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.

Conclusion:
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.

Conclusion:

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!

Conclusion:

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 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.

Conclusion:

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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Aug 122014
 

129540[1]By Endzeitgeist

Dungeon Entrances, a Dungeon Dressing-installment, clocks in at 11 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 6 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

What’s the first thing a noob-group trying their hands at Rappan Athuk will tell you? Yep. “We’ve been TPK’d by the entrance.” The first page makes one thing clear, if you haven’t been aware of it before (or by that anecdote) – a dungeon’s entrance goes a long way making a dungeon memorable. For the truly time-starved DM, 16 ready-made entrances are provided in the first table, several of which sport interaction opportunities for skill-checks, including DCs and all – what about a locked portcullis with an evocation-magic radiating phoenix, for example?

A 50-entry-strong, two pages spanning table of dressings and features can be used to add unique and memorable dressings to the entrances – including illusion magic (including disbelief-DC), graves of adventurers, abandoned campsites – foreshadowing potential galore, once again interspersed with minor crunch even minor treasure to be found.

A total of 6 traps is also part of the deal, spanning CRs from 2 to 6 and coming with variations to amp up the CR, if desired. Fusillades of arrows combined with pit traps and mist and lightning +storm winds + elemental-summoning make for interesting traps indeed, all provided in RSP’s extremely easy to use trap-statblock. While not explicitly multi-round in every trap, the effective results from springing these boils down to the players being occupied for a while…and don’t worry – just because one is called “Death Trap Foyer”, does not mean that these approach Rappan Athuk’s level of lethality…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s superb, streamlined and printer-friendly 2-column b/w-standard with thematically-fitting, neat b/w-stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Greg Marks delivers a memorable little tool for effective foreshadowing, with all tables breathing flair and style galore. The traps themselves are detailed and actually explain how they work rather well, making it exceedingly easy to integrate them, even for DMs like yours truly that actually require their players to roleplay disarming of traps… My only gripe with this pdf is admittedly mostly cosmetic – I would have preferred a less conservative trap to be included as well. This is cosmetic, though – the pdf still justly deserves a final verdict of 5 stars, just short of the seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.

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Aug 042014
 

Ayutthayan_MonkBy Endzeitgeist

This installment of the player’s option-series introduces us to a variant monk class, the Ayutthayan Monk and clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page credits -leaving 11 page of content. Yeah, my pdf weirdly has no SRD.

The Ayutthayan Monk gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, a completely custom list of weapon proficiencies, AC/CMD-bonus of +1 (scaling up to +5) when unarmed/unencumbered and even remaining when flat-footed and touch attacks. They have all good saves, 3/4 BAB-progression, scale bonus movement rate to up to 60 ft, increase unarmed damage to up to 2d10. ALl in all, quite similar to the regular monk, so where are the differences? Well, at 1st level, the monk gets a bonus feat called Wai Khru Ram Muay, a dance that can generate ki, but only temporarily – i.e. the ki is short-lived and dissipates after 1 minute. Still, this means up to 10 (!!!) points of ki that can freely be burned away. This is a problem. Ki is a non-exclusive, non-regenerating resource that plenty a class/book utilizes for various means and taking away the restriction and making ki so easily available can break the game fast and hard, even without digging too deep in your pdf collection…

Let’s continue: At 2nd level and every two levels thereafter, the Ayutthayan Monk gains another Dhoi Muay-feat though the choice is slightly influenced by the levels – low-level monks have less choices. They also get their ki-pool at first level, evasion at the second – sooner ki pool, but no other downsides. The class also gets a weapon-themed bonus feat at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter. The class also gets body hardening-feats from the tree provided herein as well – these make use of the rules from the “Strategists & Tacticians”-book. The thing here is – not all people use this book or even own it and while I *like* the support of the rules, some alternate benefits would have helped, especially since the abilities are ingrained in the class. If you were always interested in the bone breaking maneuver as presented in Strategists & Tacticians – this pdf has all the necessary information and thus has rather cool supplemental crunch here.

At level 7, 12 and 20 the Ayuvatthan Monk may choose one of 9 sacred tattoos. These work as major bonuses, with bonuses to attributes, saves, unarmed damage and skills etc. being among the benefits. They also have slots (can’t have two tattoos in the same slot) and generally, are cool ideas. Problematic, though – a continuous protection from evil-granting tattoo lacks e.g. an effective CL of the effect/info on when/how to reactivate it after it’s been dispelled. It should also be noted that this version of the monk does not get purity of body, diamond soul, etc. The pdf also provides quite an array of new feats inspired by Thai boxing, if the nomenclature so far has not been ample clue.

Generally, let me step out for a second and say – YEAH. Thai boxing is damn hardcore and since my first girl-friend came from that cultural background, her brother actually taught me the basics. Getting even the basics right means you’ll hurt. A LOT. The feats per se, in concept, live up quite well to what they aim to achieve in reproducing the hardcore power of these fighting styles. On the downside, their wording is sometimes less than optimal: “With a successful unarmed attack as a standard action, you may use an attack of opportunity against the same opponent, making a single unarmed attack at BAB -5″ – does this mean the ability to execute the AoO automatically kicks in whenever one does just an attack as a standard action (as opposed to a charge/ full attack) or does it mean it only works when you initiate the attack explicitly as a standard action with the intention of doing the trick? The feat then allows the foe a save vs. DC 10 +1/2 class level + str-mod or be 1d4 rounds stunned. The feat also mentions “Costs 2 ki points.” What does that mean? The AoO? the stunning effect? When do you have to expend the ki points to activate this? And yes, the sequence matters. Which is generally a pity, for the feats, which often use AoOs as a kind of resource to add to combat maneuvers generally can be considered distinct and flavorful. Also interesting – a feat that allows you to make a ref-save versus an attack roll to mitigate the attack while fighting defensively and follow that up as an immediate action with a trip attempt that also deals 1d3 damage and knocks the foe prone. The question being: Why not unarmed damage? Is str-mod added? AoOs and the like have been taken into account there. Also mechanically a bit wonky would be horse kick – as a full-round action, make an acrobatics-check versus opponent’s initiative – on a success, attack at BAB-5 for double damage. All right – Acrobatics vs. Ini? Makes mathematically not much sense, the discrepancy is vast. Then BAB at -5 for double damage? Not that enticing. I like the base concept of the feat and think it can be salvaged, but as written, it’s too weak, especially since it and just about all these feats also cost ki.

I’ve danced around the issue here – (see what I did there?) – the concept per se is cool, the wording sloppy. A simple example “You gain a +3 competence bonus to initiate or

maintain a grapple.” So, does that mean I get both bonuses? Do I lose the initiative bonus upon maintaining a grapple? Can I opt out of the grapple bonus to maintain the initiative bonus? It’s a simple line and one that can be found in plenty a feat, but here both author and editors obviously have slept – I’m used to better quality control by 4WFG/PDG. Now not all feats suffer from such glitches, but enough do to be a problem.

We also get two nice new monk weapons and a new 1st level sample character.

Conclusion:

Editing on a formal level is good, on a rules-syntax level…not so much. Formatting is fine. Layout adheres to PDG’s printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf has no artwork apart from the cover. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Damn. Concept-wise, this is by far the favorite base-class by Sean O’ Connor I’ve had the chance to review – I love the idea behind this variant monk, I love the slight power-increase…but I can’t deny the issues. The regenerating ki is a HUGE no-go and the overall pdf suffers massively from sloppy, convoluted wordings. The complex feats often get it *almost* right – it’s evident that something extraordinary, experimental and cool has been tried here and you can *see* what to be excited about in this one. Then you start reading and ambiguities galore creep up. From suboptimal wordings to downright confusing ones, weird rules/balance-decisions… It almost looks like there was this great concept and all base concepts done…and then, interest was lost by those involved and the final implementation of the concepts rushed out. This one has the full potential of 5 stars + seal of approval when fixed in all regards by a talented rules developer. Once the too strong/too weak feats have been brought in line, the unnecessary and excessive ki-costs streamlined, the wordings cleaned up – then this is an actually damn cool book. As much as I love so much in here, I can’t rate its potential, I have to rate what’s here – and what’s here is unfortunately very flawed. This would potentially score even lower, but the fine potential does not warrant that – hence, my final verdict will clock in at 2 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.

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