Aug 282014

129198[1]By Endzeitgeist

This installment of the “Into the Breach”-series is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 black page with a quote – nice to look at on-screen, very bad for the printer!), 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 20 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We kick off this pdf with a new archetype, the Karuna Sattva (which translates essentially to compassionate being) is a VERY interesting archetype – in lieu of a regular oracle’s curse, these beings take the curse-eater trope and can actually use their class feature “Take Thy Burden” – with it, they may, with a touch, take a given affliction from a target and lift the target’s affliction, instead temporarily getting one additional oracle curse depending on the affliction as well as increasing spell failure chances – problem is: Oracles usually don’t incur spell failure unless they multiclass – so if that one was supposed to be a balancing factor, it doesn’t work as written as soon as any arcane class-combo comes into play, since there are ways to cancel and mitigate arcane spell failure chances – how do they interact? Do they stack? Do reductions of arcane spell failure also work for this dissonance? Why is the table and phenomenon not called simply “spell casting dissonance” and presented à la: “This works like ASF, but extends to all spells the oracle casts, regardless of whether being divine, arcane or psionic [...]This does/does not stack with arcane spell failure chance and cannot be mitigated in the same way..”

Another issue would be that the ability does not explicitly specify the action it takes – yes, it mentions “touch”, but does it require concentration? Can it be interrupted? Why I’m harping on this? As written, the archetype allows no save/has a “willing target/harmless-clause” – i.e., the oracle could take a beggar’s handicap against said beggar’s will, hampering his/her livelihood. Another issue – while RAW not explicitly stated, it is heavily implied (and handled like that in all games I know!) that an oracle’s curse is the price they pay for their powers – in games with such a lore established/implied, taking away an oracle’s curse would cripple them. But that is just fluff, nothing to fault the archetype for and hence will not influence the final verdict.

What I CAN fault the archetype for is that the afflictions cured contain insanities, addictions, haunts and even possessions – no scaling. Oh, only evil possessions, btw. – no angels merged with humans, lawful or chaotic creatures. The lower planes get the short end of the stick here, in spite of no good-alignment-restriction. King’s possessed by a demon lord? One touch and gone he is! Plus, your oracle gets a free curse (which translates to more power!). Insanities, lycanthropy, addictions etc. often make plot devices and just canceling them sans any check or the like is broken. “So you saw Great Cthulhu? WHO CARES! We have a Karuna Sattva!” Jekyll/Hide-scenario? Pff, solved with a touch. This ability NEEDS a scaling mechanism! And it needs balancing – curses tend to evolve into bonuses and even having two (been there, done that in my game!) translates to quite a power-gain. Having up to 5 (!!!), even with the spell failure, is problematic. And yes, while curse no 5. amps the latter up to 60%, 4 still means only 30% spell failure. A more strongly escalating spell failure chance would help balance here. Another issue here is that this WILL be exploited like all hell by players. “Hey, we need curse xyz’s ability! Let’s do nasty, nasty things to our bags of kittens and have our Karuna Sattva take care of it!” Massive fail of the bag of kittens test. (Picture it: PCs summoning demons into cute kittens to have them exorcized…*shudder*) Also: The extension of spell failure gained at 7th level fails to specify the type of action it takes to initiate. I assume standard action, but I’m not sure. I *love* the idea behind this archetype, but the execution is sloppy, prone to abuse and needs a much tighter wording to prevent excessive and potentially game-world-logic breaking ramifications. Also: Why can’t the archetype mitigate diseases, poisons etc.? Why not tie the ability to DCs? Why not actually balance this? 2 abilities, much potential, none works as intended – not gonna happen anywhere near my table.

The second archetype would be the Diplomatique, available for exclusively good oracles. Their code of conduct specifies they lose all supernatural abilities upon reducing a living being’s hp or affecting them with a harmful condition, subject to DM’s approval. So this opens a huge can of worms – is e.g. paralysis, daze etc. harmful? Pathfinder has quite an array of conditions and a concise list (à la “non-permanent blinding of people, daze, stunned, paralyzed etc.) would have been easy to compile. Also, being allowed to only deal non-lethal damage is harsh, even though the archetype gets a feat to at least offset the -4 penalty to atk. Now the supernatural ability the archetype may lose would be pacification, which essentially is a permanent sanctuary, at-will suggestions and further increases of the defensive sanctuary. At 3rd level, the archetype learns to lay on hands as a paladin level -1, opening quite an array of possibilities there as well. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – I LOVE the idea of heroes not killing everything. In my campaign, being “good” means NOT killing the bastards and instead incarcerating them etc. Mercenaries, neutral guys – those are the killers, the soldiers. So in theory, I do like this archetype. It essentially takes a basic concept from the book of exalted deeds and seeks to properly balance it – neat. BUT: Conditions need to be defined; Grappled is a condition, for example. Usually, violating a code of conduct results in all class abilities stripped, not just those of two class abilities. While understandable, this design decision there feels a bit inorganic to me. Additionally, the very strong restrictions imposed to balance the powerful abilities feel too rigid for my tastes – you can essentially make ONE type of diplomatique, there’s no choice. Actually getting to choose from pacifications, i.e. a list of various abilities, would have been much more compelling. Not as problematic as the former archetype, but also no stroke of genius here.

The Enigma Warden would be next – the archetype gets silent spell as a bonus feat at first level and stops increasing the level when using this feat at 5th level. If the archetype speaks, s/he loses access to the supernatural abilities – the only one of which would be this silent spell and another one gained at 3rd level. Thing is – it’s not clear whether the silent spell bonus feat is also lost? Generally, this restriction gets rid of the curse at low levels and breaking the vow doesn’t even need an atonement, which means low level characters will be breaking it nonstop – after all, silent spell is next to useless until the 5th level upgrade comes – unless you’re playing a very infiltration-heavy campaign. Now at 3rd level, things stop working – the oracle may choose from ANY revelation, as long as s/he has an equal amount of revelations from the secrets mystery, which is btw. obligatory for the archetype. Oh, and +2 revelations, for a total of 7. That means 3 freely chosen revelations, no penalty. If an oracle breaks the vow of silence, are these additional revelations lost? Do the other revelations still work? Do only revelations from the secrets mystery still work? I have no clue at all! This archetype needs some clarification and streamlining – cherry-picking revelations PLUS paltry drawbacks don’t feel balanced.

The ordained scion replaces the mystery and revelations with a sorceror bloodline and its powers, skills and spells. Okay way to wilder in another spell-list and ability-set – nothing to complain here.

Next up would be an alternate base-class, the warlock. The Warlock gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, good will-saves, 3/4 BAB-progression, proficiency with simple weapons, light armor, shields (not tower shields) and no spells. At 2nd level, warlocks add their cha-mod to one save of their choice, +1 at 6th and 10th level. The ability is called luck, but doesn’t specify the bonus-type – I assume, it’s a luck bonus, but still. The main theme of the warlock, though, remains blasting foes – blasts start at 1d6 and scale up to 10d6, increasing by +1d6 at third level and every 2 levels after that.

So how does blasting work? Essentially, it is a ranged attack that provokes AoOs, is hampered by spell resistance and has a range of 60 ft. Two noteworthy things about blasts – the damage they deal is negative energy damage, rendering the warlock absolutely useless against undead and allowing next to no resistances, unlike other damage types. The text also specifies that these rays can be cast defensively via concentration, but no equivalent spell level is given, rendering a key tactic of blasting foes unusable as provided. Worse, the text fails to specify whether one concentration-check per blast or per round is in order – I assume the former, but I can’t be sure from the text. Additionally, within 30 ft., the warlock may resolve these blasts as ranged touch attacks – which is very powerful. I’m not particularly sure the blast should remain a supernatural ability – while not duplicating a spell’s effect, it shares more traits with spell-like abilities than with supernatural abilities. Furthermore, the blasts cannot be countered as written – a glaring oversight that ought to be rectified to at least offer SOME protection against the never-ending array of blasts, especially since they offer no saves.

Why is this relevant? Because at every even-numbered level, the warlock gets access to a so-called blast evolution. These are grouped into essences and forms and start with least, unlocking lesser modifications at 8th level and greater modifications at 14th level. Now what do these do? Well, one, for example, deals positive energy damage and dazzles foes – while lacking the word “damage” at one point, it should be noted that I *assume* it’s like with channel energy here – i.e. no healing, just damage. The other least blast essences reduce damage die from d6 to d4 and add the entangled condition, deal non-lethal fire damage and add the fatigued condition, increase damage to d8 or trail a fog-cloud-like effect. Duration tends to be one round per damage die of the blast – and none of the conditions have a save. While each blast can only be modified by one essence and one form, this looks just as strong on paper as it proved to be in playtesting – while not utterly crippling, the sheer unlimited amount of blasts is problematic at best, with touch attacks and no-save debuffs added for even worse overall balancing. “But the range is so limited!” Least Form: Dart increases the range to 180 ft (later even 360 ft; 60 ft. touch attack range).-Yeah. Suck on that, archer. The forms tend to be problematic – a cone allows for a ref-save (Good!), but doesn’t specify whether additional effects are negated upon a successful save. The warlock may also make his/her blasts melee attacks that don’t provoke AoOs or create a blast-glaive: These have reach, deal blast damage + cha-mod AND are resolved against touch attacks. COME AGAIN??? Remember, the blast counts as a weapon and as such may be modified with all the feats – you can essentially make those killer pole-arm builds should you so choose AND choose spontaneously between that and regular melee/ranged combat with blasts that allow no saves…oh and your melee attacks are resolved versus TOUCH. This is incredibly, terribly, horribly BROKEN.

Lesser essences allowing for ranged combat manoeuvres (not a fan!), apply permanent sickened/nauseated or deafened conditions (no duration!) or deal the SAME damage minus one dice again next round – hello, vital strike and consorts. Urgh. Blast Chain is also problematic, allowing blasts to spring from target to target within 30 feet – at a cumulative minus 4 to atk and half damage (this one, strangely, not being cumulative!), yes, but this will devolve into a dice-rolling orgy that puts the game to a grinding halt akin to 3.X’s handling of cleave. Furthermore, the ability has a line that has me utterly stumped: “Each target that is hit with an essence which has an effect that allows a saving throw is entitled to a separate save with a +4 bonus.” In addition to any save? What constitutes a secondary effect? Negative conditions? Only those that allow for saves? Also those that usually don’t allow saves? Now remember, this is a form, so all essences may be applied AND since it is an attack, theoretically, it can be combined with all the feats you’d like. Broken. The fireball-style blast grenade modification works wording-wise, so kudos – especially since this and some other forms make the blast a standard action instead. Now adding the blast to unarmed attacks is also a cool idea, but how does it interact with improved unarmed strike? I *assume* that unarmed damage and blast damage stack – which is broken even before adding in ki-tricks.

There are also blast essences that have wording issues – hurricane blast specifies: “The eldritch blast damage is changed from 1d6 damage at every odd-numbered level to 1d4 force damage and 1d6 cold damage at every odd numbered level.” So does that mean +1d4 force damage or +level/d4 force damage? In the former case: Too weak, in the latter: Broken. Remember, that can be applied to e.g. the glaive form: At 14th level, a warlock could deal 7d6+14d4+cha-mod (this latter FORCE, one of the best damage types!) damage PER HIT – without even trying to game this and additional feat/equipment tricks to boost damage further – resolved as a TOUCH ATTACK ad infinitum. Insane.

Warlocks may also sheathe themselves as a standard action in an elemental shroud, granting them elemental resistance of 5, scaling up to 20, first for 1 round per warlock level, later up to 3 rounds per warlock level. Per se nice, but as written, it can be stacked, which should probably be noted as something to be fixed – warlocks with access to all elements via essences could sheathe themselves in the elemental + negative energy resistances. Also: The ability should specify the eligible damage types – as written, the class can net itself force resistance (since the blasts can deal force damage), depending on your reading.

Now while the central feature of the class is horribly broken in more than one instance, the warlock does have a nice treat -class-level + cha-mod antimagic points to counterspell spells, potentially even without identifying them (at least, that’s how the ability’s written, but I’m not sure that’s intended…) by just wagering spell-level points; You need to spend more points than the spell’s level. At higher level, weak micro blasts can accompany these counterspells and some spells can even be reflected on the caster.

Now that is NOT all – the warlock also gets one revelation PER LEVEL – of ANY mystery. In addition to the blasts. Yeah. take a GOOD look at what’s out there. Yeah, ouch. This would be very strong even without the blasts being broken.

There’s no way around it – the warlock, as written, needs to go back to the drawing board – it allows you to cherry-pick revelations at every level, has an insane damage output and doesn’t even require any ingenious combination to break. Just a cursory GLANCE at revelations is enough to make this simply not work as intended. The blasting is too strong and requires at least some balancing. “But Endzeitgeist, a sorceror can blast better!” Yeah, but a sorceror has limited spells, which can be counterspelled, is fragile as all hell, can’t wear armor etc. (yes, eldritch blasts don’t have arcane spell failure – go figure!), doesn’t have a weapon that dwarfs even the soulknife’s flexibility in comparison (choose your blasts freely, every blast!), doesn’t get 3/4 BAB-progression and sure as hell doesn’t add the ONE attribute that counts for the class, cha to just about all saves.


And don’t start the whole “But casters dominate all encounters”-bullshit with me. If you as a DM can’t bleed casters dry and let the group rest after every encounter, then you’re doing it wrong. I’ve been DMing for more than half my life and forcing casters to think when to unleash arcane destruction is a basic tactic that seems to be lost on quite a few number-crunching whiners that point to the paper and complain that casters are oh so much better.


What I’m getting at with this rant – the warlock has no resources for his/her primary attacks and as such needs to be compared to all other limited-resource-less classes – and instead of falling somewhere in line at the upper power echelon, it essentially boots even the casters out of the water.

Another gripe of a completely unrelated topic- during playtest, it turned out to be fun for one of my players, mainly because said player enjoyed wasting any CR-equivalent threat…but he badgered me to include in this review that he “got bored, fast, because there is no strategy here.” You have your tools, you use them – that’s it. Interjection Games’ Ethermancer, with its unique buffs, spell pool mechanic and various modifications does everything this class tries to do infinitely more compelling and IS BALANCED and requires some forethought on how long your battle will wage, of when to buff and when not. It’s not a perfect class, but it’s not as OP as the warlock, it rewards tactical planning of the expenditure of etherpoints and still manages to portray the blast-all-day-long class without utterly breaking the game by offering sufficient drawbacks. It also tackles counterspelling and offers options beyond blasting everything to smithereens. The Ethermancer works, this does NOT. This class is BROKEN and needs a revision. I can’t recommend this class even to utter n00bs entering a game of pro-number-crunchers, since the wording ambiguities make many an ability harder to understand than it ought to be. I’ve rarely seen a base class that can break a game this easily. Steer clear.

Next up would be a 10-level-PrC, the Covernborn. Coverborn get 1/” BAB-progression, 1/2 will-save progression, 2+Int skills per level and require class features from sorc, oracle and witches, namely accursed bloodline, coven hex and oracle’s curse, requiring essentially one level sorc, witch and oracle – and the consumption of a hag’s heart. Now essentially, this class is a theurge-like class, offering +1 level of spell-progression for both arcane and divine casting at all levels except 1st, 4th and 7th, where the class instead gets fixed divine or arcane progression or, in the case of level 7, has to choose which one to take. It should also be noted that the covenborn needs to choose which arcane class to progress – sorc or witch. The PrC also gets an array of hag/fey-themed spell-like abilities to choose from and may “choose between Fortitude and Will based saves for her spell-like abilities.” That’s not how spell-like abilities work. Also: Does that mean it’s ONE choice or can the Covenborn choose for each individual ability? How can charm monster be based on FORT? Makes no sense to me. The capstone allows the covenborn to transform into a hag, complete with all spell-like abilities etc. – do they choose which save to use here as well? While I get the requirement to offset the dual casting progression, the kind of dead level of one of the arcane base-classes is a bit weird design-wise. An okay theurgish PrC, I guess, though not particularly compelling to take. It also has minor formatting issues like “3 a day” instead of 3/day, but that’s just minor nitpicking.

Next up are 5 new mysteries – Intoxicant, Sand, Secrets, Volcano and Wrath, all coming with nice icons, though I don’t get why some get a sample fluff-line, whereas other don’t. The intoxicant mystery is actually rather cool – shrouding yourself in euphoria-inducing smoke, hallucinating items into existence – cool ideas here, though the wording of the latter is problematic – -”When under the effects of an intoxicant the oracle may make a DC 15 Will save to believe an item is real. If failed the item functions as normal but has no effect on other creatures.”[sic!] I don’t get it. Could the oracle hallucinate a key to a door and open it? A weapon? Could a weapon be made to attack an object, but not a person? Can the oracle opt to fail the save? Is the item generated upon a success or failure or either way? Why are there so many punctuation glitches here, rendering an already confused and imprecise ability even more confusing? Using blood to poison others with consumed intoxicants on the other hand is rather cool. I really, really like this mystery, but many of its revelations require some cleaning in at least formal criteria, partially also in wording. The Sand mystery lets you e.g. look through solid surfaces and over all can be considered solid, if not particularly strong – still: Kudos!

The Secrets mystery generally is about knowledge and secrets, with frightening, maddening effects and the like. It also has a very weird ability that replaces dex-mod with cha-mod to AC and ref and “Your armor’s maximum Dexterity bonus applies to your Charisma instead of your Dexterity (see FAQ.” So, does that mean an armor can hamper bonus spells, DCs and the like? Where is the FAQ? Why isn’t it included in this pdf? I’m NOT going to google the web for information required to run a particular pdf. One note to ALL designers: If your wording requires a FAQ, that’s bad enough, but can’t be avoided in some cases. Not including said information in your product and forcing your customers to search it and potentially bump site-hits is NOT a way to generate a faithful fanbase. If it’s required to run your product, INCLUDE IT IN THE PDF or go back to the drawing board and make a better ability. Now apart from that gripe, the mystery per se is nice – somewhere between knowledge and dark tapestry in style. The volcano mystery allows you to conjure forth a 20 ft. x 20 ft. micro volcano that deals 2d6 non-scaling fire-damage, half on a failed save and +1d6 points of damage for 1d3 rounds after that. Solid per se, but a) why doesn’t the damage scale? b) Do those who succeeded the save still take the damage on subsequent rounds? Is the conjured lava an instantaneous effect or does it remain as long as the +1d3 rounds take? Lava Fists also don’t work as intended – the ability allows you to 3+cha-mod times per day make sunder attempts with your bare fists “at no penalty.” But unarmed strikes AND sunder-attempts provoke AoOs sans respective feats. An unarmed attacks do a whopping 1d3 points of base damage! Usable 3+cha-mod times per day? Where can I sign on? /*sarcasm off* Seriously, needs power-upgrade…badly. The wrath mystery offers a nice adaptive aura, damage-dealing mist etc. It should be noted that an imprisonment effect sends targets off to Gehenna to be held and driven mad – slightly awkward if your game still features that plane from the 3.X days of old, but nothing to fault the author for. Overall, this oen works somewhat better than most crunch herein, though wording also offers problems here – see Pillar of Salt: “You may call down a pillar of corrosive power as a full-round action. This pillar may target a group of enemies, no two of which are more than 30 feet apart.” So… does the pillar hit all in a 30 ft. radius? can it zigzag from foe to foe if they’re no more than 30 feet apart? Are these individual strikes? Define the amount of eligible targets? Utterly obtuse and incomprehensible. Also, it deals 4d8 acid damage +2 per oracle level – I assume the level-based bonus damage ought to be acid damage as well. Utterly insane “Everyone with line of sight to the targets (note the plural here!) must make a ref-save or take 2d8 acid damage and be stricken blind for one round per class level. Required class level: 3. Now compare ANY damage spell from ANY list with that. It can be used cha-mod times per day; Too strong. Don’t believe me? Open plains, flying, warfare – this revelation can blind whole armies! Broken!

The pdf also offer 4 new curses – The Addled curse is a nice take on the addiction curse. The distracted curse allows you to impart the shaken/later dazzled and at +1 save, confused) condition on ALL targets that fail a will-save against your spells. No duration given for the additional effect. Doesn’t work/too strong. Madness allows you to somewhat mitigate confusion et al and can drive creatures psychotic, as per the new CR+1 template. The Ominous curse is all about intimidation, penalizing almost all other cha-based skills with -5, but netting +5 untyped bonus to intimidation – too big a penalty and too big a bonus for my tastes – you can already make demoralization monsters sans such a massive boost. Not broken per se, though.


Editing and formatting could have required another pass – next to no spell names are italicized, punctuation glitches abound and bolding and similar minor issues are partially inconsistent as well. Layout adheres to an easy to read 2-column full-color standard and sports much less blank space than the magus-installment of Into the Breach -good and kudos! The pdf comes fully bookmarked, with two dead bookmarks relics labeled “Bookmark 53 &54″ respectively, but these don’t impede usability.

Designers Frank Gori, John Belliston, Jeff Harris and Matt Medeiros have good ideas – the concepts behind the archetypes and e.g. the intoxicant mystery are solid and show a speck of brilliance here and there. A speck. I won’t mince words here – this took me forever to get done and not due to page-count or the like, but due to the amount of issues. Balancing is completely all over the place – from ridiculously weak options to utterly overpowered ones, which constitute btw. the majority of this release, this feels like an alpha. How most of the content herein could get past any playtesting is beyond me. Several options will even be overpowered in the most high fantasy of games. The Warlock class needs to be scrapped and rebuild from scratch – it is the most broken class I’ve seen so far for PFRPG in any publication. The archetypes offer issues. The PrC is weird. Even mysteries and curses aren’t flawless and sport the other crux of this pdf: Ambiguities. A LOT of them. If the balance-concerns you might have, that aren’t even consistent within one mystery or archetype, don’t break this pdf for you, the latter will. There are so many imprecise wordings and glitches in here, it’s painful, partially taking cool concepts and rendering them unusable or unnecessarily obfuscating what exactly an ability is supposed to do. Scaling either exists and is OP or doesn’t and makes for utterly ridiculously weak options. Crunch-writing is all about getting math, syntax and semantics right and this one doesn’t for any even remotely consistent stretch of text.

And no, I did not complain about all glitches in this review. I hate dishing out verdicts like that, especially if good ideas are this present, but this pdf has nothing that would warrant any mercy, no mitigating, flawless gem at the bottom of this crackerjack box – 1 star.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 222014

mythic_monsters_mountsBy Endzeitgeist

Mythic Monsters: Mounts is 32 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of introduction, 2 pages of advertisement and 1 page inside back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages of raw content, so what do we exactly get here?

Since mounts aren’t just monsters, we kick off the pdf with some general pieces of information regarding mythic mounts (and animal companions), noting that some of the mounts herein come with integrated advanced creature templates as alternatives to provide sturdier options. Cool! Advice on further advancing mounts via templates, training them and 2 new mythic feats help here as well – one upgrading a companion’s ability to its mythic equivalent, one making the training of mythic creatures easier. The Trick Rider and Mythic Rider champion/guardian path abilities are also included, as is the companion mythic ability for the 6th tier guardian. Whereas the former you’ll know from the respective mythic minis, the latter makes a companion mythic/adds a mythic ability. This bonus content is okay, but a) not the focus of this pdf and b) not yet something that got me excited. Solid in craftsmanship, yes, but not yet legendary.

Let’s start, shall we? First would be the CR 5/MR 2 Mythic Bison, which can generate spirit bison phantoms to improve its trample. Sweet! CR 2/MR 1 mythic camels are next to unkillable due to starvation/thirst thanks to counting as if under the effects of a ring of sustenance. better yet, via mythic power, said camel can share its powers with the rider and even negate the fatigue condition or mitigate exhausted down to fatigued. Again, very cool. Mythic Riding Dogs (CR 1/MR 1) can emit pity-inducing whimpers and follow trips immediately with drag-maneuvers. This one also comes with an advanced version at CR 5/MR 2 that also gets the ability to stabilize the dying and duplicate some healing/soothing-themed SLs via licking the targets. Super-Lassie ftw.! ^^

Mythic Dragon Horses (CR 11/MR 4) can ride the lightning and generally makes for a truly fearsome flying beast to carry the most powerful of heroes into battle. The Mythic Giant Eagle at CR 4/MR1 gets an ability that more creatures should have – when hitting with both claws, they may drag opponents along: Either offensively or defensively. Nice swooping action! The CR 8/MR 3 version is an even better aerial interceptor that gets bonuses when readying against adversaries.

Mythic elephants clock in at CR 9/MR 3 and may pass through natural undergrowth, throw adversaries with the trunk and even toss adversaries with their charges – once again, this is one of the beasts that is closer to what the base creature ought to be able to do – the trunk and charge-tossing will be added asap to all non-mythic elephants in my campaign. Mythic hippocampi clock in at CR 3/MR 1 and allow the riders to breathe water or even act as if under freedom of movement while underwater. They may also create waves to topple/bull rush foes. Neat! The Mythic Hippogriff comes sans a non-advanced version and may emit a stunning shriek and catch falling allies mid-air via mythic power as immediate actions.

The CR 2/MR 1 Mythic light horse has superb speed and when running, benefits from an array of cool defensive abilities. Again, a set of abilities I will apply to some (though not all) supernatural/legendary horses. The Cr 6/MR 2 mythic advanced heavy warhorse is more geared towards combat and not only is not particularly impeded by armor, it also gets essentially a counter-flanking kick and diehard/mythic power fast healing when knocked below 0 hp.

The CR 6/MR 2 Mythic Nightmare can exhale soporific smoke and entice innocents towards an enchanting ride…that fascinates and kills them. NASTY! The CR 14/MR 5 Mythic Nightmare Cauchemar is this beast’s big bad brother – flaming hooves, hellfire, powerful trample – a steed worthy of the champions of darkness. Perhaps it’s my Warhammer background, but I was constantly thinking “This could be Archaon’s steed” while reading this one.

We also get two pegasi, one at CR 4/MR 1 and one at CR 9/MR 3. These flying steeds are particularly adept at avoiding titanic adversaries and they also can emit a reflexive whinny after succeeding a save versus freedom-restricting effects. The advanced version also gains wing buffet attacks and the option to use mythic power to smite foes larger than the steed. Cool.

At CR2/MR 1 the mythic advanced pony has one of the coolest abilities in this book -inexplicable survival. For one mythic power, these trusty mounts can survive EVERYTHING. Yes, even rocks fall, all die. And no, abusing this ability will not end well for the rider… At CR 15/MR 5, the mythic advanced roc makes for a truly majestic beast -with fortification, the option to drop huge things on foes, the option to create superbly strong winds, these titanic birds will make for a superb entrance.

At Cr 13/MR 5, I was exceedingly looking forward to the Mythic Sleipnir – and boy, does it not disappoint -summoning valkyries as the choosers of the fallen, and creating giant-damaging rainbow-bridges breathe the spirit of myths. Glorious and so much closer to the myths than the rather disappointing non-mythic standard sleipnir!

What can step up to this awesomeness? What about riding a CR 10/MR 4 Mythic Triceratops that is a true juggernaut of charging destruction? The pdf also includes a list of the mounts by CR.

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 2.column full-color standard and the pdf comes with several nice artworks. The pdf comes without bookmarks, which is somewhat of a comfort detriment, but it is hyperlinked with unobtrusive hyperlinks -the good kind, that only is applied where it makes sense.

Jason Nelson delivers a glorious array of mythic mounts, worthy, one and all, to carry the best of heroes and worst of villains into battle, adding arrays upon arrays of superb signature abilities to the base-creatures, several of them actually fixing the base creatures not being too closely in line with what the creature ought to be able to do. Usually, I’d consider depriving this pdf of my seal of approval for the bookmark lack, but the pdf is simply too good – the mounts are universally awesome and not one felt lackluster or boring – final rating: 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 212014

113419[1]By Endzeitgeist

This player’s guide for Razor Coast is 98 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 92 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

We kick off the Freebooter’s Guide with an overview of the races and their respective roles in Razor Coast – including rather the central conflict between the pirateish settlers and the Tulita, the indigenous people of the Razor Coast. A lot of flavor is devoted to depicting these ethnicities, but we also get new races, two to be precise: The first would be the Dajobasu, Tulita cursed (or blessed) by the dread shark-god. These ostracized outcasts gte +2 to Str and Wis, -2 to Int and Cha, darkvision 60 feet, +2 to stealth and survival in swamps, +4 to swim, may hold their breath thrice as long as humans, +4 to sense motive, +1 natural AC and as alternate racial traits, they may 1/day utter a drowning curse (as per the gatorfolk’s ability – why not include the stats here? Players won’t have access to the stats of the curse – which is btw. detailed in Razor Coast’s main book…) at the cost of a phobia for water – which unfortunately has no mechanical repercussions. They may also opt for +2 to intimidate to demoralize foes or exchange the paltry bonuses in swampy terrains for a swim speed of 20 ft. – the latter feels a bit like a powerful trade-off. Overall, a solid race, if a bit on the powerful side with two +4 skill bonuses.

The second race would be the Menehune, small somewhat gnome-like followers of Pele, the fire goddess. Menehune get +2 to Con and Cha, -2 to Str, have a base movement rate of 20 feet, get +2 to AC in their favorite terrain, have resistance 5 to fire, +2 to perception and Craft/Profession to create objects from stone or metal, are treated as one level higher regarding spells with the fire descriptor, fire domain, fire bombs etc. Menehune of Cha 11+ also get 1/day dancing lights, flare, prestidigitation, produce flame as spell-like abilities. Meheune also get low-light vision, gnomish weapon familiarity and may 1/day shroud their arms in fire for cha-mod+ character level rounds, dealing an additional 1d4 fire damage + 1d4 for every 4 character levels. Sooo… do low level menehune with low cha-scores get no access to this? The ability has no minimum-round caveat. Alternate racial trait-wise, Menehune may get fast healing 2 anytime they take fire damage, but cap at 2 times character level. Alternatively, they can get the traditional gnomish SLAs or exchange their slas/fire magic affinity with either 1/day invisibility (though only for themselves)or expeditious retreat. Finally, they may choose for a knowledge skill as class skill and a bonus to climb or a further +2 bonus to craft/profession. They also suffer from cold vulnerability, which somewhat offsets their otherwise significant bonuses. Still, slightly on the powerful side. Another nitpick would be that the invisibility & expeditious retreat SLAs lack the minimum charisma-score restrictions – though whether by design or oversight, I’m not sure. It should be noted that both races come with 3 favored class options each. One of the Meneuhune’s FCO’s have some minor issues – the bardic FCO specifies “Add +1 per every six class levels to the number of people the bard can affect with the fascinate bardic performance.” Does that mean it can be taken once and then automatically nets the benefit every 6 levels? I assume not, so why not stick to the established formula à la “+1/6 to the number of people…”

All right, that out of the way, we are introduced to traits – 11, by the way. The traits are solid. Next up would be archetypes – a coastal barbarian with favored terrain water, a cannibal that can mitigate parts of his/her post-rage fatigue by devouring the flesh of foes, a Tulita-bard with 3 exclusive performances (one of which allows for the substitution of performance-checks to protect allies from movement-impeding effects), a tomb raider-style chaser of legends (who may temporarily heal allies or temporarily grant improved uncanny dodge) who is particularly adept at disabling traps and evading things.

Clerics may opt to become servants of Pele via the Volcano Child archetype, requiring them to take the fire domain (and only that) at an effective +2 cle level (thankfully not netting access to abilities earlier), diminished spellcasting, but also endure elements versus hot climates, the ability to sheathe weapons in flames and later channel slightly enhanced fire instead of positive/negative energy. The caller of storms is similar, but gets full spellcasting and replaces channel energy with the ability to recall expended spells. The buccaneer fighter is essentially a swashbuckling fighter, replacing armor training and weapon training with the option to deal additional damage whenever he/she has moved through threatened squares as well as some naval-themed bonuses. Harpoonists are exactly that, specialists of the harpoon…and honestly, I really liked this one. It makes choosing the harpoon as a weapon a valid, if not optimal choice. The Deep Sea Tracker is an aquatic ranger who fights with net and trident and later becomes amphibious, gains cent etc. More interesting would be the Headhunter-archetype, who utilizes four types of shrunken heads for various benefits – interesting!

Blockade Runner rogues are specialists of disguise and smuggling. One of their abilities allow them to use Escape Artist to trip foes – something I’m not 100% comfortable with, since skills are rather easily boosted. I’d also be interested whether bonuses to trip that usually apply to CMD would then apply to the skill-check instead? Finally, the Scrimshaw fetishist would be a wizard archetype who may enhance his spells via the inflicting of painful boosts and scribing their spells on their own body – at the cost of both spellbook and access to scribe scrolls. This archetype is rather cool and works surprisingly well, coming with mutagen-like benefits and better metamagic..for the price of pain.

We also are introduced to two new base-classes, the first of which would be the Disciple of Dajobas, who gets proficiency with shields, light and medium armor, simple weapons and shark-tooth based weaponry, d8, 4+Int skills per level, casts divine spells of up to 6th level spontaneously via wisdom (which is a bit odd – plus: Raging shark-worshippers and high wis…I don’t know), 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort- and will-saves and must take the hunger domain. They get a scaling bite attack that counts as a primary natural weapon (or secondary when wielding manufactured weapons) and they can enter a non-fatiguing variant of a barbarian’s rage. They also gain the ability to speak with sharks and crocodiles and may, as befitting of servants of the shark god, act rather well in water, increasing aquatic adaption over the levels, becoming even amphibious later. They may also turn into sharks. All in all, an interesting blend of cleric/druid and barbarian, though probably not a class players should aim for…unless they are okay with serving a truly vile god. Also, don’t expect favored class option benefits or archetypes for this class or the second one, for that matter.

The second base-class would be the Yohunga, a Tulita-class that gains d8, 4+Int skills, proficiency with 3 Tulita-weapons, light armor and simple weapons as well as 3/4 BAB-progression, good will-saves and spontaneous divine spellcasting via Cha of up to 6th level The Yohunga also gets a mana-point of 1/2 character level + cha-mod (+1 at 3rd level and every other level after that) and a special necklace tied to a tikiman – if the tikiman is destroyed, then so is the necklace – which deals damage to the Yohunga. Tikiman? Yes, the class is, much like the summoner, a pet-class, i.e. the tikiman remains active as long as there’s at least one point of mana left. Various passive powers of the tikiman, of which there are 11, can be added to a tikiman’s already nice ability-suite – which btw. includes improved evasion. As a balancing factor, HD-increases have to be purchased also via these powers, meaning you’ll be spending a lot of tiki power-slots on those. Now I *assume* that the chosen powers apply to ALL tikimen, but the pdf fails to specify that particular tidbit of information. Unlike familiars (though they also share spells), Yohunga get additional tikimen at higher levels, allowing them to have multiple tiny constructs at their command. There also are several powers available that utilize mana to temporarily bolster the tikimen’s capabilities – from poisoned/paralyzing blowgun darts (Diablo II, anyone?) to temporarily granting DR/energy resistance to them. The tikimen can also grow in size, mimic jungle-animal voices, grow and even merge with your tikimen. Several of these abilities have HD-limits/caster level limits to choose them. Per se a cool idea for a class, though honestly, the HD-increase is rather costly when compared to other pet-classes. Also, the spells to properly heal a tikiman ought to be expanded – RAW it is very hard to heal tikimen, with mending being rather slow and boring and not particularly effective in battle, which makes the tikimen rather fragile – to the point where the spells are imho all but required. Additionally, no time-frame for tikiman-creation is given – does it take time to craft them? Can they be replenished quickly or do they require a hiatus after being destroyed? A promising class, but one in dire need of clarification/more information.

Next up would be write-ups of Razor Coast’s deities (not including Dajobas or Tulita spirits, btw.), including two new domains (in addition to the aforementioned hunger domain), closely followed by the chapter on PrCs. The Captain of the High Seas and the Old Salt, two 5-level PrCs deserve special mention here – both provide further benefits when combined with the stellar “Fire as She Bears” and allow you to dive further into the naval aspects of a campaign. Non-Tulita living among them, may become Paheka – per se a solid, if not too awe-inspiring 5-level PrC that represents well someone who has gone native and received the blessings of the people. The table is missing all plusses, though – somewhat irritating. The 5-level Pele Liberator PrC (which the table calls Tulita liberator instead) may lose one level of spellcasting progression…but oh boy – wis-mod times/day AoE 20-foot healing at long range equal to 1d8 per two caster levels, plus nauseated enemies on failed save. OUCH. Speaking of ouch – lava burst capstone. 1d10 per caster level, half on round 2, half on round three. While not broken per se, rather impressive – then again, the PRC’s smite is based on class level, so more of a dud there – until 5th level, where in addition to cha, wis is added and full character level to damage. That’s regular attribute, cha AND wis? Sorry, not gonna happen anywhere near my game – especially since their smite does not end with one attack and since it can be used character level times per day. This needs a massive whacking with the nerfbat.

We also get a 10-level PrC with the Shaw Sheriff that once again lacks the plusses in the table. The Shaw Sheriff gets up to +5d6 sneak attack progression and several trick shots, essentially way to increase the efficiency of blade+pistol fighting. Fluff-wise, the Dragoons of Port Shaw put out a reward on the sheriff’s head, just as his/her renown grows and makes it less and less likely that the general populace hands him/her over – adding informant networks etc. makes for a PrC that is tied in a very cool manner into a setting – one that could easily be modified to work for other cities/settings with problematic authorities. Two thumbs up for that one!

After that, we are introduced to a variety of different mundane weapons and equipment as well as 3 new drugs, one new poison and 3 small boats – the latter sans the FaSB-stats though – I would have loved to see them for tiny vessels like this. Prices and short pieces of information on some famous/notorious captains and ships for hire in Port Shaw also can be found here – nice!

We also are introduced to a chapter of feats – 24 to be precise. While there are some filler feats in here (boring +2/+2, later +4/+4 to two skill-checks-yawn!), we also get feats to improve mana/tikimen, use pistols as melee weapons, quicker shapechanging, more reliable swimming, cleave-tripping, feint while moving, make swim-by-attacks or essentially surf. One particularly awesome feat allows you to efficiently hold a pistol to an opponent – potential (and rules) for Mexican stand-offs included! Now see, that is a cool type of feat, though the puzzling mentioning of a ref-save to negate damage in the stand-off sidebar feels like a relic of a previous design – as written, the attacks do not allow a ref-save to reduce damage. Cool in concept would be a feat that nets one tikiman a massive (cha-mod) HD-boost – but has it go haywire upon rolling a 1. Unfortunately, the feat fails to specify whether the rogue tikiman still goes dormant upon expending all mana. If so, does it retain its hostile intent? If it does become dormant, what if you feed blood as per another feat to one of your non-rogue tikimen and regain a point of mana temporarily? Does it reactivate? Can you replace a rogue tkiman or does the haywire tikiman reduce your maximum amount of tikimen available while it still roams the wilds? The Trance Dancer feat allows you to enter a ritualistic dance as a full-round action to temporarily ignore the dazed, fatigued, exhausted and stunned conditions as well as enchantment effects – but only for as long as you can make perform (dance)-checks with an ever-increasing DC. The problem with this feat would be that it does not specify what type of action maintaining the dance is – since Perform-skill-checks can vary wildly in length, that’s a crucial issue – move action? Standard action? Does tripping the dancer end the dance?

We also get new spells to help targets reach the surface (or drown them) via an in/decreased buoyancy, make them immune versus the cold of the abyssal depths and their pressure, hit vessels with rogue waves, implant false memories of taboo acts in targets or make a breach watertight. Among the magical items, we get strange harpoon bags, enchanted fish-hooks (that conjure forth fiendish sharks or crocodiles), obsidian/pyroclastc grenades, a quarterstaff that dominates those beaten into submission (which could use a slightly more precise wording – its intent is that it only dominates those beaten into unconsciousness via non-lethal damage, but it can dominate unconscious targets even when dealing non-lethal damage to another creature) and magical tattoos: Created via one of the new feats, these count as wondrous items, take up an item-slot and get per se neat, concise rules. Among the tattoos, there also are special Tulita tattoos – one of which e.g. generates as many +2 icy burst shurikens as the Tulita can throw in one round. The problem here would be that they do not vanish – RAW, the shuriken are permanent and thus could be used as a steady source of income, at least in theory. The other tattoos are fine, though.

Among the animal companions, we get Haast’s Eagles, Moa and Wetapunga as well as some minor local variants of existing animal types. Also rather cool, we are introduced to 17 local herbs and plants and how they are used – neat! The book concludes with a nice gazetteer-chapter in which players can glean some basic information on the respective locales and thus spare the DM a lot of exposition while providing enough player-friendly information to entice one into the rich lore of Razor Coast. The book also comes with two pages of char-sheets.


Editing and formatting is okay, but not that great – there are quite a few editing/formatting glitches to be found herein, sometimes acting as slightly detrimental to the rules-language. Layout adheres to RC’s per se beautiful 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The full-color artworks are almost universally completely awesome. The hardcover book’s cover-artwork is not as blurred as the one of FaSB. Paper is rather thin in the physical version.

Lou Agresta, Tim Hitchcock, Tom Knauss, John Ling, RA Mc Reynolds, Rone Barton and Greg Vaughan are all talented designers and authors and it shows in the compelling narratives herein, in the setting-flavor that oozes in buckets from these pages. In the brightest moments, this guide indeed captures well the flair and panache of Razor Coast and showcases their capabilities. Unfortunately, that does not extend to the whole pdf – there are quite a few issues with the rules-language herein, filler-feats, massive issues with the Yohunga base-class… all of those accumulate.

Another issue would be that this pdf endeavors to be a player’s guide and partially succeeds at its goal – at the same time falling flat of guiding players regarding the tone the campaign shoots for, which approach (as per the RC-book) to take etc. – if one player shoots for a Disciple of Dajobas, another for a Tulita and a third for essentially a colonialist pirate, as a DM you have an issue on your hands. Especially the former class does simply not belong in a player’s guide – or at least requires a massive caveat. As a sourcebook, it fares slightly better, though e.g. the decision to include the player-material indulgences in the campaign setting instead of in this book should be considered slightly unfortunate. Personally, I also would have loved to see a slightly tighter synergy with FaSB, but that’s okay and just a nitpick on my part. In the end, the Freebooter’s Guide to the Razor Coast makes for a valid companion for a RC-campaign, but one that should see careful DM-oversight due to some problematic options/balance-concerns (*cough* Pele Liberator /*cough*).

In conclusion: Some light, some shadow – a mixed bag – final verdict: 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 212014

126534[1]By Endzeitgeist

Random Encounters: Wilderness clocks in at a weighty 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page advice of how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We kick this pdf off at a list of statblocks by CR, encounters by terrain, by EL (spanning the gamut from EL 2 to 12) and by designers. Wait, what? Yes, for this pdf is the child of Raging Swan Press’ freelancer call and as such offers us the winners of said contest. Hence, I will provide the author alongside the discussion of the encounter. Got that? All right! After author biographies (which imho wouldn’t hurt ALL RPG-companies – name-recognition for designers = good thing!), we kick off with Jesper Andersen’s “Canoes & Crocodiles” – and what a glorious first encounter it is: The premise is simple – crocodiles (which can be replaced by just about every aquatic critter, should you so choose) versus, you guessed it, canoes. What makes this encounter such a joy to run would be the quick and easy summary of base vehicle rules, concisely and coherently summed for all intents and purposes – the same, of course, goes for the terrain and the canoes. I’ve never run such an easy vehicle combat – two pages of the pdf are literally all you need and even if you usually shy away from them, this one is a cakewalk to run – even sans preparation. Two thumbs up!

Now Jeff Erwin’s “Death-Dealer of the Gloaming Hills” is something less straightforward -it’s essentially a miniature tragedy – featuring death, foreshadowing, a mini-mystery and a shapechanger – and that is all I will spoil here, in case players are reading. Still, experienced DMs will consider this one a been-there-moment.

A neat sidequest indeed and especially nice if the PCs are frequently travelling e.g. between settlements etc. Richard Bennett’s “Hunters as Bait” is all about one two types of beast fighting one another – with the PCs used as a means to spring an ambush of one of the parties, so the other monster can annihilate its competition. Nice, though probably an encounter you should foreshadow accordingly. Full-blown buff-suites included. Jacob Trier’s “Lost Love” is about a bard seeking his stunning beauty – who is not all she seems to be – and alas, heart-break will resume, should the poor sap survive finding his beloved… Still, as much as I hate to be that guy – the encounter is great, the writing neat…but I’ve seen this particular storyline done quite a few times before.

Fabian Fehr’s “Mourning Monster” once again has this touch of the absolutely special – guarded by her crestfallen young grey render, a wizard’s mortal remains lie in a circle of standing stones – will the PCs dare to loot her body? Of perhaps, they require her to be resurrected…but how do you explain that to a faithful beast, determined to guard its mistress, mad with grief? In Denver Edwards Jr’s “Secrets of the Swamp”, the PCs may save a doe and inadvertently stumble into both the undead, sinkholes, a degenerate tribe of lizardfolk and the globster-ooze they worship as a deity…Neat!

F.D. Graham’s “Stuck in the Mud” deserves special applause – good encounters don’t necessarily mean that there will be massacres and monster-blood galore – in this one, the PCs may aid a kind halfling free his wagon and horse from the mud in a thoroughly compelling and awesome change of pace. Two thumbs up for being this brave and daring for something completely different! Also by Fabian Fehrs would be an encounter, where the coolness lies in the details – a clearing that houses abandoned brownie-tunnels now is the home of a wasp swarm and may collapse as soon at the PCs step inside -great insult-to-injury encounter, with the tunnels of the fey lending the special touch to everything.

Jacob W. Michaels’ “The ants go marching in” is very much a question of morals – the PCs happen upon the gruesome execution of a faun, buried and covered with honey, via ants – slow and agonizing, while two inquisitors watch – whom to help, whom to trust – and the ants march ever onwards.

The final encounter, Brian J. Ratcliff’s “The Gray Grove”, comes with color-blighted creatures, fey and the true source of the forest’s blight, a color out of space. And I *LOVE* the interaction of fey/lovecraftiana here, I really do, but I wished this were a full-blown module; For one encounter, the resolution and scope feel too grand and somewhat too stuffed together. that being said, I very much hope to see such a module one day!


Editing and formatting, as almost always in raging Swan Press-products, are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience and in two version, with one being optimized for screen use and one to be printed out. Artwork consists of thematically fitting stock art you may have already seen in other RSP-books, but oh well – take a look at the low price and page-count: Still superb in the production value department.

Random Encounters: Wilderness provides excessively-detailed encounters that range from very good to stellar . while some of the encounters here have basic plots that are a bit old, while one is slightly beyond its scope, you only notice this because they are so good – the respective encounters have many a thing going for them, with “Canoes & Crocodiles”, “Mourning Monster” ad “Stuck in the Mud” being my favourites – especially the latter, which is so fun in its utterly mundane premise, which manages to be exciting in spite of no creature-feature overkill and no deathtrap-9000-killer-combo, is just awesome – because it is about very pure roleplaying without sacrificing tension. Now I may have seemed complain-happy throughout this review, so let me make this abundantly clear – this is a neat selection of encounters and well worth 5 stars, just short of my seal of approval. And it has done one thing: Make me universally look forward to the things these authors put out in the future. So go ahead, check it out!

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 172014

mindjammer_coverBy Paco Garcia Jaen

In the first part of my Mindjammer review, I laid the path for a positive review. In this second – and last – part I plan to actually make it very clear this is a positive review.

I previously wrote about the rules system, including character creation, spaceships and equipment and also running Mindjammer as a GM.

“What’s left?” I hear you think… Well tons and tons, I’m very glad to say!

Essentially the second part of the book is all about world building at a galactic scale and this is the part that showcases what an incredible designer Sarah is.

First thing that made me jump with excitement was the creation of organisations in chapter 15. It basically explains how to turn an abstract and possible unreachable concept (like a government, inter-planetary corporation, cult, civilisation, etc.) and give it some shape that can be interacted with. So if a group of players want to influence the outcome of an election in a planet, that government becomes an organisation with its own attributes, flaws, aspects, etc. and that gives a means to attack it and influence it by performing actions against – or towards – it. Suddenly truly epic adventures are possible without them getting out of hand and with measureable and (hopefully!) obtainable targets.

The following chapters cover the setting. A relatively short history of The Commonality and human expansion gives way to understanding cultures in the following chapter, worlds and civilisations in the next. Why is this important? Because at the same time there are plenty of rules and techniques to create your own worlds with their unique culture and civilisations and no, they are indeed not the same. Mindjammer doesn’t assume that any and every discovered world is a mono-culture environment

Needless to say star systems and stellar bodies are covered. And now just covered, they are also incredibly well explained with some scientific data to go behind everything.

The game comes with rules to create star systems and quadrants too. Choosing the right type of star, nebula and other galactic bodies and being able to calculate distances, map them out in the provided octant, sub sector or sector gives an incredible depth to the level of detail you can have in your campaign if you choose to.

This is not just about throwing a sun and a few planets to create a solar system to explore (unless that’s what you want, of course), it’s about being able to choose what type of star could have what sort of planet with what sort of atmosphere to create what sort of environment and what sort of life-forms.

Oh, and talking about life-forms, none of this Star-Trek syndrome of having mostly bipedal and oxygen breathing species. Alien life in Mindjammer is truly strange and unique. And yes, they can have their own technology, culture, language… and scale. Having a planetary intelligence is super exciting!

The book ends with some chapters on scenarios and campaigns, themes, game play styles and a ready for you to use section of the galaxy to run your adventures in: The Darradine Rim. 19 different planets all ready for you to use with their history, climatology, geography, aspects… All ready and in a full colour insert for you to enjoy. And you will enjoy them, I can assure you. They are just what you needed to get you in the mood for some galactic exploration.

It doesn’t end there, though. It ends with the appendices. Appendices that have Character sheet, character creation worksheet, construct sheet, organisation sheet, culture sheet, planetary map sheet, system schematic sheet, octant, subsector and sector sheets…. Yeah… sheets galore than you can also download from the Mindjammer Press’ website. WHOOHOO!!

A few more pages with reference sheets and a glossary, as well as a detailed index, and the book, sadly, ends. And then you’re left wanting more. A lot more.


Mindjammer is probably the best Science Fiction RPG ever written. As simple as that.

The setting is both easy to approach and understand and very easy to relate to, so coming up with new material is actually very easy. The rules are well explained and the index so precise you can find what you need very quickly. The level of complexity can be elevated to a huge level to create highly detailed everything.

And pretty much everything is catered for. And more. Some of the concepts in this game are just pure genius that a lot of other games should take note of.

To top that, Sarah’s writing is truly excellent and easy to understand and her knowledge and understanding of the FATE system becomes all too obvious. I have always struggled with FATE because I wasn’t able to give a specific setting reading the rules and Mindjammer has changed that.

There was something I missed in the game and hopefully we’ll see this in the future: Characters. The worlds, governments, etc… there are no characters and I missed that. For me creating an adventure without that is more difficult.

Word of warning: If you are a beginner take this game easy. There is *a lot* to be covered in this game and the data can be overwhelming at time. Mindjammer will take a lot of time to get to grips with and patience is highly recommended.

Despite my initial reservations about the size of the book and the word count, I have been won over by this game without any reservations. Mindjammer should be in any gamer’s shelf, and I’d go as far as to say in any Sci-Fi lover’s collection. A true masterpiece!

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Aug 122014

Servants of ShadowBy Endzeitgeist

Servants of Shadow: Five Necromancy-themed Races is a massive racial book by TPK Games that clocks in at 67 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving a massive 64 pages of content, so let’s take a look, shall we?

As has become the tradition with TPK Games’ race books, we kick off with a short introduction by the author and then an expertly-written fluffy introduction, which this time around works also as a kind of origin myth. After that, we’re introduced to the Mortiss, the dead that have escaped from Nergal’s underworld – and from the get-go, the design is interesting: Being essentially the dead, they hail from a variety of species and still, the designer did not forget random age, height and weight statistics etc. – nice! Also nice – a variety of favored class options that are neither too strong, nor, get this, boring – for each comes with a short, fluffy text that explains it. Call me any name you want, but this makes otherwise dry crunch so much more flavorful. Kudos! Now what do Mortiss do? Well, as escaped dead, they get +2 Str and Wis, -2 Dex, have no constitution scores and thus determine hp and fort-saves via cha instead and only get a base movement rate of 20 feet, which is not modified by encumbrance, though. Mortiss are full-blown undead – with all the immunities, less attributes to divide points by etc. They also get DR 3/slashing (which they can exchange with a 15 foot aura of 5-round nauseating stench or full 30 feet movement rate), always consider stealth a class skill, get darkvision 60 feet, a vulnerability to resurrection and positive energy etc. – and most importantly – they are destroyed upon reaching 0 hp, sans means of being returned from the beyond.

Yeah…that is interesting. Point-buy-wise, this race clocks in at 17 points, but the ARG’s guidelines are broken, so that does not for a good orientation point make. Whether you consider this class overpowered very much depends on the frequency of which you use fort-based afflictions like poisons and diseases and on the lethality of your campaign – if your game is rather cuddly, the 0 Hp = game over caveat may be manageable; If you have a rather lethal campaign, the fast final destruction is something that will take a lot of brains (and luck!) to avoid. On the other side, only having to buy 5 attributes makes for much more powerful characters. The best line I can come up with, would be Sentenced’s “Neverlasting” – “Burn the candles at both ends – you and I aren’t built to last.” The Mortiss are powerful, but quite probably, will be more short-lived than similar characters that are alive. Solid race, though not made for every campaign.

There also is a racial archetype, the boneblade magus, which gets diminished spellcasting and sacrifices 2 points from the arcane pool to permanently improve their blades with the holy or unholy property. Unfortunately all other abilities of the archetype fail the kitten-test, big time: AT 9th level, crits heal the magus for class level Hp -kill ‘dem kittens! At 12th level, the magus may regain aracana this way. Urgh. And at 13th level, each hit nets the magus 1 temporary hp, lasting 1 hour, up to a maximum of class levels temporary hp. That’s three gross failures of the kitten-test at its most basic level, which renders the archetype utterly broken and deeply flawed. Unfortunately, something similar can be said about some of the feats: Take “Feign Death”, which lets you collapse in a heap as an immediate action – nice. But it fails to specify what skill-check DC modifications this has to your bluff-skill at feigning death, rendering a cool feat concept useless as written. I won’t complain about a feat to offset the no-resurrection penalty, but one that makes fifth level + characters easily healed via positive energy isn’t too high on my list, since that takes away one of the most crucial vulnerabilities of the race. Granted, negative energy now damages the Mortiss, but still. Turn resistance, +1 natural armor and an achievement feat to slightly increase positive energy output feel a bit on the weak end. Two solid racial traits and a nice 3-level racial paragon class as well as two spells, a full-blown Mortiss settlement and a sample character (especially the latter two deserve credit) are also provided for an overall solid, if not perfect race.

The second undead race herein would be the Forsworn. These would be people, undecaying and less grisly than the Mortiss, who have forsworn life via a ritual and acquired the Cr+1 forsworn template – consider it a kind of reward, if you will. The race also comes with plenty of favored class options, gain darkvision 60 ft., +2 channel resistance, Bluff, Disguise and Stealth become a class skill, energy resistance 5 vs. lightning and cold, +2 to bluff and disguise checks and +1 natural armor. Oh, and if their origin isn’t making that clear enough – these guys and gals are EVIL. They also do not heal naturally, unlike what was implied and not explicitly stated, the Mortiss. (Who do not have that caveat…) The Beguiling Witch archetype gets diminished spellcasting and instead, a warlock-like blast ranged touch attack with a range of 30 ft. that deals 1d6 points of untyped damage, +1d6 at 3rd level and every odd level thereafter. This blast is useable class level + int-mod times day. The archetype also gets arcane armor proficiency at 4th level instead of a hex and DR 3/cold iron that increases slowly further instead of the level 8 hex. Solid blaster archetype, though calling the archetype “Beguiling Witch” feels like a massive misnomer to me.

A total of 18 feats (that, as written, don’t require the forsworn race – be very wary when allowing these!) are provided for the forsworn. Take “Bleak Spell” – The feat adds 1 negative level sans save to a spell, at +3 spell levels. Yes, that means NO SAVE for the negative level. OUCH. Combine that with unerring magic missiles, for example…rather easy to abuse and should probably have some caveat and instead a less severe level increase. The feat that auto-maxes the HP of undead you “prepare” is problematic – what does preparing entail? Do spawns qualify? If so, why does not every creature eligible have this? Seriously, this one is very strong and could use a tighter wording. Making your undead negative energy bombs is also interesting, as would be the ability to graft bone armor to undead. Greater Turn Resistance is once again flawed – “You gain DR 5/- versus channeled energy.” There is no such thing as “channeled energy” – there is positive energy and negative energy. And they, as energy would adhere to the resistance X-formula. Additionally, the feat, as provided, makes healing via negative energy 5 points less effective – intentional? The fortification-granting feats, while not getting the terminology for fortification right, at least are not ambiguous. Speaking of sloppy wordings – “Revivification” specifies “By expending two channel negative energy uses, destroyed undead in your area of effect are reanimated with half their normal hit points.” – what’s bad here? Well, it’s subtle. First, action type – I assume regular standard action, but I’m not sure. Secondly, do all the intelligent undead retain free will? Sans HD-cap? Instant perma-immortality for liches, undead dragons etc. Destroyed by pesky adventurers? No problem, loyal cadre of 1st level cha 13+ cultists and 1 (!!!) can INSTANTLY return you to life at half max hp. Though you’d usually be DESTROYED. This needs serious fixing, especially in the context of this book – if such a feat is inserted into the game with undead PCs, they can be brought back EASILY, for a regrowing resource, sans penalties. INSANE. Speaking of which – what about a feat that heals you when drawing negative levels from your allies, usable ad infinitum. Restoration and similar spells? Screw those. At least needs a daily cap. Worse, most of these feats have no racial prereq – avoid inserting them just wildly into your game.

The racial paragon-class is solid (though one ability has an annoying typo) and the write-up contains a cool level 17 grimoire in all glorious spell-lists, fluff etc., including a neat preparation ritual. We also get a shadow-themed unseen servant-style spell and a sample character. The forsworn are very powerful and lack any advice for DMs on how to judge this power in relation to other characters. The lack of ECL or RP-information makes clear these guys are intended for NPC-use, though the absence of guidelines in that regard for evil groups sucks. The base race is okay, if not intended for player hands, but the feats…oh dear. While almost universally cool in imagery, oh boy are their wordings SLOPPY. To the point where they contain a number of game-breakers. Avoid.

The third race, the Maghra are essentially degenerate half-ghoul barbarians, transformed by their deadly and strange practices. Theyare half-undead, get +2 Str and Con, -2 Int and Cha and come with full age, height, weight-tables, favored class options, +1 to fort-saves and immunity to paralysis, non-magical diseases and poisons, a bite attack for 1d6 (not specifying whether as a primary or secondary natural attack, though I assume the former), +2 to Knowledge (dungeoneering) and Survival checks made while underground. They also always treat Perception and Stealth as class skills and gain light sensitivity. They can also get claws for 1d3, but then reduce the bite damage to 1d3 as well – once again, failing to specify whether claws or bite become primary/secondary natural weapons when used in conjunction. Very cool as an idea would be the feats that net you to +4 to attribute-spells for eating elves or dwarves…but the feats fail to specify CL for the effects…and duration/whether it’s an extraordinary/supernatural/spell-like ability effect. This unfortunately holds universally true for almost all of the conceptually cool cannibalism-feats. “Blood Frenzy” is an interesting idea – when reducing a foe below 50% HP, the Maghra enter a frenzy for +2 to Str/Con, +1 to will-save for 1 round per level, useable 4+con-mod times, non-stacking with barbarian rage. per se, that’s awesome, though the 50% caveat is, as written, makes no sense – hand the barbarian a kitten for rage. Why not just eliminate the 50%.limitation? Gaining DC 10 +1/2 level +cha-mod paralysis for 1d3 rounds on ALL natural attacks is also insanely strong – Paralysis being one of the most crippling conditions in Pathfinder.

The bite-power enhancing 3-level racial paragon-class, the 6 new traits, the settlement, the sample character – all of these are nice, though. Urghs, this one was a pain – mainly because the base race is nice and only has very minor glitches, but the feats once again just are in need of a massive overhaul, breaking rules and sporting sloppy wordings left and right.

The fourth race would be Nergal’s servants, the deathless – another templated race at CR +2 who gets the full-blown undead-treatment, darkvision 60 ft, +2 natural AC, resistance 10 against cold, lightning and fire, fast healing 1, a slam attack at 1d6 (primary or secondary?), detect undead at will, +2 Str and Cha, +2 Perception + Sense Motive and Alertness, Toughness and Iron Will as bonus feats. Oh, and whenever they die, they automatically respawn after 24 hours, with one point of permanent Cha-drain that can’t be mitigated. The ability unfortunately fails to specify WHERE the deathless respawns, whether s/he takes his/her equipment to Nergal’s realm to be admonished etc. The 4 racial feats give you negative HP (and being staggered), allow you to conjure forth a +1 undead bane dancing scythe that can, with another feat, made brilliant + ghost touch (very strong at low levels) and one “kill foes to heal”-feat that once again gloriously fails the kitten-test. The undead knight-style racial paragon-class is neat, as is the bone armor spell and the sample NPC. So, depending on your perspective, this is the race for the player who doesn’t want to lose his PC…or for the munchkin. The Deathless, as a templated creature, makes for a superb adversary, but lacks crucial information regarding balancing it with non-deathless characters. I would STRONGLY advise against using these in any but the most high-powered of games as PCs…but they do have a glorious usage: Remember Dark Souls/Demon Souls? Yeah. Make an exceedingly, mega-deadly campaign and see whether the PCs manage to conquer it – coincidentally, you could also take the Souls-series’ reclaim mechanics for gear instead of for full hp… So while I’d never allow the race in a common campaign, it does have its uses! Apart from minor gripes, neat!

The final race would be the Nephandim, once again a non-templated race, these guys are the pale, small servants or Nergal – they get -2 to Str, Cha and Con, +2 Int and Wis, are small and slow. Tehy are humanoids with fire resistance 5 (or DR 3/slashing), +2 to saves against death effects, +2 to will-saves to resist enchantment (charm + compulsion)-spells and effects and may save again. They may also, 1/day, reroll a Bluff/Diplomacy-check when proclaiming their service to Nergal. Additionally, they may 1/day cast bleed, chill touch, detect poison, touch of fatigue as a spell-like ability if their wis is 11 or higher, deathwatch at will, +2 to their channeling DC if applicable, 120 ft darkvision, light sensitivity and also have negative energy affinity, making them great allies/healers of the undead. These lack the RP/build-information, though. Generally, the Nephandim feel a bit overburdened to me – the spell-like abilities, the better channeling sans alternate racial trait to switch out…depending on the build, these guys can be extremely strong. For my taste, the race is too strongly geared towards the caster-direction and a tad bit too strong, though not to the point where I wouldn’t allow it after shearing some of the various bonuses to saves or similar ones, trimming a bit of the fat of the class.

The Sequestered Cleric archetype is a less paltry version of the concept of the cloistered cleric – d6, poor BAB, but +Int skills, the knowledge domain as a third domain, scribe scroll and 1/2 class levels to knowledge-checks (and the ability to make them untrained) – solid. The 4 new feats – are universally nice, though the achievement feat (of which there are a couple in this book) granting animate dead at will feels a bit excessive. The 3-level racial paragon class learns to ignore turn resistance and generally is solid. The spells are nice, though death conduit, which allows you to share hp with an undead within 50 ft. you control as a swift action makes for a powerful option that can be a bit strong for a level 1-spell. The Nephandim settlement and sample character are neat.

That’s not where the pdf ends, though – we are also introduced to the CR+1 Bonescriven template and an extremely brief write up of Nergal, God of Death -who gets btw. access to RGG’s superb Hellfire domain from the “Genius Guide to Hellfire Magic” – don’t fret, though – the domain information is included.


Editing and formatting are okay – not particularly flawless, though – there is quite a bunch of punctuation errors, inconsistent formatting etc. to be found here – mostly not influencing the ability to understand the rules, though. Layout adheres to TPK Games’ elegant, printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with glorious pieces of original b/w-artwork. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and unobtrusively hyperlinked.

TPK Games’ mastermind and author Brian Berg knows dark fantasy and knows the undead – his prose is exquisite and while most campaigns will balk at reintroducing an iteration of the death-god Nergal into their pantheon (and thus lose some of the cool fluff’s bonuses), the races per se can be easily transported into a setting. And the base races per se are interesting – while I would not advise on flat-out making the book available to PCs, the races support diverse playstyles, even offering new options for campaigns (deathless souls, baby!) and are diverse enough to feel very distinct from one another. While the templated races require special playstyles, the others feel like they can fit in respective campaign niches and while the wording of their write-ups has a flaw here and there, the problems per se are not that pronounced. The archetypes are a mixed bag, the racial paragon-classes on the nicer end of the spectrum.

But alas, there are problems. This pdf’s issues can be summed up in one word: Feats. If I didn’t know better, I would think that a completely different author wrote these. Brian Berg usually tends to get feats right, but the ones herein brim with issues – breaking balance, failing kitten-tests left and right, sloppy wordings – these feats often utterly break otherwise nice, balanced classes, providing sometimes a power-level that is ridiculous, sometimes failing to specify their limits/benefits and one even breaking potentially any campaign’s logic. Yeah, that bad.

So on the one hand, we have some truly awesome prose, cool concepts and neat ideas with minor issues and then a whole class of crunch that is almost universally flawed in its execution. This book has potential, oh yes, it does, but it also feels rushed, like it was abandoned halfway through. As much as I love some of the content, I can’t rate this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up by a slight margin to 3 for DMs. As for players – you MUST ask your DMs, who should consider carefully which part of these rules to allow in your game…low-powered games and those very conscious of precise wordings should round down instead.

Endzeitgeist out.

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