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EZG reviews Razor Coast

Tue, Apr 22 2014 - 06:38
Razor Coast


 

546 pages, 1 page front cover (by Wayne Reynolds), 1 page editorial, 3 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page dedication, 5 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover. 
That leaves 534 pages.
534. Pages. 
It's been a long time since Razor Coast has been released and there's a reason my review took this long. First of all, let me preface this with a disclaimer: I can't, by any means, be truly neutral regarding Razor Coast. I just can't. you see, there would be no Endzeitgeist without this book. It was Razor Coast that made me excited enough about a book to actually end my online abstinence and register at Sinister Adventures back in the day. I didn't even have a Paizo account. I had no idea Rite Publishing or Open Design even existed. Without this book, NONE of my reviews would have ever been written. Without it, none of the friendships, none of the kind people would have ever entered my life. I was stunned by the kindness of Nick and Lou and then...Sinister Adventures went down. My heart bled, I raged, I reasoned...all the steps of grief, as pathetic as that may sound. I never ordered a refund. I waited. When Frog God Games took Razor Coast and uploaded the KS, I thought "NO WAY" - why? Because the funding goal seemed insane. The requirement to commit 30-buck preorders from back in the day, get new artwork etc. blew up the goal and you can't begin to understand the amount of exhilaration I felt when it funded...with flying colors, reaching all those stretch-goals. I couldn't believe it. At this point, not only had Razor Coast's prior vapor ware status been the grain of sand that was in the center of my decision to go reviewer, it had amassed such a n epic level of expectations, I started dreading the arrival of the massive tome (#213, btw.!) and all the bonus books I went for via the KS.
Then, I started reading it. And from a reviewer's perspective, I was looking at a problem of no small proportions - Razor Coast seems to defy proper reviewing. Usually, when I take a look at a module, I take a look at the plot, hooks etc. and then give you a synopsis of what to expect, try to analyze issues with the plot etc. Alternatively, a sandbox gets a similar treatment, but more free-form. Well, Razor Coast refuses to fit in either mold. So what is this monster's structure?  We have inciting incidents, that kick off a given arc - two massive major plot-arcs suffuse this tome. These are supplemented with vignettes, set-pieces and stand-alone encounters as well as relationship subplots. These are here, and in the end, it's up to DM and players to decide in- and outgame which/what to pursue. Essentially, Razor Coast tries to combine the free-form modularity of a true sandbox campaign with the plot-driven structure of an AP.
Now, usually, I'd just give you a run-down of the general plot-structure - that doesn't work here. If I were to list everything herein, this review would probably be as long as all my Slumbering Tsar-reviews combined. So instead, I'll tell you about what can be found herein: First of all, there would be indulgences, i.e. Sinister Adventures' small pdfs, converted to the PFRPG-ruleset. This means that Craig Shackleton's dueling rules, including the bind combat maneuver, have been updated. These are intended to essentially make the swashbuckler a more valid option char-build wise and if used as intended for low-armor, dex-based fighter, makes sense. The thing is, the feats aren't particularly weak and while not per se broken,  e.g. treating a one-handed piercing weapon as a reach weapon can be broken badly - enlarge character, magus levels etc. At prereq BAB +1, too easy to abuse, also thanks to the feat not requiring an explicit action, thus making it possible to combine this with other feats. Then again, the parrying rules per se are solid and have seen some use in my game. The Tulita-ethnography comes  the throw maneuver (which feels unnecessary) and also some feats, one of which isn't as broken as it was in 3.X, but fixing unarmed threat range at 18 sans following usual rules of threat range enhancements would be bound to lead to confusion. The Mai'kal archetype gets a somewhat broken ability at 15th level, allowing them to, as an immediate action, reverse an attack on the adversary 1/round as an immediate action for 1 ki point.  The essay on underwater adventuring contained here is also nice, though after the release of both Sunken Empires and Alluria Publishing's glorious Cerulean Seas, there are better options. But you don't want me to pick this one apart crunch-wise, do you? The adventure is what counts, so what can I say about it before I go into spoilers?
Let's give you an overview - the Razor Coast is a tropical paradise, though not one sans its dark past. The native population, the Tulita, lived in relative peace until colonialization began and the white/yellow/black/whatever men came and defeated them handsomely. Now, the once sacred whales are hunted, the eggs of the venerable turtle smashed and colonial ignorance has erected Port Shaw, a thriving port on sacred ground. Dark days have found the paradise in peril, as racial tensions rise and evil conspires above and beneath the waves. Here, one thing should be noted - the writing is superb. In a genre, where Freeport and Sasserine constitute two very iconic settlements with their own flavor, making a given age of sail-style settlement stand out is quite a feat and neither settlement would be confused with Port Shaw (though they probably could replace it with some work)  -the writing makes the settlement, the whole coast really, come to life from the pages. immersion is also increased via the entries on e.g. deities in the appendix. Oh, have I mentioned that5 thanks to a collaborative effort with Green Ronin, the book actually offers information on how to handle both Freeport and Port Shaw in the same setting and how they geographically relate? Yes. Awesome.
Now beyond the leitmotif of colonialism and the resulting racial tensions and cultural warfare, we have a leitmotif of progress vs. nature in the guise of colonial powers destreyinbg natural resources and killing essentially the sacred animal guides of the Tulita. This topic per se is rather subdued, though its presence can be felt in one of the main plots, but more on that later. Now I've mentioned relationship subplots - and these deserve the moniker. Essentially, Razor Coast is as character-driven and NPC-rich as you want and a former band of heroes, down on their luck and destined for an inglorious downfall, is provided in excruciating detail - these beings are characters in the truest sense of the word and while they all have been broken, the PCs have a chance to mend them. The same btw. holds true for the legendary widow of Captain Razor and even some antagonists - overall, indifference will lead to depressing ends indeed, while invested PCs can truly make a difference and save those souls from the abyss into which they gaze. If you're like me and read these, you'll probably recognize yourself or some of your friends n their darkest hours in these NPCs - yes, they're that detailed. So if your PCs are big on the ROLE of roleplaying, Razor Coast provides ample potential.
A DM also gets special tools - essentially, a level-by-level breakdown of potential plotlines/encounters to run as well as check-list-sheets for the respective levels/phases of the plot as well as an NPC-relationship tracker help further in making sense of the tremendously complex, vast array of potential plots one can craft from Razor Coast. Which is rather interesting, for the plot per se is as strong as you'd expect from a linear AP:
SPOILERS
Essentially, colonialism and the killing of animals has helped dread shark-god Dajobas and his chosen to return to shore. Dread were-sharks have infiltrated Port Shaw and expect to hold a massive feast of carnage and death in its streets. Furthermore, the legendary kraken-fiend has all but taken control of Port Shaw via a secret society and plans to soon reap the city. Then former plot is conspiracy 1, the second one no.2 and both make for linear, rather epic (apocalyptic, even!) scenes - within the modularity of the vast tome, these stories are what drives the meta-plot. And yes, they're infinitely more complex, tied to x characters, strange islands, sunken treasures, betrayals long past etc. And yes, in order to not bloat this review beyond 20 pages, that's all you'll be hearing from me regarding the plot(s).
/SPOILERS
Soooo...those plots and all the encounters, flavor etc. need to be organized. The tools are there. Before we go into that, another caveat, though - look at the end of the book. Among the indulgences, several mini-modules await and the book also features essentially what can be considered an additional Voodoo-themed adventure that is completely optional. These are NOT part of the main-book's outline, nor are the modules from the expansion "Heart of the Razor", though the latter help with levels in which the main material is a bit less versatile than one would expect.  It should also be noted that the appendix features new creatures galore, including, yes, undead cannibal pygmies (and their unliving totems!), a race of degenerate Cyclopes, drugs, items both mundane and magical and much, much more.  Have I mentioned the hand-out driven puzzle/treasure map, options for underwater adventuring etc.?
Since its formal approach to adventure-craft is so different, the grand question would be how to rate this... which brings me, perhaps to a surprisingly early

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are surprisingly good for a book of this length - while there are glitches in here, they are relatively few and far in-between. Layout adheres to a parched-map-style full-color 2-column standard that is easy to read. The respective full color artworks are universally drop-dead-gorgeous and the maps are as well. While some maps have the scaling-numbers slightly pixelated, the maps themselves are plenty and beautiful. Furthermore, the map folio offers player-handout-style maps of the respective areas herein, adding for me tremendously to their use. The massive tome comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience. The pdf's artworks sometimes feel a bit less high-res than those present in the hardcover - if you can, I'd definitely suggest going for the full-color dead tree tome. Printing this would probably cost more in ink/toner than just getting the book anyways.
There's another reason for this - you'll need post-its. Seriously. A metric ton of post-its. I have a very good memory, but still - running this behemoth will require you to have a lot of things at your fingertips, even with all the help the book tries to give you. 
 Which also brings me to the reason why this took forever - first of all: Novice-DMs need not apply. Sorry. Even for me, who considers running modules of ZEITGEIST-complexity easy, with years of sandboxing campaign information, this is a rather complex endeavor. The best advice I can give is to read the whole book. At least twice. Which won't be an issue, since the respective areas are full of iconic encounters, compelling characters and superbly dark, gritty, nail-biting climaxes. The writing is superb and just glorious. It should also be noted that the shades-of-grey themes actually are there - while the Tulita generally are pictured as the good guys, there are ample exceptions and only scarcely does the book stoop to painting a clear b/w-contrast. When it does, though, it MAY be slightly jarring - the whole book essentially portrays the process of colonialization in all its violence and despicable facets. Indigenous population under control via drugs? Yes. Cultures destroyed? Yes. Slavery? Yes.
There are not much saving graces for the powers that be here and thematically, that is the only narrative weak spot in an otherwise surprisingly versatile plot. While the book actually manages for the most part to maintain complex moralities and shades of grey in all protagonists and even in some of the more despicable antagonists, when it comes to the Tulita, it sometimes reverts to simple b/w: Portraying them in a very much romanticized noble savage-way. I'm been discriminated against and personally, it's probably this experience that makes me consider this to be, in its way, just as problematic as a demonization of a given people. In any other setting/module, I wouldn't have complained here, but in the gritty, surprisingly deep Razor Coast, this feels a bit off at times, especially due to generally, the depiction maintains an enlightened, non-glorifying stance. But then again, perhaps that's just the cultural studies mayor talking. To let me make this abundantly clear - this is NO white guilt-trip, theme-wise, but it also falls, by a margin, short of what it could have been in that regard.
It took me some time to analyze what made this, at least in my perception, harder to run than e.g. Slumbering Tsar and similar massive campaigns. The reasons are twofold: For one, the massive tome shoots itself somewhat in the proverbial foot by noting several sample motivations à la "Champion of the Tulita", "Allied with the Powers that be" etc. IGNORE THESE PREMISES. While one could craft a Razor Coast-campaign with these themes, the overall narrative is imho neutered by trying to shoehorn it into one of these adventure-path-like premises. Essentially, the whole of the book does not particularly support these themes. Yes, they're there, but looking for them and trying to jam the sandbox into that frame tremendously hurts the experience and limits players/could lead to a less versatile experience for them. The support for these pseudo-AP-motivations is just not pronounced enough and I'm of the conviction these hurt the book more than anything else. So, again: Ignore those.
Secondly, the organization of the massive material is more confusing than it ought to be - the "build-your-own-AP"-section with all its checklists and help doesn't help that much - or at least, it didn't help me. Why? Because it lacks the supplemental material, even from the same book. Tying indulgences and "bonus-storyline" (and Heart of the Razor) into the whole would have made this section much more useful. Another issue would be that you first get Port Shaw, then the Key-NPCs, then the planner and then the encounters/meat of the book. Essentially, the planner is talking about things, which, if you read this in a linear way, you haven't read and have no clue about. So if you start reading, skip this section and return after reading. While this isn't bad, it also makes preparing this behemoth more challenging, at least at first sight, than it ought to be. Much of the problems simply dissipate if you just read the meat of the adventure, the setting-information etc. and start planning for yourself.
One of the reasons some people experienced a slight backlash here, can be explained via the tremendous expectations associated with this tome, while others lie primarily at the problematic organization. This book would have imho fared better by sticking to a sandbox-presentation and then just add a generic time-line and insert encounters into that. Just my 2 cents, of course. Endeavoring to make this both an AP and a sandbox ends up unnecessarily complicating this.
Now all of this sounds awfully negative - and it shouldn't, let me make abundantly clear that this is a rite-of-passage-style monster-tome to separate the men from the boys, DM-wise. It's challenging (Though not Frog God Games-hard.) and ultimately a great module that takes cultural cues otherwise scarcely, if at all, explored and provides a rich, fun, dark and at times downright evil setting that oozes unique style and flair, provides superb writing, ideas galore and more potential for fun than MANY collective modules/APs of similar length. 
Is it for novice-DMs? Hell no. Is it polarizing? Yes. Is the crunch universally awesome? Nope. But does this belong into every PFRPG-DM's library? In my opinion, yes. 
Razor Coast is a gloriously wicked tome, superbly written and while it is not perfect, I don't regret a single cent I've spent on it. (And yes, I went all-out on the KS.) Is it the perfect tome of superlatives that years and years of expectations painted it in, in many a mind around the globe? No, but it honestly couldn't have been. What it is, is a great mega-adventure in a unique setting, full of unique, interesting characters and a living piece of PFRPG-history, a mega-adventure your players WILL keep talking about for years to come. And while it didn't make my Top Ten-list of 2013, it came damn close, by virtue of its originality, scope and ambition, by its narrative clout and the hard work of Nicolas Logue, Lou Agresta, Tim Hitchcock, John Ling, Ton Knauss, Frank Mentzer, Richard Pett, Craig Shackleton, David Posener, Greg A. Vaughan, Adam Daigle, Wolfgang Baur and Brendan Victorson.
To me, this tome is still 5 stars + seal of approval must-have material. It may not be perfect, but it is different, ambitious and downright evocative. And we need more books of that caliber, that take chances with something different, both in form and ambition. Oh, and if you're an experienced DM, you'll be hard-pressed to find a given module to better show off your skills - in the hands of one, this vision will come alive in all its blood-drenched, tropical glory.
You can get this monster for PFRPG here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop. 

If you'd rather go old-school, there also is a Sword & Wizardry-version here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.


Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Razor Coast: Fire As She Bears

Wed, Feb 12 2014 - 03:00
Razor Coast: Fire As She Bears





This system for naval combat is 98 pages long, 1 page front cover, 4 pages of advertisement, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 88 pages of content.
So here we are - by now the third naval combat system for Pathfinder - after Paizo's system fell flat of my expectations and after EN Publishing's book thoroughly disappointed me, let's see whether this supplement can do the trick!
We kick off this sourcebook, as is only prudent, with an explanation of the terminology used as well as a handy diagram that explains how a ship is positioned in relation to the wind. In order to have a ship, one requires ship construction-rules - these are very concisely-presented here: Essentially, each vessel has locations, which could be thought of as  20-foot cubes that can be individually targeted by hostiles. How you place your locations is mostly up to you, though you have to adhere to certain conventions regarding length and breadth and height, allowing you to also add additional decks by stacking multiple locations atop one another. It should be noted, that one hull location could contain one or several decks, though! Each location-cube belongs to one of two classes - hull or rigging. Both types have different stats, costs etc. and their relationship has crucial consequences regarding the ship's attributes.
Attributes? Yes, ships have a str-score of 30+no. of hull locations + build modifiers and they also have a dexterity of 10+rigging locations-hull locations + build modifiers. (The latter, in case you're wondering, offer the choice between sleek and broad hulls. Ship armor-class is calculated just like with a regular character, though rigging is slightly harder to hit. It should also be noted that the rules depict not only touch AC (should you ever require it), but also the susceptibility of a ship from below the waves in a rather interesting manner and that they aren't silent on this matter either regarding AC. Carrying capacity, hit points - all of that is very intuitive and makes creating ships and grasping the system exceedingly easy.
Now where things get slightly more complex would be with movement - your ship has 3 movement rates, or speed values. Each point of speed roughly corresponds to 20 feet of movement - but why not simply go with the movement? The answer's simple, really - you actually could do that. But speed is also a resource AS WELL AS a restriction. Ships have no brakes in the traditional sense and thus you *HAVE* to move the value of your speed rating each round - furthermore, naval maneuvers like turns etc. have an associated speed cost. You thus have to actually plan movement rather carefully, adding a VERY cool tactical dimension to the combats that is easy to learn while offering opportunities aplenty for strategies and finesse - after all, sailing against and with the wind modifies your available speed. Putting essentially resource and restriction into one value is, in my humble opinion, a stroke of genius. Of course, ships also have a maneuverability and your ship's load influence how agile your vessel turns out to be - again, the rules here are very much n line with how characters work.
Now if you're like me, then you tend towards a relative preference toward simulationalist approaches - I tend to have my PCs track rations etc. For people who prefer this additional spike of realism we get advanced rules herein - the first of which would be the impact of wind speed on a vessel's speed rating. More complex, yes, but rather easy to grasp. And if you don't think that can be utilized for maximum awesomeness, I once ran an adventure based on the absence of wind - essentially stranding the players on the equivalent of the Méduse's grisly tale - no combats, just slow psychological descent into madness as the veneer of civilization started to crumble. Glorious. Of course, the more obvious use would be to handle ships sailing before a storm, as the sidebar "Riders on the Storm" suggests. Now beyond sails, engines (both steam-powered and alchemical, in varying efficiency-classes) and oars are also handled, and once again parallel to characters, ships get their own CMBs and CMDs and saves.
Saves? Yep. Though as objects, ships are immune to will-saves, ref and fort-saves, while hard to do, can be rationalized - which the pdf btw. also guides a DM through, explaining how to narrate a successful save. As you could glean from me spilling the beans about alternate means of propulsion, there are a lot of customization options here - 8 sizes of cannons, rams, crow's nests - it's easy and essentially just like equipping your character - locations having a certain amount of space, i.e. slots. There you go - elegant and intuitive. Where there are cannons, there better be grape shots, chain shots and the like and yes, for everyone who despises gunpowder in their games, reskinning is always an option here. Speaking of options - while cannonballs of a uniform size are the default simplification for fun's sake, there are rules to explain how to handle different cannonball-sizes, if you want that level of realism. the same holds btw. true if you'd prefer realistic load times - these have been, due to the presence of magic and to keep cannons cool, significantly shortened to between 1 and 3 full-round actions. For once, that's a simplification I will keep in my game.
Now I've mentioned grape shots. I shuddered upon reading this, for while the mechanics of the grape shot are solid, they don't take individual ACs into account. Well...UNLESS you take a look at yet another alternate rule that lets you take these into the equation as well! Even before ship armor, miscellaneous equipment like fire pumps, specific locations and the like come into the equation, we a thoroughly customizable base system of rules that is concisely presented and easy to learn, while providing just the level of realism you choose for your group.
Specific locations? Yeah, from smuggling compartments to brigs, captain's quarters etc., we have quite a few customization options here.
But a ship is only an object - we also need a crew. Recruiting a crew is done via relatively simple rules...but what about morale? We are introduced to a new loyalty-score, which is modified by the captain's level, his/her cha-mod and the mods of navigators, chaplains etc. - oh, and lost battles, pay, time at sea, charms and dominates - all of these are taken in. Additionally, charismatic captains may actually inspire their crews! Now we all have seen this: A basic issue in most naval combat systems would be that they degenerate into a one-on-one between DM and the captain's player.6 officer roles, all with benefits and vacancy penalties and special actions in combat does an excellent job in engaging the WHOLE PARTY, even beyond the capabilities of the respective classes that fill the roles. Now how does that work? Essentially, your players roll initiative twice - once for the level of their characters and a second, naval initiative wherein they may make the respective naval actions, ensuring that they don't have to spend actions to encourage the crew when they'd rather be flinging fireballs or swashbuckle through the riggings. It seems counterintuitive at first, but in play it works wonders - also due to each role using certain attribute-modifiers for their respective naval initiative. Food, crew placement, crew advancement, officer and enlisted roles - there isa neat level of detail going on here.
Now how does naval combat work? First, the most upwind ship may claim the weather gauge, which nets some bonuses (tough e.g. the +2 speed bonus may not fit in all strategies...once again, careful deliberation...) - but only until another ship manages to steal the weather gauge via skill or luck: Again, we have a neat dynamic herein that expands the tactical possibilities of naval combat. After that, the combat (with the exception of naval initiative) works much like a regular combat - but there also are 13 special naval actions introduced alongside 5 special attacks (including crossing the boards). We also get a handy table for spotting ships, some new skill uses (Can you disguise a ship? Yes, you can!) and an abstract, but relatively elegant way to determine losses among the crew (and prevent them, if you're a ship's surgeon. Of course, there is also the final resort of self-destructing engines, if available - and yes, the consequences are dire and the situation narrative gold.
Of course, as you're probably noted by now, specialists could have a field day here and yes, if you're so inclined, then a  total of 9 feats allows you to improve your capabilities in that specific field - which is awesome, for while the system does not require such an investment, it rewards those that do. Now magic and naval combat is where a certain other naval supplement came totally apart - so how does FaSB deal with it? In one word: Perfectly. Instead of spamming us with useless over-specialized variants of spells, we get new uses for spells: Chill/Heat Metal+ cannon = useless cannon for duration of the spell. Zombie-crew? Possible. Control Winds vs. Control Weather? Covered. Fabricate? Repairs ship-location. Prestidigitation can btw. be uses to flavor gruel if food is scarce, thus offsetting the loyalty-penalty for eating gruel all day. We also get 9 spells, one of which temporarily transforms a part of the sea into GLASS., potentially trapping ships... Oh, and yes, there also is a ghostly crew for the wholesome necromancer captains among us.
Not content with all of that? Why not build levitating ships? Ships made from bone, coral or locations perpetually engulfed in flames? Masts that prevent casualties by means of feather fall? Enchanted bowsprits? Sails that steal souls? On the character level, what about enchanted rum? Magical hammocks? Tiny mechanical monkey with an extradimensional holding space? Harnesses that conjure forth ghostly whales to draw the ship? Yes. All here.
Now so far, we've limited ourselves to combat, ship-building and crew - but what about pursuits? Fully covered. Terrain obstacles for naval pursuits? Easy creation guidelines, various samples provided.
Don't want to stat a lot of crew? We get quite a bunch of sample statblocks (though it should be noted that they use Razor Coast's simplified gunpowder-rules), but thus no gunslingers. The book mentions "Brace of Pistols" as a great supplement and I concur, though I consider the absence of gunslingers still a huge pity. Now while there are a lot f relatively generic statblocks, the occasional weird one is in here to spice all up and sample characters galore accompany this chapter.
Beyond a pirate's song to sing and animated cannons, we also get full-color ship record sheets, 5 sample ships and finally, a 1-page appendix of sample ship names.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting is still very good, though a couple of minor typo-level glitches could be found herein. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full-color standard. Artwork is mostly thematically fitting stock art and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The hardcover of the book has solid production-values, though the paper feels slightly thinner than in other FGG-releases. The cover-illustration is a bit blurry in both the pdf and hardcover and was probably not intended as such.
*Ähem* In case you haven't noticed...look what's absent from this review: Yes. Serious complaints. This system is hilariously easy to grasp, working with established design-tenets and expanding them in a smart way that borders on being brilliant. Neither in 3.X, nor PFRPG have I ever seen such a concise, well-presented naval combat supplement - creating ships is exceedingly easy and fast, naval combat proved to be engaging for the whole group instead of for just one player and this supplement, unlike some books I've recently reviewed, does a splendid job at NOT creating logic bugs in-game. At working with the system and producing something that transcends and mops the floor with each and every naval combat system I've seen so far, offering a surprising amount of easy customization options and actually rewarding tactical combat decisions. Strategy, fun, easily implemented and presented in a truly concise manner, Lou Agresta & John Ling's "Fire as She Bears" is THE system for naval combat: Whether it's "Skull & Shackles", "Razor Coast" or something completely different - this supplement is a, let me emphasize that, MUST HAVE.
Seriously. Naval combat has never worked so smoothly, so seamlessly, so elegant. Heck, if I ever run En Publishing's Zeitgeist-AP, I'll ignore "Admiral o' the High Seas" and stat the ships with this. In spite of the work, the result will make it worthwhile. This is the perfect blend of options, solid rules, toolkit and makes for an extremely tight supplement, one I can't praise enough. I wouldn't be Endzeitgeist if I had no complaints, though - the lack of sample gunslinger-characters is a very minor detriment and honestly - I wished this had been a massive 200+page book with even more options, items, naval actions, magic items and sample ships.
...Yeah. That's about all the negativity I can muster against this superb book. This is non-optional. I want sequels...plural. Enchanted viking-ships, perhaps? After all, the Northlands Saga is impending...
This belongs into the library of each and every DM who only contemplates running naval adventures, a superb offering if there ever was one and the system that banished Mongoose's 3.0 "Seas of Blood" and Paizo's own system into oblivion. It's that good. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval, in spite of minor flaws here and there as well as  this being a candidate for my Top Ten of 2013. From here on out, this will be the only naval system that sees any use at my table. Congratulations to the authors for a superb job!

You can get this awesome naval combat supplement here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (Diceless)

Mon, Feb 03 2014 - 04:23

Lords of Gossamer & Shadow

This massive sourcebook for Erick Wujcik's Diceless system is 168 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page list of patronage/Kickstarter-thanks, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 163 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?
Born from Amber Dicelss Roleplaying, LoGaS depicts a setting which, unsurprisingly, makes use of countless worlds - the Gossamer worlds, made real by ethereal, true power. These countless worlds are connected to another via the Grand Staircase, an unfathomably huge staircase that features countless doors leading to countless gossamer worlds. Behind the screen, the forces of eidolon and umbra wage war eternal - eidolon being the force of supreme structure and organization, the ideal form of the multiverse, whereas umbra, its opposing principle, is essentially the chaos and entropy that seeks to undo all - the shadow lurking between gossamer worlds, constantly striving to claim worlds - whether temporarily or permanently. You are one of the travelers of the grand stairs, made aware of its countless possibilities, as mere wandering it starts to enhance your prowess to superhuman levels - the lords and ladies of gossamer are indeed powerful enough to change the destiny of whole worlds and have carved mostly secure worlds from the vast number of them. But balance demands duality and hence, there are the Dwimmerlaik, servants of the shadow that wage war unending on the self-anointed wardens of the great stairs.
Now after a short glossary of basic terms for newcomers, we dive into character generation - First, you choose a concept (more on those later) and then, you assign 100 points - you have to buy attributes, powers and extras from this array of points - the thing is, you may undercut or overstep this - earning good or bad karma. Rather cool! Also unique: All characters start at superhuman levels in all 4 attributes - you can get more points by cutting down to various mortal levels, though. Now attributes are handled via an auction at character creation - whoever bids highest, becomes ranked one - this character cannot be surpassed by the others in the given field, only approached. The auction per se comes with step-by-step guidelines, two alternatives/modifications to the system and easily and comprehensibly presented. Essentially, the player's bidding determines the relative power rank and how many points its costs to be up there  -almost, for later buying attributes nets you .0.5 ranks on the ladder - you're almost, but not as god as the one that has the full rank. It should be noted that only characters who do not bid for an attribute can diminish it to paltry mortal levels, thus gaining more points budget. And you'll want those points, for powers, among which easy egress to the great stair, can be found, also cost points - a LOT points. Mastery of the power of eidolon or umbra e.g. costs a whopping 50 points. Now I mentioned bad karma - it's essentially what is called "Stuff" - having bad stuff means that the universe treats you rather badly: Rain, unpleasant reactions etc., while good stuff means the opposite. It should be noted that the book does something smart in offering players points for e.g. selecting background music, making quote lists, campaign diaries, quest logs etc. - which is awesome and a practice I'm using in a modular version in campaigns throughout the systems I play.
Of course, a Gamemaster also has some say regarding e.g. parents, allies, mentors and items - character creation is essentially a dialog here - which is great for storytelling and assures a more fulfilled playing experience for everyone. The 4 attributes (psyche, strength, endurance and warfare) are well explained and the powers also have a lot of material herein - from essentially having a list of magic (including words of power to utter when invoking the spells) to the privileges that powers grant, each has a lot of different options available - with the exclusion of hard numbers/dice, the sky is the limit for more than a few of these, including a very wide array of different modifications of creatures and artifacts, allowing you to essentially design beings and items to your heart's content - again, costing those precious points, though... And the interesting thing here is, that secret bidding and precise capabilities are not known to the other players - after all, much like in Amber etc., intrigues and yes, potentially even fighting among the player characters is a distinct possibility... - which also makes character advancement interesting - upgrading to the next rank on the attribute ladder is done by the GM (since you don't know the final results of the auction after the secret ranks have been added...) and may mean you incur bad stuff -  rather interesting.
Of course, combat is rather different from most other settings due to a) the PCs being essentially demi-god-level paragons and b) there not being any dice around. Hence, GMs get a lot of advice and examples on how to handled combat, PC death and similar situations  -and on how running a diceless game changes the overall tone of a roleplaying session. And yes, these are things to consider and make players aware of - with immature players, every situation could turn into an argument and much like in character generation, all is dialog here and hence, Gamemasters in particular should take a very close look at all those examples and take them to heart as well as explain to the players how different the experience will turn out to be.
Now, of course, we also get the setting-information - R'lyeh, Valhalla, Hell - everything you can conceive exists on the Great Stair and the Gossamer Lords & Ladies and their war with the Dwimmerlaik as well as the opposing principles of eidolon and umbra already make for a compelling and rich tapestry of options before the sample lords & ladies of gossamer and the both named and generic dwimmerlaik are presented - the latter of which get access to a deadly tool called channeling, which does btw. an awesome job at keeping them a viable and deadly versatile threat to even the powerful demigods the player characters are. Add to that undead, minotaurs and similar mythic beings, shapechangers etc. and we have a nice arsenal of adversaries ready.
The book also contains a short introductory module, adventure seeds, a list of inspirations, a reference-appendix, a note of thanks by the author, an index and a total of 3 sheets, one of which allows a player to design his/her own domain. (Yes, I forgot to mention that one - you can, of course, have your own home-base/world/plane...) Oh, and the pdf comes with form-fillable char-sheets.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed scarcely any minor glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with purplish/violet, unobtrusive borders. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Beyond the books initial patronage model, Rite Publishing ran a kickstarter for more art - and oh boy, does it show - this is one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen a 3pp produce - the artworks are classy, awe-inspiring and make you want to craft the depicted characters immediately, evoking a wide plethora of associations and at the same time carrying a very distinct flair and unifying artistic vision. Glorious!
When I was a child, I played diceless with my friends - though not the system. We'd run around outside in the garden, venture into the forests, and our characters would have special powers, which we determined beforehand - thus, by climbing on top of trees, lying down on mossy earth, scavenging raspberries and evading noisy squirrels, we walked through a land crafted by our own imagination, a world layered atop our own, where wonder and endless potential loomed, where our fantasy was the only limit. Video-games proved to be fun inspirations for us, but nothing ever came even close to our holistic fantasy of universal wonder, the countless tales we had woven.
Then life happened - one can, alas, not remain blissfully ignorant and this world's gossamer weave clings closer and closer, until the doors of one's fantasy start slamming shut, becoming mere windows that still can provide a glimpse of the exceptional, but that's it. And sooner or later, we have to concede that "The kids aren't all right", as harsh realities come crashing down. Roleplaying, to me, recaptures a tiny fragment of this spark of immediacy once lost, a means of weaving a yarn greater than the sums and ambitions of its parts. The catch is - ultimately, more often than not, the rules get in the way. "You can't do that." And while I love the thrill of the rolling dice, at times, I long for a storytelling where one jumped across a bed of flowers, imagining carnivorous plants or seething magma, one essentially all but unhampered by restrictions or balance-concerns - and this is as close as you can probably get to it. Jason Durall has created a setting that is similar enough to Amber's tradition to keep fans happy, while at the same time, at least in my opinion, expanding the possibilities - this setting transcends fantasy and sci-fi, horror even, as genres and allows you to tell YOUR story - with no limitations to your imaginations but those you and your players compromise to adhere to. This book does so much in inciting the imagination, it's almost unbelievable - this is collective storytelling, codified by a solid, easy to grasp ruleset that keeps balance sans impeding any sort of creativity. I am extremely positive that just about any DM (and even player) can benefit from reading this book, even if one does not intend to run a campaign - why?
Because this book makes it possible for you to experience once again the wonder, when you fought Godzilla with Excalibur, when your cyborg-buddy cast the spell to seal the devil in your lamp, when the power rangers duked it out with the Ninja Turtles and you were caught in between. Oh, and one thing - this system does not require you to be at a table - provided everyone knows the rules, you could quite frankly play this system with tucked in char-sheets while hiking, camping and doing similar activities, perhaps adding a slight LARPish tint to it for additional fun ("All right, if you manage to jump across this little tree stump, then your character can do XYZ") - be responsible, though! I know that's how I will probably use this game.
If you haven't noticed by now - I love this system. Will I make it my dominant one? No, I love rolling the bones too much and a bit of roll-playing, frequent character deaths etc. are exciting to me and my players. But once in a while, a very pure ROLEplaying experience, one that omits the "roll", is glorious and quite probably might change how you think about our hobby, storytelling etc. Oh, and if you're like me, this book will open doors towards realms of inspiring, unbridled creativity you deemed once lost - recapturing some components of that magic, where everything, for a moment at least, is possible. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars +seal of approval.
You can get this cool system/setting here on OBS (also in print!) and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

Categories: RPGs