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Rise of the Drow Prologue: The Darkness Arrives
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2014 05:22:31
An Endzeitgeist.com review

So this is the prologue for AaW Games' massive mega-adventure Rise of the Drow...let's take a look! Page-count wise, this module clocks in at 129 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 122 (!!) pages of content, the first page of which would be an introduction by the authors before the first part, Jonathan G. Nelson and Stephen Yeardley's section of the module begins.



I won't waste much words here, so here's the obligatory SPOILER-warning. From here on out, players should jump to the conclusion. Got that? Great!



Only DMs here? All right! We start our scene at the lavishly detailed frontier's town of Rybalka, studded in AAW Games by now trademark blend of unique cultures, in what can be considered the equivalent of a longest night/Lucia-style folklore ritual, when fellow adventurers barge in and the ceremony must be maintained - against hunters acting obviously under some sort of compulsion, trying to extinguish the light - or rather, set fire upon the cathedral (and quite possibly, themselves) - thus requiring non-lethal means to subdue them. This is a great way to introduce local color and characters, while under the threat of the opaque, shambling beings outside and hinting at the shape of greater things to come - a full-blown assault by elemental spirits, turned archons, ghoulish goblins and all manner of other weird creatures - thankfully, the DM isn't left alone with this chaos, as the PCs try to keep the cathedral intact, calm people and prevent the theft of the mysterious moonshard - alas, even if the PCs can end the chaos in the cathedral, even if mysterious warnings by as of yet not fully corrupted vampire spawns are heeded - after that, the chase is still on - against drow hunting parties heading off for the Dark Wood, with quite a bunch of Rybalka's congregation in tow. With help from the fellow adventuring party and by now, tested to their breaking point by engaging the drow, the PCs have completed the first part of this module with a furious bang.



After the singularly most disturbing full-page drider artwork I've EVER seen (yes, better than any WotC or Paizo-rendition), part 2 (written by Steven T. Helt) begins with the PCs on the hunt for the drow in teh Dark Wood - and, push coming to shove, things get eerie....fast. The eclipse Naraneus Shadow, which swallows starlight, moonlight, sunlight - everything, is upon them and thus, the already creepy forest more than deserves its moniker...and worse, the eclipse JUST DOESN'T END. The PCs are on for a trek through one of the most feared forests, while no light permeates the gloom in a dread and surreal overland chase/tracking game - and believe me, the wilderness and its inhabitants (including btw. a glorious map of the area) are not to be taken lightly in the slightest - the challenges are quite profound and a skilful Dm can evoke a rare sense of dread via the smartly chosen adversaries here -even before the furious finale (including a battle-map style map).



In the ruined castle Adrik's Folly, the commanders of the drow await - and the final part of the module can be considered a MASSIVE infiltration scenario: Schedules, castel population, short fluffy descriptions to keep even characters with the same statblock apart, a massive map, several suggested means of accomplishing their goals - Michael McCarthy, author of this final section, in no way rests on the laurel of his co-authors. The infiltration is detailed, fair, difficult, organic - including, thankfully, even a harrowing escape with the enslaved townsfolk and a last stand at a country manor are distinct possibilities - let's hope the PCs were smart enough 8and wilderess-savvy9 and kept the populace from eating those funny, cramp-inducing, slowing berries...



We also get concise lists of drow traits and even an encounter index.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to a drop-dead-gorgeous, very easy to read two-column full color standard on a purplish-dark background, which translates relatively well to grey-scale in my experiment, but in the end, I'd still go full color - mainly for the great maps and at times simply glorious and copious full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and provides full stats for all creatures in 3.5 and PFRPG.



I was skeptic about the separation of authors/parts, to be honest - it's easy to lose the thread of a cohesive, narrative voice and assume different things. Thankfully, the team of authors has done a great job that caters to their strengths - we got the knack for tradition and ritual, the uncanny grasp of what makes a society distinct and believable from AAW's core author-team, expanded by Steven T. Helt's sense for one eerie, cool wilderness trek and finally, Michael McCarthy's strength for cool, organic complexes (as showcased before in e.g. Incandium's Eruption) for a module that is greater than the sum of its parts.



This module does an awesome job at establishing the Drow as a cool, competent and damn frightening force of foes (the implication that they can DARKEN THE SUN, when driven home right by the DM, should make the PCs VERY afraid...) and the module offers infiltration, defense, wilderness - over all, an eclectic mix of challenges that should ensure that no PC is left bored. That being said, this module is something I'd recommend to experienced DMs. Here and there, suggested resting/leveling places, precise overland movement charts and the like would have made this module a bit easier on the DM - as written, while not VERY hard to run, it does require some preparation and competence to not get swamped in it. Don't get me wrong, this *is* a stellar module still, but it definitely is aimed at competent players and DMs - novices might require extensive help by the second adventuring group as DM-proxies to make it through this alive. Then again, that sort of is the point - the opposition is numerous, smart and lethal and beating them should be an accomplishment. As a final piece of advice- I'd suggest establishing Rybalka via one of the other A-series modules before this one - it makes the local color and emotional impact more effective. Still, one furious tour-de-force and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.


Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow Prologue: The Darkness Arrives
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Rise of the Drow: Player's Guide
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/12/2014 05:17:26
An Endzeitgeist.com

This supplement is 18 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



All right, we kick this off with a discussion of AAW Games' two major human ethnicities in this part of the Aventyr setting, the Klavekian colonists and the native Vikmordere - both coming btw. with basic skill-based modifications of the standard human standard racial traits that are applied in addition to the regular traits, with the Vikmordere getting to chose between 3 sets even. Now if you expect a Tulita/Colonists-dichotomy à la Razor Coast, rest assured that this one takes a more balanced approach - neither are glorified. What are the Vikmordere? Well...think Native Americans crossed with Vikings. Yeah. Awesome. One of Aventyr's dwarven ethnicities, the Dweorg, is also depicted in detail, including once again a bit of minor crunch-modification - and yes, the races come with nomenclature, take on religion etc.



A short primer on underworld races is also included here, including a pointer towards the upcoming Underworld Races-books by AAW-games. The same goes btw. for the Underworld Classes-book that is referenced hereafter - essentially, the following nets players a break-down of some of the odd classes they will potentially encounter (from the latter book) and whets their palate for them - without giving away their respective crunch and nasty tricks. Or at least, the pdf makes it seem like this is what's going to happen. Unfortunately, that's not what happens. The Player's Guide already is rather short. The classes and races noted (with minor exceptions race-wise) here do not feature among the opposition faced in Rise of the Drow's antagonist builds. Players, upon reading these short, fluff-only lists, will expect to be able to use these classes or at least kill NPCs using them. That does not happen. This may be harsh, but what this is, is essentially a form of advertisement - nothing bad there, but it's also false information since the classes don't feature in Rise of the Drow. Why not instead provide some advice what characters should be able to do, which concepts would work well etc.? You know, PROPER player-advice? What about some legends about the underdark the PCs have heard during their stay in Rybalka? Wasted space and wasted pages here. Why not hint at the things to come, with legends helping PCs à la "There are rare mushrooms down there, glowing like the moon herself - I've heard you can do fabulous things and travel to the moon when imbibing them with alcohol under the starry sky." (Partially true, btw. - you'll see when you read RotD...)



Next would be a short player-friendly gazetteer on the town of Rybalka, with not only a neat one-page map, but also a stunning 1-page full color illustration of the place as well as an in-character prose piece that expounds the blacksmith's take on the subterranean city of Embla, which will feature in Rise of the Drow.. It should also be noted that the section contains rumors and whispers galore and a list of basic underworld exploration equipment, complete with gp-prices and weight. The pdf also offers a primer that explains types of caverns and phenomena in the underworld as a means of immersion.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a two column standard and the pdf comes with quite an array of beautiful full color artworks - the maps and art combined with the layout make this pdf truly beautiful. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



The AAW-crew Stephen Yeardley, Mike Myler and Jonathan G. Nelson have created a per se neat pdf here - a mostly spoiler-free resource that introduces players to the dynamics of the mega-module and its setting, all without spoiling significant portions of the things to come - in that regard, it can be considered an accomplishment. It should be noted that, if you expect a player's guide to deliver new mechanics or offer advice on how to create a character that perfectly fits (e.g. favored enemy/terrain advice etc.), this pdf does not deliver that, instead opting for a mostly fluffy introduction to the things to come in RotD. As a reviewer, I also feel obliged to mention that the list of underwold classes/archetypes might be considered minor SPOILERS for DMs or teasing/advertisement, so be aware of that.



If you don't mind that, though, you'll get awesome prose, a concise introduction for players and generally, top-notch production values here. The disappointed expectations regarding the classes and races teased here might prove frustrating though, and personally, for me sours the deal significantly. All in all, this player's guide is nice, if not 100% required or for everyone, and hence my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, whether rounded up to 4 due to the low price and high production values or down to 3 due to essentially providing quite a bit of advertisement (for class/race books to come), ultimately depends on the reader and what one expects from such a book. If you're looking for a crunchy type of player's guide, this won't deliver. For me, the fact that the teaser may result in expectations of fighting certain classes not being fulfilled weighs heavy and could more than annoy some customers, hence I will round this down to 3.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Rise of the Drow: Player's Guide
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Heroes of the Siwathi Desert
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2014 03:18:10
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second of Purple Duck Games' Player's Guides for their upcoming, highly anticipated Porphyra-setting clocks in at 53 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD and 1 page blank back cover, leaving us with a massive 48 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Introduced to the setting's harsh realities by an aptly-written in-character narrative, we are introduced to the new races herein, first of which would be ancestor-worshipping Sibeccai-like humanoids, Fnolls and the godless, elemental-worshipping Zendiqi, the latter of which you may already know in more detail from one of the best Fehr's Ethnology-installments. These 3 races have in common that they are balanced, do what they set out to do and include 2- 4 racial traits (even properly listing bonus-types) - all three races have in common, that they properly portray the races, don't feature broken bits and can easily be dropped in just about every setting power-level-wise. Kudos! We also get takes on the 4 genasi-like races (and yes, I know Paizo has renamed them, but every time I write "Ifrit", "Oread", "Sylph" or "Undine" as a moniker for those guys, a part of me dies, so for the purpose of this review, I'll call the collective genasi...nothing to fault Purple Duck Games for, but still something that has me nerd-rage a bit at Paizo...) - these clock in at about the power-level of aasimar and tieflings, so they're appropriate for most campaigns that don't skirt the lower power-level echelons/point-buys. In their write-ups, some minor glitches have crept in - or rather, been taken over from the (imho less than stellar) ARG. Treacherous Earth, for example, still has no action type specified for it its use (why not make it su or even sp) thus making the action required to activate slightly more opaque than it ought to be - a flaw more on the side of the source-material, but still a flaw. Formatting-wise, speak with animals-like abilities could have used the (Sp) or (Su) in brackets, but that's me once again being anal-retentive. In the fluff-department, the roles of the genasi-like races is great and steeped in the cultural lore - which is awesome and something more settings should imho do - on the downside, the nomenclature might become somewhat jumbled. Air-genasi are for example called "sylph" and "habu" in alternating instances - why not establish the terminology in the text and then use the proper "habu"? Generally, that's a nit-pick, though - the expert writing and fluff actually make these races feel much more organic than I'm used to them being...so kudos!



After that, we not only get a full-page, gorgeous map of the area depicted in this book, we also are introduced into the politics , governments and social structures of the desert, including additional supplemental settlement qualities taken (and properly credited to!) Skortched Urf' Studios supplement on that topic - great to see such awareness! A total of 7 such qualities are here. A total of 4 wholly diverse settlements, complete with statblocks (and including a tent-city and a tomb city!) are up next and help getting much easier into the meat of the area. Have I mentioned the in-character narratives for the respective settlements? Yeah, cool!



The Five Spirits Master-PrC, a 5-level PrC has 1/2 BAB-progression, up to +3 save progression for all saves, d10, 4+Int skills per level and are all about the elemental monk styles, elemental fits etc. The PrC also gets a terrain-ignoring stride related to the elements, thus allowing the character to pass lava, water etc. - but requiring a full-round action as well as an end of the movement on solid ground. Limited, yet cool take on the stride and not one that can be broken easily. Now next would be an ability that may seem problematic - the blending of aforementioned djinn-related styles, activating more than one at once and getting each level an additional style active. I'd complain about multiple styles, but seeing how limited their selection is, it works. Furthermore, the PrC gets a cool mechanic that allows you to counter AoOs with elemental fist attacks, makingthe former make much more sense. And if all of that weren't enough coolness, the capstone allows you to use the style-endgame abilities as counters. And as the icing on the cake, the CR 13 sample character uses Rogue Genius Games superb talented monk-class instead of the regular one, netting you a superb sample character AND acting as a cool teaser, since all rules required to run the character are in here. Kudos for the best elemental monk-take I've seen in quite a while - I actually want to try this one out!



The Djinn, Marid and Efreet Binder summoners are all archetypes made in the vein of the shaitan-binder archetype - completing the classical elemental cycle of options - but once again going above and beyond what was required by sample statblocks and using material from the must-have Advanced Options: Extra Evolutions-book by Rogue Genius Games - again, using material, with an own spin and sans requiring other books. All the previously challenged summoners will rejoice at their new genie-eidolons. While still related in form, balancing and abilities to one another, they feel distinct enough to set them apart, though, again, as a nitpick, I would have preferred slightly more unique tricks for the respective archetypes to set them apart, but that's me complaining at a high level.



Fans of psionics can rejoice with the inclusion of the new Guardian Psychic Warrior Path - though this one has a weird wording ambiguity - on the one hand, the path renders immune to fear, one the other hand it nets a scaling bonus against fear effects. I *assume* a formatting glitch here, with the first instance of the word supposedly referring to the spell - see, and that's why I complain when spells aren't properly italicized. Expending the psionic focus to execute AoOs of foes moving through threatened squares fits with the concept, though - so generally, a nice path. Mahdi clerics wear veils, muffs and gags and can be considered as somewhat neutral-themed ascetic clerics that pay for the ability to daily choose the alignment domains with slightly less spells. Again, nice concept and rather visually cool. The sample character also uses a feat of domain channeling (again, from Rogue Genius Games) and also features two nice spells. The Muhartik Slayer rogue is all about slaying those pesky divine casters and similar infidels and makes for a rather effective foe of casters - neat and imho more flavorful in execution than similar mage-breaker archetypes I've seen! Cavaliers may now pledge allegiance to the Order of the Sundered Spear - no mercy, no retreat - dangerous stipulations - somewhat offset by the target of a challenge getting one counterattack per AoO performed against the cavalier. OUCH! That ability is powerful, yes, but on the other hand, the no-nonsense edict is also harsh, so I'll let that one stand.



Oracles of the Flames, Wind, Waves and Stone mysteries get additional revelations - and mostly, they're rather cool. One is a bit problematic, though - parting any size of water body (including oceans!) to provide passage feels problematic - while the caveat for x passing characters is fine, the overall wording is slightly problematic - as written, it can be inferred that the parting of waves is maintained for the whole body of water. But consequence-wise, that could entail grounded ships (no caveat but no. of crew!), flooded fields etc. - a slightly modified fluff-text that does not infer parting the waves for the whole body, instead implying more of a bubble would be more in line with how the ability is supposed to work - and while feeling less like Moses, it would probably result in less DM headache. Once again, a rather nitpicky complaint on my part, though. Pact Lords make for cool fighters that get the cavalier's tactician, is better at helping others and grant bonuses to allies via commands. Solid! 12 new feats allow for godless healing, better attacks versus vehicles (yeah!) or the option to add hieroglyphs to scrolls, granting metamagic effects to already created scrolls - cool! Add prophetic dreams and further feat-extensions to fighting styles (already mentioned briefly in the PrC) and we get a nice array here with quite a bunch of roleplaying potential. Want to know more about these style extensions? What about dealing +1 fire damage, +2 CMD when moving 10 ft or more? Force foes out of their styles/stances when active upon a successful strike? Or what about a feat that nets you DR 2/-, but sees you dissolve into sand at -1 hp? Yeah, damn risky, but also so cool!



On the spell-side, the antidivine field will become a staple for just about all undead in my games! What about a curse that turns all food to ash in the eater's mouth? Banquet of Ash indeed! Or the cantrip that deals no damage, but lowers initiative of the target? Seriously these spells are on the high-concept end of the scale, in both execution and ideas - and that's by someone by now VERY jaded regarding spells - I've reviewed more than 2000 spells for PFRPG so far and some of the ones herein still stood out to me.



Speaking about standing out -what about a book of Scheherazade-style tales, cool animal-totem-style masks, a more controllable rod of wonders, an artifact throne and even a sand-traveling folding boat-style item are in here as well. A massive 4-table list of mundane equipment available, including sources like the legendary Luven Lightfingers-book is also part of the deal- as is the cool, somewhat Go-like mini-game Arbakampsi, first pioneered in the Purple Duck Storeroom series - and yes, the game is actually fun - I had the opportunity to play it a couple of times.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, if not perfect - especially spell italicization isn't 100% consistent throughout the pdf. Still, nothing too bad. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with cool full color artworks and great cartography and the pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The pdf is also studded with unobtrusive hyperlinks for your convenience.



Authors Perry Fehr and Josh McCrowell have delivered a damn fine player's guide here - while I did not look forward to reading it at first, the generally balanced take on the races and content herein quickly dispersed my initial reluctance. The duo has managed to craft cool, iconic settlements and quite a few high-concept crunch nuggets I did not expect. Better yet - what I at first expected to be a bunch of yawn-worthy variants of established races interspersed with some original ones turned out to be valid, balanced recombinations of racial traits into a fitting, holistic whole - beyond the crunch, mainly thanks to actually getting solid and proper identities that root the races in the lore of the setting. Add to that the exceedingly cool PrC (just when I thought I was too bored to ever enjoy an elemental monk/martial artist archetype/PrC again...), massive use and awareness of pre-existing and beloved rules and we get a player's guide that actually fulfilled my expectations. Beyond simply offering crunch upon crunch, this book makes sense, draws you in and makes you excited about the setting and the stretches of land depicted herein; yes, even excited about the interpretation of gnolls and sibeccai-like humanoids. And then, there's Arbakampsi as a cool bonus alongside the new pieces of equipment. All in all, this pdf has over the course of this review been exposed to some of my nastier nitpicking habits and while it had to leave some small feather, it stands surprisingly well and intact, with the Zendiqi and the godless healing options making for cool rules to scavenge for low magic campaigns beyond the scope of this pdf. While not perfect or flawless, this player's guide is still one great achievement and imho a step up from the first one - my final verdict will hence clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform - whether on Porphyra or elsewhere - desert-dwelling heroes (and DMs) should take a look...

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Heroes of the Siwathi Desert
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Village Backdrop: Riverburg
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2014 03:14:53
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



As always the case with this series, we are herein introduced to a village that comes with full settlement statblocks, nomenclature, habits, industry, rumors and all the nice things required to properly run it - but before I get into Riverburg, take a look at that map. Yeah. That just about says it, doesn't it? Don't want to - well, Riverburg is NOT your run-of-the-mill village. Created at the conjunction of 3 rivers, the village has been erected on sturdy poles and stilts rising from the sluggish waters of the rivers, offering barges and services for those seeking to travel the forests and rivers.



And, of course, the village hosts unsavory elements (represented by two statblocks) consorting with river pirates; enigmatic, moaning caves that can be found in the vicinity; potential for whole houses to be stripped (and probably let loose) - burnt-out barges floating down the river...believe me when I say that this little pdf has more adventure potential than many supplements of 4 times the size!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' crisp, elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed. It should also be noted that DMs can download player-friendly versions of the map on Raging Swan Press' homepage as a print-out/hand-out resource - which is plain awesome.



I was duly impressed by Brian Wiborg Mønster's offerings so far for Raging Swan Press and this is no different - in fact, I'm once again thoroughly impressed by this supplement. Iconic in construction and in the angle taken, this makes for a cool semi-floating town that just sparks the imagination without rethreading tried and true terrain. This village backdrop is simply glorious, sparks the imagination, ahs adventure-potential galore and makes for a superb investment for the low and very fair asking price - final verdict? 5 stars + seal of approval for one superb village. I look forward to seeing more of Brian Wiborg Mønster's creations! If this great backdrop is any indication, we have a talent on the rise here!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Riverburg
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Rite Map Pack: Ocean Cave
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/11/2014 03:11:42
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This map pack is 35 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page map, 16 pages of full color blown-up versions of the map and the same amount of pages for the b/w-versions, so what's on the map?



The map depicts a grotto on the ocean, on the left side a coastal path leading alongside the ever-darkening waters. Inside of the cave, a raised level which features a dais and an entrance to what could be the cellar of a tower loom as a kind of hidden harbor, while at the shore within the grotto, a damaged boat looms.



Conclusion:

The map is a beautiful as we've come to expect from Tommi Salama's excellent cartography, with beautiful water, stellar work and helpful, unobtrusive grids. The pdf comes with full bookmarks t the respective map versions. As a cool additional bonus, we get high-res jpgs of the map with and without grids for those who want to use this online/via electronic devices. That being said, the map, due to aforementioned cellar/tower-like elements per se is slightly less versatile than I would have hoped - the entrance to the round structure, the dais - these conspire to make this map just a tad bit than it could have been - that being said, this is still a neat, beautiful map, testament to the immense talent of Tommi Salama and well worth 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Rite Map Pack: Ocean Cave
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Parsantium: City at the Crossroads
Publisher: Ondine Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2014 04:26:01
An Endzeitgeist.com review

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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



The pdf concludes with a massive index.



Conclusion:

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



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



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

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Parsantium: City at the Crossroads
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Village Backdrop: Summerford
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2014 04:22:28
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Village Backdrop-series is 10 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



As in all installments of the village backdrop-series, we get a whole array of supplemental information -from the village statblock to rumors, nomenclature, notable places to information on trade and industry and even dressing habits, the supplement covers quite an interesting array of information to run the village.



Life in Summerford is good - while at first simply created as an outpost, the discovery of iron in the nearby renamed iron hills has seen the village grow and prosper, with the dominant local family even slowly gaining a chance to reach for nobility - at least in theory. In practice, unrest is brewing between the mine and the trading outpost of Summerford, for the mines have been besieged by kobold incursions and thus, tensions are slowly rising. 6 events and 3 sample NPCs add further color to the pdf.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' crisp, elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed. It should also be noted that DMs can download player-friendly versions of the map on Raging Swan Press' homepage as a print-out/hand-out resource - which is plain awesome.



Author Alex Connell delivers the ascendant village to the descending Golden Valley - a mine on the rise instead of one on the decline and it per se is a nice village indeed, with quite some implied adventuring potential - including potential conflict between the old ways and the new as well as between miners and villagers. There's quite an array of possibilities here. On the other hand, the village's map isn't as extremely evocative as some others in the series and the potential for conflict in the village itself is there, yes, but compared to other installments, it is a bit subdued. Now don't get me wrong - this is me complaining at the highest level, but I still feel that some inkling, some more pronounced spark/threat for the powder's keg that is adventuring, would have made this even better. Hence, I will remain with a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Summerford
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Rite Map Pack: City by the Sea
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/02/2014 04:16:26
AN Endzeitgeist.com review

This map pack depicts a City by the Sea on 16 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving 14 pages for the maps, so let's take a look!





The first map depicts a massive, walled city by the sea, with streets connecting organically gates with the area around the harbor and one section of the city on a hill. It should be noted that unlike Port Shaw, Freeport etc., there is no huge harbor here, but rather the harbor can be considered just one part of the city, not one of its defining, center features.



The second page also has the city, this time depicted horizontal - with a truly jarring white box of text on the parchment-like header and a similarly jarring list of important buildings. Layout-wise, these white, angular boxes on a background of parchment are a total disaster that thankfully only mars this one rendition of the map - until you click on it, when the white box disappears. Printing it out, the boxes disappeared, but for those of you aiming to use this incarnation of the map online or via tablets should be aware of that.

EDIT: I've been made aware by two sources that I seem to be the only one stuck with this weird glitch - probably due to some personalizer issue or something like that. So ignore that portion.



6 pages each, both in b/w and full color, depict the city in a larger version.



Conclusion:

Tommi Salama is a glorious cartographer, and he obviously is just as at home with city maps as with battle maps - and this one comes beautiful indeed - craftmanship-wise, there's nothing to complain. A minor downside would be the lack of bookmarks to e.g. the b/w-version -while a marginal gripe, it still would have been nice to see. The pdf is also accompanied by an array of 4 cool high-res jpegs with and without labels. Internal logic-wise, I also have a minor gripe - for a city constructed so all roads lead towards the harbor, said harbor is VERY small when compared to the size of the city. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Rite Map Pack: City by the Sea
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The Genius Guide to More Barbarian Talents
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/01/2014 10:36:30
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The expansion for the superb talented barbarian clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



A total of 4 new edges are provided - one to make an animal whisperer (wild empathy, then non-magical charm effect -wrap your head around that!), one to further improve cleaving, one for a mule-style barbarian with more carrying capacity/better str-checks and one to grant immunity versus compulsions, but with the caveat of including a higher-HD-by-4-caveat similarly to how sneak attack versus those tentatively immune to flanking is handled.



A total of 24 talents are also part of the deal, covering wild empathy, being able to appraise non-magical objects/getting a kind of pidgin means of communicating simple concepts, speaking with animals of her form while skinwalking at will, one that lets you treat a very select array of weapons as a lighter category, improvise objects, becoming harder to get by failing respective saves and gaining bonuses while under negative conditions. The latter is a problem, at least a minor one - while I get the design intent here, the reality of the game will see more than one barbarian with this talent asking his/her compatriots to inflict e.g. bleed damage on them to get the melee damage boost (hey, +2 to damage ain't that shabby...) - too metagamey in the way it will be (mis-)used for my tastes. Kind of weird would be head smash - unarmed attacks with the head, executable sans AoO and even when grappled or pinned, but deals half damage to the barbarian. Again, I like the idea, but the execution would probably not see me ever take it unless I had a DM who used super-grappler foes all the time. On the other end, half damage from all falls and never landing prone when falling AND +2 to CMD versus trips? Yeah, can see that one.



Rather disappointing for me was also the way in which blood oaths are portrayed herein - when below half max hp (Hello, 4th edition design!), a barbarian may once per day choose one of 4 bonuses - none of which are too strong and require line of sight with the target of the oath and a relatively short duration, but still. Kind of anticlimactic and not like an epic blood oath of vengeance, more like a minor revenge theme. Better bracer-fighting and a talent that nets bonus hp when not wearing armor and the like, on the other hand, help quite a bit with some character concepts. One of the 4 greater talents allows you to execute two combat maneuvers at once as a standard action and -2 to either. A complex one here...on the one hand, there is nothing per se wrong with this one per se thanks to the action-economy-caveat, it is still one that somewhat leaves me with a bit of hesitation, especially with the grand talent that 1/round allows the barbarian to add yet another maneuver to a combat maneuver or attack - and since there's no other caveat, that means potentially three combat maneuvers in one attack - and I *know* there are some creature/build combos that can do very nasty things with combos like that... Getting a final attack when being downed or killed on the other hand is a rather neat one.



We also get 7 new rage powers and they are interesting - more CMD and more importantly, an AoO if a maneuver fails against the raging barbarian (even if otherwise not provoking one from the barbarian) -yeah, these I can see. Draw Aggression deserves special mention - when a foe the barbarian threatens targets a foe other than the barbarian with a spell, ability or attack, the barbarian gets an AoO - add reach, have fun. Seriously, nice way of making the aggression drawing work. Getting a free round of rage for being critted, on the other hand, at least theoretically fails the kitten test in a very minor way - while theoretically, the rage could be infinitely prolonged by crits of declawed kittens, in practice, it'll be hard to maintain. Still, not particularly elegant design in my book. Getting a shaken-inducing defense versus mind-inföluencing effects on the other hand - yeah, neato! Ditto for inciting minor, detrimental rages and a fast intimidate (swift or immediate action) upon entering a rage.



The pdf concludes with a list of the edges, talents etc. by theme - nice to have!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rogue Genius Games' 2-column portrait standard with thematically fitting color stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.



Hmm...this one left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the further exploration of skinwalking/animal-whisperer-style tricks is cool - as is the fact that some of the abilities herein make vambraces more viable and help unarmored barbarians. The thing is - they, at least in my book, don't do enough to offset the downside of not using armor in the long run - some further talents/edges to improve this conceptual path would have been more than cool. After all, unarmored barbarians, frothing at the mouth while charging those pansies in their shining mail are a staple of fantasy art - a step further in that direction would have been awesome. Usually, the "More X Talents"-series has provided some of the more iconic, cool talents, unique options etc. - and this one does so as well...but also uses quite a bunch of rules-solutions that are slightly less elegant than what I've come to expect from the series. Overall, a few of the talents herein left me either shrugging or simply not sold on their viability. Now don't get me wrong - chances are, you'll find at least some cool tidbits to use herein, but compared to previous installments, this one's mechanics felt a tad bit less streamlined to me, with some reflexive abilities tied to negative conditions and the like. While the wording is water-tight enough to prevent copious abuse, some minor metagamey moments might well arise from this one. All in all, I can bring myself to rating this higher than 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform, with the caveat that talented barbarian-fans should probably still take a look, but carefully check with their DM regarding the talents herein.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to More Barbarian Talents
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The Genius Guide to the Talented Barbarian
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/24/2014 02:44:52
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first of the much-applauded "Talented"-treatments under Owen K.C. Stephens' new Rogue Genius Games clocks in at an impressive 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 35 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!



So let's take a look at the class, shall we? talented Barbarians must be of non-lawful alignment, get d12, 4+Int skills, full BAB-progression, good fort-saves and proficiency with all simple and martial weapons and light armors. They also get a so-called edge at first level, 2nd level and then at 5th level and every 6 levels after that. Barbarians also get a so-called talent at 1st level and every level except 5th, 11th and 17th. Starting at 10th level, advanced talents become available and starting at 20th level, so-called grand talents are there as capstones. So far, so good - that's essentially what you had expected after the previous installments of the series.



Now where things get really interesting is with the new level 1 ability Primal Reserve. A barbarian starts play with 4+con-mod points of Primal Reserve and adds +2 points. Primal reserve can be used to automatically stabilize. All core-resources that would increase rage rounds instead net primal reserve points. These, as you can imagine, make for the basic resource of the talented barbarian.



Generally, a certain type of ability-tree can be gleaned herein -while primal reserve powers all the rage-like edges (rage, cod fury, berserker and also savagery), only one can be chosen - savagery allowing btw. the barbarian to add +1d6 to ability/skill-checks based on two chosen attributes other than Int for a more canny/versatile adversary. Additionally, rage powers and the like can be used by barbarians with this edge even when not in rage. This makes for an interesting inherent design-decision, also by adding additional benefits according to the rage chosen - berserkers getting e.g. free proficiencies and the like. Skinwalking and the oracle-mystery-wildering totems also are part of the deal -and before you get out your power-gaming utensils - skinwalking/totems have a caveat that helps them not stack at the lower levels, but which still makes it possible to combine them, should you wish to. Skinwalking? Yep, essentially wild-shaping fuelled by primal reserve, opening a vast array of new character concepts. And before you ask - the ability is balanced re animal modes of movement and attacks, requiring higher levels to turn into predators and the like - nice! It should also be noted that barbarians are explicitly allowed to wilder in the rogue's talent selection via a specific edge, increasing your potential arsenal even further.



Among the talents, armored swiftness, using improvised weapons, longer non-combat wild-shape, crowd control (with a caveat that addresses the problematic wording of the origin ability!), ignoring bad weather - rather awesome, very extensive selection, though personally, I had hoped the Titan Mauler's ability to wield oversized weapons and one-hand two-handed weapons and all the confusion surrounding it had been cleaned up in a similar manner as aforementioned crowd control. Oh well, guess you can't have everything. And before you ask - yes, rage power is now a talent as well, allowing you access to the list of rage-powers, which still apply their potential additional prerequisites. Have I mentioned the ability to use foes grappled as weapons to bludgeon others while in rage? What about rerolls of failed saves versus conditions upon drinking alcohol? Of course, totem rage powers are also included herein - with the totem edge (which may be taken multiple times) offering potentially access to multiple rage totem powers. Beyond the alignment-based/obvious beast totem powers, the fans of Midgard will surely enjoy the world-serpent totem powers or the hive totem, the latter of which is a godsend if your DM's just as evil as yours truly and loves throwing deadly swarms at the poor melee characters after the AoE-spells of the casters are drained...



We also get an index that groups the respective content according to theme. Very interesting indeed - beyond the by now traditional advice on how to handle synergy between talented classes, we get essentially a suggestion called heroic warrior, who is a synergy of fighter, barbarian and cavalier for those who wish to play in all toolboxes sans breaking the game -really like that one, though a full-blown table for the class would probably have been nice.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RGG's printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with thematically-fitting stock art and is EXTENSIVELY bookmarked with nested bookmarks for each edge, talent and rage power. It also comes hyperlinked to d20pfsrd.com, though not with the perfect bookmarks, but rather the automated ones - I doubt that customers require "GM" to be hyperlinked and more than once, I clicked by accident on a hyperlink, in the end printing this out to avoid just that. Oh well, at least the hyperlinks per se aren't obtrusive.



Back to a more positive topic - the content. This takes the slobbering, wrath-filled barbarian and, as the intro suggests, separates it from the savage warrior, essentially allowing for non-raging barbarians from less urbanized cultures to civilized people who need anger management classes to shamanistic warriors that may slip in and out of animal skins - the barbarian as reimagined herein is much more versatile than the base class it inspired, offering much, much more in the variety of character concepts it supports - and that, ladies and gentleman, is why this one, much like the other talented classes before, now is the standard at my table. f problems can be found herein, they are minor at the very best and not the result of the class, but of the base archetype-abilities the framework took and adapted. And, let me emphasize this, even these minor hick-ups do not detract from the usefulness of this class in the slightest - final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Genius Guide to the Talented Barbarian
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Real Scroll 1: Fireball (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2014 03:35:43
An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different - today I'll take a look at Kobold Press' Real Scroll-series, which portrays one spell per installment in a lavish, hand-crafted calligraphy.



Each of these pdf is 4 pages long - 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page regular text of the spell and 1 page for the real scroll calligraphy version of the spell.



These reviews are not about content - they are about aesthetics and as such, much more so than my regular reviews, I invite you, the reader, to take these as just that - my personal preference and opinion regarding these. Got that?



Great! It should be noted, that the scrolls don't contain arcane gibberish, strange runes or glyphs or the like - they contain the spell's description and rules, rendered in lavish calligraphy - and that's it. whether these are worth it for you as a customer depends very much on how excited you can get about beautiful calligraphy, here rendered by Kathy Barker.

#1 is all about the iconic fireball, with massive Initials, wonderful ligatures and the text superimposed over the awesome rendition of a fireball, with the scroll itself having a somewhat scorched, parchment-like look and a caveat on the proper storage of these scrolls at the end - glorious 5 star + seal of approval material in my book.

Now If you enjoy artfully crafted calligraphy or have tried your hand with it yourself, if you're an aesthete, then these will be worth the asking price indeed. If you're just out there for the crunch, then you might want to skip these. Personally, I hope the series continues - for I'm convinced that RPGs ARE art and crossovers/crosspollinations of different types of artistry tend to result in favorites of mine. I know I'm looking forward to when I can hand out a scroll of fireball to my players and watch their astonished faces!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Real Scroll 1: Fireball (Pathfinder RPG)
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Real Scroll 3: Fire Under the Tongue (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2014 03:33:03
An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different - today I'll take a look at Kobold Press' Real Scroll-series, which portrays one spell per installment in a lavish, hand-crafted calligraphy.



Each of these pdf is 4 pages long - 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page regular text of the spell and 1 page for the real scroll calligraphy version of the spell.



These reviews are not about content - they are about aesthetics and as such, much more so than my regular reviews, I invite you, the reader, to take these as just that - my personal preference and opinion regarding these. Got that?



Great! It should be noted, that the scrolls don't contain arcane gibberish, strange runes or glyphs or the like - they contain the spell's description and rules, rendered in lavish calligraphy - and that's it. whether these are worth it for you as a customer depends very much on how excited you can get about beautiful calligraphy, here rendered by Kathy Barker.

#3 portrays Fire Under the Tongue, with somewhat organic/leaf (or flame)-like embroideries to the side of the spell. As an awesome touch, several of the letters feature flame-like extensions and the penultimate "f" of fire in the line that includes the mythic and augmentation options rounds perfectly the space of the page. The scroll comes with a fitting, red border and, as with the previous installments, the ligatures deserve special mentioning for their aesthetic value. Instead of one-letter initials, we have bolded letters in this case and personally, I prefer lavish initials over the (comparatively) common bolding of first words in a paragraph. 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Now If you enjoy artfully crafted calligraphy or have tried your hand with it yourself, if you're an aesthete, then these will be worth the asking price indeed. If you're just out there for the crunch, then you might want to skip these. Personally, I hope the series continues - for I'm convinced that RPGs ARE art and crossovers/crosspollinations of different types of artistry tend to result in favorites of mine. I know I'm looking forward to when I can hand out a scroll of fireball to my players and watch their astonished faces!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Real Scroll 3: Fire Under the Tongue (Pathfinder RPG)
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Real Scroll 2: Battleward (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2014 03:30:22
An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different - today I'll take a look at Kobold Press' Real Scroll-series, which portrays one spell per installment in a lavish, hand-crafted calligraphy.



Each of these pdf is 4 pages long - 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page regular text of the spell and 1 page for the real scroll calligraphy version of the spell.



These reviews are not about content - they are about aesthetics and as such, much more so than my regular reviews, I invite you, the reader, to take these as just that - my personal preference and opinion regarding these. Got that?



Great! It should be noted, that the scrolls don't contain arcane gibberish, strange runes or glyphs or the like - they contain the spell's description and rules, rendered in lavish calligraphy - and that's it. whether these are worth it for you as a customer depends very much on how excited you can get about beautiful calligraphy, here rendered by Kathy Barker.

#2 depicts battleward and is more light -with two small heraldic crests depicting a portcullis and a sword-like icon superimposes on a sun-light background flanking the spell's name, ethereal blueish wisps stretch towards the middle of the text from the upper right corner - per se very elegant, but I miss the custom background, this scroll having only a stark white background and the scroll has too pronounced white borders for my tastes. The two lavishly rendered, beautiful initials of the text deserve mentioning, though. 4 stars.

Now If you enjoy artfully crafted calligraphy or have tried your hand with it yourself, if you're an aesthete, then these will be worth the asking price indeed. If you're just out there for the crunch, then you might want to skip these. Personally, I hope the series continues - for I'm convinced that RPGs ARE art and crossovers/crosspollinations of different types of artistry tend to result in favorites of mine. I know I'm looking forward to when I can hand out a scroll of fireball to my players and watch their astonished faces!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Real Scroll 2: Battleward (Pathfinder RPG)
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Real Scroll 4: Gear Barrage (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/20/2014 03:28:31
An Endzeitgeist.com review

And now for something completely different - today I'll take a look at Kobold Press' Real Scroll-series, which portrays one spell per installment in a lavish, hand-crafted calligraphy.



Each of these pdf is 4 pages long - 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD/editorial, 1 page regular text of the spell and 1 page for the real scroll calligraphy version of the spell.



These reviews are not about content - they are about aesthetics and as such, much more so than my regular reviews, I invite you, the reader, to take these as just that - my personal preference and opinion regarding these. Got that?



Great! It should be noted, that the scrolls don't contain arcane gibberish, strange runes or glyphs or the like - they contain the spell's description and rules, rendered in lavish calligraphy - and that's it. whether these are worth it for you as a customer depends very much on how excited you can get about beautiful calligraphy, here rendered by Kathy Barker.

#4 is all about Gear Barrage, with a lot of swirly, brown lines at the top and bottom of the spell, each of the brown lines ending in a turquoise dot and spirals adhering to a similar schematic denoting the respective lines of the mechanical information for the spell.. The spell's title is the star here - with turquoise letters and brown borders of said letters, the title is just a beauty to look at. The borders of the scroll this time around are brown. While the embroideries and spirals of the text this time around rank among the best I've seen in the series, this scroll also suffers from there just not being that much text - the scroll features significantly large borders, with the text being not perfectly centered and more left-aligned, lending to an impression of the scroll being simply not that well-used - larger letters, more pronounced embroideries, something like that could have made this one truly stand out. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.



Now If you enjoy artfully crafted calligraphy or have tried your hand with it yourself, if you're an aesthete, then these will be worth the asking price indeed. If you're just out there for the crunch, then you might want to skip these. Personally, I hope the series continues - for I'm convinced that RPGs ARE art and crossovers/crosspollinations of different types of artistry tend to result in favorites of mine. I know I'm looking forward to when I can hand out a scroll of fireball to my players and watch their astonished faces!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Real Scroll 4: Gear Barrage (Pathfinder RPG)
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Path of War: The Warder
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/17/2014 03:36:29
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Path of War-series is 45 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page of SRD, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Okay, one thing out of the way - I assume at this point that you're familiar with the terminology of PoW, that you are aware that now per-encounter abilities have a precisely in-game defined time-frame and that PoW does NOT represent standard Pathfinder-balance - the aim of this series is to add power to martial characters, with special martial-arts style maneuvers and new classes. This means that balance, by design, is different from what you'd get in regular PFRPG. I'm not going to criticize the increased power of these characters, since that's the design-goal. Relevant for DMs would be the fact that with these guys around, war of attrition no longer works - since maneuvers can be (with some actions required to regain them) performed ad infinitum, resource-depletion as a strategy akin to dealing with spellcasters no longer works with PoW - or at least, is significantly less effective. This caveat out of the way, If you're interested in the basics, check out my previous PoW-reviews.



That out of the way, let's take a look at the difficult concept of a defensive warrior, herein exemplified by the new warder base-class. Warders get d12, 4+Int skills per level, good fort and will-saves, full BAB-progression, proficiency with all armors and all shields and start game with 5 maneuvers known, 3 readied and 1 known stance. Over the 10 levels, these expand to 16 maneuvers known, 10 readied and 6 stances. Maneuvers expended can also be regained by this class in a unique way, by entering the so-called defensive focus. First, there is a passive benefit - warders get the combat reflexes feat and use int-mod instead of dex-mod to determine AoOs per round. Recovering maneuvers as a full-round action, the warder gets an interesting ability - he sets up a defensive perimeter, threatening an additional 5 ft., + another 5ft. per 5 initiator levels (not sure whether that's intended and shouldn't be CLASS levels instead - multiclassing warder/warlord/stalker and having this one grow at full force seems excessive to me). Until the beginning of the warder's next turn, he may make AoOs against targets provoking them in this increased perimeter. The warder may still move as part of these AoO, but only up to his speed - this feels a bit powerful when compared to similar defensive builds, but I guess that's intended. Finally, the warder imposes a penalty equal to class level + int-mod to acrobatics-checks made to prevent AoOs from the warder. At 10th level, this becomes worse - the warder's threatened area becomes difficult terrain for foes and his own movements don't provoke AoOs anymore when in defensive focus.



Not provoking any AoOs by moving anymore can break A LOT of builds - which doesn't seem so bad. Want to see these get truly scary? Reach weapon + creature with reach + size-increase (the latter especially for PCs) - deadly. I'm seriously not sure whether +25 ft. reach IN ADDITION to all the reach-increasing tricks out there isn't...well...insane.



Warders also increase their ally's defenses by mere proximity, granting a +1 morale bonus to AC and will-saves to all allies within 10 ft., scaling up to +5 at 17th level and increasing range to up to 30 ft. Nothing to complain about the defensive aura here. At 2nd level, the Warder also gets an ability called Armiger's Mark -usable 1/2 class level + int-mod times per day, and no more often simultaneously than against 3+int-mod targets, as a free action, warders damaging foes may mark them to force them to attack the warder for warder's int-mod rounds at -4 (scaling up to -8) to atk and with a spell failure chance increased by 10% +1% per 2 levels. No save. Which brings me to an issue here - I GET the idea of this ability - it's intended to force a target to attack the warder (and not the healing-spamming cleric/druid/oracle). I actually applaud that! What I don't like is that there's no scaling, no success/failure-dichotomy here - personally, I think the ability would be more rewarding (and exciting and balanced), if the target got a save to negate the penalties imposed by the mark BUT NOT the ability's crux, i.e. still have to attack the target. Now at 9th level, a warder can expend two uses of this ability to impose the penalty to all creatures within 30 ft. on a failed will-save for int-mod rounds. While being limited by a save and being language-dependant (meaning unlike the mark, it does not work against animals etc.), I still think that this debuff as a free action is a bit excessive. At 16th level, warders may regain maneuvers by dropping marked foes to 0 hp.



The class also receives a bonus combat (or teamwork) feat at 3rd level and every 5th level thereafter. At fourth level, warders may use int instead of dex to calculate their ref-saves and initiative (making them essentially a 3 good save-class - which is excessive). In contrast, reducing armor check penalty by 2 over the whole class feels not that impressive. Personally, I'd nerf the former ability and improve the latter - also to allow for slightly more varied char-builds - i.e. dexterous warders instead of strong warders.



Extended defense unfortunately doesn't work - 1/day (+1/day every 3 levels) as an immediate action, warders may designate a counter readied, which the warder may then execute as a free action at will until the start of his next turn. The thing is - free actions can't be RAW performed when it's not your turn. So we have a conundrum here - also regarding the counter itself; It *could* be spammed infinitely since there is no caveat there - if one presumes a free action to work also on another's turn (which it doesn't), action economy gets all jumbled for the counters (not to start with implications for other free action tricks of other classes...). A more elegant solution would have imho be to simply allow the ability to let the warder execute the counter at will as a substitute to regular AoOs provoked by his opponents - simple, elegant and sans this action economy labyrinth the ability opens.



At 7th level, warders can expend one use of their mark to expend int-mod readied maneuvers and replace them with an equal amount of known maneuvers as a full-round action. At 15th level, a warder may make fort-saves against the atk that would reduce him to 0 hp or below and instead have an item absorb the damage, potentially getting the broken condition...per se cool. The problem is, what happens to indestructible armor/artifacts etc.? Seriously, a warder with these is a force to be reckoned with... while not 100% foolproof, at 15th level, the ability comes late enough to make me still consider okay. In direct comparison, gaining +int-mod to AC versus crit-confirmation rolls at 19th level feels rather anticlimactic. The capstone again is rather epic though, allowing the maintaining of defensive focus as a move action, while also netting aegis bonuses, immunities and preventing death from hit point damage - he is "unable to die from hit point damage" - each round consumes aegis marks, though, and at the end of this ability, he's exhausted, which can only be cured by rest. per se cool...but: The warder's immortal via hit point damage - so far, so good. Does that mean that a 200 hp dragon-flame blast hitting the warder simply does no damage or that he can't die from it if his hp are down to 49? What after the blast? Assuming the warder would die at -16 hp, would he be at -15 hp and unconscious (meaning the ability would cease immediately?)? Would said warder be stable or die the next round on a failed check? Or is the warder locked at 0 hp and staggered? Or is the warder's hp locked at 1hp for the duration of the ability? Some clarification would help make this cool capstone really awesome...



All right, next up would once again be the short primer on the Knowledge (martial) skill (still sans info which non-PoW-classes should get it as a class skill...) and new (and old) feats from the PoW. So let's see how these fare! General feats to specialize on disciplines, learning more maneuvers etc. and letting other classes wilder among the maneuvers presented as well as offering the finesse etc. feats already known from the previous installments. The feats also include one that doubles the duration of the aegis mark ability. One feat. Doubled duration. Even within PoW, this is BROKEN. Extra marks is okay - as is the option to make foes demoralized and marked flee from you (which is probably smart - two massive debuffs don't make for a good melee...) and finally, the feat that nets temporary hp in exchange for a penalty with full attacks is back; While not broken, it's also not particularly awesome - it's essentially a free array of temp hit points as long as full attacks are performed, which makes for a very strange in-game logic indeed...



Next up would be the maneuvers - Golden Lion and Primal Fury you'll know from the Warlord (covered in my review there), Broken Blade from the Stalker (ditto) - but there's also a new discipline, namely Iron Tortoise. I will ONLY cover Iron Tortoise in this review.

Iron Tortoise's associated skill is Bluff and it requires proficiency with shields. This discipline is defensive in nature - which I applaud. I also enjoy that NONE of the maneuvers uses a skill check for attack-mechanic! Yeah! One of the most powerful counters allows the initiator to make an opposed attack roll + shield bonus versus the incoming attack as an immediate action - success negates the incoming attack, while failure still nets you a DR of 50/- against it. Yeah. Ouch - but the true joke is - not that much better than the level 6 version, which does essentially the same, but "only" nets DR 20/- on a failure.

Remember that this ability can be refreshed relatively easily. See what I meant in the beginning with PoW adhering to a different power level than standard Pathfinder? Still, within PoW's frame. Another boost of the discipline allows the initiator to heap cumulative penalties against targets other than you upon foes for each successful attack you hit them with. What's fundamentally broken is burnished shell - which renders all spells requiring attacks utterly useless - by succeeding an attack against CASTER LEVEL (lol, 5? 10? Even for 20 - The discipline cannot possibly fail this one!), the maneuver negates the targeted spell. Disintegrate? Pfff! The check is the same for all spell levels! Its DC is ridiculously low at ANY level range! Oh, the maneuver is LEVEL 3. Seriously? Even in PoW's increased power-level, this is utterly, completely INSANE. Not all maneuvers have problems, though - whirlwind shield-bashing foes? Yeah - works and is cool. I also LOVE that there's a maneuver that lets you add shield-bonus to fort and ref-saves against specific attacks- simply because that's one of the iconic things that shields ought to be able to do: Fireball incoming: Hiding behind the shield may save you from being burnt to a crisp! Yeah, that one works neat! Another high-level attack I like can attack multiple foes with one shield bash and massive bonus damage, knocking foes back! an opposing attack roll including movement to negate attacks on allies also works rather neatly! In contrast the shield bash attack to negate incoming non-spell/power attack-level 1 counter once again somewhat rubs me the wrong way, though here mainly because of the d20 vs. d20 fluctuation. This is a matter of personal preference, though, and unlike the skill vs. attack complaining I did (which does have massive issues), attack vs. attack will not cause me to rate this pdf down.



I do like the stance that makes your armor count as one step lighter, shield throwing and yes, the inevitable defensive position-style stance. Overall, I have surprisingly few issues with the whole discipline and consider it perhaps the best one so far...if you can deal with one concept.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice significant glitches, though here and there ambiguities have slipped past rules-editing. Layout adheres to DSP's two-column standard and artworks are mostly thematically-fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Chris Bennett's growth as an author is quite interesting to observe - the warder feels more concise than the previous classes and makes for a very interesting take on the defensive fighter, with a lot of interesting abilities and some rather cool ideas. That being said, while it doesn't fail the kitten-test this time around, there are some rough edges in this class as well, though decidedly less than before.



The same can be said about Iron Tortoise - gone from this discipline are the 3.X-relics, all vanished in favor of more PFRPG-oriented mechanics. While personally, I'm not a fan of opposed attack rolls (why not resolve it versus opponent's CMD?), I can live with attack versus attack since they adhere to the same scaling mechanism and thus can be balanced against each other. The vast majority of the discipline works rather well and while there are some components which can use some balance-tweaking, overall, within the increased power-level of PoW, I can see it working well.



This pdf is the so far most refined Path of War installment. That being said, as written, one can create a terror-inducing tank indeed - I could hand this to one of my players and get a strong, but balanced character. Much like the other PoW-books, I could also hand this to one of my number-wizards (get it? spellcaster-analogue...Okay, I'll hit myself now and put 2 bucks in the bad-pun-jar) and they'd utterly break balance with the other classes.



So overall...Yes, there's some filing off of rough edges to still be done here - though less than before. Another note I feel I should mention would be the concept of aggro - many abilities herein force foes to attack certain targets and reward/penalize certain actions on behalf of the warder's foes. While personally, I don't necessarily mind the concept (though I'd penalize the hell out of a player not properly rping WHY s/he draws the foe's ire/how s/he interposes her/himself into attacks!), I can imagine certain DMs being annoyed by this - I'm mentioning this primarily because two of my playtesters were exceedingly annoyed by this. It should also be noted that this class is VERY linear; Not much choices class-option-wise.



How to rate this, then? I actually like the class abilities (and, even if the class isn't revised/further streamlined, will scavenge the hell out of it!), but some of them as written, require some finetuning. The same goes for the new maneuvers, some of which vastly outclass others in power/usefulness. The good news here is that these glitches, unlike previous complaints I had in the series, can be VERY EASILY fixed - they require no incision into central mechanics or the like and boil down to minor fixes, though the amount does accumulate. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 -with the caveat that if you mind neither the glitches I noted, nor the strength or the aggro-drawing concept, you should DEFINITELY round up to 4 stars instead. A moderately talented DM can smoothen the rough edges him/herself.



One final promise - I *will* revisit ALL maneuvers in the final, inevitable compilation and once again see whether this series manages to become the legendary book it sets out to be or whether the minor rough edges remain.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Warder
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