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Urban Dressing: Thieves
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/04/2014 02:31:00
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Urban Dressing-series is 15 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!



Every city needs its conmen and scoundrels and this pdf delivers fluffy portrayals of these rogues for DMs to pursue - the first table providing more than 30 entries of NPC-names (including one little note on classes/combinations), each of which offers not only a name, but also a modus operandi these pickpockets and conmen use to try to relieve poor commoners (or even PCs) of their hard-earned gold! From meat-cleaver carrying lock-breakers to thieves targeting beggars (despicable...) or street magicians - quite a bunch of nice options waiting here to fill the cells of the local watch...or the gallows.



15 different thus are included in the next table, men for the tough jobs, when folks need intimidation or the loss of a finger, toe or similar easily misplaced part of the body. Mute hunters of tongues, halflings that awake you with a blade to your throat, sling-using dwarves - an interesting assortment of men and women of violent tempers. The third table offers an even wider selection of skilled thieves - A total of 33 characters with PC-races and various experience-levels: 4-fingered pickpockets, specialists in providing boltholes and all the other specialists a guild may require are here for the introduction into your game and the building of their respective statblocks. Neat and thoroughly iconic! Speaking of specialists - a total of 15 additional entries provide a true assortment of specialists - from cat-burglars to clean-up men - here are the true specialists!



We also get 4 statblocks for generic thieves, ranging from CR 1/4 urchins to CR 3 Bruisers and close the pdf with a massive table of 50 entries providing further complications for encounters with and around thieves, rounding out this pdf rather well - after all, the masked guy that has just traversed the wall may actually be who he claims- the god of thieves...



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's 2-column full-color standard and the one-page piece of stock art works well in the context of the supplement. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and arrives on your HD in two versions, one intended for screen use and one for the printer.



Designer Josh Vogt provides a DM's dream - if you ever needed to create a compelling, functional thieves' guild or criminal underworld, you'll realize how much consideration and time it may take, and while you'll still have to do the statblocks for non rank-and-file thugs, this pdf does all the rest for you: The specialists etc. are glorious and demand being inserted into the seedy underbellies of your campaign - all fluff and glorious ideas, with some nice basic stats thrown in the mix, this supplement is a joy to read and thankfully very versatile - this is a load of work off any DM's back and actually inspiring. Well, this pdf is damn close to perfection, but honestly, I would have enjoyed a short tie-in with Ultimate Campaign or a sample cost of some operations/guildhouses (just rooms + costs). I'm complaining at a high level here, though - this is damn close to being perfect and is simply more varied than the book on the watch - hence my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Urban Dressing: Thieves
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Between Chains and Starlight
Publisher: Space Potato Productions
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2014 03:18:08
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This book by Space Potato Productions is 228 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages about the book, 2 pages ToC, 1 page blank inside the back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 218 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



We kick off this setting's introduction with a flavor-text in character that gives us a brief (and surprisingly well-written) run-down of the setting: Essentially, it was not an AI that led to this dystopian future, but rather mankind's own potential for less than savory practices: In a vast war, a significant amount of planets was destroyed and made uninhabitable and now, the empires of Corinth and Kurion are at a stand-off -when Altair is discovered: A comparably primitive world, yes, but a populated one and one rife for the taking, one that dares stand up to those two entities. As you can glean from this introduction, the sci-fi setting as depicted herein is not particularly rosy, but it does have the makings of being potentially played in a more over the top space-opera style.



Now the first thing you'll notice from the introduction of the setting would be that both magic and technology exist -some of the worlds covered in the setting may actually be of your regular technology-level of fantasy worlds or pre-industrial revolution societies - the opening of portals and interstellar travel to those can of course result in massive changes in the way demographics react to ideas - as a catalyst for change and sheer unlimited potential for cultural clashes, the premise could be described as "Magic offsets technology's advantages in part" and "There is no prime directive". In the meanwhile, the darker empires out there are on the verge of decline, whereas the fractured empires of Altair have united under the Admiralty, and much like other human empires, crafted space ships to defend them, taking half-understood knowledge salvaged from wrecks etc. to do so. On the side of most important technological advances should stand the 3D-printing and CnC-advances, Plasma Thrusters and cold fusion reactors - while computers have hit a dead-end, with sufficiently powerful AIs and systems usually running afoul of a weird wave that hampers their processes - hence, human presence is still essential in warfare, though drones and the like are still used. Trans-planar communication is handled via satellites and asynchronous, for the information only manages the speed of light, so in Simmon's terms, information incurs quite a time debt. Travel between galaxies is undertaken via worm-holes in the (relative) proximity of the respective central stars. Surprisingly, only ships boarded by organic life seem to be able to make these instantaneous jumps - hence, the jumping is actually treated as a magical/psionic effect. So let's sum up the status quo - we have two evil empires, an emergent light in the Admirality, Hazioth (more on that later) and some potential, including hostile galaxies.



Okay, that essentially are the basics - after that, we're introduced to Altair, the first faction: Essentially a feudal, magical setting that has instantly been made aware of technology - hard sci-fi mixed with a backdrop of feudal fantasy. Much like the overall star-system map, we also get a map of one part of a planet and quite an array of fiction that goes into the peculiarities from this unique set-up, written in-character from various perspectives and covering thus some peculiarities - e.g. the problems of attacking undead with laser-guns. Each faction herein comes with nice in-character narratives, by the way!



The Corinthian Hegemony is a dystopian society where the rich and powerful have, via a tight control of education etc. - life-expectancy is 54 years (strangely for men and women), while only 10% truly hold power and live in comfort. the hegemony is considered an empire devoid of large innovation - as befitting a culture that deliberately enforces aggression and stupidity to create soldiers. Those guys should probably have read the memoirs of the "Alter Fritz" (aka Frederick the Great), the Prussian king - he understood that stupid and malnourished/addicted soldiers are bad soldiers and via his educational reforms turned a semi-backwater kingdom into a significant power with one of the most efficient militaries of his time... What I'm trying to get at is...I understand the intention of providing a dystopian, noiresque background, perhaps even one that may act as a kind of satire on our own culture. But systems like these here don't work as flawlessly as depicted here - there always will be revolutionaries, brilliant minds born from idiot parents etc. and postulating an absolute class system sans means of ascending not only will prove to be fatal for the gene-pool, it also simply won't work in the long run. I get that that may be the intention, but for me, I can't truly suspend my disbelief for this society - it's a tad bit too dreary, too grimdark to seem "realistic" to me.



Hazioth is the utopian equivalent to Corinth's Dystopia - loosely based on egalitarian values as practiced in our world, this faction is most earth-like and un-alien, also in its aesthetics - the faction represents mankind "getting it mostly right" - and yes, that's a direct quote from the book. The thing is - it feels TOO close. From the writing, I did not glean any information on how stellar travel, magic etc. has influenced society and this, honestly, makes the faction feel a bit like the obligatory bland goody-two-shoes faction for players to oppose the evil empires.



Speaking of evil empires . you thought the Corinthian Hegemony was despicable? Kurions use cybernetic implants to rule absolutely over a huge population of people, enforcing their will upon them - where the Corinthians are decadent, the Kurions are downright fascist bastards, complete with Running Man-like gladiatorial TV-programs and mass-deportations to refresh the ranks of their cyborgs. Environment is poisoned and ruined, military police is corrupt and overall, the living conditions are a total disaster - though at least here, we get a form of rebellion in the making, futile and doomed though it may be. Again, I feel as if this whole construct was born from dystopian concepts like the "Running Man"-like shows and similar disturbing visions and to an extent, it works, but overall was not consequently thought through - why oppress and bury in violence when you can rule and be loved by the population? All dictators that are truly "successful" have learned to sway the masses in their favor - you can antagonize adversaries, but you need to establish a common enemy, a cultural identity, an ideology to enforce properly such a system - essentially a threat that justifies being a tyrant. Overall, for me, this is too plainly and one-dimensionally evil. We also are introduced to some smaller factions, but in order to not bloat this review further, I'll skim over pirates, patchers etc. here.



The basics of the setting out of the way, we are introduced to 5 new feats related to e.g. starship piloting. Computer-Use and Crafting of various technological tools are also covered, as is piloting and repairing items. Speaking of items: Sealed suits and integrating magic items into them is covered as are powered armors -the rules to create these are awesomely customizable, though they do leave some minor questions: One: They net DR 2/- - Does that stack with the DR granted by adamantine powered armors? What harness and hp have the exotic materials? It's cool that armor may have chameleon skin for invisibility-camouflage, but does the spell see invisibility for example see through that one? It's small bits and pieces like that make mixed settings like this one slightly problematic - there just are so many options - perhaps too many. Energy weapons, sonic weapons etc. are also introduced and while generally, I like the range-modifications (sonic weapons working e.g. better under water), they also suffer from some minor inconsistencies: Laser-weapons are blocked by sand clouds or smoke. And while lasers as weapons as a concept are problematic (slightest wiggles make them off-kilter, air becomes plasma that blocks the laser etc.) - smoke is NOT a problem for lasers. Even if you assume that lasers work as weapons, smoke and sand as obstacles are ill-defined -dusty room + gust of wind/ventilator: Does it still work? I don't know. And yes, I realize this is nitpicky, but still. Burst Fire and auto-fire get their own rules, though the latter gets an easy, fixed DC of 15 + 1/+2 for focus/specialization to avoid: Why not tie that to the actual attack roll? Oh yeah, another issue here - it requires a hit versus a fixed AC 15 and covers 10 ft. x 10 ft. - why not make this area variable for different weapons? What's rather cool on the other side is the inclusion of large weapons intended for powered suits and vessels as their peculiarities - it's hard to shoot medium or small targets with railguns, for example.



Scanners, psionic receptacles (which can regenerate bullets, repair items, ships etc.) and similar items are introduced and rather cool. What about magic and technology? Well, there is an arcane technology school and a cleric domain (both of which violate standard formatting for lists like that) and essentially, magic and technology can be freely combined - true strike sniper rifles? Yes, possible. Spells to highjack machines, clear viruses etc.? Covered. Punch others through the web via Punch by IP? Yes. If this spell existed irl, I'd be quite probably dead. While cool and catering to my sensibilities, these spells make for problematic laws - while dealing only non-lethal damage, how authorities deal with options like this would be VERY interesting. Oh, and I want to cast Summon Ferret Inside Enemy Spacesuit - yes, this spell exists herein. AWESOME. Speaking of awesome - while I'm not wholly sold on the blending of technology and magic, at least the book wholeheartedly embraces the potential: Cold lasers, bayonets that cause machines to flee, crystals that can be substituted for XP in crafting and even medical units and regenerating pods can be found herein.



Now what about creatures? The setting herein has Cyborgs -quite a bunch of them, and yes, they can be hacked, their control/torture-chips over-ridden. And yes, we get all the DCs as well as neat artworks for most of the cyborgs - from strange assassin-cyborgs to walking turrets and the Kurian nobles, we get quite a neat array herein. Have I mentioned the Cyborg Tyrannosaurus or the optional ability-upgrade Kurian nobles may get by entering a pact with a demon? Or the fact that the Kurian emperor's brain has been implanted into a gold dragon (yes, there's a template for that!). Living machines are essentially free-willed machines that developed a sentience and have since turned away from their erstwhile creators: Taking imagery from insects, fungi and similar designs, these machines feel distinctly alien, with e.g. the fungi being able to reactivate defeated machines and huge mechanical mantises acting as "living" siege weapons. Per se, all of that is damn cool - take the mantis - it's weaponry sucks the air from its surrounding area, drawing potential beings closer. Problematic - instead of properly using pull/drag-maneuvers as per the PFRPG-standard, the ability instead works via a fixed Str-DC, which is not only uncommon, its antiquated design more suitable for 3.X. Unfortunately, this does not remain the only example where a closer scrutiny of PFRPG's rules-conventions would have made for a much smoother integration/unified feeling. Have I mentioned undead space pirates?



Now, we also get ship-to-ship combat rules - and they are actually rather good: Not using the basic vehicle-rules, though, they allow for multiple characters to act, with the pilot's skill adding to the AC each round, gunners shooting, electronic warfare etc. - a rather significant amount of options are available, though distances are mostly handled on a relative scale, not a simulationalist's scale. We also get a rather impressive array of quick-to-play rules here - mass warfare, Point-blank combat, planetside combat and combat as cruise speed - a surprising and more importantly, surprisingly easy to grasp array of options for proper ship-to ship combat that can keep more than one player engaged is presented here. Kudos! We also get a SIGNIFICANT array of generic ship classes including mass, hp, hd etc., including some planetside combat vehicles like hovertanks. Customization is also rather important -from shield generators, to increased speed, weaponry etc. to actual technology that can be further upgraded via magic, this chapter, if anything, could have been even longer for my tastes - it's by far the most fun and versatile of the chapters so far, even before introducing jammer missiles and all those delightful ship weapons. And yes, all of these components are expensive as sin, but come on - you KNOW you want to blast something to pieces with a friggin' fusion torpedo! I don't get why mines don't get an easily readable chart like missiles and instead have costs etc. in the regular text, though - a formatting oversight, I guess. What's not an oversight, but a tinker's wet dream, would be the massive rules for creating your own ship - tables upon tables upon tables upon tables - easy to understand, expensive, but oh so rewarding. Of course, we also get sample crews and ships by the respective major player fractions, with e.g. Corinthian ships utilizing modules to change type and weaponry - cool idea and solid execution! Oh yes, and there are star- wraiths and pirate ships herein, too!



The next chapter deals with vehicle combat rules - These work mostly analogue to ship combat and include spider-mechs, hover limousines and the like - a rather large array of vehicles, but by far not that many exclusive customization options as the ships - as such, this chapter feels comparably a bit bare-bones for my tastes. Some additional land-vehicle only-modifications to make use of varying levels of gravity (something btw. mostly ignored herein) and similar environmental peculiarities would have gone a long way here.



Chapter 5 then offers Missions, i.e. adventure-outlines, intended for characters between level 6 and 9 and providing basics as well as a general outline and maps. I'll only briefly glance over these, but still: Players should skip to the end of the



SPOILERS



Still here? All right! The first mission is all about two cults warring on Altair, both of which have purchased a biological weapon that now kills the primitive inhabitants. In order to stop the plague, the PCs have to unearth the origin of the plague, its design-specifics from a cell-phone, and request help from Hazioth. In the next mission, they are to follow up on this issue and thus defeat lizardfolk, kobold tinkers' berserk reverse engineered Cyborgs and finally defeat the Kurion spy and his evil druid assistant. The next mission sees the PCs stranded on Tajano, a Kurion-controlled planet, where they'll have to survive in the wasteland, deal in trading bunkers and scavenge in hostile terrain featuring both living machines and marauders - fully mapped, btw.! Finally, the PCs will need to travel to the city of Lixian, where they'll have chances to interact with a living machine nursery and even infiltrate a military base before finally repairing the ship and escaping first the world, and then the system- I would have LOVED this mission being depicted in full-blown mega-adventure-detail - it is rather fun, but due to its format also requires severe work on behalf of the DM to flesh out. The next mission is more straight-forward and has the PCs hired to deal with pirates attacking a particular asteroid-colony -when properly played up, this one may become VERY creepy. Neato. The next mission has an uncommon target - the PCs are to crash a Kurion series and prevent psionic rift drive components from falling into the hands of either competing Kurion nobles. This, of course, is harder than it seems at first and includes infiltration and finally entering a huge ice-lump in space (with ship to steal the prize. Again, neat!

/SPOILERS

The appendix includes fluff-only write-ups of sample NPCs, random encounters (CR 6 - 15) and an example for ship to ship combat to help you get how the rules work.



Conclusion:


Editing and formatting are still ok - I noticed a couple of instances where the font-size changed, where information was not put in item-boxes or minor formatting issues and here and there some clunky wordings/mistakes. Nothing too serious, though. Layout adheres to a per se nice 2-column full-color standard and the background is essentially a leather-like skin spanned over dark techy engines and the pdf comes with quite an array of relatively neat full color artworks that lend the product its own distinct identity. Some pages are black with white ink. The pdf has been updated to include a printer-friendly version and now also sports bookmarks, making navigation much more comfortable -awesome!

Benjamin Martinali's "Between Chains & Starlight" is an extremely ambitious setting - planar and stellar travel, ship-to-ship combat, magic & technology - that's A LOT to cover and indeed, in spite of this book's massive size, I fear cramming all inside one book may have been over-ambitious. Why? Because magic and technology and their interaction is NOT that simple: What about divination-communication? How do humans treat other humanoids? The introduction of ONE such component creates a vast panorama of changes that can make for intriguing material indeed - and this book skirts the premise, but only grazes it. The introduction of two such components then would massively change the whole dynamics of how societies work - why not teleport/assassinate into Kurion palaces, for example? As much as I'm loathe to say it, "Amethyst Renaissance" has covered the results of magic/technology (though there in opposition to one another) in a more concise, mature way - in "Between Chains and Starlight", the resulting blend essentially makes technology just an extension of magic - since it can be enchanted, the "real" component, the rationality implicit in technology, is lost. The fact that AIs don't work, but Cyborgs and Living Machines are out there also feels a bit like a cop-out - Dan Simmon's TechnoCore or similar scenarios show easily how such a concept can be included sans breaking humanity. Now I do love some of the ideas, but the web is also rather ill-defined and sketchy, while the factions are a tad bit one-dimensional, which also doesn't fit with the more shades-of-grey mentality that accompanies most sci-fi settings - and the fact that this setting screams "Firefly with magic" to me. That is a good thing, for I'm a huge sucker for said series. Essentially, the book stretches itself too thin to provide anything but sketchy outlines of the factions and thus make them less believable than e.g. "Amethyst Renaissance"'s cultures. Which sucks, for both some of the mission-outlines and the crunchy bits indeed do show promise, but could have used some expansion as well.



Unlike Necropunk, we don't get proper Zero-G- (or phase-)combat rules and overall, this book feels like its respective cultures, as unfortunate as that may seem, make no sense to me. They are too stereotypical and they are most certainly not what I'd label "dark" - in fact, as an over-the-top fun space-opera setting where anything goes and hard science has no place, this setting probably works best and is thus, at least imho, misnamed. While we have two dystopias, there is more to being "dark" than having "Evil Places" - in order to be "dark" and memorable, one has to ask questions - transhumanism, relative morality and the choice of lesser and greater evils, survival - all these resonate and are NOT the focus here; instead we get a mostly b/w-morality that tells us plainly: "Here there be culture clash, here there be evil, here there be good, here there be more evil." What about deities? Can they leave their planets? Demons etc. exist -can outsiders survive in space? Can planar gates be used to jump from planet to planet via the planes? By not limiting magic in any way, there are more question here than this book could ever have hoped to answer. And that's before getting into the issues with technology/interaction. Magic weapons vs. rifles, breast-plates versus plasma guns etc. - nothing covered, though even per the regular firearm rules, old blackpowder weapons can shoot past armor like that.



As a setting, I can't really get behind this book - it feels too undetailed, too black and white, too anything-goes and not logical enough to make proper use of its premise. Now does that make it a bad book? The answer would be a resounding NO. In fact, both the equipment and ship-rules are rather interesting and cool and really neat - seeing how "Sailing the Starlit Seas" was cancelled, this is, with reskinning, probably as close to space travel we'll get in a while and these rules are actually rather fun. I'd also complement the monsters - idea- and style-wise, the cyborgs, living machines etc. are AWESOME. However, they also suffer from various instances where they simply don't utilize rules as per PFRPG's design-standards. Also: Don't expect any support for non-core classes herein, vehicle rules, firearm rules in line with Paizo's or the like.



This book oozes heart's blood and passion and contrary to my nagging, I actually enjoyed several section in here, the irreverent tone of some spells/rules and several ideas just filled my heart with joy - in fact, this book should be considered a monumental achievement for such a small newcomer company. Benjamin Martinali can definitely be proud. That being said, the nitpicks accumulate. As a book for space ship-to-ship combat/ weapons/idea-mine via missions, as a scavenging ground, this book works well. As a believable setting, it fails due to too many unanswered questions and often one-dimensional depictions, at least for me.

And I probably would give this more leeway, were it not for how more mature both "Amethyst Renaissance" and "Necropunk" have handled the sci-fi/magic-technology/dark-themes. "Between Chains and Starlight" is by no means bad, but it also has MUCH room for improvement - for every nitpick there's a cool idea and every neat idea offers one or more particular instances where additional information can be developed. I think that by splitting this in a proper setting-fluff and a proper crunch-book and developing both, this could have indeed reached a high pinnacle and cover all the things it missed. And I've only scraped the ice-berg. Now I've haggled a lot with myself, since the at times non-standard rules are massive detriments I have to take into account as a reviewer. Still, there is enjoyment galore to be found here, cool ideas, working rules - but within the context of all other books I've reviewed, I can't ignore the issues that are here.



In the end, I'm settling on a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform - the components that work in here are glorious, just don't expect to have your work cut out for you or a truly dark setting as advertized. Instead, consider this as an anything-goes book that requires some development to work as a setting, but also offers some awesome ideas and for scavenging purposes, makes for a nice offering. Feel free to add +0.5 stars to the rating when getting this only as an idea-mine.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Between Chains and Starlight
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NPC Arsenal No. 3: Mercenary Pikeman
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/03/2014 03:07:11
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This new series by Abandoned Arts offers you one NPC-build, a complex one - 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page character, so what do we get here?



This time around, we get a human polearm master fighter 9 at CR 8 - finally some love for the poor, underutilized polearms! The mercenary fights with a glaive-guisarme and when pictured, should remind you of how fighting against Kilik (or any other long-range character) can annoy the hell out of you in Soul Calibur: With improved readied actions and pushing assault as well as vital strike, running against the readied actions of this guy will prove painful indeed. The extensive notes on further leveling the build and tactics of this NPC add more value, showing (gleefully so), how utterly evil this build can be in melee, with potions helping against some of the character's weaknesses.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a landscape two-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.



A more than solid build centered on just being a polearm master, AoOs and readied actions, this build may not be the most complex one, but it is a fun build; One that should definitely make some PCs gnash their teeth. Now it's not a particularly complex build, but it's versatile and mobile enough to make for a fun NPC - taking the low price into account, I'll settle for a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5: A very good, if not exceptional build.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
NPC Arsenal No. 3: Mercenary Pikeman
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Admiral o' the High Seas: The Naval Combat Supplement for Pathfinder & D&D 4th Edition
Publisher: EN Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2014 03:31:01
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement for Pathfinder and D&D 4th edition is 81 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page back cover, leaving us with 77 pages of content, so let's check this out!



So, if you've been following the Zeitgeist steampunk-AP by EN Publishing, you may have noticed that the naval combat rules used by the AP are different from those used by Paizo in "Skull & Shackles". Well, that's because this supplement in the basis for them.



We kick off the supplement with general considerations on technology level, availability/feasibility of teleport and similar means of travel before getting into the meatier aspects of the rules, namely ship statblocks. Ships have sizes (D'uh) and a hull integrity - this is the amount of shipboard weapon damage it can take before the vessel sinks. Ships also have a defense value, which essentially acts as a form of DR against shipboard weapons. In Pathfinder, ships have a touch AC of -3 and +0 to all saves, which feels a bit weird, since usually, the size of a vessel should influence the AC, whereas here a single default value is assumed. Ship saves, when called for, usually are rolled versus a fixed DC 10, at times modified, but more on these intricacies later. The Maneuverability-value applies to some command checks and essentially determines how easy a ship can be turned around. The Speed is also a fixed value (like 7) that denotes the amount of 5-foot squares a ship can travel in combat (and the amount of knots per hour it makes). It also applies to some command checks and double the value equals the vessel's maximum speed. Each vessel has a command rating depending on captain and crew, a minimum amount of crew members required to run it and an entry that denotes how many crew members are required for maximum functionality as well as an entry on how many people can make up the vessel's crew.



Height, length, breadth, decks, weaponry and total cost are also displayed in a ship's given statblock. and before getting into battle, hazard pay for crew as well as plotting a course and following it - essentially, via simple skill-checks solutions, the basic stuff is covered. One particular thing you'll have noticed by now is that the system, since it was designed for two systems, teds to provide Pathfinder information in a slightly greenish tint and brackets - which should annoy me, but honestly, it blends unobtrusively in and seriously does not impede the flow of the text - plus, it makes ignoring it easy for 4th edition DMs. Still, I wished the authors had e.g. provided tables for the skills.

Chops, small crash hazards etc. - most minor annoyances in battle can be negated by aforementioned command check, which btw. constitutes a d20+1/2 level+ highest mental attribute modifier...which is a bit problematic. While an elegant way that allows characters to easily command vessels, it also means that ranks in Profession (sailor) and similar skills are essentially wasted - once relative mastery in such a peculiar field becomes so easy and requires no investment from the characters, it takes away from the sense of accomplishment when actually doing something awesome as a captain.



Now Stern chases are covered via an abstract system that approximates different round-lengths for the ships depending on how close they are - per se a cool idea that manages to make the chase per se be more tight - the system per se is simple, requiring only one side to get 3 successes over the other and makes for a nice, fast to play solution...until you start taking it apart: While we are told that failure of a navigator in such a chase might grant the other a bonus from +2 to +5 or allow a navigator to incur a penalty on one round for a bonus in the next, we get no hard guidelines - essentially this is do as you please" - which isn't bad, but also fails to provide a solid framework from which one can glean what would be appropriate. And no, CR-modifications for encounters based on naval hazards are not provided- why? Because, if you haven't gleaned it, naval combat essentially happens in naval rounds...and it follows abstractions. Take counterspell defense - if you have a ship's mage, said mage can briefly ward a ship 3/day, reducing damage of an incoming spell by 10. Only...that's not how counterspelling works. Also: What kind of resources does this shield cost? Why doesn't it scale with the level of the ship's mage? Where things get completely ridiculous is with the dinner plate defense - mage hand + plate =blocked AoE-spells or rays thanks to PERCEPTION? Sorry, but that's just so incredibly NOT how it would work: Mage Hand has a duration of concentration, which means usually maximum one spell in effect per caster, at close range. Worse, even with a readied action, the plate could only be moved by 15 feet: NOT enough to cover a whole vessel... Yes, I guess that this is intended to be a fun countermeasure to spells, but it ends up being ridiculous, Pythonesque even (Sailors of the penetrated plates, anyone?) and also does simply not work as a strategy as presented - the rules directly contradict it.

Where any semblance of dual systems fall apart is with the mechanics of hitting hooks into sea serpents and similar huge creatures to drag them towards the ship - first of all, the sample creatures usually have an array of spell-like and supernatural abilities. Secondly, the whole maneuver may work against "Defense",, but essentially would be a drag/pull-maneuver in PFRPG - don't expect CMB/CMD or the like here and while the system works at least within the proposed subsystem in 4th edition, it also mentions strikes and honestly, just doesn't feel like you could simply insert a given creature into the equation - removing tethered hooks is in no way dependant on the creature hooked (Kraken!) nor are actions given for e.g. servants to remove the hooks. All in all, an abstract maneuver not thought through to its logical conclusion.



Next up would be different crews (and morale categories that modify the difficulty of e.g. command checks) as well as two feats that allow you to take e.g. multiple elite officer roles and optional modifications for ship-shape, crew size etc. to further modify the basic rules and add more variety to the respective components. Mutiny is also mentioned shortly, as are supplies, but it is here that the supplement also fails - supplies, water, disease - essential components when it comes to the well-being of a crew (not to start with superstitions) are basically only glanced over in the most cursory of ways. While I get WHY this was done, the fact is that a lot of people out there, me included, actually DO track water-consumption, food resources etc. -if only so survival means something. In the context of perilous journeys on the ocean, such components should NOT be simply a half-developed backdrop - more often than not, survival may be just as exciting as straight out combat. So in that particular department, the supplement, at least for me, fails miserably - in either system.



Sooo....naval combat. Each round of naval combat consists of 5 phases: maneuvers, location, terrain, bearing and attack. In the maneuver phase, perception-checks are made by the look-outs and maneuvers are being decided upon - it is here that it becomes evident that the aforementioned chase is essentially handled like a naval combat - why don't the chase-rules just mention that? Oh well. Essentially, the maneuver-phase allows for tactics via 6 different maneuvers, which usually pay for a bonus in one phase with a penalty in another and thus allow for some strategy...but also could have used more variety. A total of 10 maneuvers (6 basic maneuvers and 4 situational ones) to choose from may be enough for sojourns to the seas, but in full-blown nautical campaigns, they'd get boring fast. In the Location phase, blocking an enemy, pursuing ships etc. become possible - again, why first list the chase and then, pages later, provide the other rules - the chase rules aren't bad, I just don't get why they've been divorced from the combat rules on which they're based in the first place. In the terrain-phase, hazards are dealt with. In the bearing phase, competing command checks are made to determine whether the ships can outmaneuver one another and bring weapons to bear. I do like that we have multiple degrees of success and failure here, with varying effects and consequences. However, with opposing d20-rolls, much is left to chance and at least in Pathfinder, that's a violation of how such things are done - usually, one would shoot for roll versus fixed value. In the attack-phase, a ship can fire from each of its firing arcs and hit other vessels - each hit hitting one of 4 potential regions of a ship, with varying consequences: Each hit constitutes a STRIKE. One strike means damaged, 2 broken and, as always, 3 and you're out, i.e. the component has been destroyed. This, again, is rather abstract for my tastes and becomes problematic and overly general once exotic materials and enchantments enter the fray: What if components are guarded versus a special damage type? How much damage does a strike cause when applied in regular damage terms? What about weapons used to decimate the crew? There are some significant holes here, and while we get rules for volleys and a simplified alternate way to track crew damage, I still would have liked more diversified rules there and better synergy with the other levels of battle.



Where the system does something RIGHT would be with the officer roles - a ship has a total of 6 officer-roles, all of which allow players (and NPCs) to influence the performance of their ship in varying degrees and phases, allowing for a nice and dynamic experience that feels superior to essentially the "one player versus DM"-experience the default naval combat rules for Pathfinder provide - if your group isn't as large as mine (over 6 players), you'll be fully covered and have things to do for every player. On the magic side, though, we once again get a massive failure, when an "Arcana check (DC 10 + half the level of the target's highest level component)" can be made to bypass the shoddy arcane defense rules on which I harped before. In my opinion, this particular component is overly simplistic and works in neither system. What's nice, though, would the very real possibility for burning boats to sink, though we are not introduced to shipwrecked rules.



Boarding actions, with and without grids, crew templates - there is quite a lot to be found here. Speaking of which: What I really, really love about this supplement are the myriad floor plans for vessels of all sizes - in lavish full color, with grids - there are so many of them, they actually accompanying the respective ship statblocks, it's just awesome - especially since we also get zeppelins, airships and the like. The fluffy write-ups of sailor's superstitions are awesome as well, though actual mechanical consequences would have been neat. Extensive information on real-world ghost-ship legends, some fantasy ports and 4 legendary vessels (which include an undead whale) also feature here, before we get easy to follow design guidelines to create your own ships, including a wide array of additional components, which, yes, even include a time machine. Unfortunately, you won't find Pathfinder rules for these and much like the previously mentioned components, several of them come apart when taken into the design-context of the respective system.



The pdf concludes with 2 pages of sheets for vessels, a short summary on Admiral Lord Nelson's life and a one-page adventure hook/synopsis for you to develop.



Conclusion:



Editing and formatting per se are top-notch, I didn't notice any glaring glitches. Layout adheres to an easy to read 2-column full color standard and the pdf is layered, allowing you to customize it and make it more printer-friendly. The artworks are universally thematically fitting stock art and the floor plans of the ships are awesome and full color. The pdf comes extensively bookmarked for your convenience.



Author Ryan Nock has created a system that works in this supplement, and one that perhaps is a bit more fun for the whole group than the default ship-combat of the respective systems. That being said, this pdf has issues, many of which can be attributed to it trying to provide one system for two vastly different roleplaying systems. Instead of working with the rules and design-assumptions of D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder, Admiral o' the High Seas creates its own system, necessitating quite some conversion work on the DM's side. I wouldn't complain about that.



What I do complain about is that the system introduced herein may work on its own, but roleplaying systems are not like computer games - mini-games that suddenly follow radically different assumptions don't work here. If arcane batteries can that easily be countered, why don't fortresses follow these rules? Armies? How does one raise a defense shield on a ship? How much resources does this consume? Can it be raised on land? Why not? I get that the system endeavors to make magic artillery not as overpowering by providing countermeasures, but instead of working with the systems, it jury-rigs an ill-conceived concept together, which, when thought to its logical conclusion, makes no sense within the reality of the game world. Since all rules are connected, taking this system and divorcing it as thoroughly as this pdf does from basic rules assumptions and how things are handled results in an almost jarring backlash.



Worse, while the options herein allow for a more tactical approach, it just doesn't cover enough: With some many moving parts via spells, magic items, smaller vessels, flying animal companions etc., this supplement falls painfully short of accounting for the myriad of options potentially available. Now, again, I understand this is partially due to being system-spanning, but my point is: It doesn't work as well as it should in D&D 4th edition and in Pathfinder, it flat-out fails. The latter ruleset has obviously been an afterthought at best, with A LOT of rules differing completely from how things are done in the syntax and grammar of the rules and many options herein simply lacking PFRPG-equivalent rules.



This supplement shows that its system actually works, is fun and provides something to do for players - but it doesn't fit seamlessly into the given rules-systems (though D&D 4th edition works MUCH better with this than PFRPG) and potentially breaks some of the underlying tenets on how your campaign world works in the first place - hardness, hit points, damage of spells etc. - all that is NOT THAT UNMANEGEABLE. This system could have worked with the rules instead of against them - it has all the makings of a good supplement. But it execution is at times lackluster and it suffers from trying to cater to two audiences, ultimately missing one completely and not perfectly hitting the other either. In the superb Zeitgeist AP, these rules may work - because naval combat is used as interludes. But in prolonged naval campaigns, all those small glitches, all the unaccounted possibilities, all the cracks in the system and the relative few tactical options WILL sink this supplement - I guarantee it.



How to rate this, then? For D&D 4th edition, this is a valid supplement, if not a perfect one - it leaves many small options to be desired, but does provide some fun and a relative easy system - 3 stars. For Pathfinder, this supplement fails - it ignores design-tenets, rules-information seems to have been forgotten for many pieces of crunch and the information provided is barebones and reeks of an uninspired, shoddy conversion at best. For Pathfinder, I'll settle for a final verdict of 1.5 stars. My final verdict will fall in-between at 2.5 stars. I'll round down though, since the huge amount of logic issues this supplement may bring up can thoroughly destroy any sense of immersion and internal logic in a given setting.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Admiral o' the High Seas: The Naval Combat Supplement for Pathfinder & D&D 4th Edition
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Monstrous Bloodlines for Sorcerers IV [PFRPG]
Publisher: Purple Duck Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/28/2014 03:28:17
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement is 9 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 5 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Perry Fehr's series goes into the fourth installment now and kicks off with the Elohim bloodline, obsessed with creation: The bloodline allows sorcerors to create creatures with a CR of less than 1 ex nihilo cha-mod times per day by incurring 1 point cha-damage per CR of the creature - why per CR? Because later, apart from defensive abilities, they also learn to create slightly more powerful creatures. Per se an imaginative, nice bloodline for tinkers who want the right creatures for the right task - especially since they don't have control over their creations. Nice one!



The second bloodline would be the Fungal bloodline. This bloodline nets you DR/slashing equal to the spell-level you cast for one round and can expel clouds that fatigue targets and deal minor con damage. I assume the cloud immediately disperses, but no information on whether that's true is given here, so clarification would be nice. Faster healing is also nice, but at least for me, gaining all plant-traits as soon as 9th level is a bit on the strong side, whereas the poisonous blood at 15th level and the apotheosis capstone feel a bit weak in direct comparison.

The Kyton-bloodline gets the ability to manifest blood-glazed chains cha-mod times per day at a range of 30 feet that deal minor damage plus a bit of wis-damage on a failed save. They also get an unnerving gaze, which may make targets shaken for 1/2 your character level rounds - which is fine per se, though a range would have been nice - I assume it follows the default of gaze attacks, but I'm not sure. Useable 3+ cha-mod times per day, this is also rather strong at 3rd level.



The descendants of the Mythic bloodline hail from the seed of heroes of legend, and as such, they essentially may enact what could be called the little siblings of mythic abilities, namely, the mythic surge: Adding 1d4 to any d20-roll cha-mod times per day before the roll is made and later upgrading dice-sizes to up to 1d12. Solid.



The Nosferatu bloodline can grow claw attacks and emulate a combination of verminous and vampiric abilities that includes transforming your arm into a blast of nauseating vermin that damage a foe. Overall, once again, a solid bloodline. The penultimate one would be for those that carry the blood of Psychopomps in their veins and these beings may add ghost touch to their attacks or show targets glimpses of the afterlife as well as gaining some immunities à la death effects, poison and disease - once again a bit soon at 9th level, at least for my tastes, but not per se broken.



The final bloodline herein would be the Starspawn bloodline, which allows you to enter telepathy with willing targets or deal wis-damage to foes as well as bonuses to skill-checks based on mental attributes. At higher levels, you gain the no breath-quality and immunity to cold (again, a tad bit soon) and also leadership at double followers or two metamagic feats at 15th level. I'd be interested how this interacts with sorcerors that already have the leadership feat, an answer the pdf unfortunately does not provide.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any glaring glitches that would impede the quality. Layout adheres to PDG's 2-column no-frills standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity- nice!



The fourth installment of monstrous bloodlines offers us some rather unique takes and ability arrays, with overall solid bonus-spells selections and varied options that should make creating more diverse sorcerors a fun task. That being said, personally, I'm not too big a fan of the level 9-immunitites (and I know: there are precedents...) many of these have. That's a matter of taste, though, and will not feature in my final verdict. What will feature here instead is the fact that the high-level abilities at level 15 and 20 often are not that impressive. +4 Str and Con, -2 Dex + no more eating? Not particularly impressive and unfortunately, the same hold true for a couple of the capstones herein. That being said, there is gold here - the rather experimental Elohim bloodline, which in the hands of the right player, can be rather powerful, for example or the "little sibling" of Mythic Surges make for cool cutting edge ideas - and offset the at times slightly (though much less than in no. 3) imprecise wording slip-ups and none-too impressive capstones some of these have. Taking the very low, fair price into account, I will settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monstrous Bloodlines for Sorcerers IV [PFRPG]
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Tome of Twisted Things
Publisher: Little Red Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2014 02:48:52
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 34 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 31 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



We kick this pdf off with the Darkborn-PrC - essentially a character who opts to take the wickedness into him/herself, slowly becoming the monster they ought to destroy - in the words of "The Dark knight" -either die a hero or become a monster. The PrC spans 10 levels and ofefrs d10, 4+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, 7 levels of spell progression and medium ref-saves. Unlike many other PrC, this class comes with a fighter/melee-centric alternative that offers full BAB-progression, but no spell-progression. Rules-wise, darkborn get a wickedness-pool of 3 x HD. Which brings me to two concepts - wickedness and purity: When the Darkborn uses his/her Darkweaving ability, a non AoO, non-touch SU with range, both s/he and the victim wager purity versus wickedness-points and the creature that wagered less is afflicted with the darkweaving. While said points do regenerate, they don't do so particularly fast, so a poker-face is helpful indeed. From exiled outsiders to walking on spiritual shards of glass to damage bonuses and negative energy damage, the 8 different effects truly are intriguing and fit thematically well with the PrC. On the downside of the doomed hero-angle, the PrC exudes a seductive draw - every level may see the hero slide closer towards the evil they seek to combat and an alternate rule may even make taking class-levels in other classes harder... Darkborn also learn to suppress darkweave effects that affect them, detect evil and undergo at later levels essentially an evil outsider apotheosis. Oh...and the capstone...you better quit before the capstone, for it has you transform into a truly vile monster, consumed by the darkness - of course, the lure may prove to be too great and still see you become an NPCs, perhaps even the final villain of the campaign? (And yes, there is an optional rule to avoid this depressing fate - but honestly, I think I'd omit that one - I'm into bleak, dark endings. Still, its presence is awesome!)This PrC does a great job at handling the doomed antihero-concept very well and while the purity-score determination may be a bit extra work for the DM, the formula is easy enough to do it on the fly - so all in all: One superb PrC!



The next class we get herein would be the Avenger, an alternate take on the Paladin that is not restricted in their alignment, gets no spellcasting and channel negative energy. Being all about revenge, they learn to place marks on designated prey and deal more damage (cha-mod) versus foes that have injured him/her. Foes designated as targets of this retribution also heal the avenger by cha-mod whenever he manages a crit versus the target. The avengers also learn so-called reparations - effects in addition to retribution, which come from a wide variety of selections that scale up over the levels and the class also nets auras that extend powers to the avenger's allies, allowing them to provide bonus damage to allies helping them with their revenge. They also learn to imbue their weapons with weapon qualities and finally, as a capstone, their get a kind of semi-apotheosis with DR and max negative energy channeling and all and their prey becomes almost impossible to resurrect. Again, a quite awesome class- the avenger makes for a flavorful, cool, alternate class!



Third among the offerings herein would be the Ruiner, who replaces touch of corruption with the option to supplement the damage dealing spells he casts with additional damage and may also thus increase the damage dealt via channel energy as soon as s/he gain it. At 3rd level and every 3 after that, the Ruiner may choose a Ruin, their replacement for cruelties. - essentially, being all about pain, they are focused on dealing painful and bleeding wounds, penalizing foes' saves against pain and yes, they may even negate morale benefits with their dread auras. A deadly, cool concept for an avatar of the blackest, most destructive nihilism. Neat!



The Tyrant PrC offers d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort- and will-saves and essentially is a non-good, extremely lawful and honorable, but potentially twisted individual, fuelling his power with conviction (of which he gets 2+cha-mod +2 per class level): Tyrants are specialists of demoralization and may even demoralize the mindless and later even use conviction to prevent foes with a readied action to attack them - this is AWESOME! Stacking dominate person effects on the demoralized and smiting chaos to finally become a larger than life sovereign of his/her own domain, this PrC could have easily been a lame anti-chaos-borefest and instead proves to be a rather cool little PrC, albeit one that could have used a tad bit more versatility.



We also get a new race with the warped -offspring of mortals and eidolons, these folks replace the attribute modifiers of their base-race by +2 Con, +2 Wis and -4 Cha, get darkvision 6o feet, are treated as aberrations for effects and spells (but don't gain the benefits of the type) and get an evolution pool of 1 + 1 for every 5 character levels. Said evolutions follow their own distinct rules, preventing e.g. the skilled evolution from becoming overbearing. Only 1 and 2 point evolution are eligible and transforming costs a full-round action that provokes AoOs and leaves the Warped sickened - and is limited to the amount of times per day it can be used."We should wait before returning to the city, gotta get rid of that claws...wait, the paladins are around the corner?? Oh damn, better scram..." While they may Disgusie self as if not having any evolutions, still - quite some roleplaying potential there! They also get +4 to saves versus polymorph and +2 to Knowledge (planes) and Intimidate. A strong race, yes, but their social stigma should make sure that they remain a balanced and cool option. Two thumbs up!



We also get 2 new archetypes - the Bloodborn Summoner , a racial archetype of the Warped, who prepares spells as a witch, substituting his/her eidolon for a familiar and uses the magus' spell-list as well as Int as governing attribute. However, the eidolon is also changed: d8, -2 Wis, Int and Cha and 1/2 str and dex-bonuses over the levels. In order to unleash the eidolon, the summoner has to cut himself and let the beast gush forth from his/her wounds - interesting concept, especially since the archetype allows the warped to slowly partially ignore the restrictions imposed on their own mutable forms. We btw. also get 4 favored class options for the Warped.



The second racial archetype for the Warped herein would be the Monk of the Flowing Form - these monks blend their own shifting powers and natural weapons with the training of the basic monk-class. Again, a compelling, neat little archetype!



Finally, we get 20 feats, one of which is a story feat and one campaign trait - the feats per se are cool, offering e.g. synergy for avenger and rogue-builds, cavalier/avengers, more options for darkborn and even more tools for the warped. Whether by evoking the Lex Talionis ("An Eye for an Eye"), adding judgments to retributions, swearing dwarven blood oaths or fueling your meta-magic with wickedness - the feats one and all work rather well and even a feat the offers synergy between noble and Tyrant-classes is provided - overall: Kudos!



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting has traditionally not been Little Red Goblin Games' strongest suit. Since their imaginative, intriguing campaign setting Necropunk was the first indicator on what they can do, I'm happy to report that the team of editors Dayton Johnson, Christina Johnson and Jeremiah Zerby have done a great job here - apart from the fluff-text in a couple of feats not being italicized and similar inconsequential nitpicks like "immediate reaction" instead of "reacting with an immediate action", I have the pleasure to report that LRGG have not stepped down from the level they've reached with Necropunk, instead applying the vastly increased standards to "regular" publications like this. Tl;dr: Editing and formatting very good, though not yet perfect.

The book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Layout. OMG. With a slight purplish tint, black borders and SUPERB, original and copious b/w-interior art by Tamas Baranya and Nathan Winburn, this book is a beauty to behold and ranks simply among the finest examples of b/w-art out there - aficionados of dark fantasy tones and artworks will love these evocative pieces.



Ian Sisson, Caleb Aylsworth, Christos Gurd and Scott Gladstein have created herein the BY FAR best book in their "Tome"-series I've read so far - while the purity-mechanic may be a little bit clunky in the beginning and not for everyone, it is a daring design - and one that does not extend to the other classes. The variant classes capture their respective topics well, their rules-language is rather polished and oftentimes simply INTERESTING. Imaginative, daring even. The avenger especially is a cool character and probably my new go-to class to recreate Guts from Berserk. By the way: If you haven't read this milestone of dark fantasy manga, go out there and get it NOW. (The anime is essentially btw. ONLY the extensive flashback!) Where was I? Oh yes, Tome of Wicked Things. Sorry there - this book just felt like it would seamlessly fit in one of the darkest and coolest sagas I've read so far and its content is overall...well, just awesome.

The new race is working surprisingly well, its restrictions preventing the "overpowered-omg-eidolon-evolutions" aspect I dreaded, while providing a great way to play a character that looks normal, but has a monster waiting just below the surface. Thematically, content fits seamlessly with presentation - from conan-style headers (with swords through letters) to the artworks to the content and we get one crunch-book aficionados of dark fantasy should not let slip through their fingers. While I could complain about the aforementioned minor glitches, that would by hypocrisy at its finest and simply not do this awesome pdf justice - The innovative ideas herein are more than enough to let one see past the exceedingly minor, almost non-existent little issues and hence, my final verdict will clock in at a heartfelt recommendation of 5 stars + seal of approval.



Congratulations to the crew of LRGG - if this is what we can expect from them now, then start saving and keep an eye on them, ladies and gentlemen!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Twisted Things
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A Sneak Peek Guide to Orbis
Publisher: Gaming Paper
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/27/2014 02:47:22
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This free teaser of Gaming Paper's Seeampunk-setting of Orbis is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover/editorial/SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content - though that would rather be 16.



Why? Well, because the pdf has one weird quirk - even if set to single page, it always displays two pages at once, something that usually only happens when a file is scanned in. Slightly annoying, but oh well.



So what is Orbis about? Essentially, it endeavors to be (as far as possible) realitsic, at least regarding the results of the availability of magic - the old guard, those that command arcane and divine might, are essentially the rulers and the machine age has relatively recently upset their power-base, inciting a struggle between the old and new, technology and magic, rich and poor - so far, so compelling - as further enforced by the nice in-character narratives in boxes.



In the following sections on the respective nations, we get a glimpse at potential for racial issues, colonialist discourses and problems and similar relatively unexplored tropes and topics that do offer quite a compelling selection of varying topics to cover via adventures (of which there are at teh very least, 3 planned) - in a world in revolution, a lot of changes can be made and the PCs may well end at the forefront of said upheavals.



All the usual races can be found on Orbis (so no humano-centrism), but orcs and half-orcs are unknown - instead, there are Crocodilians, who get +2 Str, -2 Cha, can hold their breath twice as long as humans, get a bite attack at 1d6 that is treated as if it were an unarmed attack (why not as a primary natural weapon?) and can be used in e.g. monk damage progressions as if it were a regular unarmed attack. Furthermore, they can 1/day move double their movement rate as part of a move action. The race feels a bit strong, but still okay. I hope the bite attack is streamlined for the final books, though. The second new race would be the Hekano - aquatic humanoids (full blown water + air breathing) with 4 tentacles they can use to make skill checks while protecting themselves. They also get +2 stealth,+2 to Int and Dex and -2 to Str. Those tentacles are a can of worms - can they wield weapons? If not, why? Can they activate magic items (via UMD a skill-check...) - do they get better grapple? Urgh...the concept is cool, but I fear that unless handled with much, much care, these guys will end up as terribly broken, even though the concept is intriguing. It should be noted that, while they do get a lengthy write-up, neither race comes with an age, height and weight-table, something I hope to see in the final book.



Now a new rule would be the calibration of weapons - via concise, easy to grasp rules, one component stat of a weapon can be raised, whereas another is lowered - which per se is damn cool - more damage for slightly less chance to hit (i.e. +1 damage, -1 atk) and similar options sound like fun. Magic items that are calibrated lose some of the inherent bonuses they get, but can be calibrated for three benefits instead of the standard two - and here I'm not 100% sold - why? Because threat range and crit multiplier are part of what can be calibrated. That means x5 scythes and picks. Urgh. Stacking with keen etc.- urgh. Also, giving a weapon range may be cool, but is the thrown weapon, if it was prior to calibration a pure melee weapon then treated as an improvised weapon? Uses it str or dex to calculate atk? Can it be thrown at the end of e.g. a flurry? Why not make weapons more usable for different maneuvers instead or provide an anti-calibration to make items especially suitable to destroy the efficient, but fragile wonders? The system is complex and can be rather cool, but I hope that all the moving parts are properly covered in the final books - this, as written, is still very exploitable.



The pdf concludes with a massive map of the world.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly, nice two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but various beautiful b/w-artworks.



From what I could glean, Dan Comrie and Steven E. Schend have created an intriguing setting full of adventuring potential, cool nations and ideas - but at the same time, this pdf leaves me slightly cautious - while Orbis seems very intriguing, both tentacled humanoids and the calibration-mechanic are cool, but require very skilled hands to properly pull off without breaking the game - a mastery I'm not 100% sure that is there from what I've seen so far. Now this being a free sneak-peek, there's nothing to lose here and the ideas per se are inspiring - now let's hope the team Gaming paper has assembled is up to the task and that enough space is allotted to the respective rules. I am cautiously intrigued and hence my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
A Sneak Peek Guide to Orbis
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Road to War: The Equinox Crown
Publisher: Legendary Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2014 04:19:26
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module is 26 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page introduction (in which a rare Legendary Games typo can be found - a missing "Y" in "you" that has been eaten by the layout), 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of adventure, so let's take a look!



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



All right, still here? Level-wise and concept-wise, this module is somewhat different from usual plug-in adventures in that is rather modular: Essentially, this module level-wise is intended to span levels 6 to 7 and are intended to make the path to Drezen more varied, providing XP and more things to do for the PCs. While they may have an army of crusaders, each encounter herein actually covers whether/how the presence of their army interacts with the encounter.



The 7 encounters herein are woven together via a subplot centering on the eponymous Equinox Crown and features a short summary of time traveled since the PCs have left as well as the number of miles they have since then covered - nice to keep track of distance etc. So what can the PCs do? Well, the trail of the Equinox Crown begins when the PCs have to essentially convince a small village to evacuate. In the night after that,. a traitor contacts the demonic forces, which results in the PCs having to fend off a couple of Hala demons and...getting the Equinox Crown. As l00t. Yeah. Somewhat anticlimactic.



When the PCs then encounter deserters, things get weird fast - during interrogation, the deserters vomit forth swarms of locusts unwittingly implanted in them and dealing with the swarms via area effects may severely damage the PC's army. On the plus-side, this event may see the PC in question automatically bonding with the crown. That being said, this also features a massive moral dilemma I'm not sure the module handles well - what to do with the deserters? Execution may seem harsh, but letting them off the hook should have a catastrophic impact on troop-morale unless sold right - and this whole dilemma is completely glanced over and ignored - why not modify their army's prowess to reflect their decisions? A lost chance there.



We also get a bit of mass combat (and intrigue) when one of the Condemned (pardoned criminals) pleads the PCs to save his men and finding out about a noble who has essentially sacrificed the unpopular company -defeating an army of shir-demons can integrate the remnants of the Condemned into the PC's fold. Pity that said noble is already dead, though - here there would have been quite some potential for a hard choice and benefits/penalties depending on your PC's inclinations - again, lost potential.



Next up would be a fight for the PCs to handle alone (after losing scouts), against a Frost Drake (Who has a miraculously large font-size in the offense-section of his statblock) in a battle with different heights (awesome) - after that, we have the PCs explore the home of an ettin guerilla fighter and his bear companion Ripclaw.



The final encounter takes place within "The Demon's Heresy" and has the PCs convince an earth-elemental guardian to cease attacks and then take out a mythic locust demon, including a mini-ritual, which is nice, but could have used some more detail. The pdf also contains a full-blown bestiary entry for the earthen guardians, the Durdalis and a very detailed entry on the equinox crown as well as suggested means of increasing power.



Finally, we get no less than three awesome, grid-studded full color player-friendly versions of the maps of the encounters herein, adding to the module's value by providing top-notch cartography.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though slightly below Legendary Games' otherwise almost flawless track record. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard with a flame-like orange top border for a distinct look. The artworks (2 full-page beauties that could be cover-images and 2 no less beautiful smaller pieces) are simply gorgeous and on Paizo-level. The full-color cartography also is up to a very high quality standard and the presence of player-friendly maps that can be used time and again is a huge plus for the value of this module.



So, Jim Groves and Neil Spicer deliver us the Road to War here to make the journey more interesting - Legendary Games has already shown that Jim Groves can do journey-adventures well with Road to Destiny and thus I was looking forward quite a bit to this one. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being rather disappointed - it's not the fact that this is not a module, but instead more of a chain of loosely linked encounters, mind you - the encounters per se are well-crafted, utilize terrain, come with LG's trademark superior production values. That's not the problem.

Unlike all other LG-plug-in modules I've reviewed so far, this one feels a bit redundant in it choice of adversaries. While I'm a fan of themed modules/APs where your primary opposition has a theme, certain tricks the PCs may adapt to etc., the foes herein feel a bit like random encounters, also thanks to the overarcing storyline around the Equinox Crown being simply, I'm loathe to say it, boring. The item per se is nice and has some distinct, cool abilities, but story-wise, there simply is nothing going on here - whether regarding the legendary item's background or the link between encounters, this whole module lacks a compelling frame narrative. And consequence. The PCs don't have to make any hard choices herein, even though several of the encounters practically hand the DM the necessary respective dilemma on a silver platter. Choice is what makes linear journeys matter - why not choose between arrogant nobles and redeemed criminals? Why not modify the army's stats according to the decisions made? Certainly not due to a lack of capability, seeing how excellent Legendary Games' "Ultimate Battle" turned out to be.



At least for me, this linearity, the lack of consequence and the rather flimsy story of the crown and the adversaries herein drag this module down from the position its otherwise superb production values would guarantee. This becomes especially evident when seen in direct comparison with the SUPERB plug-in modules LG has crafted for Jade Regent, all of which mop the floor with this one, offering a deeper story and more varied experience for the AP and even when played as standalone offerings. Even as a collection of encounters, as which I'll judge these, the lack of choice means that PCs will not consider this a respite from a railroady journey, but rather a prolonging. Is this a bad supplement? No! But also falls spectacularly flat of what it easily could have been. My final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Road to War: The Equinox Crown
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#1 With a Bullet Point: 5 Magic Diseases
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/24/2014 04:14:53
An Endzeitgeist.com review

All right, you know the drill - 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, 1 page content, so let's take a look!



Soooo. magical diseases! YEAH! I'm a sucker for diseases, poisons, hazards, traps, curses and haunts as my poor players can attest, so let's dive in!



-Ashenblood: Contracted by magical fire, this disease damages your con-score, but for each point, you actually get fire resistance - to the point where you can temporarily gain the fire subtype! The downside is that upon death, you are incinerated and replaced by a fire elemental. But your players don't know that...hell, they might even keep diseased agents lying around when seeking to do battle against flame-using foes...



-Barrow Plague: This is also a transforming plague and will henceforth be added to the arsenal of each and every necromancer, lich and other undead mastermind I can find. Why? It not only damage con, it also imposes an additional penalty equal to the total of con-damage received to saves against necromancy, negative energy and level drain - and seeing how several of these are based on fort, that just adds insult to injury. Nice! Speaking of which: OF COURSE, you turn into an undead upon succumbing to this plague. What did you think?



-Fury Fever: This one deals int-damage and has an incubation of mere MINUTES. Worse, upon receiving a mere 4 points of int-damage, the target enters a mindless, barbarian-like frenzy, attacking everything larger than tiny and not infected. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have an appropriate representation of a rage-plague. Excellent!



-Green Guts Also highly virulent and with only an onset of mere minutes, this one nauseates the subject with a 10%-chance every minute, for up to 1d10 rounds. Now here's the cincher: Every time a victim is nauseated, it starts vomiting up green slime. Yes! Delicious, deadly, green slime. Oh, and the target is NOT immune against the vomited slime's effects. Hope your character has practiced projectile vomiting during his/her apprenticeship-days... Oh, and because its fun, having this for too long turns you into a gelatinous cube.



-Spellblains could be transmitetd optionally via the contact of diseased magical energies and is a bane for all casters, increasing the level of their spells for preparing or casting (for spontaneous casters) them, essentially crippling tehir spellcasting prowess - oh, and it gets worse, sicne the penalties are cumulative.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good - apart from some minor improper capital letters, all is well. Layout adheres to SGG's old 3-column portrait-standard, which is somewhat cluttered and since then thankfully no more around in RGG's supplements. The pdf has no bookmarks and needs none at this length.



Owen K.C. Stephens delivers - 5 diseases, all killer, no filler - cool effects, iconic imagery, solid crunch - this is easily one of my favorite Bullet Points of all the time and 5 star + seal of approval material. And it lacks one important piece of information for every disease: Namely, how many consecutive saves are required to shake them off. Yes. None of the diseases come with the information on the cure-saves. That is a major blunder and the only reason I can't rate this otherwise superb supplement as 5 stars +seal of approval and instead have to penalize it down to 4. Still: A definite recommendation, folks - take a look: The fun concepts will prove to be infectious!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
#1 With a Bullet Point: 5 Magic Diseases
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Prepare for War - Basic Training Manual (PFRPG)
Publisher: Amora Game
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/23/2014 03:10:23
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This Player's Guide for Amora Game's new AP is 29 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



Military-life is not for the faint of heart or easy, and the same holds true for the city-state of Thaddeus, where, in the Compound 13, the PCs will undergo their training for war against the city-state's adversaries. Hence, as you can imagine, the player characters don't start as full-blown adventurers, but rather 0-level characters. Where via SGG (or now, RGG's) Apprentice-level character-rules (don't fear - all required is in here) and char generation, the PCs are made. And we're in for at least my preferred style, with only 15-point buy (or the regular conservative rolling) making the PCs not super-heroes, but rather diligent soldiers. We also are introduced for the roles of the respective non-humans in the predominantly human Thaddean military. As the new race here, we have the ferals, essentially urbanized orcs that get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, 2 primary natural claw attacks at 1d4, low-light vision, +10 ft movement when running, charging or withdrawing, always treat Perception and Stealth as class-skills and get +2 to melee atk and AC when below half HP and without conscious ally within 30 ft. Compared to the other standard races perhaps a bit strong, but still within acceptable parameters.



Now background as per Ultimate Campaign, starting level traits, alignment etc. is covered in here as well, lending you a hand for proper character-generation. We also are introduced to the social hierarchy of the Thaddean Empire, which imho lends a level of realism to the set-up unfortunately all-too-often ignored in most settings, so kudos for that! Simple and easy to grasp though it is, its presence lends a distinct flair to the chapter!



The next section covers more than basic training, i.e. the graduation from 0-level to 1st level characters, which includes extensive breakdowns of the respective character-classes and the units they are considered as - from bards and alchemists and druids to infantry and the support-units - each class gets recommendations that help fit it within the context of the campaign and teh Thaddean Empire - and does a better job at depicting this than quite a few player's guides I've read. Furthermore, we are introduced to the Thaddean Empire's patron god Damocles. Here we also are introduced to a cool variant rule: Per default, Gods don't heal non-believers; Damocles heals e.g. only his believers and citizens of his city-state. Non-believers can be healed, but at reduced efficiency and with the chaplain (the name for clerics of Damocles) being temporarily sickened. At least for me...Two thumbs up! The clause of alternately belonging to a city-state being enough makes infiltration, not using healing as detect-spells etc. possible, so yeah: Neat one! It should be noted that gunslingers, monks and ninjas are not covered, though - they don't fit within the context of the campaign and while seeing them would have been nice, I'd rather have a believable, concise fluff than a half-baked hodge-podge, so again, kudos for having the guts to exclude them.



We also are introduced to quite a slew of new traits to choose from: A total of 30 new traits, to be precise. Also interesting here - they actually have a cool fluff and offer some rather interesting bonuses: Adjusting the Draw of your bow for 1 hour nets you a +1 damage-bonus to your shots, but also risks breaking the bow on a natural 1 or 2. The equivalent of the soldier fine-tuning the signature gun - rather awesome! Firing crossbows with one hand, increased pain-tolerance due to having met the military's bone-breakers, being known for arcane friendly fire (which makes saving for your allies easier!) etc. - these traits are actually all rather awesome and one of them is even a teamwork-trait, following Amora's rather cool installment in the Supporting Roles-series, which btw. makes for a superb supplemental pdf for an unbeatable price.



Next up are a total of 10 new feats: From Coordinated Volleys to charging through allies, being better at sabotage, combining dirty tricks and rage, improved resiliency in groups to avoid damage from forced marches and one that allows you and an ally to stack morale bonuses and extend them to allies, but at the cost of actions every round - these feats, overall, are well-crafted and flavorful.



Now, of course we also get new archetypes, first of which would be the Armiger - no, not the RGG base-class, here, it's a magus archetype that gets a reduced arcane pool, but may impart special arcane marks on weapons for bonuses, learn to craft magic arms and armor rather soon, at 5th level. The signature ability, though, would be arcane heraldry, which allows the armiger to create a seal on his tabard, armor etc. - when using his/her arcane pool, they may via this seal improve temporarily all weapons imbued with their marks, later learning to even add magical qualities. I can see playing this one being fun - nice, if unfortunately-named archetype.



The Battlefield Sapper Ranger chooses affiliations and organizations/nations as favored adversaries instead of creature types, get trapfinding and additional ranger traps. Even cooler, they can lay down bombs, Bridgeburner-style: Including countdown, increasing damage and rules to disarm them. Oh, and they later learn to combine these with ranger traps! AWESOME. Seriously, I really, really like this one!



Battle Sorcerors draw strength literally from their highest level arcane spell, boosting their strength and they may also erect spontaneous spell barriers to avoid being reduced below 0 hp, using his still remaining spells as a kind of hitpoint substitute; Nice, especially since the Battle Sorceror gets some solid weapon proficiencies! Later, the barrier can be used without even the immediate action it required in the beginning. Again, a cool archetype! The Cavalryman Cavalier is essentially a cavalier that is theme-wise more in line with the mounted soldier than the questing knight, with a variety of subtle modifications that make sense and should be considered balanced.



Decrier Inquisitors are masters of propaganda and censure, essentially the ideological think-tanks, whose words may stop the adversaries dead silent in their tracks or censure foes with negative effects depending on the alignments of the affected. The words of censure may later be imparted via attacks as well - again, a nice archetype. Field Medics are alchemists that get weaker bombs, but access to cognatogen as well as improved healing discoveries and fast healing-imparting smoke bombs. Nice! The Commander-class from Amora Game's Supporting Roles-series also gets a new archetype with the Iron Fist, especially fearsome and harsh commanders. Nothing to complain here either. Peacebane Oracles are masters of antagonizing adversaries and have an aura of strife. Raider rogues are mounted rogues that are particularly adept at striking from horseback - essentially mounted skirmishers. Again, rather cool. The Siegemaster-archetype from Abandoned Art's Amazing Races: Humans! has been acknowledged and adapted to this book as well. Bards may opt for the War Chanter archetype, who gets less skills per level, but 3 special bardic performances that allow them to negate fatigue, temporarily grant endurance and as a capstone world wave to sweep away enemies. Add to that sonic-damage causing war chants, calling lightning and grant temporary hit points to allies that respond to his call and we have one damn awesome archetype. Finally, War Wizards may reduce arcane spell failure chance, get Tactician and bonus feats, but pays for this with no less than four opposition schools.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches that would have impeded my understanding of the content's intent. Layout adheres to an easy-to-read two-column full-color standard with golden borders at the top and bottom. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and the interior artwork in b/w is fitting.



Amora Game supplements have been work for me so far and I've bashed a couple of them to smithereens. Hence, to be honest, I wasn't particularly excited to read and review this.

Holy Moly was I wrong.



From actually fun to read prose to complex mechanics that are handled well, this supplement had me reread it multiple times, my heart swelling a bit every time - Greg LaRose, Daron Woodson (mastermind of Abandoned Arts), Wayne Canepa and Wojciech Gruchala have crafted a supplement that draws you into the culture of the Thaddean Empire, that breathes flair, offers solid crunch and feel surprisingly unified in voice and style. Oh, and the crunch here is excellent for the target goal of providing a good crunch-backdrop for their War-AP. Almost ex nihilo, the crunch herein is actually so cool and compelling that I'm rather surprised how well all the archetypes came out - there are several herein that just had me smile my predatory "Hell yeah"-grin; With these, your group actually could go all-out Bridgeburners (early books, before the demigod-aspects came in); Better yet, Amora Game shows awareness for other supplements, adding value to them as well, though not necessarily requiring them.



Seriously, there are more great archetypes herein than in MANY of the countless supplements I've reviewed and the fluff, traits etc. -everything goes seamlessly together, quoting all our favorite fantasy war tropes. This player's guide is superior to most I've read and is well worth the fair asking price - I salute the designers and team from Amora Game: 5 stars + seal of approval, Endzeitgeist reporting ready for the AP; If it can stand up to this guide, then I'm in for a blast.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Prepare for War - Basic Training Manual (PFRPG)
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Tribes Most Foul: Ogres
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2014 03:10:54
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Tribes Most Foul-series is 11 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let's take a look at this offering!



As always with the Tribes Most Foul-series, we get 3 tribes herein, all of which come with a tribal roster, lore, some fluff-only NPCs, at least one statblock for a notable personality of a tribe and a unique crest, depicted in beautiful b/w-artwork.



Now let's get one thing out of the way - Paizo's ogres have made one of the most-loathed monsters (If I had a dime for every 1st level module that has an ogre as the final boss...) into a cool, disturbing race I love using to disgust my players. Now let's see what spin David Posener can give to these, shall we?



The first tribe herein would be the Masters of the Cauldron - a trio of ogres known as the Ladle King, Our Mother of Belches and the Great Gourmand (who comes in all CR 13 ogre witch-glory). These ogres are not only gourmands and brilliant chefs for evil creatures with a taste for the extreme, they also are accomplished raiders of the pantries of castles all around - weird, and yet incredibly cool idea-wise: Gluttony taken to an extreme, they and their winter wolves and kidnappers definitely make for deadly, unusual combatants your PCs are sure to remember.



The Cauterized Host could be a mercenary company, were it not comprised of horribly scarred ogres addicted to an insidious drug that is sprinkled into the wounds of recruits as they lose fingers, have their bones broken and otherwise suffer in the dread initiation ceremony of the band. The drug, Zerk, is fully depicted with all its consequences, while behind a wall of blazing, smoking steel the ogres waltz through the ranks of their foes, disturbingly disciplined and effective on the battlefield - in spite (or thanks to) their addiction and the need to fuel it. Volan, a Fighter (Phalanx Soldier) 5/Barbarian (Drunken Brute, Invulnerable Rager) 3 definitely makes for the most complex build in the series so far as well as one frighteningly efficient commander. Do not get on the side of the lucerne hammers and tower shields of these deadly brutes! If I may: For a web-enhancement or in a compilation, I would LOVE to see this one get an army-statblock: I think having these beasts ravage Kingmaker-campaigns and similar kingdom-building campaigns would be awesome!



The final tribe herein would be the Mottled Lurkers: In the canopy of mighty redwoods and blue gums, these hunters are true tribal primitives, perching on their moss-covered branches and solving their conflicts via ogre moots and wrestling matches. A CR 13 advanced true primitive barbarian 10 is the sample character of the tree-worshipping ogres that hear the murderous whispers of the bloodthirsty tree spirits - madness or truth, these ogres make for deadly stalkers of the ancient forests.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's 2-column b/w-standard, with awesome crests for each tribe and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, with one intended for being printed and one for screen-use.



David Posener has had a hard task to follow up after the superb installment on trolls and, showing that there's a reason he tends to rank as high as he does, he actually manages to pull off not only an awesome array of tribes that lives up to the insane level of the last installment, he has also crafted one of the coolest tribes to ever come out of Raging Swan's excellent series while providing some rather complex builds to boot - there is nothing to complain here: Variety, ideas, quality and sheer imaginative potential - all up to the highest standards and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tribes Most Foul: Ogres
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NPC Arsenal No. 2: Troll Witchdoctor
Publisher: Fat Goblin Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/22/2014 03:08:03
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This new series by Abandoned Arts offers you one NPC-build, a complex one - 3 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page character, so what do we get here?



Well, we get a beastmorph alchemist 6/Gravewalker Witch 2 Troll for a CR of 12! Troll physical prowess plus beastform mutagen + buffing + enhanced spell/alchemy-empowered regenerative properties supplemented by smart item-choices make this one memorable BEAST of a character! Add to that a smart spell-selection that allows for the purchase of time for the buffing suite and the information on build and tactical notes provided should guarantee that your PCs will NOT forget ending on the business end of this shaman's longspear (or bite!). And yes, he can fight until -47 HP and has a good chance to negate crits - I can see players crying "WHY WON'T HE DIE!!!"



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a landscape two-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.



OMG - THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is a prime example of a damn cool, smart build -memorable, deadly, versatile and thoughtful, this creature is GOLD. Ever wanted to go Resident Evil: Nemesis on your players? Yeah, this one's pretty close - and gloriously so! The Aasimar was neat, this troll is glorious: 5 stars + seal of approval and well worth the fair asking price!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
NPC Arsenal No. 2: Troll Witchdoctor
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Path of War: The Stalker
Publisher: Dreamscarred Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/21/2014 03:36:38
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 56 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a total of 53 pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?



So...what is this? Remember 3.X's Book of the 9 Swords? Yeah, it's the spiritual successor. In order to properly review this series, let me tell you where I'm coming from: I own the Bo9S and when I first read it, I loved it: Essentially, much like in fantasy martial arts movies and anime, the approach is to grant martial classes maneuvers and stances to allow them some of the versatility of the casting classes and that concept rocks. Unfortunately, the Bo9S's classes proved in game that they were not exactly well-balanced - from weird, cumbersome mechanics to determine available maneuvers to flawed balance within the disciplines (e.g. utterly op Diamond Mind, ridiculously weak Setting Sun), playtesting soon showed that I was swept away by the coolness of the concept and should have checked the system more thoroughly. Also from this experience arose my utter disdain for per-encounter abilities - while on paper, they may not seem that jarring, in game they proved to be exceedingly frustrating for both my players and me: Encounters are arbitrarily defined interruptions of the game - they can range from 1 round to multiple days in theory and basing the availability of abilities on such a random interval is just bad in my book. Take this example: PCs storm into a room, kill two goblins in the surprise round, combat over. 1 round later goblins from the adjacent room enter and combat breaks out again. In this example, per-encounetr abilities could be used twice for double the oomph. Had one goblin survived the initial assault, the new goblins would have entered combat, meaning all per-encounter abilities could be used only once. Basing any availability on anything but hard rounds, minutes, i.e. non-random time-frames is bad design in my book and one of the reasons I opted against 4th edition as my system of choice. And yes, I'm aware of the judgment-ability's duration as the ONE example of an encounter-spanning ability that has its duration thus defined, but judgment also has a daily limit. That being said, I'll be professional and mention design-philosophy like this when I see it and probably complain about it, but I won't condemn the pdf for it - I'll try my utmost to remain neutral. I do love the idea of maneuvers and giving fighters "nice things", as the pdf puts it - so whatever way this review goes, I actually do want this to succeed.



So, does Path of War succeed where its trailblazing predecessor failed? Let's take a look! The class introduced herein would be the Stalker, who gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves, proficiency with simple and martial weapons and light armors, starting at 2nd level +1 dodge bonus to AC (+1 every four levels), starts with 6 maneuvers known, up to 4 readied and 1 stance and develops that to a total of 21 maneuvers known, 12 readied and 6 stances over the course of 20 levels. The Stalker has access to a total of 5 disciplines (which are maneuver-groups somewhat akin to schools of magic): Broken Blade, Solar Wind, Steel Serpent, Thrashing Dragon and Veiled Moon. Unless otherwise noted, maneuvers are extraordinary abilities that do not provoke AoOs and at 4th level and every even level after that, Stalkers may retrain one maneuver and choose another. The lack of restriction apart from not being able to surpass the level-restriction means that, while you can't freely retrain maneuvers as you could other class abilities, you may later exchange lower level maneuvers for higher level ones. The key attribute for the stalker's maneuvers would be wisdom - here designated as primary initiator attribute modifier. Now, each character may ready maneuvers - reading these requires meditating and focusing ki for 10 minutes. This means that readied maneuvers can, time permitting, be changed - which is nice. No single maneuver can be readied more than once. Now where I start cringing is with the sentence: "He begins an encounter with all readied maneuvers unexpended, regardless of how many times he may have used them..." - not because of the unlimited usability, but because it's EXACTLY the immersion-breaking problem I described earlier: Many short combats: You excel. One long, epic battle with various phases? Tough luck. Now to be fair, Path of War is MUCH smarter than Bo9S in its basic approach - as a standard action, stalkers may recover 1 expended maneuver and as a full-round action, wis-mod, min 2 expended maneuvers. When using the latter option, the Stalker gets a +4 insight bonus to AC - which makes no sense to me. The replenishing of resources should not offer a significant, non-scaling defensive boost that especially at low levels, is simply too much. Also: Why do these not provoke AoOs? The latter has the Stalker "centering his spirit completely to re-align his perceptions of the battle and his place in it." - that screams AoO to me.



Essentially, resource-management should require and reward smart tactics, not simply impose a action-tax. If a Stalker had to think whether to use his last maneuver and temporarily retreat from battle to replenish them, there'd be more strategy here. And the AC-bonus needs to DIE or at least be somewhat nerfed at low levels - why not go with a scaling bonus, perhaps +1, +1 for every 4 levels?. Seriously, +4, think about it: It's the maneuver-refreshment-tank! Constantly refresh and tank. Nah. Stances are the second resource of the stalker and changing stance is now a swift action. Stances cannot be retrained and are not expended. Also: The encounter-refreshment is simply an unnecessary design-relic from Bo9S at this point - with the option to refresh maneuvers via actions, we have clearly defined guidelines to refresh them in a set time-frame concisely defined by the rules - why overly complicate the mechanic and add a reason to metagame to the mechanic? Just get rid of the at this time thoroughly unnecessary per-encounter refreshment. And yes, sans the per-encounter humbug, I actually consider this mechanic utterly AWESOME. So the baseline WORKS! At this point, I was smiling from ear to ear.



At first level, the Stalker also gets a ki-pool of 1/2 level +wis-mod. As a swift action, stalkers may add a +4 insight bonus to perception of sense motive. At 5th level, he may use ki to enhance his deadly strikes, adding his deadly strikes to all martial strikes initiated for wis-mod rounds. What are Deadly Strikes? Whenever a stalker scores a critical hit, this ability activates for wis-mod rounds, increasing damage by 1d6 at 1st level +1d6 for every four levels after that. Weapons with higher crit-modifiers deal d8 and d10 bonus damage instead when within 30 foot of the target. I'm not 100% sold on the overall usefulness of this ability - when crit-fishing via keen-builds etc., it gets a bit powerful, but in combination with the ki-powered component, it does work - only, it does not specify whether the benefits/durations stack - what if one scores a crit with a maneuver via the ki-activation of Deadly Strike, do the durations overlap? Stack? Also "The stalker must be able to see the target well enough to pick out a vital spot and must be able to reach such a spot." - what does that mean? Does concealment make it impossible to hit the target with deadly strikes? What about those with fortification?



At 7th level, stalkers may expend 1 point of ki as an immediate action for a +4 insight bonus to saving throws. At 9th level, stalkers may also expend ki to get a readied maneuver available as a swift action. At least that's what the pdf specifies: "The character spends one ki point and may trade a readied maneuver for a maneuver known of the same level or lower and have it immediately readied and accessible for his use as a swift action a number of times per day equal to his Wisdom modifier." So does that mean that the temporarily available maneuver can be executed as a swift action? Or does it require a swift action IN ADDITION to the action it would usually take to activate? I'm honestly not sure, though I assume the latter.



At 2nd level, the Stalker also gets combat insight, which adds wis-mod to ref-saves and initiative - not a fan of adding any two attributes to the same skill/save etc. - especially since wis already covers will-saves -it's like adding con-mod to ref or will-saves: It makes no sense in game and can easily turn unpleasant. Later, he gets uncanny dodge, may regain ki or expended maneuvers when successfully criting. This latter ability fails the "bath of kittens"-test: While I don't object to maneuvers being thus regained, ki is a non-replenishing resource. Taking a burlap sack of kittens and criting the hell out of them (if you don't hit, you can sedate them first) would allow a stalker to regain all expended ki as long as his/her kittens don't run out. And yes, the example is ridiculous and the ki-abilities of the class not that impressive. But Ki stacks usually and more than one class uses it, as do various feats. When combined with other classes and options, this infinite replenishment of ki quickly gets out of hand - and needs to die a fiery death. At 18th level, stalkers get blindsight 30 foot. Okay, I guess.



At 3rd level and every 4 levels after that, a stalker gets a stalker art, essentially the talents of this class. a total of 18 such talents are provided and cover e.g. the advanced study-feat, +10 ft. movement and +wis-mod to acrobatics-check (again: two attribute modifiers to one skill - broken in my book) and expend ki to further increase speed, but at the cost of temporary fatigue. What's problematic would be combat precognition - choose one foe as an immediate action and spend 1 point of ki to make said for roll all attacks against you twice and take the worse result for 1+wis-mod rounds. NO SAVE. Supernatural ability? Seriously? This needs a mind-influencing-caveat, a save, something to bring it in line with e.g. the misfortune hex, which lasts only up to 3 rounds but extends its effects to more rolls and can only affect one target once per 24 hours and which comes witha SAVE. The defensive bonus when regaining maneuvers can be further enhanced by a 20% miss chance and even total concealment with a 50% chance. Now does the latter also mean that line of sight is broken as usual per total concealment? Relevant for spells and potentially broken as all hell, as it would allow the stalker to slowly creep forward sans being targeted. Also: I consider an AoO in line for the base ability and both would make this impossible, so in case there's a revision/ you houserule this, keep that in mind.



We also get easier qualification for critical feats and increased crit ranges. On the worse side of things, one Stalker Art allows the Stalker to expend one point of ki as a swift action to use deadly strikes in all attacks (not just maneuvers) against the target for wis-mod rounds. When successfully criting, the duration is instead extended by one round. Now where this becomes a huge clusterf*** is with the application of deadly strikes via ki to maneuvers - do they stack? At what duration? This whole complex of abilities and their interaction needs a thorough cleaning up. Another art allows the stalker to "While recovery[sic! - should probably read "recovering"] maneuvers as a full round action, the stalker gains the use of the Combat Reflexes feat (using his Wisdom modifier in place of his Dexterity modifier) and on attacks of opportunity triggered while he is recovering maneuvers, the stalker may add his deadly strikes damage to these attacks." - so what happens if the Stalker already has combat reflexes? At 11th level, the stalker may learn to regain 1 point of ki whenever s/he reduces an opponent to 0 hit points or below with a maneuver. This once again fails the basic kitten test. Stalkers may also conceal their presence as per the cloud mind psionic power (though that should probably be Sp, not Su) - the same extends to the art that allows you to duplicate charm monster, which imho needs a reduced duration since the DC is as regular (13+wis-mod) and ki isn't a particularly scarce resource for stalkers.



Where balance takes a nosedive would be with Phantom Reach: As a swift action, the character may "[...]spend one ki point and the character may initiate a melee martial strike with a range of melee attack with a range of close (25ft + 5ft / 2 levels)." Yeah. Full attack melee at range. While strikes with a range greater than melee don't work with this, it's still VERY powerful - as is the option to spend one point of ki to move for wis-mod rounds sans provoking AoOs. Yes. 1 ki= no movement AoOs. Do I really have to explain why that is insanely broken? These two abilities need a massive whack with the nerfbat.



At higher levels, stalkers may initiate 2 strikes as a full round action 1/day, later up to 3/day. As a capstone, the stalker can spend two points of ki as an immediate reaction to being hit by an attack, spell or ability to attack the target with a readied maneuver. I'm not sure whether the readied maneuver can be expended or not for the purpose of this ability, though. Other than that - appropriately cool capstone, though one essentially crippled in its impact due to the presence of the ranged stalker art - its only point remaining would be that it's reflexive and has a potentially longer range - that's it. When a talent-like ability available at 3rd level can steal the majority of the thunder of a capstone, something's severely wrong here - and it's not the capstone alone...



So that's the base class. We also get the new Knowledge (Martial)-skill, which essentially is spellcraft for maneuvers. Would have been nice to see DCs for style-feats and similar non-maneuver tricks. Also: A list of classes that should get this as a class skill when playing with Path of War would have been more than appreciated - fighters should e.g. have it added to their list of class skills when using the Path of War-rules. We also get 17 "new" feats, though extra ki isn't new and the usual suspects à la +1 stalker art, increased DC for one discipline etc. can be found here. We also get feats to add more maneuvers, have more readied maneuvers, 1/day recover a maneuver as a free action. There also is a feat which allows you to quick draw multiple weapons (and has a minor +2 bonus to CMD vs. disarm)...wait. Quick Draw. Allows you to draw weapons as a free action. So what are the benefits of this feat? Sheathing weapons! Since they are RAW exempt from the benefits of Quick draw and since disciplines require certain weapons, the feat may be useful for all groups not handling sheathing weapons as drawing them as per the RAW. Using weapon finesse with double weapons is a nice one, as are the 6 feats that allow other classes to access the martial discipline of choice and learn maneuvers. A feat that allows you to enter a fighting style and execute a maneuver at the same time also rather rocks. However, there are issues in here as well: First of which would be a feat that allows you to add dex-mod to damage in place of str. Which would be no issue for me, since it only applies to finesse-compatible weapons. However, with the option to go weapon finesse with double weapons, the thing gets ugly. I once had a character in my home game that had exactly that ability - and believe me, the result was ugly. Not sold here. Speaking of "not sold": Greater Unarmed Strike allows you to essentially go for a poor man's monk unarmed damage increase from 1d4 to 1d10. Not complaining about the nerfed damage, mind you - but sans the option to make the attacks count I don't see the long-term benefit here. Oh well, that are minor complaints compared to some of the issues with the base-class.



Now I've already covered the basics of maneuvers: Here some additional information on how they work: They require no concentration, but disarm, grapples etc. may prevent you from executing maneuvers. When mentioning movement etc. as part of a maneuver, these components (but not the initiation of the maneuver) may incur AoOs. Now what the pdf fails to specify would be whether a successful AoO against the initiator due to e.g. a movement would suffice to interrupt/cancel the maneuver. I assume so, but I'm not sure. Variables are determined essentially by a maneuver's caster level-equivalent, dubbed initiator level - these also determine the maximum maneuver level the martial artist may choose. As a minor gripe, the explanation of how maneuvers are (ex) or (su) could use a rephrasing - "The abilities of a martial discipline work fine in an antimagic field" would be simply wrong for supernatural abilities - add in an "extraordinary" and we're game and the wording is less confusing!



Now regarding the maneuvers - veterans of Bo9S will recognize a lot of the terminology - boost, strike, stance, counter etc. - we get all the explanations of actions etc. concisely presented - including, unfortunately, at least for me, a "definition" of the encounter as a timeframe. Why not simply go x rounds/initiator level analogue to spells? Why use this convoluted, metagamey, unnecessary...I'll cut the ramble short. Why not use rules analogue to PFRPG-design standards and instead insert this worse, metagamey duration? I don't get it. What I do get and dig are the ties of respective disciplines to weapon types -broken blade maneuvers require, for example, the initiator to be unarmed - and focuses on brawny assaults, snatching weapons etc. - essentially the spiritual successor of setting sun. Steel Serpent is about using piericng/slashing damage and poison-style effects. Solar Wind would be the ranged fire-themed discipline. Thrashing dragon requires two weapons/double weapons. Veiled Moon is somewhat akin to a certain shadowy discipline from the Bo9S, but focuses more on supernatural effects, featuring some mind-affecting maneuvers and a certain reliance on the ethereal plane. It should be noted that the pdf doesn't prohibit the combination of regular combat maneuvers (or vital strikes) and strikes -some clarification on these would be appreciated, as would be whether counters count as attack actions for the purpose of the vital strike feats and similar options.



Now to keep this review from bloating even further, I'll just mention a couple of great (or not so great) maneuvers from the disciplines, which btw. come with comprehensive lists in the beginning. Let's take the first one, shall we? At 8th level, adamantine fang is close to the apex of power, dealing +12d6 damage and bypassing all DR (even DR/epic? Don't think it should...) as well as requiring a will-save against DC 18+initiator attribute modifier (why not say 10+maneuver level+ initiator modifier, as per the established standard? This formatting peculiarity extends to all maneuvers and honestly, feels like it's only making the mechanic slightly opaque...) or be PARALYZED for 3 rounds. Ouch. Thing is - is it will or fort? The text says will, the saving-throw column of the maneuver fort. Adamantine Knuckle mentions a duration of 1 turn, which is rather odd duration-wise. The thrashing dragon maneuver Alacrity on Wing is broken as written - it allows you to use an acrobatics-skill-check to negate an attack (and yes, I'm aware of Paizo's precedents - they're broken as well - skills should never be able to negate attacks - they can be boosted to easily...) - if successful, the initiator may make an unarmed or melee attack for two wielded weapons at +2d6 damage. Sooo....does that mean both at full BAB? At the TWF-penalty? Can both attacks be freely chosen? (Becomes relevant if one weapon has a superior enchantment...) - as written unusable. 10ft-teleportation via stealth-checks versus perception may sound like a good idea - but what if multiple adversaries watch the initiator? Does it still work? Also: Skills are ridiculously easy to buff through the roof - why not tie this to other abilities? A minor image is left in the wake and it DOES count as a teleportation/figment effect - so generally: Awesome maneuver, especially since AoE-effects are also covered in the description, but it needs clarification.



Turning incorporeal and acting as a foil for teleportation is damn cool, as is a stance that negates the TWF-penalty. The Steel Serpent-effects suffer from one particular issue: They are poison-themed, but don't really follow Pathfinder's take on poisons - they essentially deal attribute damage, but have no frequency, no required array of consecutive saves required to shake them off. Reducing the amount of attribute damage and instead spreading the respective damage would have been nice, as would have been a caveat that immunity versus poisons offers at least a bonus against the poisoned ki they use. Blend with the Night should probably have the appropriate (glamer)-descriptor. Steel Serpent's level 1 stance Body of the Night allows you to add skill ranks in heal (but not other bonuses) to stealth as a competence bonus - cool. Breath of the Moon allows you to cause confusion, which is neat. Ignoring all armor bonus unless coming from force effects on the other hand feels kind a weird and can create potentially disputable borderline cases. Using touch attacks etc. instead here would have made this perhaps work better, but that's a nitpick. Generally one point I have observed with counters would be that they often allow for full attacks as a reaction to being hit - which feels excessive to me. At the cost of an immediate action, that would enable a character to essentially execute two full attacks per round - especially nasty when combined with flurries, TWFs and similar attacks. Generally, I'd nerf those down to single attacks - that's still powerful enough and transports the concept without becoming ridiculously exploitable at higher levels.



The Broken Blade Stance fails to mention at what BAB the additional attack it grants as part of a full attack is. The Thrashing Dragon capstone strike can insta-kill up to two foes with one strike - while not include the massive damage or HD-based mechanic usually used by death effects in PFRPG? Also weird: Desert Serpent Mirage uses competing attacks to determine whether it works (and it's by far not the only maneuver herein) - that's not how PFRPG handles such situations. It's roll versus fixed value, analogue to CMB/CMD - less variance than via 2d20s that way. As written, that one is too heavily based on luck. Using acrobatics versus AC to render an opponent flat-footed also feels plainly WRONG to me - that ought to be CMD, am I wrong? Then again, said maneuver uses a skill instead of CMB. Which brings me to a crucial balance concern - skills are easy to buff, CMB is not. In 3.X, there was no CMB/CMD, hence we needed the broken skill vs. X rolls and all the possible exploits they entail. Now in Pathfinder, A vast majority of the moves herein should either be against CMD or utilize CMB. Instead, these inorganic relics and all the inherited problems remain, making the respective balance of the individual maneuvers herein all too often simply a very fragile thing, wholly dependent on the player in question being not interested in exploiting the obvious gaps in the system.



Conclusion:



Editing and formatting are okay - I noticed a couple of minor glitches, flawed italicizations, open brackets and the like. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and with a second, more printer-friendly version.



Oh boy. This is one of those depressing reviews for me. But due to completely different reasons than I expected. I expected to have to continuously bite my tongue due to per-encounter-mechanics and just take them for what they are. Turns out, the per-encounter refreshing is just an afterthought that could simply be eliminated from the equation without any significant impact on the usability of the class - so why is it still there? Oh well, I don't care, I was happy - this looked like the Bo9S I always wanted - after all, the basic mechanisms finally work! Yeah!



And then I started reading the class - thoroughly. Beyond the focus on fishing for critical hits and the ability to make some really nasty combos due to the availability of ki, the class feels overpowered to me - the maneuvers already are a significant power-gain over other melee classes, but that was to an extent the design-decision and thus not something I'll hold against it. What I do hold against it is the at low levels OP tanking maneuver recharge AC-bonus and failing the kitten-test. Twice. That alone is enough to disqualify the class as a 1-star failure. This class needs a thorough revision.



Then, the feats and maneuvers came. And I really loved the majority - the concepts are iconic, tactical, cool. They mop the floor with Bo9S. They are superior. And then I started analyzing and, once again, my grin slowly dropped - author Chris Bennett is a very capable designer and it shows in the maneuvers. The rules-language is mostly very precise even in complex situations, to the point and well-crafted. The thing is - all too often, one can see a relative inexperience with Pathfinder's rules. Once you apply a fine-toothed comb, you stumble across a vast array of rules solutions that deviate from how things are done and established in Pathfinder. The reliance on MANY skill-checks versus AC (which, while not without precedent, is widely considered VERY BAD design), multiple instances of roll versus roll, insta-death effects - you name the relic, it's here. Were I to rate this as a D&D 3.5-supplement, I'd rate it probably around3.5 to 3 stars, perhaps even 4 due to the issues with the class, but an overall working system, but as written it is suffused with design-relics that just have no place in the PFRPG-system, especially since there often already are precedents on how the respective crunch is handled. It's essentially introducing two competing rules for the same thing - it dilutes the system's rules-syntax and causes confusion and is traditionally something I have always penalized HARD.



Is this a bad supplement? It depends on whether you care about rules-syntax and consistency within a system - If you don't mind that these rules follow their own precedents, then this still, with its flaws, is a solid 3 stars. If you do, if you don't want competing atk-rolls, skills versus ACs and all those balance-nightmares/exploits back in your game, then STEER clear. For you, this is a 1-star throwback to some of the worst rules-decisions of 3.X. Since I really, really, really want this system to work, since I can see the obvious talent and since I love A LOT of the IDEAS behind the maneuvers, I'll settle on a final verdict of 2 stars, though mechanically, this supplement failed for me. I'm hoping for a thorough redesign/update/clearing up of this supplement - it's only easily fixable details that don't work, the basic framework is awesome and this can still be cleaned up, brought in line with existing rules and made into a legendary 5 stars + seal of approval supplement.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Path of War: The Stalker
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Wilderness Dressing: Extreme Weather
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2014 08:25:25
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Wilderness Dressing-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 8 pages of content.



So...here we are, this time around for extreme weather phenomena, first of which would be rainstorms - 20 different rainstorm-appearances, from slow, escalating drizzles to perception-impeding sheets of downpour, with and without thunder - awesome. 20 Rainstorm-events like flashflooding rivers, short rounds of preparation, hot ground (and mist, reducing visibility) add further awesome mechanical components to these storms, with almost every entry offering some sort of cool mechanics to influence the weather. On the storytelling front, we also get a table of 20 hooks - from villages haunted by perpetual rainstorms, angry storm giants and weather controlling thieves to mudslides descending from the mountains, these hooks add a further dimension of usefulness to the tables.



Now some degrees less and what do we get? Bingo, snowstorms! The appearances here are no mere copies, though, instead including essentially white-outs, try flurries of snow, heavy and grey polluted snow etc. From painful amounts of snow falling from trees to a lynx or sharp icicles and annoyed bears - a lot of cool events here, again with a very dense array of crunch, help make these extreme weather phenomena cooler still. On the hook-side, we get, among other things, huge honeycombed snow-drifts, dog-sleigh-riding competitions, barges stranded in ice and so much more.



Where there is a downpour, there is all too often also wind - hence, the third type of storm covered again with 20 descriptions that include massive 400 feet walls of tan sand waltzing towards the PCs, with the 20 events making e.g. branches into lethal spear-like weapons, blinding blasts of soil and similar problems into very real challenges that show distinctly that not all dangerous situations need to be the result of monsters or villainous NPCs. AWESOME! The hooks once again add yet another layer to the content herein, fluttering scrolls with strange rituals in the way of the PCs, windstorms destroying the harvest of villages and similar catastrophes.



Now the last couple of pages are devoted to RSP's by now almost patented DM-cheat-sheets, providing all necessary information to quickly and easily run the storms covered herein, easily organized at your beck and call - one page, all the rules for rainstorms. I can't fail to tell you how incredibly useful that is.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one being optimized for the printer and one for screen-use.



Mie Welham has done it again - this pdf oozes awesomeness and manages one crucial task: Drive home the reason your PCs shouldn't be adventuring in storms and the fact that the weather can be a very real threat. This pdf will make nightly sojourns into the pouring rain (or snow or blasting winds) so much more intriguing, so much more challenging and cool - Seriously, this is one of the pdfs I guarantee that every Dm who picks it up will continue to use... A LOT. There is so much comfort, so many ideas, so much awesomeness in these short tables and the reference-lists, I can hardly fathom any criticism whatsoever. Well. Almost none - the title may be a bit misleading: Storms would probably have been a better fit, for extreme weather phenomena like cold snaps, earthquakes and similar disasters can't be found herein. Still, this is one awesome, stellar piece of writing and continues Mike Welham's tradition of downright required supplements for Raging Swan Press - all awesomeness, no complaints - get this, as soon as possible and teach your PCs the awesomeness, the majesty, but also the danger of storms! My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval!

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wilderness Dressing: Extreme Weather
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Advanced Races 4: Dragonkin (Pathfinder RPG)
Publisher: Kobold Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/17/2014 08:20:34
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf is 14 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement and 3/4 of a page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/4 pages content, so let's take a look, shall we?



The Dragonkin are a relatively young race and their mindset as well as the rigid caste structure of the militaristic Mharoti empire are explained in detail, with the roles of dragonkin both within and beyond the borders of the empire being highlighted as means for players to get some inspiration for their PC's origin. Crunch-wise, dragonkin get +2 Str and Cha, -2 Dex, are slow and have their speed not modified by encumbrance or armor, choose one energy type and gain "DR 2 against that energy type". The thing is - it's not DR. It's supposed to be "resistance 2" - DR always requires a / - and yes, this error is repeated throughout the pdf. Yes, a nitpicky gripe, but one that irks me. Dragonkin get +1 natural armor, +2 intimidate and diplomacy and treat fly as a class skill. There also are 8 alternate racial traits to choose from - 4 of which represent the dragonkin's draconic bloodline, in this case a concept that aligns them with flame, stone, storms or waves for dancing lights, virtue, spark and create water as at-will spell-like abilities that replace armor. Alternatively, upgrading RESISTANCE to 4 at the cost of armor is possible, as is being able to speak with animals with reptilians. The attribute modifiers can also be changed to +3 Str and -2 Dex; Not a fan of odd attribute-bonuses - they are not standard for Pathfinder design and there's a reason for this - it promotes min-maxing. Energy resistance (here properly called...) can also be replaced with a +3 bonus to mind-influencing effects...which is rather strong for my tastes. However, we now get the age, height and weight-table, which had been absent from a prior incarnation of the book.



There also are 7 new feats...and they are WEIRD. +1 to "natural armor rating", which is the wrong wording, is just one example. What about a feat that nets you either Darakhul, Kobold or Minotaur as a language? Yeah. Wait, what? You know how language acquisition is done in Pathfinder, do you? Hint: NOT via a feat. One feat for a language? Come again? High-level dragonkin and kobolds can add +2 "natural armor rating" and "DR 3 to one energy type". Beyond the faulty rules-language...why take the feat that nets +1 natural AC (pardon, "armor rating" as the pdf calls it) again? +2 to Fly and improved maneuverability may be nice...but there's no such thing as "maneuverability rank" - its either "maneuverability" or "maneuverability rating". The word "Rank" is reserved for e.g. skills. +10 to intimidate versus the lower castes of the empire on the other hand is a neat idea. A spiked tail for a d4+3 damage may seem like a good idea...the thing is...why +3? Natural attacks usually are only the basic damage. Also, the feat does not specify whether it's a primary or secondary natural attack. Alternatively, you may take the Sturdy Tail-feat, which nets you +3 to CMD-checks vs. bull rush, overrun and trip. You may take this feat 3 times, but the feat's text omits that the effects stack - perhaps due to not specifying the bonus-type, though racial is probably the correct one. The interesting thing here is that some of the feats are from the "Player's Guide to the Dragon Empire" - though e.g. the feat that nets you a fly-speed is missing - oh, and the feats chosen are not necessarily the well-designed ones, but rather ones with aforementioned DR-glitch..



Next up are 5 archetypes - the Edjet Warrior is duplicated from the "Midgard Player's Guide to the Dragon Empire" and is still a good archetype. Wizards may opt for the Dragonkin Elementalist, who may later change incoming elemental attacks on the fly, which is cool. The problem is - the affected targets are the elementalist and his companions - sans range. A range or at least line of sight/effect-caveat would be in order. Oh, and a massive hit with the nerf-bat: The basic ability of the archetype allows for the casting of elemental spells of the chosen element even when neither having the spell prepared, nor in the spellbook. Looking at the amount of spells out there, this ability begs to be abused - at least a caveat à la "must have identified the spell via spellcraft before" would be in order. The capstone wreathes the elementalist in an elemental aura whenever casting a spell of his/her chosen element, but the ability suffers from a minor case of ambiguity - "primal bond energy descriptor" could be misread, though closer scrutiny reveals the intended purpose.

The Rubeshi Slaver barbarian archetype "cannot be aligned with good or law" alignment-wise, which is not only partially redundant, but also, again, a case of flawed wording. "Bloodied Rage" reeks of badly converted 4th edition mechanics - "+1 to fortitude saves made to negate or reduce damage" makes not that much sense - do poisons and diseases count? When dropping below half hp, the slaver gets 5 non-scaling hp - non-scaling and not very strong and utilizes a clunky concept. The capstone is ridiculous - wielding a spiked chain as a +1 wounding longsword - including downgraded damage? Oh yeah. Impressive at level 20, where can I subscribe? I'm not going into how the wording doesn't work, but the ability presumes that spiked chains can be wielded with one hand - which is not (automatically) possible. They're two-handed exotic weapons.



Clerics may opt for the Worldserpent's Chosen-archetype - which sounds awesome. These chosen must make DC 5+ spell level concentration checks to cast any spell with a verbal component - nice idea, but won't be fun at the table - spellcasting will take even more time and rolling.

As a bonus, the archetype nets this ability:



"With her mere presence, a World- Serpent’s chosen reminds good, evil, chaotic, or lawful creatures that life is short and that the afterlife is uncertain. Against all foes with a true-neutral alignment, a World-Serpent’s chosen has a fearful aura (10 foot radius). This aura functions as a fear spell, except any affected creatures become shaken if they fail the Will save (DC 14 + the World-Serpent’s chosen’s Wisdom modifier). This ability has no effect on creatures that are true neutral. This ability replaces aura." Emphasis added by me. Notice a glitch? Also: Fixed DCs? LAME. Their channel energy is replaced with either the ability to penalize foes within 30 ft. scaling penalties and getting spontaneous inflict spells or generating a boon of the same amount and spontaneously cast healing spells. The ability fails to specify whether its (Ex) or (Su) and allows no save for the bane, which is not standard design.



Sorcerors may opt for the Cloudtop-bloodline...and the bloodline gets a damn cool ability - the elemental shield they can conjure actually is rather complex and works well in absorbing incoming elemental damage. The second focus beyond this barrier is a resistance to mind-influencing effects and scrying - even if the scrying-spell offers no save, they can save against it at DC 15+spell-level - why not simply as per the usual formula of 10 + spell level + caster's attribute modifier? Apart from that, I did like this archetype.



We also get 3 new spells - one to conjure a geyser of fire that targets reptilians and deals fire damage to them. As a secondary effect, it temporarily blinds those affected, though the spell fails to specify whether the blindness is only for reptilians or for all creatures in range. Anyways, rather strong for 2nd level. We also get a level 9 counter-scrying spell and a spell that nets a creature immunity to an element - not a fan of that, since energy immunity and similar spells have established another tradition, i.e. not simply netting flat-out immunities. On the SRD-page, we get the dragonkin-exclusive lunging-weapon quality and the four-element-resisting enchantment for armors - the latter at a whopping + 42K base price.



Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on the formal level are not bad - the same can't be said about the rules-language. Layout adheres to Kobold Press' two-column full color standard and the full color artworks are awesome. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.



Oh boy. I like nitpicking improper rules language because they result in confusion at the table, but I also let minor issues stand if they don't pose a major trend. My first nitpicks in this pdf were just that - nitpicks. And nonstandard attribute modifiers are a red flag for me, but oh well - still not too serious. And then the feats and archetypes come and all comes apart. If above was not ample clue - this pdf needs another THOROUGH rules-language editing. In fact, it needs a complete rewrite.

Beyond minor and major uses of flawed rules-grammar and syntax, balance is all over the place and ranges from ok to ridiculous. The one archetype I have nothing to complain about is a reprint from the "Player's Guide to the Dragon Empire". Which brings me to another issue - some of the most iconic options from latter book are simply missing here, in a book that is supposed to collate the Dragonkin's options. Either collect all the material or a best-of/essentials-type book (like the gearforged) or provide exclusively new material. Then again, looking at the new material...not sure whether that would have helped. And yes, I'm aware that I'm probably coming off as a harsh bastard here, but between 4th edition-relics, wrong rules-language and the amount of issues herein, I can only sincerely hope that designer Amanda Hamon consults the rules and properly revisits the rules-language of PFRPG and then fixes this mess.

This pdf is not in any way up to Kobold Press' usually high quality standard. In fact, the ridiculously low amount of content without one problem or another would have made me settle for a final verdict of 1 star, were it not for the final archetype and the well-written, if partially duplicated fluff and content from the Player's Guide/Campaign Setting. Still, I can't recommend this pdf in any way as it stands - fans of the Dragonkin should get the vastly superior Player's Guide instead. My final verdict will clock in at 1.5 stars and try as I might, I can't bring myself to round up since throughout the lecture of this pdf, I felt as if I was doing the job of an unpaid rules developer - hence, rounded down to 1 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Races 4: Dragonkin (Pathfinder RPG)
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