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The Barbarian Reforged (PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/21/2014 02:35:11
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of TPK Games' redesigns of base classes clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let's take a look!



All right, so let's dive into these guys - the reforged barbarian receives much the same stuff you know from the base class - but with some modifications. First of which would be the addition of survival and stealth to his class skill list, which makes sense to me - lore is rife with suspicious barbarians that prowl the less civilized lands. In an uncommon twist, ref-saves have been upgraded to a medium progression - while not standard for class design, that is not a paradigm I'd consider sacrosanct - so yes, interesting.



Now in a rather interesting take, TPK Games have eliminated the movement bonus the standard barbarian receives in favor of a bonus to movement when charging, including a further increase in str-mod by half when charging for devastating charges. While this makes low level charge-builds exceedingly lethal, per se not something I'd consider broken. It should also be noted that reforged barbarians receive mobility at 5th level. In an interesting take, rage now has a fortitude save to prevent the temporary fatigue at the end of the rage - per se another choice that may add a small bonus, but not one I'd consider problematic.



As a variant to rage, whirling frenzy is provided - this nets the barbarian +4 to str (untyped, should be morale analogue to rage), +2 dodge bonus to AC and ref-saves and essentially allows him to flurry - +1 optional attack in full attacks, but at -2 to all attacks, INCLUDING AoOs the bonuses sclae to +6/+3 and +8/+4. Additionally, the barbarian does not receive indomitable will, but does receive evasion while in a whirling frenzy. This variant provoked a knee-jerk "OMG, OP"-reaction from me that was only partially justified. While the flurry is extremely strong for a full BAB-class and the bonus-type glitch sucks,, the lack of con-bonus means that these barbarians are more fragile. In the end, testing did show that due to proficiencies etc., this does not break the game, though it is a pretty strong option that is not for every game. Still, apart from the bonus hick-up, not something I'd condemn.



Trap Sense is modified into danger sense, granting a bonus to perception as well as the minor bonus to ref-saves and AC versus traps. Damage reduction is moved down from 7th to 5th level, +1 every 4 levels thereafter (not an issue since DR is probably the most overrated rules-component in PFRPG) and instead, at 7th level, the reforged barbarian receives Diehard hard-coded into his frame-work. The higher levels remain untouched, ability-wise.



We also receive a host of FCOs, -which are pretty cool - reduction of AC-penalties for drow, more claw/bite damage for catfolk, better mobility AC-bonus in dim light for fetchlings -the FCOs tie into both race and class and make sense and rank among the best examples for them. The one for (half-) orcs deserves special mentioning - +1 round rage per level feels very strong to me. I would have gone at least +1/2. Thene again...half-orcs are one of the notoriously weaker races, hence the ability to excel at arguably their iconic class may be in the realm of what one might consider valid.



A new archetype is also included, the cannibal. Instead of charging strike, these guys receive a secondary bite attack. Additionally, they may eat the heart (or what passes for it) of a fallen foe slain in the past minute to regain hp or rage rounds equal to their HD - before you pull out the kitten-bag: Yes, they can eat kittens since the mechanic is tied to their own HD, not the one of the enemy, but a daily limit prevents the ability from being broken. It's not as elegant as it could be, but it works.Imbibe Spirit uses a similar mechanic, but the actual bonus it grants has been lost to a formatting glitch - I have no idea what the ability does. Consume Vigor grants fast healing equal to the creature's HD, but fails to specify how long it lasts - two unfortunately massive glitches that render a cool archetype unusable as written.



A total of 33 new feats are provided - they range from damn cool to broken as hell: Take Butcher's Blade - whenever you hit a foe with power attack, you receive a swift action, AoE-intimidate check to all who see you within 30 ft. Usually, AoE-demoralization is a class feature, not something that can relatively cheaply be bought as a feat. Brotehrs of Steelwould be another example - while awesome, it simply is too strong - choose one ally at the begin of any combat - as long as one of you isn't flat-footed or flanked, neither is the other - this is much more powerful than many a teamwork-feat option and probably should be remade as one - as soona s two characters require this feat, it would make more sense/feel more balanced. The Camel Punch-feat that increases the damage dice of unarmed strikes by +1 should also be kept out of the hands of monks - A default strategy to improve damage output for these guys is size-increase and stacking +1 size on that via a feat is just nasty. Especially since another feat allows you to be treated +1 size when charging - do you see the stacking insanity...yeah...not gonna happen anywhere near my game.



Interesting, though quite some work to track, would be "Deep Wounds" - the bonus damage from power attack has its recovery rate reduced to only 1 of these hp per day - while not feasible for every campaign, especially low magic campaigns will enjoy this one. Eyes of teh Jaguar would be weird - the feat nets you low-light vision 30 ft. Problem being - low-light vision has no range. You either have it, or you don't. Darkvision has a range, though...so which is it?



Improved Diehard is a rather weak feat that could use a power-upgrade - not dying until you reach negative con + 1/2 level isn't that impressive; Here, for once, I would have went full level. Improved Mobility is BROKEN - it eliminates AoOs from threatened squares. Flat-out. One caveat - if you lose dex-bonus, are slowed, staggered etc., you also lose the benefit. Still, this is weird - it invalidates mobility and its increased emphasis in the reforged barbarian - this feat needs to die a fiery death. I do like the feats that allow for a bonus to str and con-checks, since both usually receive no love whatsoever. A cohort-less variant of leadership with twice the number of followers, based on str, should be interesting for humanoid warlords and str-based weapon-hurling is also okay. I also like the counter-power attack-feat that negates the bonus granted by power attack, unlike the foes combined BAB+str-mod is 4 higher than yours - interesting mechanic to counter one of the most used feats. Savage Strike allows you to trade in AC for damage-boost, which si also an interesting option. Unquenchable Flame is another feat, which, while high in concept, needs nerfing - once you run out of rage, you may continue raging, but are shaken and receive 3 points of non-lethal damage per round. Infinite rage at level 5. When rage-rounds are quite often used as the resource for rage powers, feats etc. - so, does the barbarian still count as having rounds of rage left, or is only the rage maintained? If only the latter is the case -all right.



The pdf also provides a total of 15 new rage powers: +2 damage versus foes below 50% max HP smells of 4th edition's bloodied condition to me and requires tracking, so not a fan of that one. On the other hand, Favor of the Forebearers is awesome - as a swift action, you may expend one round of rage to invoke the forefathers and add the ghost touch property to your weapon for one round. Using rage to temporarily boost ref-, will- or fort-saves, critical confirmation rolls, less duration of charms if your indomitable will doesn't do the job. On the nitpicky side, 3 rounds of rage for turn undead may be a cool option, but the wording "as a cleric" is misleading - turning undead requires a feat that not every cleric has. conical AoE sonic damage for rage rounds also makes sense to me and the level cap prevents abuse and to explicit novas. Using immediate actions and rage to negate 5 points of damage received also is a neat one, as is the option to temporarily boost DR and even grant yourself fortification. Generally, these rage powers include some cool gems.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are this pdf's weak points - while generally, there are not many glitches per se, the archetype is ruined (which is a damn pity) and quite a few feats should not have went even past a fleeting mechanical editing. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-stock art. The pdf comes fully hyperlinked and bookmarked for your convenience.



I did not look forward to this review. After the balance disaster of the Reforged Cleric, I did dread this one. This pdf is the labor of lead designer Brian Berg, with additional content from PJ Harn, Jason Linker, Ben Kent, Kevin Mickelson and David Miller and the pdf reflects that - quality, alas fluctuates from "glorious" to "awful." First the good news: The reforged barbarian is actually a cool alternative. It may be a tad bit stronger than the standard barbarian, but not by much and all changes make sense to me - they enhance the fluff and feel of the class. So if you wnat this pdf for the variant class alone - go for it!



Alas, the supplemental content is a mixed bag - from the cool, but unusable archetype to feats that range from cool to "Does the designer know which system he's designing for?" to the rage powers, this pdf's issue can be summed up in one sentence: Lack of a developer. The disparate voices and wildly fluctuating quality of the writing means that this pdf does have some awesome, glorious pieces of crunch that will most definitely see use at my table, but also that it features some horribly broken bits and pieces that need to be plunged into the deepest pits of the abyss. With a bit more care, this pdf could have been a 5 star + seal of approval book; It has all the makings of one. Alas, the at times sloppy fine-tuning has taken that away. Try as I might, as much as I love the base class, the ideas herein - with this amount of flaws, I cannot go higher than 3 stars. As a grab-bag and for the base class, definitely worth the low asking price, though.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Barbarian Reforged (PFRPG)
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Feats Reforged: Vol. III, The Combat Feats
by Chris V. D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/15/2014 10:27:42
I will make this brief.

Feats Reforged is absolutely brilliant!

Feats are something that I always enjoyed when it came to 3rd, 3.5 and Pathfinder but found that some simply became useless as the character progressed.

This is the third in the series that increases the feat's usefulness as the character progresses in level.

So this is brief and to the point.

Buy it! You won't be disappointed.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Feats Reforged: Vol. III, The Combat Feats
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Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/29/2014 08:36:33
An Endzeitgeist.com review

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 the other hand of the spectrum, Rachel Ventura's woodland snipers bounded to nature spirits, the 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.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
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The Ultimate Gladiator
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 09/02/2014 06:17:07
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This alternate fighter class by TPK Games clocks in at 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page almost blank bar one trait, so I'm counting that one as blank for a total of 37 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Gladiators represent a melee-centric class loosely based on the fighter. They receive d12, good fort- and ref-saves, full BAB progression, 2+Int skills per level, but only proficiency with light armors and shields (not tower shields) and simple and martial weapons. It should be noted that the pdf also covers rules for gladiators using piecemeal armor, which is nice to see. Gladiators treat all weapons they have proficiency in as if they had the performance weapon quality and receive bonus feats at 1st level and every even level thereafter - these must be chosen from the list of combat, performance or teamwork feats. Beyond these, there is an option for bonus feats the class receives, the flexible bonus feat granted at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, which allows for the retraining of one such feat in a relatively short duration, but only if said feat does not act as prerequisite for prestige classes etc. For those not familiar with the retraining rules (or who choose to not use them) a cool ability, for all others unfortunately rather useless, but oh well - the lack of costs and limits mean that, provided he's got the time, a gladiator may change quite flexibly over the levels.



Gladiators may also select from special talents, which are grouped in three tiers: They receive their first such talent at 2nd level and then proceed to get another one every odd level thereafter. At 7th level, tier 2 of these is unlocked, at level 13 the third tier becomes available for selection. Now beyond what one would expect, there are some of these talents that actually utilize some interesting mechanics with appropriate risk-reward-ratios: Take e.g. buckler catch, which acts as a disarm maneuver with a further +4 bonus on the roll and can only be used when wearing bucklers; However, failure at the roll means by 10 or more you receive a -2 penalty to AC until the start of the gladiator's next turn.



It should also be noted that the class makes heavy use of victory points (see the rules on performance combat for an elaboration on these) in quite a few talents - expending victory points as a kind of hero points light version, the respective mechanics are nice and provide options both for regular combat and also in the context of deadly bouts in the arena - even defeated gladiators may thus avoid the fate of the thumb down-sign. The respective abilities cover quite an array that allows builds from crowd-pleasers and performers to ruthless killers and more often than not, offers iconic, cool options - shortening grips of polearms? Check. Sharing a bonus teamwork feat with allies? Check. Making attacks with bucklers valid and switching bonuses between light/one-handed weapon and buckler? Check. Subdual damage? Yep. Faster cover via tower shields? Aye. War Paint and all the tricks you'd expect can be found herein and quite probably, a vast bunch more.



Among tier 2 talents, knocking potentially foes unconscious with critical hits is a neat idea as well. Sundering via regular attacks also is an unconventional option, thankfully balanced by action economy and minor autobuffs for successful attacks via a combo point pool also makes for an interesting option. Daily-use limited auto-healing or death-preventing temporary hitpoints, DR-reducing blows - the amount of options is interesting indeed.



I am not a friend of the design decision to allow the swatting of missiles out of the air by succeeding an opposed attack-roll, since I consider the flux of 2d20 to be too big when compared to the usual atk vs. AC. The 3rd tier talent Deep Wound is also odd - treating all max damage rolls as critical threats can be cheesed rather easily with very small weapons, shuriken etc. While the vast majority of the multitudes of talents herein is awesome and cool in some way, black sheep like these unfortunately also have made their way in here and there.



It should be noted that the FCOs here span so much more than one would expect - a whole lot of ARG-races are covered beyond the core races - alas, here some glitches have crept in as well: Ifrits get e.g. 1/5 increase to movement rate. 1/5 of what? 5 ft.? of a transition of 10 feet? No idea.



We also get new archetypes, like the blind helm fighter, the barbaric slave who may wilder in rage powers, the animal trainer gladiator, the agile blade dancer, the gloryhound champion, the sneaky criminal, the huge beast of a man (gigante - damn cool!), the gladiatrix or the quintessential survivor gladiator, the immortal. Yeah, there are 4 more archetypes beyond those I mentioned. That's variety! Over 30 feats, many of which center along the theme of gladiator combat, achievements and reputations and which really want to make you try those combat styles are provided and a vast array of traits, enough to supplement a full gladiatorial campaign, are also part of the deal.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the unfortunate weak point of this pdf - from formal minor nitpicks à la WILL save/will save inconsistencies in the text to some obvious rules-oversights here and there, some glitches have crept into this massive tome. Not many or crippling ones, but they are here to an extent that imho could have been thinned out further. Layout adheres to TPK Games' printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes extensively and fully bookmarked and also extensively hyperlinked. Artworks range from neat stock I already knew to cool artworks I haven't seen before.



Brian Berg's Gladiator (with content by Skip Twitchwell, Joshua Slick and David Miller) admittedly hits a soft spot in my armor - I *love* the base concept and the execution, which could conceivably be mixed with e.g. RGG's Talented Fighter (and vice versa) makes for a very versatile beast of a class that has A LOT going for it. Cool combat styles and iconic moves bespeak a love of the genre and the utilization of dueling/performance combat rules is something seen all too rarely. Reading this supplement really made me want to run a gladiator-only-campaign; The class with its massive supplemental content would support enough different characters to make the experience not boring or character-wise redundant for the players, which is quite a feat to achieve - so kudos for that. And yes, I *LOVE* this class; I *LOVE* the ideas herein, and yet, I can't rate this as high as I'd like to - a competent rules-editing that irons out the few issues, a check to prevent duplicate mechanics that usually are handled differently - it's partially cosmetic stuff and here and there simply unnecessary second solutions to already existing rules that, while not rendering the class bad in any way, still manage to make it feel slightly less refined than it ought to be. There aren't many true glitches herein, but those can be found as well. Rest assured that this is not enough to net this gladiator the dreaded "thumbs down" - the book is too good for that. While I won't be joining the loudly cheering crowd, I am standing here grinning and clapping at the performance of these gladiators - well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Ultimate Gladiator
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Servants of Shadow: Five Necromancy-themed Races (PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/07/2014 07:58:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive racial book by TPK Games clocks in at 67 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving a massive 64 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



As has become the tradition with TPK Games' race books, we kick off with a short introduction by the author and then an expertly-written fluffy introduction, which this time around works also as a kind of origin myth. After that, we're introduced to the Mortiss, the dead that have escaped from Nergal's underworld - and from the get-go, the design is interesting: Being essentially the dead, they hail from a variety of species and still, the designer did not forget random age, height and weight statistics etc. - nice! Also nice - a variety of favored class options that are neither too strong, nor, get this, boring - for each comes with a short, fluffy text that explains it. Call me any name you want, but this makes otherwise dry crunch so much more flavorful. Kudos! Now what do Mortiss do? Well, as escaped dead, they get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, have no constitution scores and thus determine hp and fort-saves via cha instead and only get a base movement rate of 20 feet, which is not modified by encumbrance, though. Mortiss are full-blown undead - with all the immunities, less attributes to divide points by etc. They also get DR 3/slashing (which they can exchange with a 15 foot aura of 5-round nauseating stench or full 30 feet movement rate), always consider stealth a class skill, get darkvision 60 feet, a vulnerability to resurrection and positive energy etc. - and most importantly - they are destroyed upon reaching 0 hp, sans means of being returned from the beyond.

Yeah...that is interesting. Point-buy-wise, this race clocks in at 17 points, but the ARG's guidelines are broken, so that does not for a good orientation point make. Whether you consider this class overpowered very much depends on the frequency of which you use fort-based afflictions like poisons and diseases and on the lethality of your campaign - if your game is rather cuddly, the 0 Hp = game over caveat may be manageable; If you have a rather lethal campaign, the fast final destruction is something that will take a lot of brains (and luck!) to avoid. On the other side, only having to buy 5 attributes makes for much more powerful characters. The best line I can come up with, would be Sentenced's "Neverlasting" - "Burn the candles at both ends - you and I aren't built to last." The Mortiss are powerful, but quite probably, will be more short-lived than similar characters that are alive. Solid race, though not made for every campaign.



There also is a racial archetype, the boneblade magus, which gets diminished spellcasting and sacrifices 2 points from the arcane pool to permanently improve their blades with the holy or unholy property. Unfortunately all other abilities of the archetype fail the kitten-test, big time: AT 9th level, crits heal the magus for class level Hp -kill 'dem kittens! At 12th level, the magus may regain aracana this way. Urgh. And at 13th level, each hit nets the magus 1 temporary hp, lasting 1 hour, up to a maximum of class levels temporary hp. That's three gross failures of the kitten-test at its most basic level, which renders the archetype utterly broken and deeply flawed. Unfortunately, something similar can be said about some of the feats: Take "Feign Death", which lets you collapse in a heap as an immediate action - nice. But it fails to specify what skill-check DC modifications this has to your bluff-skill at feigning death, rendering a cool feat concept useless as written. I won't complain about a feat to offset the no-resurrection penalty, but one that makes fifth level + characters easily healed via positive energy isn't too high on my list, since that takes away one of the most crucial vulnerabilities of the race. Granted, negative energy now damages the Mortiss, but still. Turn resistance, +1 natural armor and an achievement feat to slightly increase positive energy output feel a bit on the weak end. Two solid racial traits and a nice 3-level racial paragon class as well as two spells, a full-blown Mortiss settlement and a sample character (especially the latter two deserve credit) are also provided for an overall solid, if not perfect race.



The second undead race herein would be the Forsworn. These would be people, undecaying and less grisly than the Mortiss, who have forsworn life via a ritual and acquired the Cr+1 forsworn template - consider it a kind of reward, if you will. The race also comes with plenty of favored class options, gain darkvision 60 ft., +2 channel resistance, Bluff, Disguise and Stealth become a class skill, energy resistance 5 vs. lightning and cold, +2 to bluff and disguise checks and +1 natural armor. Oh, and if their origin isn't making that clear enough - these guys and gals are EVIL. They also do not heal naturally, unlike what was implied and not explicitly stated, the Mortiss. (Who do not have that caveat...) The Beguiling Witch archetype gets diminished spellcasting and instead, a warlock-like blast ranged touch attack with a range of 30 ft. that deals 1d6 points of untyped damage, +1d6 at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter. This blast is useable class level + int-mod times day. The archetype also gets arcane armor proficiency at 4th level instead of a hex and DR 3/cold iron that increases slowly further instead of the level 8 hex. Solid blaster archetype, though calling the archetype "Beguiling Witch" feels like a massive misnomer to me.

A total of 18 feats (that, as written, don't require the forsworn race - be very wary when allowing these!) are provided for the forsworn. Take "Bleak Spell" - The feat adds 1 negative level sans save to a spell, at +3 spell levels. Yes, that means NO SAVE for the negative level. OUCH. Combine that with unerring magic missiles, for example...rather easy to abuse and should probably have some caveat and instead a less severe level increase. The feat that auto-maxes the HP of undead you "prepare" is problematic - what does preparing entail? Do spawns qualify? If so, why does not every creature eligible have this? Seriously, this one is very strong and could use a tighter wording. Making your undead negative energy bombs is also interesting, as would be the ability to graft bone armor to undead. Greater Turn Resistance is once again flawed - "You gain DR 5/- versus channeled energy." There is no such thing as "channeled energy" - there is positive energy and negative energy. And they, as energy would adhere to the resistance X-formula. Additionally, the feat, as provided, makes healing via negative energy 5 points less effective - intentional? The fortification-granting feats, while not getting the terminology for fortification right, at least are not ambiguous. Speaking of sloppy wordings - "Revivification" specifies "By expending two channel negative energy uses, destroyed undead in your area of effect are reanimated with half their normal hit points." - what's bad here? Well, it's subtle. First, action type - I assume regular standard action, but I'm not sure. Secondly, do all the intelligent undead retain free will? Sans HD-cap? Instant perma-immortality for liches, undead dragons etc. Destroyed by pesky adventurers? No problem, loyal cadre of 1st level cha 13+ cultists and 1 (!!!) can INSTANTLY return you to life at half max hp. Though you'd usually be DESTROYED. This needs serious fixing, especially in the context of this book - if such a feat is inserted into the game with undead PCs, they can be brought back EASILY, for a regrowing resource, sans penalties. INSANE. Speaking of which - what about a feat that heals you when drawing negative levels from your allies, usable ad infinitum. Restoration and similar spells? Screw those. At least needs a daily cap. Worse, most of these feats have no racial prereq - avoid inserting them just wildly into your game.



The racial paragon-class is solid (though one ability has an annoying typo) and the write-up contains a cool level 17 grimoire in all glorious spell-lists, fluff etc., including a neat preparation ritual. We also get a shadow-themed unseen servant-style spell and a sample character. The forsworn are very powerful and lack any advice for DMs on how to judge this power in relation to other characters. The lack of ECL or RP-information makes clear these guys are intended for NPC-use, though the absence of guidelines in that regard for evil groups sucks. The base race is okay, if not intended for player hands, but the feats...oh dear. While almost universally cool in imagery, oh boy are their wordings SLOPPY. To the point where they contain a number of game-breakers. Avoid.



The third race, the Maghra are essentially degenerate half-ghoul barbarians, transformed by their deadly and strange practices. Theyare half-undead, get +2 Str and Con, -2 Int and Cha and come with full age, height, weight-tables, favored class options, +1 to fort-saves and immunity to paralysis, non-magical diseases and poisons, a bite attack for 1d6 (not specifying whether as a primary or secondary natural attack, though I assume the former), +2 to Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Survival checks made while underground. They also always treat Perception and Stealth as class skills and gain light sensitivity. They can also get claws for 1d3, but then reduce the bite damage to 1d3 as well - once again, failing to specify whether claws or bite become primary/secondary natural weapons when used in conjunction. Very cool as an idea would be the feats that net you to +4 to attribute-spells for eating elves or dwarves...but the feats fail to specify CL for the effects...and duration/whether it's an extraordinary/supernatural/spell-like ability effect. This unfortunately holds universally true for almost all of the conceptually cool cannibalism-feats. "Blood Frenzy" is an interesting idea - when reducing a foe below 50% HP, the Maghra enter a frenzy for +2 to Str/Con, +1 to will-save for 1 round per level, useable 4+con-mod times, non-stacking with barbarian rage. per se, that's awesome, though the 50% caveat is, as written, makes no sense - hand the barbarian a kitten for rage. Why not just eliminate the 50%.limitation? Gaining DC 10 +1/2 level +cha-mod paralysis for 1d3 rounds on ALL natural attacks is also insanely strong - Paralysis being one of the most crippling conditions in Pathfinder.



The bite-power enhancing 3-level racial paragon-class, the 6 new traits, the settlement, the sample character - all of these are nice, though. Urghs, this one was a pain - mainly because the base race is nice and only has very minor glitches, but the feats once again just are in need of a massive overhaul, breaking rules and sporting sloppy wordings left and right.



The fourth race would be Nergal's servants, the deathless - another templated race at CR +2 who gets the full-blown undead-treatment, darkvision 60 ft, +2 natural AC, resistance 10 against cold, lightning and fire, fast healing 1, a slam attack at 1d6 (primary or secondary?), detect undead at will, +2 Str and Cha, +2 Perception + Sense Motive and Alertness, Toughness and Iron Will as bonus feats. Oh, and whenever they die, they automatically respawn after 24 hours, with one point of permanent Cha-drain that can't be mitigated. The ability unfortunately fails to specify WHERE the deathless respawns, whether s/he takes his/her equipment to Nergal's realm to be admonished etc. The 4 racial feats give you negative HP (and being staggered), allow you to conjure forth a +1 undead bane dancing scythe that can, with another feat, made brilliant + ghost touch (very strong at low levels) and one "kill foes to heal"-feat that once again gloriously fails the kitten-test. The undead knight-style racial paragon-class is neat, as is the bone armor spell and the sample NPC. So, depending on your perspective, this is the race for the player who doesn't want to lose his PC...or for the munchkin. The Deathless, as a templated creature, makes for a superb adversary, but lacks crucial information regarding balancing it with non-deathless characters. I would STRONGLY advise against using these in any but the most high-powered of games as PCs...but they do have a glorious usage: Remember Dark Souls/Demon Souls? Yeah. Make an exceedingly, mega-deadly campaign and see whether the PCs manage to conquer it - coincidentally, you could also take the Souls-series' reclaim mechanics for gear instead of for full hp... So while I'd never allow the race in a common campaign, it does have its uses! Apart from minor gripes, neat!



The final race would be the Nephandim, once again a non-templated race, these guys are the pale, small servants or Nergal - they get -2 to Str, Cha and Con, +2 Int and Wis, are small and slow. Tehy are humanoids with fire resistance 5 (or DR 3/slashing), +2 to saves against death effects, +2 to will-saves to resist enchantment (charm + compulsion)-spells and effects and may save again. They may also, 1/day, reroll a Bluff/Diplomacy-check when proclaiming their service to Nergal. Additionally, they may 1/day cast bleed, chill touch, detect poison, touch of fatigue as a spell-like ability if their wis is 11 or higher, deathwatch at will, +2 to their channeling DC if applicable, 120 ft darkvision, light sensitivity and also have negative energy affinity, making them great allies/healers of the undead. These lack the RP/build-information, though. Generally, the Nephandim feel a bit overburdened to me - the spell-like abilities, the better channeling sans alternate racial trait to switch out...depending on the build, these guys can be extremely strong. For my taste, the race is too strongly geared towards the caster-direction and a tad bit too strong, though not to the point where I wouldn't allow it after shearing some of the various bonuses to saves or similar ones, trimming a bit of the fat of the class.



The Sequestered Cleric archetype is a less paltry version of the concept of the cloistered cleric - d6, poor BAB, but +Int skills, the knowledge domain as a third domain, scribe scroll and 1/2 class levels to knowledge-checks (and the ability to make them untrained) - solid. The 4 new feats - are universally nice, though the achievement feat (of which there are a couple in this book) granting animate dead at will feels a bit excessive. The 3-level racial paragon class learns to ignore turn resistance and generally is solid. The spells are nice, though death conduit, which allows you to share hp with an undead within 50 ft. you control as a swift action makes for a powerful option that can be a bit strong for a level 1-spell. The Nephandim settlement and sample character are neat.



That's not where the pdf ends, though - we are also introduced to the CR+1 Bonescriven template and an extremely brief write up of Nergal, God of Death -who gets btw. access to RGG's superb Hellfire domain from the "Genius Guide to Hellfire Magic" - don't fret, though - the domain information is included.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay - not particularly flawless, though - there is quite a bunch of punctuation errors, inconsistent formatting etc. to be found here - mostly not influencing the ability to understand the rules, though. Layout adheres to TPK Games' elegant, printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with glorious pieces of original b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and unobtrusively hyperlinked.



TPK Games' mastermind and author Brian Berg knows dark fantasy and knows the undead - his prose is exquisite and while most campaigns will balk at reintroducing an iteration of the death-god Nergal into their pantheon (and thus lose some of the cool fluff's bonuses), the races per se can be easily transported into a setting. And the base races per se are interesting - while I would not advise on flat-out making the book available to PCs, the races support diverse playstyles, even offering new options for campaigns (deathless souls, baby!) and are diverse enough to feel very distinct from one another. While the templated races require special playstyles, the others feel like they can fit in respective campaign niches and while the wording of their write-ups has a flaw here and there, the problems per se are not that pronounced. The archetypes are a mixed bag, the racial paragon-classes on the nicer end of the spectrum.



But alas, there are problems. This pdf's issues can be summed up in one word: Feats. If I didn't know any better, I would think that a completely different author wrote these. Brian Berg usually tends to get feats right, but the ones herein brim with issues - breaking balance, failing kitten-tests left and right, sloppy wordings - these feats often utterly break otherwise nice, balanced classes, providing sometimes a power-level that is ridiculous, sometimes failing to specify their limits/benefits and one even breaking potentially any campaign's logic. Yeah, that bad.



So on the one hand, we have some truly awesome prose, cool concepts and neat ideas with minor issues and then a whole class of crunch that is almost universally flawed in its execution. This book has potential, oh yes, it does, but it also feels rushed, like it was abandoned halfway through. As much as I love some of the content, I can't rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up by a slight margin to 3 for DMs. As for players - you MUST ask your DMs, who should consider carefully which part of these rules to allow in your game...low-powered games and those very conscious of precise wordings should round down instead.


Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of Shadow: Five Necromancy-themed Races (PFRPG)
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Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
by Jason L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/25/2014 09:26:17
Massing a huge 162 pages, Laying Waste is an enormous revamp of rules for critical hits in Pathfinder. The books starts with the new rules which essentially replace the confirmation roll and normal, boring damage multiplication with a severity roll and a host of potential effects based on the severity and damage type of your weapon.

All the possible crits have a save to reduce or eliminate the status effect. The save gets harder as your severity worsens as does, obviously, the effect. A light braining staggers for d2 rounds unless you make a DC20 Fortitude save. A moderate braining is staggered for d3 rounds and the severe version deals additional damage along with d3 rounds of the staggered condition. In each case, the DC gets harder by 5 as well. Even if your victim...er...target passes the save associated with the crit, they are still saddled with some bonus damage. The bonus damage varies from 2d6 with a x2 crit to 5d6 on a x5 weapon. This is a nice system that means a dagger to your kidney (or whatever strange organ drives your renal system) hurts just about as bad as a greatsword, which, while not necessarily going to make a simulationist happy, makes those that love variety in weapons ecstatic. Status effects caused by crits have conditions under which they can be healed. Rest or curative magic are generally there but in most cases you can also make a Heal check. Heal. It’s a skill. It’s between Handle Animal and Intimidate on your character sheet. You can be forgiven for not knowing it’s there; until now there hasn’t usually much reason to take it. I’m so pleased that this undervalued skill gets a real reason to exist in this ruleset.

After pages and pages of bashing, slicing, dicing, and otherwise mauling with criticals, comes ten or so pages of critical themed feats. There’s a lot of good stuff here like Sneaking Strike which causes opponents who take a crit from a rogue to become flat-footed until the end of the rogue’s next turn, a great way to get more sneak attacks in. There are achievement feats and mythic feats to be had here and a lot of neat things to do with combat maneuvers.

Then we have the archetypes. This is where I suffer from some disappointment. As the focus of this book is on critical hits, I can kind of understand why there aren’t archetypes for the sorcerer and wizard (although it seems like one that changed elemental damage into a physical damage type and did something with these rules is an easy fit) but not having a single archetype for the paladin, cleric, bard, druid, or any of the base classes means this whole section has limited value for me. What’s there is cool and chock full of flavor, though. The pressure point master is inspired and the scoundrel, mockingbird, disembowler, and urchin knight are great, too.

Next are the rules for fumbles, separated into melee, ranged, and natural attack fumbles. I’m a huge fan of these. In my group, some fights are just done by story and the dice are left to rest for a time. Inevitably, my players mix failure into their success and get thrown across a room, trip on a rug (which otherwise tied the room together), or simply stare dumbfounded at the unfolding horror of an elder god before the tentacular alarm clock wakes them up. But this never happens when we roll the dice. Misses are set aside and damage from the hits tabulated. The fumble rules give us the opportunity to force these situations into the dice rolling and enhance our stories. If I were an alchemist I’d take the vestigial arm discovery just to give this three thumbs up.

The remaining 30 or so pages are given over to appendices covering rules for called shots, armor as damage reduction, healing and scars, spells, magic weapon and armor abilities, a short bit of prose and a Laying Waste Iconic NPC.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5. The rules are pretty great. The fact that there’s an Android app for Laying Waste crits is great. the lack of variety in the archetypes section is an absolute travesty (figuratively speaking; literally speaking it’s more of a bummer).

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
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Publisher Reply:
Thanks for the review! The good news is that we left out the more magical archetypes on purpose. You\'ll see them in a future \'Laying Waste\' supplement that deals with magic, psionics and alchemical critical hits (and fumbles). Cheers!
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/19/2014 10:03:06
Do you want your critical hits not just to do damage to your foes but to do spectactular damage that will have people talking about your mighty blows for weeks, years even? Do you want every 'natural 20' roll to have a significant effect irrespective of what the confirm critical roll comes up as? Look no further...

Ageing gamers may recall the brilliantly cinematic critical hit tables from the Iron Crown Enterprises' game RoleMaster, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who reused them with other rulesets. Here, though, is a system written for use with the Pathfinder ruleset, mechanics honed to work directly with that system. Of course, fumbles are included as well, and the whole is an elegant way to make combat spectacular and exciting.

The core concepts are simple and easy to grasp. To start with, every 'natural 20' does maximum damage and counts as a 'critical hit' rather than merely a 'threat' - subsequent rolls are used to determine the severity of your attack, but the recipient of the blow gets a save against more debilitating effects such as losing limbs or life itself (although at the cost of taking extra hit points of damage).

Throughout, there are numerous examples to show you how everything works and plenty of optional extras that you can bolt on if you wish - or leave out without disrupting the core system. It's not long before you're into the effects tables. These may not have quite as cinematic descriptions as the old RoleMaster ones, but give a better idea of precisely what damage and other effects your luckless foe suffers... and there is enough detail for more bloodthirsty imaginations to run riot as you describe what's going on.

Damage can be bludgeoning, slashing or piercing (depending on the weapon) and the severity of the effects can be light, moderate or severe depending on how well your follow-up rolls went once you'd scored your critical hit, so there is plenty of variety as in each catagory you roll a percentage to get one of fifty options.

Next, there's a collection of Critical Feats. Most of these give a bonus either to your critical severity check or to your save against critical damage, but can be used to build up an idea of how you go about combat - dealing Exacting Strikes perhaps, or having Acrobatic Reflexes... you get the picture. Use them to effect as you describe combat, for what could be a dry treatise on damage dealing provides tremendous scope for making combat come to life as those involved describe their actions and results in epic cinematic style.

These are followed by some fully-developed archetypes. Note that these work best if you are using this rules modification, they won't be as effective or may not work at all in a game played with straight Pathfinder combat rules. There are archetypes for just about every kind of fighter you can imagine, even rogues get a look-in, while some of the monk ones in particular sound rather fun.

Finally come the Fumble rules. Only fair, if your critical hits can have spectacular effects, when things go wrong that can be spectacular as well. If you roll a natural 1 when attacking, there's a chance something terrible will happen... but generally you get a save to mitigate the effects. Most enable the player to come up with an amusing description of the mishap, only adding to the fun. There are separate tables for fumbles in melee, ranged combat and when you are using natural weapons.

And we're not done yet, as appendices deal with niceties like called shots, healing, armour and magic as they all impact on dealing out critical effects (or guarding against them). There are some new spells, just in case the wizards among you are feeling left out a bit, and finally there is a piece of fiction which demonstrates how effective good descriptions of the injuries sustained in combat can be, and a final iconic NPC.

Spice up your combat with crunchy rules that facilitate role-playing by providing ways to give cinematic descriptions of what is going on rather than merely delivering large numbers of points of damage.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat
by Erik F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/17/2014 05:30:16
GET YOUR CRIT TOGETHER!

What can I say about this monster of a critical hit system.

Streamlined,

Brutal,

Bloody,

Ingenious,

Murdering Mayhem with fountains of blood and more cheers for critical hits than one could ever hope for.

This books is a must for any group that loves combat and they want it full of broken teeth and ventilated lungs. It's a crit system you can drop into your current game without hiccups.

And there is way more!

Not only is TPK games giving a new way to handle critical hits in a sexy, sexy way. They also pumped out a truck-ton of new combat feats, archtypes, scars, and even new magical item abilities to keep your combat full of swift deadly action.

I have been playing with this system since Game Hole Con 2014 and my group has never turned back. But you don't have to take my word for it. Nope, take it from the 319 backers that have pumped out swimming pools of natural 20's during the Kick Starter beta.

Bottom line this book enhances the game we love in a way that has been missing. So "Get your Crit Together." Pick up the book. And start laying down some severity checks like it's nobody's business!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of Shadow: Five Necromancy-themed Races (PFRPG)
by Dannie R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/13/2014 16:28:19
I really find this product unique and usable for both DM/GM's and PC's. Starting immediately, I would like to see my players using much of the info and see at least one class played at my table. I am very impressed by the writing. It is well thought out. The art work is amazing and the layout is well done!

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Servants of Shadow: Five Necromancy-themed Races (PFRPG)
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Grave Undertakings: The Tomb of Caragthax [Revised]
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/13/2014 08:40:57
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This revised edition of TPK Games first module clocks in at 43 pages of content, one page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 40 pages of content - quite a bunch, so let's take a look, shall we?



So this is it - the revised version of the one pdf TPK Games had put out I didn't like - now mind you, the first iteration of this module had an awesome boss battle in a dread cairn - multiple phases etc. - cool, yes. But that was about it. Fast forward to NOW.



Want to know what's changed? Well. Everything. No, seriously. Let's start with the maps - superb, line-drawn b/w-maps -all originals. While we don't get key-less versions to hand out to the players, the maps are sufficiently large to print out. Additionally, the pdf comes with quite an array of seamlessly fitting, glorious b/w-artworks, again, original - so from the get-go, vastly improved production values! It should also be noted, that like the creatures in other recent offerings by TPK Games, you'll see next to no boring standard adversaries - whether with unique options, class levels added to monsters or the like - just about every foe herein has some interesting peculiarities that should drive home the fact that the PCs aren't up against a harmless module...not that this one would punch any punches, even in the first encounter we have...



Wait. Sorry, forgot - from here on reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? Well, I mentioned the cairn the PCs find - via one of several hooks, or a combination thereof, the PCs enter the cairn - and are in for a nasty surprise - crypt thing teleport to ghoul cells. Here's to hoping your fragile casters are up for the task. This sets the scene - as does the advanced, grisly legless ghast that makes for one of the most shocking adversaries I've seen in quite a while. Faint stomachs need not apply! (And yes, said adversary has no less than 3 simple templates applied!)



This was essentially when the original module ended - Caragthax showed up, deadly battle ensued, that's it. And yes, Caragthax is next on the to-kill list - but something happens - the floor collapses and the PCs plunge down through the collapsing floor into the second level of the module. At page 19 of 43.



Yeah, I wasn't kidding when I said the module has been revised! The unholy reliquary hidden by the cairn is now the PC's trap - and in order to escape, they not only have to brave the deadly adversaries within, they also have to contend with the weird effects of the dungeon. These deserve special mentioning: Sleeping is impeded, summoned creatures turn hostile and evil...and worst of all, magical healing is corrupted, potentially dishing out negative levels. Now since my players usually yawn at dungeons as written, this amount of lethality is EXACTLY what gets me DAMN STOKED! It also drives home how nasty the place is and makes it feel wondrous - in a rather delightfully twisted way... Just imagine you cleric realizing his/her healing here makes the flesh of his allies pallid...undead-like. Yeah. Priceless.



Better yet - Dossenuses, doom-laden riddles and prophecies of the reaver reborn set the stage to prepare your PCs for their A-game - which they better bring. There's e.g. a room, where the door slams shut - and vanishes from the inside, CEASING TO EXIST. Yes, potentially, PCs can be entombed for an eternity, undying (due to the sustaining quality of the dungeon)... Hope they've got their mining-equipment or similar tricks up their sleeves. Unforgiving? Yes, but a good dungeon ought to be about using both brains and brawns, the former being more important than the latter. Oh, and PCs drinking from a fountain could see the water turn into an elemental INSIDE THEM. Yeah. OUCH! Mummified gremlins? Yes. What about complex multi-round traps? Hag rangers? Broken Souls? An improved swarm of IRON ROT GRUBS? A smart little riddle that penalizes wrong decisions? Living Walls? The option to recreate a holy blade sworn to defeat Caragthax? An undead belching beheaded skull? Deadly haunts? This dungeon does EVERYTHING RIGHT - including a deadly showdown with the returned and turned unique demon Caragthax!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch - I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the artworks are thematically-fitting and awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and both artworks and maps complete an overall A regarding production values, with unobtrusive hyperlinks being the cherry on top.



Well, Brian Berg, PJ Harn and Tom Phillips took one great encounter and made one of the best dungeons crawls I've read in quite a while out of it - breathing dread atmosphere, this module is not only glorious regarding the mood, but has something unique going for every room, every encounter. There's always something unique, something lethal and mechanically interesting around the next corner. Sure, social skill specialists may not have their field day here, but that does not detract from this gloriously difficult dungeon crawl - this now truly deserves being called HARD. This is one of the few modules I could run as is and not have to upgrade everything. So if your players are looking for a challenge (or if you want FGG-level difficulty) or if you want to show off how truly disturbing and dark a dungeon crawl can be, while having a true blast, this is the way to go.



Let me say that loud and clear - the revised edition of this Grave Undertaking deserves its name, is simply awesome and its content makes this an actual steal at the price-point. If you have at least some soft spot for balls to the wall horror, for deadly dungeons, then this is a must-buy purchase. The team of TPK Games deserves my highest accolades for this revised module, which, I hope, will be the standard for all their things to come - 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Grave Undertakings: The Tomb of Caragthax [Revised]
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The Bleeding Hollow Deluxe Adventure
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/08/2014 04:42:03
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This mega-adventure clocks in at 133 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 page ToC, 2 pages backer list, 2/3rds of a page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 125 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!



We kick off this massive module with a foreword by Frank Mentzer and an intro of TPK Games' Brian Berg - novice-DMs: Read these! Why? Because if your players are used to level-appropriate challenges, CRs they always can defeat etc. - then this is a change of pace. This module is old-school and a sandbox, meaning the PCs will encounter foes they'd better pass by - and also meaning that there's no easy plot-train to jump on. As a sandbox, this module endeavors to be modular and player action driven, so make sure your players know what they're getting into. Now before I get into the module's plot, I want to address two more things: Difficulty and structure.



TPK Games isn't exactly know for cakewalk modules and this one is no different - if your players don't fight smart, take care of their resources and if they think they can charge into any encounter without thinking, they will die. Still, difficulty is below the at times downright brutal classics Frog God Games provides -this is no Rappan Athuk-level meatgrinder. In fact, it is actually easier than the "Reaping Stone" - if you make sure that your players are at least moderately capable regarding stealth.



This has a reason that becomes evident soon - first of all, in the level of detail offered regarding the two settlements herein, the town of Westden Falls and the ailing mining town Bertram's End. The towns come with copious details, often offering a b/w-picture per NPC - yes, shopkeepers, landlords etc. - quite a lot of illustrations there. More relevant for the type of DM who isn't used to improvising stats for townsfolk (or their dialogue) - both are provided. Especially the read-aloud texts for likely questions asked of the respective NPCs should help DMs that tend to experience problems with the thespian tasks of DMing. It should also be noted that the villages come with village statblocks and neat b/w-maps (though player-friendly maps of the two, sans numbers etc., would have been nice...). Furthermore, the adventure comes with quite a few quests - these can be considered mini-quests for the fulfillment of one of the adventure hooks, for completing optional goals etc. - personally, I tend to structure my adventures like this, so nothing new for me, but most AP-players coming fresh to a sandbox will probably enjoy having these explained in detail as well.



Now, while this *is* a sandbox in the true sense, the module still has a plot and a progression, which hence comes with milestones (levels) that make it easy for the DM to judge whether the PCs are ready for (read: Have a chance to survive) the challenges ahead. What's also rather nice (and something I've been doing as well) - the module offers tangible benefits for eating good food and drinking certain beverages, rewarding players for the arduous task of food tracking - why? Because this module, in part, is a wilderness scenario, including a table of weather by the day, temperatures etc. - the later in °F AND °C, btw. - awesome! For once I don't have to on-the-fly change °F to °C - great service for all customers there.



Now the PC's adventure starts off upon arriving in the town of Westden Falls (whose NPCs, as mentioned, are extremely detailed and offer quite some material for further adventures/sub-plots) via one of several VERY detailed hooks, which btw. all potentially can work together.



Since from here on out, I'll be going into the details and challenges of the plot, I'd like to ask potential players to skip to the conclusion NOW - from here on reign the SPOILERS!



Only DMs left? Good! Sooner or later, the PCs will have to leave the comfortable safety of Westden Falls behind - whether to find missing spice merchants, missing elves, re-open trade-routes by killing off a bunch of harpies or escort a seamstress to a scheduled wedding. Unfortunately for the PCs, weather turns sour...extremely sour. In fact, weather has been foul for some time, but a winter-style cold snap in the middle of summer is impending and the PCs will have to track not only supplies and stand up to terrible storms, they will also have to cross a terribly fragile bridge and finally, hopefully reach a ruined church at the half-way point between the two settlements. Said dilapidated church by now is not only a dangerous environment, it's also the base of the harpies that have been plaguing the area, offering chances for the PCs to vanquish these foes. Beyond that, the church also hides the lab of the missing spice merchants, which in truth were merchants of poison and death.



Beyond the church, the forests hide a massacre of elves - which introduce a further meta-plot element: The wood elves, who sold their lives 15 to 1 against gnolls and ogres and worse, were the caretakers of the magical seed of the Arsae Laidir, their powerful tree of life, which stands at the center of their enclaves. Upon overpopulation, wood elves go out with a seed in an exodus to start a new enclave....only this time, the exodus has been stopped dead in its tracks. The seed is missing and via speak with dead or similar means, the PCs may find out about it - and it spells bad news indeed. The seed is tabula rasa when it germinates and can be forced to gestate - by creating special circumstances of blood and death, the seed could be tainted with terrible consequences.



If the Werewolf-ogre barbarian crashing through trees wasn't enough implication - Bertram's End has fallen. The village is now a truly grim reminder of the dread consequences of failure on the side of adventurers, with the mining town being wholly overrun by gnolls of the Bloodfang tribe. It should be noted that both their wolves and the gnolls themselves are variants - the gnolls more often than not lupine creatures with their unique tricks. (And if you want more variants, Krenshar-style or even two-headed gnolls are part of the appendix of the module, where some great variants are provided.)



Beyond that, the mining town by now is the place of dreadful atrocities committed daily against the remaining populace - and it is here, stealth becomes relevant. While nothing keeps PCs from starting guerrilla warfare, a group of PCs trying to take the village by unsubtle force will suffer. Thankfully, the module includes patrolling routes etc. - and beyond saving the groups of villagers (or administering euthanasia - there are shades of grey-decisions here), the PCs can also find another subplot: The town's founder is known nowadays under an alias, having faked his death back in the day and the insane alchemist has indeed made his mine a dangerous place to traverse - whether to escape the town, escort NPCs outside or just to finally end the mad alchemist's experiments, there's a dangerous dungeon here. Things get even more complicated by a honey-tongued accomplice of the alchemist, ready to try to bribe the gnolls with the last, polymorphed survivor of the elves remaining... (It's a bit of a pity said elf gets no stats, but oh well...)



The clock's ticking, though -every day, a child is sacrificed to the seed in order to corrupt it and to truly vanquish the evil, the PCs not only have to get rid of the dread gnolls besieging the city, but also interrupt the ritual conducted by the vile druidic lycanthrope mastermind behind the woes that have befallen the area. The ritual itself and stopping it turns out to be a truly tough final battle in the titular bleeding hollow, with the ritual's properties offering some rather unique effects that make the combat against Jirak Thoole a memorable final encounter. It should also be noted that some (though by far not all) encounters come with scaling advice +/-1 level.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not always perfect - I noticed a couple of minor glitches, though not enough to truly hamper the overall experience. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column, full-color standard and the pdf comes with nice original pieces of b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the hardcover is solidly crafted. The b/w-maps are glorious, but the absence of player-friendly maps makes for a minor detriment. Especially the mine's levels could have used hand-out style maps, since they are VERY small in the pdf/book. So map-wise, in spite of the quality, some minus-points here.



Brian Berg, PJ Harn, Rick Cox and Bernie McCormick's Bleeding Hollow is per se a great dark fantasy sandbox and a surprisingly beginner-DM friendly one - while not as easy to run as more linear modules, the detail each statblock provides (often explaining each ability), the copious sidebars and extensive, well-written read-aloud prose, make this sandbox surprisingly easy to run - which wasn't what I was expecting, to be honest. The Bleeding Hollow turns out to be a challenging, dark adventure, yes, but also one that is relatively easy to run. Now branding-wise, I have *somewhat* of a problem with this being labeled "wilderness" or "survival" - after the journey, the survival aspect becomes more of a background theme, but I won't complain about that - while generally, I would have preferred a second journey section to the finale, I won't hold that against the book. In fact, this sandbox makes for a great introduction of moderately experienced DMs to old-school style gaming and its peculiarities and is defiantly dark in tone - all in all, a fun sandbox with a believable villain and iconic areas. If I had to voice gripes, it would be that "The Reaping Stone" spoiled me regarding epic boss fights (a multi-phase final fight would have been nice) and, more importantly that the maps are problematic - whether in the dead-tree version or in the pdf, printing them out in their at times VERY small depictions, cutting them out etc. just doesn't make for a comfortable use, requiring you to essentially redraft them, if you want to hand them out. Having these as hand-outs would have made the module so much easier to use...



Still, the overall module is great, deadly, fun, atmospheric and easy to run - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform and this nice introduction to old-school sandbox gaming. Just make sure to take some time to get the maps done...

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Bleeding Hollow Deluxe Adventure
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Feats Reforged: Vol. II, The Advanced Feats
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/06/2014 02:54:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of TPK Games' books on redesigns of feats that scale with the level is 39 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 36 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



This time, we get the feats reforged-treatment for all feats in the APG. So how do they scale? Most feats get their first upgrade at 7th level, the second at 14th, but that can in no way be claimed for all of them - one upgrade at 17th level (for feats that require 10th level), 13th and 20th level-upgrades...see the reasoning? Essentially, the feats upgrade in increments of 7 levels after the earliest level you could take the feat, which seems like a prudent guideline. Additional Traits, for example, nets you +1 trait at the respective increments, though you have to choose it from a category you don't already have a trait in.



Usually, the feats have relatively straight progressions, like additional +1s, less penalty with Bloody Assault etc., but not all adhere to this formula - take the bodyguard feat - its first enhancement reduces the AC you have to hit to 8 (making it kind-of automatic sooner for non full BAB-classes like the monk) and the second upgrade increases AC granted to +3.



Special mention deserve usually rather useless feats à la cosmopolitan - their upgrade nets them a bonus to linguistics and later +1 language and even a 1/day reroll and makes them a much more valid, if not 100% optimal choice. Crossbow Mastery nets you an initiative bonus and an attack in the surprise round at -5 with crossbows, which also makes imho for some rather cool ideas regarding upgrades of a feat that in its base benefit is rather static. But, you know, I wouldn't be me if I found nothing to complain about now, wouldn't I? The good news here is - the following complaint is with the base feat, NOT exclusively with the reforged one - Deepsight has a prereq of Darkvision 60 ft. and extends it to 120 ft. - which is per se cool. However, there are beings with darkvision 90 ft. that, as written, can't take the feat. And yes, that's a blunder n Paizo's part, not on the side of TPK Games, who stayed true to the base feat, but I still would have loved to see the Plus added that fixed the prereqs. That being said, ultranitpicks like this one of course will not influence the final verdict.



Disruptive Spell is also interesting, using a particular rule that is near and dear to my heart - degrees of failure. The disruptive effect lasts longer if the target botches the save by 5 or more. Which is definitely a plus. A downside, on the other hand, would be that broken feats that have inherited their non-scaling issues, missing the chance to be fixed.. Take Dreadful Carnage. Whenever you reduce an enemy below 0 HP, you get an AoE-demoralize as a free action. Fails the bag of kitten tests - carry around bag of kittens = unlimited demoralize AoEs. All right, at level 11 perhaps not the best strategy, but still, probably not how the feat was intended in either incarnation.



The Extra-feats take an interesting approach - instead of tying the benefit-upgrades to fixed levels, they net you a second discovery, hex etc. 10 levels after taking the feat. Where I can potentially see issues with certain builds would be the fast drinker-feat - at 7th level, it reduces the action required to imbibe alcohol down to a free action, thus opening the swift action slot. While MOST builds won't benefit too strongly from this, some classes out there put quite a value on the swift action, so not 100% comfortable here. What's damn awesome would be Groundling - taking a relatively lame base premise, its upgrades allow you to talk to earth elementals and all creatures with the earth-subtype. Quite cool! Also nice - the additional effects of improved stonecunning that allow for the bonus to be added to perception-checks to determine surprise and even initiative while underground or surrounded by stone, making the feat in this iteration not suck. Kudos!



Now while most of the upgrades make sense, there also once in a while is an effect that just is broken - personally, I won't ever allow the light step upgrade at 7th level near my table - it extends the ignoring of difficult terrain to unnatural environments, which becomes problematic once one recalls the amount of effects, spells and items that can create unnatural difficult terrain. Not a big fan. What do like is that some of the teamwork feats herein, at their highest level, allow you to treat all adjacent allies as if they have this feat. Makes sense and works...and is probably closer to what Teamwork-feats set out to do than the regular iterations.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting...this time around are actually very good -almost excellent. The only minor glitches I stumbled over, were some missed italicizations, nothing grievous. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and also hyperlinked.



Brian Berg has taken the APG and turned the feats into scaling ones - and they work. Where issues present themselves, they are few and far between and often are based on Paizo botching that particular source-feat. Overall, I'm positively surprised to note that this installment of Feats Reforged works imho even better than the first, salvaging some feat-choices that in the original iteration were rather...let's say bad. That being said, one gripe with the series so far hasn't been remedied and that would be that feat-rich creatures and characters simply benefit more from these reforged feats, thus slightly altering the balance. While the resulting power-creep is marginal at best, some concise advice for DMs to handle it would have been much appreciated. Still, if you don't mind the rather conservative benefits added to the feats, this is a great buy. My final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Feats Reforged: Vol. II, The Advanced Feats
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The Cleric Reforged (PFRPG)
by nick e. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/21/2014 22:18:43
Cleric is the first reforged pdf I have read, and I have to say, it is awesome. What makes a cleric unique? Channel. Yet, very few good options exist for this basically bland heal-bot action. Cleric Reforged takes channel and turned the amp up to 11. Varies abilities, scaling more than just the dice rolled, and feats galore to make channel, what can be the core of the class, worth being the core of the class. I am 100% implementing all the channel rules within for my home game. If that isn't enough for you, numerous other abilities like domains and such get a tweak or two, with side bars that I think are very helpful, especially for those of us that haven't been playing since the 80's. Amazing product here.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Cleric Reforged (PFRPG)
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The Cleric Reforged (PFRPG)
by Customer Name Withheld [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/21/2014 17:18:17
I finally got my hands on this! Gotta say TPK does it again! They took in my opinion the best class and made it better. I'd say it's worth it's weight in gold but it doesn't weigh that much.. So for 4 bucks this is a steal. Take the right feats and you turn channel energy into a knock back that lights everyone on fire. The Cleric Reforged does all of this and more and it does it in a balanced (and why didn't I think of that) way.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Cleric Reforged (PFRPG)
by Darius S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/14/2014 19:36:54
I've played every class in Dungeons & Dragons since 1st Edition, nearly all of those in Pathfinder. The cleric is one of the most underrated classes in most parties. Either seen as a heal bot or the party's undead smiter. Rarely is the class of cleric chosen by a player because they truly want to role-play a representative of divine power. Rarely chosen because they bring more to the table outside of heals and smites.

Enter TPK games Cleric Reforged! Want new ways to spice up your class? Reasons to play a cleric? Take a close look, this supplement can put the fun back into playing one. I'm excited to give it a shot in the next Pathfinder game I play!

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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