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Future's Past: Infinity Incursion (4 of 5)
Publisher: AAW Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2020 05:18:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fourth part of the Future’s Past AP clocks in at 26 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 21 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

As before with the series, please do not be fooled by the page-count – there is more (and better) gaming in Future’s Past installments than in many books of more than thrice that size. Edge station’s map is included in a player-friendly, full-color map. This module needs to be played as a sequel to part III of the AP, due to the unique nature of this series; unlike many APs, this really doesn’t work as a stand-alone module. That being said, no other AP has genuinely made me feel shudders running down my spine from excitement as often as this one has so far, so let’s see if part IV can maintain this ridiculously high standard.

Please do note that, in my review of this adventure, I necessarily have to use SPOILERS, some of which pertain to previous installments of the series. I STRONGLY suggest that, if you’re a Starfinder-player (or one for another rules-system who loves intelligent stories!), you skip ahead to the conclusion.

Again, this is the huge SPOILER-warning. You have been warned!

… .. .

Only GMs around? Great! Central has won. The AI is a deity that transcends timelines, a perfect overlord, a thing that has broken free will and society throughout most of the cosmos. Some survivors and resistances still struggle with the Druune to beat it – but ultimately, it’s not enough. Time and time again, the time-travelers lose to Central in infinite iterations. Throughout infinite timelines, there was but a single instance where the unbeatable machine god lost, was reduced to base improvisation. Edge Station.

The PCs are trapped on Edge Station in a time loop, still occupying the possessed bodies of scientists and soldiers; they know Central comes to destroy them, as it has for countless times; at the end of First Contact, a strange message arrives from Queen Deshekh, a cybernetic formian – a change in the loop.

According to historical records, Edge Station blew up due to a freak malfunction in the fusion reactor; the Druune could not understand Central AI and how important Edge Station was to it – and thus, the 4 time travelers that arrive pursue desperate and wide-ranging plans. All of these plans are doomed to fail without the PCs. They are, though, a perfect example of fantastic NPC-writing. All of the NPCs come btw. with their own original full-color artworks of absolutely superb quality.

So, let’s talk about the NPCs: Queen Deshekh is no queen. To quote her text: “Central considered the elimination of the formian species the model of efficiency.” Central eliminated all queens simultaneously, which pretty much drove the entire species insane; Deshekh then transformed some of her dead hive-brethren into cybernetic zombies, to help keep her sane in the absence of her species’ telepathic chattering. Since then, her ailing body becomes more and more like a cyber-zombie herself. Deshekh is supposed to take control of the security systems and analyze any traps or tricks left by Central – she also is desperate to warn her people, seeking to boost her cybernetics to issue a warning scream. She is not aware of Central’s in-bound fleet, and spread too thin.

Vincent Sharsone was a programming prodigy working on Central – and he realized its danger…but when he did, it was too late. Central wrecked his life, and in the future, none of the nodes can truly be accessed – so it’s here that Vincent acts. He wants to overwrite a node with a copy of his mind, which will destroy his brain, but it might create an AI that can potentially go toe to toe with Central.

Oroseen the changer is a mystic of maraquoi stock, bonded symbiotically with the Druune, made a changer, a being capable of switching between the species’ numerous sexes. Oroseen is torn between the host and Druune personality, and seeks to share knowledge with the Druune by mind linking with the dimensional gates. Sure, this’ll cause worsening rift flares, but well…

Finally, there is Timetech Gamble, the fellow on the cover (and yes: cover-art quality = interior art quality!) – you see, when Central took control it was the space goblins that kept the Federation alive – and who managed to perfect time travel! Gamble is the sole traveler who has no ulterior motive: The space goblin prodigy lady has one task: Build a time-machine. In only a day or two.

This is also a GREAT point to note that the module explains not only the time travel employed by Central, but also this distinctly…goblin-like approach of timetechs to time travel. Okay, so far for the cast of illustrious characters – now, let’s talk about the rules!

You see, the PCs had infinite iterations atop Edge Station – they are adjusted to their bodies, and each PC has a FLAWLESS understanding of every nook and cranny of Edge Station. This includes being able to maneuver through it blindly with only very minor penalties. The PCs also know where to gain equipment. The module takes place, structurally, in 4 steps, and after each step, the PC can gain equipment of an item level of 4 or less; 5 or 6 item level takes 2 such encounters, and item level 7 takes until all are completed. The PCs also know perfectly how the other people aboard Edge Station tick, which gives them a huge edge (haha) in social interactions. From computer familiarity to researched topics, etc. In short: The PCs get to be the blasé loopers that know all the stuff, which can be a fantastic roleplaying experience. Best of all: They will NEED this type edge. None of the time travelers are per se necessarily cooperative, and after encountering one, the timeline progresses in 4 steps – without help, the individuals will greatly worsen the situation: From hostile security systems to failing life support and rift radiation flares, PCs will have a HARD time dealing with these fellows…which is why the extensive troubleshooting provided is super helpful!

Did your PCs manage to eliminate the node? Module accounts for that. Do they split the party? The module actually encourages that, and while tough, it is a valid scenario! Successfully aiding the time travelers will bring serious boons to the PCs, like a functional node, and they’ll need them in the finale!

You see, Central never had to excessively use time travel, as a single projection was already the definition of overkill. Lacking the curiosity of organic life, it never tested time travel’s limitations, and the copying of consciousnesses is not an error-free process – and an AI suffers from such errors compounding…and there is a small, but non-zero chance that projections into this time might cause catastrophic malfunctions. Such a risk is unacceptable; plans would need to be altered, perhaps for the first time. The God-AI is vulnerable – perhaps for the first and last time. All that now remains, is to triumph against impossible odds.

BAM, and that is how you tease an AP-finale! I paraphrased it, but boy, the writing. It’s just so AWESOME.

Conclusion: Editing is very good on a rules-language level; on a formal level, I noticed a few minor typos and a couple of formatting snafus, such as missed italics for spell-references, a “P” missing from[Progression] and the like – but nothing that would have impeded the functionality of the module. Thomas Baumbach’s 2-column layout for the series is perfect and feels appropriate, and makes information easy to parse. The full-color original artworks by Leonard O’Grady are top-tier and frickin’ GORGEOUS – the interior art in on par with the cover! Cartography is full-color as well, and player-friendly maps are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. I own the softcover version, because, frankly, if you even remotely like Starfinder or any roleplaying game in space, then you owe to yourself to get this.

Stephen Rowe is ridiculously talented; not just as a designer, but also as a writer. The Future’s Past AP began strong, and has since only ramped up the tension, the stakes. I have never before seen either time travel, or dealing with a godlike adversary, done so intelligently, so well.

After part II, I was waiting with baited breath, hoping that the AP would live up to my, at this point, ridiculously high expectations, that it would manage to retain its internal logic, its persistent class. Well, part III exceeded my expectations, throwing a HUGE curve-ball of jamais-vu and awesomeness at the players and GM, and part IV further builds on this, once more delivering something you haven’t ever played in a module before.

Future’s Past’s fourth installment stands alongside its predecessors as a singularly-compelling, phenomenal achievement of adventure-writing, and if the finale doesn’t drop the ball big time, this will enter my roleplaying game collection as one of the singularly best adventure-series I own. If you have been hesitant so far, stop reading and get this series now. If you wanted your scifi/science-fantasy to be intelligent, high-stakes and awesome, if you want to experience something new at the table – Future’s Past delivers. I consider this series to be good enough to warrant converting to Traveller, Stars Without Numbers, Mothership, or similar games. It’s that good.

The fourth part gets 5 stars + my seal of approval, and, like ALL three installments before it, gets the nomination for my Top Ten, here of 2019. If Part V holds up, this series will be a hot contender for my number 1 spot.

See you at Tomorrow’s End, the furious finale!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Future's Past: Infinity Incursion (4 of 5)
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Marvels & Malisons
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2020 05:16:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion of the Wonder & Wickedness-system of level-less spellcasting clocks in at 32 pages, 1 page foreword/ToC, 1 page introduction, 1 page colophon, leaving us with 29 pages of content, laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5); the front cover is included as a jpg, in case you were wondering.

In this review, I assume familiarity with Wonder & Wickedness, and will not explains the whole system once more. I strongly suggest reading my review of Wonder & Wickedness before continuing. Why? Well, while I criticize sub-systems on their own merits and in a global context of their systems, it makes less sense to criticize an expansion for a sub-system for duplicating flaws of the base system. I rate expansions within the frame of the system in which they operate.

For Wonder & Wickedness-derived books like this, that means that will not complain about ranges and areas of effect being opaque and not clearly defined.

Okay, that out of the way, let us take a look at the new proposed variant rules/modifications for Wonder & Wickedness. The first being spontaneous sorcery, which posits that a sorcerer has 1 mana per level, optionally with Wisdom or Charisma modifier added to that pool. Mana recovers every day – which could be a bit clearer: At one time during the day, or after a rest? This may sound like nitpicking, but the results are very different in implications. Mana-based spellcasting lets the sorcerer cast a spell by using one mana and one round of casting. Yes, that’s full round here. Personally, I’m somewhat partial to increment-casting, so an alternate rules in that regard would have been cool. Spells requiring a sigil still take a turn. Sigils are still considered to be permanent, but each sorcerer may only have one sigil per spell.

Which brings me to sigils and magic item creation, for the book posits formulae for costs by day, or depending on the enchanter’s stats, as well as ingredients. These suggestions are per se pretty sound, and fit with the general tone Wonder & Wickedness goes for.

The book also presents rules for empowering items, which require the expenditure of a mana point or memorized spell to power. The book also posits the optional rule to allow non-sorcerers to choose one specialty and learn a single spell from it, but casting the spell for them requires an Intelligence roll – obviously, a roll-under is intended here, but spelling that out or getting some alternatives would have been nice.

There is one rule I absolutely adore herein, where the utility is obviously grand for pretty much any implementation of Wodner & Wickedness: Instead of getting directly a spell catastrophe upon overcastting, the book suggests two saving throws: The first lest you cast the spell, with you otherwise suffering your maleficence, the second to avoid a spell catastrophe, or, if playing sans them, to avoid collapsing senseless for 1d6 turns. I LOVE this rule. It’s elegant, keeps magic volatile, but decreases the frequency of the powerful catastrophes without rendering them obsolete. Huge kudos for this one! The book then proceeds to present comprehensive spell-lists, including the specialties from Wonder & Wickedness, and then presents 6 different starting packages per specialty.

What can I say, you can see some of the finest minds of the OSR-scene at work here. As a diabolist, you can start with a disguise-as-acceptable-cleric-type kit, or you could have a black goat that whispers during new moon. Or you could have a plague doctor mask vs. miasma. If you’re an elementalist, you could start off with a functional dowsing rod – or you could have 3 puppies “perfect to please curmudgeon chtonic[sic!] spirits or at least placate their crotchetiness.” Psychomancy specialists could start off with Dreamy Blue, a vision-granting cheese (probably from Stilton), or what about spiritualists with a bottle of spirits. You know, spirits. XD What’s in the bottle? Spirits. +opens it* Ahhhh!!! The spirits are btw. drunken. Obviously. 6 such starter packages are provided for each specialty, including the 5 new ones.

The first of these would be Apotropaism, which is the grand defensive option: Amulet of the Open Hand lets you give an amulet to a target, who then gets a retroactive bonus to the first failed save vs. magic made. Deliver from Malison lets you break curses via questing/story-means; Heka-Mirror lets you revert maleficences and spells upon the caster, though two facing each other can have catastrophic consequences. With two seal spells allowing for the creation of barriers or entrapment of targets – and there is a Scapegoat spell that does exactly what you’d think it does. That’s not all, but it should be enough to give you an idea of why I consider this specialty to be a resounding success.

The second specialty is more conventional: Arachnomorphism is, unsurprisingly, about spider-themed tricks, which include charming spiders, assuming an Arachnid Aspect, summoning swarms and webs , or getting Venomous Fangs. This specialty is a bit boring, with two winners elevating it: Silky Spinnerets net you essentially Spiderman’s web-flinging/swinging, and Tarantella is the most pun-tastic spell I’ve seen in a why. “The caster dances frantically as though “effected”[sic!] by the venom of the Trantella spider.” XD This brings me to one aspect of the pdf that needs to be mentioned: There are A LOT of editing glitches in it. Not ones that break material on a rules-level, but plenty of small hiccups that do accumulate, and that grow in frequency towards the latter half of the book.

Physiurgy is the healing specialty, and it’s interesting in several ways: In a level-less spellcasting system, differentiating between spells is hard, and many of the spells of this specialty provide different amounts of healing. Cure, for example, nets you 1d6 + 1 hits per level. Okay, level of caster, or of recipient? I assume the former, but I’m not sure. Cure also cures a diseases, provided the caster succeeds a Save or Healing check. Salvific Apport nets you balsamic, white goo that heals 3d6 hits if spread on wounds, or that can be swallowed to cure a poison. Last Oath provides AoE-healing in a short radius, but makes the caster take temporary damage for each ally affected. There even is a “return the dead to life”-spell with Death Unto Life, which is balanced by requiring two saves: Failing the first nets you 1d6 days of coma; failing the second makes you unable to cast spells for a week. Failing both kills you. Those returned are also bedridden at first, so no in-combat spamming. I like this specialty from a design-perspective – it manages to attain a surprising diversity of options with its simple chassis.

However, the best, or at least some of the best, come last here: The penultimate specialty would be Cunning Craft, which is inspired by Scottish/Celtic folklore, with Blackstaff weapons, shelters hidden in Bramble Burrows, the Seven Steeped Stones as a means to heal, make magic sling stones, or an extra save versus curses or diseases. I love the latter, but it’s a ritual that takes time, and the healing function, for example, it much worse than the tricks Physiurgy has; this could sue a power-upgrade. I really liked the idea of the Tune of Yondkind, which detects presences and their origins, but not necessarily positions. Using a severed head of a slain target as a kind of alarm/sentry is nice, and with classics like Geas, Witchmarks securing thresholds and the like, the specialty oozes a cool, folksy old-world magic vibe.

Finally, there would be… Rope Tricks! These allow you to create a Tangle that hampers spellcasting, makes charging impossible, etc., or use Shuffle the Mortal Coil to make ropes behave as constricting serpents. If you’re lucky (5% chance), you may even get a deadly rope that requires a save or die! The spell can also be used to turn serpents into ropes, which can result in permanently-spliced-together abominations. Using a rope as a hand via Rope is Always Handy s also neat, but particularly cool would be the Cat’s Cradle tricks: These require complicated figure work from the caster and thus take time. However, once you have created the Opening form (of which there are 4), you can use the spell to change into various effects, which include opening nearby doors, setting nearby things on fire, causing low-level foes to flee, or making rope animals to ride. I love this.

And that is, unfortunately, where the book ends. Notice a curious absence? Yep, the remarkably well-designed spell-catastrophes that helped make Wonder & Wickedness feel so volatile and dangerous, yet fair…are completely absent from this expansion. None of the new specialties get their own spell catastrophes, which was a huge bummer to me.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are pretty good on a rules-language level, with few ambiguities; on a formal level, the same can’t be said: There are quite a few typos, which is a pity, for even though some of the authors are no native speakers, they obviously have an impressive command of the English language, one that surpasses many native speakers’ abilities. Layout adheres to the same no-frills, but elegant one-column b/w-standard used for Wonder & Wickedness. The pdf has no interior artwork, but I didn’t mind – as you know, I prefer substance over style any day of the week. That being said, I was somewhat irked by the pdf-version lacking any bookmarks, which makes navigation annoying at best. The pdf should have bookmarks. I can’t comment on the print version, since I do not yet own it.

Paolo Greco has a tendency to make unique books that feel special in some way, and the additional content by Lloyd Neill, Luka Rejec and Eric Nieudan fits pretty seamlessly into the book. And yet, Marvels & Malisons left me more ambivalent than I wanted to be about it. On one hand, we have some pretty awesome variant rules, on the other hand, there are a few aspects that could be rephrased to make them slightly clearer. On the one hand, we have the AMAZING, inspiring starting packages that breathe the spirit of the system, that ooze flavor – and on the other hand, we have the missing spell catastrophe effects for the new, and for the most part, impressive, specialties.

To put that in perspective: I genuinely love a LOT about this book; I consider most specialties herein to be more inspiring than many from Wonder & Wickedness. But the editing hiccups, lack of bookmarks and lack of new spell catastrophes also represent significant strikes against this pdf, which would usually suffice to reduce this to a 3-star verdict, when much of its content would have deserved a seal of approval. That being said, I can’t award my seal for it, but neither can I justify relegating this, rating-wise, to the realms of mediocrity. My final verdict for it will be 4 stars, as the highlights shine brightly indeed, and are inspiring, though the blemishes this has do prevent me from rating it higher. If you like weird magic and Wonder & Wickedness, consider this to be a wholehearted recommendation, though.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Marvels & Malisons
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Probabilistic Options for Obnoxious Player Simulation (POOPS)
Publisher: Planarian
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/26/2020 05:14:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This one-page pdf notes that it helps you simulate the behavior of your worst player by rolling a d20 if the player can’t make it to today’s game.

The table includes entries such as “Lecture another player about how to play their character”, “make sure everyone sees this cool video you’ve found”, “cry and moan about your next failed roll and then threaten to quit.” – you get the idea; from immersion breakers to simply bad and non-constructive behavior, this provides a pretty nice list.

Instead of using it to simulate another player’s behavior in absentia (which I consider to be somewhat craven), the best use here, and certainly the one actually intended, is to print it, let all players read it once, have a chuckle and try to reign in those impulses. We’re all just human beings, and while we all may fall prey to one or more of these behaviors, this is a great check list of things to avoid.

It’s essentially a nice, winking reminder to not be a prick, and we all can use that once in a while. ;)

The pdf is PWYW, and is certainly worth leaving a small donation for. As an unpretentious and somewhat funny little best-practice booklet, this gets 3.5 stars, rounded up. Why not 5? Well, I know of plenty more entries… ;)

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Probabilistic Options for Obnoxious Player Simulation (POOPS)
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Wonder & Wickedness
Publisher: Lost Pages
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2020 06:30:19

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 88 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 83 pages of content. That’s 84 with editorial; these pages are laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), and my review is primarily based on the perfectbound softcover PoD-version, though I did also consult the pdf-iteration.

Now, in order to talk about this supplement properly, we need to clearly state what this is, and what it isn’t. If you’re looking for a spellcasting engine compatible with a high-complexity system such as 5e or PFRPG, then this won’t do you much good. The spellcasting system herein gets rid of spell levels, which makes all spells suitable for all magic-using characters; for the purpose of this supplement, such beings are referred to as “sorcerers.”

The engine presented herein is not adhering to any given system, but it works best for low- or rare-magic games and ends up on the rules-lite side of things. One of the major changes this brings to the game, is that it reduces the power-escalation that magic-users have been experiencing since the hobby began; in short, sorcerers using this system do not escalate their power in the same way, which makes this a surprisingly valid alternative for games/settings such as Dark Albion, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, etc. regarding sheer power.

The rules are simple: Sorcerers begin play with 3 spells; new spells must be discovered, and an Intelligence check or similar roll is required to learn a new spell; on a failure, the spell can never be learned by the respective sorcerer, which has an old-school-ish result of diversifying spell-lists. Each sorcerer can prepare one spell per class level. So, a 4th level character could prepare 4 spells; a 7th level character could prepare 7. These spells are wiped after being cast, in the traditional vancian manner. Unless otherwise noted, a spell has a duration of class level times exploration turns; an exploration turn is equal to 10 minutes.

Specialist sorcerers have a couple of benefits: They may always choose to roll on the table of their specialty instead, and must never make Intelligence checks to learn their specialty’s spells, and all spells of the chosen specialty gain an additional exploration turn duration. However, specialists must choose one specialty of magic, and may never cast spells from it or learn its spells.

Some spells make use of sigils, which are magically-inscribed runes that are clearly visible and act as a signature of sorts. A sorcerer may only ever have one sigil of a given type (for one type of spell) active at a given time, and inscribing a sigil takes an exploration turn (10 minutes); creating a new sigil associated with a spell eliminates a previously created sigil of the respective type. This means that sorcerers can create persistent effects, but it takes time, and the engine prevents spamming the same sigil over and over.

The system has two components I really like: The first is that it makes magical duels possible: Any prepared spell may be expended to protect one person per sorcerer level from the effects of one spell. This decision must be made before damage or saving throw dice are rolled. Additionally, any prepared spell may be expended to generate Maleficence. Each sorcerer’s maleficence is unique and is determined at character creation. Maleficence targets all creatures in melee range, or a single target – it deals two dice of damage (d6s, which the pdf should spell out; it’s obvious from context, though), with a saving throw for half damage. If both damage dice come up as 6s, you get to roll another die and add it to the total, continuing to do so as long as 6s are rolled.

The result of these two rules is simple: You have a pretty reliable defense option against magic, and you have a pretty reliable offense option with the flavor that you wanted for your character. Both are not overbearing, but certainly add to the magic system operating tighter than it should as a system agnostic rulebook.

The book knows 7 specialties, each of which comes with 8 spells: Diabolism lets you bind creatures, erect the classic circles of protection, seal covenants or conjure forth the miasma f hell, to note a few. The latter is a good example of one of the spells that could have benefitted from being a tad bit more precise, as it does not specify the area of effect or range – which is the one thing that consistently irks me about this book. The system never specifies a default range, which is curious, since some effects do mention ranges. This also extends to spells useful in battle, such as Elementalism’s pyrokinesis or the trapped lightning. Said specialty lets you btw. also call forth a tumult of air elementals via chariot of air, which let the sorcerer fly, but drown communication in a cacophonous roar. Opening mouths in the earth (ostensibly the mouths of an elder earth deity) or control the weather.

An odd inconsistency of the book is also that it sometimes spells out that it uses d6s for damage in some spells, while others, like Necromancy’s death ray, deal “three dice of damage” if the target makes their save; aforementioned, very powerful battle spell is btw. balanced by a 1-in-6-chance that a creature slain with it will either later or immediately rise to haunt you. Similarly, animating the dead via lich-craft is risky – it may net you permanent minions, have them simply return to the land of the dead, dissolve…or turn upon you. Necromancers can also transfer youth or vigor via life channel. Much to my chagrin, the spell does nowhere specify that the target needs to have a certain minimum intelligence, so yes, hand me my bag of kittens to drain…

Psychomancy is the specialty that includes enchantment classics like dominate, but also a spell to e.g. decipher an encrypted message or put people to sleep with dust of the sandman. Spiritualism includes ethereal barriers that block magics, use other persons as relays for magic, or open plasmic locks of secured objects, with some sample keys suggested, ranging from the sacrifice of a sinner to a debt to an angelic being, a severed finger, or a song. Translocation is the specialty that includes options to fold space, make targets a living gate (painful for target…), travel the dangerous mirror road, or recall teleport to a previous sigil. Vivimancy, finally, lets you incite bloodlust, using genoplasm to mutate matter and make it collapse (and potentially spawn…things), and it is also here that we can find the system’s variant of haste , the quickening, which does carry the risk of falling unconscious due to the stress it imposes on the system.

Now, you may have noted that, with the base system offering simple offense and defense options, these spells tend to gravitate towards being both specific and feeling very much in line with magic we know from various pieces of non-gaming literature; in many ways, the magic presented here feels magical and volatile. This notion is further enhanced by the presence of spell catastrophes. When non-sorcerers cast, when you’re damaged, when casting beyond normal spell allotment – depending on what you decide, there’ll be a spell catastrophe, with 12 entries presented per specialty, for a total of 84 spell catastrophe entries. These are listed by specialty, but also note a number ascending from 1 to 84, so if you want to roll on a large table instead, you can roll a d% and disregard anything above 84/reroll...or, if you’re sadistic, roll twice.

Now, what makes a good spell catastrophe table? Well, first of all, there should be an impact – a spell mishap should not be something you just shrug off. Unfortunately, plenty of supplements fall off the other side of the band wagon, instead being overly punitive. A good spell mishap is, to borrow Zzarchov Kowolski’s term, a “shenanigans generator”, and not a “lol, you die, so random”-BS. Because that’s an end, and not a chance to roleplay. It is my ardent pleasure to report that the spell catastrophes in this book firmly gravitate to the high-impact roleplaying conductive side of things. So, your diabolism spell failed? Well, what about ALL your associates growing horns? That town cleric and paladin will not be amused…What about being seen as horrifying by those with second sight? Being haunted by plasmic spirits? Now, I did mention that I consider these spells best suited for games with an intrinsic distrust for magic-users, and there are plenty of high-impact reasons in this supplement. What about a botched cast animating all shadows in a nearby settlement, which proceed to try to kill everything? This may not end a campaign, but it certainly puts a serious spin on things…There also are spell catastrophes that make you forevermore require regular rooting, as your limbs require tree-like sustenance. Yep, that would be from the vivimancy mishaps.

So yeah, the spellcasting part of the booklet works imho best for old-school systems that champion a volatile magic that feels occult and forbidden; in many ways, I think this book magics for a better LotFP-spellcasting engine than the default. Similarly, if The Hateful Place’s spellcasting is too overkill for you, this might do the trick.

The second part of the book deals with magic treasures – a total of 50 items are included. These do not come with suggested gp-values, item scarcity or the like – they live solely on the strength of their concepts. To give you a few examples: The Armor of Grogaxus leaves footprints of moist sludge wherever they tread, and ride waves of earth or animate pillars of earth to attack targets; however, a spirit is bound within, and whenever the elemental powers are used, there is a 1-in-20 chance it will be released… The ardent reader may have surmised here that there is no range given for the attack, nor for the speed-increase granted by the wave of earth. Coins of bewitching make those that take them subject to one command from the one paying with them. What about a crown that may erase you from existence? There is a cymbal of names that usually remains silent – but if a name is said and it struck, it sounds if the target is within 100 paces. There is a ridiculously tall hat that renders you invisible if you remain motionless for a long time; what about a cat statuette that can transfix targets? A strange armor with insectoid plumes and feelers that can make inexact dreamstuff duplicates of items. What about a feylight lantern that not just illuminates the vicinity, but which also renders armor weightless?

The goblin-birthing knife lets you slice open the belly of a slain human-type creature (the item prevents the kitten-exploit!) to birth a goblin with a favorable disposition. The meteor lure is placed in the ground, and after a day, makes a meteorite crush everything in the size of a large house. What about a dark mace that can permanently transform you into an orc? The Mizuthian battle-shroud revives one of the fallen, but taints them with dark magic – on a second death, the target becomes a crazed wraith…There are also tablets, which, when placed against a door and shattered, will shatter the door as the tablet does. What about a net that transfixes a target in time?

Yeah, as you can see, these items tend to gravitate to the potent, but dangerous side of things, fitting in rather well with the remainder of the book. The supplement ends with an alphabetic spell index.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are per se very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the book system-immanently suffers somewhat from being system-agnostic; I don’t mind that. I do, however, mind that it’s at times slightly inconsistent, and the lack of suggested standards of guidance regarding areas of effect and ranges of spells is neither required for a system-agnostic rules-lite spellcasting engine, nor appreciated. So yeah, this will need a bit more work than e.g. the rulings that enhance e.g. the more charming aspects of B/X. Layout adheres to a one-column b/w-standard without much frills, with pretty large letters and massive headers – this book could have been much shorter in theory. The interior b/w-artworks by Russ Nicholson deserve special mention: Detailed, unique and inspiring, they really elevated this booklet for me. The pdf-version of the supplement comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The perfectbound softcover sports its name on the spine, which is certainly appreciated. It should be noted that my copy’s cover is not exactly black, but rather dark-grey.

B. Strejcek’s “Wonder & Wickedness” honestly took time to grow on me. At first, I was frankly disappointed by being left alone regarding intended ranges and areas of effect; and yes, a good designer can certainly quickly and painlessly extrapolate those, but they really shouldn’t have to. That being said, once I got over that aspect of the book being not as detailed as I’d have liked to see, the book did grow on me. It manages to make many classic concepts feel fresh, and it breathes that ephemeral, hard to capture notion of magic being both volatile and seductive. I particularly consider it to be a perfect fit for games like LotFP, especially if you want magic to have an impact without destroying your campaign. The system presented here is high impact enough to allow for tactical depth and result in sorcerers being feared and ostracized – but it does not go so far as to make it a bad proposition for groups to bring sorcerers with them.

As such, while this does require some work on parts of the referee/GM, it can be a godsend for specific campaigns and playstyles. If that does not sound interesting, or if you’re looking for a replacement system for your high/standard fantasy campaign, then this is not what you want; if you’re looking for a volatile, occult-feeling system that doesn’t constantly derail your game, then this delivers. The closest analogue, perhaps, would be a simpler DCC-engine: And it GENUINELY is simpler: It has a simple base engine, is easy to parse, and gets successfully rid of the spell-block. So some people will love it for that.

How to rate this, then? Well, ultimately, I think it does very well what it tries to do, leaving me only with complains regarding minor inconsistencies in presentation, and the lack of range/Area of Effect complaints, both instances that simply were not required by the system to operate. These are what ultimately costs this my seal of approval (which it could have easily attained) and half a star, but I can’t bring myself to rounding down from my final verdict of 4.5 stars – I got too many genuinely great ideas out of this booklet.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wonder & Wickedness
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Maiden of the Shrine of the Snubbed One & Friends (Troika! Compatible!)
Publisher: Ian Woolley
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2020 06:26:40

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This supplement clocks in at 8 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, leaving us with 6 pages of content, with each page containing one new Troika!-background, so let’s take a look!

Okay, so the first thing you need to know here, is that this is a satire-product spoofing certain individuals in the OSR/indie gaming scene. In its original iteration, this was clearly a satire in the tradition of Juvenal, i.e. designed as a take-down. Most of the backgrounds made fun in a scathing and entertaining way of some gaming tropes in a parodist manner…but two of the backgrounds featured in said original iteration were obviously very savage takedowns of certain individuals. I am not stating which (though that was rather obvious), since the author has since replaced the content, and it’s not up to me to drag that back to light.

Anyway, how savage were they? Well, if you’re into battle-rap, I’d consider them to be as close to a bodybag-level take-down as I’ve ever seen in RPG-design. I was sitting at my screen, and couldn’t help but go “Oh, damn, that’s brutal!!” Soul Khan vs. J-Fox or Caustic vs. Jefferson Price levels of brutal, in context.

Now, these two backgrounds were the only ones that targeted specific individuals, and while I considered them to be HILARIOUS, they were essentially unplayable by design, having only the most rudimentary skills, useless possessions and in fact, seriously negative skill-values.

While I fully admit to bemoaning this imho somewhat hilarious savagery being removed from the supplement as a person, as a reviewer, I am grateful for that, as the new material is actually playable, making the new iteration a better gaming supplement. The supplement does make use of Troika’s openness for advanced skills and invents quite a few, as recommended by the game.

It should be noted that this is still the most savage satire I’ve seen in the guise of a RPG-supplement; it is somewhat crude, deliberately scathing, and certainly not for everyone.

Not deterred by that? Okay, awesome, so what are the backgrounds?

The first background would be the eponymous maiden of the snubbed one. Regardless of your gender, if you’re an adherent of the Small God known as the Snubbed One, you’re a maiden, and you get zines, bronze peaches, and packets of flax seeds if you choose this background. Minor complaint: The new version has a line-break missing after “heavy syrup” – as presented, it reads “1d6 cans of halved peaches in heavy syrup false”; the next line is “moustache”, when it should read “false moustache.” For advanced skills, we get Bureaucracy, Rant, etc. One of them would have warranted some minor explanation in my book: “Secret Sign: Cockroach Trails.” It’s not impossible to improvise, sure, but it’s weird and specific enough to make me want to know more.

…and now it’s time for me to write the sentences that I never thought I’d write. The second background…is the “sentient used condom.” No, I am not kidding. This one lets you fire….ähem…semen as a ranged or melee attack, as a pistolet, and you have modest armor. Each “shot” does cost 2 Stamina, though. You can also pay 3 stamina when someone eats your…ähem…content to heal them as if they had eaten a provision. Instead of consuming provisions, you must convince individuals to use you in your intended way...which obviously becomes progressively ickier. There’s a reason you get Repulse as an advanced skill…

The first of the new backgrounds would be the friendly board game. This one nets you two free-form d6s that you can add either one or both to any roll, expending them to the next day. You can also test your Luck to have the GM answer a yes/no question. You use your pieces (only some of which are actually ones for your game!) to communicate with others, which can be rather interesting if roleplayed properly.

Next up among the new ones is the haunted typewriter (Typewrighter) ; you may suck big time at Arithmetic (-6), but you do get Writing, Reading, Second Sight…and Monkey Handling for the chimpanzee that you start play with. Minor nitpick: Pretty sure Arithmetic should read Mathmology instead.

After this, we have the nemesis of the no longer represented edgy devs: The soy lord, who actually does know his Mathmology (and has a hand-held device as starting possession that helps there), and has both impeccable outfit and manly beard – as such, Barbering 4 and Etiquette are advanced skills, and these fellows do come with knife and axe fighting as well as a random spell.

Finally, there would be the “Sexy snake person.” To quote the pdf: “You are a sensuously sinuous sexy snake sophont. […] Remember, you are a sexily scaled serpent, not some slimy, but sexy in their own ways slug.” This background nets you boobies (your choice if they’re detachable or not), two penises (if you want them), a sexy snake tongue that helps with oral tasks requiring finesse, a No kink-shaming t-shirt…you get the idea. The Advanced Skills include constricting, seduction, etc., as well as Fang Fighting, but the background doesn’t specify as what weapon the fangs are treated: Small Beast or Modest Beast, or something else?

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are okay; not great, but certainly functional. Layout adheres to a simple, printer-friendly b/w-standard, with public domain artworks used; these artworks are not explicit, mind you. The pdf has no bookmarks, but needs none at this length.

Whether you’ll like this pdf or not will be highly contingent on what you value in a supplement. If you want some backgrounds that do a solid job at offering some unique Troika-options, then this MIGHT be for you. It’s an okay supplement if you disregard the whole satire-angle, and probably somewhere in the lower 2.5 to 3-star vicinity. Without context, it loses some of its appeal, and its rules are not always as tight as I’d wish them to be.

However, personally, I’d primarily recommend it to people aware of OSR/indie gaming-drama, who enjoy reading brutal takedowns. This delivers, and it does so in its revised version with more actually useful content. I like that, and I try to rate supplements primarily for what they are – and this is, primarily a satire that happens to also be playable content. As such, my final verdict for this will clock in at 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Maiden of the Shrine of the Snubbed One & Friends (Troika! Compatible!)
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Village Backdrop: Arcmoor (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2020 06:22:51

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

The village of Arcmoor in its 5e iteration is included in its entirety in the Dwellers Amid Bones-adventure, word for word – so if you want this plus the adventure, get that version instead.

Arcmoor as a settlement has its origins steeped in conflict - it is the place where the hero Therald Arcmoor fell, commemorating the final battle between the civilized races and the orcs of the severed ear - 300 ft. away from the feared tuskwood. With a majority population of halflings, the settlement obviously comes with a massive array of supplemental information: We receive information on the village's demographics, whispers and rumors, nomenclature and clothing habits as well as local lore and marketplace-information. The marketplace information has been properly adjusted to represent the realities of 5e as a system, and the checks noted have similarly been adjusted.

That being said, as always, the map provided is glorious and represents the privacy the local populace cherishes with the village being relatively dispersed - one can even see where halflings and humans live. The village also provides 4 NPC write-ups one can encounter here, and these are depicted in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-centric presentation, sporting no stats, and instead focusing on mannerisms, etc. Beyond that, the village, being close to the ancient battlefield, has drawn a less than nice person living in the village, one with a strange agenda.

The 5e-iteration features the new and expanded content created for the stand-alone supplement version of Arcmoor: This content elaborates on the life in Arcmoor, provides more detailed notes on local trade and industry, and we now get a full 20-entry table of dressing and events that allows us to bring the village closer to life. Similarly, the aforementioned Tuskwood is not only fully mapped, it does also include a variety of different pieces of information regarding the surrounding locality.

As for the keyed locations of the village itself, the presentation has improved over the original PFRPG-presentation: The respective write-ups now feature easy to paraphrase read-aloud texts, suggested random encounters for the nearby battlefield, and lists of strange and unique goods that may be scavenged or unearthed from the chaotic general goods store.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Fabian Fehrs’ Arcmoor (additional design by Creighton Broadhurst) is a cool, solid village for 5e – the expanded materials are available for the first time for 5e here, and unlike the PFRPG-version, nothing was cut here. This is the supplement to get if you’re not interested in the Dwellers Amid Bones-adventure; if the module sounds like fun, get that instead. As a whole, this is a nice village, and hence, my final verdict will be 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Arcmoor (5e)
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Village Backdrop: Arcmoor
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/25/2020 06:21:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

The village of Arcmoor has first appeared for Pathfinder in the Dweller Amid Bones Collector’s Edition.

Arcmoor as a settlement has its origins steeped in conflict - it is the place where the hero Therald Arcmoor fell, commemorating the final battle between the civilized races and the orcs of the severed ear - 300 ft. away from the feared tuskwood. With a majority population of halflings, the settlement obviously comes with a massive array of supplemental information: We receive information on the village's demographics, whispers and rumors, nomenclature and clothing habits as well as local lore and marketplace-information. In an odd design decision, the Pathfinder settlement statblock information, including danger rating, which was very much present in the Collector’s Edition (CE), has been cut here. Beyond that, the original CE-version of the settlement had a solid haunt, which has also been removed in a decision I frankly don’t get.

That being said, as always, the map provided is glorious and represents the privacy the local populace cherishes with the village being relatively dispersed - one can even see where halflings and humans live. The village also provides 4 NPC write-ups one can encounter here; in an odd decision, the fully realized statblocks for some of these villagers from the CE have not been included here. Beyond that, the village, being close to the ancient battlefield, has drawn a less than nice person living in the village, one with a strange agenda.

On the plus side of things, the stand-alone supplement version of Arcmoor does have new content that elaborates on the life in Arcmoor, provides more detailed notes on local trade and industry, and we now get a full 20-entry table of dressing and events that allows us to bring the village closer to life. Similarly, the aforementioned Tuskwood is not only fully mapped, it does also include a variety of different pieces of information regarding the surrounding locality.

As for the keyed locations of the village itself, the presentation has improved: The respective write-ups now feature easy to paraphrase read-aloud texts, suggested random encounters for the nearby battlefield, and lists of strange and unique goods that may be scavenged or unearthed from the chaotic general goods store.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Fabian Fehrs’ Arcmoor (additional design by Creighton Broadhurst) is a per se cool little village that manages to feel lived-in and alive – and in many ways, this supplement presents the superior iteration of the settlement. On the other hand, I was seriously puzzled and somewhat irked to see the cuts made to the village, when the respective content not only already exists, but is serviceable. This could have been the expanded, superior edition of the village; as presented, it removes some meatier aspects and adds several really nice flavor components; don’t get me wrong: I like Arcmoor as presented here more than I did enjoy the version of the village first presented, but I can’t help but be puzzled by the decision to cut perfectly functional Pathfinder content; ideally, you’ll have both this and the Dwellers Amid Bones CE for the whole picture, but why go that route? As such, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Arcmoor
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Pop Culture Catalog: Restaurants
Publisher: Rogue Genius Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2020 05:17:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the amazing Pop Culture Catalog-series clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover,1 page editorial, 4 pages of SRD, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, as you know by now, the Pop Culture Catalog-series has the robust fandom-engine that makes being a fan of something actually matter mechanically; I’ve explained that engine a couple of times, so let’s get right to the main course, shall we?

Now, it should be noted that, while I am pretty deeply immersed in US culture, me being German, I probably won’t get all of the allusions featured herein, so please do bear that in mind – you might consider some of these funnier than I do. The first chapter begins with showing us the respective (chains of) restaurants that you can find in the Xa-Osoro system – these note the type of restaurant it is, the locations, price modifiers and a tagline. A total of 19 such restaurants are presented, with 4 associated brands added for good measure – and yes, all of these do get their own logos, which is damn cool! Speaking of which: Each of these entries notes not one, but several signature dishes! “I’ll have the Lance-A-Lot!” Awesome.

Now, as for the restaurants: We have “Anything on a stick”, a kobold-owned diner chain that focuses, well, on putting food on sticks, and there have been some scandals and social media wars lately, with their competitors Raptor Shack! Brattigans (awesome name!) is a chain focusing on the youthful “palette”[sic!] (should be “palate” – that’s a consistent hiccup here; pretty sure that’s an autocorrect glitch), with attractions allowing beleaguered parents to have some peace of mind – it’s the number 1 birthday destination for kids. And it has animatronics from 1010 Robotics. Five Nights at Freddy’s, anyone? Awesome: The fandom lets you better filter out background noise, which got a huge chuckle out of me. Do you want a cold one and some hearty fare? Brotara’s Table is a great chain of pubs ran by a retired asteroid miner and his husband. The hearty fare can enhance your Fortitude saves, but as usual, the more powerful fandom perks require brief resting and Resolve expenditure to use again. The Dancing Helix is also a place I’d visit: Molecular gastronomy, with awesome flavors in delicate crystalline structures, balls of foam, etc. – unsurprisingly, the fandom here helps with Physical Science.

The Famished Isopod (with an amazing logo!) caters to the tastes of insectoid races – including bug shots, worm steaks, etc. – and know what? I’d eat there. All edible insects that I’ve had, including the insect burgers around here, have been really delicious. If they’d be slightly less expensive, I’d use them as a full-blown replacement for traditional meats, so as a futuristic vision, I can picture how delicious that fare could be. Insectoids frequently dining here can look forward to a fortified biochemistry. Je Tessir is a high-class, expensive bakery/candy shop, and Krusak’s Steakhouse is a vesk steakhouse that made me so want to dine there. Mama Cecile’s has a very homely, old-school style that is very much appreciated, and excellent ingredients and numerous executives frequenting the place will be a great way to motivate PCs to go there. Nuggets!!! (only original with 3 exclamation marks) is all about, you guessed it, nuggets. And this is where I start moaning about the fact that KFC has the best nuggets around where I live. I don’t do McD or BK.) Not even kidding you. I wished we had more such cuisine here. Anyhow, in the Xa-Osoro system, the company has turned Nuggets McCheesy into the Nuggysoki super-success – pretty much all ysoki love these! The fandom perk nets you a bonus to saves vs. starvation, because you’re accustomed to sub-standard nutrition. That got a chuckle out of me.

Planet Infosphere is essentially the Xa-Osoro Planet Hollywood version, and Prawns! Prawns! Prawns! Made me flash back to my brief trip to New Orleans – what I’d give for good seafood right now. This pdf is making me seriously hungry with its logos and succulent descriptions. This restaurant is also manned exclusively by skittermander workers, which makes total sense, considering these amazing beings. Seriously, skittermanders should be core.

The Protean Repast is a place I would not frequent – it’s a buffet chain, and I’m too allergy-riddled and germophobe to go that route. Plus, the Ai-and holo-system that shows you each plate you’re billed may be accurate, but also super creepy. Whole Biome Biuffet is a bit more expensive, but also more wholesome. The Quantum Gourmet, as the name suggests, is a super high-class restaurant (x4 price modifier!) that provides culinary synaesthesia, which allows for literally impossible tastes to be enjoyed. I’m glad I can’t go to this place – with my luck, I’d get hooked on all of them… Anyhow, the holographic food consumed here does help you deal with illusions and holographs in particular. For fine dining, you may also wish to check out the Radiant pool that caters to dining for aquatic races, with open air tables included as well.

Red Mithral is also a nice idea: Here, you can listen to abyssmetal played exclusively by daemons, devils, demons, or some combination thereof, with waiters presenting the illusion of tormented souls – being a regular here makes you more comfortable with evil outsiders. The gas giant Ulo’s only outdoor restaurant Serenity makes for a great place to visit when there, with bubble rooms lazily floating on semi-solid clouds. Just picture that and Ulo’s storms – this is some seriously fantastic imagery here. I’d also be super excited about Yoishi’s teppanyaki, run by the swashbuckling kitsune hibachi chef Hirokyu…

Cornucopia provides the best high-class food-synthesizers; food trek (XD) is the prime mover of food, and K&K Chef’s Gear and Nine Tail Delivery further add to the material here.

After all of these, we go through all the races of the Xa-Osoro system, including the ones from the Starfarer’s Companion and the Star Log.EM-series, and learn about their diet and cooking, dining traditions if applicable, and traditional dishes. Catfolk are, for example, into Ch’rowl, which is catnip wine! (And yes, it is statted as a proper drug, and uses the excellent scaling drug rules from Pop Culture Catalog: Vice Dens) Nashi have baked sunkiss sprinkled with chocolate covered ants and served with dried kelp toast and an assortment of jellies. Come on, that sounds delicious! Beyond the vast details presented here, we also have a sidebar for advice regarding the description of alien food.

And the pdf classifies restaurants: Frequency and category are properly classified, and prices for celebrity chefs, culinary synthesizers, delivery (neighborhood to system-wide), chef gear, costs for personal chefs – all included. Want your own arthropod boiling rig? A beverage fountain? Proper grub tongs? Yep. Love this.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, apart from a few typo-level glitches, I found nothing to complain about. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the pdf comes with plenty of nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes with detailed, nested bookmarks for your convenience.

Alexander Augunas and George “Loki” Williams deliver a true, massive winner here: The pdf is not only detailed, it really inspired me; it made me long for these places, these foods. Beyond providing inspiration for adventuring galore, and adding a ton of flavor (haha!9 to the game, this book further cements something we really need: An optimistic vision for the future. In an age where even Star Trek has become depressing and anti-science, this is a glimpse at a future that I’d love to live in. The booklet managed to make me think of a LOT of unique angles of how to use these restaurants in my game. In short, this is a fantastic offering. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Pop Culture Catalog: Restaurants
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Village Backdrop: Carillon
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2020 05:13:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

You’ll hear Carillon before you see it. You’ll hear its bells, set on top of the bell tower, and arriving, you’ll hear the ever-present chimes ringing in, what many a traveler, would dub a deafening (or at least grating) cacophony. Yet, the folks of Carillon are happy, prosperous people, which reflected in the appearances and dressing habits, which are included alongside the nomenclature.

Apart from the noise, Carillon seems like a happy place, and PCs doing their proper legwork can confirm as much; heck, even the whispers and rumors seem to underline this notion. Largely self-sufficient and happy, if noisy, the 20 entries of dressing and events do a good job underlining the per se bucolic idyll. The three sample NPCs (all in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-centric style, with personality, mannerisms and background noted) also are no villains. Notable bells for sale, a subtable of events and some suggested quests are provided, making the village behave in a dynamic manner.

The village comes with a proper marketplace section, with the individual items relegated to the proper places where they can be purchased – nice. Less nice: There is no settlement statblock information included. A minor nitpick would be that I think that the constant noise would have warranted some global, rules-relevant effects, but that may be me.

…I know what you’re thinking. Why care about this place? Because there is something desperate about the noise. The constant ringing, clinging, chiming. There is something in the woods. It is known only as the Hush. It is not explained (GOOD CALL!) and it hates sound. In some way, the villagers could almost be called prisoners. Almost. This has some serious potential for use in a dark fantasy, regular fantasy, or horror scenario. From sentient silence to elder gods to specific creatures, this is wide open and just asks that you add your individual take. I love it for that.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Jacob W. Michaels delivers a great settlement – usable in a plethora of ways, Carillon is a prime example of how you can use overt and covert themes to build tension and adventuring angles; it’s also a good example of supplement that knows what to only hint at, and what to leave to the GM. In short, this is nigh perfect.

Apart from the PFRPG-integration not being as pronounced as I’d have liked it to be, this is nigh perfect, which is why my final verdict will be 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Carillon
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Village Backdrop: Carillon (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2020 05:12:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

You’ll hear Carillon before you see it. You’ll hear its bells, set on top of the bell tower, and arriving, you’ll hear the ever-present chimes ringing in, what many a traveler, would dub a deafening (or at least grating) cacophony. Yet, the folks of Carillon are happy, prosperous people, which reflected in the appearances and dressing habits, which are included alongside the nomenclature.

Apart from the noise, Carillon seems like a happy place, and PCs doing their proper legwork can confirm as much; heck, even the whispers and rumors seem to underline this notion. Largely self-sufficient and happy, if noisy, the 20 entries of dressing and events do a good job underlining the per se bucolic idyll. The three sample NPCs (all in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-centric style, with personality, mannerisms and background noted) also are no villains. Notable bells for sale, a subtable of events and some suggested quests are provided, making the village behave in a dynamic manner.

The village comes with the individual items relegated to the proper places where they can be purchased – nice. The 5e-iteration makes proper use of 5e’s default NPC-stats, but adds no new features to them. A minor nitpick would be that I think that the constant noise would have warranted some global, rules-relevant effects, but that may be me.

…I know what you’re thinking. Why care about this place? Because there is something desperate about the noise. The constant ringing, clinging, chiming. There is something in the woods. It is known only as the Hush. It is not explained (GOOD CALL!) and it hates sound. In some way, the villagers could almost be called prisoners. Almost. This has some serious potential for use in a dark fantasy, regular fantasy, or horror scenario. From sentient silence to elder gods to specific creatures, this is wide open and just asks that you add your individual take. I love it for that.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Jacob W. Michaels delivers a great settlement – usable in a plethora of ways, Carillon is a prime example of how you can use overt and covert themes to build tension and adventuring angles; it’s also a good example of supplement that knows what to only hint at, and what to leave to the GM. In short, this is nigh perfect.

The 5e iteration of this supplement is akin to the PFRPG-version, in that I wished this had sported some global effects for the constant sound, but that is the only niggle I can properly field here. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Carillon (5e)
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Village Backdrop: Carillon (SN)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/24/2020 05:10:46

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of RSP's Village Backdrop-series is 13 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 7 pages of content, so let's take a look at the settlement!

You’ll hear Carillon before you see it. You’ll hear its bells, set on top of the bell tower, and arriving, you’ll hear the ever-present chimes ringing in, what many a traveler, would dub a deafening (or at least grating) cacophony. Yet, the folks of Carillon are happy, prosperous people, which reflected in the appearances and dressing habits, which are included alongside the nomenclature.

Apart from the noise, Carillon seems like a happy place, and PCs doing their proper legwork can confirm as much; heck, even the whispers and rumors seem to underline this notion. Largely self-sufficient and happy, if noisy, the 20 entries of dressing and events do a good job underlining the per se bucolic idyll. The three sample NPCs (all in Raging Swan Press’ usual, fluff-centric style, with personality, mannerisms and background noted) also are no villains. Notable bells for sale, a subtable of events and some suggested quests are provided, making the village behave in a dynamic manner.

The village comes with the individual items relegated to the proper places where they can be purchased – nice. It should be noted that the prices have been appropriately adjusted to reflect the increased rarity and value of magic components, and terms have been modified to appropriately represent the realities of old school systems.

…I know what you’re thinking. Why care about this place? Because there is something desperate about the noise. The constant ringing, clinging, chiming. There is something in the woods. It is known only as the Hush. It is not explained (GOOD CALL!) and it hates sound. In some way, the villagers could almost be called prisoners. Almost. This has some serious potential for use in a dark fantasy, regular fantasy, or horror scenario. From sentient silence to elder gods to specific creatures, this is wide open and just asks that you add your individual take. I love it for that.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP's smooth, printer-friendly two-column standard and the pdf comes with full bookmarks as well as a gorgeous map, of which you can, as always, download high-res jpegs if you join RSP's patreon. We get pretty neat b/w-artwork. The pdf comes in two versions, with one being optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out.

Jacob W. Michaels delivers a great settlement – usable in a plethora of ways, Carillon is a prime example of how you can use overt and covert themes to build tension and adventuring angles; it’s also a good example of supplement that knows what to only hint at, and what to leave to the GM. In short, this is nigh perfect.

In the system-neutral iteration, I can’t well complain about wanting a representation of the sound on a global level, which leaves me remarkably bereft of means to complain about this supplement. Indeed, this iteration of Carillon ranks among my favorites in the entire series. My final verdict will be 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Village Backdrop: Carillon (SN)
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Advanced Adventures #28: Redtooth Ridge
Publisher: Expeditious Retreat Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/21/2020 04:48:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front/back cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

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

This module, as always for the series, was penned with the OSRIC-rules in mind; as always, we have some deviations from OSRIC’s formatting standards, though – there are no italics in the formatting for things traditionally formatted thus, instead using bolding indiscriminately for spells, creatures and items. As always, the adventure features no read-aloud text, and otherwise adheres very much to the classic standards and presentation, including fonts used, etc.

The adventure is designed for 6-10 characters of first to third level, and it is in many ways a module I’d consider suitable as an introductory adventure to old-school gaming for experienced players. While the adventure suggests packing a ranger, this is not required to solve the module. Difficulty-wise, this is a difficult beast, but it is fair in its challenges. If anything, one can picture this as a take on the vanilla-adventure done right.

…and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, there is this notion of the “vanilla” adventure; for me, that would be the generic standard dungeon, with goblins, orcs and perhaps a ghoul or two. As a boss, we have an ogre or a shadow, and if it’s a shadow, the entity can probably be beaten by turning off the magical light or using it in some way. I’ve read essentially this set-up so often it really pisses me off. Not because the concept is bad, but because almost every module using this set-up does so in a way that is incredibly redundant and bland, plagiarizing essentially a card-board cutout standard for first modules.

Redtooth Ridge does have a similar set-up, but executes it in a genuinely FRESH and EXCITING manner.

Let’s start with the set-up: Redtooth Ridge is a butte in a forest, but not any ole’ butte: Instead, it was once part of an area where the rich and powerful had their mansions, and it once contained a massive guest house. Regarding environment, we thus already have something infinitely more compelling than “hole/cave in the ground.”

And then we proceed: For once, while there is a goblin presence, it boils down to hunting/scouting parties. These are led by smart leaders, and behave in an organic manner…oh, and the ogre? He kicks off the module. In many ways, the first encounter is a trial by fire: An old cobbled road leads its winding way up the butte, and the ogre is currently having a break, consuming the disgusting equivalent of a snack there. The PCs, if they handle the situation well, can get the drop on the ogre (rewarding smart play), who btw. does not necessarily want to fight to the death (teaches the importance of morale). Moreover, the encounter can turn nasty, for the ogre is currently being observed by a goblin scouting party. Players waiting might well witness the party attacking the ogre and pick off the two parties, teaching that sometimes waiting is smart. Moreover, if they beat the ogre, their state is important – do they mop the floor with him? Bluster about? Or whine? The goblins are watching, and if they think they can kill the PCs, they’ll try to! If they observed less armored targets, or spellcasters in particular, that’s where they’ll concentrate fire on. In many ways, this encounter teaches basic tenets of old-school roleplaying, of player skill and adaptability to new situations in a formidable, if deadly manner. It’s the first encounter, so if this does TPK the group (a distinct likelihood for 1st level characters), a new group can come without having lost much progress.

This is a trial by fire encounter, but it is a genuinely well-executed one. It also makes the players aware of the importance of their actions – for example, the second hunting party will come; and if the PCs are careless, they’ll be tracked – and potentially face an ambush or minor siege-like scenario. Another teaching moment would be one of the random encounters that PCs can happen upon – as a whole, the table is pretty conservative and manageable – but there is also a giant slug here that has recently arrived in the area. It is obviously tougher than all other challenges here. The world is not scaled for the PCs. If they attack it, they’ll learn that the hard way.

In many ways, this is an important lesson, and enhances the overall plausibility of the region depicted here, and one that also is the foundation of the very adventure hooks: You see, the primary hook is about the PCs securing a wooden cup made from oak, stolen from a dryad by small, man-like creatures. The mites and pesties have NO CLUE about the importance of the object, and indeed, have no real bearing on the locations. They just happen to live here after losing their home. The angle is basic, but its implementation enhances the whole notion of a lived-in world.

The eponymous ridge holds two primary adventure locales – one being an old mausoleum, the other being the ruins of the former guest house. The mausoleum only sports 7 keyed locales, and is in many ways a “teach you to handle ghouls” scenario – it is very much optional, and houses 14 ghouls. Striding in with brandished weapons is a bad idea, but small groups can wage a pretty efficient war of attrition on them, as their numbers don’t replenish. Still, as a whole, the mausoleum is perhaps best considered to be a little bonus-dungeon.

You see, the guest mansion with its massive grounds, stables, and the like? It is awesome. The mansion still houses a guardian statue that keeps evil creatures at bay – and once the PCs realize that, they may use it to their advantage. The mansion’s ruins make sense in many ways – from a huge amount of rats ruining many of the books in the library tower, to its structure. Speaking of the library tower: Enterprising players can deal with the rats and then salvage quite a few books, all coming with notes on weight, title and value, conveniently spelled out for you; you’re not selling some book; you’re selling “The Laws of Manip.” It’s small flourishes like this that make me really enjoy a module; this type of thing shows that the designer CARED.

Speaking of which: This commitment to plausibility can be seen in all details of the mansion. For example, there is a corpse haunted by the spirit of a prim and proper lady infuriated by the incompetence of a servant. This erstwhile guest can possess PCs to make them attack the “servants” – who is by now unfortunately a zombie in the cellar. This is not a save or suck, but an encounter that rewards rolling with the punches, and one that also tells the players something about the mindset of the former inhabitants.

Beyond that, no traps are placed in stupid places; secret doors make sense, green slime is in the pantry, where it makes sense…and obviously, the somewhat scandalous magical properties of the place can be found in specific…öhem…pleasure rooms…in the cellar. Did I mention that clever PCs have a chance to free planatars from their vigil? My favorite would, however, be the secret treasure room: In most adventures, that’d be after the toughest encounter. Here, it is hidden in a thoroughly plausible and CLEVER way. The treasure is guarded by a creature that has a very good chance of killing the PCs…but once more, player skill is the name of the game. If the party was smart, they may well have found a ring that allows them to bypass the guardian, potentially absconding with a phenomenal haul of loot. And while the treasure is significant, I think it is genuinely well-earned here! If the party finds this place, they certainly deserve the loot!

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series classic b/W-2-columnh standard, including old-school fonts. The adventure is lite on artwork, as usual. Cartography is functional, but no player-friendly maps are provided, which is the one thing the module kinda botches in my book.

Joseph Browning shows how you can execute not only a great, challenging adventure in a few pages, he also shows how you can execute a “vanilla” adventure without being boring. If I’d list the components on a sheet of paper, this’d at best elicit groans from me. As presented here, the adventure is exciting, challenging, fair, and frankly, one of my favorites in the entire series. It’s easier to write an outstanding module when you throw weird stuff everywhere – but executing the standards and wringing a captivating and concise identity from it? Now that is impressive. Now, sure – the mausoleum and lack of player-friendly maps are strikes against the module, but frankly, I genuinely didn’t mind as much here. This is a module that deserves a resounding recommendation. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Advanced Adventures #28: Redtooth Ridge
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Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/21/2020 04:45:18

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This PF2-conversion of the introductory module clocks in at 35 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page designer’s foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 27 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, so what do we get here? The module is situated in the region around Gloamhold, the Duchy of Ashlar, and the module assumes Dulwich as a starting point, though that settlement is not necessarily required; in fact, it is depicted in a fully functional manner herein, including maps and the like. Even traveling events while on the road are accounted for, and the write up of Dulwich goes into details like streets, guilds and so forth. John Bennett’s take on this town is amazing, and it’s nice to see it included as a fully functional backdrop.

We also get an incredibly gorgeous b/w-map of the Duchy of Ashlar: The cartography by Simon Butler, Dan Dyson and Tommi Salama employed herein is...well glorious. Oh, and guess what? If you're like me and get a LOT of Raging Swan Press books to supplement your gaming experience...you'll notice something. The map tells you, which direction the lonely coast is, where Deksport can be found - and indeed, in this duchy, you can see Wellswood, Longbridge, Kingsfell, Ashford -some of the unique villages and places my groups have visited and come to love (or abhor) - oh, and the map also sports a wide array of as of yet unexplored places.

And, in case you're asking - this whole region, contextualized, can easily be dropped into just about any campaign setting, though theme-wise, grittier settings like Greyhawk, The Lost Lands or the like probably work best.

At the same time, it should be noted that this pdf does not necessarily feature themes explicitly designated as kid-friendly - it is not gory or grimdark or anything...it is just gritty, old-school fantasy, and while it can easily be run for kids, that’s not the designated focus.

In many ways, this is intended as a starting adventure for less experienced players, and we get a massive page on general notes pertaining the eponymous valley: These include lore DCs for the PCs to unearth, a couple of hooks to make the PCs get into the action and 6 sample whispers & rumors for further hooks. A big plus: This is NOT a minimum-effort conversion: Throughout the module, we have the module make constant use of PF2’s benefits: These include special states for critically failed or succeeded checks, and also for the other components. As noted before, this module is explicitly made for (relatively) new players and with the potential to use it with minimum preparation in mind.

Hence, the challenges in this adventure are somewhat less pronounced than veterans would expect; if you and your group are veterans, this’ll ease you into the system; the costs of items is properly adjusted, and indeed, the module does a pretty good job in A LOT of the details of the mechanics.

The module is designed for 4 first-level characters. One more thing - while this module introduces PCs and players to some of the classic tropes, its structure allows the GM to include ample options for rest...or not, allowing for pretty concise control over the pacing of the module itself. And no, thankfully my most loathed adventuring clichés for starter modules, the shadow and ogre bosses are absent from these pages. Thank Gygax!

The information design deserves special mention: We get both read-aloud text and bullet-pointed lists of themes, details, etc., which makes parsing the module quick and painless.

All right, this is as far as I can get sans diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this module should jump to the conclusion NOW. ... .. . All right, only GMs around? Good.

The valley itself can be pictured as a sandbox of sorts that sports, obviously, multiple tombs - said tombs are the mini-dungeons in this book, but they are not the only graves there: Cairns can be looted and a table of items can be found there. Similarly, a dressing table for the valley allows you to customize the dressing and generate more atmosphere. From the small waterfall to tracks, the valley has several distinct locations as such, and my one gripe with the module pertains to exploration mode not being as well-executed here; overland travel etc. could have been slightly more exciting, but this is just me wanting to see Pathfinder 2’s potential fully realized. On the plus-side, the module does a SUPERB job with encounter difficulty, etc.

Anyways, the interesting component, at least to me, would be that the mini-dungeons (usually only a couple of rooms) sport unique challenges: In the tomb of the stone woman, one can, for example, face an animated statue, with some traps that are painful, but not necessarily lethal, teaching this component of adventuring. The traps here deserve special mention: If anything, they make full use of PF2’s great hazard engine, and are easily the best and most rewarding iteration of the module.

And yes, from chests to sarcophagi, the level of detail provided in this pdf is excessive and makes running this very easy – once more, the PF2-conversion, with BTs etc. included, is seriously neat. This detail also extends to NPCs, with attitudes, distinguishing features, etc. all included.

The tomb of the champions features unique adversaries and has a completely different flavor - inside lie the now undead remains of two erstwhile champions of the hobgoblins, emphasizing the component of combat in the exploration here. Finally, there would be a third mini-complex, wherein a young owlbear (kudos for getting that in PF2!) and its young lair - these caves can be seen as introductions to animals and terrain - with bat guano, a bat swarm, uneven footing and the like, the focus here is admirably different. It should btw. be noted that the young owlbear is part of the dynamic aspect of the adventure: We get several “planned” random encounters that can be used to further control the pacing of the adventure.

This, however, is not nearly the extent of adventuring the pdf contains - the module also sports a rival adventuring group that can act as a major complication for the PCs, feigning friendship and loyalty, while waiting to backstab them. Like all creatures herein, we get proper statblocks for these rival adventurers.

Beyond these low-lives, there is another optional encounter that will introduce the necessity of ROLEplaying to PCs and players alike: The ghost of a perished adventurer haunts this valley's lake and putting her to rest is one of the more unique and rewarding challenges in this pdf. It's not hard, mind you - but it makes it clear that sometimes, words are more powerful than thrown spells and drawn swords. The aforementioned add-in-encounters, including the potent young owlbear, obviously can also be used to save the PCs - if the aforementioned adventuring group's too much to handle, for example...well, then the arrival of a pack of wolves or said owlbear may act as a save...and teach the valuable lesson of considering that the world is dynamic and that actions have consequences.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good for the PF2-iteration, on both a formal and rules-language level. Everything is functional. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features copious b/w-artworks (some of which I've seen before). The cartography is excellent, though no map-key-less versions are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer. Kudos!

Creighton Broadhurst’s Shunned Valley is a great introductory module, and it remains that in PF2 as well – it is a bit creepy, but not overly so; it introduces a wide variety of challenges from all walks of the adventuring life and allows for sufficient control regarding the components of the pdf. The insertion of John Bennett’s Dulwich, originally included first in the PFRPG-collector’s edition, adds additional, quality bang for buck to the offering.

Mechanically, this is by far the best version of the module so far, courtesy of its use of the streamlined and improved systems PF2 has to offer; it is more rewarding than the PF1-version, particularly regarding hazards and degrees of failure/success, and showcases how PF2’s tight design can really elevate the gaming experience; the content may be the same as in the other versions, but how e.g. traps work, the adversaries, etc. – all of that works incredibly smoothly. Now, this is a conversion, and as such, it does not utilize everything PF2 has to potentially offer, but it doesn’t have to; if anything, it shows how, massive differences in systems notwithstanding, you can run classic modules in an objectively improved manner in the new system. This is a well-executed conversion, and the comparatively low difficulty, combined with the old-school aesthetic, make this is a great module to introduce hesitant groups that like old-school modules to Pathfinder’s 2nd edition. 5 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs (2nd Edition)
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Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs (5e)
Publisher: Raging Swan Press
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/21/2020 04:44:09

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 38 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page designer’s foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 30 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

All right, so what do we get here? The module is situated in the region around Gloamhold, the Duchy of Ashlar, and the module assumes Dulwich as a starting point, though that settlement is not necessarily required; in fact, it is depicted in a fully functional manner herein, including maps and the like. Even traveling events while on the road are accounted for, and the write up of Dulwich goes into details like streets, guilds and so forth. John Bennett’s take on this town is amazing, and it’s nice to see it included as a fully functional backdrop.

In many ways, this is intended as a starting adventure for less experienced players, and we get a massive page on general notes pertaining the eponymous valley: These include lore DCs for the PCs to unearth, a couple of hooks to make the PCs get into the action and 6 sample whispers & rumors for further hooks.

We also get an incredibly gorgeous b/w-map of the Duchy of Ashlar: The cartography by Simon Butler, Dan Dyson and Tommi Salama employed herein is...well glorious. Oh, and guess what? If you're like me and get a LOT of Raging Swan Press books to supplement your gaming experience...you'll notice something. The map tells you, which direction the lonely coast is, where Deksport can be found - and indeed, in this duchy, you can see Wellswood, Longbridge, Kingsfell, Ashford -some of the unique villages and places my groups have visited and come to love (or abhor) - oh, and the map also sports a wide array of as of yet unexplored places.

And, in case you're asking - this whole region, contextualized, can easily be dropped into just about any campaign setting, though theme-wise, grittier settings like Greyhawk, The Lost Lands or the like probably work best.

As noted before, this module is explicitly made for (relatively) new players and with the potential to use it with minimum preparation in mind. Hence, the challenges in this adventure are somewhat less pronounced than veterans would expect; if you and your group are veterans, this’ll ease you into the system. At the same time, it should be noted that this pdf does not necessarily feature themes explicitly designated as kid-friendly - it is not gory or grimdark or anything...it is just gritty, old-school fantasy, and while it can easily be run for kids, that’s not the designated focus.

The module is designed for 4 first-level characters, but the pdf also provides extensive scaling advice for each encounter, which means that you can also run this for more seasoned adventurers sans the players becoming bored. One more thing - while this module introduces PCs and players to some of the classic tropes, its structure allows the GM to include ample options for rest...or not, allowing for pretty concise control over the pacing of the module itself. And no, thankfully my most loathed adventuring clichés for starter modules, the shadow and ogre bosses are absent from these pages. Thank Gygax!

The information design deserves special mention: We get both read-aloud text and bullet-pointed lists of themes, details, etc., which makes parsing the module quick and painless.

All right, this is as far as I can get sans diving into SPOILERS. Potential players of this module should jump to the conclusion NOW. ... .. . All right, only GMs around? Good. The valley itself can be pictured as one that sports, obviously, multiple tombs - said tombs are the mini-dungeons in this book, but they are not the only graves there: Cairns can be looted and a table of items can be found there. Similarly, an 8-entry dressing table for the valley allows you to customized the dressing and generate more atmosphere. From the small waterfall to tracks, the valley has several distinct locations as such - but the interesting component, at least to me, would be that the mini-dungeons (usually only a couple of rooms) sport unique challenges: In the tomb of the stone woman, one can, for example, face an animated statue, with some traps that are painful, but not necessarily lethal, teaching this component of adventuring. As a minor nitpick, the trap disarming doesn’t require the usual thieves’ tools here – this MAY be intentional, though, so in dubio pro reo, I guess. And yes, from chests to sarcophagi, the level of detail provided in this pdf is excessive and makes running this very easy. This detail also extends to NPCs, with attitudes, distinguishing features, etc. all included.

The tomb of the champions features unique adversaries and has a completely different flavor - inside lie the now undead remains of two erstwhile champions of the hobgoblins, emphasizing the component of combat in the exploration here. Finally, there would be a third mini-complex, wherein an owlbear and its young lair - these caves can be seen as introductions to animals and terrain - with bat guano, a bat swarm, uneven footing and the like, the focus here is admirably different. It should btw. be noted that the owlbear is part of the dynamic aspect of the adventure: We get several “planned” random encounters that can be used to further control the pacing of the adventure.

This, however, is not nearly the extent of adventuring the pdf contains - the module also sports a rival adventuring group that can act as a major complication for the PCs, feigning friendship and loyalty, while waiting to backstab them. These deserve mention, as one of them uses the incorrect HD-size. Another issue I have with some of the 5e components, would be that e.g. a stone door has no damage threshold, which it probably should have.

Beyond these low-lives, there is another optional encounter that will introduce the necessity of ROLEplaying to PCs and players alike: The ghost of a perished adventurer haunts this valley's lake and putting her to rest is one of the more unique and rewarding challenges in this pdf. It's not hard, mind you - but it makes it clear that sometimes, words are more powerful than thrown spells and drawn swords. The aforementioned add-in-encounters, including the potent owlbear, obviously can also be used to save the PCs - if the aforementioned adventuring group's too much to handle, for example...well, then the arrival of a pack of wolves or said owlbear may act as a save...and teach the valuable lesson of considering that the world is dynamic and that actions have consequences.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no serious glitches apart from minor blank spaces or full stops missing in a very few places. Everything is functional. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' elegant two-column b/w-standard and the pdf features copious b/w-artworks (some of which I've seen before). The cartography is excellent, though no map-key-less versions are included. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience and in two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one for the printer. Kudos!

Creighton Broadhurst’s Shunned Valley is a great introductory module – it is a bit creepy, but not overly so; it introduces a wide variety of challenges from all walks of the adventuring life and allows for sufficient control regarding the components of the pdf. The insertion of John Bennett’s Dulwich, originally included first in the PFRPG-collector’s edition, adds additional, quality bang for buck to the offering.

Now, this module is honestly beautiful in its simplicity and level of detail, but if you’re a jaded veteran, this will not necessarily blow you away; this is intentionally made in a very classic manner. Jaded groups looking for something outré should get another adventure, while those looking for a classic adventuring experience will certainly enjoy this. John N. Whyte’s 5e-conversion is well-executed as a whole, and manages to remain dangerous, while being forgiving enough to make this a compelling starter adventure. My final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs (5e)
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Mystery at Ravenrock - Pathfinder
Publisher: Frog God Games
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 02/20/2020 12:14:00

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module for PF1 clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages, so let’s take a look!

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

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for PFRPG, but that is me nitpicking.

Now, as far as the system is concerned, this deserves some serious praise: More so than most Frog God Games modules, and modules that exist for multiple systems in general, it is readily apparent that the author really KNOWS PFRPG. Not just gets it, but knows how it behaves, how it plays. This can be seen in a variety of choices: We have e.g. reskins of monsters with custom attacks and special abilities presented herein, with said text being delivered in the most concise form possible: acid arrow 1/hour +5 ranged touch, 2d4 acid damage for 3 rounds – simple, easy to grasp, no book flipping, complete. Like it. In spite of the relative brevity of the adventure, there is thus more content herein than you’d expect. The module also shows off this degree of system familiarity with the challenges posed – this is an old-school module, and as such, it is challenging and can easily result in a TPK if your players act stupidly – but more importantly, it does provide very in-depth tactical information for the GM, which is particularly helpful in the final encounter, which is truly and aptly-named “boss battle.” These tactics are btw. obviously bred from contact with actual players – the module has been playtested, and it SHOWS. The capabilities of the characters actually influence the plot and are reflected by a narrative – the adversaries have enacted a plan that represents the abilities they have. This, in short, makes the module feel very much “realistic” as well. Authors, take note – this is smart. This is a module worth winning, and won’t require that you redesign every single NPC to be an actual challenge. So yeah, mechanically, the PFRPG-version is certainly one of my favorites from Frog God Games’ oeuvre.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious – the fairies in PFRPG are an example, btw. one example of those heavily modified stats mentioned above – they are based of ooze mephits, but the players will never notice, believe me; the modifications are this helpful. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in lists of Perception DCs that yield varying amounts of information and the like. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level, with only a terrain feature, namely a room that adds a bonus to a certain skill check not noting a bonus type being my only admittedly petty nitpick. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mystery at Ravenrock - Pathfinder
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