Sep 112017
 

shadows_of_madness_5eThis 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.

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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.

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Sep 032017
 

a_friend_in_needThis module clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved forward on my reviewing queue as a prioritized review at the request of my patreons.

First of all, before I go into details: This module is intended for a younger audience – basically, this is intended to be a very kid-friendly module. To be more precise, for the age-range of about ~ 6 years. I ran the module in my playtest with a mixed group spanning the ages of 4 – 11 and the players that had most fun were those in the lower ages, so personally, I’d suggest this approximately for ages 4 – 8.

The adventure does take into account the changed requirements of the target demographic – namely by calling out when a good time for a break would be, when to guide them by incorporating suggestions into your “What do you do?”-questions, when to explain the discrepancy between character and player-knowledge…the like.

For parents not sure whether their kids can handle “killing” adversaries, an alternate wording is provided as well, with the defeated “returning home.” The copious amounts of advice provided are generally not only welcome additions, they tend to be very sound.

Distribution of candy/gummibears used as monster-substitutes on the map is a pretty sound advice, since it prevents instances of jealousy and kill steals, while still providing immediate gratification. Puzzles, where included, do mention less complex alternatives for younger audiences and means for the GM to make how items work immediately evident-

All right! Children/players, in case you’re reading this, please jump to the conclusion. No one likes a cheater and I’m going to explain the adventure now. If you continue reading, you’ll only make the adventure boring for yourselves and have an unfair advantage that will be noticed by your GM. Please do what’s right and jump to the conclusion.

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The monastery of the monks of the kneeling wind is a tribute to the elements and, visually inspired by Japanese aesthetics, well-represented by a truly beautiful full-color map. Alas, all things must end, and so did the time of the monks – and after they were gone, the crystal dragon Azhuryx chose this place to rear her precious wyrmling Kurisutaru. Alas, once again, trouble brewed and the mother dragon did not return from a hunt, leaving Kurisutaru terribly bored with only the companion soulbound doll left for him, yet cautious of strangers. One day, Kurisutaru saw a child folding origami and was left overjoyed when he saw dragons among the figures crafted – he thus swooped down to talk with the magical prodigy Azumi, who, in a panic, conjured forth an origami crane (made possible via the new spell, which has been properly converted to 5e) and sent it forth – said crane is what jumpstarts the module in earnest, as the PCs happen to find the origami swan and read the cry for help on it.

In order to reach the monastery, the PCs have to start climbing the mountain (a great way to btw. use the exhaustion mechanics) and on site, the exploration can commence – the PCs can for example brave the most huggable earth elemental I can imagine. It should also be noted that the research and prior knowledge, when player and PC-knowledge diverge, can allow for an easy and painless teaching of 5e’s relatively simple skill rules-

A Wisteria tree whispers to the PCs that the key to Azumi’s location is hidden in the koi pond and indeed, swimming in can yield it. Underwater, the PCs encounter a friendly, awakened koi who breathes bubbles on them and wants to talk to them: He’ll give them the key, if they answer a simple riddle. This would be as good a place as any to note that the statblocks of the wondrous creatures encountered have been converted rather well to 5e’s mechanics.

Beyond the moon-viewing tower, there are animated dog statuettes that may attack. In PF, these statuettes were pretty strong, but in 5e, they, at least to me, represent a missed chance. You see, 5e very much focuses on a sensible rock-paper-scissors-type of gameplay with the variant damage-types, resistances and vulnerabilities: Making the dogs resistant to e.g. slashing and piercing weapons would have been a nice way to teach the kids about these mechanics. It’d also make sense and is something most groups would get right from the get-go: Back in the day, my PCs simply assumed that skeletons would not be susceptible to piercing, for example – it makes sense. Alternatively, a vulnerability would have made sense…but that is me nitpicking.

The PCs will also have a chance to test their mettle against the spirit of a non-evil undead weapon master of the monks in honorable combat. In the lavishly-rendered map of the complex beneath the monastery, a Sudoku-puzzle beckons alongside a friendly test of the PCs, focused on whether they can distinguish reality from illusion, while another requires balancing on a rope to swing a bell…in an interesting twist, the spectral teachers of the monks may provide guidance in-game to stumped players. This is btw. also where disadvantage and the like come into play more.

Combat-challenges include dealing with the dragon’s overprotective soulbound doll and some animated objects – here, we do have the resistances, but they apply to all physical damage types – and PCs of level 1 are really limited regarding their magical arsenal, so this section can take a bit longer. A centipede whose poison can cause paralysis upon reducing a PC to 0 hp is another minor snag…or rather, something that could have been solved a bit more smoothly: You see, the pdf does contain a logo-less version of the cover artwork in b/w-  yep, like in a coloring book. So, one way to help a player pass the time while the PC is paralyzed would be: “Color this page, when you’re done, you’re fully healed!” – unless, of course, the other PCs heal their comrade first.

When the PCs finally happen upon the dragon, they’ll think they have a deadly fight on their hands…but Azumi intervenes and the PCs have a chance to make friends with the dragon, the positive modifiers of which btw. also entail playing a game of hide and seek with the dragon…and hopefully convey to him that kidnapping others, no matter how well-intentioned, is not a good way to make friends. In the end, though, capable PCs will probably leave on Azumi’s origami riding cranes, with Kurisutaru’s friendship bracelet for a fine, tasty dinner at Azumi’s house – who now has a friend most unique. As a minor complaint, the rules-language of the crane mentions maneuverability, which does not exist in 5e.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a Japanese-looking, beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The book provides ample of child-friendly artwork from the pen by Jacob Blackmon -more so than in many modules of this size, rendering it a nice, visual treat. The unified and beautiful style also extends to the gorgeous cartography by Travis Hanson, which also features player-friendly versions that you can print out, cut up and hand out to them as they go! Extra kudos for including those!!

Jenny Jarzabski and BJ Hensley have already proven that they can make good crunch; however, as it turns out, they can also write captivating modules. “A Friend in Need” is a great first module for the small ones, breathing a bit of the spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies and the innocence conveyed therein. It is not perfect in the 5e-version, but Dan Dillon, being the expert that he is at 5e content, has translated the module very well to the system, ironing out some of the hiccups in the original. At the same time, I do feel that it is, system-immanently evident that the original design was for PFRPG – there are a couple of 5e-rules that could, didactically, be highlighted better. This does not mean that the conversion’s bad, mind you – it’s really good! But it comes close to transcending the original iteration sans making the leap.

Let me state that clearly: The module does a lot things right: The flavor is child-friendly. Even the spirits of the monks, which may evoke a slight sense of creepiness (in a good way), still provide more aid than hindrance. The challenges are diverse and the inclusion of social encounters, riddles and puzzles make sure that the players actually are challenged in more than one way, which is a good thing in any module, particularly so in one intended for kids.

Now personally, I do believe that even small kids can handle a bit more threat and danger than this module featured (see e.g. the pretty serious themes of fear of loss and reorientation in “My Neighbor Totoro”, for comparison), but I will not hold that against the pdf. It should be noted that I ran the original version with a 4-year-old among the players and the module proved fitting for children this young as well, while the kids in the age-range of 8 and beyond would have liked a bit more grit.

Now the good thing here is that, should you not endeavor to cater to a crowd as diverse as I did in my playtest, you’ll have no issue slightly increasing the creepy-factor of the benevolent monk-spirits. In my playtest, I added some minor creepy-dressing to them and thus managed to engage the kids even more – if you heed this advice, though, please make sure you know what your players are comfortable with – a tiny scare is okay, but not more.

How to rate this, then? Now that’s the tricky part: You see, I very much believe that we need more modules like this and Dan Dillon delivers in the conversion.

I have vastly benefited from my roleplaying in both terms of foreign languages, vocabulary, problem-solving and social skills and the sooner we can get such a positive development going, the better. At the same time, I am somewhat hesitant of awarding this per se very good module my highest accolades – I think somewhat more pronounced tweaks to account for and teach system-peculiarities (backgrounds, for example!) could have heaved this to the levels of excellence.

In the end, we are left with one well-crafted module for young children that does not lose any aspect of its appeal in 5e. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars for this. While the original version was rounded up due to being Playground Adventures freshman offering, I, alas, cannot extend this courtesy to this version.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Sep 022017
 

193326This massive expansion book for the Pure Steam steampunk toolkit/setting clocks in at 165 pages,1 page front cover, 1 page editorial,1 page ToC, 4 pages of SRD, 1 page KS-thanks, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 156 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Beyond the confines of the Federated States, there exist two general “peoples”, nations if you will – or rather, cultural entities – the first of these would be the Mesocine, who are distinguished between Manrik lizardfolk and Zaurto kobolds. The former get +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, a primary bite attack that deals 1d4 piercing damage (kudos for codifying this properly beyond the basics!), hold breath, a swim speed of 15 ft., two primary claw attacks at 1d4 slashing and 1/day, when taking damage, they can fly into a frenzy, doubling their racial attribute bonuses, but also suffer -2 to AC while frenzying. Whenever one of their readied actions is triggered, they can move up to half their speed as a free action, which is a rather potent ability. As a bit of a drawback, they take a -4 penalty to saves vs. cold spells and effects and upon failing a save, they are staggered, making for a viable Achilles heel. However, they can survive 4 times as long as a human before beginning to starve. Additionally, poisons have their onset time doubled and duration halved, with poisons sans onset times gaining an onset time of 1 round.

There are 4 alternate racial traits, one of which replaces the readying and frenzy with a lame +2 to Ride and Handle Animal (bonus type’s correct, though!), a climb speed of 20 ft. in exchange for the swimming and holding breath. Instead of frenzy and being cold-blooded, some can have ferocity. Finally, there is the option to share pain instead of frenzy, allowing for the limited sharing of damage as non-lethal damage with willing nearby allies. This is problematic, considering that more damage can be shared when more of these guys are around – the damage shared is converted to nonlethal, which can potentially be exploited with some combos – it’s not an easy scenario to set up, though.

The zaurto kobolds get +2 Dex and Int, -4 Str, are Small, have a movement rate of 30 ft., low-light vision, +2 to Craft (traps), Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Perception and both Craft (traps) and Stealth are always class skills. They get resistance 5 to an energy type corresponding to their draconic ancestry. Zaurto with a Charisma of 11 or higher can cast charm animal 1/day as a SP, but may only affect reptilian creatures. They can trade low-light vision for darkvision 60 ft. and light sensitivity. the skill-bonuses for a detachable tail that can be used to force a crit confirmation roll to be rerolled (and which takes a few days to regrow, depending on Constitution) or for gliding wings.

The second group/cultural entity wold be the rageaic, which is the catch-all for goblinoids. Bugbears gain +4 Str, -2 Dex and Int, making them very lopsided in that department. They are slow and steady, have darkvision 60 ft., +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +1 natural armor (and are immune to exposure from cold climates – which is pretty strong in some campaigns) and they gain a +4 bonus to Constitution checks and Fortitude saves to avoid fatigue and exhaustion. They also get +4 to Intimidate and +1 to attack rolls versus orcs and dwarves. 1/day, when reduced below 0 hit points but not killed, they can continue fighting for 1 round – in order to avoid exploits there, the ability has a 1/day caveat. Alternate racial traits focus on +2 to Ride/Climb and CMD vs. bull rush and trip, +2 to break objects and sunder or a bite attack.

The rageaic goblin is similarly lopsided, with +4 Dex, -2 Str and Cha. They are Small, have a 30 ft. movement rate, +1 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to saves versus fear effects and they ignore the size penalty to Intimidate. They can eat a lot and get +4 to Survival rolls to scavenge food and to saves to resist the nauseated and sickened conditions. Gaining two favored classes is also part of the deal. Among the alternate racial traits, we gain a +3 to Craft (alchemy) and Knowledge (engineering) option; +1 to disarm and trip (and whip proficiency); +2 to Survival and saves versus diseases or, finally +2 to Acrobatics and always falling on your feet, rather than prone.

The rageaic hobgoblin gets +2 Con and Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to saves versus poison, spells and SPs, +2 to Diplomacy and Bluff (and they don’t worsen attitudes when failing Diplomacy), +2 to combat maneuver rolls with light or heavy blades and they are all proficient with longswords, rapiers, short swords and treat bastard swords as martial weapons. As alternate traits, they can choose +4 Intimidate; +2 to Appraise, Craft and Profession regarding metals (and the knowledge to make wootz steel), +1 to DCs for spells and SPs of enchantment effects (and 1/day charm person as an SP 1/day, if their Cha is 15 or higher). Finally, the last trait nets a martial weapon proficiency and imposes a -2 penalty to resist Cha-based skills for 24 hours after the hobgoblin has successfully used Diplomacy.

None of these races comes with their own age, height and weight table or FCOs, btw. – you’ll have to refer to the standards here and the new classes herein or in Pure Steam get no support in that regard either. Now, I mentioned Wootz steel – it’s a new material that, weirdly, is located here instead of the equipment section. A weapon forged from this material ignored half of an item’s hardness, provided the hardness of the object is lower than that of the wootz steel. These weapons are also more resilient to being sundered, just fyi. While somewhat costly, the material is pretty OP – all magical enhancements to it have their costs reduced by 25% the first time it’s enchanted. still, considering te moderate price, this makes the material universally better (and cheaper) for all but the most inexpensive of magical items…OP.

The first new class featured in the book would be the marshal, who must be lawful, gets 4 + Int skills per levels, good Fort- and Will-saves, full BAB-progression and proficiency with simple weapons and firearms as well as longsword, rapier, sap, short sword and whip as well as light and medium armor and shields, excluding tower shields. They begin play with a badge that can be replaced as a masterwork tool and nets +2 to Diplomacy and Intimidate as well as a firearm. They can purchase mundane firearms and ammo at 10% (!!) of the regular cost and the official channels may reduce the cost of enhancement by 25%, but extend the time the process takes. This ability makes the excessively expensive firearms more affordable at lower levels. 2nd level nets the ability to use Perception to follow tracks and adds +1/2 class level to follow tracks. At 2nd level, the marshal may also pronounce, as a move action, a legal warrant upon a humanoid creature he can see. If the marshal has sufficient evidence, the marshal gains a +2 bonus to a wide variety of skills, the DC of his round-up ability used against the target and this extends to atk and damage. These bonuses btw. scale at 6th, 11th and 16th level and, starting at 10th level, the marshal may pronounce a warrant on a whole group or organization.

At 3rd level, the marshal chooses a nation, in which he is acknowledged as legal authority and thus gains further social skill bonuses as well as a variety of special actions that represent his status as a representative of the law: he may imprison targets, enter places and requisition ever increasing resources: First gear and later even personnel or land. I really liked the class codifying stringently these privileges. Now, I already mentioned round up: Starting at 4th level, the marshal can elect to deal nonlethal damage without the regular penalties, adding bonus damage when choosing to do so, as well as reducing the target’s speed by half on a failed save. At 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the bonus damage increases and the marshal gets a condition to temporarily apply to the target in lieu of the reduced movement rate. 6th level allows for the limited sharing of the warrant’s bonus with allies and 10th level provides the ability to take 10 in movement-rated skills while pursuing a target. 14th level nets quarry. At 20th level, a warrant’s attacks versus the marshal inflict minimum damage and the marshal gets basically advantage when rolling against the target and auto-confirms crits.

The class also features player agenda, in case you were wondering: The marshal begins play with a marshal acumen, gaining another one every 2 levels thereafter. This include Amateur Gunslinger, with iterative taking of the acumen providing more benefits. Diehard (and not being staggered while in combat with a warrant), combat feats and gun training can be found here. Similarly, there is a means to track faster, an option to use marshal class features against monstrous humanoids, reducing concealment benefits, etc. The array also includes TWFing and combat maneuver enhancers. For the most part, like in the racial section, the book is very precise in its rules-language, though a few minor hiccups like “1-round-action” instead of “full-round action” can be found. Similarly, there are some instances that don’t sit too well with me – e.g. the application of two ability score modifiers to a skill is yet another means to needlessly escalate skills. The class does btw. mention the code of conduct and addresses traveling with problematic companions, but, much like the second class herein, it does not come with favored class options.

The second class within this book would be the tech savant, who gets d6 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, good Will-save progression, 1/2 BAB-progression and proficiency in light armors, firearms, simple weapons, double crossbow, hand crossbow, heavy and light repeating crossbow as well as any weapon they personally craft. They employ science via contraptions, using the gearhead/constructor list and using Charisma as governing attribute. The class may use Charisma instead of Intelligence to govern the techy/crafty skills and may use them untrained, with higher levels yielding take 20s once per week and then, day (6th and 11th level, respectively), and is treated as engineering for the purpose of archetype etc. interaction.

The contraptions, in case the class chassis didn’t make that clear, scale up all the way to 9th level. Contraptions, fyi, need to be prepared in advance and they may learn new schematics, unlike many Cha-based “casters” – I *think* the absence of a spellbook equivalent is supposed to signify that the class can only retain a certain amount of known schematics in memory, but RAW, there is no caveat that explicitly states that he cannot learn more. Beyond the already impressive contraption array, the class gets a Cha-governed pool. One of these can be used to enhance a contraption DC by +1; more points can be used in conjunction with a given spell, but only when used with knacks. At 1st level and every 2 levels thereafter, the tech savant gets a so-called savant knack – basically the equivalent of the class to the arcanist’s exploits, after which it was obviously fashioned. These knacks interact with the contraption engine, allowing for points to be expended e.g. upon preparation to treat effect schematics as known schematics. Adding calibrations without affecting activation time, decreasing the final adjusted level, gaining an inspiration pool and some investigator tricks as well as some obviously based on exploits can be found.

2nd level nets jury-rigging via Field Repair and the option to salvage items. 4th and 18th level yield quicker crafting and reduced maintenance periods and the capstone provides the means to use the pool to pay for activation costs of contraptions. I am honestly not sold on this class. The tech savant is, much like the arcanist among the casters, more potent than previous pure steam options (even when limiting contraptions known) and the wonky bits in its engine make this the first class in the series to not really work for me.

The book also contains a metric ton of class options – and I cannot cover them all in the full level of detail without bloating this review beyond belief and utility, so, in a quicker overview: Alchemists gain new discoveries, including catalyst discoveries – these basically can be considered to be metamagic-like effects for bombs, snake oils, extracts, etc., adding e.g. sickened/shaken-suppressing to conjuration (healing). Only one such discovery may be added per base, thankfully. It should be noted, though, that a discovery can yield the bombs lost by the huckster archetype, who is a snake oil specialist alchemist, capable of bluffing and gathering crowds (snake oils replace bombs). On the barbarian side, an option to gain uncanny dodge while in rage (if you lose it) – like the Brave archetype, who gats war paint, a war cry and trophies collected. Decent, if unremarkable, from a mechanical point of view. Maverick bards get diminished spellcasting and a kind of alternate bardic performance called gunplay with 6th level providing a flurry-like additional attack when gunplaying (the haste referenced is not italicized properly, as a minor hiccup). Other than that, we have basically gunslinger abilities, using bardic performance instead as a resource…which is a bit problematic, considering how much more rounds of bardic performance the class has – this makes, basically, a nova-y variant bard/gunslinger hybrid.

Cavaliers get a cool new order, the lone star, and archetype-wise, a cavalier who gets a cool bike that can be modified in a variety of interesting ways – rather cool one! Chaplains get three new organizations, the first of which would be the mendicants. The mendicants have 4 vows that define them and allow for further specialization: The vow of the pure fortifies the chaplain’s body; the vow of the ally can cause targets to surrender and is pretty much the good guy/shepherd-like type; the vow of the unfettered represents basically anti-tech luddites and finally, the geirbound may only use magic from his own class, not any other sources, focusing on countering such magics. The network nets some rogue tricks and skill tricks. The Ulleran Trade Council chaplains are well-funded, gaining a stipend and connections.

Gearheads can gain innovations to add contraptions to weapons or make them work akin to traps and 4 new specialties: Chronikers get perfect timekeeping skills and may gain clockwork appendages or a clockwork familiar. Cryogenicists and Pyrotechnicians are pretty self-explanatory. The arsenalist significantly increases the damage of the 0-level effect-schematics and focuses on weaponized contraptions. The gunslinger may elect to become a desperado, who gets some Perform-bonuses, charmed life and a couple of unique deeds and uses Cha as governing attribute for grit. More interesting would be the gaucho, a knife-specialist gunslinger that should be welcome not only in terms of flavor, but also for campaigns/cultures that do not favor guns. It also gets a bit ranger tricks.

In spite of diminished spellcasting, the arcane gun magus archetype is extremely powerful, getting full gun/spellcombat/spellstrike tricks, exacerbating the glass cannon tricks of the magus with firearms. On the plus-side, ranged spellstrike carries a chance of spell backfire, which serves as at least a bit of balancing, though deed access at -3 levels and the whole package render this one too strong. The monk gun devotee is, bingo, yet another monk/gunslinger-combo with gun katas – i.e. flurry with guns. It is impressive to note that the archetype gets the interaction of reloading with flurries and the melee/ranged use of guns in flurries right. Quicker reloads via ki, using Wis instead of Dex, temporary darkvision via muzzle flashes…all in all, I generally considered this to be one of the better takes on the often-represented trope. The flurry is pretty potent, but considering the issues of the monk class, I get why the power-increase is here. Rangers may choose from 3 solid new combat styles and the wrangler archetype, bingo, representing a cowboy-ish ranger, makes for a fun option.

Cool: Rogues may elect to become hobos, who understand the hobo code and employ improvised tricks. The new witch hexes include options to increase misfires, grit/panache costs and the like. Doubling threat ranges for increased misfire rates is interesting and thankfully prevents stacking abuse. Similarly, hexes that influence contraptions make sense in the context of the rules provided herein and the base Pure Steam tome.

The book also includes basic, brief (and not too interesting, alas) rules for formal gun dueling or showdowns. The book also sports a ton of different feats – including calibration feats, which are interesting: Instead of just being somewhat akin to metamagic, they offer two strategic options: If applied during contraption preparation, all activations benefit from it; both uses require a higher level activation charge, but if spontaneously, the numerical effects are not adjusted to represent the increased level. Spontaneous addition also renders the contraption broken and takes longer, so while it offers flexibility, this is not something you’ll be doing a lot. The feats have some cool tricks: Aiming by mirrors, a nice feat-tree for lasso-combat, some contraption scavenging…and particularly dragging foes with lassos while mounted and the like are interesting. The feat section is interesting and fun and comes with optional variant rules for tackling targets.

The equipment section mentions variant currencies, bladed revolvers, harmonica pistols, rotary guns, bola bullets, hollow-point ammo, extinguishing grenades, dynamite sticks, liquid nitroglycerine – the classics of the Western genre. Weird: nitroglycerine deals force damage, which affects incorporeal creatures. Usually, explosions are bludgeoning and/or fire damage. Copper cable, alchemical fuel additives, chakram hats (Mr. Bond’s calling…) and services, from document retrieval to funeral services are all covered here. The magical equipment also has some stars – dusty equipment that can generate choking clouds, motocross equipment, de/consecrated bullets, double-action pepperboxes…what about boomsticks, magic shotguns that can be loaded with thunderstones to generate sonic bursts.

The artworks here deserve special note: The b/w-artworks for the special guns are absolutely amazing: The dead iron, made seemingly from a backbone, almost organic-looking, the hydra pistol with its dragon-themed design-elements – these are beautiful. As a minor formatting quibble, the text of the items does not italicize the special weapon properties in the text consistently. Cutting edge technology, from dowsing rods to metal detectors, are cool. However, not all are perfect: Healing crystals, for example, increase healing by 1d4 +1, whether natural or magical. All healing. Fast healing 1. Orisons. Not cool. Worse, the crystal does not specify how often it can convey these benefits, so I figure all the time. It also does not note whether it occupies a slot (which it definitely should). We also get some cool vehicles – coal cycles, rail layers, olmechs, gyro skiffs and ornithopters…and yep, handcars. The book also contains rules/clarifications for motorcycle combat and how it differs from Mounted Combat.

The next chapter depicts the Mazan pantheon and the Brelon archangels – with the write-ups being solid, but the deities lack subdomains, obediences and the like – by now standards for the game. There also is a decent, if unremarkable dream domain. Beyond all of these, the book also is a massive sourcebook of the West of Ullera, with settlement statistics and qualities summed up for your convenience before the massive sourcebook-y section begins – including a handy glossary. These sections also contain a ton of sample NPC personalities, often using rules presented earlier in the rules section. With the taan ocdrul draconic haunts, the disputed lands and their extreme weather patterns (hail fire storms, for example!), there is a serious wildwest of steam-vibe going on here and it is here, mostly, where the previous elements start coming together to form an atmosphere that diverges from the standard. Flashpoints, winged mavericks, the kingdom of Rausch, indebted to the highest ideals (funny for me, since in German, it is the word for being in an intoxicated state), halflings in steam-driven wheelchairs – there is a metric ton of great ideas.

Beyond these, the book also sport new factions, from the elite secret-ops airship Jormungandr to the desert wolf raiders, the Triple R motorcycle gang, these are also pretty interesting. The final section of the book is devoted to the bestiary, which covers creatures like the jackalope and giant armadillo or the sandtroll, ranging in CR from 1 to 6. The section has lists by terrain, CR and alphabetically and, with dire armadillos that can do the cannonball, the dread clockwork plague (which progresses in 3 stages), the evil cactus spirits khoyans, bull and loch satyrs – some solid critters here.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting shows some serious care: On a formal level, I noticed surprisingly few glitches. Similarly, on a rules-language level, the book is surprisingly precise and crisp, with only very few issues regarding the clarity of the material, even in the more complex rules-interactions. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard and the books sports a lot of gorgeous, unique b/w art of a consistent style, delivered by Mates Laurentiu, Alejandro lee and Rebekah Crowmer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience with nested bookmarks, but sports no index, which is a bit of a comfort-detriment for a book of this size. I cannot comment on the virtues or lack thereof of the physical version of this book, since I do not own it.

Adam Crockett, Brennan Ashby, David Perry and L. James Wight have delivered a massive steampunk-wildwest-toolkit here. While there are a couple of pieces of crunch that I consider problematic, balance-wise, these remain in the minority – for the most part, this represents an impressive achievement and a must have addition to the game for fans of Pure Steam. I do bemoan that this book was obviously completed before Occult Adventures hit sites – the occult rules and Wild West feel very much like they belong together and I often felt myself wishing that some of the concepts could have benefitted from synergy there. Similarly, the lack of subdomains or obediences for the deities and FCOs felt a bit jarring to me. The new races also oscillate a bit in their power-levels, ranging from very strong to core race standards.

This book has me a bit torn: When it embraces its Wild West tropes, it really excels most of the time, but some of the options also felt, at least to me, less inspired than their concepts: The desperado, for example, has been done much better based on the vigilante-chassis, for example. It should be noted, however, that all of these are, ultimately, small imperfections. The book, in many of its rules, is more conservative than many of the options I’ve seen in my reviewing. When the rules are innovative, they hit a pitch-perfect tone, but the book does not maintain this level of brilliance throughout; personally, I wasn’t absolutely blown away by the respective materials -they all are nice, but don’t have these brilliant stand-out options. Don’t get me wrong – the crunch never becomes bad. This is a really nice book and brims with creativity…but, much like a ride through the magnificent West, it also has its lulls, where the landscape is less interesting.

Don’t let that keep you away from this book, though: If the idea of a Wild West suffused with steampunk aesthetics even remotely intrigues you, then this should be considered to be a must-own tome. If you enjoyed Pure Steam, then chances are that you will adore this book as well – this may not represent perfection, but it is a professionally-made, high-quality tome. It alleviates the dearth of choice for chaplains and gearheads and the new notes on nations and places are evocative and fun indeed. The book is roughly 1/2 crunch and 1/2 setting information and both are intriguing and should be considered to be inspiring.

Still, as a whole, the book left me smiling, but also feeling like its Wild West themes could have used a bit more emphasis. To me, this book’s flaws lie less in what is inside the book and more in what isn’t, when the new races don’t bring anything remarkable to the table and with a couple of filler archetypes, I really wished the space had been used for something more far-out. Perhaps that’s just me being the mythology-nerd, but I kinda hoped for a blend of themes and tropes from Native American myths and a bit more frontier-Western, if you will. Or perhaps kingdom-building rules for steampunky frontier development…something like that. There are so many cool things that could be done with the amazing base-line. Again: This is a very good book, but also one that left me slightly dissatisfied: The Wild West theme can definitely yield enough for a Westbound II. Again, this is me being nitpicky – this is well worth getting if the themes interest you even slightly.

My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

Westbound is available from DriveThruRPG.

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Aug 312017
 

Ability_Variations

This supplemental rules-pdf for Castle Falkenstein clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ ½ page of SRD, leaving us with 8.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, after a brief framing narration by Tom Olam (which resurfaces in the respective

sub-chapters), we begin with the first of several tweaks to the base engine of Castle Falkenstein – in this instance, we’re introduced to the Specialization variant: Instead of general Ability capabilities, the system allows you to take a Good or Great ability and trade it in for Specializations, a number equal to ½ the value of the traded ability, with Good being worth 3, Great being worth 4 specializations. Specializations can be applied to any Ability in which the character is Poor or Average – the specialization increases the Ability by one step for the purpose of performing Feats that relate to the Specialization in question. Thankfully, a massive table (greater than 1 page!) provides sample specializations and also provides synergy with the great Tarot Variation suits – so no, you’re not left guessing regarding how narrow you should design Specializations. It should also be noted that compatibility with Comme Il Faut is maintained.

The second

variation featured within the pdf would be the divorce variation, which once again features compatibility with the Tarot Variation. Each Ability is governed by a playing card suit, but with this variation, the Abilities allow for players making an argument of why a given suit may apply its bonus to a given task – in two variations: Half and full value. There is some value in this – you will probably be able to perform at an increased efficiency. However, while the Host remains the final arbitrator of what you can do, I really don’t like this one – it smells of FATE and competitive BSing to me, but, obviously, your mileage may vary and thankfully, we are the final instance that decides which of the rules herein to use and which not to – this will find its fans and it makes the game easier and while, as a person, I don’t care for it, as a reviewer, I can appreciate its appeal.

The final variation would be the improvement variation: In this variation, dramatic characters improve by spending Improvement Points. Hosts are guided in detail: You determine Deeds during the adventure, a kind of important waypoint and determine an Improvement Point value for such Deeds. Beyond the confines of adventures, dramatic characters may try to earn Improve

ment Points via Resolutions, which can be completed, but take time to complete, with each character getting one of these – the Resolutions can be similarly broken down into Deeds, with samples provided. The resolution allows, in a way, for downtime activity: Players really invested in their Dramatic Characters can thus be rewarded for e.g. writing copious amounts of prose – or you can simply control character power thus or provide an illusion of cohesion beyond the confines of the gaming sessions.

Once earned, Improvement Points can be spent to improve Abilities (cost being equal to the Ability’s new value). When also using Specializations, they can be used to purchase Specializations, which cost 6 points. An alternate for faster growth of dramatic characters can also be found, with decreased costs – and since the metrics are pretty simple, tweaking the variation remains very simple. If you’re concerned about justifying Improvement in-game, the pdf does provide guidance in that arena.

Conclusion:

Editing and for

matting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to fat Goblin Games’ elegant, really neat 2-column full-color artwork. The pdf features fitting stock-art and sports no bookmarks – due to its brevity, it does get a pass there.

Mister J Gray LOVES Castle Falkenstein – as much becomes evident in every single of his supplements. The means by which this establishes a continuity with the venerable original Castle Falkenstein books is amazing, and so is the quality. The variant rules presented herein for a measly buck allow you to t

weak the playing experience very well and net an interesting array of customization options for the game. I hope the Talsorian-crew reads these reviews and lets the Fat Goblin Games-crew update the Castle Falkenstein-core books in a new edition – if anything, all these variations really make me crave a big, new and shiny book. This is a fun offering, it is VERY inexpensive and thus gains a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

Castle Falkenstein: The Ability Variations is available from DriveThruRPG.

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Aug 242017
 

sepulchre_of_th_witching_hour_sageThis 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. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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!

Sometimes, the PCs need answers at any cost. Thus, they enter a two-way portal in a cemetery near the ruins of an ancient civilization and enter the sepulchre – where they will soon notice that entering specific rooms may deal small amounts of “negative energy damage” on failed Con-saves. *sigh* That’s supposed to be “necrotic damage” in 5E, right? Worse, I think that 5E’s HP-reduction (see vampires) would have made for a much more interesting mechanical representation here.

Indeed, several undead and shadowy books continue to perpetuate this theme, while an illusion-supplemented trap is a) interesting and b) devious. The little dungeon also sports minor item-scavenging and a terrible final revelation of a horrid price to pay for the information and a unique, interesting showdown with the sage and his gibbering mouther advisors.

While the damage-mechanic that is the unique-selling proposition of the module, has not been translated well to 5E, the skills the dungeon requires this time around are rather diverse, so that’s a plus – as are the dangerous books contained herein.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are good, I noticed no glaring hiccups, though 3 of the hyperlinks don’t work. Layout adheres to a nice 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, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. Stats, as mentioned above, obviously are hyperlinked to the SRD.

Stefanos Patelis delivers an excellent mini-dungeon here that has lots a bit of its charm in the conversion, but Kyle Crider did succeed in maintaining most of it – the module, as a whole, is an intriguing one and sports diverse challenges, which I ended up enjoying. While not perfect, it is worth the asking price. My final verdict for the conversion will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

5E Mini-Dungeon – Sepulchre of the Witching Hour’s Sage is available from DriveThruRPG.

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Aug 162017
 

The Goblin WarrenThe Goblin Warren 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. Unlike most 5E Mini-Dungeons, this one does not come with VTT-maps or player-friendly iterations, which is a bit of a bummer.

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!

Situated amidst a barrow thought to be curse, the quasit Viletongue has had a good run – what demon doesn’t delight in driving mortal priests mad and have them kill one another? Alack and alas, today, he is still imprisoned, though he has found new ears to whisper in – those of goblins. Bilemaw the Impaler (stats as a bandit captain – nice reskin) and his warparty, complete with worgs, has since moved in and followed the quasit. The PCs, sent to eradicate the goblins, may actually do the crafty outsider a favor by dealing with some traps – a desecrated shrine housed a mechanism that ironically makes it harder for the demon to escape. So yeah, the PCs may unintentionally unleash a pretty nasty beast…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to a nice 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, but there is no key-less version of the map to print out and hand to your players. Stats, as mentioned above, obviously are hyperlinked to the SRD.

 

I wasn’t looking forward to Jonathan Ely’s Goblin Warrens, mainly due to hating the exceedingly generic hobgoblin lair. With an interesting shape and set-up, traps thrown in the mix and a background story as well as things to do beyond “kill everything”, this one is a proof of an author who is coming into his game – seeing how limited the space allotted is, I was pretty impressed by the level of detail provided and implied and firmly believe that a capable GM can make this warren rather memorable, in spite of the classic themes. Conversion-wise, we actually have a few skills, some nice environments and traps and a nice translation of the quasit’s motivation. Kyle Crider’s conversion is solid and retains the flavor of the original.

Now, sure, this does not reinvent the wheel, but is has fun ideas and deserves a rating as a good mini-dungeon, scoring a final verdict of 4 stars.
Endzeitgeist out.

5E Mini_Dungeon – The Goblin Warren is available from DriveThruRPG.

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