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

Darkwood Adventure Arc #1 - The Deft and the Deadly

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Jan 09 2015 - 04:37
Darkwood Adventure Arc #1 - The Deft and the Deadly





This massive module clocks in at 163 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a damn impressive 157 pages of content - so let's take a look, shall we?
Okay, first of all, let me address something - this review took pretty long to get done and this pdf, while relatively easily converted to any campaign setting, has its own implicit world called Vaard - the supplemental material presented in the detailed appendices provides a new deity-write-up as well as information on the general locations in pretty extensive detail. Darkwood Town, provided with statblock, a nice full color map and even a sample card-game (!!!) reaches a quite impressive level of detail, including even prices for menus. Going above and beyond, we even receive read-aloud text for the respective points of interest. Yes, plus drinking game with really nasty moonshine. I just wished we also received a player-friendly version of the cartography of Darkwood and the circus-town Brighttown's beautiful maps. The level of detail provided goes even above Raging Swan Press' usual level, my benchmark for settlements and is further enhanced by random encounter-suggestions. This town would have made for a more than adequate own sourcebook - as an addition to a module, it is thoroughly impressive.
We also receive 4 sample PCs, with artwork, short stats in addition to full-blown char-sheet versions, extensive background history and information to properly play them - including support for the magic school/academia-rules in one case - which is pretty awesome!
Now flavor-wise, Darkwood Town can be beats pictured as a kind of boom town with a distinct Wild West meets fantasy vibe -  a town held together by the striving for wealth in a progressive, but rough environment - beyond the first "Rough up the new guys"-encounter (which is surprisingly well set up), this feeling is enforced further by coalition rules - these represent the standing of the PCs with the respective factions in Darkwood and provide an easy guideline for DMs to portray the growing reputation of the PCs as well as an easy and rewarding way for players to watch their respective reputations grow. It should finally be noted that beyond all of the aforementioned new material, magic items, a template, a disease and a poisons and 6 stats of key NPCs are provided in the appendices as well, rendering this book essentially a dual module/full-blown regional source-book. While vibe-wise definitely inspired by pulp and the wild west, it should be noted that campaigns without blackpowder can easily use this module - the default assumption may be that gunslinging exists, but it is in no means omnipresent. That being said, it is this reviewer's opinion that the module would lose a bit of its uniqueness by such an omission.
But how is this module constructed, you may ask? Well, it's self-proclaimed goal is to combine event-based, location-based and sandbox-adventuring - and it pretty much works, that much I can say sans  what follows now:
From here on, this adventure-review is suffused with SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump to the conclusion. ......Still here? All right! So the module has essentially a 3-act structure, with Act 1 being devoted to setting up the town for the PCs to explore...and a job offer (including an alternate, rather mysterious counter-offer) - the goal here is for the PCs and players to familiarize themselves with the town before they venture forth to try to reclaim the Highcliff Mine - for whatever faction they choose. I hear you yawn - well, don't.  First of all, this haunted mine manages to evoke an almost perfect sense of foreboding, desolation and dread - furthermore, the challenges provided are varied and range from haunts to smartly templated foes, while also hinting at the rather extensive metaplot and providing an expertly crafted sense of horror that complements, rather than contradicts the mood established in the town.
Now Act II goes full-blown sandbox - from dealing with bandits and ratfolk to bounty-hunting, all of these small sidetreks come with nice battle-mat-style full color maps in surprising detail, while also serving as a means to foreshadow the things to come, among other means with the nasty, mutating disease "The Flux", which proves to be a pretty important component of the meta-plot, one of almost Lovecraftian proportions, I might add. Some straight in your face body horror? Well, yes, please!
When the Night of Stars looms, the PCs are tasked with a delicate task - infiltrate Bright town during the monthly festivities and revels - in order to succeed in their task, the PCs will have to navigate the well-visited tent town, enjoy the festivities, avoid trouble with local bravos and conduct their investigation, hopefully realizing that *something* is indeed amiss with the Genetie family... but what? While the DM knows, I will not spoil this particular component of the rich tapestry of story-threads woven herein. And yes, the party at bright town is crashed - by massive, mutated trolls, hinted at earlier. At the end of the module stand a tantalizing array of options, a thoroughly compelling metaplot and high expectations for the future installments. And yes, I intentionally remained vague in this review - I want you to read this massive book yourself.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting is good, but not perfect - I noticed a couple of glitches, but no serious ones. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with extensive internal hyperlinks that make navigating the story-threads/background information etc. easy on the DM. Layout adheres to a nice and easy to read 2-column full color standard that still is pretty printer-friendly. The full color cartography is VERY extensive and covers even a bunch of side-quests and generally on the high-end/quality-side of things, as are the hand-outs. My one gripe here would be the absence of player-friendly, number-less versions of the maps. The original and rather copious pieces of full color artwork may not adhere to a uniform style, but are iconic in their own right and yes, the artwork generally is nicer to look at than the cover, with especially the vista of highcliff mine deserving accolades.
Nick Johnson and Lars Lundberg's first Darkwood module is one thing: Exceedingly, dauntingly ambitious. For a novice publisher to kick off with a 150+ page module, part of a saga AND in full color etc., all without a kickstarter - well, this is one daring move. I did not expect it to pan out. At least in this mega-adventure, it did. This is very much a thinking man's complex module, not a mindless crawl and it lives and breathes atmosphere to an extent scarcely seen in any given publication. Indeed, its unique flavor and level of detail can perhaps best be compared to the Zeitgeist AP, though its focus is radically different: Rather than focusing purely on investigation, we receive an utterly unique blend of fantasy, horror, pulp and wild west-aesthetics for a true, innovative jamais-vu experience. Furthermore, while not a simple adventure, this is by far the most novice-DM-friendly sandbox I've ever seen - the sheer amount of read-aloud text that helps less experienced DMs portray the unique flair and setting provided is absolutely commendable.
I'd like to address something as well - usually, I cut novice publishers and authors at least some slack: If formatting, bonus types and the like are not perfect, I comment on it, but they do have some leeway. This mega-adventure did not need that. From the supplemental rules to the setting-sourcebook chapters up to the module itself, this is impressively professional for a 1st time publisher and exhibits extensive knowledge of sub-systems and how to use them, on what has been done before - and then doing something different, something absolutely awesome. This module is worth every cent of its asking price and has me utterly *stoked* for future installments - "The Deft and the Deadly" is a massive, awesome module full of memorable scenes and NPCs, with even sample PC backgrounds potentially tied into the narrative, should you choose to use them (though their backgrounds can easily be modified to suit your players). Have I mentioned that I *really* want to know how all of this goes on?
It takes a lot these days to impress me - I see a lot of good modules, excellent ones, even. The average quality of 3pp-modules for Pathfinder is VERY high. That being said, it is relatively rarely that a module captures me to this extent; indeed, its level of detail, interwoven narratives etc. are pretty close to how I conduct my own campaigns and to what I expect flavor-depth-wise from a supplement. And then, it goes beyond even that level of detail to provide a vibrant, iconic backdrop with a thoroughly unique atmosphere that authors out there should take a good luck at - that's how it's done. This is an all-killer, no-filler tome, with its tantalizing metaplot making me salivate for future installments to an extent I rarely do. My final verdict will, unsurprisingly, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, omitting a status as a candidate for the top ten of 2014 only due to the lack of player-friendly maps.
After this and Mór Games' excellent Plight of the Tuatha, there is no more excuse for novice publishers to rest on freshman laurels - this level of quality is what we need. Here's to hoping that Saga RPG prospers!
 You can get this furious first module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

Ultimate Ethermagic

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 19 2014 - 13:22
Ultimate Ethermagic





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broken Earth Campaign Setting

RPGAggression - Lou Agresta - Fri, Dec 12 2014 - 10:55
Broken Earth Campaign Setting


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Conclusion:

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


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


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


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


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

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

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs
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