Sep 112016
 

7_icons_campaingBy Endzeitgeist

7 Icon Campaign clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving us with 8 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, 7 icons, hmm? Concept-wise, the following have been combined: Dwarf king and crusader (=Dwarf King), emperor and gold wyrm )=Golden One), archmage and priestess (=Hierophant), diabolist and lich king (=Queen of Hell), the three and prince of shadows (= The Three), elf queen and high druid (=The Wild Queen). The Orc lord is still just the orc lord – no combination there.

The new icons do come with new sample options – the servants of the Dwarf King may take the a feat that completely changes the “That’s Really your Best Shot?” racial power: 1/battle as a free action, you can react to being hit with a healing recovery. If the escalation die is less than 2, only at half strength, though. You have to roll this one…because you get half the rolled result as bonus damage to the next attack that hits the enemy. OUCH. That being said, the ability does not work if you’d drop unconscious. The damage this nets is pretty nasty and not something suitable for all 13th Age campaigns, though it should work in the majority.

Paladins of the Golden One may select a new talent which allows of vs. PD golden flame attacks while also providing resist fire – scaling via feats and levels. Solid one. The Hierophant’s followers get feats that allow for the exchange of cleric and wizard talents and the swapping of spells. The Queen of Hell gets a new 7th level necro-spell – that puts a helpful demon/undead spirit into your ally, healing them and keeping them alive…but yeah, it’s friggin’ possession…and yes, this spell can have some nasty consequences and narrative effects. Bards of the Three can take a new talent that adds an effect when you end a song or fail to sustain it: Either a better critical range, lightning damage or a quartered recovery as a free action. A couple of design-aesthetic points: Quartered recovery is not a particularly elegant mechanic. Expanded crit range is nasty and further adds to 13th Age’s massive damage output. Oh, and via feats, you get the improved versions – the three effects don’t feel particularly well-balanced among themselves and The Red = healing feels odd to me.

The Wild Queen’s sorceror followers can Gather Wild Magic via a new sorceror talent, replacing the basic gather power feature – you roll 1d6 and have one of 3 effects, with each tier getting better and respective feats unlocking more. The defensive gathering here is pretty cool and makes sorcerors be a bit tougher; at the same time, it does not really alleviate the fact that gathering magic still is the default MO of the sorceror, meaning you’re only doing cool stuff when not gathering power. My players don’t particularly like this mechanic of the sorceror and neither do I. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The pdf closes with some notes on ancient history in a campaign featuring the 7 icons as well as some questions for the respective races and classes. These range from “useful” to “wasted space”:

“We haven’t tinkered with the chaos mage mechanics as they’d need to be tinkered with for the 7 Icons campaign, partly because Jonathan wasn’t going to welcome one into the campaign. So the real question here is probably: can you and your GM figure out how to translate the icon-mechanics embedded into the chaos mage into a 7 Icon framework?” – Okay…thanks for nothing, I guess? Some contemplations are valid and useful, but why couldn’t the authors be bothered to include suggestions for all? That’s kind of what we buy such books for, right?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to 13th Age’s 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides neat re-shaped icon-symbols for the 7-icon-campaign championed here. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a slight comfort-detriment.

The 7-icon scenario is something I very much enjoy and one can see Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet’s mastery of their own system here -I like this. After all, from a narrative perspective, this means that each icon (minus orc-lord) becomes more interesting: Has e.g. the Dwarf King gone off the deep end? The icons presented here feel less one-note to me, and this is a good thing. The new crunch ranges from awesome to fluff/crunch-discrepancy – I mean, come on: The Red allows for healing, really? I don’t understand the rationale here.

I also really would have loved the new icons to get the full-blown, detailed write-up like in the core book, including “everything’s all right…”-sections and the whole shebang – as written, they feel a bit more rudimentary than what they could have been. Which is jarring, since, especially to me, their more diverse focus would have provided ample space to explore shades of grey and uncommon thematic overlaps. All in all, this is a solid addition to the 13th Age Monthly-series, but one that suffers from the brevity of the format. I can’t help but feel that better questions at the end, slightly more details for each icon, would have made this pdf truly awesome. As presented, it is a solid choice, but by no means required or for every campaign or even a 7 icons campaign- my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Sep 082016
 

10_ingdom_seeds_forestsBy Endzeitgeist

10 Kingdom Seeds: Forests clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So what are these kingdom seeds? Basically, you can consider them to be mini village-backdrops – each of the villages comes with a full village statblock as well as information on unique places associated with the village as well as three rumors that can be considered to be micro adventure seeds. The villages are intended to be inserted into a given kingdom (or any other campaign) – thus the name of the pdf.

What makes the villages unique? Well, they exhibit Rite Publishing’s interesting, trademark high-concept ideas: The village of Butteroak, for example, is protected by a double palisade between which assassin vines are planted to keep out the dread predators outside – oh, and if you’re caught breaking the law, you get a dagger, are stripped down and have to run around the village…if you’re not eaten by the vines, you get to leave…chilling combination of might makes right and pragamtism here.

More common, Calddell is defined by its bowyers, while Eristan is known for their syrupy birch beer and Fayebridge, set in a caldera, utilizes its ample bees to defend the town and keep the massive copses of fruit trees fertilized. Garrant is a nasty place, but one defined by unique copper jewelry made with the help of odd leaves, while Maplelea is defined by the less sinister eponymous maple produce. Mournesse may be snowed in half the year, but is a village of survivors that live via lumber and skins. Nulukkhir, a primarily dwarven and gnomish hamlet, is defined by its half-over-grown houses and pig-farms. Soulmerrow, an elven hamlet defined by the massive cinnamon trees, is similarly an interesting place and finally, Whitespell, is a place where charcoral is made by a kind and welcoming populace.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked in spite of its brevity – nice! The pdf also sports nice full-color art.

Liz Smith delivers a per se cool array of brief village-write-ups, with the respective industries and raisons d’être providing enough variation to make this a compelling buy for the low price-point. At the same time, I found myself wishing that there was a little bit more detail and more material that reaches the level of uniqueness of Butteroak’s assassin vine palisade – compared to that one, the other hamlets featured fall a bit short. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 242016
 

10_angelic_magic_tiesmsBy Endzeitgeist

10 Angelic Magic Items clocks in at 10 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

But before we dive into the subject matter, let’s make a few basics clear – for one, while these items are intended to be used in conjunction with Rite Publishing’s “In the Company of Angels,” I’m going to try to rate it as its own autonomous supplement. Secondly, like all RiP-books detailing items in the 10-series, you actually get much more than 10 items: Quite a few items come in different versions, with the distinction being made between lesser, standard and greater versions of the item – so more content than promised by the title!

We begin this pdf with the big brother of the merciful special weapon quality, the +2-equivalent compassionate that may 3/day paralyze foes it damages – pretty nasty, but also an enchantment that helps heroes be heroes – and I love that!

The Celestial Lenses increase a celestial paragon’s pool of providence and angelic senses (or an increase of these), while non-angelic wearers get providence with 2 points in the pool – for 2K. I’m not a fan of this item due to multiple reasons: For one, the celestial paragon’s class isn’t exactly perfectly balanced. But I said I’d review this on its own – and here, one can see a central class feature as a very inexpensive class feature. I don’t particularly like this on a personal level and as a reviewer, I’m not sold on the very low price for the gaining of a class feature.

Sandals of the Celestial Step, available in 3 versions, can bae used 1/day, 3/day or 5/day, each time netting you +1 5-foot step, which can stack with the regular one – I like these ones and their pricing seems fitting – kudos here! The Bardic Empyrean is another item I’m not a fan of – +5 levels for the purpose of celestial weapon providence ability is pretty nasty – full step-increase…even before the +2 points for the pool of providence. Non-paragons gain the ability and the celestial weapon providence of a 5th level character – see my complaints on the lenses on character ability-sharing.

Bracers of Purity, available in 3 versions allow for SP or providence-powered rerolls of effects affecting the character – per se pretty cool…but the item becomes pretty OP once you have a base-class that casts via SPs…like I have…a couple of them, in fact. GMs beware, especially since the more powerful bracers allow for omni-rerolls of all effects affecting the character when activated. The gauntlets of contrition, again, available in 3 steps allows the wearer to demand a target to confess his or her sins, essentially delivering a nasty save-or-suck. On the plus-side, the included option to revert alignment-changes thus is intriguing. The Helm of Heaven’s Ire is pretty awesome – expend a point of providence to afflict a creature (or more at higher levels) with a divine curse – one of 14! From becoming barren/infertile to gaining cataracts or taking the ability to speak, the curses are nasty, but thematically concise.

The Ring of Celestial Salvation is essentially an extra life – whenever you’d be slain or banished, expend all SPs and providence to negate the attack. The lack of a minimum-requirement of SPs or the like to be consumed is nasty – the item should require one of them, at least. At 4550 Gp, it is a pretty inexpensive ring, one saved from being broken by the fact that it crumbles upon being used. While I maintain that the item should be limited regarding which classes/characters can use it and the cost they pay, I generally like the notion of the extra-life-ring…as long as the PCs can craft these. Rich PCs could otherwise pretty much cheese the hell out of this item, an option that a cool-down à la “Every character can only be saved once per year from death by such a ring.” would have easily avoided. The Tabard of Angelic paragons is brutal, increasing soulfire and AC by 5 levels, the DC of a heavenly gift by +2 or gains 2 providence + a single 1st level providence. Once again – see my comments of items above – they are pretty much mirrored here.

The pdf also provides a legacy item, i.e. a powerful magic item with a complex history, requirements and scaling abilities – this time, this would be Shawmay-Aphim, also known as Heaven’s Wrath. Crafted from the new material golden wildwood, this +1 warhammer gains the guided quality, decreasing the miss chance. The hammer also allows you to penalize the attacks of foes with natural attacks, allowing a GM to reward smart fighting – for the item e.g. also can be used to decreases the efficiency of sources of extraordinary or supernatural abilities – nice! Spell and SP-draining, dimensionally anchoring foes…that may be nice. At the highest level, the wielder may 1/day pronounce a curse that can strip a target of his magical powers. I like this general idea, but at 12th level, it feels a bit soon to me – why? Because the follow-up feels less powerful to me…and ultimately, more interesting in-game: AoE shaken may be cool, but the final ability provides a 50% HIT chance – all attacks targeting the creature have a 50% to hit, even if they would miss. This is VERY powerful…but also an actually innovative rule that has quite some potential!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are back to the level I generally assume from Rite Publishing – very good, with some minor typos! Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf has more awesome full-color artworks than a pdf of this size and price-point usually features – kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity – again, kudos for going the extra mile.

Steven D. Russell, in this pdf, feels like he’s getting back to his game as a designer – at least, that’s the impression I have here – the rules-wording is once again back to his precision, while maintaining the trademark high-concept approach that made me a fan of his designs in the first place. That being said, I’m not sold on the precise balancing of several abilities, mainly because they are tied to a pdf I consider pretty OP – a fact that tarnishes this pdf’s usefulness for me as a person. At the same time, as a reviewer, I try to rate this on its own merits and the concept of the hit chance is an actually unique one I haven’t seen before – and one that can, when carefully handled, provided a whole array of interesting (but hard to balance) design opportunities. I only witness such a concept very rarely these days and, to me, it is worth A LOT. Then, there’d be the fact that this is a rather inexpensive pdf…and that, at some tables, the high power level of celestial paragons may fit. It’s due to these that I will settle on a rating of 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4 for the purpose of this platform. GMs of more gritty games should beware, though.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 292016
 

142856[1]By Endzeitgeist

This installment of Raging Swan Press’ Alternate Dungeons series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So this time around, Alexander Augunas guides us through the process of making strange Mystic Ruins an alternate dungeon-area – but what exactly does that entail? Well, first of all, we receive what amounts to incremental degrees of 5 (anti-) magic levels -from dead to wild magic to ruins that enhance certain types of magic, these modifications instantly change the dynamics of your dungeon-ruins – pretty cool! But beyond magic levels, we also receive effects that see locomotive modifications become unstable, hypnotic sounds and yes, grasping vines.

The general suggested features provided, including dizzying haze, multi-level design that allows for the scouting (and potentially skipping) between vertically aligned levels and mutagenic properties (in the form of a simple penalty, but you can always make that one more complex) -thes make for interesting and unique modification-suggestions.

So far, so good – what about sacking the place? Well, from living steel t power cmponents and alchemical and arcane reagents, we receive a bunch of cool, thematically-fitting loot suggestions, some even with nice in-game bonuses.

Dressing of the ruins is also provided for, with considerations of different sample functions and the harvesting of dressings-section features some nice scaling suggestions of the modifications provided. The pdf does include a massive table with 37 entries (plus toll twice/thrice) – and once again, the table is pretty damn glorious: What about having everything in the ruins slowly shrink? A nice coat of nasty mold or slime? Nascent magical auras? Or the fact that unattended woo immediately bursts into flames? A couple of the entries here are downright inspired and should suffice to create a ruin that has its function and history develop organically from its dressing outwards – and if this table does not suffice, just add wilderness/dungeon dressing and you’re good to go!

The next page would be devoted to suggested monsters to encounter within the ruins and while useful for novice DMs, so far in every installment of the series this chapter has tended to bore me, the selection this time around is more interesting and diverse, so kudos! Speaking of kudos – I love what follows next – from mundane collapses and hazards to magical ones and even planar thinning with chaotic surges from limbo/maelstrom, this chapter really is nice and a great cheat sheet to make exploration more memorable.

Speaking of prior issues of the series – whereas so far the adventure hooks were functional, but not particularly inspired, we may not receive less, only 2, but the two that we get actually are pretty awesome -from leaks in the planar fabric to goblinifying devices, the hooks are inspired and cool – two thumbs up!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, but not as flawless as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan Press. Layout adheres to RSP’s elegant 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with nice b/w-artworks as well as fully bookmarked. Additionally, you receive two versions, one optimized for screen-use, one optimized for the printer.

Alexander Augunas’ latest Alternate Dungeon-installment is inspired in all the right places. When I read “Mystic Ruins”, I was expecting a generic train-ride of blandness and “been there, done that”- tricks. Well, I am happy to report that even experienced DMs can find quite a bunch of cool stuff herein! Best of all, while generic enough for newbie DMs to use, this still manages to maintain the balance between generic and specific, generating its very own identity. A fun, cool little pdf that should definitely help keep boredom away. Surprisingly fun and very inexpensive, this pdf is well worth 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 272016
 

The Kobolds of Tzarker MinesBy Endzeitgeist

The Kobolds of Tzarker Mines clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page back cover, with the inside of front and back cover being two generic battle-mat-style maps, leaving us with 30 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Thanks in no small part to Kobold Press, no other race can come this close to being as iconic as Paizo’s goblins – so it was a matter of time until we got a review that depicts the hard-knock life of kobolds – and it’s a hard-knock life – enslaved to the magma dragon Tzarkethitor, the kobolds of the Tzarker Mines have a difficult life – and the PCs are part of the tribe.

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

..

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All right, still here? Only DMs left?

Karken, the chief of the kobolds, has an issue – the crystals and gems have been stolen from the treasure pile of tribute for their draconic master and it’s up to the PCs to mine new ones from the haunted crystal mines – and we arguably get the first issue right from the get-go – in order to lift the plug that seals the mines, the kobolds have to make a DC 20 Str-check. Two issues here – why not state the weight of the plug? Secondly: Aid another + attribute checks is a pretty disputed topic, but since kobolds receive a racial -4 to Str, there is a very real chance that a group of kobolds that has elected to not include a Str-based character can’t open the plug via taking 10 or even 20; With aid another, the task can be frustrating, even with stacking aids. Then again, if ruled like this, the task can emphasize the need for cooperation, so this one gets a pass. The first thing you’ll note here would be the maps – this module sports beautiful full-color modules, though I wished the maps themselves sported player-friendly versions sans keys/legend to use as hand-outs.

So, the task of mining crystal may sound simple – well, it would be, if the mines were safe – which they, of course, are NOT – they are now the hunting grounds of a significant array of gremlins and sport interesting threats like ghost scorpions, a dire corby or an immature phantom fungus. Obviously, the irony of gremlins using traps versus kobolds should not be lost on the players and yes, generally, this can be considered a solid crawl section, with the skill-based loud mining being a nice reason to generate some paranoia and creatures reacting actually to the kobolds. Over all, these threats can be considered interesting, though some issues can be found here as well – while there are some mining tools in case the PCs forgot to bring them, a GM should definitely make sure the PCs have Profession (Miner), Craft (Stonemasonry) or Knowledge (engineering) – none of which are necessarily in the array of a given array of PCs, for they are the tools of the trade required to mine crystal. While the pdf does have a means for forgotten mining tools to be salvaged, no DCs are given for repairing them, which makes this failsafe less useful for the GM. It should also be noted that one of the gremlin traps has the wrong trap-stats – instead of its own stats, it duplicates word-by-word the effects of another gremlin-trap in a glitch an editor or proofreader ought to have caught.

Upon returning from the gremlin-infested mines (no consequences for not re-sealing the place?), the second act begins – Karken sends the PCs to contact Seargal, a kobold trap idiot savant. Now the cool thing here would be a kind of trap generator: Kobold traps as presented here have 4 components: The Pain, The Trigger, Cam-o-floj and Moover Parts, with the latter being optional. This generator is actually rather nice, though I honestly wished it was more complex and sported its own pdf -still, for a module, it uses the space allotted to it rather well. If that was not ample implication – Seargal likes to test her creations against unwitting kobolds and coincidentally, has her lair within a labyrinth not only inhabited by creatures from the ToHC (stats provided), she also has littered the complex with traps. Now here’s the fun part: Take the two flip-mat-like map-pages from the inside of the front- and back cover and put them back to back: Seargal and Karken allow the PCs to place dwarf lures into these tunnels and create traps:

The PCs get to create a trap gauntlet, designed to take down dwarves from the adjacent mines. Upon activation, the hapless experts begin entering the complex and start moving towards the lures. The PCs have to get a total of 10 dwarves. I love this set-up – it is interesting, cool and fun! It also, alas, suffers from a number of issues: 1) The PCs have no limited resource – the pdf fails to specify the number of dwarf lures available. 2) The PCs have no limited resources regarding the creation of traps – they can literally create a huge gauntlet and while a DM “can limit some of the more effective components,” this takes the challenge out of the set-up. 3) at 2nd level, the level 1 expert-dwarves are no significant challenge for the 2nd-level PCs in anything but numbers. The PCs don’t really need the whole trap tricks. What could essentially be an awesome set-up of trapmakers defeating foes becomes a pretty simple exercise. The area is also pretty small 17 x10 squares isn’t that much room to work with and even with the reduced dwarven speed, a lot of ground can be covered by just your average walking. I love the set-up, but the execution falls short of the exceedingly awesome premise.

Part 3 pits the PCs against the complex of Ol’ Lumpy – an oversized grick sleeping on a treasure trove – so not only will the kobolds have to brave the well-chosen, uncommon array of adversaries, they will also have to steal the valuables from under the grick’s nose. This is a great set-up! However, once again, we have problems: “Treat Perception checks on actions made in the room as a total of 22 for the grick for checks that aren’t opposed (12 if the action involves a crea­ture that isn’t in contact with the floor or walls).” – that ought to be not the check, but the DC. Additionally, tremorsense (which the grick has) allows you to automatically pinpoint the location of foes.

Now the wording of tremorsense implies that an active effort is required to notice the target – if that is the case, then eliminating the +10 DC from being asleep makes no sense. If, however, one reads the ability to be always active, the very notion of a check in the first place becomes somewhat redundant for the sense allows for automatic pinpointing of locations – either reading does not gel with the means presented by this module. Now don’t get me wrong – I like for example multiple failures being required to awake the grick and a half-awake state at only +5 Perception DC – I love the set-up. But the execution sports some grains of sand in the fun idea. Now if coup-de-grâce (not “de gras”[sic!]) is the planned option, the creature’s stats make that a bad idea, so good job there. On the annoying side – I have no idea where the creature sleeps in the map’s big lair denoted as the resting place – which is important here, since Perception becomes easier, the closer one is to the target. I don’t mind other creatures not having their exact positions noted, but here, this is a damn issue that makes the cool climax harder on the DM than it should be. Conversely, this will probably pretty much become a one-kobold show for the skill monkey – at this level, it is highly unlikely that ALL kobolds have invested heavily in the Stealth-skill, which, alongside the rules as written for Stealth, makes a single thief more likely to succeed than a group – unless we’re talking stealth-synergy and teamwork-feat granting.

Upon their return, the PCs find out that the jewel thief has been identified – it’s an insane crysmal (which is btw. marked on the map for its caverns) that doubles as a very dangerous and lethal final adversary. Upon their return, the PCs find their draconic master has returned – and he is not pleased. The final encounter sports the PCs trying to appease the powerful dragon to avoid destruction – which boils down to a single skill-check – kind of anticlimactic – why not go the more complex skill-challenge (with two successes required, the set-up is here!) route with multiple checks required and different avenues for the interaction to go? The set-up is awesome and screams discussion, but the module instead opts for a Diplomacy, Profession (Miner) or Intimidate-check for each PC- success hinging on one roll. As a saving grace, at least the PC’s performance in the different parts influences the DC.

The pdf closes with a short gazetteer of the Tzarker mines – with 2d-maps in a kind of isometric set-up (picture a horizontally-sliced cake, with each slice slanting towards you at the same angle) to show how they interact -alas, no player-friendly version is provided and the one-page depiction of the maps means that parts of e.g. level 3’s map is hidden behind level 2’s map. The maps are there – why not provide them sans overlap?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay – while a bunch of glitches are there, there could be more – but also less. Especially when the pdf is more opaque than it should be and when a glitch influences how an encounter pans out, this becomes an issue. Layout adheres to a beautiful two-column full-color standard with a surprising amount of original, nice full-color artwork. The adventure comes with a second, more printer-friendly version sans frilly layout and with all artworks in b/w. The cartography is actually rather great, especially for a freshman offering – full-color and beautiful. I just wished one would actually get the maps in an appendix so one doesn’t have to print out and cut up the page. I also wished this had player-friendly maps… Finally, this pdf has no bookmarks, which makes navigation much more annoying than it ought to be.

Brent Holtsberry and Dawson Davis have created an impressive first product that comes with relatively high production values and, more importantly, oozes heart’s blood while also sporting a novel premise and indeed, I absolutely love the premise of each single part of this module – they are fun, engaging and deviate from the old kill-em-all style. The writing of the pieces of prose fiction spread throughout the module is also neat. Where this module stumbles, time and again, is in the details. From enemy placement on the maps to similar small glitches that impede gameplay, this one has a bunch of potential issues for GMs to circumnavigate. While each of them, admittedly, can be ignored and fixed relatively easily, they do tally up over the course of this module.

Beyond these, the lack of bookmarks and no pregens further hurt this module – what would be an instant go-play module for any DM, perfect for conventions, is hurt by their lack. Why? How many players take sample kobold characters to conventions? Furthermore, the pdf assumes certain skill-sets to be available to the group, when the lack of them can spell potentially disastrous results -which makes me believe that it was intended to be run with pregens that are not present amid these pages. I really, really want to like this module and recommend it in the highest praise, but ultimately, it stumbles in one way or another in each of the admittedly conceptually awesome and non-conventional climaxes its acts provide.

This does have the marking of talented authors with a great passion and unique ideas, so I sincerely hope the authors continue what they’re doing and further refine their craft – in the end, all gripes are typical beginner’s mistakes and can be rectified. Since this is Bad Moon Games’ freshman offering, it also does get some leeway from yours truly – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Jun 272016
 

Dark Deeds in FreeportBy Endzeitgeist

Dark Deeds in Freeport is a mega-adventure/anthology and clocks in at 82 pages of content, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2/3 of a page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 77 1/3 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Disclaimer: I was a patron of this book. I was in no way associated with the production of this book, though.

Sometimes, books seem cursed – most often, surprisingly, when the feature Lovecraftian themes and this was no different: Long-delayed, the adventure finally arrived when I had all but forgotten about it. I read and ran it, but then…it fell between the virtual cracks of my own hard drive, languishing…until this day.

This is a Freeport-adventure, but it is somewhat uncommon as a module: Somewhere between being a mega-module and an anthology, this book works best if used in conjunction with other adventures. Basically, this module sports a metaplot that works best if it is allowed to gestate over a longer time-frame, with the respective small modules herein slowly building up the weirdness of this adventure’s plot, rendering this a rather interesting hybrid of mega-adventure and adventure-anthology.

This being a Freeport module, it obviously works best when used in the iconic city that can be found in quite a few worlds. Advice for integration in Midgard is btw. explicitly provided, hence my tag of this adventure as “Midgard”, even though other settings that contain Freeport like Purple Duck Games’ Porphyra can just as easily run this one. The adventure references the Freeport Companion a couple of times – alas, this does make the module a tad bit dated. The book simply wasn’t that good and for me, constituted one of the low points of Freeport history. That being said, since then, Owen K.C. Stephens has taken the Freeport-reins and I hear that the Freeport-book released since then has been much better – I couldn’t join the KS for it, though, so unfortunately, I don’t have a valid frame of reference here. Back to this module: Since it refers to some statblocks from the older book and since it is steeped in Freeport lore, I definitely recommend running this module in Freeport and not in some other pirate-y city.

All right, no more set-up and procrastination, let’s dive into this beast! From here on out reign the SPOILERS. Potential players should definitely jump to the conclusion.

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All right, only GMs left? This is the final warning…

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So, the background story of this one is pretty unique in that its premise is based on an observation I share: Most humans can’t stand the truth- Lies and deceptions are an integral part of the social glue that holds our society together. If you think that’s cynical, let me tell you a little story: When I was a child, it took me quite a long time to grasp that people do not react kindly to universal truth. In fact, my refusal to lie about anything, whether it was the teacher’s new haircut or my assessment of fellow pupils got me into a lot of trouble and frustrated me to no end – didn’t these people know that lying was wrong? This thinking in absolutes coupled with my sense of justice resulted in some…let’s say, unpleasant experiences. What I learned from the ordeal of this time was that “truth” as a value held up by society was not a monolithic concept, but rather a malleable field with degrees of category membership – a truism that is even more true in a setting rife with deception and criminality like Freeport.

There is another component that makes truth dangerous – the subjectivity of one’s perceptions. Let’s take two cultures I’m intimately familiar with, the German and the American culture. American culture tends to view sexuality as a taboo subject, whereas German culture views violence as something taboo. Different things are censored and edgy. This phenomenon extends to the individual and the individual’s interactions with his or her surroundings. At the most basic line, it’s about the perception of the self versus how we are perceived – ever felt like crap and got this compliment that you just couldn’t believe? When you had this nasty pimple or bad hair day and someone just told you how beautiful/handsome you looked? The other person has not necessarily lied – their truth diverged from yours and voicing yours potentially would have superimposed your own temporary lack of confidence over that of the other person. On a less personal level, consider the topic of philanthropy: Most cynics will tell you that the basis of it lies in a sense of narcissism – but I’m not going there. Let’s run a hypothetic Freeport-y example: Pirate Lord Y donates a huge pile of gold to an orphanage. He doesn’t do this out of the kindness of his heart, but because he once burned one down and now is haunted by dreams of damnation. The result of his action is something positive, good – and we may well cheer him for his generosity. Were his motivation known, we’d smirk derisively, at best. Ignorance in this example, generates bliss – hope, even. Knowledge of his true motivation does neither. Truth as a monolithic concept can be a highly destructive force that needs to be tempered by a social conscience, by compassion.

Now the basic idea of this anthology is that Freeport becomes infected by a kind of truth-plague: People start babbling their deepest, darkest secrets to anyone – from being covert philanthropists to being crossdressers, cultists – you name the taboo subject and the massive tables provided for NPCs will have an entry for it. Ina city built on secrecy and deception, with as many grimy secrets lying below the surface, this, more so than in regular society, may tear asunder the very fabric of the city.

How did this begin? Well, in ages past, the Valossian empire was besieged by the dread agents of the Yellow Sign – and a cadre of secretive Yig-worshippers set about to create a remedy for the cancer of the cult – an artifact most dire, one that would cut right through the layers of deceptions, consume their souls and eternally bind them to guard the instrument of their undoing: This dread artifact of ancient times was a lantern known as the Eye of Yig. To guard this powerful artifact, a powerful qlippoth was enslaved and tied to it – but alas, the completion happened too late, the empire was already doomed and thus, the artifact and the complex were buried…until recently.

The artifact was unleashed and with it, its erstwhile guardian. The unique, nightmarish qlippoth has been changed by ages spent in the shine of the lantern – with an ideology changed to blend the nasty universal hatred of its kind, a brilliant mind and a new commitment to the concept of truth, its sets out to change the world. And this adversary ranks quite frankly among the best parts of the whole module – from utterly disturbing visuals evoked to smart strategies and a disturbing component of body horror and espionage/paranoia, this foe ranks among the best, most compelling antagonists I’ve seen in quite a while. Complicating the Byzantine scheme of this mastermind would be a new cult sprung from this devotion to truth…and an extraplanar sect in service to insectoid collectives, the Authority of the Amalgamation

So, let’s begin with the first task for the PCs, in which Mike Franke challenges 9th level PCs and begins with a task from notorious crimelord Finn – his operations are being compromised and the PCs are supposed to find out how. After a rather rudimentary investigation (which I urge GMs to expand, though thankfully magic is accounted for), the trail leads them to the Dead Docks where undead and a nasty man called Bartholomew Burek hold the Book of Buried Secrets, in which truly volatile secrets are written down…but how did those get out?

Phil Minchin and Christina Stiles provide another clue in the 10th level follow-up: Hired by the Shipping news (taking into account that some characters here may or may not have died during a Freeport campaign), the PCs make the acquaintance of Aletha Dorch, self-proclaimed con-woman turned full-blown oracle of the new Truth Speaker cult that has been gaining traction in the city – her uncontrolled ramblings point towards the ship of an intelligent, gentleman-minotaur captain – who has been smuggling rather interesting items into the city: Thoughtwipes. These are magical handkerchiefs that can soak up memories of secrets one wants kept…alas, unbeknownst to the clientele, they still contain the secrets they assimilated. While I love the concept, the item has massive implications on the logic of how certain things like espionage etc. work – GMs are encouraged to be careful with these. Whether just via stealth or by force of weapons, the PCs have a true scoop for the shipping news…

Mike Franke’s next module, also for 10th level characters, is more straightforward and pits the adventurers against the oracle of the infamous dreaming street – a former prostitute now turned dangerous issue for the city. Infiltrating the Torchlight Academy provides a mixture of infiltration and dungeon-crawl, as the mistress proves to be something way worse than the PCs will anticipate…and the other adversaries here are just as lethal…

Christina Stiles proves at 11th level that she can write nasty, in-your-face horror: Chambers Asylum is on lockdown. The madness spread via the excessive, addictive truth that undermines the city has sent many a person to the asylum, where they now await less than friendly experimentation at the hands of the scrupulous doctors there – alas, these unfortunates, which include Aletha Dorch, torn by the lack of thoughtwipes, have become anchors for primordial chaos – wailing, deadly, infectious bearers of primal forces. The PCs are sent into a place of deadly insanity and chaos. Thing become even more complicated due to the Amalgamation sending in an extermination squad, hell-bent on annihilating everyone that may be compromised by chaos. In the hands of a capable GM, this one is a true joy to run and highly disturbing. Beyond that, this module also provides the leads to the furious finale of this anthology.

Intended for 12th level characters, the pieces all fall into place – and the PCs can finally make their way below the surface, into the ancient Valossian ruins, where dread undead Serpentfolk, a broken dimensional vehicle and the disturbing mastermind with his servitors await for the final showdown in one final eruption of deadly sword & sorcery-ish goodness that exemplifies the virtues of Freeport and provides several intriguing means of continuing the story-line…or ending it with a climactic bang.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful full-color two-column standard in the electronic version. The pdf sports numerous gorgeous b/w-artworks and the print version, alas, is b/w – pity it isn’t full color – the gorgeous layout looks better in color. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, while the print version sports matte, nice paper. One more thing: The cover’s is the least compelling artwork herein, so expect to see better art inside. The adventure sports many maps…but no player-friendly versions, which, even when this was released first, kind of were already industry-standard, so that’s a bit of a downside.

Miek Franke, Christina Stiles, Phil Minchin, Ryan Costello Jr., Mike Furlanetto, Robert Hahn, Spike Y Jones, Carlos Ovalle, Rory Toma -ladies and gentlemen, you have created the most intelligent Freeport adventure out there – with philosophical themes and a brilliant adversary, Dark Deeds in Freeport pretty much has one of the most awesome metaplots I’ve seen in a while. The set-up and everything…is smart, cool and even disturbing. This can be really horrific, psychological horror, if you choose to run it like that. Concept-wise, this stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of Kobold Press mega-adventures…and you all know how much I love them!

Alas, at the same time, this book feels, to me, like it trips over its own format. As awesome as the set-up and metaplot are, the set-pieces and individual modules, barring the last two, fell short of the potential of this whole set-up. The series of modules, ultimately, does not manage to go the step where everything gets personal and this is somewhat system-immanent in the episodic format chosen. While reading this book, I never lost the notion that ultimately, this would have worked even better as a massive sandboxy investigation, with the set-pieces as highlights.

With a couple of free-form encounters and a timeline of random events to witness and the like, this could have been the singular best Freeport module ever released. As provided, this still is a great metaplot with some truly inspired set-pieces/chapters and a glorious villain, but it does not reach the apex level of awesomeness its potential definitely has. A good GM with some Freeport-Fu can make this extremely memorable. In the hands of a less experienced GM, the beginning and connections between the chapters may feel a bit thin, though. It is only due to this and the lack of player-friendly maps that I’m settling on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4.

Endzeitgeist out.

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