for medium creatures. Additionally, we have unassisted personal flight at 1st level for e.g. Bat mutamorphs, which can be a problem in quite a few campaigns. The second new race, the raccoon-folk Nashi receive +2 Con, -2 Int, are small, slow, receive +1 to diplomacy and Knowledge, low-light vision, +2 to Disable Device and Knowledge (engineering), Appraise, Perception and Spellcraft as well as early firearm proficiency. Okay race. Both races receive full arrays of favored class options. Nashi can also select a bunch of alternate racial traits, some of which are pretty strong and replace bland +2 bonuses to skills - which renders them pretty much a no-brainer. Not a particular fan of this decision.
Character traits, new skill uses for old (and new skills) etc. also make an appearanceAfter the rather sobering racial write-ups, we're back to form - with technician background generators akin to those found in Ultimate Campaign as well as  *drum-roll* KIMGDOM-BUILDING SUPPOORT! Electroplants, hydroworks, MONORAIL TRACKS (!!!), radiation sickness, airfields, broadcasting towers - even in completely unrelated settings, the content provided here is gold. Better yet, new rooms and buildings for my beloved downtime system are also provided for - including airfields, factories etc. - and there it is again, the manic, stupid grin that was on my face for most of the time while I was reading this book.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed next to no glitches - quite a feat for a book of this size. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read, printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf has copious amounts of awesome, original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.
Radiance House does not publish books often, but when they do, they tend to rank in the upper echelon - indeed, so far, I have yet to be truly disappointed by a given book. Dario Nardi and Alexander Augunas did not break this trend. Instead, they deliver something special: I expected this to be a PFRPG-book of the Electrotech-world detailed in other supplements - instead, I received a thoroughly concise campaign-overlay. With the content herein, you can easily introduce electrotech in any doses you deem appropriate into your campaign - from full-blown all-out scifi to fantasy with fallen spacecrafts to anything in-between. Whether you're playing Rhûne or Pure Steam, Iron Gods or any other even remotely steampunky/science-fiction-style setting, this delivers. In fact, if you're aiming for a magic-less system sans deities etc., this answers the healing question. From hardcore scifi to teslapunk, in small doses or in buckets - the Age of Electrotech is an absolute must-own publication. The technician is one of the coolest classes currently available and its massive customization options are downright beautiful to behold. After some tinkering, I am proud to say that I could not flaws with this exceedingly versatile class - which is quite a feat. Indeed, this is quite probably the best gadgeteering class currently out there - and one for which I really hope I'll see more material. Making a technician is simply an immensely rewarding experience and the playtesting does show - even more impressive then, that a class of this complexity is so utterly easy to grasp. Kudos indeed!
My criticism towards the symbionts should be considered nagging at a high level, and thus, we only remain with the racial write-ups not being on par with the otherwise exceedingly high quality of this book. But that also pales before the VAST array of utterly inspiring options contained within these pages - from the Ultimate Campaign-support to the vehicles, this book is a joy and one I definitely will get in print as soon as my finances permit it.
Before I gush even more and start to sound like a complete fanboy - the Age of Electrotech should be considered a must-have addition to any game that likes to introduce a bit of the uncommon into their fantasy - the content's rules alone, heck, the class alone maybe worth the asking price. Add to that the fact that you can easily reskin the fluff to treat this as magic, steam or whatever, and we have a massive book of glorious crunch, with inspiring fluff sprinkled in that can easily be summed up with the words "must have". My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and I nominate this as a candidate for my top ten of 2014 - this book deserves your attention and delivers excellence for its price.
You can get this super tome here on OBS!

Or, you can get it for a discounted price as an add-on for the Pact Magic Kickstarter currently running!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Ultimate Composition

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Mar 13 2015 - 05:06
Ultimate Composition





The second massive sourcebook in Interjection games' Strange Magic-series of massive books clocks in at 95 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 92 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
FULL DISCLOSURE: As the credits tell you, I acted as editor for this book. I worked on other parts of Strange Magic and was compensated for my work. That being said, I reviewed the Maestro and its expansions and thus the system this is based on long before I was involved in any way with this project. I did not contribute material to this book. I do not consider my judgment compromised and have rated projects I was involved with less than stellar before. I consider my integrity top priority and hence wanted to let you know about my involvement.
So the first class herein is already an interesting one that could be considered rather gonzo - the breakdancer. Sponsored by backer Sasha Hall, the breakdancer receives 3/4 BAB-progression, d8, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 composer-level progression, good fort- and ref-saves and proficiency with simple weapons, light martial weapons, whip, meteor hammer and light armor. He also begins the game with 2 scores and learns up to 5. Each score can have a1 melody at first level, scaling up to 4. At 5th level, the class receives the first so-called drop and these scale up to 5, but more on them later.
If the terminology hasn't been ample clue so far, composition magic is a special kind of magic (including a caster-like level) that has its own terminology. First would be so-called scores - these consist of an intro, an outro and a number of melodies. Each score must contain a single intro, outro and melody. Scores are prepared and require a caster-attribute (usually Intelligence) of 12 + number of melodies in a score. The DC, if applicable, is 10 + 1/2 class level + governing attribute. Since compositions are prepared, changing them requires access to a composition book, which is, however, only required to change the composition. A breakdancer, for example, begins play with 1 intro, 1 outro and 1+Int-mod (min 1) melodies known. Gaining more intros/outros/melodies requires the gaining of levels or the access to composition book, mirroring the way in which wizards can learn spells from other sources. The collective term for intros, outros and melodies would be composition.
Each score can be conducted for rounds equal to the character's Perform (conducting)-skill + the character's Intelligence modifier. Starting to conduct a score is a standard action that provokes AoOs, but can be maintained as a free action. The intro-effect triggers immediately, as do all melody effects - the latter persist for as long as the score remains in effect. A score can be ended in two ways - first, the character may simply stop conducting as a free action. He can, however, also execute a standard action that provokes AoOs to end a composition with a flourish - this triggers an outro. After ending a score as a free action, the character may not reactivate it in the same round. Conducting a score per se cannot be disrupted, but paralysis, killing/knocking the character unconscious etc. all end a given composition - whenever the character can't spend the required free action, the magic collapses. Unless otherwise noted, composition magic relies on audible components. Faithful readers of mine may now have a slight déjà-vu - and indeed, this book essentially takes the unique way of casting the Maestro-class introduced and amps it up, generating a whole array of material for it. And yes, I'll return to that class as well.
For now, let me explain the breakdancer's two signature tricks - number one would be Rhythm. A breakdancer can accumulate up to Dex-mod points of rhythm, minimum 1. These can be considered thesholds/points. 1 point of Rhythm is gained when the breakdancer is conducting a score. If within the effect of a score or a bardic performance and not conducting a score, the breakdancer does not modify the points of Rhythm he has. When not conducting a score and not within the effect of a score or bardic performance, the breakdancer loses one point of Rhythm. What do these points power? Well, remember the Dance moves I mentioned? Yup. These have either a Rhythm cost or a minimum Rhythm and, if applicable, a save of 10 + 1/2 class level + Dex-mod. Finally, there would be drops - gained at 5th level, these are special kinds of scores that have an intro, but neither melody nor outro. Drops do not require the conducting class feature and instead can be executed while conducting a score as a standard action, superseding the effects of the score for 1 round. Utilizing a drop eats 2 rounds of the duration of the composition currently conducted, but also generates 1 rhythm - this means it can't be used if a given composition does not have at least 2 rounds left. At 7th level, drops can be executed as a move action, at 13th level even as a swift action (or a move action, depending on the breakdancer's whims) - note, however, that only one drop can be executed per round.
Okay, so what do the rhythm-powered dance-moves? Well, a lot. The moves, beyond aforementioned restrictions based on rhythm and minimum rhythm also tend to have minimum levels assigned and most are supernatural abilities. If the above explanation of rhythm wasn't enough to cue you in - these can be used during a given composition or after it, for as long as the necessary rhythm is there. The effects, thus, tend to be good in a rather subtle way. Short-range fire damage versus targets on failed save, healing equal to one's own rhythm, or generating a non-illusionary mirror imagebased on quick movement may take a bit of thought, but as supplemental tricks, these actually help the class remain pretty much fluid. The dance moves also include so-called stances - a breakdancer can only be in one stance at a given time and entering a new stance immediately end the previous stance. It should also be noted that the level-restriction means that capstone breakdancers can select some utterly awesome, powerful spell-like effects - like nigh-infinite automatic haste whenever the breakdancer receives rhythm. What about moonwalking through threatened areas? What about expending rhythm to kill foes with pelvic thrusts? At range? Yeah. This is epic.
And yes, there are dance moves for temporary rhythm as well as a capstone for the maintenance of two stances at the same time. The dance moves also provide, unsurprisingly, deadly headspins of death and some nasty combat maneuver-combos, based mostly on dex and granting the benefits of Improved Unarmed Strikes, allowing for breakdancing martial arts. Neato! The favored class options herein deserve special mention, often providing thoroughly unique benefits and interesting scaling mechanisms -  take the one for Drow: First, you penalize creatures affected by a drop with a -1 penalty to Fort-saves. After taking it 5 times, the drow may select whom to penalize. After 10 times, creatures are also fatigued temporarily. A Fort-save negates, with the DC scaling with the FCO. Cool indeed!
Now as for the compositions, we'll check that later - first, let's take a look at the second class, which would be Jason Linker's Cantor. The cantor receives d6, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will-saves, begins with 2 scores (scaling up to 5), one melody per score (scaling up to 5 as well) and maximum spell levels scaling up to 6th. The class receives 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armors and shields. Cantors follow the same rules for compositions, but use Wis as a governing attribute. Unlike other composing classes, cantors also receive access to a limited number of spells, which they need not prepare ahead of time. This divine spellcasting is governed by Charisma...and unlike most classes, each spell can be cast exactly ONCE per day. Instead of bonus spells per day, cantors learn additional spells. Cantors learn the cure/inflict spells automatically at certain levels and has to determine which to use for spontaneous casting etc. (with the usual alignment restrictions)  -so in fact, their spellcasting is extremely limited, even more so than most spontaneous casters. At 2nd level the cantor receives channel energy as per alignment/energy type chosen and every even level thereafter, this ability increases, essentially granting the class full healing capabilities. Beyond these, MAD-alleviating abilities and social skill bonuses increase the potency of cantors when dealing with members of the same faith. They also receive their choice from alignment-related domains.
Now so far, this sounds pretty divine, but Musicae Sacrae enter the fray - these follow standard score rules with a couple of notable exceptions. These, unlike regular scores, can only be used once per day and one is gained at 5th level and every 4 class levels thereafter. They can be selected multiple times, each time increasing their daily uses by +1. Thus, you should not be surprised to note that these special scores (akin to the opus of the maestro) are very powerful and come with sample real life pieces to provide the proper mood, should you be so inclined. Veterans of the system will recall this system - and indeed, there is overlap between musica sacra and the maestro's opus class features and they utilize the same system.
These powerful pieces allow you to declare cubes of pure fire, forcing foes to run, immediately resurrect allies fallen even to death magic or grow your allies to juggernaut-size, including significant boosts to their capabilities. Or what about Gustav Holst's Op.32's representation's superb power, which even replenishes e.g. rounds of rage, bardic performances and the like? Yeah, damn awesome and epic, especially since the pdf manages to get the complex crunch-wording required right! The class may also select a capstone, a so-called Deus Ex Musica at 20th level, which include treating the first failed save each day that would result in the cantor's death as a natural 20, point-based domain-spellcasting and special "super"-melodies to add to their arsenal. Once again, we receive extensive favored class options for the class and concise spell-lists (including sources) and score-lists.
Paul Fijma has sponsored the 3rd base class herein, Bradley Crouch's Harmonicist- The Harmonicist receives d6, proficiency with simple weapons, 1/2 BAB-progression, good will- and fort-saves, 4+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and shields, but not any armor. Harmonicists treat their composer level as their class level and their compositions are governed by Intelligence. Harmonicists may conduct a score for Perform (conducting) ranks + Int-mod rounds, min 1. Unlike other composers, though, the music is not ethereal, instead resonating within a target within 25 ft + 5 ft./2 composer levels range. Intro and outro-effects are centered on said target rather than the composer, whereas melodies only effect the one subject targeted, also e.g. granting limited-use abilities to the subject, if applicable. All compositions a harmonicist can know thus have a slightly altered alternate rules-language, but more on that later. Additionally, it should be noted that harmonicists increase the number of scores they can have in effect at a given time by +1 at 6th level and an additional +1 every 6 levels beyond that. It should also be noted that harmonicists may expend swift actions to move their compositions from eligible target to eligible target. They learn up to 8 scores and can apply ups to 5 melodies per score.
At 2nd level, a harmonicist learns a so-called counterpoint, a non-conducting-requiring single melody sans intro or outro that can be executed as a standard action that does not provoke attacks of opportunity. This can be woven into an ongoing score, stacking with it. Only one counterpoint can be maintained at a given time and they can prepare one at 2nd level, +1 every 3 levels thereafter. This is called "weaving" a counterpoint. Starting at 4th level, however, harmonicists may also conduct counterspoints, adding woven regular counterpoints to those they conduct - sounds a bit complicated, but really isn't once you've understood the principle: The harmonicist may treat counterpoints as scores and thus modify them. The number of counterpoint scores a harmonicist may conduct at a given time increases to 2 at 10th level and to 3 at 16th level. Now here's the interesting tidbit  -counterpoint scores can be initiated as a swift action and do not provoke AoOs. Yes, this class is complex, but the combo-tinkering one may engage in...
The capstone btw. provides further options to modify the scores and counterpoints in various ways, adding yet another vast array of potential...and truly NASTY combos. The class also sports an array of favored class options.
The final class herein is an old acquaintance - the maestro. Since I've reviewed that class in detail back in the day when it was a single pdf, I'll be brief - you can always check out my review of the original maestro-pdf for a more in-depth breakdown of the class. The maestro is a full composer, with Int governing compositions, while his spellcasting (which adheres to similar restrictions as that of the cantor) is based on Charisma. As mentioned before, the maestro also receives an array of special scores that are not modified by melodies etc. - these would be the opuses. Additionally, the maestro may insert melody-based refrains into his compositions for an increased flexibility and the diverse, awesome capstones deserve special mention as well. Advice for granted bonus compositions and diverse favored class options round out this class -  and the maestro and his base-system were superbly glorious even before the streamlining of the composition-system seen in this book.
This is not where the pdf ends, though - we also are introduced to composition-class-based archetypes, with each archetype coming with a list of compatible classes. The first would be the arranger for the maestro and cantor. This archetype replaces worshipful/insightful performance and modifies musica sacra/opus - the arranger receives a masterpiece pool equal to the amount of musicae sacrae/opuses the character knows - this pool can be used to start any opus/musica sacra, allowing for increased flexibility regarding these nasty pieces of musical destruction. Instead of channel energy/refrain, the arranger may conduct so-called arrangements during the conducting of opuses or musicae sacrae.
Backer Sasha Hall sponsored the songweaver, who is compatible with all composition classes. Songweavers receive no intros or outros, but they learn to conduct bridges containing outro-effects after a certain minimum number of score, fluently gliding over to another score. On a design perspective, the exceedingly complex wording here is damn impressive. Additionally, the songweaver may weave so-called verses into their ongoing compositions - complex and interesting. Brandon F. has sponsored the Starlet, compatible with cantor and maestro - starlets never learn outros, but make up for that by learning to forego learning compositions in order to learn spells and add them to their metronom list - instead of triggering an outro, spells on that list may be executed as a kind of outro-substitution. Breakdancers and Harmonicists may opt to become street musicians - these guys come not only with one of the most badass artworks in the book, they can also generate so-called songbombs - these can be activated via commands, proximity or triggers and they can essentially be used to generate a musical minefield. The street musician receives one point for the pool, +1 for every 2 class levels.
Cantors and Maestros may also opt for the vituoso archetype, who may start bardic performances  -and the interesting component here being that the class replaces spells with exactly that, rendering the virtuoso a truly unique combo of the composition system and the potential of the bardic performance-modifications introduced in ample 3pp-supplements. A total of 2 pages of feats can used to modify the tricks at the disposal of the classes further - for example, you can cast cantrips faster, add the effects of a melody to those affected by your channel energy, conducting both melodies and refrains at once - these feats add yet another layer of flexibility and trickery to the classes provided herein, including e.g. means for the breakdancer to bypass spell focus-requirements for compositions. Of course, more rhythm, longer composition and all the variable extensions you'd expect can also be enhanced with feats.
Now after massive lists of compositions, it's time to check them out - and there are *a lot* in here. As mentioned above, harmonicists often receive their own effects and handy compatible classes-lines help you navigate the respective compositions. The compositions...well, they are overall exceedingly awesome - from mass mirror image-like duplicates that sport a more concise wording than the spell (and have specific, distinct rules) to destructive dissonances that break foes apart to dodge bonuses called "Can't Touch this!", there are  a LOT of cool tools that demand experimentation/stacking/recombination. What about melodies that can actually stave off starvation? Or the option to potentially modify the range of a composition by means of a chorale? Especially the latter, if used wisely, can be utilized to pull off some damn impressive stunts. Providing flanking immunity for all allies within a short-range unless all are flanked also makes for a neat option for higher level composers. Now the very interesting component that renders the compositions interesting would be that the crunch very much duplicates the notion of composing music - the system requires the players to take the compositions and combine them, re-align them, change them up - and thus create deadly combos. When a certain effect deals sonic damage depending on how long a composition has run and similar interesting efficiency-optimization-tricks allow and reward the experimentation and planning of one's musical magic, immersion increases and one truly feels like a magical composer. So yes, this is one of the few installments wherein the crunch actually helps the immersion, one of the rare, truly artfully crafted books.
Want to know what I mean by unique benefits? What about an ode that turns all alcoholic beverages of a certain power healing potions, but only while within a bar frequented by locals? Yes, this composition actually comes with a built-in reason why your players should open an extradimensional planar bar! I love it! What about hijacking mind-influencing effects? Have I mentioned the spectral literally fat lady? Yeah. Awesome. And I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with these...
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Interjection Games' 2-column b/w-standard with melody/music-themed, thematic fonts. The pdf remains printer-friendly and it sports a mix of neat original b/w-artworks and some stock art/graphics. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience - with nested bookmarks etc.
Composition magic is one complex system that is easy to grasp and, much like the music it mirror, hard to master. Unlike many classes out there, the magic herein may not look too impressive at first glance - the components, like single notes, look fun, but remain that - single notes. Until you tie them together - then, suddenly, a player can fist-pump and intone the symphony of destruction, so to speak. The massive array of modification options of the simple 3-part base system should constitute the very dream of a player seeking to compose his/her own magic -the way in which the single elements come together can be extremely gratifying. Yes, composition magic is different. It is weird. It is also the music-system the bard should have had in the first place - it's simply more interesting, less linear and puts player-agenda very high on the table. If there is one thing one could complain about here, then that would be that even more combo-elements would have been awesome to see. Some players of the old Maestro-class may also feel slightly vexed by certain compositions now being class-exclusive for other classes: If you liked killing foes with "End with a Whimper" - well, that's now cantor-exclusive, much to the chagrin of one of my players.
It should be noted, though, that Bradley Crouch and Jason Linker have simply crafted the superb incarnation of the system, with the cantor in particular being a true masterpiece - a full healer on par with the cleric, but with a completely different tone and ability set. While the breakdancer may strike some as a weird anachronism, I encourage all groups to check out how it plays, for in that regard, it is an absolutely unique experience as well. This is, let me emphasize that, NOT a joke-class. And if you don't like the fluff, do yourself a favor and reskin it. Seriously, the experience is interesting enough to warrant it.
Ultimate Composition is a superb book, a glorious magic-system and has become a permanent fixture in my games - one that I hope will one day receive even more fodder. Its crowning achievement, to me, remains in its ability to make the mastery of the system mimic the process it seeks to emulate - a feat rarely seen in any supplement and one that must be considered superbly rewarding. Hence, Ultimate Composition receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and becomes a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

You can get this awesome tome and compose your own magic here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

Want the whole Strange Magic-subscription? You can get it here on OBS!

It should also be noted that lead designer Bradley Crouch currently has a kickstarter running that seeks to redefine bloodlines and what they can do - you can get the Strange Magic-subscription at a lower, discounted price as an add-on for this interesting KS! Check it out here!


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Leadership Handbook

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Thu, Mar 05 2015 - 07:14
Leadership Handbook






This supplement clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Okay, so what is this? Well, in one short sentence, this is leadership for everyone. Yeah. You take arguably the most powerful feat in the game and give it to everyone, free of charge. Can this work? After an aptly-written piece of prose, we are introduced to the mechanics - first each character has an LS, a leadership score, which is equal to character level + cha-mod. If a check is called for, roll 1d20 and add your LS plus miscellaneous modifiers as per the table. Mythic characters also add their mythic tier to the LS. Now if you're like me, you always considered the leadership modifiers provided by the feat to be NOT enough - well, from frequent communication to taking decisive actions, the new misc modification table provides much more diversity.
LS determines cohorts, followers and here's the awesome thing - use LS to qualify for mass combat boons, special leadership perks and the reputation of the characters. In a cool alternate option, closely entwined parties may sport a kind of party leadership. Now the way in which cohorts are obtained, their maximum level, promotion options and recruitment - all of that is covered in ample detail. Better yet, synergy with mass combat and downtime rules are provided, filling a gaping hole in the regular leadership-rules. And yes, interaction with the kingdom building rules and leadership therein can also be found within these pages. Beyond rules, some great guidelines for building cohorts that are FUN in game are also provided and advancing them (including the advancement of monstrous cohorts) would be another point covered. Advice for DMs handling cohorts and a massive list of sample monstrous cohorts along their bestiary origin can be found within these pages.
Now in a stroke of absolute brilliance, downtime follower recruitment is provided in the book - and the book does not stop there. Training followers as army commanders, as contacts etc. -all covered. Better yet, a concise table provides max ranks for skills of followers, acting as a convenient and elegant balancing mechanism. And yes, training followers as teams would be covered as well. 5 sample followers would be provided herein, so let's move on to reputation, shall we?
The reputation is tied to a sphere of influence within e.g. a kingdom - only within this sphere, the effects are felt. Increasing the LS also increases the array of hexes you can influence. This can go in both ways, however - you can also gain infamy in certain hexes. Reputation effects utilizing fame/infamy, from discounts to lynch-mobs, provide tangible, concise benefits to the characters and both positive and negative effects are covered in a huge table. But that's not where this pdf stops - party reputation, secret identities and alter egos with completely different reputations - all covered.
Now if the mentioning of fame wasn't ample indicator - the system thus also ties in perfectly with the organization-rules, allowing you to spend prestige points granted by your fame for different benefits.
As you advance your level, you also receive so-called leadership perks -one at 2nd level and one at every two levels thereafter. These perks can be used to strengthen armies, cohorts, contacts, downtime, kingdoms, relationships, reputations and titles. There also are loner-perks which provide a stronger benefit, but these exclude you from attracting followers and cohorts. The last 8 pages of this pdf are completely devoted to a vast array of different perks that allow you to make a kingdom into an economical power-house, modify downtime effects...If you for example, would be the beloved heir of the throne, there's no a perk for that. Same goes for being on personal quests, for being essentially the martial law, for being just devoted and loyal...what about filling two roles in the kingdom? What about being a one-man-army? Yeah, you *can* see that, can't you? The one wizard/fighter before a whole army, brandishing the weaponry and telling them to come get him?  Oh yes. What about creating a group reputation with your spouse? This is absolutely awesome...BUT.Yeah, there's a "but" - prepare for my dreaded nitpick-powers! ...The "o"s in the perk-header font seem to be a bigger size than the other letters.......Yeah. I know. Not really a weighty point of criticism.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches. layout adheres to a gorgeous, yet relatively printer-friendly 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. it should also be noted that the pdf sports numerous gorgeous original pieces of full-color artwork.
Ben McFarland once wrote on the Paizo-boards that Leadership would be the greatest gift a player can make the DM - it shows an investment into the campaign, a willingness to engage in mutual worldbuilding beyond the norm. I tend to concur.
With the release of Ultimate Campaign, a certain discrepancy has crept into the most beloved feat at my table (seriously, in my last campaign all but 2 players had it!) - and now, it's gone. In order to playtest this book, I had to actually integrate it into my main campaign. Just running a module or the like wouldn't have worked and I have two characters with the feat there anyways, so yeah. We made a bunch of modifications and ran with the system. Synergy with mass combat, downtime, fame and reputation - this system is a perfect example of ridiculously elegant design. Alexander Augunas takes all the distinct systems and ties them together in elegant, awesome ways and offers options upon options.Okay, I can't emphasize this enough - this book is a huge blessing, a godsend. It is elegant and smart. It works exceedingly well in actual gameplay. It takes a vast array of disparate systems and forges them into a significantly more cohesive, functional entity. And it fixes the issues created by the relative strength of cohorts that make other characters feel left out. It also sports neat prose and provides advice for using these rules sans bogging down the game/stealing the spotlight. The Leadership Handbook will never, ever be left in any of my campaigns from this day on.
I cannot fail to emphasize this enough: EVERY kingmaker-campaign should get this. Every campaign using Ultimate Campaign as a book, any of its component-subsystems, MUST get this. The systems benefit greatly from the inclusions of this book and the system also perfectly works with Legendary Games' expansions.
Let me once again make this very, very clear -  the Leadership Handbook is a humble, inexpensive, utterly awesome book that renders leadership infinitely more streamlined - less like a half-baked feat-remnant, but like a full-blown tie-in with all systems. This is pretty much what I wished Paizo would do - tie disparate systems together with a concise frame, an awareness for the functionality of them. This is utterly superb. My only regret is that I wanted this to be SO MUCH LONGER.
It is hereby awarded EZG Essential status, becomes a candidate for my Top Ten of 2014 and receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.
You can get this glorious pdf here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

If you like Alexander Augunas' designs, you may want to check out the Pact Magic Unbound: Grimoire of Lost Souls-Kickatsrter here - why? Because you can get a subscription for 2015 for a very low add-on-price!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

B20: For Rent, Lease, Or Conquest

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Feb 20 2015 - 04:17
B20: For Rent, Lease, Or Conquest






This module clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 43 pages of content, so let's take a look!
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion. Really. The outrageous premise is a part of the fun.......Still here? All right!  First of all - if your PCs have completed the superb "Death and Taxes"-module, they're likely to be familiar with the subtle, off-kilter humor this module sports - if not, well, then all the better. The PCs are contacted by one gorgeous lady called Sylvia Towntree, the very top-brass of Hordenheim's real estate brokers and agents. The lady contacts them to clear out a haunted manor constructed by an eccentric gnome/architect, edgewaith manor. The encounters, though, quickly show that this is not yet another grim-dark delve into a family's tragedy - oozes in the closet just are part one of the challenges that hilariously echo the tasks real life people may face when restoring an old manor: Of course, the place has a vermin problem.
Only we're talking fantasy world here, and thus, alas, the vermin are sentient - a Formian queen has set up shop in the place and while the unseen servants may have been intended as a rare form of luxury, the well-meaning magical constructs can result in pretty much hilarious accidents on the side of the PCs. Heck, even the bound fire elemental providing central heating can be reasoned with and be played up for a glorious blending of the horrific and genuinely funny. It should also be noted that the house's depiction regarding rooms is anything but rudimentary, coming with rather exquisite details even before the superb maps in full color (including player-friendly versions) come into play.
Yes, the place has a rather nasty fuse-box. Oh, and yes, PCs may actually do battle with animated chicken coops trying to eat them. No, I'm not making that up. More impressively, they receive artworks that make them genuinely creepy! Now sooner or later, the queen will seek diplomacy, rather piqued by the bad form of the home-invading PCs...and either by combat or diplomacy, hand over the deed to the manor - which coincidentally allows for the free re-arrangement of rooms - all rules for that are perfectly described in a nice, concise handout. And here, the module becomes totally awesome and bonkers - in a twist, the real-estate agent arrives with a full-blown mop-up crew to kill friggin' everybody! She didn't get to the top by playing nice, after all! So yes, the PCs, with full command of the house (and hopefully a couple of Formians) may defend the house and use its powers to essentially turn all those tricks they witnessed upon their wannabe assassins for one of the most glorious, iconic showdowns I've read in ages. Home alone, anyone?
The pdf provides full stats of for all creatures for both PFRPG and D&D 3.X.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to AAW Games' 2-column full-color standard with copious amounts of awesome full-color art and superb full-color cartography. The module comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Do you know how many modules I read per year? How many I've read in total? Hint: Probably too many. I have seen just about everything and only very, very rarely do i encounter a module that instills a total sense of jamais-vu in me. This module managed that. But it did so much more - it is logical, concise and downright glorious. It is also the funniest module I've read in years. Now don't get me wrong - unlike many comparable modules, this one is NOT a "joke module" - it is superbly crafted, sports great writing and thoroughly iconic ideas and is professional in every way. In order to note how this module brilliantly skirts the boundaries between the creepy and funny, between high-fantasy and tongue-in-cheek nods towards our own culture, all without breaking the 4th wall, one practically has to run this exceedingly fun beast.
I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that playing this module saw one player fall from his chair, laughing. This is one of the most unique, inspired modules I've read in AGES. Colin Stricklin's first module was great - this is ridiculously good. And yes, pun intended. Even the premise would be enough to qualify this as awesome, but add the optional, subdued and INTELLIGENT humor, the unique adversaries and superb production values and we quite frankly have a module that belongs into the collection of every Pathfinder DM. Yes, that good. Unless you have even less humor than the stereotype accredits to Germans like me, this is a must-have blast of a module. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and nominating this as one of my candidates for the Top Ten of 2014.
You can get this SUPERB module here on OBS!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

King of the Mountain (Atomic Array 063)

Moonstew Productions - Fri, May 25 2012 - 12:08


King of the Mountain (Atomic Array 063)

You’s never admit it in public, but you knew it all along: Elvis lives!
Well, kinda.

On this episode, we ask Michael Satran to tell us all about it - and his latest HERO System adventure entitled King of the Mountain.

BlackWyrm Games: http://www.blackwyrm.com/

Michael Satran: http://michaelsatran.wordpress.com/

Ed’s Pick: 3,000 Miles to Graceland
Rone’s Rant: “San Francisco Misadventures”

Sponsors:
* d20Pro
* Hero Lab

Past Satran Episodes:
* Foxbat for President
* War of Worldcraft
* Unkindness
* Pretty Hate Machines

* * * * *

Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about the games you’re playing. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see on the Array in the future.

Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment, and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

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Categories: Podcasting

RPG Countdown Best of Q1 2012

Moonstew Productions - Wed, May 23 2012 - 14:26

Welcome to RPG Countdown.

This episode counts down the 25 best-selling RPG products of Q1 2012.

RPG Countdown Sponsors:
* d20Pro
* Gamerati
* Scrying Eye Games

Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

RPG Countdown Best of Q1 2012

Categories: Podcasting

An Evening With Steven Brust (Atomic Array Special Edition)

Moonstew Productions - Sat, May 05 2012 - 04:23

An Evening With Steven Brust (Atomic Array Special Edition)

A couple months ago, Patrick DeLise suggested we invite author Steven Brust on the show. So, being fans ourselves, we did!

Steven’s first work, Jhereg, was released in 1983. Since then, Steven has released a total of 13 stories that follow Jhereg’s protagonist, the smart-mouthed assassin Vlad Taltos. In addition, he has written The Khaavren Romances, which at set in the same world - though follow different characters.

Sprinkled amongst the novels set in Dragaera, you will also find a number of other Brustian offerings, including a novel based on the Firefly television series, called My Own Kind of Freedom.

Steven doesn’t just know his way around a good story, he also plays a number of instruments - and has been known to play them, and even sing, from time to time at the various fiction and fandom events he attends. He is a part of the band Cats Laughing, which even received a mention by Chris Claremont in Star Trek: Debt of Honor.

You can keep up to date on what Steven is up to by visiting The Dream Cafe.

* * * * *

Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about the games you’re playing. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see on the Array in the future.

Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment, and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

(more…)

Categories: Podcasting

Wu Xing (Atomic Array 062)

Moonstew Productions - Sat, Apr 14 2012 - 23:39

Wu Xing (Atomic Array 062)

The war has begun. The Emperor has called for blood!

That is how the description of Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade begins. So we called on creator Eloy Lasanta of Third Eye Games to come on The Array and tell us all about it. In this episode, we talk chop about the Wu Xing RPG, the many ninja clans that player characters come from, and the war that permeates the setting.

Third Eye Games: http://thirdeyegames.net/
Eloy Lasanta: http://eloythesaint.com/

Ed’s Pick: Basilisk
Rone’s Rant: “The Old Gray Mare”

Sponsors:
* d20Pro
* Hero Lab

Also Mentioned:
* RPG Countdown
* Origins Game Fair
* Iron GM | Dexcon
* ReaperCon

Frazetta’s Death Dealer

* * * * *

Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about the games you’re playing. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see on the Array in the future.

Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment, and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

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Categories: Podcasting

RPG Countdown Best of $2011 Giveaway Winners!

Moonstew Productions - Fri, Mar 30 2012 - 13:52


Welcome to the RPG Countdown!

We collected 228 receipts from listeners of the RPG Countdown Best of 2011 show who went into their local game stores and bought one of the products on our list.

Today, we put all the envelopes into a bin and pulled out the winners.

Winner the First: One lucky store will receive $2,011 in free advertising on great gaming websites.

Winner the Second: One luck gamer will receive $2,011 in cold hard cash!

Did you enjoy this special? Please share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future Countdowns delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

RPG Countdown Best of $2011 Giveaway Winners!

Categories: Podcasting

Checking the Mail

Moonstew Productions - Fri, Mar 16 2012 - 03:25

RPG Countdown host Ed Healy (and helper) grabs the final entries for the RPG Countdown Best of $2011 Giveaway.

 
The winner will be announced on March 30, 2012… Right here at RPG Countdown.com.

Categories: Podcasting

Mistborn Adventure Game (Atomic Array 061)

Moonstew Productions - Mon, Mar 05 2012 - 14:57

Mistborn Adventure Game (Atomic Array 061)

Based on the bestselling novels by Brandon Sanderson and powered by an all new story-driven rules system, the Mistborn Adventure Game lets you explore, command, or liberate the oppressed world of Scadrial, battle the Lord Ruler’s Inquisitors, and master the primal forces of Allomancy, Feruchemy, and Hemalurgy. It’s the ultimate resource for fans of the novels and those who want to experience the Final Empire firsthand.

On this episode we have Alex Flagg and Patrick Kapera, from Crafty Games, who talk with us about the RPG adaptation of the novels. And… we also speak with Mr. Mistborn himself, author Brandon Sanderson.

Brandon Sanderson: http://www.brandonsanderson.com/
Crafty Games: http://www.crafty-games.com/

Ed’s Pick: The Good Thief
Rone’s Rant: “Holier-Than-Thouists”

Sponsors:
* d20Pro
* Hero Lab

Also Mentioned:
* RPG Countdown
* Genghis Con
* New Gods of Mankind (Atomic Array 006)
* Game Developers Conference
* Iron GM
* TotalCon

* * * * *Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about the games you’re playing. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see on the Array in the future.Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment, and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

(more…)

Categories: Podcasting

Best of 2011

Moonstew Productions - Wed, Feb 15 2012 - 05:00


Welcome to the RPG Countdown: Best of 2011 Special! We’ve got the 100 hottest selling RPG products of 2011 on tap. Sit back, grab your dice, and get ready to roll…

Where the stats come from: We collected sales statistics from 126 brick-and-mortar retail stores, representing over 5,000 products from more than 250 publishers.

Would you like an extra $2,011 in cold hard cash?

Just listen to the show.

Visit your local game store.

Buy one of those 100 best-selling products mentioned on the RPG Countdown Best of 2011.

Send us the receipt.

We’ll put all the receipts in a drawing, and send the winner a check for $2,011!

The Details:

1) Your receipt must have a time stamp on or after February 15, 2012.

2) We must receive your envelope no later than March 15, 2012.

3) You must write your name and email address on the back of your receipt.

IF WE CAN’T READ YOUR NAME AND EMAIL, YOU CAN’T WIN!

The Address:

Moonstew

ATN: Best of 2011 Contest

PO Box 386

DuPont, WA 98327

We will announce the winner of the RPG Countdown Best of $2011 Giveaway on March 30, 2012.

NOTICE: By law, we have to say No Purchase Necessary, so if you don’t want to go support your favorite game store and mail us a receipt, or you don’t have a local game store, you can also enter by sending in a 3×5 card with your name, email, phone number and mailing address.

READ THE OFFICIAL GIVEAWAY RULES HERE

Oh, and lest we forget…

We’re also giving away $2,011 in free advertising to a retailer!

Every receipt submitted in conjunction with the RPG Countdown Best of $2011 Giveaway will also double as a ballot for your friendly local game store. After we draw the name of the winning consumer, we’ll also draw a second receipt and give the retailer listed on that receipt $2,011 in FREE advertising on some of the most popular RPG websites.

So listen to the Countdown, shop at your local retail store, enter to win - and support this industry we all love so much.

READ THE OFFICIAL GIVEAWAY RULES HERE

Did you enjoy this special? Please share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future Countdowns delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

RPG Countdown: Best of 2011 Special

Categories: Podcasting

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Atomic Array 060)

Moonstew Productions - Fri, Feb 10 2012 - 08:49

Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Atomic Array 060)

This episode, we go Old School… James Edward Raggi IV is on to talk about Lamentations of the Flame Princess. If you’ve been intrigued by OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord, but haven’t taken the OSR plunge, may we suggest you give the Flame Princess a look.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess: http://www.lotfp.com/

Ed’s Pick: The Complete Poems of Stephen Crane
Rone’s Rant: “Restaurant Rudeness”

Sponsors:
* d20Pro
* Hero Lab

Also Mentioned:
* TotalCon
* Genghis Con
* GottaCon
* Jen Page

* * * * *Feel free to ask questions, or leave a comment on the site. You can also share Atomic Array with a friend, or contact us directly. In fact, we’d love to hear what you think about the games you’re playing. Tell us what you like (or don’t), and what you’d like to see on the Array in the future.Did you enjoy this episode? Please leave a comment, and share it with others. Consider subscribing so that you will get future episodes delivered to you - you won’t have to remember to download each one.

(more…)

Categories: Podcasting
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