Jul 032015
 

91SZ8DeIj7L._SY355_It is well know I have a soft spot for French produced games because they tend to be really, really lovely and wonderfully beautiful.

And among French companies, Ludonaute are my softest of spots because they not just produce fantastic games (Ygdrassil anyone? Lewis & Clark?) but they also look super gorgeous.

With Colt Express, a Western themed game in which you compete to rob a train, they took it one level up with the production and it has paid off because is a spectacular game on the table and has got them the most prestigious award of all, the Spiel des Jarhes 2015, so there must be something good about this game.

However, if you still need some more evidence to find out if this game is worth the amount of money you have to pay to get your hands on it, watch on!

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Jul 022015
 

legendary_planetLegendary Games has been creating some impressive material for quite some time now. With a great ability to surround themselves with terrific writers, they hit the mark very, very often.

Now Legendary Games have joined forces with a terrific plethora of authors to create Legendary Planet Adventure Path, a very interesting take on the fantasy and science fiction games with this new adventure path for the Pathfinder RPG.

I got together with Neil Spicer and Mike Shel, two of the leading people behind this project, to find out more about what it entails and what’s all about.

Legendary Planet Adventure path is funded in Kickstarter and I strongly recommend you take a look at it. It looks pretty amazing!

Hope you enjoy the show!

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Jun 292015
 

13th_ageBy Endzeitgeist

Disclaimer: I received the hardcover of this book for the purposes of an unbiased, critical review, which I hereby provide. This review is based on the 256-page hardcover and not on the pdf –hence, I can’t judge electronic qualities etc. The material herein underwent playtsting for the purposes of this review.

13 True Ways, much like the 13th Age Core-rule-book, is a combination of crunch-book and setting material, though this one is focused slightly more on the setting aspect. I have already discussed in length and depth my stance on just about all rules-decisions of 13th Age in my review of the core book, so this review will NOT focus on those; Instead, I will analyze this book for what it brings to the table and assume you are already familiar and have an opinion on whether you like basic decisions of the system or not.

Without further ado, let’s begin! In my review of the core book, I mentioned that both monk and druid would be in this book and indeed, there was much ado about their absence in the base book. The druid especially is a rather interesting class, mainly, because its design-tenets, more so than the base key-attribute switching in e.g. the bard-class, provides deeper customization options than the core-classes. The class differs in that is chooses whether it gains many abilities at initiate-level or less at adept level, changing just about all base assumptions you may have and allowing for wildly diverging focuses. Animal companions for initiates cannot participate in every combat, which provides a nice source of basic, very limited resource-management, for example. Adepts can still have their companion around all the time. Death for companions is ridiculously lenient – one combat -1 level, then back to full strength, no repercussions. Disarm the trap, Fifi! Sarcasm aside, the plus-side here is that the companions get used more and less carefully. Once again, we’re at a matter of opinions whether this is a bug or a feature. The class itself can be pretty much pictured as a druid with a significant array of archetypes rolled into it – elemental casting, wildshape, terrain casting – all here, with the nod towards the vast Koru Behemoths being one of my favorite crunch/fluff-cross-over glimpses into the fascinating world. The most elegant rules-decision here would be the scout form, which allows the druid to assume the shape of a harmless animal, which, while distinctly unearthly, makes scouting via wildshape less broken – and it also provides pretty easy to grasp repercussions that limit the utility without crippling it. All in all, a very nice and modular class.

Now almost every group has this one player that just loves the rod of wonders – and anything like it. For these players, allegedly, the Chaos Mage was made. With the options to wilder in other spell-lists, defensive high weirdness effects and icon-specific tricks, the chaos mage is an unreliable caster, yes. A fun, unreliable caster. But also one that is not *that* chaotic – with e.g. less than 50 high weirdness effects, the class falls somewhat short of what I’d expect from the concept -but then again, perhaps I’m just spoiled by having read too many takes on the chaos magic concept. It’s not a bad class, mind you – just a tad bit too predictable for the concept. Commanders are very much physical fighters that can help allies via interrupt actions with the flexible resource of command points. I do enjoy that said resource is tied to their own performance in combat, thus requiring active participation in order to enhance their allies. Tactics would be the second resource, and these would be active and non-interrupt based. All in all, the commander is a solid alternative to e.g. the bard’s capabilities. I’ve read a lot of takes on the trope and this definitely is one of the better ones.

Monks in their 13th Age iteration utilize quite a few of my favorite concepts – they know three types of unarmed attacks with different effects, which I really like, as anyone who has read my review of Little Red Goblin Games’ Dragon Tiger Ox knows. Monks attack with so-called forms – they could be likened to styles, but instead of breaking up a style over various feats, each form sports an opening attack, a flow attack and a finishing attack. Some of you may recall my constant gushing for Dreadfox Games’ Swordmaster with its opener/sequitur/finisher mechanics, so it should come as no surprise that I like this choice – especially since you can switch freely between forms you know, only having to adhere to the opener/flow/finisher-sequence, not the sequence of the respective flow. Basic class features à la flurry of blows (here reimagined as one of the basic Seven Deadly Secrets) and talents further complement this pretty modular class well alongside a nice ki-based resource-management – the monk is one of the most fun melee-centric classes herein, though also one that most suffers from 13th Age’s issues with Acrobatics and skill-use.

Now apart from the druid’s summoning, there is another class herein that requires the use of the concise and pretty conservative summoning rules introduced in the very beginning of the book. That second class would be the Necromancer. And the necromancer is a pretty great example of designs I enjoy within 13th Age – the class has a built-in mechanic for being frail, yet incredibly hard to kill, for having weird and skewed alliances and the spells and minions do support that – one of my favorite crunch-pieces herein! The final new class would be THE Occultist. Yes, THE. As in iconic. As in “there is only one” – and generally, this concept is pretty much awesome – a class all of your own, now if that does not say “epic” from the get-go, what does? The Occultist is very much a caster with a focus on destiny, karma and truly odd options – like The Occultist’s shadow jumping forth to absorb the attacks of foes. Mechanically, the interesting component would be a focus, somewhat akin to what one knows as the psionic focus, which usually is expended upon casting the reality-warping spells of The Occultist. It should be noted, though, that the class does sport options that work only while unfocused. The relative ease with which you can deal psychic damage can also be noted here. On the downside, much like other casters, there is not that much to choose from regarding spells…and the class, while sporting some of the most awesome spells I’ve seen in 13th Age, does feel like its mechanics do not necessarily require it to be THE ONE. While easily remedied, this would be an example where the seemingly implied importance of being the one occultist is subsumed under the need for balance…and for once, ladies and gentlemen, mark this on your calendar, I would have loved the class to be less balanced. Yeah, bet you that you never thought I’d say, right?

Now after these new classes, we delve into the multiclassing rules. These essentially treat multiclassing not as advancement in two distinct classes, but rather as an amalgam, at least at 1st level. The general rules do allow for later multiclassing, but if you do use that, the generally pretty streamlined options tend to become a bit messy and work. That being said, a handy table of key ability-modifier interaction and class-by-class multiclassing advice that also sports new feats to help mitigate the implied power-loss. Now I do *get* why 13th Age utilizes this approach to multiclassing as opposed to the “take a level here, take a level there”-approach – the base system, with its HP-calculations etc. simply would not work with the stacking web of crunch that is the base assumption of 13th Age character advancement. Still, this did feel somewhat like a return to 2nd edition multiclass characters, which may or may not be to your liking. Rest assured, though, that this analogue only extends to the concept and the dreaded efficiency-loss in said classic edition has not found its way into 13th Age – multiclassing does not cripple the character and very much renders the character much more flexible.

This concludes the crunchy bits of the book – and over all, they are more varied and imho, cooler than the options provided in the core book – I know that quite a few of players tended to concur. The crunch herein is more varied and fun and should be considered a must-own supplement for that alone – on the level of e.g. the APG. That is – a must-own book for any 13th Age table.

But that is NOT where this book ends. Instead, we delve into the chapter on cities and courts – from Axis to the Elven Queen’s Court of Stars to the Three’s Drakkenhall and The Archmage’s Horizon or the Priestess’s Santa Cora, the chapter can be considered as an inspired gazetteer for these centers of power – with massive two-page spread artworks/maps, various iconic relationships and 13 rumors for most (though e.g. not for Santa Cora), these provide inspiring glimpses at a world that should have its own, massive, rules-agnostic setting-book, mainly because they manage to evoke beautiful imagery and inspired ideas in my mind.

The book also does sport a massive section of new monsters – which includes dire animals and quite an assortment of deadly adversaries. Among them, there are quite a few that stand out – for example the illithid-inspired soul flensers or the class of flowers of unlife, which managed to really creep me out – so yeah, neat chapter, though once again, only a specific array of creatures receive full-color artworks – those that do receive artworks, though, rock. This chapter also ties in with hands down my favorite chapter in the whole book, one I maintain that can be of extreme use even to games that do not use 13th Age rules – the chapter on a beloved creature type conspicuously absent from the original book – devils.

Now the chapter on devils is not simply a lame assortment of traits, feats etc. – instead, we essentially receive whole hierarchies and original stories for devils – each of which can easily carry a whole campaign…or more. Know what’s even better? Each is thematically tied to one of the iconics – whether the devils are the agents of the cosmic machinery, loathe the elf queen’s beauty, have been freed by the Dwarf King – each take on devils can essentially be considered its own glorious origin myth, an inspiring mini-ecology that breathes the very awesomeness that good fluff can evoke. Reading this chapter made me come up with so many ideas, it is absolutely stunning and once again validates my claim that we need more fluff for this cool world – especially if the fluff can maintain this specific peculiarity while not becoming prescriptive.

After the downright glorious reading experience of the former chapter, we dive into the GM’s chapter, wherein artifacts like the feathered crown or the First Wrought of Blood await – and yes, they increase in potency with tiers. Beyond these, the DM also receives e.g. 13 flying realms, 13 taverns and inns, 13 dungeons and ruins etc. – though all of these tend to come as a pretty short fluff-only blurb, so expect a short inspiring hook here rather than a fully-depicted adventure locale. There also are guidelines for magic item creation by chakra and 3 fluff-only monastic tournaments (just as brief) follow up.

On the completely opposite side, detail-wise, 4 characters are provided in lavish detail with extensive background stories and 13 hooks (!!) EACH as well as guideline for diverging uses of the characters as allies or antagonists. But that is not where the book ends- instead, we get what amounts to two campaign seeds, each with various extremely evocative suggestions that should be considered downright inspiring: One deals with the advent of the underkrakens, burrowing/planar shifting mountain-sized krakens that invade – perhaps as living dungeons or siege weapons, perhaps as the instrument of destruction engineered by the dread soul flensers. The second is no less inspired, focusing on an inverted, flying ziggurat spawning nigh-unkillable undead/mutated flowers of utter corruption. Yeah. Awesome. I wish that one were a mega-adventure with fully detailed maps etc.

Beyond this high note, we also get an index/glossary.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful, easy to read two-column full color standard. The artworks are gorgeous and the book per se comes with high-quality, glossy paper.

Rob Heinsoo, Jonathan Tweet and Robin D. Laws have created what amounts to the absolutely required APG of 13th Age – beyond the inspired classes, which indeed can be considered superior in the playing experience, not in power, to the core classes, it is the second half of the book that just made my day. The fluff, the inspired ideas herein, even beyond the mechanical rules, must be considered absolutely top-notch and inspired – and they constitute the one gripe I have with this book – I wish it were two distinct books, one for crunch and one for fluff.

The NPCs herein show a glimpse of the awesomeness that can be made with this setting and quite frankly, while reading just about any section, I was left wanting more – I wanted the full-blown underkraken campaign; I wanted a fully mapped Drakkenhall, with all details. I wanted Santa Cora in all its details, with hundreds of festivals and taboos. The material herein managed to do what the fluff in the core-book failed to achieve – thoroughly captivate my imagination. While my criticisms still remain, this is exactly what 13th Age needs to prosper – a detailed, awesome, evocative world that is tailor-made to support the high-fantasy, high-impact playstyle suggested by 13th Age’s rules.

So yes, this is an inspired book that provided quite an array of cool ideas I will most definitely use, including using one of the devil myths in my current campaign. For 13th Age-groups, this is a glorious supplement, a must-have purchase and even if you only are remotely interested in the world or the concepts I mentioned, this may very well be worth it for the idea-scavenging alone. I really wished it were two books, with more support for each class and the core classes in one, more fluff/campaign setting info – but that remains my only true gripe with this book. If you like the system, you need to have it – it one-ups the core book with imho more interesting classes and glorious fluff. It won’t convert you if you don’t like the system, but even f you loathe it, you may still draw tons of inspiration from these pages. My final verdict will hence clock in at a full 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 262015
 

Beast_the_primordialBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Onix Path has created some of the most iconic and popular roleplaying games out there and now they want to repeat the feat by publishing Beast: The Primordial, a game in which the players take on the roles of creatures that are the product of nightmares. Or the cause.

This game has been in development for over a year by writer and author Matthew McFarland and, if in the past he’s had some good ideas, he’s probably levelled up for this one because it sounds a lot better than I was expecting (and I was expecting a great deal to start with).

To find out more about the game and the limited Prestige Edition that’s funded on Kickstarter, I got together with McFarland and with Onix Path’s Creative Director Richard Thomas to ask about the game itself and the future of the line.

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Jun 172015
 

megacities_of_neo_neoBy Endzeitgeist

This installment of the evocative Gossamer Worlds-series clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 11 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so what happens if the gritty cyberpunk future of Shadowrun, minus magic, gets utterly and thoroughly one-upped? We receive cities sprawling continents and oceans, suffused with a constant overpopulation and stimulation, facilitated by the omnipresent MegaWeb that requires your ping every half a second to continue to cater to your needs. The look into this world is at once fascinating and disturbing – when the vast corporations like Uni-Goggle or the Kocha-Cola corporation have suddenly influence over just about everything, including the reality show to you by those thrifty, cool Enhanced Reality goggles, when all food and consumables come with mood enhancers and medical support similarly is tied to implants, chips, etc., you’ll be clamoring for the quaintness of the Rhine-Ruhr or Seattle megasprawls of Shadowrun.

This vista portrayed here is frightening for its winking proximity to our very own world, its relative believability – genetic tailoring, body-modification and similar complex cultural codes prosper, while the MegaWeb and its advertisements and influence on the minds of the populace reminded me of Andri Snær Magnason’s dystopian novel LoveStar. Beyond the omnipresent might of corporations, Mars as a truly red (read: communist) planet makes for a no less disturbing alternative, while a mega-powerful set of insurrectionists under the command of mysterious Zeus try to bring down a foe that outnumbers them more than a billion to 1. And then there would be the sentient AI Yuki, CEO of the Sen-Zaibatsu and avatar of eidolon (fully statted, btw.), well aware of the asset/threat that Lords and Ladies of Gossamer and Shadow represent… (Can I hear Renraku arcology, anyone?) Short rules for acting in the web can also be found – alongside one last refuge – Australia, protected by the strange Uluru-effect, blocks electromagnetic waves and could either turn out to be cataclysm or salvation for the world…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful 2-column full-color standard for LoGaS and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Artwork consists of a blend of glorious full-color pieces that are absolutely gorgeous to behold.

Matt Banach’s Neo_Neo unabashedly pays homage to Shadowrun and the cyberpunk genre in a vast array of its ideas and concepts – and then cranks them up a notch. If you’re like me and considered the change of the matrix and magic-systems a spellplague-level disaster, then this pdf will bring a smile to your face – what we have here, would be a less magic-infused take on what Shadowrun could have become. And I mean that as an honest compliment. If you’re like me and enjoy a bit of cyberpunk once in a while and were looking for an easy way to use all of those Shadowrun books in your LoGaS-game – well, here you go. And even if you just get this for a short visit, the concepts alone are inspiring, yet detailed enough to provide you for more campaign-fodder than you could ask for. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval…now let’s hope our children never get to see 64-lane-highways…

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 172015
 

emerald_orderBy Endzeitgeist

Kobold Press’ Demon Cults: The Emerald Order clocks in at 14 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 10 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

“A Demon Cult? Urgh.” If that was your response, then you’re pretty much like me and oversaturated by bland “doing it for evil’s sake”-idiot-plot-device adversaries. Thankfully, Kobold Press seems to have taken up the mantle to make secret societies and organizations no longer suck and actually have a distinct identity – at least that’s the goal. So can the Emerald Order fulfill it?

Well, for once, the Emerald Order is not actually a Demon Cult – worshipping Thoth-Hermes and having deciphered the secrets within the Emerald Tablets, the members have managed to attain increased magical prowess – alas, as per the truism, power corrupts and the Emerald Order, in the time-honored tradition of secret societies, is exerting significant influence of the bodies politic in the realms wherein they have established themselves. Guided in that endeavor are they by their fully statted CR 15 sample character, the middle-aged master of the order, who sports no less than all ten levels of the new PrC, but more on that soon. The statblock is nice to see, though AC the non-flat-footed AC seems to be off by 1 point – now the statblock itself remains functional for the DM and hence, I won’t complain too much about such minor hiccups.

The PrC covers 10 levels and is called Disciple of Emerald Esoterica. It requires 2nd level spellcasting and 3 ranks in some skills for relative early access, making the fluffy requirement of acknowledgment by the order to most important component. Formally, the PrC nets d6, 6+Int skills, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 will-save progression and full spellcasting progression. The abilities themselves, sporting colorful names like “Key of Wisdom” and the like, deserve special mention -aforementioned first ability allows for the stacking with cleric levels for ability purposes or skill bonuses to wis-based skills that increase based on ranks akin to lesser skill focus-style benefits. Similar benefits are provided for arcane casters and oracles at higher levels (the latter working out surprisingly well re balancing builds) and beyond that, each level nets some sort of limited spell-like abilities than scale in their daily uses per day. Resistances can also be found herein among the abilities granted and disciples may, at higher levels, act in surprise rounds and later even learn e.g. final revelations, bloodline abilities et al. or, yes, grand discoveries. A basic glance will show you that this renders them accessible much sooner, which means that yes, imho you should keep this PrC out of player-hands…UNLESS you actually want them to enjoy those apex-level tricks for longer. It should also be noted that the order learns to chip away emeralds from the artifact-level tablets (which get a full write-up) to make a DR-granting ioun stone and that over all, its rules-language is pretty precise. Several SP-granting abilities sport a duality-theme, which is nice, but doesn’t really mitigate the fact that these aren’t as cool as e.g. the forewarned ability versus surprise rounds mentioned before – I would have loved some more esoteric abilities here – ironic, considering the focus of the order. And yes, the PrC, generally, can be considered rather solid.

Furthermore, disciples may create the Smaragdine golems, unerring trackers and magic absorbing sentinels – that, much like aforementioned leader, receive a glorious, high-standard visual representation in a beautiful piece of artwork. Where the pdf truly fills its role, though, would imho be in its numerous adventure suggestions involving the order, all grouped handily by APL – these range from kingdom-destabilization to polymorphing afflictions and should drive home rather well the diverse methods employed by this cabal. I loved this section and each, but one of the hooks has its first sentence bolded, thus allowing you to take in the premise of the hook at a glance! Fans of Midgard should also be aware that there is indeed a box helping you use the order within the context of said world.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a modification of Kobold Press’ beautiful 2-column full-color standard, with the borders evoking the theme of the gorgeous front cover. The original pieces of artwork are drop-dead gorgeous. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Jeff Lee’s Emerald Order is a surprising first choice for a Demon Cult in that is feels more like an esoteric order as popularized by the pulp novels – the pdf manages to quote he themes of implied supremacy, of strange orders offering powers beyond the ken of the uninitiated and thus creates an organization that can be considered interesting indeed. Now while I’d be rather careful about allowing PCs to take the PrC herein, the added edge my provide interesting mechanics and while not suitable for every campaign, I can see an order PC working in some campaigns – rather well, actually!

Now this installment may not be perfect, but it is a more interesting book than I imagined – while I’d expect fame/reputation mechanics for cults and organizations intended for player use, as a mostly NPC-focused order that could potentially double as a player-expansion, I will not hold this omission against the pdf. I would have liked somewhat more detailed information on suggested resources at the order’s command, on how they handle threats and the policies of the cabal, but that is my personal preference – there are a lot of ways to run such conspiracies and while a general inkling of the like is provided, the non-alignment-specific nature of the order (though they are strongly geared towards evil, the PrC is not…knowledge itself is neutral…) means that here, a bunch of cool choices and options at their behest could have been highlighted – don’t get me wrong – this stuff is hinted at and generally covered, yes – I just wished the pdf was slightly more concrete and the same goes for the means of advancement within the order’s hierarchy This is me nagging, though. The Emerald Order is a cool organization, one that oozes the spirit of pulp and classic weird fiction and for the low asking price, you receive a nice organization to throw into your games.

When all is said and done, this can be considered a good first installment of the series and one that makes me look forward to the other installments, which I will cover as well…and rather soon! My final verdict for this one will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform since it over all feels to me like it could have gottn slightly more out of the order’s awesome visuals and style.

Endzeitgeist out.

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