Dec 062016
 

Phoenix: Dawn Command cover

Phoenix: Dawn Command is the result of Twogether Studios successful Kickstarter and a roleplaying game in which what kills you, actually make you stronger.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

The world of Dalea is very much in peril again. Generations after the Dread was brought to a halt by the Phoenix, darkness is coming back to the kingdoms and the flame of Pyre has lit again.

You are a Phoenix, a human reborn after learning secrets and training in The Crucible, a mystical place of learning and growth, with abilities beyond that of any mortal and with the sole purpose of protecting Dalea from the Dread. You have learned that death is not the end and that every time you die you come back to Dalea stronger, better than before.

But your death must be meaningful and you must choose carefully when to die, for you can only be reborn seven times before you can’t return.

Can you make it count?

Phoenix: Dawn Command has been authored by Keith Baker and Dan Garrison. Keith’s resume includes more games I can remember, but, just in case his name is not one you are familiar with, he created Eberron. Keith knew Dan Garrison and Dan had a great idea for a game: Death is what makes you stronger. And they started to work together.

The result was a Kickstarter that funded very successfully and broke a few stretch goals that saw people like Kenneth Hite, Robin D. Laws, Will Hindmarch, Nika Harper, Mary Robinette Kowal and others.

And at a price that I found pretty amazing. For 50$ you got the game with the stretch goals, and considering the game mechanics are card based, I thought it was pretty good value for money.

When I got my copy of the game I thought they had included a brick or something similar in the box. It was very heavy for my little muscles. Much to my delighted surprise, inside the box was a 460 pages small size book, more than 250 tarot size cards and a whole bunch of tokens.

The box is very sturdy, thicker than most boardgame boxes, and it has the right space for everything it comes with, though no insert and if you sleeve the cards, it might be a tad tight. with a size of 25 x 17 x 7 cms, it will probably get into any rucksack and fit in any shelf, keeping all your gamey bits tidy. You can tell I love games that come in boxes!

The book comes in a pretty decent quality paper and the binding is most excellent. It is a softcover, so nothing too fancy, but it has resisted my handling while I read it and it has come with me in several bags and rucksacks resisting easily enough and without any pages coming loose or anything like that. Even the top of the book barely has any crises.

So far so good.Phoenix

The card material is pretty standard. It is coated, so it will resist touching by non-grubby fingers fairly easily. However, if you are going to play this game a lot, I would suggest sleeves.

There are different decks of cards. School (the type of Phoenix you are), Action cards (Grace, Strength or Intellect), Lesson (character abilities) and Challenge cards (basically, enemies) and each player starts with a hand of cards they can use to make a spread. Each appropriate card has a number and if the spread is equal or higher than the challenge, then the action succeeds.

There is also a card called The Torch. That card allows you to write a list of words, like the list of environmental items you find at a location. Why this is important I will explain later because it is a cool little feature of the game.

The artwork on the cards, which is repeated in the book too, is lovely. Line art illustration work with very simple style and limited palette. Think about the sort of glass windows you see in medieval churches (and maybe in not so medieval ones) and that is kind of the style we have here.

The number of illustrations is enough. Not every card has an unique illustration, but then not every card needs it either. They are meant to represent the characters abilities, enemies, afflictions, conditions… so I would say the only reason to see more illustrations would be to enjoy them, not because they are necessary.

The tokens are sturdy enough. They are used to keep track of your health, sparks, conditions (burning, bleeding, immobilised, enraged, stunned, vulnerable, exposed and hidden) and the icon design is very good. Simple, effective and unmistakeable, which is what this sort of tokens should be.

I should also say that the graphic design is generally very good. The icons are consistent, simple to identify, plentiful  and in the right places. The book layout left me a bit cold, though. I know you are limited when you have so many words to put inside such a small book, so I wasn’t expecting multiple columns layout or anything like that. However I did miss more illustrations and a bit more interesting side panels or inserts than we have. I am all up for simplicity, but sometimes it can be taken too far. Even so, the book is easy enough to read and only found a couple of layout mistakes with titles being at the end of a page and content starting on the next page. Not enough of them to be a problem, though.

Character creation is fairly simple, though it does require some thought and I would say even discussion with the other players and GM, or Marshal, which is how the director is referred to. There are various Flames a Phoenix can belong to and they each have different abilities and specialisms. They are also linked to the way the character died prior to transformation in The Crucible.

Basically, a Phoenix at level 1 is the reincarnation of someone who died in dramatic circumstances. It could be failing to protect someone, giving their life for someone, caught by surprise, horribly tortured to death… Anything. Once that character has died, they go to The Crucible where they choose what Flame they will adhere to and undertake the training needed to become a Phoenix. The Crucible is a space between life and death and each player has their own Crucible. Time there is immaterial. It serves as the perfect opportunity to justify a player taking some time off, changing characters or simply returning as soon as possible.

As mentioned, each Flame has its own quirks:

  • Devoted: They believe in unity and team play, thus with abilities that empower the whole team.
  • Durant: They are the tank of the team, able to take on injuries and enemies that could cripple anyone else.
  • Elemental: Closely linked to The Flame that brought them back, they can control fire and use it as a devastating weapon.
  • Forceful: This is the athlete of the team. Fast, precise and lethal.
  • Shrouded: The ninja type of character. Scholar of ancient lore and able to find any secret while hiding in shadows.
  • Bitter: Furious, reckless in battle, temperamental and willing to jump into battle before it even begun. You flirt with death more often than any other.

Each character type has specific action suits composed of two out of the three types of action cards. For example, the Durant action suits are Grace and Strength with the latter one being its primary.

That means that having a diversity of characters is important because otherwise the party could miss on having some actions, which could easily prove lethal later on.

Each character also has a Talon, a unique item with  properties that only the player character can use. It can be a sword, a necklace, a garment, an animal… anything the player wants and wants to discuss with the Marshal.

The book makes a lot of emphasis on asking questions about the characters as you create it, so the personality is as important as the traits and attributes, which is good because it tries to distance the game from any other dungeon crawl, though it has a lot of elements of dungeon crawlers.

Why does it matter the personality? Because depending on the Phoenix flame, their actions should be linked to it. For example, no point in having a Bitter who is more interested in healing others and shooting from a distance. You might as well create a Devout. By asking all the questions early on, both the Marshal and the player can decide if they are going in the right direction.

Also, this is truly a team playing game, so getting to know the characters and finding some common ground is important, or you could find yourself facing a foe you can’t defeat alone (which is likely because the enemies are pretty bad ass).

The mechPhoenix: Dawn Command - The Innocentsanics sound simpler than they actually are. The player specifies what they want to do, the Marshal decides on a difficulty and what attributes the Phoenix needs to use to create the spread. That means there is a lot of interpretation to be done throughout the game. Also there are a lot of breaks you might need to use on some power-players who will want to do impossible things.

Also you have to interpret the spread into action. For example if there is a lot of Grace used, you need to come up with a graceful way to achieve the goal, rather than, say, hitting a foe with a hammer.

It does give a lot more scope for creativity, but it also places a lot more work on the more experienced players, and makes it a bit harder for those newer to roleplaying games.

Also, the fact that players have a limited number of cards in their hands mean they must be careful what cards they use or they could find themselves going from foe to foe, or challenge to challenge, and not having enough score to resolve them all.

Fortunately, the mechanics are geared towards team play, so joining forces with other Phoenixes to solve whatever is ahead of the players is not just desirable, but oftentimes necessary.

Earlier I mentioned The Torch, a special card where you can write certain items you find in whatever location you find yourself in. This is important because if the players use those items in a meaningful way, they get advantages. Also they might be clues to defeat the enemy at hand, so very well worth keeping in mind. Of course, the Marshal can also use that card to give a hint if the players get stuck at some point, like solving a puzzle.

Death is also an important part of the game. In fact the only way characters have to get stronger and “level up” is by dying. However that death must be meaningful in some way. If you just jump off the window to kill yourself and level up without any ulterior motive… well… that is boring.

Once the character has died, they go to The Crucible, where they learn new skills or improve on the ones they have. Basically, they level up. This can happen only seven times, which is a good move from the design team to make sure people don’t just jump into the fray to die and choose carefully when they are meant to spent their precious lives.

The manual also offers extensive knowledge on the world of Dalea, as well as the four kingdoms and the island of Pyre, where the Phoenixes have their base of operations. It is full of mega spoilers, so do not read it if you are not going to be a Marshal.

Which in some ways is a shame because the history of Dalea is fascinating and the way the Dread is spreading and why utterly terrifying. Don’t let the light hearted artwork misguide you, this is a seriously dark game with horror all over the place.

The bestiary is what truly gives you the extent of the horror and darkness of this world. They are seriously creepy, very tough and as original as they are varied (except the Shoggoth… we have seen that before in sooo many games), and most of them represent a serious challenge for any team of phoenixes. Of course they can also be made tougher for higher level Phoenixes.

There is plenty of advice on how to run the games, creating missions, expanding the world and, essentially, getting to grips with the vast amount of information this game comes with.

Much to my delight, almost half the book is comprised of four adventures that get tougher as the players play them. And they start pretty tough, so at no point players can get complacent or they will suffer greatly. I will not say in this review what the adventures are all about so not to spoil anything, but I will say they are fairly simple adventures and, although they do a great job of introducing you to the game and the world, they certainly just scratch the surface of how rich and interesting this game can be.

Conclusion

Phoenix: Dawn Command is a very solid game for experienced players and groups who know each other well.

The fact that the box comes with enough cards and tokens for a group of three people is both good and bad. Good because having a small group is generally easier, and bad because if one player skips a session, then the whole thing can be messy.

There is no reason why you can’t just get another box with more cards and add players, though. It might mean you need to find more storage space, but hey, worth doing so if you can get another happy player.

I did miss an insert, now that I talk about it. Why? Because every player has a spread of cards they use. If you have to stop mid game for whatever reason, or simply the game ends and you have go to home, there is no way to separate in the box what cards each character had, so you either have to make notes or remember for next time. Having an insert that allow you to place the cards in the right place would solve that problem. Not the end of the world, though.

Once you get used to the mechanics, it is a very creative endeavour to play the game and, if there is good group synergy, creating collaborative spreads and working together comes pretty naturally. The initial efforts to get to grips with all the cards and tokens soon pay off, so don’t let that put you off. Beware, though, if you have to play with beginners. This game is not beginner friendly, even if character creation is very easy.

Also keep in mind this is a dark game. My only grudge with the art direction is that it doesn’t truly reflect this. It is only when you start to hear about possessed children who can kill whole villages or monsters that can obliterate entire communities and eviscerate them that you realise you can get real dark real soon with this game and it would make perfect sense.

Don’t get me wrong, the illustrations are lovely and I really like them, but I do wonder if this is the right style for such a dark themed game.

Now I only hope there will be more adventures and more supplement written for this game. It would be a shame if this is the last physical product we see for Phoenix: Dawn Command, because it certainly deserves the attention and dedication.

I would say if you want something that is not afraid of death and is not your typical world full of elves, this is a good investment for the price tag, so I would recommend it.

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Dec 062016
 

152736[1]By Endzeitgeist

The first installment of Raging Swan Press’ new campaign events-series clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

So, masquerade balls there are a couple of scenes in a given GM’s arsenal that boil down to being simply awesome and memorable – in my case, one such experience was a time loop masquerade ball that required the PCs to not be noticed by all previous incarnations of their previous runs of the time loop. The adventure was one of the most challenging I’ve ever run, not simply because of the time loop premise, but also because of the ridiculous level of detail required for the proper depiction of a masquerade ball in the first place.

If I had had this pdf back then, I would have had a much easier job – for example, we begin with a 50-entry table of sample masks – from elegant masks of lions to veined marble make-up, the list is diverse and cool – but we’re talking fantasy here. Hence, the second table, covering 50 entries as well, sports magical masks for the truly decadent: From snapping crocodile’s jaws to live squids you can wear or multi-hued bubbles, it is here that the book lights a whole array of idea-fireworks, with unique enchantments and mechanical benefits just being asked to be added to these masks.

Beyond that, though, two more tables provide the finery we really want to see – 50 entries for male and female costumes span the gamut of inspiring ideas, from dresses made all of pearls to insubordinate duplicates of the regent’s attire and military attires as well as stylized dragon costumes, this section is downright awesome.

Of course, anyone that has tried to run a masquerade ball knows that, while costumes and the like are interesting, what truly makes such an event difficult, ultimately boils down to the number of people required to properly pull the event off – and here, a massive, fluff-only table of 50 entries provides in spades – from half-orc wizards on staff to use mending and prestidigitation to fix costumes on the fly to disguised gnomes in the clothes of a roast pig, decadence and fun seep from each and every entry – and yes, there are obvious foils included in here.

Conclusions:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press’ elegant, printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Additionally, the pdf comes with two versions – one optimized for the screen and one for printer-use.

Kat Evan’s Masquerade Ball is a pdf I did not look forward to reviewing, mainly because I do believe that masquerade balls are hard to capture in their style – and on one hand, this pdf spectacularly succeeds: As a dressing-toolkit, this is pretty much the apex of what can ask from a pdf on the subject matter and it is a great buy. At the same time, I do believe that the subject matter covered would have vastly benefited from a more in-depth coverage. What Do I mean by this? Disguise-DCs. Sample entertainments. Sample dances and mini-games – the whole party-shenanigans, would have made this a pdf I’d use for years to come, a book of pure awesomeness. A more thorough blending of fluff and crunch with GM-cheat-sheet-tricks and mechanical tidbits could have made this a prime candidate for my Top Ten of 2015.

At the same time, I’d be an unfair reviewer, if I did not acknowledge the level of quality and detail of the fluffy bits that *are* here – and these still warrant a final verdict of 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Nov 262016
 

a_fliration_with_feyFlirtation with Fey. A simple scribe vanishes from his shop during a suspicious fire, leaving the heroes the only people he can trust.

By Endzeitgeist

This module clocks in at 66 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 62 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As always with modules, the following text does contain SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion to avoid spoiling this adventure.

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All right, only GMs around? Great! We enter the stage this time around in the town of Thaven (fully mapped), where a former adventurer-turned notary/scrivener, the gnome Gustavus Hodgedar, hires the PCs, who has inadvertently stumbled over a dastardly plot – but he doesn’t know that yet. What he does know is that a shipment has disappeared – oddly, one containing histories of the local town and its eminent families…strange target, right? Anyways, the man who was supposed to bring them hasn’t shown and thus, the PCs happen upon a complex plot that transcends the humble beginnings. Upon finding the missing cart, the PCs will have to deal with lethal traps and gremlins, but, upon returning, they will not find an open office, but rather the charred remains of Gustavus’ house, with a fire brought under control only to a nearby shop of weird contraptions. Investigating the onlookers, watchmen and checking out Gustavus’ shop, the PCs will realize pretty soon that Gustavus hasn’t perished in the fire – instead, he’s nowhere to be seen.

This would be as good a place as any to comment on the extensive diversification of skill-result benefits: Scaling degrees of success yield different information, with most checks providing not only 2-3, but even more diverse results. I really like this from a design perspective. Similarly, I enjoy the sense of concise magical realism evoked by the utilization of proper spells: You see, as the PCs are investigating, they stumble upon an animal messenger with a handout note, telling them about Gustavus being held hostage in a wine cellar. Unbeknown to the PCs, their investigations are already shadowed by an agent of the antagonists, who then continues to exert subtle pressure as the PCs try to piece together the clues in a massive, detailed investigation scenario.

The wine-label upon which they received their message makes for an obvious clue that yields the information, that it’s from a rare vintage indeed – only two bottles having been sold in recent history. beyond training with clockwork dummies in the local fighter’s brotherhood, the PCs may also learn about Gustavus less legal endeavors, while a lavishly detailed tavern becomes the staging point for an assault by the PC’s adversaries. Beyond clockworkery and *A LOT* of means to unearth details (sporting counter-intelligence-info for the foes of the PCs) and several rather detailed encounters, the PCs will note that the esteemed Reniverrea family might be involved. In order to free Gustavus, they will have to infiltrate the massive, gorgeously mapped Renvierrea estate, which, coincidentally, hosts a massive birthday party – and here, things get full-blown magic spy-genre. Handling the party and investigating the Gustavus-connection may yield some rather surprising pieces of information, a corpse and some rather disquieting implications – however things go, the trail does lead towards the untamed wild, for it seems like Balanidhren’s daughter has fallen in love with a satyr – and perhaps, they may recover the books and piece things together and confront the conspirators: You see, an evil fey has secretly seeded changeling-like creatures, the Paoternosh, born from the vile womb of the evil belgar. Said creatures has executed a hostile take-over of the Renvierrea family that included a doppelganger, aforementioned satyr, its spawn and copious amounts of gaslighting….a plot that was jeopardized by Gustavus’ books.

How things ultimately turn out and how much your PCs find out about the plot, though, depends on their prowess…and yes, this module’s aftermath can yield certainly many more adventures as follow-ups, particularly since the city of Thaven is actually provided in the appendices in lavish detail – including a feat for Mephit familiars and 3 solid traits for local PCs. Thaven most certainly is an interesting village that can act as a great starting place for subsequent adventures.

Beyond this, the module contains very detailed scaling rules for PCs of 2nd and 5th/6th level, including an upgraded CR 8 version of the satyr. The module’s new monsters, much like many of the NPCs herein, get full stats and accompanying high-quality b/w-artworks and no less than 4 handouts and 5 pregens supplement the module and make it pretty easy on the GM to run.

You know what’s even better? The adventure comes with a massive 25-page map-booklet, which sports the maps in regular size AND in an enlarged battle-map size that you can print out and cut up. Quality-wise, the maps (with two exceptions) are Paizo-level of beauty – so yeah, this may be worth the low asking price for the maps alone. Oh, and in the map-bonus, the maps are in gorgeous full-color!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to run Amok Games’ printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and sports numerous beautiful B/w-artworks, none of which I’ve seen before. So yes, this is an aesthetically truly pleasing book. The map-booklet with its superb cartography and the blown-up maps for battle-map use, all player-friendly, is just the icing on the awesome cake regarding the use of cartography as handouts and GM-friendliness – publishers and authors, take a look here: This is how it’s done.

Gregory Hanigan and Ron Lundeen deliver, let me state that very clearly, one absolutely awesome investigation module – barring means to get unduly stuck, the constant presence of thwarting agents and modular nature of this module, alongside its overarching plot and compellingly written gazetteer make this not only a great, fun module, but also a compelling starting point for more adventures in and around the surprisingly concise and alive city of Thaven. With relatively subdued clockwork-elements, this is easily transported to Midgard and, should you dislike steampunkish elements, you can easily explain them away as magical or simply ignore/reskin the few of these elements that can be found in this book. With different degrees of success and easy tools for the GM to control the pace (the rats), we have an investigation that is surprisingly fast-paced, but still manages to build up tension and even end with a nasty “darker things to come”-realization if your players have truly grasped the threat behind the adventure’s plot. Well written, concise and very considerate for the diverse needs of different groups, this is a stellar adventure well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 312016
 

Chronicle_of_the_gatekeeper

By Endzeitgeist

Chronicle of the Gatekeepers Sidetrek: In His Bad Books clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 1/2 page advertisement, leaving us with 7.5 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

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All right, only GMs around? Great! Just because you’re a creepy, poisonous scorpion-person doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings, right? Large-Biter, the sassori-contact of the PCs as they investigate the incursion of the Vesparans into NeoExodus, has a past – and this time around, it’s a delicate matter. You see, the sassori’s former adventuring companions split after he confessed his love to the Cynean (crystal-person, for NeoExodus-newbies) conjuror of his group. Yep, the cynean is a man, so we have a queer romance backdrop here – personally, that is something I enjoy to see. And no, this is not something particularly dominant or the central theme here, but still – nice to see some diversity here.

Anyways, the Cynean Raxe has his own issues, as will become readily apparent upon the PCs finding his cottage, built around a dormant Nexus Gateway: There is a stone pedestal outside, and in it, you can see A BARBED DEVIL. Yep, CR 11. No, the PCs should NOT try to kill him…or…well, they kind of should. You see, when the Nexus Gateway flared to life, Raxe summoned the creature, but had it locked in the circle. Unfortunately for him, he lost the book containing the means to dispel the devil to clumsiness and the machinations of a nasty imp and has been locked inside his safe room ever since. (Which btw. is the only component along the access tunnel to it not mapped.)

The PC’s task is clear – Stop the annoying imp and get the formula book…or find the well-hidden dispel-roll buried in the garden (taking anti-detection spells into account – kudos!!) and get rid of the devil. Sure, they could also haggle with it OR destroy it from afar with the proper strategy (it’s what my PCs did), but at this level, all such options are potentially dangerous. Raxe is thankful for being freed from this predicament and has a nice ritual to open Nexus Gateways to share alongside a warning (and yes, if they elect to kill him instead, there is an alternative to get the info), thus leaving this sidetrek with a crucial piece of information and some interesting insight into their employer’s past. A new magic item is also included.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though at one time, the GM-only part of the text refers to the devil as a demon…yeah, I know, nitpickery…Layout adheres to LPJ Design’s elegant 2-column full-color standard for the series and the module comes fully bookmarked and in a second, slightly more printer and mobile phone-friendly version. Tommi Salama’s map of the cottage is glorious and the added inclusion of a player-friendly map is much appreciated.

Set-up-wise, this is probably the most boring of the CotGK-sidetreks I’ve read so far, but it played as the most interesting: First of all, we have CHOICE and player-agenda: This is a mini-sidebox that very much leaves how to handle it up to the players: There are ample choices to deal with the threat in various ways and variations of the two major approaches to handle the issue. It’s also a good module in that it emphasizes a sense of caution and shows the PCs that not every threat can be defeated by brawns alone. Yes, the backdrop may not be particularly exciting, but the playing-quality of this one is high – it’s basically a big puzzle-encounter that can be solved in various ways – and for that, I really like it! My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Oct 272016
 

101_forest_spellsBy Endzeitgeist

101 Forest Spells, the second of Dave Paul’s massive 101-spell books centered on terrain-specific spells clocks in at a whopping 42 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 37 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

We begin this pdf with spell-by-level-lists, containing, btw. also the ACG bloodrager and shaman – and then, we’re right at the spells. I’m not going to go through the spells one by one, instead trying to provide a showcase of the best and worst of the bunch – so let’s dive in!

At low levels, better options to forage for food and water can be found – but thing become interesting pretty immediately after that – let’s take a cloak of acidic mist: In a 5-ft.-radius around you, you generate acidic mist that moves with you -and it lingers, decreasing its damage by two dice per round – the issue becomes pretty much apparent for all spell-designers – in order to move, you’d have to pass your own acidic cloak’s first 5-ft.-AoE, thus dealing damage to you when you move. Know what? the wording manages to elegantly fix this rules-language conundrum. And yes, I consciously do not say how here – I won’t you folks to take a look at this. Much like in the predecessor book, casting the spells herein in the correct, wooden environment, obviously increases the spell’s prowess – which may translate to numerical increases of the spell’s parameters. But the pdf actually goes one step beyond that – you see, there are several different forests (D’UHHH) – and quite a few spells herein have different effects when cast in e.g. cold or temperate or warm forests. This would be pretty much “going the extra mile” as far as I’m concerned.

Indeed, this adds a strategic component to the pdf I did not expect to see in such a pronounced manner – the spells here, in short, manage to tie the aspect of magic and the world in which it is cast even tighter together than the previous book. Beyond terrain variants, there also would be spells that allow you to emulate different aspects of trees, thus granting the type of buff you require in a given situation. Another component I enjoy about the spells herein would be that they act as a kind of roleplaying catalyst in quite a few of the cases – buffing yourself to become an aurumvorax may have nice imagery, yes. But the spell becomes cool when it states that this prompts a powerful drive to act alone…and rewards you when you go solitary on your scouting rounds. See, that’s how you make spells that enhance roleplaying by granting tangible benefits, providing a unity between crunch and fluff.

Calling bear guardians to perform either tasks or be on guard duty is interesting due to the LONG duration of the service – and if you’re like me, you immediately looked for the obvious army of bears-exploit – guess what? The spell has a caveat that prevents it. Purging the undead, outsiders and constructed from the area may sound okay – until you realize how hard this spell is – with variable alignments and the option to purge them in large areas of the caster’s home, one pretty much immediately realizes that the rules-language here is not something any designer could have crafted – beyond that, though – the spell also manages to represent pretty neatly the trope of home-advantage, of the requirement to get the powerful druid back in time to halt the encroaching horde – Love it!

Druids cultivating flower-based plant-guardians will appreciate the cantrip that allows them to bloom faster. We also know the trope of undead, held together by plant-matter – well, the spell’s in here for the root-suffused undead. High-level druids may actually call a powerful hamadryad to their aid.

On the iconic image side, what about bards conjuring forth a chorus of nonlethal damage-dealing, deafening cicada chorus – oh, and if there actually are cicadas around, you’ll definitely enjoy the proper power-increase. What about conjuring forth a variant of solid fog that deals damage…and is particularly nasty versus cold iron-susceptible creatures while ALSO acting as a combo-set-up for certain damage-types? Yes, that would be an interesting terrain-control spell! Conjuring forth curtains of swirling, autumnal leaves, dropping branches on your foes, summoning rot grub swarms – the spells range from absolutely glorious to intriguing.

Declawing temporarily animals, reducing the efficiency of their claws, is pretty cool. Psychological warfare via eyes in the dark and a series of interesting fey form-spells further supplement this obvious thematic connection – speaking of fairytales – what about a compulsion that takes grains of a fine material and compels the targets to count them? Yes, this resonates with our real world mythology perfectly and puts it into concise game terms.

The pdf also continues the absolutely awesome innovation utilized in the first such book – there are spells which allow you to designate a target creature as a friend of the forest – hereafter, you can call such beings to your aid via other spells. Once again, this type of magic ultimately allows not only for interesting tactical options – it provides an in-game rationale for terrain superiority of a certain group of beings and has roleplaying potential, friendships and the like, all rolled up in its frame. Love it!

You and your allies may also transform into sparrows (great for reconnaissance), gain a slightly more flexible form of feather fall (at an appropriate level, btw.), render forests truly labyrinthine for those succumbing to your magic. What about coating allies in acidic repellent? Sounds okay? Well, it is. It goes that extra mile by featuring information on how it can be dissolved and countered – it’s these small bits, not necessarily required though they may be, that add this sense of magical realism to the spell-books, that make them feel like they’re part of a concise setting.

There also is an interesting terrain-control variant of healing – create a gorgeous, glowing garden – each square traversed heals(or harms the undead) – when fighting the living dead, this definitely is intriguing – and it may free the healer to do other, awesome things – interesting indeed! There also would be quite a few spells that let you duplicate some of the iconic tricks of various fey and there also would be the powerful 9th-level ritual that renaturalizes 10 miles of land – reverting the natural order in the area – whether at the PCs or NPC’s hands, this is an adventure on its own. Need to conceal the rather anti-stealthy, clunking Joe Platemail-Fighter? The Spell’s herein. If you’re on the less scrupulous side, summoning a moonflower may offer a rather creepy ally. Oh…and you can temporarily make a tree. With full stats, hardness and everything. need a tree? Cast Tree! You may be stumped as to why I consider this awesome, but the sheer plethora of things you can do with this spell if you’re creative is pretty impressive – if you need some ideas, drop me a line! Another star should be mentioned: There is a spell that allows a creature to bound itself to a forest in exhange for more power – spells like this make the trope of creatures with their own domains and stalling feuds between terrains and dominions so much more believable!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience by spell-level, spell list AND individual spell! The pdf sports numerous absolutely gorgeous full-color artworks.

Dave Paul’s first terrain spell-book came at a time when I was quite frankly burned out on new spells. I had seen too many and, with Deep Magic, to me, being a deeply frustrating book, I was not excited to read it. Well, I should have. Right when I thought I had seen everything, he singlehandedly changed my opinion – this is due to various factors:

1) His rules language is precise, even when tackling highly complex spell-effects.

2)The general power-balance of the spells is well-reasoned and so far, I felt no need to complain about any spell being OP.

3) The spells go above and beyond in tying their effects to terrain by rewarding players for planning and making them feel unique and magical.

4) The spells feature unique visuals from our shared mythologies and put them into concise rules.

5) They do so in actually innovative interesting ways that emphasize player-agenda, while showing his experience in academia and teaching – even complex concepts are conveyed in concise and easy to grasp ways.

One great spell book is an occurrence – two are a tendency. This is pretty much a textbook example of what a spell-book should be – inspiring, intriguing, exciting. Here, the crunch actually makes you come up with storylines, plots and enhances narrative options rather than limiting. This is a great example of Rite Publishing’s key-strengths of evocative concepts married with neat crunch and well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, given without hesitation – I consider not a single spell herein problematic. Not one. Get this!

Endzeitgeist out.

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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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