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Updated: 3 weeks 8 hours ago

GM's MIscellany: Dungeon Dressing

Wed, Oct 08 2014 - 06:04


GM's Miscellany: Dungeon Dressing 




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

EZG reviews Dunes of Desolation

Fri, Oct 03 2014 - 06:58


Dunes of Desolation

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

EZG reviews Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat

Fri, Sep 26 2014 - 05:30
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat





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

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

Fri, Sep 05 2014 - 07:32



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

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

Fri, Sep 05 2014 - 07:17




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

EZG rambles: Strange Magic Kickstarter

Fri, Aug 29 2014 - 02:31
And now for something completely different:

As you may have noticed, I read *A LOT* of roleplaying products in my function as a reviewer. The logical conclusion of this vast amount of material is that my campaign is suffused with unconventional races, classes, monsters, feats - you name it.

My players see a lot of weird classes in playtesting and are infinitely patient with my constantly refreshing pool of options that I throw at them. One of the issues I have with many playtesting practices is that they happen in a vacuum - that way you can check math, sure. But actually *playing* the classes is where the glitches show or where a one-dimensional focus becomes apparent. A class that can't do anything worthwhile in non-combat becomes significantly less enticing. Hence, they have to put up with a lot of playtesting scenarios.

It is no surprise then, that a *LOT* of great 3pp classes have and continue to enrich my player's gaming experience. From Rogue Genius Games Talented classes, to Dreamscarred Press' Psionics, Kobold Press's New Path-classes or Radiance House's Pact Magic and infinitely more - there are many cool options to which my players have been exposed. Then, one fine day, one guy called Bradley Crouch started making truly "advanced" classes - highly customizable and a tad bit weird, with their own, strange systems and unique tricks.

Little did I know that playtesting was about to get more complex for me and my group. Take the Ethermancer, perhaps the best warlock-class currently available for any d20-based system: When we tested that guy, I was stunned to see the class actually work exceedingly well, in spite of its constantly refreshing mana-style pool. Gone were the "nuke and cover"- evocation overkills and in game, it proved to be exceedingly fun. So fun that one of my players went for the class for the campaign.

Over the course of the following weeks of gaming, he enjoyed the class enough to write an optimization guide for the beast.

That has never happened before. The level of commitment was interesting and so, I took a look at the system, started tinkering and experimenting with ideas. If you'd like to have Daniel's optimization guide for the pre-KS ethermancer, just drop me a line via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab and I'll send you the pdf.

Cut to some weeks later and a lot of exchanged e-mails about ideas on how to file off some rough patches, making some options more viable etc. - and suddenly, Bradley asked me whether I'd be game for a kickstarter that expands the options of three cool classes and their unique systems that have been enriching my game. I said immediately "yes."

In case you're wondering whether this book will be worth it, here are the reviews of all the constituent magic systems, all of which are greatly enhanced with new material galore:

Truename Magic
Ether Magic  (& its first expansion)
Composition Magic (& its first expansion)

Now 2 of these guys are Candidates for my Top Ten of 2014. Yes, that good. Even before expansions and further streamlining.

The resulting book is live, progress on each class is fast and thorough and this book will be glorious!

So if you will, drop in and take a look - and if you're looking for balanced, cool alternate systems, a Tome of Magic that actually works - well, here you go!

Click here to go to the Strange Magic Kickstarter Page.

Next week, I'll talk about some of the cool things I've got up my sleeve for this project and explain the design intent behind one of the classes, the etherslinger!

See you then!

 Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Road of the Dead Collector's Edition

Thu, Aug 21 2014 - 05:28
Road of the Dead Collector's Edition






This module clocks in at 45pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/CR-lists, 1 page advice on reading statblocks and 1 page advice on running the module for novice DMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover,  leaving 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!
All right, before I dive in - we get 6 pre-gens to run the module, a short primer-style appendix of the general area of the lonely coast including travelling distances/speed and 3 new monsters +2 magic items, the latter of which both get their own artworks. That's the supplemental stuff. It should be noted that the original "Road of the Dead" may have had more pages, but not more content - the collector's edition simply properly collates the information of the module and thus makes it more printer-friendly.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! What is this module about? Well, one upon a time, a strange people lived in the forests and vales of the Lost Coast. These people had their own, distinct culture and now, the PCs, via one hook or another, stumble across a complex of said folk. Now the culture is the interesting thing here, for the dungeon mirrors essentially a take on the "Road to the Underworld" that dead souls must take upon death as you probably know from Mayan/Aztec mythology. That is, unlike most mythologies, the souls of the vanquished still are in jeopardy after death - failure on the road means an end to the soul - truly final annihilation. The iconic dungeon herein mirrors the procession of such a conception of the afterlife in the very dungeon - resting, to this date, as one of the finest example of unobtrusive, indirect story-telling I've seen in a dungeon: From pools of "blood", crimson mists, roads of wails  -the complex offers smart, intelligent hazards and obstacles, a barrow-labyrinth with undead that also includes RSP's trademark dressing tables of unique sounds and things that happen, spell fragment-hazards, a divination pool - there are plenty of unique and challenging threats and hazards here - including a now added possibility for more socially-inclined characters to shine that was absent from the original. Now I can't emphasize enough  how concise and organic this module feels - the dungeon, in the very act of the PCs making their way through, tells a captivating story by simply existing: Each encounter, adversary and trap has the distinct feeling of being lovingly hand-crafted - from sharpened stalactites to flame-gouts spurting demon maws and unique outsiders and one of the most iconic final rooms in any PFRPG-module - not one component of this adventure feels like filler or anything other than downright awesome.
Add to that the further adventuring options that have direct consequences depending on how the PCs manage their discovery to acting as +1 optional boss battles to challenge the truly capable or lucky groups out there and we have a significantly improved version of a module that already was very good...
Conclusion:Editing and formatting, as almost always in RSP's offerings, is flawless. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks. It should be noted that the pdf features improved artworks for many a piece and also features one version for screen-use and one for print-use.
Creighton Broadhurst's "Road of the Dead" was a very good module back in the day, but it had minor weaknesses. The Collector's Edition has purged them all and made what shone before a dazzlingly glorious beast. The complex and its story, the adversaries, the hazards - this module is one of the finest examples of indirect storytelling I've seen in ages and imho surpasses in the thoroughly awesome concept of the dungeon and the implementation of its features in the narrative almost every example I can think of. This place makes sense in all the right ways; It's exciting and challenging, but not too hard. It can be enhanced via the bonus/follow-up encounters to be hard, if a DM chooses so. It provides a fascinating glimpse at a unique culture and one I'd hope we'd explore more in the future.  The Collector's Edition is a significant improvement in all regards and my dead tree copy, including spine etc., lives up to all the standards as well, adding superb production values to stellar content. Even if you have the original Road of the Dead, the print version is definitely worth its low price and if you don't have the original module, then this should be considered a must-buy anyways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and since "Road of the Dead" has not featured in any of my best-of lists...this one does and is a candidate for my top ten of 2014.
You can get this awesome module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing

Fri, Aug 08 2014 - 01:54

GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing





This massive compilation of Raging Swan Press' Wilderness Dressing-series clocks in at a massive 159 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than a massive 152 pages of content, so let's take a look!
Okay, so you know the deal, right? I did reviews for all the constituent files of the wilderness dressing-series and I don't like repeating myself over and over, so if e.g. the exact content of what the installment on "Snow & Ice" or "So what's the Pirate Ship like, anyways?" intrigue you - just check out my reviews for those, all right?
Great - what I will go into details about, though, would be the massive array of brand new tables to e found herein as well as the organization, for especially the latter is downright genius:
The first bunch of the book covers features and events - caves and their dressings, firesite/campsite events and the like complement the installments on ruins and castles. Then, the next chapter provides bandits and travelers to put in respective locations, whereas after that, we have a concise organization of dressing-tables by terrain type - expanded by the equivalent of three full wilderness dressing-pdfs (and we're talking this chapter alone!): Full coverage for swamps and marshes and farmlands as well as borderlands complement well the classics like the glorious primal forests or desolate deserts. Now the final chapter provides ample tables for ships - from shipwrecks and pirate ships to coastlines and sea voyages, the new supplemental content herein once again amounts to a surprising amount.
On a  content-base, the campsite tables features no less than 100 full entries for dressing and features each and the same holds true for the tables about caves, which furthermore get terrain properties. The Borderland-content as well as the content on swamps and farmlands follows the full wilderness dressing formula by proving massive tables of 100 entries for both dressing and minor events as well as coming with concise d12-tables of random encounters that include the respective fluff for the adversaries faced. And yes, the variety here is universally as staggering as we've come to expect from the best of wilderness-dressings - from bulls about to break out of control to fey and GARGANTUAN BUMBLEBEES, creatures from all 4 bestiaries get their chance to shine here. The swamp rules-cheat-sheet for DMs, with quicksand, undergrowth and bogs etc. all collated further provides a level of DM-help unprecedented in just about any supplement apart from those by Raging Swan Press.
I should also not fail to mention that exactly this level of detail also extends to the entry on coasts, while 50 entries of sample shipwrecks, 100 entries shipwreck dressing and, once again, 12 encounters, round out this book.
Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, bordering on flawless - an impressive feat for a book of this length. The pdf comes in RSP's two-column B/w-standard with thematically fitting b/w-art that partially is stock, partially glorious original. The book comes with two pdf versions - one printer-friendly and one optimized for screen-use. The pdfs are extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks and even ToC etc. is hyperlinked within the document in an unobtrusive manner, rendering navigation by pdf as comfortable as possible. It should also be noted that the pdfs are extremely tablet/smartphone-friendly and render perfectly on my Google Nexus 5 while taking up next to no space  -the screen-version does not even surpass the 10 mb. The print-version has its title conveniently placed on the spine and offers a neat, matte cover as well as nice paper. Nothing to complain there either.
The designers John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Seamus Conneely, Brian Gregory, Eric Hindley, Greg Marks, Brian Wiborg Mønster, David Posener, Josh Vogt and Mike Welham have almost universally done a great job and when some tables aren't as glorious as others, then only due to the insanely high standard of the series in general. Now I won't kid you - I didn't particularly look forward to reviewing this, mainly because I did not think I'd be able to say something I hadn't said in one of my reviews of the small pdfs in the series. And yes, I could have ran my usual spiel of talking about the respective new tables, what works and what doesn't etc. - but it didn't feel like it would be enough.
So I postponed and procrastinated. Then, my group went into the wilds, on journey and left civilization, at least for a while.
I've got to go on a slight tangent here: As some of you may know, I print out all my pdfs. I just prefer paper. It makes catching glitches easier for me and is just more pleasant to work with, at least for me. I printed out all the component-parts, archived them in my terrain-folder and had them on standby ever since. I did use them and I enjoyed them. Then I got this book.
The difference, by some strange quirk of my mind, organization in the tome or whatever you may call it, is staggering. This book has since rapidly turned into my most-used DM-accessory book. And oh boy, is my campaign better off for it! And the reason eluded me for some time...after all, I had most of the constituents, why do I use it now this excessively?
The answer came to me the other day - I looked at the ToC and it was there, I read it, it made sense. When I was gaming, though, I did not actively remember where what is, my usual process. Think for a second, recall information xyz, go on. I didn't have to.
Somehow, the organization of this book, at least for me, is so borderline genius and adheres to some weird principle of how my brain processes information and draws logical conclusions that I don't even have to remember what first letter (i.e. the "d" of desert) the respective table has - via a borderline genius organization of tables and content, my subconscious manages to immediately pick up where the information I'm looking for can be found. Now mind you, I experienced this phenomenon from the get-go, the very first use of the book. This is a triumph of glorious organization and layout and perhaps the best example of the like I've seen in any roleplaying game supplement. This is a proof that layout artists, alongside developers and editors, truly belong to the heroes of the rpg-industry. And it makes me use the book. ALL. THE. TIME.
Now even if this observation does not interest you in the least and you already have all the old Wilderness-Dressing files - take a look at the sheer amount of bonus content. Yeah. Even for people like me who had the constituent files, this should be considered a must-have, a book that every DM should own. This book is a hot contender for my top ten no. 1-spot of 2014, gets a 5 star + seal of approval and while I'm at it - every DM should own this: It's hereby declared an Endzeitgeist Essential-book for DMs. Players, if your DM doesn't own this, get it for him/her - they'll be happy and your gaming experience will improve significantly while traveling - I guarantee it.
Do yourself a favor and get this book for your game. If you're a player, buy it for the DM. Seriously, your game will immediately become more detailed, more awesome. You can get this GEM here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Journey to Cathreay

Fri, Jul 25 2014 - 05:44
Journey to Cathreay




Journey to Cathreay clocks in at a massive 115 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 112 pages of content, so let's take a look!
The module begins with a massive explanation of the module for the DM - essentially, the module provides an extremely helpful explanation of the module's structure, making the modification on the fly very easy on the DM. A total of 5 maps are provided and a table of all encounters with CR, treasure, XP to be seen at a glimpse. It should also be noted that the pdf also comes with a 25-page NPC-book that has versions of the NPCs of varying strength depending on the number of PCs your party sports - one statblock for 4, 5 and 6 PCs. Indeed, DMs have an extremely easy time with this book - a reference for all animal tricks, beasts, items, rules and spells used in the module is part of the deal - i.e. you ONLY need this book when running it. No book-flipping. (And yes, these take up quite a bunch of pages, but a massive 67 is still left, making this a long module. This being a journey-module, we also get a massive write-up of a caravan resting, with rules for slashing through tents and the like as well as stats for bisons and their handlers - and yes, we actually get multiple stats for guards and handlers, making these guys more versatile than what most modules would provide.
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion - believe me, you'd hate spoiling this one.
Okay, still here? Roco P'loma is a man with a reputation for making the trip to the domain of the Crimson Khan a couple of times and bringing back curious wonders - and now, his guards have ran off, claiming the caravan's haunted.  P'loma, imbued with the power to negotiate by the Khan, offers a significant reward for the PCs and after signing the contract (yes, paperwork etc. would be part of the module's realism, though you can skim over this fast) and after that, the first subplot immediately kicks off  - Acomat, the brother of Tegana and an important part of the caravan, is about to have the time of his life with gorgeous gal named Daisy. And after that, the worst, and last time of his life. In truth a doppelgänger, the creature wants to infiltrate the Khan's court and her plan is lavishly detailed. Know how usually in a module, such a plot works like "He is killed and replaced, the end." Well, here we get a full write-up, step by step of the infiltration process and thus also ample opportunity for the PCs to foil the gambit. This level of realism (including, btw., plainly hilarious moments of unobtrusive humor) is mixed with an uncommon assassination weapon (a giant rot grub - yeah...nasty) for the best handling of such an operation I've seen in quite a while. Whether the infiltration works or not much depends on what you as the DM want to do with it and how perceptive and paranoid your players are. After this, the PCs will have to make a short 4-mile trek to a dwarven bison ranch and escort bison to the caravan - in a dynamic skill-challenge type escort. And yes, bison are not that easy to ride or lead and accidents may well happen... This journey already uses a level of detail nigh unprecedented - take potentially poisonous berries bison may or may not eat, a wizard practicing his fierball-spell and unintentionally creating a stampede
The journey hasn't even started yet. Now if I go through the day-to-day things that happen, this review will become bloated beyond repair. So let me tell you: Yes, EVERY DAY of the 5-week journey has its own write-up of small things happening, landscapes changing, stops at settlements, interactions with ratfolk traders, taking down a fire drake so the caravan may safely progress (in its disturbing cave of 500 eyes) - there is a LOT going on and beyond these effects, it should be noted that 7 NPCs in here are of particular interest -interacting with them and driving forward their respective plots allows for maximum customization options for the DM. And yes, these interactions are relevant, but more on that later. Assaults by very smartly planned div-assailants and wonder galore await on this journey - what about an oasis, where peacock-feather-like reeds grow and turn towards those closer, making it look like the plants are watching you? (Including a neat, challenging combat here that makes nice use of the strange place...)
What about a Jiang-Shi that has managed to stowaway among the people of the caravan, making for yet another complex foreshadowing and multi-part plot that may see an innocent man and his goat exiled. Rescuing a desperate man from a cyclops? Crashing an arranged marriage via trial by combat and potentially winning the freedom of a lady by besting her less than enthusiastic husband to be's champion? An Elk-hunting mini-game with a megaloceros? The wonders of the journey are plenty and varied indeed.
On day 32, the PCs finally arrive at the Khan's winter palace to a roaring welcome party...during which, their employer bites of more than he can chew and unintentionally makes a bet with the Khan that he (or another of the NPCs with their various plots that the PCs unearthed during the trek) and the PCs can take on Sennacherib. What is Sennacherib, you ask? Well, it is a legendary Tendriculous. , dare I say, MYTHIC adversary. Yeah. And before you say anything - I've been using mythic foes as legendary adversaries in my campaign for quite some time and they make for superb bosses against non-mythic groups. However, they imho require proper foreshadowing and the module does a superb job - a fully depicted legend of the creature, extensive and superbly written, makes clear from the get-go that this beast is indeed something to be feared. Even the end of the creature, should the PCs and their NPC-ally prevail, is the stuff of legends. By the way, this is not the only legend provided in the module - remember the fire drake's cave? I failed to mention that another legend the PCs may have encountered hides the true treasure of the place in an unobtrusive puzzle. Yes. This module has it all.
Conclusion:Editing and formatting are top-notch - I only noticed 2 minor typo-level glitches à la "Ncps". Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column standard that is exceedingly easy to print out. The module comes with a handy NPC-book, varied stats, includes all the rules required to run it, is extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks and has two versions, one optimized for the US-standard and one for the A4-default used in Europe - awesome! A total of 6 solid full color maps are provided, also as high-res jpgs and the artwork is provided, handout-style, in the back of the module, allowing you to print them out and hand them to your PCs. The artwork is solid, btw., and adheres to a very old-school aesthetic.
The last 2 modules by 4 Dollar Dungeons made my top spot of my top 10 list of 2013. "Horn of Geryon" can be considered an apex of the art of wilderness sandboxes. "Panataxia" is one of the best dungeons/planar modules I've ever read, regardless of system. Then this one hit my review-list and I was concerned - caravans? Urgh. Two massive potential issues seem to be ingrained in such a scenario - a) the caravan-rules introduced in Jade Regent just aren't that good and b) such modules are by definition railroads.
"Journey to Cathreay" deals with both issues remarkably well - by ignoring the caravan-rules and replacing them with STORYTELLING. You know, with developments, cool wilderness-scenery and a ton of things to do. The second gripe is harder to handle, though - how do you change that up? Via great NPCs and subquests galore the DM can introduce on the fly, by providing varied challenges and options to amp up or slow down the pace whenever required. Then, there would be the potential issue with the final boss and its mythic nature (and no, you don't eed mythic adventures to run this module - all rules required are provided) - the module manages to properly foreshadow it and makes for a truly epic final fight that is challenging, yes, but NOT unfair. Each combat, each encounter comes with round-by-round tactics, interesting terrain-features and at the end of each section, all relevant skill-checks/DCs are collated into a handy box, available at a glimpse.
Richard Develyn seems to be out on a quest to demonstrate mastery in all types of module possible - this journey breathes the spirit of wonder so often lost in fantasy, the sense of exploring a truly different world. The level of detail provided is simply staggering and the world feels ALIVE. It may be ugly at times, it may be hilarious - but over all, these NPCs and places feel like they truly exist, like you could just fall from this world and wake up in the pages of this module. The diverse choices of the PCs and how they matter, the simply astounding, great writing, the unobtrusive, realistic puzzle (that can be brute-forced), the bison-herding mini-game, the hunting mini-game - adventuring is not always a fight to the death and this module shows exceedingly well why one would embark on such a career. PCs actually get to do something that may be considered fun not only for the players, but also for the characters. Add to that the copious amount of read-aloud text, legends, ridiculously easy to use format, the fact that NOT ONE ENCOUNTER in here is boring/common, that creatures get smart tactics and actual background stories/reasons for their actions and we get a module that is on par with the superb predecessors, perhaps even beyond it.
Want to know how good this is? My players actually were sad when the module was over. They've been badgering me about more 4 Dollar Dungeon-modules ever since Horn of Geryon, and this module took them a long time to complete and unlike every caravan module I've ran before, not one of them lost interest even for a short time - invested from beginning to end, this module just blew them away. This beast is long and never loses its stride. When your players refuse to get up from the table at midnight, even though they have to  go to work on the next day, when they ask for more roleplaying sessions because they are so into a module, then you realize you have one glorious beast of a module on your hands. This module cements Richard Develyn as one of the best, perhaps even the best, adventure-writers currently active for PFRPG. It's hard to describe what makes this so impressive, how this quasi-realism and wonder go hand in hand - let it be known that there are few modules that breathe the spirit of old-school gaming to this extent and combine it with all that is great about new school gaming for a result that can only be described as master-class.
Modules like this make reviewing worthwhile. Seriously. And then there is the ridiculously low price, the fact that you need no other book to run this. And the rather interesting fact that this module surpasses its predecessors in length. If this review is short on the actual story of the module, then only because I want YOU to experience this beast like I did - with eyes wide open at the wonder that oozes from every page, chuckling at the humor, grinning at the smart encounters and all the details. The writing is so captivating, it also makes for simply a great experience to read and honestly, I've read a lot of fantasy novels I found less engaging than this.
You won't find a better bang-for-buck-ratio anywhere. Seriously. This is, by any scale I apply, the apex - if there were 10 stars, I'd slap 10 stars + seal of approval on this book. This is the best caravan/journey-style module I've ever read. This is a must-purchase. This module makes me run out of superlatives to slap on it and, at least as far as I'm concerned, may actually surpass its predecessors. This is a hard contender for the number 1 slot of my Top Ten list this year and, barring the means to rate it higher, I'm going for the highest honors of 5 stars + seal of approval. I guarantee you'll love this module if the idea of a caravan even remotely interests you, if you're looking for this sense of wonder the old grognards always complain about being absent from most current modules - here is where it lives and breathes and has been blended with all the comfort we now expect.
Why are you still reading this ramble? Seriously, buy this. 
You can get the best journey module I've ever read here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.
Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: RPGs

EZG reviews Parsantium: City at the Crossroads

Thu, Jul 24 2014 - 04:13
Parsantium: City by the Crossroads


This massive city sourcebook clocks in at a brutal 178 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 172 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

Author Richard Green kicks off the book by telling of its genesis - the city's inspiration would essentially be a Byzantium-inspired metropolis, closer to far-east influences than our real world equivalent was - and of course, as one glimpse at the superb 2-page map by Jonathan Roberts (Yes, THE Jonathan Roberts - you know the Fantastic Maps/Song of Fire and Ice-cartographer!) tells us, the city is vast and detailed. Nestled around a massive river delta flowing into the ocean, the city covers the north and south banks with its sprawling streets, while the merchant quarter, situated on the central island, the walls, the extents of the harbor and docks just feel right- all of these, at a glance, convey the believable illusion of a city that actually could have existed and developed. It may be a small thing, but people tend to note when settlements feel inorganic, constructed. This one feels RIGHT, including wards extending beyond the confines of the city walls, which also separate the respective wards. Even the array of streets, the bridges - all of these feel like they belong and this is seriously not an easy task to achieve, especially for a city of this size.

Now, as befitting of a city f this size, we kick off with an overview from the ruler, the so-called Basileus Conrandias XVIII and his less than popular consort (nicknamed Mendatrix - two brownie-points if you can guess the meaning, though the pdf explains for the less-linguistically-inclined among us) to the city's history and quarters and development. With a good overview out of the way, you'll be happy to note that the city gets a full-blown PFRPG-city statblock complete with demographics etc..

Now if you've been to Athens, Rome or Venice (or less famous: Rothenburg, Dresden...), you'll notice something peculiar about these cities - they have a kind of living, breathing flair, their very own mythologies steeped in stone and ready to be discovered at your leisure, if only your eyes are open and your mind (and literature/language-skills) sharp. Much of this has developed slowly over the ages, with the very rocks of the pavement, the ancient monuments speaking a language for those inclined and willing to hear. Ah, how glorious must that be in a world, where fantastical elements actually exist? Well, here's the crux - Parsantium's massive history, including a timeline stretching almost 2000 years, actually manages to lay the foundation for just such an endeavor - the basic mythologies of the place are in place.

Now a city sans people is just a ruin waiting to happen and the roles of the races, including dragonkin and gnolls as well as the default-races and their respective roles within the context of Parsantium are provided - but how are your player characters going to fit in? Well, know my ranting about boring character traits? Well, herein are traits (called character backgrounds) that allow you to customize your character within the confines of Parsantium.. Now in contrast to most traits, these actually come with extensive fluff-text detailing the precise implications and possibilities growing from these, making them so much more compelling. On a nit-picky side - why not call them properly "traits"? Why are the bonuses of the backgrounds untyped and not trait-bonuses? Nothing to break the content here, but good indicators that the focus on the narrative potential here is warranted.

Now beyond people, of course, government (with classic style b/w-artworks for the rulers), law and structure in general shape a city's life and experiences - and from bureaucracy, the Strategos, tribunes to praetor and council and yes, even FINES for crime and the respective punishments are included here. Don't believe these influence and mirror a society/are important? I'd suggest Michel Foucault's "Discipline & Punishment" - and the punishments detailed here actually conform much to the proper etiquette of punishment and the city's culture technology-level work well with these in context. Then again, you might not care at all, but the culture science-teacher in me rejoices when I see things make sense.

Speaking of making sense - from city watch to possible sources of entertainment like chariot races, local festivals, bathhouses, brothels and drugs to proper greeting and social customs and even superstitions, trade-routes and currencies, this chapter misses NOTHING of the constituting elements that make a city and its culture come alive. Commodities, healing and the trade of magical items also is covered in their own respective entries and, taking a cue from Raging Swan Press' superb offerings, a random table of different events happening in the city help further make the place feel organic. This also constitutes one gripe I have with the city - one of the reasons Raging Swan Press' villages and cities feel so organic would be the short entries of whispers and rumors and events available in tables for the DM to randomly roll - having one of these for the respective quarters would have made the city feel even more alive.

"I don't care about your academic squeeing, Endzeitgeist, tell me about what this does for me as a DM!" All right, what about a selection of campaign themes ranging from street gangs (perhaps with a Streets of Zobeck gone Byzantium tie-in?) to politics and intrigue or the return of a legendary rakshasa - Parsantium supports just about all play-styles you can conceive and the pdf offers some interesting guidance and inspiration for the DM in that regard.

Speaking of helping the DM - the districts are detailed in an exceedingly detailed manner that would blow the format of my reviews out of all proportions, so let's just say that the respective areas of the city are exceedingly detailed and also come with their own symbols, iconography and landmarks the local populace might use to tell you where to find certain areas.

Caravan-centric wards, forums, hippodrome, clubs for gentlemen arcanists (the Fireball Club - nice nod to the Hellfire Club...) - the wards come with first impressions, sample passer-by characters (fluff only) and places of interest. And yes, a 200+ feet colossal bronze statue is in here as well as just about all variations of sample businesses relevant for adventuring - taverns (also those frequented by the wizards of the esoteric order of the blue lotus +2 browniepoints if you get that allusion), shops, scribes, theatres, a garden mausoleum, mosques, a secret temple of Kali, a chinatown-like sub-ward , gambling halls on galleys and even a tasteful (and non-explicitly depicted!) BDSM-brothel and yes, even a flotsam town within the city - the mind boggles at the amount of surprisingly concisely fitted elements that constitute the sprawling metropolis and the adventure hook potential just about each of these has. Even before the tunnels that constitute the hidden quarter (including random encounter chart, btw...) and e.g. a mapped hideout for your convenience. From halfling camps outside the city to forests, the area around the city is also glanced at, just should you feel this wilderness itch.

If you require more motivation or some sample pro-/antagonists, you'll be happy to hear that no less than 16 organizations, from aforementioned mage-order to the friendly half-orc society and even more guilds provide for ample social networks for PCs to work and DM to use to tailor proper adventure potential....even before the obligatory noble houses and rakshasas influencing the city's fortunes. It should be noted, though, that none of the organizations provides distinct prestige-mechanics-related benefits - as fluff-only, they work, though.

Finally, religion of course shapes a city's life and feeling and Parsantium is no different - well, actually it is. At least for ole' Europeans like yours truly who isn't that used to religious multiculturalism from everyday life as some of you fellow American city dwellers might be - The eclectic mix of Byzantium-inspired gods and those drawn from the Indian and Chinese folklore makes for a broad selection that supports well the multicultural nature of Parsantium. It should be noted, though, that this supplement was released prior to "Gods of the Inner Seas" - thus, we get no explicit notes on obeisance, but also no inquisitions or sub-domains, restricting the gods to being rather rudimentary and, compared to the rest of the source-book, disappointing.

The pdf concludes with a massive index.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any particularly grievous issues - in fact, for a book of this size, the editing is very, very tight, so kudos! Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with scarce (but as far as I could tell) original and fitting b/w-artworks. The embroidered line of glyphs on the top of the page is nice to look at, but had a curious effect on me - during the course of this review, I skipped a lot of pages back and forth and the odd and even pages have a slightly different set, which means that staring at the screen while skipping pages might be slightly disorienting. Note that as an utmost nitpick, though. The pdf comes with EXTENSIVE nested bookmarks for your convenience, making reading Parsantium easy on the DM.

Superbly ambitious for a first product, I did not expect much from Richard Green's metropolis - and I'm seldom so glad to be proven wrong. Parsantium BREATHES authenticity and love - New York City meets Byzantium, modern metropolis meets swords & sorcery - this book actually manages to portray a believable, interesting, unique city that oozes the spirit of Al Qadim, early weird fiction and recent phenomena like the god of war-series, all while staying believable. Down to earth grit, high fantasy epics - this place supports everything and is better off for it -and manages to walk the tightrope and NOT become generic. Think Kaer Maga if a book of this size had been devoted to the city - only larger. The drop-dead-gorgeous map by Jonathan Roberts (which btw. also comes as high-res jpeg for your perusal) is just the icing on the cake here. Not since books like 3.0's Hollowfaust or since the Great City by 0onegames have I read a city and actually wanted to visit it. This is on par with how iconic Zobeck by now is - and feels thoroughly, wholly RIGHT. Concise. Well-conceived. A stunning achievement indeed! Now I wouldn't be me if I had no complaints now, right? So yeah, what hurts the city is its obvious intention to be multi-format. Don't get me wrong - I don't object to fluff-centric books and honestly, by now I'd rather have good fluff than the oomphteenth bad archetype, feat etc. But e.g. the Esoteric Order of the Blue Lotus screams at least PrC to me. The organizations practically demand prestige benefits. Concise addiction-rules for the drugs and beverages would have been so cool...what about vehicular combat rules expanded from UC for e.g. the chariot-races? Yes, I know - not the intention.


But these things, at least to me, are the only things missing from this glorious city. Now don't get me wrong - look at the price-point - exceedingly low. Note that this has been made sans kickstarter. Add the SUPERB writing and good production values and we still get a city that should find a home in Qadira, in Al-Qadim, in Conan- and similarly Sword & Sorcery-themed campaigns. We still get a superb milestone of a book, one of the best settlements available out there right now. There's a reason I evoked some of my all-time favorites in the above text - you simply won't find any comparable resource out there. This city is unique and daringly so, bravely carving its own niche and making for one of the most furious freshman offerings I've seen in quite a while. Light on the crunch-side yes, but any writing that manages to draw me in to the extent I want to walk a city's streets does it right in my book. Parsantium establishes one superb framework, one I hope will get ample crunchy books and especially, adventures to support it. If the muses and fates be just, this will be remembered just as fondly as e.g. Freeport in the years to come. Yes, the absence of whispers, rumors and events and lack of statblocks are minor downsides, but not enough to drag this down. The place deserves a chance - give Parsantium a visit! Final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval. And yes, the relative absence of crunch and somewhat disappointing entry on the gods are the only minor nitpicks I could muster. For the exceedingly low price, this is a true steal!

You can get it here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out-
Categories: RPGs