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In the Company of Unicorns (5E)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/01/2018 07:25:30

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s classic series clocks in at 19 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

So, as always,w e begin this supplement with a latter, as the meta-narrative of this series assumes that a member of the respective race is writing a letter to sage Qwilion of Questhaven; This sets the series apart from the get-go – unlike most racial supplements, the prose and colored/unreliable in-character narration assures that the pdf is actually fun to read and not just a dry assortment of numbers. This is a big plus as far as I’m concerned. In this case Phaedra, a member of the equine race of re’em, (how the unicorns refer to themselves) begins the narration with a summary of how the race views their own physiological differences from most humanoids. The pdf then proceeds to grant us insight into re’em culture, their herds etc. – and here, Rite Publishing must be commended. Instead of just duplicating the flavor from the PFRPG-version, we get a rewritten version of the whole account, taking e.g. the presence of warlocks in 5e into account. You may consider that to be a small thing, but for me, it represents the difference between doing what’s required and going the extra mile. It was an impressive surprise.

There is an obvious and intended “The Last Unicorn”-vibe conveyed by the prose, as the noble courtier tells us about the importance of hope…and sorrow…and what they can d. Beyond this glimpse at the psychology of these noble beings, we also learn about interactions with humanoids, providing a perspective on such happenstances from an insider’s perspective. So yeah, the flavor aspect is excellent.

Now, let’s take a look at the crunch, shall we? First of all, re’em increase their Constitution by 2 and mature quickly; they never die of old age, and their type is governed by the subrace chosen. However, it should be noted that spells that affect humanoids, thankfully, still affect re’em. As quadrupeds, re’em are restricted to horse barding and somewhat limited in using many consumables, but they may cast spells with somatic components as usual. They have darkvision and their horn deals 1d8 piercing damage. When charging at least 20 ft. in a straight line and attacking with the horn, this damage is increased by +2d6 piercing damage, making them rather lethal at first level. Re’em also have hooves and may use either both front or rear hooves for a 1d6 bludgeoning damage attack. These natural weapons are considered to be magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity.

4 subraces are provided: Celestial re’em increase Wisdom by 1, get the celestial type and know the spare the dying cantrip. 3rd level nets cure wounds once per long rest interval, 5th level lesser restoration once per rest interval. These are governed by Wisdom. The race also gains resistance to poison damage and advantage on saves vs. the poisoned condition, and these benefits extend to creatures riding the celestial re’em. The second subrace would be the ki-rin, who increase Charisma by 1, are celestial, type-wise, and when not wearing armor, have an AC of 12 + Charisma modifier, minimum +0. The armor class of riders may not be less than 10 your Charisma modifier, unless they are riding the ki-rin against their will. The alicorn of the ki-rin nets resistance as a cantrip, and 3rd level provides bless, 5th level aid, both of which are usable once per long rest interval and are governed by Charisma.

Thirdly, we have the fiendish re’em, the dark unicorns, who increase Intelligence by 1, are, type-wise, fiends and gain resistance to fire, which may be extended to riders. Their alicorn nets produce flame as a cantrip, with 3rd level yielding hellish rebuke and 5th level darkness once per long rest interval. You guessed it: Governed by Intelligence. Finally, sylvan re’em increase Dexterity or Charisma by 1 (your choice) and have the fey type; they have advantage on saving throws versus the charmed condition and can extend this benefit to riders. Their alicorn nets minor illusion as the cantrip, and at 3rd level faerie fire, at 5th level calm emotions. As before, both of these latter spells are governed by Charisma. All subraces also grant languages appropriate for their themes.

We get a new paladin oath next, the oath of the greenwood, which comes with fully formulated tenets and two new fighting styles are noted: Impaling and Trampling. Both are concisely presented. The oath gets its own oath spells and the 3rd level nets two channel divinity options: One is really cool, as it laces thunder in your hooves allowing for quicker movement and more damage/better attacks. The second option is also AMAZING, as it emphasizes teamwork: Nearby allies may target additional beings with beneficial healing-based spells. Love these! Also at 3rd level, we get mystic link, which allows you to attune your horn to a weapon as part of attuning the weapon, allowing you essentially to keep fighting with your horn. At 7th level, we get an amazing aura – the horn sheds light that the unicorn can suppress, sure, but this light also cancels darkness…and enlightens metaphysically, suppressing blindness! I love the visuals here. 15th level nets an additional channel divinity option (which is, slightly oddly, formatted differently than the previous ones, but that is pure aesthetics): Here, we have wind striding, allowing you to run over any substance unharmed, up to 90 ft. away from the ground, and you can carry up to two Medium riders with gear, provided you do not exceed maximum encumbrance. You can also ascend on empty air. I love this. The two rider option made me recall the famous templar symbol…and the mythological link works, once you recall that unicorns were often used as a cipher for Jesus in occult Christian texts., 20th level allows you to call an ancestral unicorn to your side to aid you. Cool!

We also receive the elder unicorn sorcerous bloodline. From 1st level on, when learning spells, you can choose druid spells instead, up to half of your total of spells known. You also gain proficiency in Religion and Nature, and may use Charisma as governing attribute for them instead. 6th level has a cool trick: When you cast a druid spell, but it doesn’t do damage (even if you intended it to do damage!), you get to cast a cantrip as a bonus action. If the cantrip deals damage, it deals bonus damage equal to the level of the spell slot expend by the triggering spell. This makes “missing” with spells less of a bummer and nets a second chance. Love it! At 14th level, the character learns geas as well as the option to expend a spell slot: If the spell slot expended had a higher spell level than a curse, oath, etc., you can end the effect. The ability takes same level of curse and spell slot into account. Really cool! 18th level is also really cool, teamwork wise: After casting a spell with a spell slot of 1st level or higher on your turn, you may take a reaction to a nearby ally casting a spell. If you do, the spell is enhanced and treated as one level higher. Love this!

We also get the vile pact of the sundered horn for warlocks, accounting btw. also for re’em that sacrifice their own horn! Cool!

The pdf also sports a paragon/exemplar class, here, the Silvermane Exemplar, who comes btw. with quick build rules. Only re’em qualify and they get 1d8 HD; proficiency-wise, we get all armor, one type of artisan’s tools, Constitution and Charisma saving throws, and two skills chosen from Athletics, Insight, Nature, Perception, persuasion, Religion and Survival. Starting equipment is noted and the class begins play with the mage hand cantrip, which may be explicitly used with proficiency bonus, if any, when employed with artisan’s tools and ability checks. Ability scores increase at 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, up to and including 16th level. A silvermane exemplar begins play with a pool of inner light, equal to the class level. This resource may be sued to cast the spells granted by the alicorn class feature additional times sans a low rest (1 point for 1st level spells, 2 points for 2nd level spells). Additionally, as an action, you can spend a point and touch a willing creature, granting the target Charisma modifier temporary hit points. Alternatively, as an action, you may heal 5 times the amount of inner light spent of the ability in hit points to a target creature.

2nd level provides one of my favorite class features of the class, Purity and Sorrow. When you hit a creature with an attack roll, you gain Sorrow. When you restore hit points to an ally or provide temporary hit points/end conditions for them, you gain Purity. When you restore it points or grant temporary hit points, you may expend Sorrow to add 1d6 to the hit points granted or restored. When you roll damage for an attack, you may expend Purity and add +1d6 radiant damage to the damage dealt. These fade after 1 minute if not used. The dice they employ increase to d8 at 5th, d10 at 10th and d12 at 15th level. I love this, though it should specify that e.g. hurting harmless kittens could not provide Sorrow. Anyways, this feature thus rewards alternating between offense and defense and encapsulates the flavor really well. 5th level provides multiattack, 6th level the oath’s mystic link for weapon-to-horn-attunement; additionally, 6th level lets you spend inner light to grant adjacent creatures resistance to one of several damage types, with more targets costing more points. 9th level yields an alternate, humanoid form. At 13th level, when moving or using Dash, you can spend 1 inner light to teleport the distance instead. Starting at 14th level, when gaining or ending Purity, you can use a bonus action to generate a breeze that ends harmful conditions for a creature nearby. This does not net you Purity. You can also end confusion or curses, within limits. 17th level lets you spend 4 inner light to grow glorious, feathered wings that last until you gain Sorrow. At 20th level, you regain 4 points of inner light after a short rest.

Obviously, the class also has some sort of choice baked in; that would be the noble orders. These define your class features gained at 1st, 3rd, 7th, 11th and 18th level. 4 orders are provided: Royals, Courtiers, Knights and Knaves. Royals gain fire bolt and may later heal a creature within 30 ft. when healing via inner light while they have Sorrow. Healing and aforementioned mystic link improvement as well as a high level sun-crowned form make for a cool choice here. The courtiers are more skillful and have, as befitting their title, charm/dominate-themed abilities and sanctuary effects. These are the more tricky ones. Knights get a fighting style, may grant allies the ability to move as a reaction and penalize foes with Purity/Sorrow dice. Finally, the order of knaves has a cool ability that allows them to disguise their horn – if a target doesn’t know your name, he fails to see it! Using abilities, obviously, can also reveal who you are, and the order focuses on establishing a bond with another character, which can be really rewarding, roleplaying-wise.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level, are very good. On a rules-language level, the book is excellent and really interesting, providing a distinct array of complex rules-concepts. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s beautiful, new two-column full-color standard and the pdf sports quite a lot of interesting full-color artworks that diverge in styles employed. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

BJ Hensley’s original PFRPG-take on the playable unicorn was already rather cool; what Brandes Stoddard did with it, was inspired. The 5e.version of the playable unicorn is creative, distinct and provides a surprisingly concise take on the concept. The class options are well-crafted and the new class rocks, offering a playstyle that feels distinct, fresh and different. The fact that the lore reflects the mechanics is just the icing on an awesome cake. I love this supplement. The only blemishes I could find are exceedingly minor and represent only aesthetic gripes. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In the Company of Unicorns (5E)
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In the Company of Giants Revised (5E)
by Jared R. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/10/2018 21:08:39

My full review can be found on my blog here:

http://knighterrantjr.blogspot.com/2017/11/what-do-i-know-about-reviews-in-company.html



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
In the Company of Giants Revised (5E)
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In The Company of Fey (5E)
by Christopher K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/05/2018 10:50:56

Great Concept, Poor Execution

For all that this says that it is a 5th Edition product, its really not a very good one as far as the mechanics are concerned. The mechanics were originally written for Pathfinder, but they were poorly ported to 5th, and it shows. The book makes several references to mechanics that simply don't exist in 5th. There are multiple references to Pathfinder class features, damage types, conditions, and mechanics that only exist in Pathfinder. It's as if the author simply assumed that they existed in 5th without actually double checking them first. The book also doesn't use a consistent formula for DCs and none of them ever use the 5th Edition DC formula for saving throw DCs. For instance, one of the racial features of the First Folk is Primal Healing, which grants and extra 2 hit points per die rolled from magical healing and doubles natural healing. There is no natural healing in 5E. It's possible the mechanic refers to rolling hit dice in a short rest, but that would be extremely high powered, and I don't think that was the intent. The inability to heal damage from cold iron naturally is tricky because the lack of natural healing in 5th, and I'm at a loss as to the right fix. Sadly, the mechanical issues just continue to compound from there. I really wanted this book to be a good one, and one of my players really wanted to play one. Considering how good I found In the Company of Dragons, I felt that maybe I could put in some quick fixes to the errors. However, as I started on this project, the list of issues began to get very large. After three handwritten pages, it was clear that this was turning into a virtual rewrite of the book. It would take too long and too much space in this review to show off every single error in it. If you want this to work for your 5th Edition game, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make this race and the racial paragon class work for you. You will need to make decisions about the ability adjustements given that 5th doesn't use the Pathfinder formula. You are likely better off building subraces around the alternate racial traits. It appears the author was using the Advanced Race Guide for creating alternate options rather than using subraces. I'm not sure that subsitution mechanics are the right fit over subraces, but that decision is up to you. You will need to find substitute options for the mechanics that simply don't exist, either by picking a different class feature, adapating the Pathfinder one referenced, or possibly eliminting it altogether. For example, Wild Empathy, a druid ability in Pathfinder and 3.5 simply doesn't exist in 5th. It could be replaced with the gnome ability to speak to small animals keeping the spirit of the ability. Considering 5th generally doesn't use bonuses to skill checks, and the Nature skill can be used for many of the functions of Wild Empathy, providing Proficiency or Expertise to Nature is also a potentially good fit. DCs for race or class features of the Paragon class are a simple fix: start at 8 rather than 10, add in Proficiency bonus as normal, and eliminate any class level references. Remove any references to Ex, Su, and Sp since they simply don't exist. Damage type errors are usually easily corrected (Lightning for Electrial for example), but there is no non-lethal damage option to use. Conditions can be tricky in places. For example, 5th doesn't have a Shaken condition, but Frightened is the closest match. I would personally remove any bonus feats from the paragon class, given that feats in 5th are significantly more powerful than their Pathfinder equivalent. There is no damage resistance in 5th, but there are several references to using it. As you can see, there are a lot of issues with the mechanics, and that only covers the first half of the book. The concepts of the race and paragon class are sound. If the mechanical issues didn't exist, I'd happily give it four stars. However, the gross mechanical errors that litter the book, and the work it would require to fix them, remove at least two. I don't feel right giving this just one star. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book to anyone who isn't willing to spend the hours needed making the corrections required to make this a fully functional 5th Edition race and Paragon Class.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Fey (5E)
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In the Company of Unicorns (5E)
by John J. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 05/04/2018 22:32:38

Overall I liked this supplement, but I feel that it's overpriced.

The new Silvermane Exemplar is very detailed, covering more than 5 pages of the document, and the Oath of Greenwood and the Elder Unicorn Bloodline are well detailed including the appropriate level features for each.

However the Pact of the Sundered Horn feels incomplete. This Warlock oath is covered in only two or three paragraphs and there are no features defined for the pact, only that the warlock adds necrotic damage in some situations and that a unicorn warlock gains a bite attack but loses all benefits of its horn.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
In the Company of Unicorns (5E)
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In The Company of Fiends
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/04/2018 04:05:08

An Endzeitgeist.com review of the revised version

The revised edition of „In the Company of Fiends“ clocks in at 45 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 41 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Now, as always in the series, we begin this supplement with an introduction to the race at hand, written from an in-character perspective. This time around, the race would be the nephilim, and the arguments fielded in favor are twisted, delightful and compelling, worthy of the logical leaps of e.g. Paradise Lost, as the narrator manages to sell, rather compellingly, that “Hell loves you unconditionally”, that “Do what thou wilt” as the whole of the law might well make for a rather compelling maxim to live by. The prose here is rather fantastic, as it is steeped in the unreliable prejudices of the hellish narrator – suffice to say, he has no good things to say about daemons, demons and the like. Fun here: Sidebars throughout the pdf provide somewhat alternate perspectives.

Now, rules-wise, the nephilim race gets +2 Constitution and Charisma, -2 Wisdom, is Medium and gets a base speed of 30 ft. Nephilim are humanoids with the evil subtype as well as a selected humanoid subtype, but are affected by effects that specifically target evil outsiders. As a minor complaint: What if an effect for example targets a nephilim with the elf subtype, granting a buff to the elf, but a debuff to evil outsiders? Which takes precedence? That should be clarified. Nephilim may be raised and returned from the dead as normal, suffering none of the usual outsider restrictions. Nephilim get darkvision 60 ft. and these beings, granted a mortal vessel, are chosen ones of the lower planes of sorts: 1/day, they may target an evil outsider of their subtype with less or equal HD and use command on them, suing character level as CL. If the target has less or equal to half the nephilim’s HD, the effect is charm monster with character level rounds duration instead. If the subtype matches the nephilim’s fiendish ancestry, the SP ignores SR and has a 1-hour duration. Save DC is Charisma-based.

What’s fiendish ancestry? It’s a racial trait wherein you choose one of 8 different fiendish subtypes, ranging from asura to qlippoth, granting an alignment-based subtype as well as passive bonuses to saves versus specific hindrances like poison, disease, etc. as well as minor skill boosts. Bonus types are correctly codified here. The fiendish ancestry also determines the fiendish resistance, generally to two energy types, with some of the ancestries allowing for limited choice of one of them: Devils get resistance 5 fire and may choose from either acid or cold as the second energy type, for example. Each nephilim has a dark master – an at least Balor-level potent being that has a lesser geas with an open-ended request on the nephilim. 8th HD frees from this obligation’s negative effects, btw. Nephilims are inhuman, and people conversing with them get a Sense Motive check to determine that something is afoul. Nephilim treat both material plane and that corresponding with their ancestry as the home plane, and may thus not be banished. Now, alternate racial trait-wise, we have the option to be Small, SÜs and skills to haggle with souls (including the presence of soul gems, etc.), replacing fiendish ancestry with sadism, which here translates to +1 to CL and saves vs. fear and pain effects, as well as +1 morale bonus to attacks versus those affected by them. Improved lying instead of fiendish resistance, being a better oracle, being bloodthirsty – some sinister options here. Cool, btw.: The latter comes with synergy with the dread power class feature – more on that later. Limited poaching of humanoid traits in steps is also a complex rules-operation done right here. Particularly cool: The pdf provides concise rules for becoming a nephilim. The section also provides favored class options for arcanist, barbarian, bloodrager, brawler, cavalier, cleric, fighter, dread (DSP’s psionic class), inquisitor, magus, mesmerist, occultist, paladin, rogue, sorcerer, summoner, warpriest, witch and wizard.

Now, the pdf contains a total of 12 racial feats for the Nephilim: Beyond the “Extra class feature” type, we have a feat that gets id of the Inhuman drawback, courtesy of having broken the humanoid soul trapped within. There’s a multiclass-enabler feat; a high level Style feat that makes unarmed/natural attacks adamantine or improves them further, even taking special DRs into account. There is a feat to enhance your body with grafts, though, being a feat, it provides numerical bonuses – personally, I prefer the subject to be represented with an array of actual grafts. There is a metamagic feat, Hellfire Spell, which labors under the misconception of there being such a thing as unholy damage – which there is not. SIGH AoE-demoralize as a full-round action, with a hex-caveat to prevent abuse, having a Symbiosis with the mortal soul within…some nice ones here. We also have a feat for bonuses versus an outsider type and a hellish one that allows you to twist language-dependent effects with your Linguistics. Really liked that one! High level wish-twisting and seeing a target’s sin is nice. Speaking of which: The pdf provides some really cool food for thought regarding that concept, quoting e.g. Gandhi. This little sidebar on sin inspired me more than many whole books on fiends.

Now, the heart and soul (haha!) of this pdf would be the fiendish exemplar paragon class, who must have an alignment corresponding to the fiendish ancestry, gets d10 HD, 6 + Int skills per level, proficiency in simple weapons, and +1 martial/exotic weapon if she does not gain a natural weapon. You see, 1st level nets either a natural weapon, or a proficiency or Improved Unarmed Strike. Natural weapons are correctly codified and weapons chosen can either inflict normal damage or consult a scaling table, which includes entries for Small and Large exemplars. The class gets full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves and ½ AC-progression. If this chassis seems too powerful for your preferred playstyle, fret not, for the book actually provides a second chasses, which only nets d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, ¾ BAB-progression and comes with a drawback that prevents returning to life. Kudos for going the extra mile to account for table variance here!

Now, the fiendish ancestry chosen as part of the racial traits also determines further bonuses regarding the paragon class – the fiendish ancestry class feature builds on this, with 4th level and every 6 levels thereafter expanding the benefits of resistances, saving throw bonuses and, as soon as it’s granted, determining the DR. Fiendish ancestry also comes into play at 10th level, where it determines the unique aura granted.

Fiendish exemplars also begin play with a so-called dread pool, which contains class level + Charisma modifier points. The pool replenishes once per day after a 1-hour supplication period. Points can be expended as a swift action to grant bonuses to social skills, conceal alignment, duplicate detect desires (nor properly italicized, but comes with a hex-caveat to prevent spamming). Minor complaint here: The pool interacts with the talents of the class, the so-called dread powers, but the latter reference to “1 point of dread power”, a term not established in the pool’s class feature-text. Dread pool should contain “dread points” or “dread power points”, dread powers should probably be called dread talents or the like to set them apart. While this terminology snafu is minor and does not compromise the integrity of the rules per se, it can be somewhat confusing at first and is uncommon to see for both Rite Publishing and the author.

Anyways, the fiendish exemplar begins play with one dread power and gains an additional one at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. Some of these require specific ancestries and others don’t – as a whole, these represent the active abilities of the class, though a few passive ones can be found as well – even these, however, do allow for some way of spending dread power points. Saves, if relevant, are governed by Charisma. This massive list contains summoning tricks, telepathy, immediate action dispels, charging weapons with negative energy, adding negative levels to strikes, ruin bodies of water, maddening touches, blasts of hellfire (again, incorrect damage types), Empower Spell-Like Ability evil SPs…the section, as a whole, is pretty neat, with some unique effects added: E.g. on a natural 20 on a CL-check with aforementioned dispel, the target must save or be unable to cast divine spells for a round! Cool, right?

Anyways, at 2nd level, and then again at 4th and every two levels thereafter, the class receives a ruinous gift – basically, the massive talent array of passive abilities that the class offers. Some of these turn the exemplar progressively more inhuman and make concealing them harder…and the class feature also notes the skill check to determine the nature of the nephilim. Depending on your fiendish ancestry, you may select some of them sooner: Demodands can become adhesive at 6th level, for example, while others must wait for 10th level. Now, it should be noted that, while I called these “passive”, that is not entirely true – there are a tone of ruinous gifts that allow for additional effects to be added via the expenditure of dread power (points). Faster sprinting, Wisdom damage, resistance boosts, inflicting starvation on targets hit, getting a monstrous girth, spores, exuding shrapnel…there are a ton of customization options here. The capstone provides at-will commune and archfiend apotheosis, which only allows the target to be slain in one specific plane.

The pdf also contains a variety of different archetypes: The antumbra is a paladin shatters the preconceptions of evil nephilim, representing redeemed being, who subsequently replaces mercies with progressively better ways to attempt to redeem others. The corruptor mesmerist gains fiendish ancestry at the cost of one less spell per day, and touch treatment is replaced with scaling effects via touch, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day, interacting with implanted tricks, if any. These effects include, as the archetype name implies, suggestions, etc. The painfeaster bloodrager receives a variant bloodrage, the so-called sadistic frenzy, which is governed by Charisma. While in this frenzy, the character can execute painful strikes, which behave as a variant sneak that causes non-lethal damage and which may target creatures subject to a fear-based condition or those sickened/nauseated. These specialized strikes only scale when the better bloodrages would be gained, though there is an interesting choice, as the character can enhance their potency by choosing to take some limited lethal damage himself. These painful strikes, however, do grant stacking temporary hitpoints and the ability, impressively, gets the interaction of the complex rules-chassis correct. The painfeaster may choose ruinous gifts instead of bloodline powers and is locked into a fitting bloodline. Higher levels allow for low level spells added upon entering frenzy and adding sickened/nauseated on successful critical hits.

The rules-wise most impressive achievement of this chapter, though, would be the Left Path archetype, which can be applied pretty much universally. The archetype nets a dread pool and allows for the selection of dread powers and ruinous gifts – but comes at a price: Either the character is willing or unwilling – in either way, the archetype pays for the gained power with ever more decreasing autonomy and deeper shackles to the masters of the lower planes. I really enjoyed the storytelling potential here. This is pretty much my favorite rules-component herein.

The final chapter is devoted to magic items, 9 + 1, to be precise. Trophy of the Damned requires a potent sacrifice, but grants access to a dread power once you have quenched its thirst. Fallen reliquaries can store dread power points for passive benefits, but they also act as a battery of sorts, which is interesting. Hellfire brand, bingo, labors under the misconception of unholy damage existing. Mother’s milk temporarily nets eidolon evolutions, but at a hefty ability score drain cost once its duration elapses. There is a piercing that must be worn prominently, but which can make pain instead translate to benefits and redistribute these effects via piercing/slashing weapons. There is a magic whip. A ring to twist language, a vest of misdirection made from saint’s bones, and soul’s essence, an intoxicant for evil outsiders. The final item would be the legacy item lance of the end times, which sports 8 progression levels and requires that you defeat progressively more potent good outsiders to unlock its superb powers. Beyond the more common special weapon abilities added, the lance also allows for 60 ft.-line-attacks at higher levels, coup de grace at range and call forth progressively more potent fiends.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good, but not as pitch-perfect as usual for Rite Publishing – there are a couple more typo-level glitches here and a few minor terminology snafus. Layout adheres to the crisp, new full-color two-column standard and the pdf sports quite a few really nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, though e.g. archetypes don’t get their individual bookmark.

Okay, I’ll be frank: Theme-wise, this resonates with me on several levels. For one, Paradise Lost’s sentiment “better to reign in hell” always resounded with me; I do not have a shred of faith in me and I’m very, very weary of the Judeo-Christian good/evil-dichotomy that suffuses our cultures and roleplaying games. All my games gravitate towards a more shades of grey mentality. As such, alignment tends to be more fluid in my games, and strange though it may sound, the suggestion of the diversification of the sin-concept is thoroughly compelling to me. Similarly, I found myself gleefully pouring through the logical leaps that the in-character prose provided. The alternate view-points and snippets provided in the sidebars similarly inspired me: Hearing a qlippoth-possessed nephilim claim that he can control the entity before being set ablaze, warning of its freedom being MUCH worse, for example, set the wheels in my mind in motion. Flavor-wise, this ranks as one of the best entries in the whole series.

The concept of the nephilim is inspiring and the execution is similarly performed on a really high and precise level. The scaled version as an alternative was really appreciated as well, allowing even grittier games to take part in the experience presented within. And yet, I found myself slightly less excited than I should have by the mechanics. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but it’s not the few and rather minor hiccups – they universally can be considered to be minor and can be neglected. It’s the scope. The very notion of the nephilim and what we associated with the various outsiders covers a TON of ground. Oddly and paradoxically, more so than even the aberrations, because the nephilim, as presented, are strongly charged with ideologies. As such, there are so many things that we expect from them, so many areas and tricks, that ultimately, this felt somewhat like the original, non-expanded “In the Company of Dragons” – it does a formidable job at depicting the notion of a playable fiend, but it cannot, by sheer scope, cover all the bases. This may be the one shortcoming of the pdf, for the concept presented by the race is genius in the hands of a good roleplayer. The notion of possession, of the diverse means of codifying the relationship between possessor and possessee, are interesting and narrative gold; so is the universal left hand archetype. On the other hand, mesmerist, items, the redeemer-pala…while well-executed, they feel slightly less mind-blowing than usual for the series.

Now, it is important to note that I am complaining at a very high level here – this is a very good book that contains a lot of really cool options. This is definitely worth owning and it can inspire whole campaigns. It may not be perfect, but my final verdict will still clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Fiends
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Fantastic Maps: The Ship's Graveyard
by Tom F. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/28/2018 11:10:54

Amazingly atmospheric map and exactly what I was looking for for a part of my adventure. Great artwork and very accessible format. Thanks!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fantastic Maps: The Ship's Graveyard
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The Secrets of the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) (PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/24/2018 05:35:49

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This April Fool’s release clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

CRASH

Oh boy. What was that?? Sounded like a bad crash. Sirens blaring. Focus, man.

Ähem.

This review was requested as a prioritized review by one of my patreons.

Door splinters in a loud explosion

“Move aside, you reviewer-git, I need to talk to my amazing fans out there! DID YOU MISS ME?? Don’t answer. That was a rhetoric question! Of course you did, it’s me, your favorite metadventurer, helping to make this bland snore-fest of a review suck less!”

Wait a second, man…I wasn’t done! Isn’t it enough that your unqualified dithering suffuse this whole supplement, commenting on the crisp mechanics and delicious rules?

“Nope, because that’s BOOORING!! Buckle up, folks, as we all established in the review of my amazing book, I have won Pathfinder. Everything released since and before that was just rules-bloat and utterly irrelevant, regardless of system.”

Yeah, right. Sounds like a hardcore-grognard speaking about anything past 0ed…

“Shut it, endy, or I’ll move back in. Behind your couch. With my bags of chips. ALL of them.”

Okay, okay…may I cover the basics at least? Talk a bit about the rules and stuff?

“All right, all right! Man, do you have something in your fridge, or do you still subsist primarily on coffee for your reviewer-robot-shtick? Seriously, folks, the amount of coffee he drinks is insane. I still have this theory that he’s the first German, coffee-powered replicant…”

Okay, while the metadventurer’s pillaging my meager supplies, let’s talk. We have to be quick. He’s uncannily fast at gobbling down anything with a nutritional value…

Ähem. So, know how a well-optimized team can make BBEGs just suck? I’m sure that, if you’re a moderately experienced GM, you’ve encountered it at least once. That time when your players started curbstomping all bosses from published modules. Well, there is an issue here: After all, we all know plenty of media, wherein a team of heroes faces down a super-powerful villain. Here’s the problem: In the games we play, that does not translate too well, courtesy of the restrictions of action economy.

“I’ll bum a smoke or 30, all right endy?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever!” Anyways, in Pathfinder, my go-to-solution is to use Legendary Games’ mythic rules and Mythic Monsters/Path of Villains/Dragons to upgrade builds and make boss fights more interesting. But perhaps you don’t want to learn mythic rules. That’s pretty much where this becomes your one-stop-shop. Since the CR-system, wonky as it is, doesn’t properly measure up here, we work with threat levels, which range from 1 to 5; CR-adjustments of the template are based on threat level. The pdf urges caution here, with the metadventurer cheering for a TPK and the fact that the first three letters of “funeral” are F-U-N. You get the idea. ;)

Anyhow, the template nets +1 hp per HD, +1 deflection bonus to AC and +1 to SR per threat level, and +5 to existing DR and energy resistance per threat level. Also, +1 to initiative, damage per threat level, +1 to atk per two threat levels. +1 to all ability scores per threat level. That, however, is not the main meat of the massive templates: That would be the colossal amount of BBEG abilities that make up the majority of the pdf. Saves versus these are governed by Constitution, just fyi. (As an aside – it should probably specify that Charisma is substituted for undead.) One such potent ability is gained per threat level, and they are brutal: Aggro, for example, allows the BBEG to move up to their speed and execute a full attack as a swift action.

“Endy, I’ve called my relatives from China while you’re writing this! Oh, and you really shouldn’t let your credit cards lie around openly… Ni hao!”

Urgh. Anyways, there are adaptive resistances, devastating, potentially disintegrateing waves of energy governed by HD, summoned creatures that detonate, the option to generate hazardous terrain that detonates, siphoning off life of meat shields…have I mentioned super-strikes at +20 to atk, which ignore concealment and auto-threaten a crit, increasing crit multiplier by threat level?? Yeah, these guys will WRECK even veterans when build smartly! Doubled hit points, a ton of additional AoOs…the focus here is truly to make a single being capable of standing up to a well-oiled group of adventurers. Really nice would be btw….

“So, endy, I’ve just talked to this nice gentleman from Nigeria and gave him your social security number and banking IDs. Oh, and when I arrived…that crash? I kinda may have totaled your car. Which I’ve hijacked. Also: You’re now all out of food.”

Damn, I need to finish this review, stat! So yeah, the abilities of the BBEG are amazing and deadly, and we actually even get two cool puzzle-abilities that require that the players use their brain to defeat the BBEG. And fret not if you’re new to the concept, or the pdf provides an extensive section to guide you in how to use these without being unfair.

This is not all, though, the pdf also…

WHACK; sound of head crashing to desk

“Dude, this pretentious git is really slow for his supposed IQ. Man, I even have a Goatee, dammit! So yeah, you probably realized it by now, right? I’m frickin’ evil! I am the drumroll BBEM! The Big Bad Evil Metadventurer! DUNH-DUNH-DUNH Don’t believe what this dumb pdf says, though – I’m not an archetype of the Metadventurer. He’s a wimpy, half-baked archetype of ME! Got that? Great!

So, like all cool things, you can only play me if you’re a GM, because screw players, amirite? We all wanna bask in their despair, bathe in their tears, as pages upon pages of lame background-story are invalidated by me being too awesome. So, I can use the GM’s OOC knowledge on PCs. I get BBEG abilities. I can treat allies and enemies as abettors with betrayal feats at 7th level. At 14th level, I treat my threat level as +5 for BBEG abilities. At 15th level, I get +5 to AC and saves from 3pp-supplements, because I’m cool and amazing and know the authors. Oh, and at 20th level, when you save versus my abilities and roll a 1, you obviously don’t deserve to live. Rocks fall, you die. No save, because that’s how I roll. Also, obviously, when I crit. Because I’m too awesome. Suck it!!

What? That’s all? Okay, so you need to bask in my glory a bit more, as I…”

whack, thunk

I gestalted vigilante, bastard!

Okay, I need to get rid of this bastard…before the real Metadventurer comes back to deal with his evil twin. I can’t deal with two of the sort.

So, in all brevity, my conclusion:

Editing and formatting re very good on formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s old, two-column full-color standard. Artworks are full-color and amazing and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, in spite of its brevity.

Wendall Roy’s template and associated archetype are super-deadly tools for the beleaguered GM. While the writing is hilarious in the details and commentary, it should be noted that this pdf is very much intended for table-use. This is not a useless file that just plays it for the laughs. The template provided can amp up even the most pitiful of final bosses, and while it requires a responsible GM, I love it for what it offers. Indeed, it is my contention that this concept could carry a book of thrice the size on its own. Considering the low asking price, I can wholeheartedly recommend this pdf, rating it 5 stars + seal of approval.

Damn. He’s twitching. Gotta run, see you on the flipside, folks…that is, if the BBEM doesn’t retaliate…

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
The Secrets of the BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) (PFRPG)
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In The Company of Fiends
by David C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/23/2018 14:26:15

I can see this being a divisive title, but right now it’s probably my favorite of the “In The Company Of” series because of how well it captures the feel of playing a fiend (if not a specific type of fiend; more on that later). This book offers evocative flavor text, a cool new race, and a solid, playable new class that feels very fiendish. The art ranges from passable to quite good, and on the whole this is a book I’m excited to use in a future game.

The new race, the nephilim, are humanoid creatures that have been more or less permanently possessed by disembodied fiendish spirits. The precise metaphysics of this are left somewhat vague, although there is a handy sidebar discussing how to handle an existing PC or NPC who becomes a nephilim during play. I like this race rather a lot; they positively drip with flavor and potential GM hooks, and I would consider using them as a replacement for tieflings in a future campaign. Mechanically, the ramifications of their unique form of possession are that nephilim are treated as humanoids rather than outsiders, to the extent that they can be raised and resurrected like PCs from the core races.

The Fiendish Exemplar class appears to be rock solid, if perhaps a bit high-powered for the tastes of more traditional GMs. It offers a full BAB progression, d10 HD, and 6 skill points per level - an impressive stat array that might seem a little bit unbalanced at first glance. Fortunately, the book includes a handy sidebar that suggests some easy ways to tone the class down if you find it to be too powerful for your game.

The array of fiendish powers on offer is reasonably broad and, properly selected, they can produce a character who feels very much like a member of a broad category of fiends - a devil, a demon, a kyton, etc. It isn’t quite as good at recreating the experience of being a specific fiendish monster - a cornugon devil or a demonic succubus, for example - which might be disappointing to some players, so keep that in mind before you buy.

To sum up, I like this book a lot, but it may not be for everyone. The new nephilim race is cool and interesting, and the exemplar class seems both exciting and playable. If you’re looking for a set of rules to create a balanced character with a strong fiendish theme, “In The Company of Fiends” is for you. If you’re looking to play a succubus, a vulnadaemon, or some other specific creature, you may want to look elsewhere, but I think there’s enough good stuff in here to make it a good addition to any player’s library.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Fiends
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101 Desert Spells (PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/20/2018 04:26:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive compilation of desert-themed spells clocks in at 57 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a rather massive 51 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Now, as always, we begin this pdf with a massive array of spell lists by class and level, covering the classes up to and including the ACG classes, but not the occult classes.

From there, we move right into this massive compilation of spells, beginning with Aghasura’s bluff, a 3rd level spell that allows you to beckon targets towards you. They just move closer on their next round, perceiving others entranced as allies, as they move closer. The spell, alas, does not state that this compulsion cannot make targets walk into obvious danger/offers rerolls for them, which is a rather important caveat for such compulsions. Cool, though: You get a bonus to one attack (since dropping it is a move action) versus targets thus entranced. As a limit to the spell, moving ends the spell as well, but sans this bonus. Now, this being a supplement on desert spells, we get more than the rattlesnake rattle component to represent the leitmotif – you see, casting the spell in a warm desert environment makes it harder to resist.

Why did I specify that this is relevant regarding warm deserts? The pdf is smart and also covers the cold wastelands. The first spell that ties into this would be Amamrok’s aspect, which is obviously a transmutation that nets +4 to all physical attributes as well as +4 natural AC, as well as low-light and darkvision and scent…and a bite attack that is not codified requiring defaulting. This bite is also what makes up the main bulk of the spell. The caster can execute a bite attack against the air, focusing on any creature he can see, provided it has a soul. The bite targets a harmless, shadowy duplicate of the creature that is intended to allow for at-range tripping/grappling and “If you hit, you can attempt to trip and grab the target…” Okay, this is problematic. Those are two different maneuvers, so do we get two CMB-checks? If one of them gets a bonus, does it apply to both rolls? If it’s only one CMB-check, do bonuses to either apply? The wording here is also needlessly opaque – it would have been simple to state that bite attacks executed against such a shadowy double benefit from the grab and trip universal monster qualities, but the verbiage stumbles over grab vs. grappling. It is also a bit puzzling whether the creation of the shadowy duplicate “wastes” an attack or whether the creation is part of it. While this spell feels uncharacteristically rushed in its benefits, I did enjoy some design decisions: In cold desert terrains, the duration is expanded and at higher levels, additional spell effects are added. The rare material component is btw. required to grant these, even if you have Eschew Materials or similar substitution options – as a box clearly indicates, the spell would otherwise be too potent.

There also would be Amphiptere’s flight, which is an interesting 2nd level flight spell that is limited in height and thus retains the covert cap of unassisted personal flight. Arctic pelt is a cantrip for shaman and druid, level 1 spell for the other classes. It grants “resist cold 2” – that should be cold resistance 2. The creature also gets +2 to saves to resist damage from exposure to cold. Casting the spell in the proper environment increases the bonus, resistance and duration. Asleep unaware also has a rough edge of sorts – as a bard 3, sorc/wiz 4 spell, it targets a living creature, which is then rendered prone and falls asleep. On a successful save, the target falls asleep, but believes to be awake, which can be an interesting scenario to describe at the table – it is a mind-game I very much enjoy. That being said, the fact that you fall prone and are asleep for at least 1 round, even on a successful save, is utterly OP – at least the sleeping component should be negated. And yes, the focus is rare, but still – not going to happen RAW in my game.

On the hilarious side, aspect of the great roadrunner boosts your Dex and nets you Run in the proper terrain. Meep-meep! Benevolent commands is also interesting, in that it is a good variant of command that nets you the ability to use it at-will; you can discharge the spell to duplicate either cure moderate wounds or lesser restoration for targets that have heeded your command. It also can’t be used to command others to harm beings. The component, a lammasu’s eyelash, is pretty cool and the desert specific effects are interesting here as well. Biting winds is damn cool – at 6th level, it produces a 30 ft.-emanation that causes severe winds, a drop in temperature and cold damage – but it also sports a frustburn-ish engine of sorts, with cumulative failed saves increasing the severity of the additional conditions incurred. While we have 7 saves that lead to death as opposed to 6 levels, I was still pleasantly reminded of 5e’s exhaustion-mechanics. While these effects can only affect warmblooded creatures with a skeletal structure, it still feels a bit weird. Why does cold immunity, RAW, not prevent these effects? The Fort-save should be contingent on actually taking cold damage from the spell, which it does not – the per se nice wind chill mechanic is RAW completely decoupled from the damaging component. (As a nitpick: Range should be “Personal”.) Calling forth shadows with the dustman template added.

On the evocative side of battle spells, burning beams let you generate lances of light, intangible ones, that are lodged in the targets hit, burning them, with fire damage increasing in bright light, decreasing in darkness. Neat visuals and cool effects. Bursts of frost and flame would be another definite winner: For one, it converts cold to fire and vice versa for you; it also allows you to voluntarily fail your save against such an effect (if any), taking half damage, and emit a burst of the other energy, the damage output of which is contingent on the damage you suffered. Now, if you think that this could result in some really weird combos, you’d be partially right, but spell and sidebar explain sequence of events and make sure that the spell is not misread and uses cleverly the fine nuances of the free action. Particularly from a design-perspective, a rather interesting offering!

Conjuring forth a cactus and various efreeti-calling tricks, transformation into camels…some solid utility options can be found here. The nonlethal century in the sun represents a neat spell to simulate prolonged exposure to the sun, and is one of the spells herein that casters with the correct domain, for example (here: Sun) can substitute, which adds to the usefulness of the pdf in that regard. Ghul claws that are correctly codified and count as cold iron and magic and come with temporary hyena-shapechanging also make for an interesting variant on the buff. Concentrate condensate is a nice low-level spell to make air dry and condense in a square, which is one of the spells that sounds less useful at first…and once you start thinking about it, you’ll see its benefits. There also is a spell that makes darkvision color. Which is cool. Alas, I think that the target should specify that it can only modify pre-existing darkvision. The spell’s text implies it, yes, and so does the spell level, but it could theoretically be misread.

Slashing foes with cones of salt or dissolving creatures into puddles of acid via corrosive mists (via corrosive liquefaction) represent nice tricks. I am also partial to create ghost town and its lesser brother - the spell allows btw. for synergy when maintaining more than one casting, providing bonus “bridging buildings” of sorts. Swarm-conjurations also can be found here, with stats provided for a CR 4 scorpion swarm. The supplement includes a variety of desert-themed spells that e.g. allow for better movement, and potential discharge to treat poisons; ones that instill panic, curses that make the target think that they have been deserted. I am somewhat concerned about drake’s surge. A third level spell, this one allows you to convert your swift action into a move action. While this is less potent than the other way round, I am extremely weary of tweaks regarding action economy, particularly when said tweaks explicitly stack with haste. Why am I not screaming OP right there? Simple: The spell explicitly prevents you from using the action to cast spells or attack, limiting you to trail-like effects and preventing the otherwise inevitable issues.

Dusty shroud would be another winner – in dusty environments, you get fast healing 2 and are blurred, but you also are sickened in non-dusty ones. Oh, and you can harden the dust and generate a burst of slashing damage, ending the spell. This feels magical and using a dust mephit’s dwelling’s dust increases the potency of the hardened dust burst discharge. Cool! Using a sand stalker’s front leg to fascinate targets also is rather cool and gets how magic is supposed to feel. Endless sands/snow is an illusion that is so classic in its visuals, it should have existed before. I also love the imagery of the high-level flames of Phlegethon, generating hellish heat that can truly wreck objects and structures. Straight out of fighting videogames would be the 4th level flying grappler, which nets you flight while you’re grappling targets. The high-level, potent freezing shatter is nice and assuming, either willingly or via a curse, a ghostly form, similarly represents a classic and cool concept. A healing-spell with a cold-theme that can be used to damage targets is smart and we get two spells, including mass variants, which allow for better desert/arctic explorations.

There also would be a 5th level Wis-damage spell that penalizes Will-saves, a lightning aura that uses a rare focus as balance…there are some neat ones here. I am also partial to the spell that fire lightning in dust/sand, making it glass, and then blasts the glass to shards with a sonic boom, combining damage and soft terrain control. (As an aside, I think the glass should behave as caltrops, but that may be me.) Poisonous lines, a spell to protect versus sandstorms, summoning a dire bat that can be ridden, making a target believe that you and your allies don’t exist, a 9th level shadow conjuration to call a black scorpion…some cool stuff. If you’re like me and gravitate towards some realism and grit in your games, stave off loneliness may be very smart, as it draws upon the subconscious to prevent mental breakdowns and the like – this spell is one that focuses on the narrative, rather than the mechanics, and it does so very well. Calling forth an impressive, fully statted CR 13 crimson worm, sunburn/screen…cool. Also rather nice: Superchromatic vision, which allows you to perceive more colors than we usually do – somewhat akin to e.g. a mantis shrimp and the like. While this allows for navigation in desolations (and it can make for a really cool storytelling tool), the spell also renders you potentially more susceptible to sight-based effects. Thermal inversion line generates a line that is cold on one end, fire on the other, and manages to get the rules regarding the damage etc. right. A low-level curse that adds vertigo to falling prone is also a winner in my book.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are per se very good as a whole, in both formal and rules-components, but there also are a few uncharacteristic hiccups in some of the rules-components here. Not enough to sink the respective spells, but in this series, it did show. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and employs some nice full color artworks.

David J. Paul’s latest collection of terrain-based spells has a very, very high level of expectations to live up to. His spell collections represent my absolute favorite series of spells available for PFRPG. It is this series I’d take along to my lonely island, if I had to choose a single series of Spell-pdfs. These are my reference-books for what I expect from a good spell book. And honestly, the desert-installment holds up, as a whole – the spells herein often dare to juggle complex concepts that are hard to get right. Problematic effects are generally evaded and the spells feel MAGICAL. Foci and components act as smart balancing tools; annotations in sidebars help; the spells have relevant, terrain-based modifications and sport thoroughly fun effects. I love a lot about this pdf. That being said, it is a bit less refined than the last couple of installments. The glitches I found mostly pertained minor aspects of the rules-language, but in a series that is pretty much the bar by which I measure awesomeness in spells, this does show.

So, to make this abundantly clear: This still represents one of the best spell-collections out there. It is an inspired, interesting offering. At the same time, it features more “variant summoning”-spells than the others in the series, feels slightly less refined in the details, sometimes forgetting obviously intended components that would have catapulted spells from cool to amazing – glass acting as caltrops, connections between two effects…Now, mind you, the spells herein are still inspiring! They are interesting and the mechanics of the vast majority of them are great! However, when looked at back to back with the phenomenal installments of the series, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of disappointment at a very high level. Where are the glass shards that make lenses that can make light-spells more brutal, for example? I am a huge fan of deserts, and some of my fondest memories pertain driving through the Mojave, visiting White Sands or marveling at the Petrified Forest; of walking through Iceland’s black, sandy beaches and the desolation there. I do not object to the dual cold/warm desert focus, but I maintain that either could have yielded a bit more.

But I am rambling. As a whole, I really enjoyed this pdf, but I do have to penalize it somewhat regarding its rough patches. My final verdict clocks in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform. I still very much recommend getting this, but it doesn’t reach the dazzling heights of exceptionalism of its predecessors.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
101 Desert Spells (PFRPG)
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In The Company of Fiends
by Gavyn D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/04/2018 14:37:51

I felt extremely disappointed with this product. Was hoping for something like the Grigori race with it's alternatve racial stat boosts... I don't know something like a combination of the aberrations and angel product this... this has too few options. Forces players to be two people essentially or requires regular GM intervention to make it work. There's simply not enough options to allow for someone to work for something to make a particular demon, devil, asura, etc only to realize that there wasn't even an option to start making one in the first place.

You can only have 4 natural weapons, increasing your size doesn't afford stat boosts. There's like no reason to make a size buff than, just make an increased attack range option or something like that. You limited yourself too much here, make this paragon class an archetype. The idea is great, but you put it in the worst place possible.

I know you can do better here Rite Publishing. Nothing was wrong with aberrations, dragons, treants, vampires. Or like 90% of your other products. What stopped you here? It's not because your unfamiliar with outsiders like you are with undead, you fixed the Wight book no problem, But you've made outsiders already, this is a step down and for no reason. For what, you wanted to try something new? Sure, it's a good idea, for an archetype... not for the main class

I want to make a Shemhazian, an Astradaemon, an Adhukait, an Augnagar... I can't make ANY of that with this. What happened Rite? This is the only one where I've actually been disappointed with a product, and I do not get frustrated or disappointed with these kinds of PDFs at all. I don't know what you have to do, what to say, what to pay... but if you can fix this, than please do.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Fiends
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Player's Guide to Kaidan
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/02/2018 06:16:54

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The Player’s Guide to Kaidan clocks in at 61 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page patron list, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 55 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Before we begin, it should also be noted that I am somewhat of a Japanophile and love the Japanese horror tradition that this setting’s down to earth, gritty themes evoke. I was a backer of the Kickstarter that created this book, and, back in the day, I bugged Steven D. Russell (Rest In Peace) relentlessly about a good horror Player’s Guide sans spoilers for the setting. I was not, however, involved in the creation of this book in any way, shape or form.

All right, got that? Great! We begin with introductions by none other than F. Wesley Schenider and the man that first envisioned Kaidan, Michael K. Tumey. This section is a bit more interesting than usual, so I’m going to elaborate on it for a bit: You see, asian fantasy settings tend to gravitate to lumping all literary traditions and aesthetic conventions into one bucket; there is nothing wrong about that, in that we do the same for Western-themed RPGs: There is a style that hearkens to old-world aesthetics, some distinctly American settings – it happens and more often than not, the pot-pourri that is the result works. At the same time, this tendency has a consequence that few ever talk about, namely that the “loud” and flashy concepts override the nuanced ones, that mythology becomes this weird conglomerate. I’ve heard more than once someone remarking that e.g. “hero” would be a good “Samurai-movie” – which made me facepalm. In our globalized world, cross-pollination of aesthetics and concepts is a good thing as a whole, but at the same time, aesthetics cultivated in e.g. anime (and I’m a huge otaku!) can actually overlay and replace narrative traditions that are more subdued, but no less, perhaps even more, engaging. While I am, for example, a huge fan of Uzumaki (the manga!) or some of the grim horror-mangas out there, they do represent a different take onnarrative structure and employ different tropes than what you’ll see herein.

You see, Kaidan is based on the tradition of the Japanese ghost story, which has greatly influenced western sensibilities (most famously via the Ring and Ju-On franchises), but from Lafcadio Hearn’s traditions to Masaki Kobayashi’s classic movie adaption of these stories (Kwaidan, 1964), there is a lesser known, and, as one may argue, more humane type of horror that can be found – it is on said genre that Kaidan is based. The setting is horrific because of its deeply psychological nuances that remain relevant to this day, and because of the delightfully twisted cosmology that represents the backbone of the setting. The more subdued nuances of the setting allow you to tell different stories, and for that, I love it.

Now, if all of this sounds like a glowing recommendation before we get to the book, then you’d be right – I adore the setting. That being said, as always, this adoration also makes me rather stern regarding what I expect to see from this book, so can it withstand proper scrutiny? Let’s take a look!

Okay, so the first chapter here begins in a smart way – it explains to the player’s the social structure, caste system and environments found in Kaidan, including a nice b/w-map of the whole setting. Here is a crucial difference, though: The section does not pull back the veil regarding the central leitmotifs of the setting – it describes what PCs can learn and experience without spoilers, allowing the revelations, once they begin, to hit harder. It also helps players to feel embedded in the setting without explaining away the horrors at the root of the setting. That is a big plus and represents a central task I expect to fulfill from a player’s guide, so the section, in that way, achieves its lore goal.

Now, I know players, so I’m expecting that lore alone won’t cut it – the pdf knows as much as well and presents the races up next, starting with the Anu, one of the human ethnicities. Instead of the human bonus feat, these folks get +2 to Craft (poison) and Craft (trapmaking). They also get +2 to notice traps in forest settings – and yes, the bonus types are correctly codified. They replace the skilled racial trait with +1 hit point per HD. They also get 3 alternate racial traits that make sense and work. The henge come with 7 arrays of different ability-score modifiers for the respective clans (which include tanuki, hare, etc.), all of which are evenly dispersed between physical and mental scores and they get keen senses, +1 skill point or hp per level and are shapechangers, obviously. They also get Stealth and Survival as class skills and treat club and great club, long bow and spear as familiar weapons, gaining proficiency in them regardless of class. However, they also take a bit more damage from cold iron. The alternate racial traits include more bestial hengeyokai, who pay for natural weapons with decreased Intelligence. Aesthetic nitpick: Natural weapons are not codified, requiring the player to default to the standards regarding primary/natural and damage-types, but that is a minor complaint. Small and mixed marriage henge or those with priest or tengu training can also be found.

The dominant human ethnicity of the setting, the Kaidanese, come with a neat array of alternate racial options, with e.g. unclean and unwanted or being tengu raised as examples – they are mechanically sound and feature a strong narrative impetus, which is a big plus. Kappa are Small with +2 Strength, get a swim speed of 40 ft. and suffer no size penalties for grappling, gaining +1 to CMB and CMD instead. They treat Stealth and Survival as class skills and get a non-codified (this extends to all natural attacks and I won’t mention it from here on out) claw attack at 1d3 as well as kappa weapon familiarity. Sounds a bit stronger? Well, if you’re familiar with the legend of the water on top of the kappa’s head, you’ll grin when reading the racial weakness pertaining it. Kitsune can also be found – and in kaidan, they are significantly different from the standard race, gaining 40 ft. speed. They also are Small, have -4 Str, +2 Dex and Cha, are quadrupeds in their fox form and get a 1d4 bite. They have yokai traits, i.e. Stealth and Survival as class skills and may assume a specific, alternate shape. They get a single cantrip that can be sued 3/day for each use of Fox Magic – they are treated as 1/3 of a fox magic use. Fox magic? Well, that would be supernatural effects that can be used 1/day per tail of the kitsune. Save DCs scale based on Cha and fox tails. Oh, and guess what? If they fail a Will-save, their alternate forms may slip, revealing fox tells. They also can speak with foxes at will. I love this more subdued take on the kitsune. If you’d rather play a more martial kitsune, the alternate racial traits do allow for the use of fox magic as an attack-buff and nocturnal foxes and thieving specialists can be found here as well. The korobokuru are next at +2 Str and Wis, -2 Str. They are Small and have a slow speed, but get +2 to Stealth and Perception as well as +1 to saves to resist mind-affecting effects. They get +1 to Climb, Perception, Survival and Stealth in forests and their own array of weapon familiarities. They loathe conflict, though, and thus get -2 to atk versus non-animals, which is reduced to -1 in forests. Finally, the take on the tengu envisions them as +2 Dex and Wis, -2 Con, with yokai traits and a 1d3 bite attack (properly codified regarding types!). They are sword-experts and as such get quite a few racial proficiencies as well as +4 to Linguistics and receive 2 languages per skill point invested in them. They also have low-light vision…and an alternate racial trait that is called “Boar Rider.” Yes, there are dire boar-riding tengus. Come on. That’s damn cool. The races come with proper age, height and weight tables.

Now, next up, we take a look at forming an adventure party – whether you’re playing gaijin, yokai or samurai, there will be somewhat different things to consider, and the pdf helpfully states that “samurai” in the setting does not necessarily indicate having levels in the class. The roles of classes in Kaidan are explained, though, alas, the Occult classes or the ACG classes are not covered. The former is a bit of a pity, since e.g. spiritualist, medium and occultist imho would have made perfect fits for Kaidan. The pdf then proceeds to provide a selection of some of the cooler class options from the various Kaidan supplements: The blind Moso bard from Way of the Yakuza, the tengukensei from In the Company of Tengus, the yamabushi and yabusame from Way of the Samurai all have found their way here. The formatting of these has been improved. We also receive the kannushi priest cleric archetype, who gets 4 + Int skills and proficiency with light and medium armor and simple weapons. They only have access to one domain, chosen from a limited list and do not require a divine focus. Their channel-based healing is slightly less efficient, while their channeling versus undead is slightly more potent: +/- 1 per die, with 12th level allowing for full-round channeling for +2 damage per die. The rules-language here is slightly awkward, but remains functional and sans ambiguities. They gain spirit empathy as well as a bond to a shrine and may bless large structures and areas, very much emphasizing the priest aspect, which is something I enjoyed. Theme-wise concise, rules-wise less mind-blowing.

The miko shrine maiden is an oracle with a modified class skill list and proficiency in simple weapons and light armors and shields, expect tower shields, replacing Medium Armor Proficiency with Skill Focus (Perform [dance]). The pdf suggests curses and mysteries and proceeds to introduce the kami mystery, which yields Knowledge (nature) and (planes), Stealth and Survival as class skills. The bonus spells range from pass without trace to object/plant animation and summon nature’s ally spells. The spell array is okay, but nothing mind-blowing. The revelations include scaling energy resistance, a bonded animal, walking on water (later also on air) and the option to summon a kami into you for warrior-prowess. Minor complaint there: The ability is active and doesn’t sport an activation action. While it being SU lets you default to standard action, I think this one would actually warrant swift/immediate as activation. Making nature strike down targets is cool and we get nature sight, knowledge, talking with animals and elements – so nice, flavorful tricks here. The capstone lets you meld with any natural objects as well as 1/day elemental body IV.

The second new mystery would be the shrine mystery, which nets you Bluff, Knowledge (local) and Perception and pretty classic cleric spells. Here, we can find the nature mystery’s friend to animals, a shrine bond, fortune telling and a bunch of nice ones that thematically expand upon the concept of the bonded shrine. That being said, the mystery also loses a big chance: One revelation sports the option to make limited elemental bursts. …Come on! That practically DEMANDS some kineticist engine-action! The bonded shrine plus kineticist tricks would be perfect, natural fits for the setting! It’d explain why the flashy kineticist blasting isn’t found everywhere in the setting!

Now, the next thing the pdf presents is a new class – the necrotic warriors, elite agents of the Shogun, infused with the powers of dark arts. Oh, and guess what? No alignment restrictions! Thankfully! The class gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and light weapons as well as kama, nunchaku, sai, shuriken, siangham and light armors + bucklers. The class gets full BAB-progression and good Ref-saves. They also get limited Charisma-based spontaneous spellcasting at 4th level, with the spells limited by necrology chosen, which is btw. the most important class feature of the class, but we’ll get back to that in a bit.

The class begins with necromantic strike, which is basically a negative energy-based smite that adds Cha-mod to atk and twice class level to damage, usable 1/day, +1/day for every 3 class levels thereafter. Unfortunately, the ability fails to specify its activation action. 2nd level yields divine focus less channel negative energy as a cleric of ½ his class level. 3rd level lets the warrior add Cha-mod to Will-saves, but not if it’s negative. At 11th level, the same applies to initiative, which can be pretty strong. These wording constructs could have been phrased more elegantly by just noting that only the Charisma bonus is added. 5th level makes the necrotic warrior take damage from positive energy, be healed by negative energy, and also provides immunity to mundane diseases, +4 to saves versus magical ones. 9th level yields evasion, 15th level improved evasion and 17th hide in plain sight. 20th level is the undead apotheosis.

Now, as far as necrologies are concerned, we get 5 of them. As mentioned before, these define the spell selection and 4th level and every 4 levels thereafter, the list of bonus feats from which the warrior gets to choose. 2nd level and every 4 levels thereafter yield a special necrology power defined by the necrology in question. There is no choice here after choosing the necrology, which means that all such beings with the same necrology will be VERY similar. The class really could have used some player agenda there. The necrologies are blood, bone, brawn, poison and shadow. They…sport some weird design decisions. Blood, for example, lets you fling blood at nearby enemies – as a secondary attack, making the whole thing work as a natural attack, when that is NOT how such things are usually handled. Indeed, the material here is uncharacteristically rough for Rite Publishing. We, for example, fail to specify the save DCs of necrology powers. Some of the abilities specify the save DCs, but usually, that sort of thing is determined globally. There are also instances where damage type hasn’t been properly noted – bone darts should, for example, inflict piercing damage and later be treated as magical etc. for purposes of overcoming DR. Doubling Strength-bonuses (brawn necrology, level 18) gained from items is also a really bad idea and further skews PFRPG’s offense focus and high-level rocket-launcher tag syndrome. Yeah, not a big fan. The class, as an NPC-exclusive, could perhaps fly, but as a player-class, it’s too limited, has too few choices and while I love the visuals evoked by the abilities, the issues in the details make this one problematic.

The next chapter deals with Kaidanese weapons and armor as well as other equipment, which is neat to see. We conclude with a handy glossary of kaidanese terms.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting on a formal level are very good; on a rules-language level, the book isn’t bad, but it is also not as good as usual for Rite Publishing, with the new class sporting serious flaws in some of its components. Layout adheres to a two-column standard that is mostly b/w, apart from headers. The book is GORGEOUS: Ian Greenlee, Mark Bulahao, Mark Hyzer, Patricia Smith and Kamil Jadczak provide a ton of amazing, original b/w-artworks that manage to gel together into a consistent style. The pdf comes with bookmarks, but oddly, only for the appendices and the first chapter – the race and class chapters lack bookmarks!

Now, my long-winded introduction should make clear that I love the Kaidan Michal K. Tumey and Jonathan McAnulty created, with additional design by Steven D. Russell. And indeed, I like that the race and class options focus on flavorful choices that are suitable for more low-key playing experiences, for grittier games. I really applaud the consistency of the vision here. That being said, I also found myself slightly disappointed that we don’t get any occult materials herein, that no favored class options are provided for the races. That would be something I can live with, though. However, the serious issues in the new class, which takes up a ton of real estate, are somewhat jarring after the cool, spoiler-less gazetteer and neat race-section. If I were to rate this as a crunch-book, I’d probably settle in at something around the 3-star region. However, this is a Player’s Guide, and the gazetteer-section and flavor is amazing. Still, as a whole, I can’t go higher than 3.5 stars for this one. If you like grittier gameplay and the idea of Kaidan, round up; if you’re looking for primarily crunchy components, round down. My official final verdict will round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Guide to Kaidan
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In The Company of Valkyries
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/07/2018 05:25:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of Rite Publishing’s „In the Company of...“-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 35 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons.

Okay, the first thing you’ll note: New and improved layout! Really nice one, at that! Parchment-like background, central page numbers against a red backdrop, lion-like glyphs in the borders. Elegant and neat!

Now, as always, we begin this supplement with a missive to Qwilion of Questhaven, chronicling and interview with a member of the species in question, which means that, yes, this pdf, like all installments in the series, is actually a nice reading experience, as what otherwise would be dry notes, takes on a personal touch: “Hail and well met, scholar!” indeed, as this is how we begin the supplement. Now, obviously, valkyries are chosen, not born – the initiation sees the valkyrie, according to narrator Scorcia Stormcrow, gaze down a chalice in a hall, where no drop may be spilled; they gaze into a well, reliving the final, mortal fight, as weakness bleeds out of the valkyrie to be. The new initiate receives a mentor and the pdf proceeds to explain the details of the choosing, the importance of drink and poetry, and indeed, the valkyries retain some aspect of their erstwhile race, though it usually is cosmetic – yes, this means that half-orcs, elves, dwarves, etc. all can become valkyries. The pdf also explains the meaning of some famous names associated with valkyries.

Now, basic stats-wise, valkyries are native outsiders with +2 Strength and Charisma and -2 Dexterity. They are Medium, have darkvision 60 ft., resistance 5 to acid and cold and gain deathwatch as a supernatural ability 1/day, using character level as caster level – though only for the purpose of seeing creatures with souls. As battle-trained fighters, armor the valkyrie is proficient in never impacts her speed, nor does it add its armor check penalty to Ride checks. A valkyrie gains a valiant steed, which acts as a druid animal companion that does not automatically improve over the levels. The steed must be a horse, which is always combat trained and gains Light Armor Proficiency as a bonus feat. It does not gain share spells, and may be replaced if slain after a 1-week mourning period.

The signature ability, though, would obviously be the choosing of the slain: 1/day as a standard action, the valkyrie may draw a soul from a recently deceased body and safeguard it indefinitely, as per soul bind, but she may only do so for creatures willing to have their souls thus carried. The ability may only be used on a target if the target has been slain within a timeframe equal to a number of rounds that is equal or less than the valkyrie’s character level. If the soul is reluctant, the valkyrie may use Diplomacy to attempt to convince a target. In order to carry a soul, the valkyrie’s character level must be equal to or greater than the creature’s HD and she may only have one soul at any given time. She may free a soul as a full-round action. And before you ask: The pdf does talk about souls, what does or doesn’t have them, and retains full GM-control. The valkyries won’t wreck your world-building.

We get a proper height and weight table, fyi – being immortal, no age is given, obviously. The race comes with a total of 9 alternate racial traits. Instead of the standard darkvision and resistances, we can choose negative energy resistance and 1/day immediate action + Cha-mod (min 1)to saves versus negative energy, energy drain and death effects as well as +2 racial bonus to saves against the like – however, upon using this boost, the valkyrie loses the benefits of the trait for 24 hours. Cool! The resistances may also be replaces in favor of 10 resistance to one of the default energy types. Instead of being battle trained and the resistances, there is an option for a Charisma-based mage armor like effect and one for better divination CL as well as an initiative boost after casting such a spell. Speaking of divinations: We can replace the steed with a better form of augury 1/day. Fated sight may be replaced with Knowledge (planes) as a class skill and perfect knowledge of where she is in the planes as well as the knowledge about the closest gate. We also get a racial trait to make Small valkyries and the signature spear wielding: Instead of the steed, valkyries can use a standard action to call a masterwork spear to their side, which may be enchanted as usual and retains the enchantments, but may not be permanently destroyed. Finally, the steed may be replaced with wings: Here, we can see the mastery of the designers: The wings start off as gliding and synergy with the battle trained trait is covered. It should also be noted that the pdf qualifies these traits as racial feats – so yeah, you can take them sans trading in other options, and we get different prerequisites for qualifying traits!

Favored class options cover arcanist, bard, bloodrager, cavalier, magus, medium, occultist, skald, sorcerer, warpriest, witch and wizard as well as the racial paragon class., but more on that later.

Before we dive into the details there, let us talk for a second about the feats: We get no less than 18 racial feats, which include the ability to have the companion steed scale, quicker summoning and banishing of the spear, halving the duration of divinations with casting times exceeding a round, divination-based SPs…and yes, there is a feat-sequence that nets you flight! Yes, it is locked behind the appropriate minimum ranks/levels and will not hamper your game’s assumptions at low levels. The wings can be further upgraded to serve as natural attacks (properly codified!) AND the upgraded metallic wings may act as shields and cause bleed damage. HECK yes! (And yes, the prerequisites for these make sense, regarding level-range!) The paragon class can choose an extra insight (more on that later) and mid-level death ward that also acts as a safety net to keep you from falling below 0 hp, can be found. Aura sight is also here and really high-level valkyries can 1/day claim the soul of a living being.

Now, two of the feats tie in with Norse lore particularly well – these allow for the creation and improvement, respectively, of enchanted meads, a new item category of sorts, which can take four forms. The first is a more potent spell than what can usually be contained in a potion; the second allows for the creation of a potion-equivalent of up to 6th level. The third combines two spells into a single potion and the fourth uses strong alcohol to lower the cost of the brewing process, which is amazing – and before you ask: If you attempt to cheese these by being immune to the effects of alcohol…well, you can’t. The respective basic crafting mechanics are explained in a concise and precise manner that bespeaks that the authors did their math. Kudos! Beyond the basic crafting system expansion provided here, we also get 5 special, specific meads, which provide potent spell benefits, but, like the base engine, they come with risky drawbacks if you can’t keep your mead down. This represents, in short, the flavor of the race really well in the mechanics. We can all picture amused valkyries smirking over mortals that can’t keep their mead down, right?

Now, while pretty much every feat in the racial section is for valkyries (surprise), there are three that aren’t: The Valkyrie Style and its two follow-up feats. Valkyrie Style lets you wield a two-handed polearm one-handed while using a light shield or buckler, but, following the rules, you don’t get the 1.5 Str-mod to damage when doing so. The follow-up feat, Valkyrie Strike unlocks this damage boost and adds +1d6 precision damage with it – and this bonus precision damage bypasses all forms of DR. That is really interesting: Precision damage is easily one of the least valuable damage types in PFRPG and the DR-ignoring, while usually not something I like, makes it actually valuable. Kudos! The third feat, Valkyrie Fury lets you add a shield bash when making a full attack – sans losing the AC-bonus. Oh, and free trip attempt on a hit, sans AoO! Really cool style-chain! The base feat for this Style-chain also acts as one of the prerequisites of the Shield Maiden PrC, which represents one way other than dying to become a valkyrie.

The PrC requires the Valkyrie Style feat, BAB +5, 3 ranks in two Knowledge skills. Here is a great way to note one fact that made me smile and that is rather important for quite a few of my readers: Valkyries are obviously gendered entities, right? In another supplement, we’d probably read a “female only” line in the prerequisites for the PrC and be done with it. Well, guess what? Both regarding being chosen after slain and PrC only cares about how your character identifies – a shield maiden must identify as female, but doesn’t have to be female. This is really cool, as one could see the struggle, bloodshed and fights throughout a character’s progression as a symbolic, potentially cathartic representation of the struggle of transitioning, adding potentially deep symbological depth to the playing experience. So yeah, big kudos!

The PrC, on a mechanical side, gets d10 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The PrC gets full BAB-progression as well as ½ Fort-save progression. At 1st level, we get + Cha-bonus to saves (not stacking with the paladin’s divine grace, thankfully), and she may 1/day reroll a save, but upon doing so, loses the benefits of the ability for 24 hours. The shield maiden also gets the valkyrie’s ease when operating in armor at this level. At 2nd level and every even level thereafter, the shield maiden gains a boon, chosen from a selection of 6: She may substitute the armor or shield bonus she has with her Charisma-modifier (thankfully, min and max values included); 3+ Cha-mod valkyrie-style deathwatch, gaining an insight from the paragon class, a bonus feat (fighter level caveat included), resistance and gaining valkyrie traits may be found here. 3rd level nets fatebond: Either, you get a cool spear with enhancement bonuses and special abilities (scaling, caps intact) or a steed – and paladin-synergy is once more covered. Kudos! 5th level nets light fortification while wearing armor, and, in a cool twist, actually provides synergy with armors actually enchanted to grant the property. 7th level nets glory, which is a mini-smite of sorts usable up to ½ class levels times per day, each use lasting 1 round. When confirming a critical hit against a target of her character level + 2 in CR or higher, she regains uses – cool, and uncheesable! 9th level yields a death ward that may be used reflexively and 10th level provides the coveted valkyrie ascension upon dying. Really cool PrC!

Now, we also get quite an array of different racial archetypes for valkyries, the first of which would the be fortune weaver witch, who is locked into a raven or eagle familiar. 5th level yields a cool ability that lets you 1/day speak a target’s fate, causing a suggestion – if the target disobeys it, he is cursed. Cool! The ability may be used more often by expending spell slots, but only may target a creature 1/day. Similarly, rerolls for allies (9th level) may also be used more often via spell slot expenditure and at 11th level, we get, following a similar design paradigm, the dispelling of charms, curses, compulsions or mind-affecting effects, potentially redistributing them. Two major hexes and grand hexes complement a flavorful, cool archetype. The keeper of souls warpriest is locked into repose and builds on it, with the soul shepherding and planar ally options representing the agent of the valkyries and their agenda – nice!

The raven feeder would be a bloodrager who modifies bloodrage to add bleed damage. Raven familiar and the ability to select alus instead of bloodline powers complement this one, building on the bleeding theme. The runecaster magus is one of the coolest archetypes for the class I’ve seen in a while: Basically, arcane pool is replaced with a rune pool, which allows for the improvement of weapons to provide passive benefits, from which other characters can benefit. These runes, once inscribed, may be activated, granting fitting benefits, getting stacking issues right and unlocking combo’d runes add higher levels, which is, engine-wise, amazing and could carry its own class. Runic tattoos and armor also are included. Cool one! The Saga singer skald’s song can yields Diehard and further improves if the target has Diehard already. The telling of heroic sagas (urgh, I shudder when writing that plural, even though it’s the commonly used one – to me, the correct term for the plural is sögur, but that as an aside) replaces several passive abilities with these active boosts, which btw. may be combined at higher levels.

Speaking of which: We get no less than 5 bardic/skaldic masterpieces, all of which are epic: Brynnhild’r Lament nets an improved rage; Deliberation of the Norns nets save rerolls for allies. Kenning is amazing, allowing for the prevention of verbal communication of tactics, aiding, etc. via potent poetic allusions. Love it! Saga of Unbreakable Fate nets a slew of immunities, and the epic Ragnarok’s Requiem, usable only by the mightiest of heroes, provides a combo meteor swarm/mass cure serious wounds. All of these are worth taking for their price.

All right, so let’s move on to the valkyrie paragon, shall we? The class gets d8 HD, full BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. The class begins play with a mount that works as a druid companion. If the character has the valiant steed trait, the mount is treated as class level +1, which makes it really strong at low levels. The mount may be called to the valkyrie’s side 1/day. First level also nets 3 + Cha-mod deathwatch as a SP, usable versus creatures she is unable to see, but sans pinpointing them. 5th level allows for somewhat status-like information for those under the effects of her deathwatch. 7th level also adds knowledge of conditions to the information and 13th level makes the ability constant.

6th level yields a 1/day plane shift with up to 8 other creatures – it is not perfect, though, and may put the valkyrie and her entourage at other places if she is not familiar with them. Yes, random plane table provided. This risk is eliminated at 13th level and 19th level makes it flawless. At 11th level, the valkyrie can attempt to choose unwilling souls slain (which can be a really cool plot point!) and 17th level allows the valkyrie to destroy souls of the slain she carries to grant herself boons – a decision she should not lightly make. The capstone yields automatic critical confirmation against all creatures with a soul, as well as 1/day attack, skill, save or ability-check reroll with + Cha-mod added. Additionally, she can force such a reroll 1/day on a foe, using her Cha-mod as a penalty.

Of course, this is Rite Publishing, and as such, the class obviously sports some serious player agenda. This time around, that would be represented by the insights the class gets, which are the talents. The first is gained at 2nd level, with an additional one unlocked every 2 levels thereafter. Some of these build upon another and some have minimum levels – at 10th level, we for example have automatic planar adaptation. The theme of future’s sight is represented by the very potent augur’s strike at 4th level, which nets true strike as a SP, usable 3 + Cha-mod times per day…with the difference that she must select the foe against which the bonus applies and the fact that the bonus lasts and halves in subsequent rounds, as the ability represents seeing into the future. This also prevents novaing of the ability, which is a really smart way of handling the concept. Swift action performance-like minor boosts , bless with temporary hit points added, bonus feats…At high levels, full attack charges are possible (again, locked behind a sufficiently high cap), seeing in perfect darkness, sensing deceit, a variant lay on hands, retaining AC when charging, making the return of those slain by her from the dead harder, ensuring that the sanctity of the dead is retained – the insights are MANY. We get more than 4 pages of different insights, which run a gamut from mechanically potent and engine-wise interesting to extremely flavorful, often blending them. You can make a really potent guardian valkyrie with constant detect spells; you can make a fearsome charge, a true champion of spear fighting, guardians of the fallen and any combination of such themes. The leitmotifs are represented in a concise and well-crafted manner.

No, we’re not done yet! Remember how I mentioned the cup of welcome before? Well, the pdf also contains 6 potent valkyrie-themed items, including the cup, which represents the classic theme of hospitality from the myths; a potent armor, a shield, seiðr runes, a bracelet from the world tree and a very potent spear complement this book.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch on both a formal and rules-language level – I noticed no issues in either. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s new two-column full-color standard and is really nice. The pdf is chockfull with cool full-color artwork, with only one piece being somewhat less nice. It should be noted that the artworks do not contain unbecoming cheesecake and just depict badass warrior ladies. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

As some of you know, one of my fields of academic expertise is actually Scandinavian literature and culture. I am actually fluent in Norse. I loathe most depictions of valkyries in mainstream media, mainly because they don’t get what makes them fascinating. The whole ideology and culture that provided the cultural underpinnings of the concept of the valkyrie is, ultimately, not one that has stemmed from the Judeo-Christian dichotomous thinking process and ideology that resulted in the creation of cultural artifacts like our RPGs – in a world where good and evil are absolutes, it is hard to properly convey the concept of valkyries and the depiction of paladin-like battle-angels makes me barf internally. It is testament to the obvious love and attention to detail, that the representation of the valkyrie-concept, in spite of being codified with the confines of a system where good and evil are tangible forces, works here.

The love for concept and lore is apparent in each of the design-components, and detailed stacking caveats and a vast amount of small stumbling stones are avoided left and right, with the grace befitting of the valkyrie. Now, Kendra Leigh Speedling has already penned one of my favorite hybrid classes, but I think this may be the first time I have reviewed anything by Mara Lynn Butler – and the two ladies and their designs seamlessly gel together herein. No authorial voice clash can be found and the book, beyond getting the tone right, juggles complex and unique concepts in an admirable manner. There is a ton to love in this book, with race and paragon class as well as archetypes being pretty damn amazing; the addition of the PrC as a central concept is another huge plus here, and once we’re almost done, we also get the neat mead-engine, which represents the cherry on top of something truly amazing. This is a phenomenal representation of the concept, that neither compromises the rich lore associated with valkyries, nor the integrity of PFRPG. The pdf manages to actually blend the two components in an elegant and amazing manner.

In short: This continues the streak of absolutely phenomenal books in the series, standing as an impressive and amazing example of the cool things you can do with the system, even after all these years: From tweaks to SPs to new items, this oozes care and passion, always takes, design-wise, the high road. Now, excuse me, I have a distinct craving to listen to the Crüxshadows, a ton of good pagan metal, and build some badass valkyries. Rating? Oh yeah, forgot that, didn’t I? Obviously, this is an easy 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation. “Fate is armed with arrows – and she watches our battlefields.”

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Valkyries
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Pathways Bestiary(PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/05/2018 05:46:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This massive tome clocks in at 229 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than 223 (!!) pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

Okay, so the thing that drew me to Rite Publishing back then was the blending of really imaginative concepts and deadly, highly template adversaries. Here were monsters that did not need me to beef them up to stand a chance against my PCs. When the Book of Monster Templates hit sites, I was ecstatic: It took the monster template concept from 3.X’s beloved Advanced Bestiary by Green Ronin and one-upped it. Not only were the templates super-interesting, they sported unique and diverse abilities, many of which pushed the boundaries of what I expected to see. I liked the Advanced Bestiary (who didn’t?), but I loved Steve’s Book of Monster Templates.

As the master of Rite Publishing, Steve continued to provide amazing templates – and for FREE/PWYW, no less, for every installment of the Pathways e-zine featured one of the templates, always with a unique sample creature added, often with absolutely gorgeous flavor. Now, I adored these, I still do; however, the game evolved, Rite Publishing grew to become Steve’s dayjob and the time-constraints and limited budget a free magazine, of a 3pp, no less, could afford, meant that there were a couple of instances where the wording could have been tighter, where editing needed to be rushed.

Even when I had to bash one of Steven’s designs, he took the criticism in stride, encourages and supported me; he was there not only as a publisher, but also as a friend, and when he was taken from us too soon, I was crestfallen. I miss him to this day and his writing continues to influence my games, my own writing, and what I expect to see. In many a way, he pushed the boundaries of what I dared to expect and demand from roleplaying games. I am incredibly happy that Rite Publishing continues to prosper.

Where am I going with this? Well, this book, in a sense, is a monument to Steve’s work. It collects the first 60 templates released in Pathways by him and his talented cadre of freelancers, and polishes them, brings them up to speed and presents them in a refined, new manner. In a sense, this is the second Book of Monster Templates that I always bugged him to write.

Now, from all of this you can glean that I am, to a degree, emotionally invested in this product. Frankly, I’d have a hard time going full-blown analysis-mode and review-bot, abstract my own emotional investment. But then again, Steve would tell me to buckle up, call things as I see them and tell me to rate this as neutral as usual. To review this the rite way and not to make any excuses on behalf of his legacy, so there goes.

After a brief introduction of none other than legend Owen K.C. Stephens, we dive into the respective creatures and templates. Here, I am going to deviate a bit from my usual formula. If I were to discuss the respective templates and monsters in detail, this review would be bloated beyond any usefulness for the customer, so instead, I’m going to paint the picture in broad strokes, all right? Great!

So, first things first: Know how the 7 deadly sins are kind of a big deal in Pathfinder, beyond the neutral evil outsiders? Did you want templates to really reflect them, to e.g. represent champions and creatures of the Thassilon empire? Well, we get one template plus associated creature for each of the sins. These are not just any templates, mind you: The gluttonous creature gets a grinning maw in its belly; the lusting creature’s gaze can wreck your equipment-based bonuses; prideful creatures fight not simply to win, but to prove their superiority – which is actually a thing, thanks to the rules. These examples do not even begin to encompass what the templates offer, though.

You see, the templates herein are not simply content with just providing some numerical bonuses and perhaps one cool ability; no, the templates in this book sport multiple unique signature abilities per template, sometimes even going so far as to add a whole subsystem of trickery to the ability complex bestowed on the base creature. In short, you will NOT just mistake such a creature for a weirdly colored version of its base creature; you won’t just find animals with slightly fiendish touches, or critters that add a bit of elemental energy damage. Instead, you’ll find templates that really make a difference in how the creature operates, in its options, etc.

Now, there are a couple of somewhat elemental-themed critters within: E.g. the +1 CR pyroclastic template. To give you an extent of the level of modification you can expect to see from each template within: We have type change to elemental, immunity to crits and flanking and precision damage, vulnerability to cold perfect flight as well as burrow speed. They get a long burn, that adds not only fire damage, but has it last. Their aura causes Con-damage on a failed save and they get a breath weapon. Gentlepersons, that is the least amount of modification you’ll see herein. Yep, beyond the usual play with abilities and standard offense/defense tricks, we get no less than 3 signature abilities. Oh, and you don’t want to add the template, but need a brutal boss ASAP? What about a CR 23 pyroclastic red dragon? AC 39, over 500 HP. Need I say more?

Okay, another way to illustrate the extent to which the respective templates go to make the playing experience unique, would be the Agent of Chaos. One of the abilities bestowed by the template is the chaos field. Whenever someone nearby uses supernatural, SP or spell, the ability automatically causes a mishap, and the ability takes longer effects into account. Here’s the thing: We don’t get one, or 20 different effects; no siree, we actually get a massive 100-entry-strong table of chaotic effects! These are not brief ones either – in total, the table takes up 3 whole pages. And yes, these are not just cosmetic, but mechanically relevant! And that is before the next ability, the warpwave, which can have 20 different effects! Speaking of which: There actually are two feats to further build on the warpwave, so yes, the monsters and templates herein do actually come with supplemental material where appropriate.

Speaking of the monsters: Take the amber template – obviously, this makes creatures adhesive, and the creatures can negate freedom of movement and they can encase and suffocate victims. The sample creature here, lavishly depicted in full color, would be The Glorious Snare – a CR 4 amber unicorn. Yes, it is CE. Yes, it actually is pretty lethal. There are also rules-components that exceed significantly the frame we usually expect from templates: Take the bladeleaf creature. Not just a template for plant creatures, it provides basically a statblock that is based in part on the stats of the respective base creature, representing the animated swarm of leaves. Yes, the template actually allows for swarm-creation. Blood magic creatures can enhance their abilities via killing other beings. In this case, we get no less than 4 new spells to tie in with the template, one of which actually conjures forth fully-statted creatures.

Need some creatures that embody the cataclysmic end of days? Well, what about a template that will do just that, increasing CR to 25? Speaking of super-potent stuff: What about the DIY-Kaiju-template Daikaiju? Divine champions can assume frickin’ avatar form…yeah, there is definitely a ton of amazing, high-concept stuff here.

Fans of the mythos aren’t left out, either: We get a Dark tapestry template and the many-angled template, for example. Really neat! That being said, even though the editing has improved, there are a couple of snafus left: In the many-angled creature’s write-up, we have an erroneous reference to the lostling instead; there’s a statblock that has a double “AC” in the line – this book is not perfect in that regard.

Now all templates are this epic in scope, though: Want a representation of the not-at-all-wholesome prankster? The deadly prankster template offers just that, turning whimsy to being full-blown creepy! Prefer something more twisted? The Mad Harlequin allows you to make your own Joker or works as a nice foundation for Jack-of-Tears-inspired creatures. Want an undead jester instead? Red Jester template. As a fan of things macabre and dark, these struck a chord with me.

Dichotomous creatures are another example I adore: The creature represents a duality, rather than a singularity in morals, allowing for the fusions of e.g. demons/angels. Not happy with all representations of some classic undead? Dread Banshees, Phantom Armors, Revenants, Sayona and Crucifixion Spirits make for brutal, interesting takes on the respective concept, more in line with the level of deadliness than the more standard iterations.

We can find dream killer and false idols represented here, and there is a template to turn you into a gallows-based construct. The grandmaster template comes with an integrated cabal of servants and unique tactical tricks that, in conjunction with similar commander options, make for a deadly threat. Combine these fellows with the destined kingkillers, a template representing figures like Mordred or V, and we have a great coup-d’état scenario. The kingkiller’s wounds are cursed, btw., and not in some pansy manner – they can only be healed under a specific circumstance, which makes the old “the good king lies dying” actually work within the confines of the game! And that is before the sub-ability sections. Oh, and yes, we get kingdom-building-rules-synergy for the kingkiller!

Heartless creatures take a trope from classic fairy tales, creating duplicates…and the only way to truly slay them, as they’re born of negative emotion, is to find the origin. If played to their capabilities, Heartless can make for a potentially world-ending threat…and make for a super-difficult, cool investigation if handled properly. The template only clocks in at CR +1, but frankly, I could see this carry a whole campaign.

Need more forward threats to throw against the PCs? Both hellfire and hero killer should do a good job there. And yes, the latter isn’t called “Hero Killer” for giggles. Are you one of the folks who wished that Iron Kingdoms had continued support for d20-based games? Well, this book contains the iron lich! Speaking of classics: Poison and Deep dragon templates

Now, Pathfinder is an offense-heavy game – it’s much harder to establish a good defense than a good offense – and if you’re a GM whose players just steamroll over most published monsters…well, then you may want to check out the nigh-invulnerable template. This template represents something I loved in 2nd edition, where a few creatures like Greater Wolfweres actually fully regenerated each round, unless killed in a very specific manner. Well, the template represents just that, allowing you to create a classic, nigh-unkillable monster. This template, on its own, could be used to duplicate a more classic horror gameplay. Just modify it to suit the respective creature, add/detract cooldowns, etc. Gold.

It’s not all evil, though: Creatures infused with the fires of heaven or beings that represent the concept of the sublime can make for potent allies for stalwart heroes, with feats like Too Pretty to Kill further enhancing this trope.

If you’re like me and enjoy esoteric, weird or philosophical concepts in your game, then the notion of the timebreaker creature will most certainly appeal to you as well….and even if the concept per se is not something you like to explore theme-wise, the abilities are uncommon enough to warrant integration. If you’re bored of the standard treasure golems, why not use the treasure hoardling to represent the concept of the self-defending treasure? And if you enjoy the aesthetics of the Soulsborne games, you’ll probably also enjoy the walking weapons, the disintegrating void creatures, the walking wastelands. Creepy and eternal, the eye-studded watchmen creatures eternally hold vigil, while witchfire and whispering phantasms speak of dark things just beyond your ken.

Beyond all those templates, the last 30 pages are devoted to appendices: We first get recaps of creature types, then subtypes, then universal monster rules, then templates by CR-adjustment. After that, we get sample monsters by CR. These appendices are incredibly useful and make navigation of the book simple and smooth.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are better than in the original iterations and quite a few rough patches have been smoothed over and properly codified. However, there are more glitches in the book than in comparison to most of Rite’s recent offerings. Layout adheres to the two-column full-color standard used by Rite Publishing and the pdf comes with a ton of full-color artworks, most of which were previously used for Pathways covers, so yeah – the artworks, while not adhering to a uniform style, are amazing. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. As per the writing of this review, I cannot comment on the print version, since I do not yet own it.

Steven D. Russell, Matt Banach, Jonathan McAnulty, Will McCardell, Mike Welham and, of course, Owen K.C. Stephens are the authors of this tome, and they have in common that their names are synonyms for amazing books. All of these authors have, in more than a few cases, gained my highest accolades and they all know what they’re doing.

Now, as a reviewer, I have to admit to not being too happy with the minor verbiage deviations and cosmetic hiccups that have crept into the book; but frankly, I’d rather have a couple of those than a book full of bland standard templates. You see, this book is, in a way, an epitome of the Rite Publishing mentality: We receive a vast array of truly formidable, high-concept templates, with unique critters attached to them. The templates are not content with just representing the base concepts, they utterly embrace them and make them not a side-flavor, but the leitmotif of the creatures. They also do not shirk away from making creatures challenges, which is a huge plus for me. In comparison, the only series of monsters that, in design-philosophy, feels similar, would be Legendary Games’ Mythic Monsters series. Considering the amazing standards set by that series, this should be considered to be high praise indeed.

The creatures and templates within this tome are geared towards more experienced GMs and players, and the book is better off for it. Considering how often I hear from GMs whose players steamroll through many published modules, this book is pretty much required. Beyond the simple challenge, the design philosophy of the templates excels in another level: The book does not just escalate numbers. The templates grant power-boosts, yes, but at the same time, the book emphasizes smart tactics and roleplaying as well: Quite a few of the creatures herein can inspire whole campaigns and make for truly deadly foes, but at the same time, their strong motifs also make sure that clever players are rewarded when tackling them. Your brain and creativity will provide better angles to win than just rolling high with a min-maxed character. Now, that does not mean that folks who like ROLLplaying won’t get a ton of challenges here; quite the contrary. It is interesting, though, that the unique abilities of the templates go one step beyond the usual rules-confinements in favor of making the creatures distinct, unique and rewarding to face.

Now, this massive bestiary may not be perfect, but its ideas can keep your game going for literally decades. In the rare and distinguished air of its predecessor and Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary, I actually prefer it over them, courtesy of the truly distinct, creative and courageous design-decisions that suffuse the templates herein. My final verdict will, in spite of the hiccups here and there, clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval. This is absolutely worth getting and any GM I know will love pouring over these pages…and start cackling with diabolical glee. This is a wonderful monument to a design philosophy and the man that championed it. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pathways Bestiary(PFRPG)
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Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (Diceless) Kickstarter preview
by Carl C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/02/2018 15:40:10

As an introduction to Lords of Gossamer & Shadow, this is good - and you can't beat the price. Gossamer & Shadow is a development of Amber Diceless Role-Playing, that I personally am not fond of. But if you like diceless, and a system that encourages competition between the players, this is definitely worth checking out. It showcases the most important aspects of the game, without giving away all the detail you might be paying for when you get the full version.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Lords of Gossamer & Shadow (Diceless) Kickstarter preview
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In The Company of Dragons Expanded (PFRPG)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/19/2018 04:40:47

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The massive expansion hardcover of „In the Company of Dragons“ clocks in at a massive 199 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with194 (!!) pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreons. It was further expedited by me receiving a print copy.

All right, so we begin with a massive foreword by Bill Slavicsek, original author of the by now classic Council of Wyrms…and then we dive right in. Okay, usually, I assume a degree of familiarity regarding the “In the Company of..:”-series, mainly, because it is by far the best monster-playing option series out there for any d20-based game. Yes, I’ll stand by that. Since this book is a massive hardcover expansion of the original content, it must be considered to be special. Let us be a bit more in-depth.

So the first thing you’ll note upon starting to read this massive tome, particularly if you’re new to the series, is that this does not read like your average splatbook: Rite Publishing employs a cool framing narrative, wherein Qwilion of Questhaven requests members of specific species to talk about their own race; we basically get the inside scoop, and this is amazing for a couple of reasons. In the hands of a talented author, this inadvertently means that we get a glimpse at the psyche, biases and Weltanschauung of the respective races featured, one that goes beyond what we’d otherwise receive from a neutral depiction. As an aside, this also makes paragraphs that many readers are likely to skip in other publications a joy to read – this book is no difference and does not read like a phone-book of stats, but rather like a compelling, intriguing glimpse at draconic psychology.

These write-ups, obviously, also tap into creation myths and an often delightfully positive view of physical descriptions. Qwilion’s draconic correspondent, Thunders in Defiance, for example, wastes no time mentioning how the draconic form is the crest of royal houses, a symbol of destruction and majesty. These are little components that accumulate, enhancing the profile we have of the race: When e.g. the dragons tells us about how a clan of Taninim (that’s the name of the dragon-race herein) consumed a divine clam, losing their wings and becoming compelled to organize the world as a potential origin story for imperial dragons, I couldn’t help but smile at the compelling mythweaving. Now, beyond these components, we also learn, in depth, about the structuring paradigms of the taninim society in the Lost Isles, the backdrop/setting that houses them – more on that later; for now, let it be known that taninim differ in a couple of key aspects from regular dragons, but fret not: This does NOT mean that they are anything short of majestic apex predators. The Lost Isles is what I’d call a tie-in mini-setting; much like the Plane of Dreams or the Shadowplane, it allows for easy plugging into another campaign setting and its presence explains why few folks had heretofore heard of the taninim.

Anyways, the reputation of a taninim is important and the pdf explains the various grand rites of the race – these are relatively rules-lite rituals that account for example for banishment, challenges, changing alignment, etc. The acquisition of names and titles is also a big deal, with additional, grandiose titles gained…and there is a rite that governs basically a mating ritual of the otherwise mostly asexual taninim, who btw. also can change sex. These entries do codify their effects in proper rules-language, just fyi, so yes, while flavorful, they also carry game-mechanics with them that make their success or failure relevant in game-terms.

It should be noted that alignment changes may actually yield a painful process in which the character gets new scales, and the extensive discussion also delves into taninim religion and the psychology of hoards and lairs – territory is important. Now, it should be noted that chromatic/metallic distinctions are not necessarily color-coding All right, I know, I’m waffling – so let’s take a look at the rules-chassis, shall we?

Tanimin are dragons, receive +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, are Small, receive regular movement, can use manufactured weapons et al (at a -2 penalty) with their claws (secondary, base damage 1d3), receive darkvision and low-light vision, are immune to sleep and paralysis, can glide, receive +1 atk and +2 AC versus dragons as well as +2 to saves versus SPs, spells, etc. of such targets and +2 to Knowledge (arcana) to identify dragons. They also get a properly codified natural primary bite of 1d6 +1.5 Str-mod; Their hide yields +2 natural AC, but their form requires special armor. They increase ACP by 2 and suffer the same amount as a penalty to atk when wearing one; oh, and they reduce their maneuverability by one step when wearing armor while flying. They also get a +2 racial bonus to Perception and Sense Motive. Taninim are quadrupeds, receiving modified slots (armor, belt (saddle only), chest, eyes, headband, neck, shoulders and wrist. Armor costs are doubled, but they get a greater carrying capacity, depending on size, as well as the usual +4 to CMD versus trip and overrun.

Alternatively, they can elect, racial ability modifier-wise, for +2 Str and Con, -2 Int, +2 Dex and Cha, -2 Wis, or +2 Wis and Cha, -2 Dex. Among the alternate racial traits. Beyond these, we get alternate racial traits. It should be noted that the alternate ability arrays are not simply that – instead, they are tied to certain types of flavor and additional benefits – the Dex and Cha-boosting option, for example, comes with Tiny size and sports only a 20 ft. base movement rate, but also provides a fly speed from the get-go. Yeah, in case you didn’t know that already, we’re talking DRAGONS right here; I’m not going to complain about the first-level flight here. If you’re reading this book, you’re not going for a gritty low-fantasy game where that would become overly intrusive. There is a trait to use Wisdom instead of Intelligence for Knowledge skills where the character has at least 1 rank. +2 concentration, better giant killing (+1 to atk, +4 to AC), being a Lung dragon, immunity to altitude sickness and no lost Dex-bonus when climbing; better aerial combat, toxic blood and spiny hides complement this array. The alternate racial traits contain meaningful tweaks beyond their mechanics.

The race also receives a couple of favored class options -barbarian, druid, fighter, magus, monk, paladin, ranger, sorcerer, taskshaper and war master are covered. Before I delve into the respective archetypes provided, let's not mince words so far - the taninim are strong. On a cosmetic level, the slight feature-bloat and two alternate attribute-sets that gear the race towards caster/martials are not something I'm overly fond of. Still, generally, the race itself can be considered strong, but manageable. It should be noted that we get tables denoting sizes by category, which is really neat.

Now the racial paragon-class is the draconic exemplar, which covers 20 levels, nets the taninim full BAB-progression, 3 good saves,d12 HD, 4+Int skills per level, no proficiencies apart from natural weapons. The taninim also receives a draconic essence - each of which provides one type of scaling energy resistance, a color, a breath weapon type and a unique compulsion, which always remains hard for the dragon to refrain from doing - which fits in thematically nice with the overall theme of draconic types. How many do we get in the expanded edition? Well, not “just” 20 as before…but rather than that 4+ pages of them!! Twice as many as before! And yes, these include trifling dragons, zealots, primeval ones, etc. Upon taking level 1 in the class, claws are upgraded to primary weapons and 1d4 damage. (The claws and how they work are one of the changes in this expanded version.) And yes, the role of e.g. linnorms in the context of the Lost Isles is covered.

Additionally, at 1st level, 7th, 13th and 19th level, the draconic exemplar can choose draconic weaponry - these can be used 1/2 class level + Con-mod times per day. Rather interesting - if applicable, their save-DC is governed by either Con or Cha, depending on the ability. They include fascination-inducing gazes, bolstering oneself against assaults, blinding gusts of wind, receiving the breath weapon associated with the chosen essence, elemental aura, charging through allies, enemies etc. The iconic whirlpool of bronze dragons, faerie dragon euphoric gas, frightful presence, spellcasting, roars, rampages, channel energy, retributive attacks after crits…and at higher levels, growing additional claws or even a second head can be gained thus – and yes, before you ask, draconic essence requirements prevent combining these two – thankfully! And yes, e.g. death curses by linnorm-y subtype are provided for your edification…if your PC falls, at least the enemy will suffer…There also is a sub-category of draconic weaponry that almost takes up 5 pages on its own, the draconic flair, which allows for the use of draconic weaponry uses to power SPs, with 1st, 7th, 10th and 13th level unlocking new options. Some of these sport unique tweaks to the SPs; zealots get their own unique abilities here; minor hiccup: The 13th level ability states 10th level in its explanation, but it is pretty evident what the intention is.

Additionally, at 2nd level and every 3 levels thereafter, the exemplar receives a draconic defense, which is chosen from its own list - rerolls versus sonic/language-dependent spells, evasion while airborne, all-around vision (at higher levels) spell resistance (even reflective one!), 1/day save-rerolls (upgrades at higher levels), scaling resistance to negative energy, an aura of slowed time (class level rounds per day), scales that apply ½ natural AC to touch attacks (does not stack with other such abilities, thankfully) - quite an array of iconic tricks here. High-level swimming through lava can be found alongside fast healing, which thankfully sports a daily maximum cap, preventing abuse. A blinding aura, fortification, nictitating membranes (called “nictating” here), being breath-less – you can basically make very linnorm-y or esoteric-style dragons – the expanded section provides a serious array of unique tricks.

This is not everything, mind you: We receive a third list of special abilities, the draconic gifts. These are chosen at 3rd level and every 3 levels thereafter, they are also governed by Con or Cha, depending on the ability. These gifts usually require a specific draconic essence to pull off - without access to energy (acid) and a corresponding breath weapon, you can't make pools of acid, to give you an example. Most of these provide alternate uses of draconic weaponry and similar tweaks. Here, we can find high-level adamantine claws, the option to use two heads (if you have them) more efficiently, adding an auto-trip on a failed save to the breath weapon…and e.g. lacing the breath can be found.

Now, it is pretty awesome and something I’ll get back to later, but the book makes, courtesy of stretch-goals, use of quite a few amazing supplements: If you’re like me and like the time thief/warden-classes by Rogue Genius Games, for example, you’ll enjoy seeing the option to learn a bit of time-dabbling via aevum here. Blindsense and forming a potent living bottleneck in cramped conditions is another cool trick – after all, you are bound to explore dungeons sooner, rather than later, right? Camouflage, capsizing vessel, various gaseous weapons, poisonous chrome crystals, magnetic pulses, crushing foes, summoning temporary crystal balls, flinging foes…and have I mentioned basically bleed added, clinging napalm-y breath, oozing ice breath, no penalty to Perception while asleep, partial bypassing of energy immunity/resistances, touching spirits with claws, starflight, rending armor asunder, sweeping breath weapons…and yo know you want to unleash a tungsten sandstorm, right? How many of these do we get? Well, I only touched the tip of the iceberg here – more than 15 pages (!!!) of these gifts are included. Yes, you heard me. This is vast. It should also be noted that the array of gifts available often taps into the respective essence and other class options, generating specific progressions based on prerequisites that prevent OP combos…but rest assured, even a moderately capable player will get something rather cool out of this section.

10th level provides spell-trigger/completion items as though a sorcerer/wizard, using class level as caster level.

But we’re Small! That sucks, right? Well, here's where dracomorphosis comes into play - gained at 4th level, this one nets you size increases, secondary wing attacks (or primary gore for Lung-dragons), AC and attribute bonuses - and flight. Dracomorphosis is gained every 4 levels thereafter, allowing the taninim to grow to Gargantuan size at 16th level - the race also reduces Dex during the size-increases and receives tail sweeps, crushes etc. Which is damn cool, granted...but what happens if Dex drops to 0? No, I'm not kidding - with a total reduction of -8 to Dex, this is a real possibility. And yes, I am aware of how this sort of thing is usually handled with monster-advancement, but the point remains that this pdf ought to have tackled this particular issue. I am also a bit disappointed here, for this issue already cropped up in the original version. The capstone is, of course, the final great wyrm apotheosis.

The book also contains no less than 3.5 pages of feats, with the options to swallow snatched foes, changing spell damage a limited amount of times per day to mirror the breath weapon, one that helps capture foes alive and the usual “additional class feature”-feats. More guardians for the lair, high-level appendage serving , etc. – quite a cool, if potent array. The section also contains suggestions for monster feats suitable for the taninim.

Now the archetypes - first would be the draconic hero - an archetype that allows a taninim of any class to gain draconic essence and grow via Dracomorphosis at the cost of some class abilities usually gained - as a massive multiclass-covering archetype, the abilities replaced vary from class to class, including Rite’s taskshaper and RGG’s hellion and war master classes, as well as the ACG-classes among the supported classes. No occult classes support, though. This archetype is very much a required component of the book, for it provides means for various different draconic PCs to further diversify the party’s portfolio without compromising the integrity of the classes and balance.

Speaking of hellions, a new archetype herein would be the defiler of lairs, which necessitate that I elaborate on a crucial flavor component of the Lost Isles – you see, there is the Well of Oblivion, an almost cosmic-evil level source of power and corruption that can taint the dragons to become what they call “worms”, undragons; the spiteful corruption of all dragonkind. And you wondered why dragons reacted so picky when not called “wyrm”, as proper…Anyways, the ultimate representation and a sort of satanic adversary for dragonkind would be the White Worm, tapping obviously into the literary tradition of the conqueror worm imagery. The defilers are tainted dragons with a slightly modified patron spell list and 1st level yielding the White Worm’s taint, modifying the basic combat capabilities and form of the defiler of lairs, replacing the bonded object ability. Instead of 8th level’s hellion talent, we get an aura that can suppress luck bonuses as well as better combat capabilities while, bingo, assaulting lairs.

Scaled Juggernauts are essentially taninim fighters specializing in combat with their natural weapons, gaining rake and pounce at higher levels, as well as better defenses. Stormclaw magi are a natural weapon-based tweak of the magus-engine, combining that with draconic essence. Trueblood Sorcerors are locked into the draconic bloodline, but receive a scale-spell-component that replaces material components/divine foci and replace regular bloodline powers with a breath weapon. The wardrake war master archetype replaces consul with better Diplomacy with dragons and may even get a dragon cohort later. Followers may have the drakeling template added.

White Worm Apostates, oracles tainted as undragons, receive degrees of fortification and may disgorge a swarm of consuming, maggot-like worms and later, rise as a twisted phoenix from their corpse 1/day - a very powerful archetype that absolutely requires the immense social stigma associated with the white worm to be added to the campaign. Amazing one, though!

Now here is one aspect of the book that is slightly annoying s far as I’m concerned: The player-facing material is split to a degree: The psionic dragon-chapter penned by Jeremy Smith is basically an appendix at the back of the book, which is, organization-wise, not ideal – we get, for example, psionic class support for use in conjunction with the draconic hero general archetype, requiring page-flipping. Similarly the draconic exemplar racial paragon class sports psionic support here, with 5 psionic essences for dragons, which doe interesting things, like e.g. tying the breath weapon to active energy, or providing cryptic support; we also get a new array of even more draconic flairs based on psionic powers – weird formatting decision: While functional, they are not presented in the same table-style manner. A total of 6 different draconic defenses may be found here, which include a dream shroud, negative energy resistance, astral suits, a buffer versus psychic enervation, a nightmarish mind and the option to attune to attacks after suffering them, gaining DR versus the creature’s weaponry from that source. We also get a massive 20 new draconic gifts that include astral cages, being right at home in astral or shadow plane, gaining cryptic insight, dream surges, bursts of ectoplasm and a scaling, cool mastery of oneiromancy. Beyond these massive expansions to the core features, the chapter also contains 3 new archetypes: Psychic warriors can elect to become black dragon heralds, locking them into the feral path, which is further enhanced. The bonus also applies to acid-damage-causing damage-rolls. Instead of the secondary path power, we get exhalation of the black dragon, which may not be changed out. 12th level yields claws of energy and 15th level breath of the black dragon. The gale dancer would be another psychic warrior archetype, gaining a draconic essence if the character doesn’t have one; the archetype also comes with its own path, which focuses on aerial combat mastery and basically pounce while flying for psionic focus expenditure as soon as 3rd level – OUCH. The archetype also nets better overland flight and 12th level yields all the unique dogfighting techniques we expect – death spiral, hovering…pretty neat. 15th level provides further adaptation to airborne assaults as well as yielding the ability to form shape and solidity of clouds. The third archetype would be the winged horror dread, employing terrors via claws and natural attacks and the tapping into the terrifying draconic weaponry; bonus feats and draconic gifts complement this one. A total of 6 psionic feats complement this section for e.g. temporary fast healing for psionic focus expenditure, with a hard cap. Rerolling Will-saves via psionic focus expenditure, but only versus non-dragons and options to increase the potency of the new options complement this section. We also get 5 favored class options for psionic classes. (Ultimate Psionics can be found here!)

The second player-facing chapter relegated to the back of the book deals with Rogue Genius Games’ Dragon Riders/Dracomancers – Since Taninim are similar, but different from the classic draconic threats, the book provides one archetype for either class: The Spirit-Bonded Rider and the Spirit-Bonded Theurge – these two focus mainly on modifying the base class engines to account for the taninim ally, modifying e.g. bonus spells etc.

Thirdly, there would be a massive chapter penned by none other than Jason Nelson of Legendary Games, and the chapter is glorious: Some dragons once were overcome by the Elder Voices, making the eldest of these titans the cairna drakh, the First Fangs; in recent years, the younger glorven muun have risen, a new generation of mythic heroes. While the default assumption of the Lost Isles is that mythic powers are restricted to NPCs, the material herein is extensive. If you do go the NPC-route, be sure to pick up Legendary Games’ superb Path of Dragons and Path of Villains, but that as an aside. In addition to notes for PCs within the context of the Lost Isles, we also receive notes on mythic hoards and lairs and more than 3 pages of mythic modifications for the racial paragon class, including augments and meaningful changes. Beyond that, we get no less than 18 different mythic feat-upgrades for the material herein and beyond, making these adversaries really, really deadly. I love how this section ties deeply into the captivating lore presented in the book.

All right, now I’ve already mentioned time and again the Lost Isles mini-campaign setting, gorgeously mapped by none other than Tommi Salama in full color. The islands, sheltered behind the mystic barrier, sport an absolutely GORGEOUS map and more detailed looks at the respective islands are covered – this whole section acts as basically a massive gazetteer of different regions: There would be Borealis, land of ice and snow, where the glasslike aurora coral grows; rugged and mountainous Earthspine sports the majestic Windscour Cliffs and the small fireflower islets and the ones known as jetsam promise more adventure still; war-torn Stormhome calls to the brave, in spite of its foreboding skies, the earth lush and rich, maintained by draconic might…and wooded Verdance is home to the feykith, human settlements and may well be refuge if you manage to hassle the powers-that-be…and, of course, there would be the festering wound that is the Well of Oblivion…but I touched on that before. The Lost Isles breathe the spirit of high fantasy in the best of ways, providing glimpses at unique vistas that may well have carried their own book; as far as I’m concerned, I’d love to see this unique tie-in setting developed further.

The role of regular dragons in the setting is btw. also covered, and we get a chapter on the unique magic items that may be found herein – several of which would be barbules, which are implanted in the thick draconic hide, allowing e.g. weapons to be treated as dancing. The downside to these potent implants is that they cause permanent damage while implanted. Really cool for big dragons – with the proper barbules, you can generate a missile-deflecting shield, guarding allies within your space with a powerful 75%, non-stacking miss-chance. Ability-score boosts and spell storing is also included in the deal…and if you’re afraid that the big dragon won’t accompany his allies into dungeons, well, there is a collar that allows for compression. Class ability enhancers can also be found and the eye of elemental focus allows the taninim to form breath weapons into fireball-like blasts. The steelrain war howdah also rocks and yes, there are vambraces to duplicate the standard benefits of unarmed damage escalation. Even better, we actually also get Elder’s Pixane, a legacy item collar. Legacy items are Rite’s scaling magic items, just fyi. What begins with a basic defensive item becomes pretty amazing pretty fast. Now, as noted before briefly, there is a CR +1 drakeling template and we get 2 new critters: At Cr 8 and CR 11, the Screaming and Whispering Entropy, respectively, horrid clouds that can exsanguinate and possess targets, tied into the rich lore of the setting.

Okay, so the book has another chapter that made me smile from ear to ear: This book is, in fact, also a Dragon-NPC-Codex of sorts. Why should you care? Simple. When someone asks me for the best NPCs in the 3pp-circuit, my response is usually to list a whole variety of Rite Publishing books first; the complex and challenging builds are what, a long while back, led me to become a fan of Rite Publishing. So yeah, we don’t just get some standard codex stats, we get fully developed characters…and not any characters either, mind you: We get full stats of the Elder Voices, and they are EPIC. Take e.g. “Darkened and Bloodied”, the mighty draconic hero war master wardrake: This lady clocks in at CR 22/MT 5, and she will mess you up – if not with superb tactical acumen, then her ridiculously potent physical tricks. Beyond here, we get to know the most accomplished spellcaster of the isles, the mighty green sorcerer Gardener; Heart of the Mountain; Infinite (includes an artifact); Winterglide (again, with unique item) – none of these sport less than CR 20 and guess what? They come with stats sans buff-suite as well. Beyond these mighty demigods, we get 10 mighty dragons of note, including the narrator of this missive, Thunders in Defiance – and yes, the stats are pretty complex and diverse. This one is pretty epic. Beyond this aspect, however, we also get the rules to make undragons and an archetype for the jotun (see Rite’s In the Company of Giants) – the race sports a pretty cool tie-in with the tale of the taninim, putting a spin on the classic giants vs. dragons-conflict.

Okay, so this also includes an adventure intended for dragons of level 1, guiding them up to level 6. The adventure is billed as a scripted sandbox and comes with, once more, gorgeous full-color cartography by master Salama. Even better: We get player-friendly versions of the maps in the back AND high-res jpgs of them for VTT-use. Dear publishers, please take note: This is how it’s done. When you have amazing maps, make sure that players get to see them sans secret door markers, keys, etc. Kudos to the Rite team! Oh, I didn’t mention the most important thing, did I? Guess who wrote it? None other than Ben McFarland. If you have any kind of experience with adventures, this alone should be enough t make you grin. Oh, and guess what? The adventure is not some brief 10-page standard supplemental adventure – we’re looking at a proper, full-length module. The adventure takes place on the volcanic island of Pani Ura (explorable via hex-map!) and deals with taninim granted a fiefdom there. Years passed, no sign remained. Sounds familiar? Well, one way to think of the module is to consider it a reclaiming of a Roanoke-like aftermath, through the lens of a brilliant writer and high fantasy.

Want to know more? Well, sure, but for that, I’ll have to go into SPOILERS:

..

.

The taninim PCs are sent to Pani Ura by none other than Raging Tide, to figure out what happened on Pani Ura and to secure the island for the taninim – which is depicted as a hex that contains tribal lands, wilderness, villages – etc. Heck, we even get entries for subaquatic animals noted, for the PCs will need to sustain themselves; the island is inhabited by several tribes: The Maohi, who btw. are the native grippli (yay for frogfolk!); the Otsjanep tengus; the Pu’oku locathah and the Saissut iguana-lizardfolk; all of these tribes come with notes on their settlements, sample statblocks, story seeds and potential threats/developments. Similarly, there are several threats the PCs will have to contend with – like the interaction with the tribes, these threats are tied into the environment and can be used in a pretty freeform manner by the PCs. After establishing contact, it will be up to the PCs to unify the island: Seeds for the dealing/negotiations with the respective tribes are provided and ultimately, the PCs will have to explore the old taninim lair within the dungeon of Pani Ura. The dungeon comes, once more, with a superb full-color map and the locations sport read-aloud text here as well. It is here that the PCs will have t deal with taninim that have been utterly corrupted, as well as a body-jumping menace that was foreshadowed before. Once the PCs have defeated these foes and destroyed their tainted idol, they should have managed to consolidate their rule, right? Well, no. Unfortunately for the PCs, crusaders have found the island; the crusader’s ship is fully mapped and the invaders are hostile, belonging to an order dedicated to the enslavement and eradication of all dragonkind. Usually, those guys would be potential allies for PCs…but this time around, the PCs unfortunately are the dragons. If the PCs are smart, they better prevent the escape of the vessel and defeat these fellows…but this is not the end. The order won’t just take a loss; instead, they send really potent, really nasty folks atop the mighty Drake’s Misery, a fully statted vessel, armed to the teeth…and if the PCs don’t intervene, the crusaders will deal serious damage to the island…let alone the PCs… The literally only thing I didn’t love about this great module is that I have finished it; while the replay-value is huge, I wish this was a full campaign. I mean, seriously, the defending the isle angle is great!!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I noticed a couple of minor, purely aesthetic hiccups, missing blank spaces and the like, but less than you’d expect from a tome of this size; in this category, I’d consider this to be good. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing’s classic 2-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with a ton of amazing full-color artworks. The cartography is excellent and in full-color, comes with player-friendly versions and even high-res Jpgs for VTT-use. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The massive hardcover is really neat and well worth getting.

Wendall Roy’s original “In the Company of Dragons” was a “squaring the circle”-sort of file; on one hand, he had to capture the power of dragons; on the other, there had to be some sort of balance. He succeeded in a truly impressive manner. This expansion, then, represents a massive evolution and refinement. We add Steven D. Russell’s draconic flairs as basically a whole sub-engine; well-done psionics by Jeremy Smith; kickass mythic support by Jason Nelson and a masterclass adventure by Ben McFarland. Sounds like an all-star team? Yeah, well, it is.

Beyond the mega-impressive chassis and the subtle, unobtrusive balancing that prevents the worst potential combinations, this oozes flavor and flair; the prose is stellar and the mighty NPCs can carry whole campaigns. The added details to taninim culture and Lost Isles is a joy to read and radiates creativity and heart’s blood. The adventure is unconventional, creative and amazing and the supplemental material otherwise never goes the lame route, instead opting for creative and unique solutions.

The Lost Islands are unique enough to carry a campaign by themselves, but please indulge me for a second, for this book made me come up with a pretty cool idea: So, you know how PCs often are supposed to “save the world”? Or, when evil, lose in the finale, à la Way of the Wicked? Well, what if the evil guys don’t lose? What if the PCs get squashed by a certain, unleashed Worm-that-Walks, what happens when the comet-summoning ritual isn’t stopped and the world as we know it ends, nations fall, gods follow? When darkness claims the world, for the PCs have failed and been TPK’d? Here’s an angle: A few mortals managed to escape to the taninim and the Islands remained. In the aftermath of the downfall of deities, divine energy was released. Now, if you take the rules from Purple Duck Games’ Dragon Thanes of Porphyra, you can do something cool: The latter book assumes that dragons, with enough followers, can learn to grant divine spells to followers! The new PCs could thus be a single taninim with his followers, attempting to become a new good deity of sorts, guarded by the other mortals, in a world that has fallen…or all PCs could be taninim, using the universal leadership rules from Everyman Gaming’s Ultimate Charisma; they are basically a new, draconic pantheon in the making, as they venture forth to bring hope to a defeated world! Come on, can you honestly not be excited by this idea?

Anyways, the fact that I mentioned this angle should tell you how excited this book made me. Yes, I freely admit it. I go review-bot whenever I have to deal with the notion of playable dragons and focus on the crunch, the fluff and turn off my personal biases. As a private person, I don’t even LIKE the notion of playable dragons. I consider it to be a horrible idea in most games. I rated the original version grudgingly, with respect for the design and vision, but no truly pronounced desire to use it, as my games tend to gravitate towards grittier playstyles. This book changed that. Not only did the crunch duly impress me, the whole vision, the setting, the cool NPCs…there is an incredible amount of love poured into this book, and it shows. This is one of the tomes, where the synergy of evocative prose, unique crunch and a daunting vision coalesce and form something greater even than the sum of the parts. In short: This is pretty much the definite option to play dragons. It oozes passion from all of its pages. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval and the book is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2017. If the notion of playing dragons even remotely intrigues you, then look no further.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
In The Company of Dragons Expanded (PFRPG)
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