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Shadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/12/2014 03:19:16
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover,1 page SRD, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 blank pages, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



All right, still here? So what are the "tainted"? Essentially, the Tainted are the downtrodden of the big cities, those rejected that live underground, ins ewers, at the fringes of society. As a group they may select one of the 6 exclusive traits herein - all of which deliver what one would expect, i.e. minor bonuses/class skills or circumstantial bonuses when underground/fighting in cramped quarters. We also are introduced to 3 short fluff-only write-ups of different tainted groups and a short piece of fiction about the Tainted.



This being the beginning of the adventure-section of the review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the end of the SPOILER-section.



Still here? Well, the Black Hand has managed to steal a particular wand from the Brotherhood of Magus - and the PCs are contacted by one Jervo in the employ of Sergius Paco, to obtain the wand. The thieves broke into his store via the underground and the PCs have to venture down there. In the darkness, the PCs may track the thieves and find the remains of dark creepers etc. and also fight some thugs from the Viper-gang. They will also have a chance of saving a ratfolk merchant from his catfolk stalkers and thus find their way to the only glanced over, intriguing Baubletown, which remains dreadfully opaque. Travelling through skulk-territory (again, remaining rather opaque), the PCs arrive just in time to board the Blue Barnacle, defeat the sailors and retrieve the semi-burnt-out artifact. It should be noted that both the ship and the docks are lavishly mapped by cartography-legend Jonathan Roberts, though some may know these maps from the Fantastic Maps-series. As a help for DMs, this final encounter is given a 5-round round-by-round breakdown.



/SPOILERS.



The module comes with suggested random encounters for the underground as well as 25 1-line random events to make the underground come to life. We also get the alternate urban ranger class: d10, 6+Int skills, 4 levels of spellcasting, good ref-and fort-saves. The alternate ranger gets a stray companion, urban fighting prowess in crowded areas etc. We also get 4 sample weapons.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column standard in full color with unnecessary blank pages, but also with gorgeous artworks (though you may know some of these from other Shadowlands-books) and superb cartography. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.



Author John Maki offers an eclectic mix somewhere between sourcebook and adventure here and generally, the idea of the "Tainted" is a nice one, but unfortunately, the adventure fails in every conceivable way - it is rather generic, not particularly steeped in Shadowlands-lore, less detailed than your average Season 0 Pathfinder Society Scenario, uses a tired angle, offers intriguing ideas only to railroad the PCs away from them etc. - there are so many nice locales in here, but NONE of them are driven by interaction with the players. They do something and then watch the cut-scene - apart from the combat, this is the FMV-school of adventure-design: Press a button/roll a dice and watch. Not many options here, no alternate ways of handling things - nothing. Neither the trek through the underworld, nor Baubletown get sufficient levels of details (or options to interact with them!) and the combats are at the very best uninspired.

The module hints at abstract, intriguing vistas without fleshing them out, though these would have been the only way to salvage the excessively clichéd story-line. Add to that the simply unnecessary, bland alternate class that lacks ANY reason to exist (having NO exclusive tools to speak of - it's essentially a cosmetic reskin sold as an alternate class) and the boring weapons and we have a supplement/module that may have top-notch production-values, but apart from that, NOTHING going for it. And I'd settle for a final verdict of 2 stars - were it not for the grossly inflated price that puts the artwork/cartography into perspective and makes this look more like a cash-grab than anything else - a short piece of fiction/supplement, blown up with a generic adventure if there ever was one, supplemented by a boring class-reskin and some weapons? For 8 bucks? You can buy two of 4 Dollar Dungeons SUPERB modules (like Panataxia or Horn of Geryon) for that price, each of which will entertain you infinitely better (and much, much longer) than this exceedingly short snore-fest. Final verdict? 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowlands: Secrets of the Tainted Adventure Arc
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Shadowlands - The Gates of Tarina Adventure Module
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 12/09/2013 04:02:53
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 56 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page ToC, 3 blank pages, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 45 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Still here? All right! First of all - this module is intended for use with the Tarina Guidebook - which, more than a year after this module has come out is nowhere to be seen, so I'll treat this hypothetical book as if it did not exist and ignore any reference to it.



This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.



That out of the way, let's take a look at this introductory adventure for the Shadowlands world of Sæmyyr. After a synopsis and extensive Dramatis Personae, the adventure kicks off with a bang - a dying man falls of a galloping horse with one final message and a package - "Tell Larke, tell the Brotherhood, tell the Knights: They are coming." The "Brotehrhood" of course referring to the Brotherhood of Magus, the "Knights" pointing towards the "Knights of Kashouli". The man strangely seems to have been poisoned and also bears claw marks... Getting to the prospective people to inform is the first challenge - the guards of Tarina are not known for being unbribable, though, and hence, the trail leads onwards - the Bortherhood tells the PCs that the package was holding a contraband sword and asks them to hunt down the missing weapons - for pay and the writ of authority to wield magic items, of course. The Knights also have something to offer information-wise, but unfortunately, I'm not 100% sure what - part of the read-aloud text is an unreadable white on the parchment-like background and partially obfuscated by the artwork to boot. Generally, the knights offer less payment, though acting as double agents for either them or the Brotherhood may be possible. Anyway, the trail leads towards the Trans-Tethyan Trading Company - who may make for the third potential recipient of the contraband sword - fooling him is a hard task, but not impossible, and switching allegiances are more than possible.



Generally, Larke needs the missing contraband swords back - and is willing to pay more than handsomely for them: He is obviously interested in acting against House Hathisnal and needs the PCs to track Sallust's thieves, find out who they're working for and find and retrive the swords - which may of course also include the one the PCs may have handed over to the Knights or the Brotehrhood, though such a retrieval is up for the DM to devise. Larke sends the PCs off towards Asellina's tavern to gather information, where Askelos, a retired freelance rogue offers the PCs the location of the hide-out of Sallust's thieves - if they do him a favor: Retrieve a ring he has lifted off another man and had to dump in the sewers from the dangerous underground of Tarina. Unfortunately for the PCs, the adventure railroads them into a confrontation with watchmen just as they go down the sewers - a pity no proper perception/social skill-resolutions are provided here. In the sewers, the PCs have to defeat a covetous fleshwarped giant dire rat and then return the ring.



With the location of the safe house finally known, the PCs can set off towards the safe-house, where they may actually shadow the thieves. This shadowing of adversaries is superbly detailed, with several sample locales (that include read-aloud text) as well as DCs regarding different situations in which the PC can succeed or fail. - finally, via different observations of the illicit affairs, the PCs ought to find out the name of Larios and an impending meeting, but not where it takes place. Larke definitely warns the PCs - and that has a reason. Whether they get caught by Sallust's counter-ambush or track the leader of the gang, they may actually follow Larios to his domus - or be brought there as branded, naked hostages. Either way, they've arrived at their destination. Escaping/infiltrating the villa, the PCs will have to retrieve Larios' ledger. On their way back to Larke, the PCs may or may not be contacted by a member of the Black Hand, the global crime syndicate. Whether or not that encounter happens, the ledger reveals to Larke that some of his men had been double-agents for Larios - and these traitors may be the key to finding the missing swords.



From here on, it's investigation par excellence - the PCs will have quite some legwork to do - in 3 (!!!) pages clues and locales await neatly organized, the tender capabilities of DMs and players alike, becoming surprisingly free-form - awesome! Seriously, I really loved this particular section of the module! Finally, the PCs should get a lead: Halthre, one of the traitors, points the PCs towards the dætholayn highway and ancient ruins there. In the wilderness, carnivorous birds attack and finally, in the ruined village, a barricaded house is besieged by wandering automachonoi, undead of Sæmyyr. There, the PCs can retrieve the missing swords and conclude the adventure. The pdf also includes a glossary and 5 pregens, strangely labeled "Non-Player Characters" and bestiary-entries of the new creatures that feature glorious full-color artworks.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - though two artworks partially make text illegible. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous 2-column full color standard with stellar artworks to boot and should be considered superb indeed - as weird glitches, though, several letters in different sizes of the font are not properly displayed by any of my pdf-readers, showing only up as boxes with "x"s inside - jarring in an otherwise so professional product regarding the production values. The pdf also lacks bookmarks, yet another utterly baffling oversight that decreases the ease of using this pdf unduly.



"The Gates of Tarina" by Jaye Sonia and Ben Cacchione and world-builder Chris Merwin breathes the cool Greco-Roman, realistic flair of Sæmyyr to an extent that is a joy to read - atmosphere-wise, this is a superb module indeed and both writing and options galore make this, content-wise, one awesome experience backed by top-notch production values. Or it would be, were it not for glitches that make this look like a very far-advanced beta: At one point, you're enjoying the artworks, story, superb maps - and then partially obscured text kicks you in the shins. Here you are, thoroughly immersed in the world, when a glitch in the font makes the word you've been reading illegible. Never to the extent that you lose track of what's going on, but it still proves to be a major nuisance, especially when combined with the at this length inexcusable lack of bookmarks. This is one of those modules I hate to review since it's one glorious low-level investigation, one awesome intrigue-laden first foray into Sæmyyr, one that makes me WANT the Guidebook (which is 2+ years overdue by now) and the Campaign Setting - this world is awesome. But on the same page, it makes me gnash my teeth at simple mistakes that even cursory glances at the finished files should have caught. Add to that the fact that it is not particularly long, and the pdf seems a tad bit less impressive than before. Still, we get a superb adventure - one marred in thoroughly annoying, avoidable glitches. this could easily have been, still could, in fact, be a 5 star+seal of approval pdf, but as it stands, its glitches mar it to the point, where my only recourse is to rate this at 3.5 star, rounded up to 4 since I can't bring myself to rate this down to 3 - "The Gates of Tarina" is too good for that.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowlands - The Gates of Tarina Adventure Module
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Shadowlands - Carthica's Pride Adventure Arc
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/27/2013 03:42:44
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 3 pages editorial, 2 pages ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover and 3 additional blank pages between acts, leaving us with 16 pages of content - FREE content, I might add, so let's take a look!



This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.



All right, still here?



When the two thieves Jhaari and Atharius returned to Tarina loaded from their last adventure, they started spending gold for the good life almost immediately - and made a fateful decision. When stumbling home, they crossed paths with a very intoxicated noble named Carthica Portenus. Taking his gold, goods and signet ring, they left the drunk noble in one of the doors of the streets, which resulted in said noble going to jail and being publicly humiliated. Not one to let such an insult slide, the noble has hired one Natasha Corvina to hire capable help - his goal is easy right now: Via his contacts, he has determined the whereabouts of his signet, in the custody of the "Urgent Messenger". He wants this signet returned and the thieves publicly humiliated. Enter the PCs.



After a short negotiation with Carthica and Natasha in The "Column's Shadow Tavern", the PCs (studded with starting secrets, by the way - secrets are worth quite a bit in the Shadowlands...) take off on the trail of the two missing rakes and the mysterious "Urgent messenger" - probably going to the "Flower Shop" first: A posh house of indulgences of the flesh that requires quite a steep sum to enter, where voluptuous Lady Lilliana can point the PCs towards their goal - if they pay for her guidance with secrets, favors or solinns (currency, beyond PCs at this level...), she reveals that the Messenger is not a person, but a place - an underground tavern frequented by thugs and rakes. Now in debt or in the know that one of their secrets rests in the hands of beautiful Lilliana, the PCs are off to the messenger.



Unbeknown to the PCs (unless they are paranoid), would be the team of agents of the black hand seeking to acquire the signet for their own nefarious purposes (and thus working as a potential hook for the sequel) - fighting them near the well-hidden location of the messenger may make for the module's first combat if the PCs notice them - otherwise, they'll be in for a surprise in the end of the module. In the aftermath of an eventual combat, the signature rings of the black hand may provide the players an edge in the well-hidden underground tavern. There, they can find the rakes and demand the missing signet ring - and potentially humiliate them in front of all their friends: by besting them in a series of skill-challenges that range from gambling to balancing, arm-wrestling and dagger-tossing and also a blindfolded test of courage. How well they entertain the tavern will determine whether they may leave unmolested.



the module contains also a list of 25 back street encounters for the city of Tarina dn a map of the tavern that's player-friendly and one of the back alley, which unfortunately is only appropriate for DMs.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard with gorgeous artworks and mosaic-studded borders that fit well the quasi-Roman theme that subtly suffuses the Shadowlands. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, but without a player-friendly version of the first map and without a printer-friendly version.



This is a nice, short but sweet introduction to the city of Tarina and the fluff the Shadowlands-setting seeks to evoke - while not reinventing the wheel, we get a solid prologue module to the bigger things to come in commercial modules. This product being free, I don't have much to complain. Usually, I'd harp on the numerous blank pages that artificially bloat page count and can elicit an undue toll of ink or toner when printing this one blind, but being free and coming with top-notch production values, I still consider this well worth a download - not only for those interested in the Shadowlands-setting, but also for fans of shady back alley dealings - this module would e.g. also work well in conjunction with Streets of Zobeck.



My final verdict? Well worth your HD-space - 5 stars!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowlands - Carthica's Pride Adventure Arc
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Shadowlands Conversion Guide
by Thilo G. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/02/2013 09:50:23
An Endzeitgeist.com review


This free guide is an introduction to the Shadowlands setting and clocks in at 30 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 blank page and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of content, so let's take a look!



The guide is divided into two sections, with the first being appropriate for players as well as DMs and the second intended for DMs only - so let's take a look, what we are offered. And...BAM: two-page spread of Jonathan Robert's cartography is the first thing you'll see - damn impressive every time I see one of his gorgeous works.



The world of Sæmyyr is a huge place- literally. Much larger than earth, it breathes a sense of epicness - take the elven empire: Population: 120.000.000. Yes. This is quite literally larger than life. Being a conversion guide, this includes, among others, e.g. the story of the ascension of Malak Ta'us to the god to the god Magus Septimus Serpentes is provided - which lies about 10.000 years in the past - in a cataclysm that devastated a huge swath of land and combined divine, arcane and psionic energy, he transcended mortal bounds.



Psionics? Yes, for the setting is designed with full support of Dreamscarred Press' Psionics Unleashed - which I applaud. Speaking of things I applaud: Black Star Games does one gutsy thing and makes racism between races and ethnicities part of the canon of the world of Sæmyyr - and the prejudices according to castes. Being a central theme in my own campaigns, I do enjoy this sense of maturity - so again, kudos! What's not so great about this guide is how e.g. the ethnicities are handled: I really like that the respective ethnicities get their own racial powers/options - but unfortunately, the conversion guideline itself is rather ambiguous: The pdf specifies " The Èuraith are treated as normal elves in all respects (and follow all of the mechanics as provided in Chapter 2 of Pathfinder Core Rulebook) except for the following modifications;"- and then the attribute modifiers begin. Are these in addition to regular elven attribute modifications or do they replace them? The pdf fails to specify and unfortunately, that glitch is repeated in every single entry. Worse, the attribute modifiers do not follow Pathfinder rules conventions, coming in odd segments with e.g. -1 to Con, +1 to Int - when PFRPG usually only dishes out these modifications in even increments.



What's also rather cool is that non-humans get special racial powers, 10 of which are provided. These work as supernatural abilities. And I do like these. I also like how all Paizo-classes and their roles in the setting are covered - and that e.g. alchemists are far-spread, arcane magic is firmly under the thumb of the Bortherhood of Serpentes and psionicists are viewed as dangerous. Also nice is that, while there are lingua franca, a heavier emphasis is put on different languages - no annoying common here. (and yes, the first thing I tend to eliminate in my settings linguistics-wise is common . I rather establish several trade languages, akin to how English and Chinese are working right now) We also are introduced to 11 balanced traits and get names for the different currencies according to lands - neat!



Arcane magic, as mentioned, is heavily policed by the global brotherhood and is less stable than in other worlds - and the eye-colors of practitioners change along the spectrum, making it possible to roughly identify the level of power practitioners have. Oh, and compulsions are illegal.



In the DM-section, then, some very crucial pieces of information are shared - which I will not repeat here, to avoid spoilers - but interesting would e.g. be that only a tiny fraction of the people actually are heroes and able to wield supernatural powers like spellcasting, setting the heroes apart from the get-go. We also get a list of recommended books to read as well as a one-page appendix of alchemical items (including information on whether they're legal and what they cost, but not their craft-DCs) before ending the guide with a list of books to be released for the Shadowlands.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect: From minor punctuation glitches to multiple instances of not italicized spell names, I encountered quite a few non-crucial blunders. Layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous two-column full color standard and the pdf comes with glorious maps and full color artworks ranking among the highest echelons. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.



So...as a free conversion guide, this makes for a nice teaser for the intriguing world of Sæmyyr - but not a perfect one. The rules ambiguities stick out to me, as does the lack of favored class options. It is also mentioned in the player section that arcane magic and psionics may be unstable - but in the DM-section, no concrete examples/rules are given - and at least to me, that's a very crucial factor in converting characters from a regular PFRPG-setting to Sæmyyr. While I love the themes and maturity and level to detail exhibited here and have to acknowledge that it works as a free teaser, these gripes still mean that I can't rate this 5 stars. Instead, I'll settle on a final verdict of 4 stars - well worth checking out - it's free, after all!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shadowlands Conversion Guide
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Shadowlands Conversion Guide
by Jeff W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/04/2012 11:40:43
Very well written. Looking forward to more from this publisher.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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