Aug 232017
 

nightmare_awakeningThis little module clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page patreon-recognition, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, though it should be noted that these adhere to the A5-size-standard (6” by 9”) and as such, you can fit up to 4 on any given sheet of paper when printing them out.

This is a module for 2nd level characters, set in the Last Kingdom region of the patchwork planet of Porphyra, though adaption to other settings should be relatively easy, particularly in the context of Rokugan or a similarly slightly Asian-tinged environment. The ratfolk of the Last Kingdom have thrown off the chains of the oni, driving them back into the Shadowlands under the wise leadership of the Five Clans…eh, I mean “Truths.” It should btw. be mentioned that there is a nice full-color regional map included in the deal here.

Anyways, this is pretty much as far as I can go without delving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, still here? Great!  Doom has befallen the isolated Oran’Rai clan – their hospitability has been met with murder by the dread spirit Tailaan, slain in the conflict beneath the oni and the Five Truths, this wretched entity has taken command of the isolated ratfolk, driving them deep into squalor and servitude once more – but the ambitions of the entity range further, as a plague has been decimating the fish of the rivers…only a harbinger of what ill will befall the common folks if this thing is not stopped.

Thankfully, poisoned rivers have a habit of bringing adventurers to the fray and thus, it is via one of several hooks that the PCs sooner or later arrive at one of the warren entries towards the realm of the Oran’Rai. The different means of access to the warren also mean that different encounters may be had here, one of which makes use of a cool creature from the excellent Monsters of Porphyra II book. And yes, the pdf does contain full stats of all critters – including the alternate racial traits of the Oran’Rai.

The Oran’Rai warren…is pretty much a plague rat’s haven, an otyugh’s paradise: Under the dread oppression of Tailaan, the ratfolk have learned to resist poisons and diseases and now are perfectly capable of using rusted and basically broken equipment sans penalties. The defenses of the warren follow the theme of poverty and squalor – tetanus, trash heap traps…the atmosphere of desolation, decrepitude and decay is almost palpable and, from the river that winds its way through the warren to the respective caverns, the pdf sports a nice amount of detail and includes, among other things, an unreliably ally that may well lead to further adventures.

Ultimately, the PCs will have to not only destroy the blighting brew of the Oran’Rai, but also deal with the rogue creature tatterdemalion Tailaan, a powerful and cool boss, though I wished it had full stats – the base tatterdemalion can be found, once again, in the excellent Monsters of Porphyra II book, has been modified accordingly and the build makes the boss a nice change of pace as far as low-level dungeon crawls are concerned.

The pdf also features a magic item called blameless shroud, which helps the wearer attempting to lie, even when caught when doing so. Further adventure hooks and possibilities and a nice monster/challenge by region table with CRs, locations and XP and a similarly detailed treasure list help running this module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue amount of hiccups. Layout adheres to PDG’s 1-column standard in booklet-size, as mentioned before. The neat full-color artworks contained herein are cool to see for such an inexpensive module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The map of the dungeon is in nice b/w, though unfortunately no player-friendly, key-less version is provided. The overland map of the region in full color is nice.

Matt Roth’s “Plague of Paucity” is what I’d consider to be an unpretentious, well-crafted little module. It has a lot of details for skill interaction, some nice combats and a pretty deadly boss, offset to some extent by the relatively easy difficulty of the dungeon itself. Personally, I think that a good group of 1st level characters can handle this, though the boss will be a deadly challenge if you opt to go that route. The dungeon itself sports a variety of challenges and exploring the place certainly makes for a solid module with an uncommon theme. Unpretentious, easy to insert and run (big kudos for the tables that allow for easy GM-modification of treasure and XP!), this is very much the epitome of a nice module, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Adventure Avenue – A Plague of Paucity is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Aug 232017
 

fly_in_the_ointmentThis module for Rite Publishing’s Demolished Ones (Dark City/steampunk-crossover) clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

But before we do – please be aware that this is as much a thematic expansion and a kind of guidebook for such twists and encounters; thus following contains SPOILERS. Potential players will want to jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, still here? Great!

We begin this book with a relatively daunting task, if you’re a new GM – adding a turncoat to a group. Since this is not as simple as it may sound, the supplement discusses the pros and cons of pregen reveals and lack thereof, guiding the GM through the process of selecting what seems most appropriate for the respective group. I mentioned the turncoat – appropriately named “Murmuring Guller,” the discussion to follow helps the GM (and the player!) take into account the specific challenges required for the task at hand, namely guiding the game by being a subtle foil.

Similarly, the central problems of such a set-up fall by the wayside due to “The Demolished Ones” very set-up: Fixed identities and memories already have fallen by the wayside and similarly, gaslighting and the like is part of the assumptions – as is the handing out of concealed notes and similar means of contacting players sans explicit group-knowledge. Much like the downsides of the FATE-system, “The Demolished Ones”‘s framework mitigates the most central issues that would spring from such an endeavor in other contexts.

That out of the way, we begin with brief scenario seeds – the first one being quite delectably detestable: The PCs awake in the city’s reservoir and from the notes strewn around, it becomes pretty apparent that they, for reasons unknown, have poisoned the water supply. Now seven such poisoning mechanisms have to be found. However, this actually is an elaborate experiment by the master Dr. Black…whose experiment was subverted by Ma Puess by introducing a murmuring guller into the PC-group – whose task will be to have EXACTLY two such doses be unleashed into the water supply – not more, not less, which means that, while he must sabotage PCs that are too successful, at the same time, he must also help them to prevent the full release of toxins. The hunt trhough the tunnels, a race against the clock through Amnesia-like tunnels certainly makes for a compelling set-up and further twists are part of the deal…what if e.g. the players (or some of them) have poisoned themselves as well? It should be noted that both masters actually get full stats, thus providing a finished final boss, a conflict of morality…and potentially a means for the PCs to choose the “lesser” of two evils…

The second scenario begins similarly with a ticking timer: Two bank guards are dead, the employees are locked in an airtight vault within the bank and 1 hour of oxygen – and in 15 minutes, the place is supposed to open for business. Here, the guller inserted into the group is there to make sure the PCs perish in their current predicament, but the character does believe the rest of the PCs to be responsible for the deaths of kith and kin at the behest of master Mr. Ahnt, a rather…let’s say unpleasant fellow, even as far as masters go. And yes, players killing players is part of the possible set-up. There also, obviously, are several NPCs potentially hunting the PCs – with chances to run and a return to criminal life being a crucial choice here – as brainwashed convicts, this experiment is about finding out whether the PCs can refrain from criminality. Similarly to the first scenario, we get stats for the master responsible.

The third scenario begins as the PCs awaken to the scolding of Sigmund, a psychologist in the local Sanitarium. The only issue is: The PCs don’t seem to be insane (at least right now!) and neither do they seem to be drugged out to their grills, though everyone seems to assume they are. Oh, and a potentially lethal electro-shock therapy is waiting in the wings for the PCs – joy…a proposition they probably will not be too excited about. However, unbeknown to the PCs, the pyschiatrist scolding thm is another patient, while one of their own is the true psychologist…and the murmuring guller. You see, the PCs *are* criminally, dangerously insane and the guller actually tries to keep them alive and locked away, while another master seeks to unleash them on the unsuspecting populace of the dome. The master in charge here also gets stats.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant issues. Layout adheres to a neat 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf features several nice original b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Robert N. Emerson’s expansion/riff on the themes of The Demolished Ones is truly interesting – much like the Amnesia-games, they lend themselves to fast-paced, intense and thoroughly disquieting games that work best as one-shots. The concepts introduced are interesting and so are the visuals of the adversaries. Quality-wise, each of the 3 scenarios provides some thoroughly compelling, iconic moments and is worth playing. At the same time, the scenarios themselves, by virtue of the relative brevity of this supplement, must be considered to be basically skeleton-3-act-set-ups that require quite a lot of GM-work to get going, making me truly wish this book were a bit bigger, had the respective scenarios laid out in more detail.

At the same time, this book has to be commended – In case you don’t know, I *really* dislike FATE. The only means I managed to derive joy from the system was via The Demolished Ones, as the setting’s base assumptions justify and circumvent some components of the system I consider system-inherent problems. While it took me quite a while, I buckled up and returned to the world of The Demolished Ones with this book, and it turned out to be a fun trip – so yeah, kudos for managing that level of quality with what is provided herein!

My final verdict, ultimately, will thus clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

A Fly in the Ointments is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Aug 222017
 

Kingdom_of_mostersThis massive freshman offering of Northwinter Press clocks in at 194 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial 3 pages of ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of credits/KS-thanks, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 185 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So what is this book? In one sentence: Pokémon for Pathfinder. As such, the book begins with a pretty concise introduction to be then supplemented by easy to grasp fast-play rules – but the main meat, the nexus of this book if you will, would be the new Monster Trainer base class. These guys can see the aura of a monster, which allows them to determine whether they can capture a  given monster.

Mechanics-wise, the monster trainer gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons, all bows and the whip as well as light armor and they may cast trainer spells while wearing light armor sans spell failure chance. Spells? Yes, and this would be one of the mechanically most interesting features of the class: While monster trainers cast Cha-based arcane spells like a sorceror, of up to 9th level, they can only cast spells granted by their active monster and only if the trainer is high enough a level to cast the spell. The class also gets 3/4 BAB-progression and good Ref- and Will-saves, though the table annoyingly is missing the plusses for the saves. Additionally, each monster trainer may cast the capture monster spell at will and begins play with one monster already caught. This spell is crucial for the functionality of the class, so let me give you the details: It has a casting time of 1 standard action, a close range and targets one monster. The cantrip can be resisted via a Will-save, which is modified in the following manner: Monsters above 1/2 of their hit points receive a +5 bonus, +2 when above one quarter of the monster’s hit points and SR, if applicable, applies. Monsters already captured cannot be captured again (no monster theft) and, as mentioned before, monsters with a CR higher than the monster trainer’s class level cannot be caught. Mindless monsters cannot be captured and any monster with class levels is immune to being captured.

From the get-go, this makes me question a couple of things – one: What’s the in-game rationale for monsters sans class levels not being able to be captured? I’d *really* need a reason, for if indentured slavery BEYOND DEATH to those pesky humanoids is all they can look forward to, I couldn’t imagine a single intelligent monster NOT going for a class level as soon as possible. While the CR-limit is thankfully more precise than one based on HD, it does leave you with an issue: Templates. Do templates influence the monster caught in any way beyond the CR? You see, I can name, from the top of my head, multiple templates intended to create a puzzle adversary that can’t simply be slain – one such creature alone can make the monster trainer very nasty. What about templates that reduce the CR?

Deploying monsters in combat is, rules-wise, inspired by drawing weapons – you need a move action to call a monster, but do not require the BAB +1 prerequisite to do so. Monsters thus called have a movement left equal to your own before calling them, which is a bit odd, considering different movement speeds and modes. Conversely, monster trainers with a BAB of at least +1 and the Quick Draw feat can conjure forth a monster as a free action instead.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that the monster trainer suffers from issues in its rules-language in its very base ability: “Calling upon a monster is a strenuous act that prevents an inexperienced monster trainer from calling upon more than one while in combat.” – this is a non-mechanic of a restriction. Since monsters called forth have no duration per se, a monster trainer can simply call all of them prior to a battle, so that can’t be the reason. Slight on the fly flexibility can also be a reason for this, but ultimately, neither does in any way change the problem that stems from the arbitrarily defined, fluid time-frame that does not differentiate between massive large-scale battles and one-round skirmishes – why not opt for a elegant, precisely defined time-frame? Or the solution championed in Dreamscarred Press’ Path of War, which assumes a non-combat, fixed time-frame as basis for per-encounter mechanics?

On the plus-side, much like Interjection Games’ excellent tinker class, the monster trainer does not suffer from the power-boost granted by the monsters, at least not too much, since, apart from the aforementioned first move, the monsters have to be directed by the monster trainer, with e.g. a swift action requiring the expenditure of a swift action on behalf of the monster trainer, etc. This does leave me with a question – if a monster and a monster trainer have an ability and a monster can use it as e.g. a free action, while the monster trainer would require a standard action to activate the ability – which is it? If one of them has more actions due to spells, buffs, etc., does that extend to the other creature/character? A further issue would pertain to line of sight and effect – does the monster hunter need to be able to communicate with the monster in any way? Does it have to have line of sight/effect to its trainer? What if the monster trainer’s muted or can’t order the monster due to being paralyzed? Can he still expend an action? Can he only make the monster perform mental-only actions in such a case? What if the monster can see something the monster trainer can’t, perhaps due to senses being different? Yes, 5th level grants the monster’s senses to the monster trainer, but I’m not sure whether they see what the other sees – can a monster use the monster trainer’s line of sight/effect and vice versa or not? I have no friggin’ clue.

The monster trainer’s spells benefit from Eschew Materials and the monster trainer has an aura of his choosing that renders alignment-detection pretty hard. Once a monster trainer has caught a monster of a particular type, he gains +2 to Bluff, Knowledge, Perception, Sense Motive and Survival checks against all creatures of that type as well as +2 to atk and damage AND the option to make untrained Knowledge Checks to identify said creatures. 3rd level adds a better starting attitude for such creatures, which, combined with the Cha-dependant abilities means that the monster trainer ultimately is a good face for the group.

If all of this does sound nasty, then rest assured that there is something offsetting this: Namely, the fact that monsters do not level with you like e.g. eidolons, cohorts or animal companions. (such class-specific creatures btw. are not explicitly exempt from being caught as monsters, which constitutes yet another oversight… gaze upon my menagerie of eidolons…). Oh, and don’t get me started with whether calling or summoning effects and how they’re supposed to work in that context. However, when a monster trainer gains a level, he may improve one of his monsters via monster growth (more on that later) and thus keep it relevant – think of this as something akin to how Pikachu remained relevant for Ash, in spite of its mechanical shortcomings.

At 2nd level and every even trainer level, the monster trainer receives spell familiarity, which allows the trainer to choose a spell granted by a caught monster and cast it, regardless of whether the appropriate monster is active or not. 3rd level unlocks commands to let the monster trainer command monsters to use SPs, 7th unlocks SUs and 11th unlocks EXs  -curses, diseases and poisons are exempt – and yes, in spite of the wording here being more nebulous than it ought to be, the abilities are actually shared between monster and monster trainer, including shared cool-down periods. This ability is per se extremely interesting, but its crunch, even after copious revisions, remains pretty much problematic – “Self only abilities on a monster can only be used by the monster and only when it is active.” Does that extend to SPs of spells with a range or personal or not? If a monster has a constant or permanent ability that it can share with the monster trainer, does it only work while the monster is active?

The frustrating thing here is that the pdf feels like it is hell-bent on sabotaging the hell out of itself – “At 4th level, 19th level and every 4 levels between, the trainer gets a perk..” – ever saw a wording this non-standard and worse, ambiguous? While a glimpse at the table clears up confusion, you could count either from 4th up or from 19th down as per this book’s language. Why? Seriously, it’s a “here are your class talents, select them at these levels type of ability text” – literally like almost EVERY class nowadays has…and it doesn’t manage to get the ability phrased in a way that’s not this ambiguous? Come on – the fact that you made such a complex class in the first place does show that you ought to know better! Speaking of ability-related failures in the rules-language: The class constantly fails to properly codify its abilities according to the EX, SP, SU-axis – no idea whether monsters called forth can be dispelled or suppressed in dead-magic zones like the Mana Wastes.

Among the talents, we get an annoyingly meta-gamey one that allows for skills to tell you the HP of monsters (and don’t get me started for the half/quarter HP issues – if a monster e.g. gets temporary hit points that would alleviate it over the bonus granting threshold of the cantrip, would the bonuses still apply? Why does the GM have to manage these arbitrary thresholds?) Speaking of which, if the above was not ample clue: Heightened Spell is pretty much a must-have, as is any race that can push the DC of the save for the cantrip, constituting a feat-tax you should be aware of – and no, this does not help make the math for catching monsters work at higher levels – and forget about rules for the downtime catching of monsters. Yes, this may mean annoying trips through random encounters when a player particularly wants a specific monster – something the GM then will have to comply with…or watch as the other players are annoyed by the hunter failing, yet again, to capture critter xyz.

The perks allow for the scavenging in supernatural/extraordinary abilities of monsters even while they’re not active and designate a monster as a familiar at -3 levels. The list not only allows for evasion and its improved companion, it also features a pet-peeve of mine, the loathed mettle ability (evasion for Fort- and Will-saves – at 2nd level!!!). Urgh. Higher level monster trainers can choose a monster to channel, which is chosen upon resting: They may access said creature’s SPs even while the monster is not active. Know how problematic this book is? Let’s take a look at great trainer: “A 9th level monster trainer gains a +2 bonus to capture monsters from the continued use of the spell.” Come again? Since when does the cantrip require an attack? That definitely should be a bonus to the cantrip’s DC and botching an ability this simple is, I’m sorry to say it, just sloppy.

On the plus-side, in contrast to a previous iteration of this book (you don’t want to know how many times I rage-quit this review over the courses of the book’s iterations, each time hoping hard that it would become as awesome as the concept deserves…), the book prevents the monster meat-shield exploit: The monster trainer takes the damage a monster has taken upon dismissing the monster – and yes, this means that it’s pretty likely you can die this way, unless your GM allows for metagamey “Your monster has X HP info-dumps.” 15th level allows for the exchange of “an active monster for another he has captured during battle.” – here, the sloppy per battle wording comes full circle to bite the class in the proverbial behind – does this refer to a monster caught in this specific battle or can it also be used on a monster caught in a previous battle? No idea, though I *guess* it’s the former, noting the transfer of hit point damage to the new creature being a possibility. At 17th level, when the math gives up regarding saves and cantrips, monster hunters can simply choose to catch a creature sans save or SR once – plus one time every level beyond 17th. 20th level allows for a kind of monster apotheosis 3/day, with the caveat of this working only for monster he has caught – pretty lame and weak for 20th level.

A total of 6 archetypes are provided – the monster auror is broken as hell: When subject to a spell by a monster, he automatically learns it and even when not, he can make a level-based check to learn a creature’s spell. It suffers from similar issues as the trainer, only exacerbated since it does not nearly pay enough for this power. Monster Breeder replace spell familiarity and channel monster with either an animal companion or familiar – which btw. brings me to YET ANOTEHR issue – how do animal intelligence monsters interact with the monster hunter? Do they still need to be taught tricks? The archetype also provides significant atk bonuses (and less significant ones to damage and AC) to monsters below his CR – yes, this means he’s pretty much glass-cannoning via his pets. It is btw. here that templates are mentioned in a side-box as an optional rule – and yes, I have consciously omitted this information from the above. Why? Because that crucial information should not be in an archetype’s sidebar…

Monster Gamblers or their active monsters can take up to -5 to a single d20-roll as a free action and grant it as a bonus to the other or use it themselves to the next attempt to perform such an action. Awesome! Attack a kitten, store +5 atk and damage and not even kill the kitten! Better yet, throw a cantrip with save harmless at the archetype for a stored +5 bonus. No duration, no scaling, just begs to be abused. The archetype also gets sneak attack , but at this point, I don’t care anymore. Next. Monster Performers get limited spells (only up to 6th level) and bardic performance that can be maintained by the creature…which is pretty lame, considering that there are creatures that can duplicate such effects sans paying the price. Monster researcher get no proficiencies and d6, but better skill-checks and channel monster. Oh, and they get bonus feats like Augment Summoning…and at this point, I realized that we have no idea whether “drawing” monsters counts as a summoning effect and can thus be limited by anti-summoning options… *sigh*

Monster scouts would be the d10 martial monster trainers with 4 levels of spells and Monster Companion as a bonus feat at first level, while also gaining smite monster at 2nd level.

Next, we have a massive list of trainer spells by level as well as new ones – like Battlefield Adept, which grants you Dodge, Mobility and Spring Attack for while it lasts and it has this cryptic note: “If you can cast Battlefield Adept without preparing it first, you can learn feats with Dodge, Mobility, or Spring Attack as a prerequisite. Those feats can only be used while the spell lasts.” Note something? Yes, any further prerequisites are ignored, meaning that any feat that has any of these in the prereqs suddenly turned wildcard. And yes, I understand how this is supposed to work, providing a spell-centric alternate and limited prereq-option…but this is still horribly flawed.

Oh, level 1 touch attack-based no-save blindness that requires a standard action to clear allows for the blind-locking of BBEGs while the group makes mincemeat out of them…and since casting time is one swift action, you can also whittle away. Yes, the spells suffer from problems.

Is there something positive to say here? Yes, there is: The pdf does sport a toolkit for making regular monsters into monstorin as a race, i.e. Pokémon-like creatures. While certainly not perfect, it does do its job surprisingly well and provides such stats, handily, for each of the monsters – and yes, this book is chock-full with them. The vast array of them and their available spells granted to monster trainers is interesting and while some monstorin end up as lopsided on the physical or mental attribute side, the respective entries do sport some nice ideas and a vast array of downright cuddly Pokémon-style artworks that help visualize the creatures featured. How much of them are here? More 122 pages. Yes, the horribly flawed mess I was complaining about only spanned 21 pages. As jarring and annoying as the former chapter was, as nice and useful is this one and, let me emphasize that, it almost feels like it comes from a different book.

The third chapter then provides more supplemental material regarding monster training: For example, there are feats for non monster trainer characters…like this one: “If your eidolon models a monster that would grant spells to a monster trainer, you gain access to those spells. Add the eidolon’s spells to your spells known as long as it models the chosen monster, is alive, and is available to you. Spells that are not ordinarily on your class’s spell list count as 1 spell level higher for the purpose of this feat.” An eidolon doesn’t “model” anything. Does it need to look cosmetically like the monster? What does it need to do to qualify for free spells, which may even belong to different spell lists? This shows an ignorance on how the summoner rules work. Monstrous Cohort also deserves mention: “You can now recruit a monster as a cohort. The monster’s effective level is equal to its CR.”

Okay, do you get the spells? The abilities? Does it stack with companions and active monsters? Is it autonomous? Does it need to be taught tricks if none too bright? I’m so tired of this right now, I’m not even going to dignify pointing out all the ways in which this feat makes no sense and leave it at the base: This feat does nothing. Monsters, like all creatures, can be taken as a cohort and there is nothing in the vanilla rules preventing that. This level of issues extend to everything herein…apart from the monster statblocks…and the final section of the book, which provides an all too brief glimpse at the eponymous kingdom of monsters, alongside random monster tables for respective environments – and the writing here is really nice. The level of passion that went into this is also mirrored by the copious indices: Monsters by CR, by spell granted and even those not covered in the book provide page upon page of handy information.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting aren’t bad on a formal level. On the level of rules-language, this book, there’s no way around it, FAILS. Layout adheres to a per se nice two-column full-color standard that remains pretty printer-friendly and the child-friendly Pokémon-style artworks of the monsters are neat and inspiring if you enjoy the aesthetics – I certainly liked them. The book comes with excessive bookmarks for your convenience.

Damn, I HATE writing reviews like this; In fact, the reason why this review was delayed time and again, was due to the authors tinkering with the book, updating it and improving it – or so I noted via update e-mails. I really, really commend this level of commitment and passion for one’s material and I so hoped I’d be able to write something positive here and reward this level of service.

You see, while I never was too much into Pokémon, I REALLY wanted the rules here to work – as a huge fanboy of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and the superb Lucifer’s Call game in particular, I’ve been waiting for a good “recruit foes”-class for ages. The frustrating thing is – this could have gotten it right. The monster trainer does look strong on paper, but is in basic playtest very MAD…the issue being that a truly meaningful playtest with this class is impossible at this point. Why? Because the class requires a huge amount of DM-calls to work. See the never-ending list of questions and complaints above? That’s not even half of what came up.

And yes, the revisions have improved this book…but not by enough to make the class even remotely functional sans copious DM-calls. In one sentence: The rules-language is horrible. That is if you’re using the normal rules. Use the fast play rules and the precise engine that is pathfinder comes crumbling down in the realm of GM-fiats. This is the single most imprecise class I’ve read in a while and it simply does not work…and this frustrates me to no end. Why? Because I can make it run. So can expert (and I MEAN expert!) developers and designers – I can see crunch-wizards salvaging this one and having a blast with it since the complex framework, in all aspects ALMOST works – but the lack of proper development and the at times downright sloppy rules-language undermine the very foundation upon which this whole book is built, never mind the issues with other classes and rules.

At the same time, though, the indices and monsters provided are pretty awesome and something that bespeaks the passion that Malcolm Northwinter has put into this book…and similarly, the campaign setting information, brief though it may be, is nice.

So, how to rate this? See, that’s difficult: The monster-section is pretty cool and takes up the majority of the book and thus should have a more pronounced influence on the rating…but its usefulness as intended is based on a rules-foundation that is horribly flawed in several objectively bad ways, requiring more GM fiat than any other class for PFRPG I know, while the rules-aspects of the editing job are simply insufficient to run most classes, much less one this complex. Worse, that’s before the MAD comes into play and objective balance-concerns stemming from the opacity of the rules-language of the class enter the equation.

Damn, I hate being this guy…but I have to tell you: Each iteration of this book’s rules made me rage-quit at least once and I hoped that this final one wouldn’t. It did. More than once. It really was a heart-rending experience to see this almost get it right and then botch it so hard.

Even if I take into account the freshman offering bonus, I can’t rate this for the monsters alone, but have to rate it for its intent, which is making a Pokémon-ish setting/gameplay available – and here, the book objectively fails. It fails even harder for kids. Yes, I playtested that with kids who were really into the concept…and failed to grasp the opaque rules, mirroring my rage-quit in one case…and we’re talking about kids that know Pathfinder and have no issue with complex classes like e.g. those in Akashic Mysteries – you don’t want to see that 10 year-old’s Guru…ouch!

How to rate this? Well, let me reiterate: This one, were it not for the cool monsters and the nice setting information, would get a really bad bashing. As written, it is so flawed I can’t even recommend it as a mixed bag to any but the most experienced of GMs willing to spend a LOT of time essentially doing the development work for the Monster Trainer: Codifying rules language, including answers to all those issues. You may get some mileage out of this…but still, the fact remains that this is an exceedingly flawed, problematic book – as much as I like the concepts, I cannot go higher than 2 stars, even with the freshman offering bonus.

Endzeitgeist out.

Mystical: Kingdom of Monsters is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Aug 222017
 

Shadow_and_darkness_spellsThe fourth installment of Dave Paul’s thematic spell-collections clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This pdf was moved forward in my review-queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

We begin this supplement with a piece of information that makes you appreciate the things to come – namely, a list of diverse lighting conditions – 8, to be precise. Does this terminology seem overly complicated to you? It’s actually not – it simply codifies what’s already out there in proper terms. The darkness you can only see through with magical aid? Jep, that one has no its own concise terminology. Spells affecting the shadows of targets also offer an issue – where is the shadow? How long is it? An easy default-ruling plus GM-empowerment-statement result in a basic framework that is more solid than what I expected going into this book.

After the massive array of spell-lists (including, obviously, the ACG-classes), we dive into the respective spells – and fret not, there are quite a few spells and effects herein that deal with light as well: E.g. better sight in good light conditions that can be expended for a bonus to saves vs. blindness etc. Taking a cue from the Dark Souls-game-series, Cloud of Fire and Shadow (erroneously called Cloud of Shadow and Flame below the gorgeous artwork depicting it) provides a nasty, powerful terrain control that not only sets up shadowy terrain, it also can deal negative levels and fire damage and even move the cloud around – OUCH. Absolutely awesome – contrast orbs that allow you to modify lightning condition, move it around and utilize the orb to generate contrasts to the lightning conditions caused. It also provides a significant array of catch-terminology for all kind of movement and cases that would have generated gaping rules-holes in the hands of a less capable designer.

It should be noted that this attention to detail, which ultimately renders the spells very precise and versatile, also extends to the spells utilized to creating light and shadows. Want your own shadow plane pocket dimension? The spell is in this book. Want to go nova and blast foes with dazzling rays emiting from your body? There’s a spell for that – one that may be chosen as a sun domain spell. Want to condemn a target to emit supernatural darkness, which not even darkvision can penetrate? Yes, the spell is in this pdf. Speaking of curses: Cursed to Walk in Shadow is narrative platinum, nay, mithril. You curse a target- whenever the creature walks in bright light for too long, there is a chance the creature slips into an eerie duplicate of the surroundings, shifting to the shadow plane. If you need any guidance why that’s creepy, may I point towards the Silent Hill games…only the duration is shorter for each trip. Still, this spell is incredibly awesome and could carry a whole campaign. Absolutely awesome and perhaps one of the most intriguing spells from a narrative point of view.

Of course, more combat-relevant spells for quicker movement in shadows (can I get a “Nice!” from the Dishonored-fans out there?) to magic-impeding darkness, these spells offer a vast array of tactical and narrative options.

What about the long overdue darkness-based mirror of daylight powerlessness? Indeed, the spell is in this book and the quality it bestows should be scavenged for monster-creation rules…and it should have been part of the base rules from the get-go. Granted, though – not all spells reach this abject level of awesomeness – there are some variants like shadow-centric dispels I consider to be slightly less compelling and more like variants. Immediate action steps into teh shadow plane for 1 round can also be considered rather intriguing, opening a new array of tactical options for the characters employing these spells. Want to glamer your shadow or assume the form of a darkmantle? There are spells for this around here…

Among the most powerful spells herein – what about making a target carry, literally a piece of the night sky with him alongside the darkness – which makes this both a curse and a blessing, the latter primarily for the undead… Supernaturally clear sight is pwoerful – but at higher level, it gets awesome: What about a spell that conceivably allows you to grant such a power to vast amounts of allies, allowing e.g. armies to combat invisible foes? Communal spells and a shadow-based blinking effects (with unique rules), shadow or light-based force-explosions or stripping a target of its shadow provide unique benefits that resonate well with the tropes we all know and love. What about gazing to the stars to detect creatures, as the lines between stars, silvery and shining, guide your intuition? Awesome.

Speaking of which: If your shadow touches a creature, you can switch places with it via shadow transposition…and if you can’t see the vast tactical potential here, I can’t help you. Speaking of which – there is a high-level spell to pit a vast area into perpetual darkness…which is an apt and awesome final spell for this book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches of significance. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s classic full-color 2-column standard with a purple-ish tint and the book comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. the book sports numerous gorgeous full-color artworks.

This book is more than a return to form for author Dave Paul…though that may be the wrong way to put it.  Basically, the first two books are pretty much my reference-level of what an awesome spell-book should be. The third fell slightly short of this echelon-level of awesomeness. This one, quite frankly, surpasses them. Yes, there are some minor hiccups here. Yes, some of the variants are not that awesome.

But I am not engaging in hyperbole when I’m saying that no other spell-book has inspired me to the extent this pdf managed. There are spells herein that not only will be a vast boon to each light/darkness-themed character, the book also sports concise terminology and several spells that conspire to allow you to create effects for campaigns: Whether you want a vampiric domain of eternal dark, a narrative of Silent hill-style cursed characters, Plane of Shadows-related awesomeness – this pdf delivers.

To an extent, where I actually think it transcends the limitations of its own focus, of its genre. This book can conceivably be read not only as a cool expansion to e.g. the arsenal of Ascension Games’ “Path of Shadows” or as a mechanical scavenging ground to get inspiration for more material for Interjection Games’ Antipodism-designs; this book actually could conceivably be considered a selection of spells that allow you to depict creatures of shadow, whether they be shadow fey, dark creepers or shadar-kain, as thoroughly unique. Beyond even that, I maintain that the spells herein can carry whole modules, perhaps even whole campaigns. This is one of the few spell-books out there that can be considered to be so inspired it may be worth the effort to change modules and perhaps even plotlines to utilize it – it’s that good. This is the most inspiring spell-book I’ve laid my eyes on in quite a while – and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. It is also a candidate for my Top Ten of 2015. If you like the theme in any shape, way or form, then this is a must-have, inspired book.

Endzeitgeist out.

101 Shadow and Darkness Spells is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Aug 212017
 

shadows_of_madnessThis pdf clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains…*drumroll* a .jpg-version and a .tif-version of the map! Yeah, that’s pretty amazing! The dungeon’s number-less version of the map doesn’t sport any deceptive trap icons or traps – kudos, though the place where the secret doors are can still be gleaned by proximity…but if you conceal that part, it works well. In short: Full, proper VTT-support and help for guys like yours truly that can’t draw maps.

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

Wizards strive as wizards are wont to do, for knowledge – and much like dwarves digging too deep, they are prone to being destroyed by this thirst for knowledge. Exactly that has, alas, happened to a wizard names Tibor – and now the PCs have found a stair amid the rubble of his former tower.

In this small dungeon, the PCs will fight undead foes and ultimately, save a woman  -who was kidnapped by ogres to facilitate the planned retribution of said aforementioned wizard . This guy, now, driven mad by gibbering mouthers, constitutes the boss of this dungeon.

Loot-wise, there is a mirror of life-trapping to be found here, and skill-wise, you’ll find the usual: Doors to break down or crack…and no social interaction, which highlights a weakness of this module

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the hyperlinks – there are quite a few that don’t work, which is a bit annoying. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – which I’d applaud, were it not for the fact that it depicts a bugbear, which was present in the PFRPG-version…but doesn’t show up in the 5E-iteration. The cartography, with player and GM-VTT-maps, is nice.

Michael Smith delivered a nice mini-dungeon in its original iteration. Alas, Kyle Crider has done better conversions in the past. You see, this mini-dungeon, in the original, was pretty much defined by its strong shadow-leitmotif, with templated foes, rare enemies and a medium to save – all of this has been lost in translation, when a couple of minor modifications could have retained that feeling. In short, this leaves the mini-dungeon very much bereft of its soul and renders it much more generic in its 5E-iteration. The damsel to save, relevant in the original, is relegated to commoner status and once again, there is no social skill component here. While not bad per se, this is also a long shot from what I’d consider great. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.

5E Mini-Dungeon – Shadows of Madness is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!

Aug 212017
 

scrupulous pawnbroker.jpgThe Case of the Scrupulous Pawnbroker clocks in at 2 pages and is a mini-dungeon. This means we get 2 pages content, including a solid map and all item/monster-stats hyperlinked and thus, absent from the pdf, with only deviations from the statblocks being noted for the GM. Oh, and the series now comes in an archive that also contains…*drumroll* a .jpg-version and a .tif-version of the map! Yeah, that’s pretty amazing! The dungeon’s number-less version of the map doesn’t sport any deceptive trap icons or traps – kudos, though the place where the secret doors are can still be gleaned by proximity…but if you conceal that part, it works well. In short: Full, proper VTT-support and help for guys like yours truly that can’t draw maps.

Since this product line’s goal is providing short diversions, side-quest dungeons etc., I will not expect mind-shattering revelations, massive plots or particularly smart or detailed depictions, instead tackling the line for what it is. Got that? Great!

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

..

.

Still here?

All right!

This mini-dungeon begins with the PCs having either a business relationship or  wanting to establish one with a hard, but fair pawnbroker – now his store’s door is open and suspiciously empty, while an iron door in the basement leads towards a gruesome scene – the assistants have been slain and reanimated as zombies, though the PCs may save the owner’s dog as further support. If the PCs do not tarry, they may save the pawn-broker from the hostile assault of a really nasty gang of thugs under the command of a cult fanatic – they’re trying to break into his treasure vault, after all…

Pretty big plus: Kyle Crider has done some nice modifications to traps and stats in short-hand, which adds a bit more 5E-feeling to the conversion.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant glitches apart from the hyperlinks – there are quite a few that don’t work, which is a bit annoying. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes sans bookmarks, but needs none at this length. Cartography is full color and surprisingly good for such an inexpensive pdf. The pdf does sport one nice piece of original full-color art – kudos! The cartography, with player and GM-VTT-maps, is nice.

This mini-dungeon has me torn – on the one hand, the story Stefanos “The Netlich” Patelis weaves is a nice one that can easily fit in any urban environment and it does sport the small details and level of believability I enjoy.

On the other hand, it could have benefitted from a short tactics-section for the adversaries if the PCs e.g. call the watch- a couple of lines would be there to warrant it and this may very well turn into a kind of hostage situation – bartering is a quite possible notion for the PCs and since the foes use the pawnbroker’s traps to their advantage, one can see the potential of the writing here. It is pretty obvious that, for once, we could have used some Intimidation, Deception, etc. – and we get nothing like that; much like most of these mini-dungeons, Perception, Investigation and thieves’ tools are the main non-combat options used.

This is by no means bad and Kyle Crider did a solid conversion here, but the few rough patches in the formal criteria, joined by the lost chances for social skills and the like, do drag this down a bit. My final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

Adventure Avenue: A Nightmare Awakening is available from DriveThruRPG.

Remember you can follow us on Twitter and Google+!