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CE 7 - The Giggling Deep
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/23/2017 01:59:59

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the Campaign Elements-series of set-pieces/modules/environments for DCC clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, ~1/2 page editorial, 1.5 pages SRD, leaving us with 28 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pages are A5-sized (6'' by 9''), which means you can fit up to 4 pages on one sheet of paper if you print it out.

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

...

..

.

All right, only judges around? Great! So, somewhere in a complex of your choosing, there is a stone cap, bedecked with runes. Via brains or brawn, read magic or thieving skills etc., the PCs can open this cap, unearthing the cap - and one it is sealed, it cannot be opened from within...so definite care should be taken. Oh, and fumbles opening it receive their own table! Beyond the cap, a natural cave system lies, illuminated by bioluminescene that is generated by strange, floating motes, by slime and glowing globules, driving home the weirdness of the place. The cavern is uncomfortably hot and humid, requiring Fort saves with progressive -1d penalties, with sloped tunnels adding a sense of verticality and depth to the complex - so yes, as far as the basic complex is concerned, I am pretty impressed here.

This flavor of a truly strange place is further enhanced in the random encounters, where crosses between dragonfly and enormous earwigs glitter with opalescent sheen (full color artwork provided!), ants made of metal with globs of orange jelly for heads, albino koala-like bears covered in glowing pus-sores with prehensile tongues and stranger beings loom. Furthermore, the goremera can be found here: Shapeshifting between a vaguely humanoid form and that of a chimera made of viscera, this dread entity can only be truly slain in these caverns, is highly resilient to most types of damage and reforms after death, making for an amazing and horrific recurring antagonist. In a lesser module, that creature could carry a whole adventure - here, it is just one of the wonders the PCs will encounter.

The level of detail and interesting ideas also extends to treasure, with wands coming with proper command words and treasures, from jade scorpions to endless quivers (that only remain endless as long as no arrow is sold or given away...) - the rewards are cool and breathe the spirit a good DCC module should have - one of wonder and fear in equal parts. The PCs, while exploring these caverns, may have run afoul of violet jellies - their destruction may well get them into deep trouble, as the creatures are the sensory organs of Mycarnos, a powerful sentient fungus. Oh, and the things on the cover? With the long, paralytic tongues? They're smart...so if one of your fellow PCs is suddenly missing, he may be in the process of being chewed to bits by these ambush predators.

At a hidden shrine, the PCs may trade secrets for divine boons; they may encounter spiked tortoises...and of course, there is a MASSIVE, several table-spanning generator to randomly make mushrooms from the fungal forest that the PCs choose to consume - the generator spans 4 tables, which should result in a vast array of wildly different benefits...and risks. Kudos for going the extra mile here! Have I mentioned that intruders into a hidden sanctum may be forced to deal with terrorpins, basically upright-walking mecha-turtles with razor-sharp claws? These receive their own, neat full-color artwork...alongside the red-robed wizardess Vos, the Spell-thief, who makes these caverns her lair. Kudos for her artwork, btw.!

Well, and then there would be the eponymous Giggling Deep, whose depths and susuring murmurs contains secrets untold, particularly for magic-users and elves...but at a terrible, potential lure, for the vast chasm of the giggling dark awaits the PCs, calling to them...and those that listen to the dread giggling may well find their steps irrevocably drawn to the edge, to jump and join the mysterious cacophony...

The pdf also contains notes for the judge to get the utmost out of the pdf, which is a damn fine touch.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no issues. Layout adheres to the 1-column booklet-size-standard and the pdf generally is pretty printer-friendly. The full-color artworks provided are nice and the cartography in b/w is neat as well, though I wished the pdf had a player-friendly iteration to cut up and hand out.

Daniel J. Bishop is an amazing AUTHOR as well as an adventure-designer. While I like his designs, I am mostly drawn to the wealth of grotesque and wondrous weirdness, the precise and evocative prose, which he employs when painting the picture of locations inhabited by creatures wondrous and weird, with properties that bring home the mystery of the magical. In short: This is an amazing location to drop into your game. It features unique critters, a reason to return to the place, copious chances for RP and interaction, has the potential to provide several cool boss fights and recurring villains, can be inserted pretty much everywhere...what more can one ask of such a humble book? This is evocative and cool enough to warrant converting if you're playing another system - just as an aside. So yeah. Amazing. 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans hesitation!

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CE 7 - The Giggling Deep
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Drow of Porphyra - The Strivog: The Bone Drow
by R.L. D. C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/17/2017 15:27:53

When one thinks about the Drow, one should think about the Dark assassin hidden in shadow. Perhaps thinking of the strange priest of darks Gods and rituals.

But too often, I think of tropes, tired and old concepts that have been done to death.

Then, we have the Strivog. These are the Drow that other Drow have nightmares about, the drow that make old Gods nervous and wonder if they should take notes. The Bone Drow are the nightmare fuel Gms look for when they want the players come away, looking at the night with mild concern.

Traders in death and flesh, the Bone Drow are a wonderful and refreshing addition to the gaming world and I for one, welcome the Strivog, with open hand and hidden dagger...



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Drow of Porphyra - The Strivog: The Bone Drow
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Drow of Porphyra - The Xelusine: Sirens of Sin
by R.L. D. C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/17/2017 15:22:24

Very well written, a new and intelligent approach to an ancient race. The Xelusine are presented in a way that will allow players to play drow with a new mind set from the old trope ridden drow of old. Clever provocateurs who move freely within society, becoming the movers and shakers of society.

I see the Bard and Rogue Drow coming into new fun play with this addition to the race.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Drow of Porphyra - The Xelusine: Sirens of Sin
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Drow of Porphyra - The Strivog: The Bone Drow
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/16/2017 03:35:52

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the series depicting the diverse drow cultures of the patchwork planet Porphyra clocks in at 31 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with a massive 28 pages of content, so let's take a look!

One note first: This depicts a capital letters EVIL drow culture and as such contains some mature themes (hence no PFRPG-logo) - it's not grimdark and won't shock kids in their puberty, but sensitive small kids shouldn't read this. If you need guidance: If your kids love Conan or enjoy reading darker stuff, they'll be fine.

On a far-off planet, at one point, the elves were exiled from the light for offending the gods, becoming that world's wintery bogeymen, one and all, only allowed to roam when warmth and light receded. Cold as ice, haggard and drawn, they ravaged and slew...only to be drawn, inevitably, back into the cold confines of the underworld. Thus they languished and anxiously watched the calender, awaiting entropy and the ever-advancing assault of winter whittle away the days of summer, year by year - until they were finally free...or so they believed. It is in these days of gods that had abandoned their world that they encountered a deity of death - and it is the horror-fraught exile through this deity's land that forever transformed the strivog, in both mind and body, with the food of the dead, the acts of despicable cannibalism and worse demanding their toll, converting them to the worship of the dread entity...but also granting them strength, purpose and organization.

Thus they arose from the Icekrypt, a magically frozen wasteland of ice...and it is from these cold regions that they set forth, established their guilds and followed the deadly commands of their Lich Queen. Their culture is slow and deliberate, like the eternal ice and the patience of the dead; there is not much place for warmth in the hearts of the strivog and their brush with death left them even less fertile, which may be the once chance other races have. Ruthlessly meritocratic, their guilds and reputations and ranks are further extolled, painting a vivid picture of deadly culture, organized and structured and as inevitable and deliberate as the eternal ice, enslaving and generating vassal-dependencies, calling to the service of the dread Dark Maw.

The laws of the dead have been applied with grisly potency to the culture and the disturbing drow worship their deity via the grand edifices of sinew and bone these chillingly (haha) civilized drow craft in their calculated, merciless savagery, creating an overall highly-structured empire of ice and bone that manages to convey a concise and sensible picture of an evil empire.

Racial trait-wise, the strivog receive +2 to Dex and Int, -2 Cha, drow immunities, carrion sense, darkvision, resistance 5 to cold, +1 to the DC of necromancy spells (and, if the Wis is higher than 11, 1/day chill touch, command undead, touch of fatigue) , +2 when interacting with undead (should specify precisely the skills to which it applies, though it's clear that they should apply to the social skills) and undead made by them gain +2 turn resistance! OUCH! They gain 6 + class level SR (should be character level) and suffer a -4 penalty to saves versus hot climates, -2 to saves to resist fire spells and effects.

Now here is an interesting take on alternate racial traits: Flavor-wise, the strivog share traits with the undead/ half-undead, but to maintain balance, they do not gain these traits, instead allowing them to choose their progression and specializations via alternate racial traits in an interesting manner: For the price of a feat or a number of skill points defined by the respective trait, the strivog can learn it, with character level +5 acting as a scaling cap that prevents low-level super-strivog. Intriguing: The more of these admittedly powerful tricks (like skeletal DR 5/bludgeoning) the strivog accumulates, the more drawbacks associated with the dead they also have to take. These tricks include powerful, 1/day abilities like howling agony as an SP or a fear-based paralyzing gaze that is saved from being insanely OP by the hex-caveat and the 1-round duration. Still, the options presented here are more in line for campaigns using pretty powerful PC-races...but as far as NPCs are concerned, I have no such scruples...and the drawbacks are brutal.

Favored class options for core classes plus inqui and alchemist are provided. Strivog, being orderly and organized, belong to a guild and an order, and thus, we get faction traits galore, including an anti-version of stabilizing touch, 1/day skill rerolls. As a minor complaint, the bonus types here are not properly codified. The pdf also provides rules for making e.g. swords of sinews and bone (with the disturbing promise that they can do that while the victim still lives...). If you're btw. using the missing body parts/prosthetics-rules from Strategists and Tacticians, well, then you're in luck, for the engine for fetish and totem creation is compatible with these.

These fetishes and totems steal abilities and allow the user to hijack them: While based on Spellcraft, at least partially, their wide-open and modular creation actually manages to prevent cheesing via spells or items, which is very impressive. In fact...the whole process of the creation of these represents a truly impressive feat of crunchy craftsmanship: From activation to what can be done with them, this engine alone should make this pdf worthwhile for GMs...or those looking for some particularly grisly trophy-maker...and before you gas and scream OP - there is a steep cost for the like, namely XP, which is generally not done in PFRPG...but considering the power these offer, I very much support this decision here. Several saple fetishes are provided, from assassin vine sashes to the lucky halfling's foot.

From bone bags to funerary rites to 10 spells, we can see quite a few nice ones here - some of which are classics that made me smile for their inclusion here: Raise City. Just sayin' The pdf concludes with a brief fluff-only overview of the main settlements of the strivog empire and some adventure hooks.

The pdf also comes with a bonus-pdf, the 2 page (1 page monster, 1 page SRD) depicting the CR 2 sunbat that hibernates at night and has a spear-like beak - nice!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level, but on a rules-language level , the pdf could be tighter. Some bonus types, some verbiages that are precise, but deviate from the standard, some minor hiccups. Layout adheres to the 2-column standard of the series and the pdf has some seriously nice full-color artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Patricia Willenborg's series of drow-cultures, intended for mature audiences, is absolutely amazing. While I'd be hesitant to allow all options in non-high-powered games for players, so far each of the pdfs has managed to provide a truly evocative, unique vision of drow that sets them apart, big time, from the boring old spider-worshiping cliché. While they tend to have, on the crunch-side, some editing hiccups and minor issues, they more than make up for that by their engines: Whether it's the drug-generator, the poison-customizer or this one's fetish-generator, they provide easy and amazing customization options for GMs.

Beyond that, they just are a great read. The prose is captivating and compelling, painting a vivid and compelling picture. I am not engaging in hyperbole when I'm saying that I was completely burned out on drow culture-sourcebooks before this series came along. The strivog, now, are part of that great tradition that makes me really want to integrate them in my campaigns. The attention to detail and consistency of the culture depicted is amazing, captivating and ignites that spark of creativity within me. In short: I love this pdf; it is well worth the low and more than fair asking price. 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Drow of Porphyra - The Strivog: The Bone Drow
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AA: Plague of Paucity
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/10/2017 10:36:39

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little module clocks in at 41 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page patreon-recognition, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 36 pages of content, though it should be noted that these adhere to the A5-size-standard (6'' by 9'') and as such, you can fit up to 4 on any given sheet of paper when printing them out.

This is a module for 2nd level characters, set in the Last Kingdom region of the patchwork planet of Porphyra, though adaption to other settings should be relatively easy, particularly in the context of Rokugan or a similarly slightly Asian-tinged environment. The ratfolk of the Last Kingdom have thrown off the chains of the oni, driving them back into the Shadowlands under the wise leadership of the Five Clans...eh, I mean "Truths." It should btw. be mentioned that there is a nice full-color regional map included in the deal here.

Anyways, this is pretty much as far as I can go without delving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

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..

.

All right, still here? Great! Doom has befallen the isolated Oran'Rai clan - their hospitality has been met with murder by the dread spirit Tailaan, slain in the conflict beneath the oni and the Five Truths, this wretched entity has taken command of the isolated ratfolk, driving them deep into squalor and servitude once more - but the ambitions of the entity range further, as a plague has been decimating the fish of the rivers...only a harbinger of what ill will befall the common folks if this thing is not stopped.

Thankfully, poisoned rivers have a habit of bringing adventurers to the fray and thus, it is via one of several hooks that the PCs sooner or later arrive at one of the warren entries towards the realm of the Oran'Rai. The different means of access to the warren also mean that different encounters may be had here, one of which makes use of a cool creature from the excellent Monsters of Porphyra II book. And yes, the pdf does contain full stats of all critters - including the alternate racial traits of the Oran'Rai.

The Oran'Rai warren...is pretty much a plague rat's haven, an otyugh's paradise: Under the dread oppression of Tailaan, the ratfolk have learned to resist poisons and diseases and now are perfectly capable of using rusted and basically broken equipment sans penalties. The defenses of the warren follow the theme of poverty and squalor - tetanus, trash heap traps...the atmosphere of desolation, decrepitude and decay is almost palpable and, from the river that winds its way through the warren to the respective caverns, the pdf sports a nice amount of detail and includes, among other things, an unreliably ally that may well lead to further adventures.

Ultimately, the PCs will have to not only destroy the blighting brew of the Oran'Rai, but also deal with the rogue creature tatterdemalion Tailaan, a powerful and cool boss, though I wished it had full stats - the base tatterdemalion can be found, once again, in the excellent Monsters of Porphyra II book, has been modified accordingly and the build makes the boss a nice change of pace as far as low-level dungeon crawls are concerned.

The pdf also features a magic item called blameless shroud, which helps the wearer attempting to lie, even when caught when doing so. Further adventure hooks and possibilities and a nice monster/challenge by region table with CRs, locations and XP and a similarly detailed treasure list help running this module.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no undue amount of hiccups. Layout adheres to PDG's 1-column standard in booklet-size, as mentioned before. The neat full-color artworks contained herein are cool to see for such an inexpensive module. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The map of the dungeon is in nice b/w, though unfortunately no player-friendly, key-less version is provided. The overland map of the region in full color is nice.

Matt Roth's "Plague of Paucity" is what I'd consider to be an unpretentious, well-crafted little module. It has a lot of details for skill interaction, some nice combats and a pretty deadly boss, offset to some extent by the relatively easy difficulty of the dungeon itself. Personally, I think that a good group of 1st level characters can handle this, though the boss will be a deadly challenge if you opt to go that route. The dungeon itself sports a variety of challenges and exploring the place certainly makes for a solid module with an uncommon theme. Unpretentious, easy to insert and run (big kudos for the tables that allow for easy GM-modification of treasure and XP!), this is very much the epitome of a nice module, well worth a final verdict of 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
AA: Plague of Paucity
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Clerics of Porphyra
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/07/2017 04:26:17

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the "...of Porphyra"-series clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page editorial, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 32 pages of content, though these are A5 (6'' by 9'')-sized and thus, you can fit up to 4 of the pages comfortably on one sheet of paper.

All right, we begin this supplement with several new archetypes, the first of which would be the betrothed, sown to celibacy and being wed to the deity's principles. These characters receive just one domain, but receives a bonded ring as a bonded object for divine casting. These guys may also forego a +1d6 progression of channel energy in lieu of receiving a teamwork feat they qualify for, which is a nice rules-operation.

The second archetype would be the cycle thrall, who are prohibited from taking the Death and Healing domains and locked into an elemental domain. These clerics lose all healing and necormancy spells from their spell-list, but may choose up to 2 evocations from the sorc/wiz-list per spell level, which are then treated as divine spells. This power-boost does kill off spontaneous spellcasting, though. Additionally, their channel energy is significantly modified, instead being based on d4s, Ref-saves and it inflicts energy damage as per the element chosen. Nice take on the elemental cleric.

Dominionist clerics get only one domain, but selects 2 powers form the domain's subdomains. Instead of spontaneous spellcasting, they may 1/day as a SU cast any detect divination via their philosophical divine focus substitute. The favored keeper gets only one domain, but receives a familiar, but may channel energy through the familiar, provided it is within 50 ft. - as a swift action. I assume that the swift action is in addition to the usual activation of channel energy, otherwise, this would allow for +1 channel per round, which is pretty nasty. The wording here could be a tad bit more explicit.

The favored tamer, you guessed it, is locked into the animal domain and replaces the animal domain's usual companion with a full-progression animal companion and 5th level providing a DR or resistance based on the patron deity. Personally, I think the loss of one domain may be a bit overvalued here...but then again, clerics don't have Handle Animal and the domain doesn't grant it as a class skill either...so that may either be intended or a balancing mechanism. Personally, I would have added that to the archetype.

Friars receive +2 class skills and receive 4 + Int-mod skills per level and their proficiency list is cut down to 5 simple weapons, light armor and shields, excluding tower shields. Now here is the thing - the archetype chooses a simple weapon to have affinity with at 1st level, +1 at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter - with these weapons, the archetype treats class level as BAB, becoming basically a full BAB-warrior. To offset this, these guys diminish their spellcasting by 1 spell each level and they are locked into the Community domain as one of the two domains chosen. Additionally, when channeling energy, they gain +1 to AC for 1 round, which increases by +1 at 3rd level and every 4 levels thereafter.

Left hand clerics do not gain access to inflict spells, adding Wis-mod when using healing spells or channeling energy and they may choose Healing and Protection as domains, even if they are not usually on the list of their deities - which usually are EVIL, if the name did not tip you off. Oh, and they may only channel positive energy, obviously. Before you're asking - yes, there would be a negative-energy-using Right hand equivalent for good faiths requiring some executioners.

Martyrs add Intimidate to the class skill list and must select the martyr subdomain. They gain a bonus to Intimidate skill checks, more so when they are below half maximum hit points - not the biggest fan of that. Cool: They can only channel when injured by an enemy, but may do so as an immediate action...oh, and there is a scaling percentile chance that they return from the dead as per resurrection.

The mysterious way archetype adds Bluff, Sleight of Hand and Stealth to the class skills and modifies the proficiency lists. They may choose Extra Rogue Talent as a feat, using cleric level as rogue level. Instead of channel energy, they may 3 + Cha-mod times employ Silent Spell sans spell level increase. Penitents replace channel energy with one penance - there are 8 provided and they are unique in that they eliminate magic item slots, but provide flavorful, interesting bonuses and restrictions - burdened clerics can e.g. carry significantly more and are better at resisting Bull Rush, Overrun, etc. Very flavorful and interesting.

Priests of the Covenant gains one domain's spells, but not its powers. They come in 6 variants, one per attribute, with 1st level providing passive benefits that scale and 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter providing SPs and further passive benefits, with the capstone providing significant benefits, like immunity to Con drain...speaking of which: Pretty nice to see is that aforementioned Con-covenant even has an undead-caveat. Good call!

The pdf also contains a hybrid class, the pillar, which is a blend of cleric and cavalier that receives d10 HD, 2 + Int skills per level, full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves. Proficiency-wise, the pillar receives proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as with the deity's favored weapon and all types of armor as well as shields, excluding tower shields. The pillar also receives prepared divine spellcasting governed by Wisdom, drawn from the cleric's list. They chose two domains and only receive the domain powers, but not the respective domain spells.

Once per day, the pillar may engage in a trial-by-combat, which is basically a challenge that only works with the favored weapon, usable +1/day every 3 levels beyond 1st. The pillar adds + class level to damage, but takes a -2 penalty to AC versus attack from other targets and the ability is treated as challenge for the purpose of ability interactions. They also begin play with an animal companion mount, the so-called stalwart mount, which sports several modifications of the basic companion-engine. Starting at 3rd level, the pillar receives a bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate while mounted, which improves at 6th level and every 3 levels thereafter. Of course, level 1 unlocks order, but does not grant the skill bonuses and class skills granted by the order. 5th level lets the pillar perform a ritual that offers a magic weapon to the deity, who then replaces it with an equivalent version of the favored weapon. Neat!

8th level lets him choose up to Cha-mod allies, granting them a +1 bonus to a single save for 24 hours. NO, they cannot be escalated/stacked - only one in effect per character. 11th level allows for the free maximizing of healing spells by increasing casting time to 1 minute, with 14th level makes the attacks during trial by combat aligned, while 17th level provides a single head slot item for the item's cost, rather than the price - cost to create would be more precise, but that is me nitpicking cosmetics. The capstone nets immunity to crits and bull rush, reposition and tripping for the mount. The class also comes with a diverse array of favored class options for regular and Porphyran races. All in all, a decent, if not too amazing hybrid class.

The pdf also sports the new porphyrite domain, which provides minor scaling resistance to all elements and use either positive or negative energy to damage elementals as well as reroll the 1s rolled there. 8th level makes all your weapons be treated as porphyrite, which bypasses an elemental's untyped DR. When choosing the borders subdomain, you replace the latter ability with the option to draw porphyrite borders that require Will-saves to cross for hard terrain control - cool! The second subdomain, geranite, is associated with time, allows you to perform a stuttering strike a limited amount of times per day - if you're not familiar with that ability of the 3.X chronorebel PrC - basically, a foe takes the same damage again next round. Spell-replacements etc. are solid - no complaints.

The pdf also sports a total of 16 feats that include adding anti-pala or pala spells to the pillar's spell-list (which is imho OP for a feat and further blurs the line between pala and pillar), limited access to druid spells, mastering the deity's chosen instrument or weapons, adding cleric spells to the bard spell-list, making daily sanctified bullets (no, can't be sold/cheesed) or use cure spells to repair items - which may be a true boon for all those construct-y races out there. Cool: Making 5 holy symbol shurikens per day from very powerful special materials. That being said, the feat should have scaling - adamantine is worth more than silver, for example, and as such should be unlocked at higher levels. though the feat's prereqs keep the option from being broken - not as elegant as I'd like it to be, but fine. Oh, and the option to use channel energy to make holy water bombs? AMAZING. Where's the cleric/alchemist aspergillum/holy water bomb specialist? I mean, seriously - this feat is inspiring and even gets damage type correct.

The pdf also features alternate rules - one lets 3 divine spellcasters of the same deity declare a divine parish, which nets a minor boon. I also like the idea of allowing a cleric to forego channel energy increase with a channel feat. If the mentioned favored music instrument elicited confusion, rest assured that the pdf does spell these out, making adaptation to other settings easy. Death god? Check Porphyra's version or the psychopomp ushers. And yep, elemental lords etc. included. The pdf closes with a sample pillar, Ceyda Broken-Shield, a hobgoblin...and yes, mount stats included.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on both a formal and rules-language level. I was pretty impressed by the general level of precision employed - many of the deceptively simple things often overlooked are covered here. Layout adheres to the booklet-size 1-column a5 (6'' by 9'')-standard and the pdf sports nice full-color artworks. the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Urgh, ANOTHER cleric book. That was pretty much my first impulse. I've seen so many cleric archetypes and modifications, I am hard to please at this point. Let it be known that I was duly impressed by Aaron Hollingsworth's offering here. As you may know, I do tend to gravitate towards complex, high-concept archetypes and less towards small engine-tweakers, primarily because the latter school of design is often just an excuse for cookie-cutter design.

While this book does feature, as you may have noticed, primarily engine-tweaking options, they have in common that they, for the most part, provide meaningful and interesting customizations, often altering the playing experience significantly. Despite myself, I caught myself contemplating quite a few of these options and while I consider not all of them perfect, they are very well-crafted as a whole. The pillar-class, though, is a somewhat different case - in my book, its niche, the holy knight, is basically served by the pala...and trial by combat is simply not that different from smite, orders not that different from oaths - you get my drift. It is a well-crafted class, but one that lacks a unique niche or mechanics that set it sufficiently apart in the holy knight-routine. It's not bad, but unless you really wanted a knight with orders, it's somewhat superfluous and lacks the strong leitmotif its name (or the superb luminary hybrid class by the same author) promise.

That being said, both feats and alternate rules make up for this once again by helping multiclassing and sporting some gems. How to rate this, then? This book shows a deliberate, precise capability of operating with rules and should provide no significant problems at any table. The craftsmanship, in short, is excellent. And there similarly is artistry in this book - but whether it's the cool penance-idea or the holy water bombs, I frankly wished some aspects had been developed more in these evocative niches. The book feels a bit like it is playing it safe and does not sport this one component that makes you go ballistic. However, as a whole, it does feature a really impressive array of multi-class-themed engine-tweaks and modifications that add some serious versatility to clerics and their playstyles, often genius in their simplicity. Still, the pillar does drag this a bit down for me, which is why I will settle on a final verdict of 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Clerics of Porphyra
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Psychopomp Ushers of Porphyra
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/02/2017 05:08:03

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This pdf depicting the deity-level psychopomps found on the patchwork planet of Porphyra clocks in at 17 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 14 pages, so let's take a look!

But what are these psychopomp ushers exactly? Well, the closest analogue would be empyrian lords, dukes of hell, arch-demons...you know, quasi-divine, extremely powerful outsiders. The concept is so simple and makes sense - subordinates to the Queen of Death, these beings allow for a nice array of customization regarding different types of takes of the concept of the shepherd/usher of souls and agents of death.

The interaction of these powerful entities with both the elemental lords of the setting and the numerous deities of the setting is covered in vivid prose, before we are introduced to 6 new faith traits - properly classified in trait type, which is nice. They all come with a brief sentence, encapsulating their flair and then go on to provide relevant bonuses - like +1 dodge to AC in a mausoleum, graveyard, etc. or an increased benefit from using a hero point. I generally like these traits and they, as a whole, represent some nice tricks. At the same time, the rules-language employed isn't always as precise as it should be - the rules-language may be functional, but something inside me cringes when I read: "...and gain +1 Knowledge (geography).", particularly when just adding in the proper bonus and streamlining it would be so easy.

A total of 8 psychopomp ushers are included, all of which note their target worshipers, favored weapon, 4 domains and 4 subdomains and favored animals. The first of these would be Anguta, Father, He Who Eats No Kin - the respective psychopomp ushers sport detailed and interesting legends, with Anguta offering insight into the myths of the ith'n ya'roo. Each of the respective psychopomp lords also comes with two exclusive traits that are classified as religion traits. Much like the previous traits, they are functional, but diverge in the way they're phrased from the standards.

To a point where it honestly annoys me and is something that really grates on my nerves.

One trait available for Anubis' followers, for example, reads: "You may cast restore corpse as a spell-like power once per day." We all know what's meant, but frankly, even pathfinder novices can spot which part of the rules-language is plain WRONG. And honestly, at this point, I'm somewhat out of patience; Perry Fehr's crunch is always like that: Inspired when he gets it right, but such hiccups litter it when he doesn't take the proper time, sometimes to the point where it's rendered broken. This is not the case here, but still - it's frustrating because it's so easily fixed.

Black Crow, omen giver and god of tengus is pretty cool...and a trait quotes "Last Resort" by Papa Roach, putting a bullet into the barrel of an empty gun with a 50% chance...which is pretty cool, though the combo of the song-reference and the content conjured up a very unfortunate memory for me...but that's not the pdf's fault. Particularly when here, I can't really compalin about any mechanics. Ereshkigal is similarly amazing - this entity is basically the incarnation of the last Material Plane that suffered the entropy death. Similarly cool - the Pattern Discepancy Phenomenon, aka Ghost in the Machine - the usher for constructs and golems, is concept-wise amazing and one for everyone who likes to insert a tinge of transhumanist philosophizing to the game.

The Guedia would then not eb a single entity, but is instead a conglomerate of various deities, with the more classic Hermes and Hekate completing the roster. The brujo class receives two new cabals and the pdf also introduces the neutrality domain, which lets you designate a target as neutral via the help of a sanctuary-ish effect and at later levels convey the neutrality special weapon quality (+2, included herein), which deals only +1d6 bonus damage versus good or evil targets, but may switch between good and evil for purpose of overcoming DRs - and yep, I think the increased flexibility and decreased damage output make this worthwhile. The subdomains lets you Wis-mod times per day touch a being - on a failure, they gain a bonus thereafter, on a success a penalty, making this an interesting, tactical ability...that conveys the make-belief "divine" bonus that does not exist. It's either sacred or profane. Indifference lets you emit an aura a limited number of rounds per day, which penalizes saves, makes the terrain difficult and prevents flanking and aid another. The ability does not sport an activation action and auras, more often than not, can be activated quicker than the standard default.

The pdf also features a 5-level PrC, the transdimensional eliminator, aka Ghost-Sunderer. And jup, it's basically a thinly-veiled Ghostbuster-PrC. It nets a d8 HD, 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fort- and Will-saves. oddly, it requires spellcasting to qualify, but sports no means of upgrading that - no spellcasting progression. Also problematic: The PrC requires Exotic Weapon proficiency (heavy weaponry)...which does not RAW exist. Now, I get what this tries to do...but it just doesn't work that way. The first level nets the signature neutron gun, which similarly ALMOST works. It, pretty verbosely, manages to codify the neutron pack as a weapon in the ability-write-up...something that would have been more easier to work with if presented as a proper weapon. The pack causes untyped damage, which made me cringe a bit and may misfire on a 1.The wording is mostly functional, but deviated significantly from the standard: "...and had no damage reduction statistic." would be just one of several examples herein. The class also gets +2 to Perception and 2nd level nets 60 ft. blindsight for the purpose of noticing undead/spirits and distinguishing the living dead from the living.

An issue here is that the non-standard wording makes this look like regular blindsight and more opaque than it should be. 3rd level adds + class level to DCs to intimidate the character. 5th level nets SP see invisibility, usable 10 minutes per day, in 1-minute increments. 4th level provides +2 AC. Now here is the BIG issue: Know how you use the neutron pack? By expending level 1spell slots. RAW, this severely limits the blasts you can fire. It's not clear whether this activation only covers one attack, all attacks for one round, etc. Granted, 3rd and 5th level net one free use, respectively, but the lack of spellcasting progression makes the PrC a flavorful, but flawed idea that can only use its one defining feature rarely. Worse, all abilities beyond gaining the gun are not worthwhile, making any levels progressed herein beyond 1st pretty ineffective. Oh, and 4th level makes you immune versus the special attacks of "ectoplasmic" creatures - whatever THAT is supposed to be.

The pdf concludes with the CR 5 loa psychopomp.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, I really wished someone had properly rephrased the majority of crunch. The accumulation of non-standadized wordings is frustrating, to say the least. The pdf sports great symbols in full color for the ushers and has a nice artwork for the loa as well. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that is pretty printer-friendly.

Blergh. At this point, I'd love to shake Perry Fehr and ask him why he does that to me. You see, I love a lot about this pdf; the ushers are amazing regarding their fluff and the traits are, theme-wise, creative and fun. I just wished this had received either the due care or proper rules-language editing/development. The ghost buster PrC is pretty cool and gets it ALMOST right...which makes this so frustrating for me as a reviewer. If you care primarily about the fluff and don't mind making copious GM-calls, then this can be considered to be as good as 3.5 to 4 stars, while those who want precision in their rules can consider this as bad as 2 to, at best 2.5 stars. In the end, the frustration is what makes me consider this flawed - you see, this pretty much could have been very good, amazing even. As presented, it is at best a mixed bag - which is how I'll rate this: 2.5 stars, rounded up for the purpose of this platform, mainly because it does not deserve the 2-star-slap.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Psychopomp Ushers of Porphyra
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Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 3
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/30/2017 04:47:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The third collection of essays on game design by Daniel J. Bishop, intended primarily, but by far not exclusively, for the DCC RPG, clocks in at 58 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 54 pages of content, though it should be noted that this book's layout is intended for A5 (6'' by 9'')-booklets and, as such, you can fit up to 4 of these pages on one sheet, provided your eyesight is good.

Please read the whole review, not just a paragraph or two. This is going somewhere.

All right, so...the topic is the sandbox and the author begins, wisely, I might add, given how opinionated we RPG-folks tend to be, with a subjectivity-clause: This pdf and its essays represent opinions and one way of dealing with the theme of the sandbox - this does not mean it's the only way, but yeah. It also helps if you've read Dispatches Vol. I, wherein the importance of choices and consequences was discussed - why? because frankly, the sandbox IS the result of saying yes to choices and consequences. Before we dive in, let me add my own subjectivity disclaimer: While it is in the nature of a review, that it is an subjective opinion, this one is more subjective than most and my criticism herein is offered in the spirit of discourse, not with the claim of owning a monolithic truth.

A sandbox is an attempt to create a breathing world, one that is not beholden to a given plot of a sequence of adventures; a simulation, if you will - you generate the playing field and contemplate how xyz reacts to various impulses and then throw your PCs in. It is how I've ran pretty much all of my campaigns. This obviously does mean that there is more preparation, or at least, consideration, involved in making a sandbox: After all, you have to create (or improvise) more than just the sequence of places the PCs stumble through on their railroad...but this endeavor is very much rewarding, s it can generate truly magical moments.

This does NOT mean that the sandbox has no plot, mind you - quite the contrary: At any given time, only your mind and capability to juggle them is what counts. If the PCs don't want to get involved in that brewing war between kingdom A and B, it'll still happen - just without them. In short: The sandbox does not revolve around the PCs, but rather turns on its own. This also means that a proper sandbox takes off the stupid CR-restrictions (if employed as restrictions, not as guidelines) popularized in many games in favor of, tie in Vol I, choice and consequence- if your PCs are dumb enough to challenge the old wyrm at level two, they deserve being killed. Similarly, just because they have level 5 does not mean that they should waltz, staves blazing, into your game's equivalent of Mordor.

We're coming full-circle here - the determinant of any sandbox game is not ONE plot, but the player's DECISION to follow one of the multitude of plotlines that happen at any given time. So far, the reasoning of the pdf is, as far as these aspects are concerned, flawless. It's a democracy of choice within the realm where the GM is the absolute ruler.

At the same time, the subjectivity clause is well-deserved, for ultimately, these well-construed and -reasoned points do unfortunately intersect with what I'd consider a classic case of preaching to the choir and the advent of opinionated gaming where you tell groups they or their system are doing it wrong. You see, I do agree that the lack of choice inherent in linear storytelling formats like APs can be stifling. I do not agree with the notion, however, that whether or not they are wholly rests on the shoulders of a great GM-narrator. Similarly, "skirmishing games", as an aside towards rules-heavy games, are not by definition opposed to the very notion of a sandbox. To deconstruct a couple of theses herein: The pdf claims that a system matters for sandboxing. This is, indeed, true to a certain extent - the less preparation a given combat encounter or social scenario requires, the easier it gets. However, this does not mean that it's hard or impossible to do so. It may require marginally more work, but ultimately boils down to a GM's willingness and creative muscles. Similarly, there are ample COLOSSAL sandboxes out there for rules-heavy games - one look at Frog God Games' library would for example yield several monstrously large sandboxes that represent massive rebuttals.

That being said, if you define sandbox as a whole world as opposed to an adventuring region, no matter how large it is, then a sandbox cannot be contained in any published module due to the constraints of any given product - this fallacy is rebutted later, thankfully. Under such a perspective, it is up to the GM (or judge, or referee, or...) to take a world and litter it with adventure - but when such a definition is used, the whole argument of pre-packaged modules not working, no matter their structure, has rendered itself ad absurdum.

Nevertheless, there is a truth here, no matter the barbs towards certain systems - namely that, by virtue of the limitations of space and popularized formats of pre-existing modules, many publishers and authors have started designing in a very video-game-y manner. Scene A -> Combat -> Talk -> Transition -> Scene B. That is the railroad. That is a lack of player-choice, and very often one that sports a distinct lack of interaction options. It is pretty much what disillusioned me regarding many video games and made me go pen and paper in the first place. However, it is not a design aesthetic that is INHERENT to any system - it is, instead, a design CONVENTION that many authors elect to follow. No matter how complex a game's rules are, you can always make a sandbox. The ability to do so does not rely on the system. Note that the pdf does not claim it does, but heavily implies as such.

Point 2 is that sequential, prepackaged campaigns are similarly not necessarily anathema to a sandbox - there are examples of very free-form ones out there; but beyond that, the validity of the point the author makes here is subverted by one guiding principle of his own philosophy - player choice. See, if the players encounter, for example, module #1 of an AP, elect to start playing it...and then abandon its plot halfway through to do something else, then that is their CHOICE. If they are intrigued enough to follow the plot to module #3 and then abandon it, then that's their choice as well - it's not a question of the structure of a system or its conventions for module design, it's an issue reliant on the GM saying yes to their freedom of choice and preparing accordingly. Now the slightly schizophrenic aspect here is that, in the partially well-justified criticism of sequential adventure formulae, the book later (down in the DCC-section) concedes exactly this point - that published modules, with all their limitations, do not necessarily destroy a sandbox - basically, the tune changes completely and becomes inclusive. Now, I get it. The issue the author fields it that railroady campaigns are the problem - when the campaign is all the world. Railroady single modules are okay, though. Here's the thing, though - no one forces a group to stick to one campaign and a campaign consists of...modules. Again, it boils down to convention of how a GM looks at the material available, not the formula of presentation - whether that's a hex-crawl or an AP.

Let me, at this point, quote one of the most beautiful sentences of genuine wisdom this offers, one that may well be worth getting this: "Present me with a word. If I want to change it, I will."

This sentence is absolutely amazing. It is poignant and glorious and something every GM ever should always bear in mind. In the face of such wisdom and beauty, it is my contention that the arguments fielded in the beginning are slightly lost in the opinionated way they're presented here, when looking at it neutrally may have not yielded the same cheers from fans of the respective rules-lite systems, but would have yielded the more stringent impact. Chances are, that the GMs who were bound to benefit the most from this gem and the enlightened stance taken later in the pdf may have put the file away at this point, with the proselytizing in favor of certain systems detracting from the appeal of those most in need of the guidance herein.

The task here is not to praise system a) for qualities, which are entirely subjective, not to bash system b), whose merits and flaws are similarly subjective and a matter of taste. The point is that the CONVENTIONS of how modules are presented and a lack of consciousness for their limitations and downsides, for their meta-structure, are what governs an inability to properly sandbox more than a rules system ever could.

I've already talked about the sequential AP-formula; so, while I do adore sandbox gaming, let's take a look at the downsides here, which the pdf could imho do a slightly better job advising GMs: The biggest one, obviously, is choice paralysis. This may not necessarily be a thing in your game; veterans generally tend to be able to handle it rather well and find things to do. However, in the long run, just exploration and stumbling into the week's latest dungeon/monster/weird settlement can be just as frustrating as a restrictive railroad. Granted, the task of plotting meta-narratives is up to the GM...but then, how to seed them and maintain them? I'm trying hard to be the advocatus diaboli here, mind you.

Another point made to emphasize how some systems are less capable of depicting a sandbox would deal with character progression - broad, rather than narrow, are the terms employed here. Broad implies that more options are gained, whereas narrow implies that the respective options are improved. Similarly, these denote the type of challenge a given group can tackle over a series of levels -can a challenge be relevant for multiple levels or does it require redesign, etc.?. 4th edition, for example, would be a very narrow system. If you've been following my reviews for a while, you'll know that I loathe the system. I really dislike it, but ultimately, you can sandbox in it. It takes serious effort, but it is possible. Ultimately, it depends on the GM being capable of and willing to modify stats, encounters, etc. It's infinitely simpler for retro-clones like S&W, LotFP or DCC - sure. And yes, I absolutely agree that system does matter in this discipline. But what matters most, ultimately, is a GM's prowess.

takes a deep breath All right, that is not to say that there are no theses with which I 100% agree: One, simulationalist approaches work best in sandboxes. It can be extremely thrilling to see PCs risk starvation while exploring a wasteland; in the right hands, such a set-up doesn't require a single combat to be a nail-biting experience. Speedy character creation and world creation are two aspects that most certainly work easier for rules-lite games - not going to argue there, just note that capable players and GMs can whip out new characters even in incredibly rules-heavy systems rather quickly. Or purchase them. Such systems do tend to have a plethora of NPC-books, pregens, etc.

Encouraging GM fiat can be an empowering aspect and one that current generations of GMs often forget - particularly in rules-heavy environments. As opposed to a proper game-designer trying to use the system, a GM can, regardless of system, be the final arbiter...and should be just that. It is one of the most troubling developments in rules-heavy systems to see this aggravating player-entitlement that complains about an enemy not being "CR-appropriate". It's a world - or rather, simulation thereof. If you're demonstrating for whatever cause and come to blows with a soldier and get your behind handed to you, you can't complain about it being not fair regarding power-levels. At the same time, GM fiat can be very frustrating - it puts a lot of strain on a GM, as corner cases need to be remembered, sample rulings kept in mind. Sure, you can discard those...but that takes away from the all-important immersion, the sense of a concise and organic world. So, like everything, there are two sides to contemplate here.

Once again, that is not the consequence of a system, but the consequence of the design-conventions in place for that system - and the GM-conventions in place for the system. CoC-Keepers will run games differently than DCC judges, Pathfinder GMs or OSR referees. Okay, so, I've rambled on long enough about my take on the respective theses in the set-up chapters, but the book has more to offer than that. We begin with considerations pertaining initial bases of operations and a MORE THAN APT revision of Ray Winninger's rules of dungeoncraft - these two guidelines make significantly more sense and do not feature the implied justification of doing only the basics - kudos for a thoroughly well-reasoned expansion. Similarly, the pdf provides handy guidelines on grouping NPCs, how to know where to get more involved etc. - basically, it is a nice way of establishing priorities. Similarly, establishing the basics of making an interesting outdoors area are covered in succinct and crisp detail and similarly, guidelines for lair placement, into how much detail you should go - and ample inspirational reading, from RPGs to beyond, provide an excellent way of generating the mindset for a GM.

Now, this is billed as a DCC-supplement, so judges are in luck, for, from the general, we move to the particular, at least system-wise - we begin with a consideration of what a good funnel should achieve as a kickstart of a sandboxy environment; similarly, from classic Hommlet to White Plume Mountain, via basics of the gaming classics, we receive some excellent models which are used to illustrate the craftsmanship aspects of sandboxing. While I know that both are classics, I did wish the book to a slightly broader approach here and included more current examples - once again, since those most in need of this book probably haven't heard about those two classics. Oh, and you may stone me and pull out the pitchforks, but I consider both to be somewhat overhyped.

...

Huh, no giant d20 squashed me. Guess I have to try harder at RPG-heresy. Kidding aside, the pdf does lead by example - a minor sample adventuring site and a 2-page full-color hex-crawl map with basic notes for the respective hexes help getting the feel of how to run such a game and are, as we've come to expect from the author, well-written. A ten-entry (one is roll twice, one is no special ability) d30-table for judges to add special abilities to centaurs and the sample centaur character Asbolus as well as an aspect of Chiron complete this section and provide a nice base-line to illustrate how you can get serious mileage out of a given work/creature.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant glitches. Layout adheres to a 1-column standard and the pdf features some really neat full-color artwork. The pdf also sports nice full-color cartography as well as bookmarks for your convenience.

Daniel J. Bishop's third collection of Dispatches from the Raven Crowking would have, to be honest, landed in my recycling bin if I wasn't a reviewer. After a couple of pages, I just shook my head at several of the argumentative fallacies committed and put the pdf away. Let it be known that it has haunted me for a couple of days, as I began formulating why some of the initial claims felt so wrong to me. I returned, as you can see, in due time - and I am glad I did. From the bottom of my heart.

Now, as you may notice, I very much disagree with several core tenets of the train of thought constructed by the author. Significantly. It is my firm conviction that, in spite of the subjectivity clause, the needlessly judgmental way in which some systems and presentation modes are depicted, hampers the point the pdf tries to make - with the audience that most needs it. The pdf, in short, could have taken a more diversified stance here and been, ultimately, more respectable in its argumentation here. Then again, it does have the material - the synthesis of thesis and antithesis comes late. Similarly, the pdf does not necessarily paint a diversified picture of the issues that a group can face while sandboxing, focusing on GM preparation and how to handle this aspect - but less about how to handle players dealing (or not dealing) with a sandbox. There is only so far reactions and the like will get you and while the pdf does cover these aspects, I believe they are very much born of experience here and could have used a more novice-friendly depiction.

Oh boy. I'm realizing right now that this all sounds very negative. And it shouldn't be. Whether by happy accident or just by impulse, my annoyance in the face of some statements herein made me reevaluate basic structures of the presentation of gaming materials and systems in general and has left me enriched for it. While, as my review above should make more than clear, I do disagree on several finer points and agree with others, much like any good discussion with a dissenting point of view that is presented in a strong and concise manner, this book has left me richer and, hopefully, more enlightened than I was before; not by assimilation of another opinion, but by contemplating my own.

This is, ultimately, all you can ask of from a series of essays on game-design and structures.

Oh, and the book also is a pretty neat guideline to sandbox gaming. Yeah, there was that aspect as well while I was getting lost in the argument.

So, worth getting? My answer would be a resounding "yes." Final verdict: 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 3
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Hybrid Class: Luminary
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/19/2017 04:48:27

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This hybrid class clocks in at 12 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial 2/3 of a page SRD, leaving us with 9 1/3 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The luminary class, chassis-wise, receives d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and light armor and also receives 3/4 BAB-progression as well as good Ref- and Will-saves. The luminary receives spontaneous spellcasting governed by Charisma, with maximum spell level being 6th. His spells are drawn from the mesmerist list.

The luminary's signature tool and skill set would be occult photography - they begin play with a camera obscura that requires access to an alchemist lab to properly clean and set up each day. This device only works for the respective luminary and its hardness increases over the levels. It can be repaired pretty easily and taking a photograph (including loading etc.) is a standard action. A regular photo generates a flash of harmless light in a 20 ft.-cone. The less harmless manipulations, however, can be used a number of times per day equal to character level + Charisma modifier. It should be noted that taken photographs are tracked separately - class level +ü Cha-mod of these may be taken at a given level.

Speaking of manipulations: The luminary can adjust the flash of the camera to inflict fire damage in the area affected, dealing 1d6 points of fire damage, +1 d6 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. As a swift action, the area of effect can be adjusted to instead affect a 20 ft.-long, 5 ft. wide line. The Ref-save to halve the damage scales with levels, following the 10 + 1/2 class level + Charisma mod-formula. 11th level increases the range to 30 ft. First level also nets hypnotic stare.

At 2nd level, the luminary receives a manipulation, basically the talents of the class - another one is gained every even level thereafter. These include energy substitutions for the aforementioned fire flash, making the camera double as a spyglass, making alchemical photographs (that double as potions), getting a kirlian camera-style aura lens...and, VERY cool from a tactical perspective, setting a timer for the camera, which opens up all types of cool tricks! Higher level manipulations make use of the belief that cameras capture your essence, inflicting Wisdom or Charisma drain. Short-range staggering that increases in severity over the levels, higher-level dispels via the flash...the array of manipulations is damn cool. Similarly, higher level luminaries may elect to take more photos in a given round, generate progressively more potent cloud-effects or learn mesmerist tricks that can be implanted via photographs. And yes, going Fatal Frame /project Zero on spirits (and even the living!) is very much possible! Heck yes!

The propensity for light and darkness also net the luminary darkvision at 2nd level alongside bonuses to saves. 3rd level nets bold stare, with every 4th level thereafter imposing further effects. Once again, a sufficient diversity of options can be found here. 4th level nets a scaling dodge bonus to AC and Reflex saves. The capstones, 4 of which are provided, contain attribute-bonuses, powerful scrying or even a phylactery-style Dorian Gray-photograph. The final option duplicates 1/day sympathy, which is not properly italicized in the text. It should also be noted that

As is the tradition with Purple Duck Games-classes, we receive a massive array of favored class options beyond the confines of the core races, including rarer races and those found within Porphyra. The favored class options presented are pretty neat. The feats contained herein extend beyond the default +x class feature uses and include longer lines when using the flash in lines, preparing the flash for increased DCs and limited daily use circular flashes in a 30 ft.-radius. Instant photography development and ranged feints can also be found here.

3 mundane pieces of equipment, the new photographer profession and considerations of the introduction of photography into a fantasy context further help making the insertion of the class as seamless as possible, with a sample CR 9 ratfolk luminary sample NPC closing the pdf.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay, bordering on good, on a formal level. The rules-language, however, is pretty precise, even though imho an introductory sidebar explaining the difference of uses, photos, etc. would have made the class a bit easier to grasp - didactically, it could be simpler. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' two-column color-standard, with the awesome cover art being the only one in the book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

All right, before we begin, let me go on a slight tangent: Photography is a crucial part of our cultural development. There is a phenomenon called the "visual turn", which denotes photography as a paradigm shift in our development as a species. Beyond its depiction in Hawthorne's classic "House of the Seven Gables", daguerreotypes changed how we perceive the world and ultimately, our selves: Up to this point, only portraits and thus, the filter of art and patronage, was used to depict us, with mirrors being expensive. As such, the unflinching and harsh rendition of our as-is-status and the immediacy of the experience (in spite of early photography requiring a LOT of long sitting around sans moving) changed our focus; it was no longer the written word that held primacy of concepts - a single photo could convey a cornucopia of information. It also went hand in hand with the 3 grand insults to the human's ego, tying into the third of them - we are not only not masters of our own minds, we are also not masters of our perception.

The subjectivity of our own ways of seeing the world and the anxiety resulting from seeing in black and white an artifact of, ostensibly, a more precise reality, can directly be linked to the increasing prevalence in horror and ultimately, the dethroning of the concept of an observer's objectivity, while also establishing a hierarchy of power centered on the gaze that would later be instrumental in our reforms of the systems of law and punishment in general. Yes, the topic is very near and dear to my heart.

Anyways, the pdf, alas, uses "camera obscura" as a name woefully wrong; a camera obscura is basically a projector, a primitive form of cinema, if you will - the term was coined by Johannes Kepler, who btw. also noticed that our retinas receive an inverted and reversed picture of the world, which is subsequently realigned by our brain, but that as an aside. The camera obscura was, in essence, a farther developed take on the pinhole camera that shares several properties with the laterna magica.

While both Descartes and Locke used the camera obscura as a metaphor for human understanding and while its shape was later developed into that of a photographic camera, it is NOT, I repeat, NOT a photograph taking camera as we understand the term today. It is, however, correct that back in the day when daguerrotypy was invented, there were no terms for photographic cameras and the first of daguerrotypes were shot on what amounts to a camera obscura by the terms then employed. Utterly useless tangent for the functionality f the class? Perhaps - but it is still something I felt the need to clarify. Ähem, where was I?

Oh yes, the profane banalities of analyzing the PFRPG-class. Let me lower my brows and get rid of my pince-nez. Aaron Hollingsworth's luminary, from a design-perspective, is a well-made hybrid class in every sense of the word. The class employs complex mechanics in a cool combination and feels distinct and different from its parents. More amazingly, it indeed plays differently from both mesmerist and alchemist and has a concise identity that extends beyond the confines of either parent class. It is, in short, different than the sum of its parts, which renders it a success in my book. While the tangent above may sound like a stuck-up scholar's nerdrage (and it kinda is), that should in no way take away from the fact that this class manages to translate photography into gaming mechanics in a concise and well-presented manner that retains mechanical viability and relevance. In short, this is a very good hybrid class.

Granted, the editing could be tighter and similarly, the concept is not even close to being exhausted - the theme and engine provided practically demand expansion and can carry a vast amount of further tricks. In short - this is actually a hybrid class where I wished it had more room to shine and one where I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more. Oh, it is also, to my knowledge, the author's first book I analyzed and as such, it receives the freshman bonus. Let it be known that I am pretty impressed and hope to see more of this quality...and more luminary material. My final verdict for this class clocks in at 4.5 stars, and in spite of the hiccups, the verdict is rounded up to 5 due to the freshman bonus and the strength and execution of the concept.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hybrid Class: Luminary
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Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 2
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/18/2017 07:24:45

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second booklet of essays and thoughts by the eponymous Raven Crowking (aka Daniel J. Bishop) clocks in at 54 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with 50 pages, though these are made for the a5 (6'' by 9''-standard) - you can fit 4 of them on a sheet of paper if you're like me and tend to print things out.

We begin this pdf with the basics and, even if one is an experienced judge, it may help to recap the steps: 1) Brainstorm. In the beginning, there was the idea. Simple as that. 2) is a golden rule. I mean it. If every designer followed the rule, my job'd be much more pleasant: "Never base the adventure on expectations of what players will do." Seriously, you can try to rig the game, manipulate structure, etc. - no pre-written module will survive contact with a table of creative minds intact. It's simple as that. If the module requires a thoroughly railroady array of sequential decisions that could go any way, then we have an issue on our hands. 3) is more complex and less obvious: The goal of players in a module is to exert control over the situation. As simple as that may sound, the ramifications of this truth are much harder to control from the perspective of the author - but at the same time, this provides a means of structuring leverage to employ to keep things on track.

4) is not necessarily correct, but true as a design tenet: No group will find everything. Well, I could rattle off instances where my players did find everything sans me cheating or the like, but they are crazy experienced veterans of the toughest caliber...so yeah - from a designer's point of view, hiding too much can be bad. 5) is important: Remain true to the setting. The PCs, via smarts and insane luck have managed to accomplish impossible deed xyz? Then they DESERVE the huge reward. Similarly, if they screwed up, they SHOULD get hosed. Beyond these, context, an awareness of possible introduction spots and the dynamics of the table are important - and so is the need to make it clear that another GM/judge/referee can run your module - the latter is more critical than you'd think: Designer-blindness and established group-behavior paradigms can easily thwart that one.

The basics out of the way, we come to the advanced components - and it is here that the booklet becomes more interesting, as it halts to analyze the things players take for granted at the table: To wit: E.g. unimpeded communications, risk/reward-levels, etc. - as soon as these basic premises are compromised in one way or another, things get interesting. A number of classic (and new) sample modules are used to illustrate the clever use and modifications of such basic premises...yes, beyond the confines of DCC. What if e.g. seating arrangements suddenly matter?

The advanced adventure craft rules are similarly helpful: There should, for example, be multiple clues to unearth a given piece of information. This may sound obvious, but many, many investigation scenarios still get that aspect horribly wrong. Similarly, offstage material and the like need to be considered alongside with player and character proclivities. If your only hook for gold-greedy murder-hobos, but not the fanatics of god xyz, then your module may need diversification in that regard; even more important would be the fallacy of alignment-associated behavior. I have never made a secret out of my conviction that alignments suck, are anathema to the roleplaying of complex characters and should be purged with fire. More important would be the fact that they often act as a lazy shorthand for designers: Good hook, neutral hook, done. Lame. So yeah. Objectives, allies, bosses and the like are given similar, deep consideration - and so is the sudden and dramatic reveal is a tried and true and much cherished experience that resonates with all of us...but at the same time, it is harder than you'd anticipate to pull off in face of a jaded crew of players. Thus, detailed consideration, including several modules quoted for reference, can guide a Gm to excel at employing this narrative device.

Beyond these, we also take stock on meaningless encounters - when and how to use them, for example. And why they can and should matter. While a given encounter may have no benefit to the story told, we all interact with it nonetheless; as such, the lack of a previously ascribed relevance towards the proceedings of the given plot, ultimately, generates an absence that GM and players alike can fill with speculation, observations, etc. - often enhancing the general immersion of a given setting. I am willing to bet that pretty much every GM worth his or her salt has, at one point, just taken up player-speculation uttered in the aftermath of such an encounter and greatly enhanced the overall flexibility and fungibility of a given module.

Next up would be a component near and dear to my heart: The realm of dreams. With concise observations regarding the nature and significance of dreams, the pdf explores them as a possible setting as well as a narrative device. I am deeply sorry for all groups wherein this amazing means of changing the scenery has not yet been employed - so yeah, two thumbs up here. The next chapter would also be near and dear to my heart: Killing fields. As anyone who's been following my reviews for a while knows, I am pretty enamored with the tactical new RPGs, but at the same time a fan of rules-light gaming...but regardless of system ultimately employed, my sensibilities very much dictate that I want a concise world...and this ultimately means that none of my games sport CR-appropriate challenges. Various sub-categories exist, but their use in a given game, apart from establishing goals and the like, is not to be underestimated as far as I'm concerned.

This leads into the next aspect, namely fairness and entitlement - and, for the designer, the contemplation of when something's too much. There ultimately is no easy reply to this complex question, but there are some aspects to consider: Reaping what one has sown and player agenda are important; similarly, "rocks fall, all die" is not fun for anyone, unless it has been telegraphed properly. To give you an example: In one of the classic Frog god Games-modules, my players went past all warning signs (6 sarcophagi) to forcefully dig into a room where they anticipated a mother load of treasure. When said room had a lich and mummy-monks came forth from the niches, they were wipes, with only one PC escaping by the skin of his teeth. None complained about it being unfair...though I have seen on boards and tables players grow a sense of entitlement due to the relatively narrow structure of adventures championed since the 3.X-days. The structure of assumed mid-adventure-progression has done some harm to the sense of danger, but also to the freedom the PCs ultimately should have. A good GM can counteract this, but it is still something to be aware of when designing modules.

Similarly, the pdf does mention horror, but here, I'd like to interject my own observations: Horror follows a different paradigm. Horror assumes a willingness on part of the players and player characters to assume the position of being (relatively) powerless and to be fine with that; similarly, skewed scales of balance are pretty much what the genre thrives on. As such, the biggest obstacles towards good horror-gaming, at least in my opinion, often does not lie within the structure of the modules, but in the mind-set of the players and PCs. You can't expect a feisty paladin who usually jumps face first with blades drawn into the maw of demons to suddenly quake in his boots at the sight of a rotten carcass. It is a matter of theme and genre and it is my firm conviction that establishing assumptions, but at the table and, in some instances, in modules, can seriously help retaining a cohesive and rewarding mood and playing experience. Tl;dr: Horror's not for everyone. It's my favorite mode of gameplay, directly followed by my pretty dark interpretation of fantasy, but some players derive no joy from having their PCs die or become mad in horrible ways. How far is too far? It, ultimately, always depends.

The assumptions and options presented by in-game day-jobs and notes on several ideas to establish a monster-canon can be found here as well - including "The Following Thing", a stag-headed beast in a black suit, ending the pdf certainly on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no significant hiccups. Layout adheres to the relatively printer-friendly 1-column b/w-standard and the pdf features a couple of nice full-color artworks. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Daniel J. Bishop's second collection of dispatches is better than the first in a variety of ways; for one, the information contained herein is less colored by preaching to the choir; instead, we have helpful and well-reasoned observations regarding the finer details and components of the art of adventure-design. There are, frankly, plenty of books out there that cover the basics, but this pdf deals not primarily with the basic craftsmanship aspect, but rather the artistry of making modules - and this renders it, at least to my sensibilities, significantly more rewarding. Its respective points are illustrated well with a canon of excellent modules as reference-bibliography, if you will, and while I don't have all of them, I do have a lot and could ascertain the points being adequately supported by the quoted material.

The accomplishment of this collection of essays lies in the fact that it can be seen as a well-crafted reminder for designers and advanced judges/referees/GMs alike regarding the aspects that can make both an adventure and a whole campaign rise from the mediocrity towards being truly memorable. In short: This does not focus on providing guidelines to making something decent or just "good", this is focused on helping the reader go the step beyond, reach for the lofty levels of creativity and excellence. As such, it may not be the best book for novice GMs, authors or judges, but for everyone with a sufficient level of experience, this can well be considered to be one of the better GM/author-advice books, regardless of setting employed. Many pieces of advice given most certainly pertain contexts far beyond the scope of DCC. As such, I consider this is well worth getting and it receives a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dispatches from the Raven Crowking Volume 2
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10 Monsters - A Basic Bestiary - V.1
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/17/2017 04:12:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This little bestiary clocks in at 13 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/monsters by type/CR, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 10 pages of content, so let's take a look!

We begin this pdf with the blessed ring at CR 6 - an immobile ring of Large mushrooms that may not move...but it can spray devastating bursts of acid at foes. After entering the ring, it generates a dome to rest in, so yeah, sniping into camp is impeded as well. Sounds like your average adventuring nightmare? Nope, for there is a twist: These plants are actually good, can detect alignments and only assault evil creatures - they represent basically a powerful safe zone to rest and recuperate for the good guys. Creepy? Yup. But also damn cool. Oh...and they don't make much difference between things - if one being inside is evil, the digestion routine begins...ouch.

The cadavalier at CR 9 is a pun worthy of yours truly; it is also an undead, quasi-centauric entity with retributive bone spurs, powerful leaping capabilities and serious armor training. While I noticed a minor typo in the flavor text, I was pleasantly surprised to see notes on advanced creatures and creating these undead. At CR 7, cavern giants would actually be pretty kind beings - uncommon for the udnerdark. Beyond their cauliflower ears, their rules also enhance their theme - they absolutely love wrestling, allowing them to inflict nonlethal damage, Dex and Str-damage...you get the idea. On a nitpicky side - their thrown stalactites should probably inflict piercing damage, not untyped damage.

Cavernivores are more straight-forward - at CR 12, they are huge reptiles with bioluminous tendrils. Think of them as basically the reptile equivalent of angler fish. Torturer Devils would be, now that kytons no longer are straight devils, the stand-in - immune to the effects of social skills, they are a brutally efficient build with extended threat ranges and multipliers and a nasty pain-debuff - that should probably be codified as a [pain]-effect.

At CR 25, the gloom is a living nightmare - bald humanoids with no face, exaggerated smiles full of black teeth in funeral clothing, they clock in at a mighty CR 25. They receive exceedingly powerful blades, are absolutely silent and receive both sneak attack and opportunist - basically, they are high-end, nigh-unstoppable supernatural assassins. Deadly. CR 10 brings us Old Man Winter, the oversized axe-wielding corrupted fey that draws life from those slain, who actually, in spite of the type, makes for a deadly adversary. Oh, of course, he has ice-themed SPs as well as the option to conjure forth icy winds for soft crowd control.

The CR 9 Tamazulim is a gigantic, warty toad that emits a truly despicable stench - obviously, it receives a tongue grab...but it may also breathe lightning. That being said, from the flavor-text, I expected the stench quality here. Oh well. The CR 7 Phantom Troll is a damn cool idea: You see, these guys are not only great hunters and beings that heal by inflicting damage and cause Str-damage - they're also naturally invisible. I really enjoy this critter, but one ability contains a cut-copy-past remnant referencing the invisible stalker. They still rank as one of the most challenging CR 7 critters you can throw at players.

The final critter herein would be once again one for the higher CRs - 23, to be precise. The Typhoeon has a humanoid torso and head, but the lower body of a colossal snake, with serpent-shaped arms that sport serpent heads where the hands should be. Oh, and wings. It can fly. In a minor discrepancy of fluff and statblock, the fluff notes the creature to have serpent heads, while the respective abilities reference dragon-heads...which btw. can both basically generate flame-thrower style cones each round.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay; I noticed a couple of unnecessary hiccups. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf actually comes bookmarked, in spite of its brevity. The pdf has no artworks.

Which brings me to a central aspect - personally, I prefer substance over style and this pdf does feature some cool critters with interesting abilities and evocative concepts - I can envision quite a few of them better than similar creatures, so as far as I'm concerned, for the low and fair price, this does a nice job. That being said, not all of Derek Blakely's critters are amazing and the editing/formatting hiccups make themselves felt in such a small file. At the same time, I will actually use a few of the critters herein, which, considering the amount of critters at my disposal, is a sign of neat design. I should probably round down from my final verdict of 3.5 stars, all things considered, but considering the fair price-point and the gems that are herein, my final verdict will instead round up.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
10 Monsters - A Basic Bestiary - V.1
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Kineticists of Porphyra IV
by Trent H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 01/15/2017 15:07:47

While this book did not have all of the cool stuff that other books in the series did, the entropist is basically a new class with how different it is and the kinetic lancer is just awesome (Final Fantasy Dragoon!), while the new infusions and wild talents help round out some other elements. I would not grab this without at least having Kineticists of Porphyra II though, since to get the most out of it, you are going to need the Viscera element. Still, if you liked the series, this is gonna be an awesome book for you!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Kineticists of Porphyra IV
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Vigilantes of Porphyra
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/12/2017 04:35:15

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment in the Porphyran class option-series clocks in at 33 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with 28 pages of content, though it should be noted that the pages are A5 (6'' by 9'')-booklet-sized, allowing you to print up to 4 of them on a standard A4/letterpack-page, so let's take a look!

We begin with the dread pirate (somewhat unfortunately named - this is now the 4th class option I know that uses this name), who replaces seamless disguise with a +5 circumstance bonus to maintain his disguise, but does not apply the bonus to using vigilante talents while in social identity. Instead of 1st level's social talent, he gains Sea Legs. Interesting modification: If the character selects the avenger specialization, his Fort-save-progression changes to good, while his Reflex save becomes bad. For the purpose of alcohol imbibing, he treats his Fortitude save as the Will-save granted by vigilante-progression. The archetype also receives access to several unique social talents and vigilante talents - the former would contain, for example hold breath, enhancing a ship's speed for a short duration or tavern reknown, which is basically a micro-reknown in his favorite dives. The vigilante talents include Siege Engineer sans prereqs, later Siege Gunner, better fighting with a hook hand, not losing Dex-bonus while climbing and losing ACP in the lighter armors or bonuses via shouting orders.

At 4th level, drinking grog can provide benefits, depending on vigilante specialization - either rage or bonuses to AC and saves; these are upgraded at 12th level. 7th level nets Drunkard's Recovery, including a better iteration at 13th level, replacing 7th level's social talent. All in all, a better vigilante-ized version of the 3.X PrC of the same name with some drinking-related material mixed in. Solid.

The mustached mauler (someone reads Dr. McNinja, obviously!) gets a decreased array of skills, only 4 + Int mod, and is treated as having brawler levels equal to vigilante level for Improved Unarmed Damage purposes when in vigilante identity. They also gain good Fort-saves. While in the mustache identity form, they do not receive Wisdom to Will-saves and they may not benefit from Int- or Wis-bonuses, but may select talents from both avenger and stalker specialization lists, with the exclusion of effects that are based on hidden strike. The archetype receives a monk-y Cha-bonus to AC (instead of the monk's Wis)and the talents contain the option to execute Awesome Blows, self-granting Charisma modifier DR 1/round (instead of the AC-bonus) and high-level negation of magic weapon enhancement bonuses. Also cool: Another talent can net you the option to ignore special weapon abilities via your ignorance score - 1/4 class level worth of such bonuses may be ignored! (Pretty cool - never saw that one before!) All in all, a rather hilarious archetype that may not be flavor-wise appropriate for all games, but for a gonzo game, it can be pretty cool!

Thirdly, we would get the archetype that is considered to be the star herein - the shapeshifter. Instead of the 1st level social talent and the vigilante talents gained at 4th, 8th and 12th levels, they can shapeshift (with the usual +10 Disguise bonus) - this is done via the shapeshifting pool, equal to thrice the class level. This not only powers the archetype abilities, but also, via the duration it has, doubles as the resource to maintain the vigilante identity. The shapeshifted form is represented by a shapeshifting specialization - unless I miscounted, a total of 11 such specializations are provided; each has several SPs that can be paid for via the aforementioned pool. The respective specializations employ different scaling progressions and degrees of choice and they, ultimately, also allow for different degrees of play styles. Whether you go for e.g. natural weapons via the draconic specialization or assumption of angelic aspects, the respective progressions diverge sufficiently to provide a strong leitmotif. The vigilante talents provided for the archetype allow for the taking of an additional specialization starting at 6th level, at -4 vigilante levels and quicker on the fly changing. the capstone nets +2 specializations. I like this archetype; while there are some minor hiccups lower-case attribute, etc., it is per se a nice offering.

The pdf also contains feats: Magical Children can take one at 1st level to instead gain the benefits of the sorc /wiz or druid spell-list; there is one that reduces the 24-hour-cool-down of vigilante class features to 12; a cool charge/Cleave-synergy feat. better benefits after repeat exposure to frightening presence is cool...but e.g. Piercing Charge, which should, wording-wise, build on the previous feat, has some kind of wording hiccups that makes it hard for me to discern its intent.

The social talents provided for the class are intriguing: Better cover when posing as an artist, wide-spread contacts, a social grace/Skill Focus-synergy trick, a high-level wordy wit follow-up, magical craftsmanship, Brilliant Plan as a build-up from Safe House via Safe House Resources, efficient use of improvised weapons... and have I mentioned wordy wit? This one lets you ready actions and conceal them, much like Conceal Spell (which is not properly capitalized)...pretty cool.

The pdf also contains several vigilante talents, some of which are based on Cleave and the new options introduced herein, while another unlocks a race trait the vigilante does not usually possess while in vigilante identity. This once constitutes a bit of a fallacy in that it assumes all race traits to be equal in power when they're clearly not - some sort of scaling mechanism would be appropriate here. 1/day anticipate thoughts (more often at higher levels), gaining a sidekick and modifying contacts to grant the vigilante, for example, temporary access to combat or teamwork feats - which is generally cool. However, RAW, neither contact, nor vigilante must meet the prerequisites for the feats granted, which renders that ability seriously overkill and in need of the usual caveat, in spite of the ability not working under duress.

The pdf also features an extensive list of solid Porphyran-races favored class options for the vigilante as well as a very fun level 5 mustached mauler, including a nice boon.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are a bit inconsistent in both formal and rules-language departments - in some sections, even complex ability-interactions are done right...while in others, we have nonstandard wording, non-capitalized feats and the like. Layout adheres to Purple Duck Games' 1-column standard and is pretty printer-friendly. The pdf has some nice 1-page full-color artworks I haven't seen before and the pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

When one ignores the contributions of veterans N. Jolly and Perry Fehr, then this would be Blake Morton's first lead-author book, unless I am sorely mistaken. The good news here most definitely is that there is certainly promise here. While I've frankly seen shapeshifting done to death in various iterations, I still consider the archetype dealing with exactly that topic to be among the better representations of the concept. Now, personally, I'm a huge fan of Dr. McNinja, so the mustached mauler pulls right at my heart's strings...and it also has some actually creative rules-tricks I haven't seen done before, which is a big plus to ole' me. That being said, I was pretty underwhelmed by the pirate, who, to me, feels a bit unfocused. There also are some instances herein where the rules-language could have been more precise, lacks an anti-abuse caveat or deviates from the standard.

While not bad on their own, the number of them does rise over the course of the pdf to a level, where I have to penalize the book. Still, considering the gems herein, I believe this to be, as a whole, on the upper side of the rating scale, if only by a margin - hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3.5 stars...and while I'd usually round down, I tend to offer a bit of leeway to lead author freshman offerings, which is why I will round up for the purpose of the usual platforms.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vigilantes of Porphyra
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Psychic Class: Overlord
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/09/2017 08:33:38

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This class clocks in at 6 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page SRD, leaving us with 4 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, so the overlord class chassis consists of d10 HD, 2+ Int skills per level, proficiency with simple and martial weapons as well as all armors and shields, excluding tower shields. They gain full BAB-progression as well as good Fort- and Will-saves and at 4th level, he gains spontaneous Charisma-based spellcasting of up to 4th level, drawn from the bloodrager spell-list, though he casts the spells as psychic spells.

Overlords are somewhat powered by their own inflated sense of self-worth, and as such, at 1st level, they gain importance, which they may employ 1/day when in a combat encounter with a higher challenge rating than their class level as a swift action. This is a flawed little restriction - for one, I think the ability should be based on the encounter's CR, not an individual component's CR. Secondly, I am pretty sure that's supposed to be character level, not class level. Otherwise, characters dipping into the class can more freely access the feature than those that invest several levels, which makes no sense to me. The ability grants the overlord a bonus to AC and atk equal to the difference between the CR and their class level, minimum +1. The ability may be used an additional time per day at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter.

2nd level nets the overlord the first command. Commands can be activated as an immediate action and may be employed a number of times equal to 1/2 class level per encounter. sigh No, there is no cool-down between encounters, which means that my usual rant applies. Picture breaking into a room: You see one goblin sentry. If you eliminate him before reinforcements arrive, you can spam these; if the reinforcements arrive before the goblin's eliminated, you still have the original 1-goblin-encounter array of per-encounter abilities. Makes no sense to me. Why not simply introduce a cool-down mechanic based on a non-fluid time-frame? Even Path of War uses the like. Anyways, unless otherwise noted, the commands grant bonuses or penalties based on Charisma modifier and an additional command is gained at 4th level and every even level thereafter.

Adding twice the overlord's Charisma modifier, for example, would be one benefit - and it, in conjunction with a good ambushing set-up, can be pretty devastating. Penalizing defensive casting, temporarily suppressing conditions - there are some interesting options, though the suppressing of fatigue allows for the temporary negation of fatigue-based cooldown mechanics, which can be pretty wonky: So, let's take a barbarian: Cooldown fatigue suppressed due to command, so what happens once the suppression ends? Do the rage rounds during cooldown stack? I assume, but I'm not 100% sure. Interesting: Making an enemy caster use +1 spell of the same level they're casting; if none is available, the next lower spell level is used to determine the tax. This is superior to e.g. the defensive casting penalty, so it probably should have a minimum level. Weird: How does this interact with SPs?

Bringing flying creatures down sans save is imho too strong. Problematic from a rules-perspective: When not surprised, adding Cha-mod to initiative, which can be split among allies. Now RAW, you roll initiative and can't use an immediate action until it was your turn, which makes the command, RAW, not work. The intent is clear, but yeah. Better movement, save bonuses etc. are interesting - but oddly, e.g. dazzling foes can also be found here. In short: The internal balance of the commands is all over the place, with several options vastly superior to others.

3rd level nets toughness as a bonus feat as well as adding class level to DCs to intimidate and demoralize the overlord. 7th level and every 4 levels thereafter nets a bonus feat chosen from a very restrictive selection. As a capstone, commands may be issued as a free action, even when it's not the overlord's turn (nice catch there!) and Charisma modifier-based benefits are increased by 2.

The class gets several favored class options for both the core races as well as some porphyran races and we close with a sample character at level 1.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level. On a rules-level, language and syntax generally are pretty good as well, though the class does run afoul of a couple of hiccups within the peculiarities of some of the rarer aspects. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard and the pdf has no artwork apart from the cover. Cool: The pdf, in spite of its brevity, comes with full bookmarks.

Sasha Hall's overlord is an interesting class. I like the self-importance angle and several aspects of the design here, though the based per-encounter-framework is something that rubs me the wrong way. Judging from diverse responses towards the topic, I am not alone in that. So yeah, I wish this employed a proper cooldown mechanic instead. More important for finding a final verdict, though, would certainly be the fact that the commands, the unique selling proposition of the class, wildly oscillate in power: Remember, these are reliable, no save, no SR debuffs/buffs that can be used with line of sight - you don't even need line of effect! Considering the potency of some and the impotence of others, the whole section made me feel like it could have used more minimum level requirements for some and power-upgrades for others.

In the end, the class is not bad; certain groups will find the class to be fun and interesting. At the same time, though, I can't unanimously recommend the class due to the work it imposes on rules-conscious groups. My final verdict will hence clock in at 3 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Psychic Class: Overlord
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Heroes of the Hinterlands of Kesh
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 01/06/2017 09:29:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the massive Porphyran player's guides for the diverse regions of the patchwork planet clocks in at 62 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page blank, leaving us with a massive 58 pages of content, so let's take a look!

After the obligatory and well-written, evocative introductory prose that establishes leitmotifs for the region, we begin with taking stock of the races one can find within this illustrious region of the patchwork planet, beginning with a favorite of mine, namely the psionic elan - though they have been changed in a way that should make the race more palpable for low-powered games: While still aberrations, elan here are considered to be charismatic and pretty adept at negotiation. Furthermore, their powerful resilience and resistance abilities, usually counteracted by being feared and/or loathed in-game, have been removed, but so has their aberrant nature drawback, making the resulting take on the elan feel more conservative and less disturbing. Certainly an incarnation I am going to use in games where the flavor and strong internal powers of their original iteration do not fit the bill.

Next up would be the half-cyclops, who receives +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, low-light vision, 1/day augury, counts as humanoid and giant, receives +2 to Perception and gain familiarity with cyclops weapons. They also always gain Intimidate as a class skill and ignore Charisma penalties to it. Considering the 12 - 13 pt-standard of Porphyran races, this fits perfectly and the well-rounded array of abilities should prove to result in no issues in even low-powered games - no complaints! Hobgoblins gain +2 Con and Wis, are goblinoids with darkvision 60 ft., defense training versus humans, +1 to Stealth and Survival (+3 in hills), + to overrun or bull rush, but only while standing. Additionally, they gain +4 Stealth in hills and may move through natural difficult terrain - unimpeded, I assume. They obviously gain hobgoblin weapon familiarity as well. Again, no complaints.

Humans raised in the area begin with firearm proficiency as well as +2 to Handle Animals and Ride, +2 to saves versus fear (and a 1/day reroll of a natural 1 save versus such an effect) as well as the skilled trait. Again, no complaints. The Polkan got a nasty thrashing from yours truly in its previous iteration - here, it has been refined to be a monstrous humanoid with +2 Wis, low-light vision, the ability to retry failed Diplomacy checks and a properly codified quadruped trait. All races feature alternate racial traits, which correspond in power-level to what they replace. Somewhat annoying: No age, height and weight tables are provided, which is the one tarnishing aspect of the otherwise best racial section in a Porphyran player's guide to date.

Now if the rules above haven't tipped you off and neither has the font on the cover, guess what: The Hinterlands of Kesh are pretty much the Wild West fantasy county of Porphyra and as such, firearms are less expensive here, with Ulian flint as a material explaining the decrease in cost of blackpowder etc. - and yep, that actually makes playing a blackpowder-using first level party viable sans draining them of all resources. Kudos. "But what about setting-consistency?", you're asking, "Isn't Endy totally anal-retentive when it comes to internal logic bugs and the like?" Well, yes, I am, but the pdf actually provides valid reasons why the Ulian-infused weaponry has not radically changed warfare in other regions. Kudos for maintaining campaign world consistency!! Speaking of which: Yes, the region comes, as always, with a nice full-color map.

From the general to the detail, we are next introduced to the 5 major settlements of the Hinterlands of Kesh, all of which not only come with their own flavorful introduction text of local color, but also feature proper statblocks - from racially diverse Bailyton to melancholy Dupressix, where gunslinger converge to make names for themselves or perish in the hills to the fiendish and reviled half-cyclops bastion of the eye, the settlements evoke a grand and glorious sense of unique flavor - and yes, dear readers - if you're looking for a place to jam SagaRPG's criminally underrated Darkwood adventures, this region would probably do quite nicely with a geographic expansion - thanks to Porphyra's patchwork nature, I see no reason why this would not be feasible.

Within these regions, healing, yet despoiled remnants can be found and a place called "Tombstone Tower" contains the source of the elan's unnaturally long life. And frankly, if you can't cook some cool blend of the Dark Tower-myth and this up, I don't know what to say: The regions breathe evocative, colorful and amazing adventure potential. A ton of settlement qualities, employed in generating them, from being phantasmal to being a city of the dead, further enrich a GM's arsenal and speaking of which: Do you need a generous smattering of fluff-only NPC-descriptions with typical locations and signature possessions? You'll be in luck, for the pdf provides just that.

The pdf also provides a hybrid class for your perusal, the blackpowder disciple, which mixes gunslinger and monk and gains d8 HD, 4 + Int skills per level, proficiency with simple weapons and firearms as well as light armor. They lose the monk-y abilities in heavier armor and get 3/4 BAB-progression (smart choice, as it makes the gun-math work better at mid-to-high levels than the gunslinger's full BAB-progression) as well as good Fort- and Ref-saves. They add Wisdom-bonus to AC and CMD, up to class level, somewhat akin to the monk, and gain gunsmith at 1st level. They may use firearms as 1d6 bludgeoning weapons (1d8 for two-handed ones) and may Weapon Finesse with these and yes, enhancement bonuses to damage and attack still apply when used thus (EXCELLENT catch! Seriously, I was pretty impressed there!) and full Strength-bonus is added. The base damage increases at 5th level and every 5 levels thereafter, up to 2d8/2d10, respectively.

Now here's the make-or-break aspect: The class can flurry with firearms and combine ranged and melee attacks...and the rules-language actually manages to pull off the blending, including notes on Rapid Shot interaction/prerequisite-status. As a minor complaint, the table does call this way of the gun, when the actual text calls it flurry of blows - way of the gun denotes bonus feats gained at 1st, 2nd and ever 4 levels thereafter as well as a order-like ability array. Basically, each of the ways available has its own feat-list and maneuver array - one such maneuver is gained at 1st level, one at 3rd and from there on out, every 4 levels net another maneuver.

1st level also nets a Wisdom modifier-strong ki pool and a specific set of ki-based deeds, though these remain more limited that of the gunslinger, focusing on retaining the functionality of the gun and tricks like utility shot, which is gained at 3rd level. 2nd level nets evasion, 3rd Point Blank Master . 4th level upgrades the ki pool to 1/2 class level + Wisdom modifier and while the character has one ki left, he does not provoke AoOs while reloading firearms. Expenditure of 1 ki point adds an additional attack at full BAB to a full attack or increase the range increment of a gun...or gain a dodge bonus to AC, all available as a swift action. The level also nets maneuver training and 5th level nets + Dex-mod damage to a gun trained with as well as a decreased misfire escalation upon misfiring the gun. 8th level and every 4 levels thereafter net faster movement and 12th level improved evasion. As a capstone, we get auto-confirmed firearm crits (OUCH!!) with an increased multiplier (double OUCH) - but then again, that is the capstone.

Now I already mentioned the way of the gun before and how it works, but considering the pretty linear progression of the base class, how many choices do we get? Well, in total we get 8 such ways and they all take up the majority of a page or slightly more than that, so yes, their options are pretty important - basically, they have the task of diversifying individual iterations of the class. Well, they do an imho better job at this task then comparable cavalier orders. The way of the fitful breeze, for example, emphasizes movement and skirmishing tactics, increasing the damage output of moving characters via precision damage and allowing for fast tumbling, higher jumps and similar shenanigans.

The way of the crushing landslide allows you to combine charges with firearm attacks - and yes, this means that you do not have to end your movement adjacent to a foe. Similarly, that way has a stone/earth theme and as such sports fortification and at highest levels, stunning overruns. The way of the grasping morass focuses on grappling and has a ki-powered grab and high-level choking grips, making that one predisposed to handling enemy casters. The way of the infinite sky is themed around dirty tricks and being more monk-y/employing improvised weaponry, while the way of the misty strand would be the Stealth-enhancing sniper's option. The way of the raging current would be the teamwork-centric/bodyguard-ish type of option, while the way of the undying ember gains fire-themed bonus damage as well as parrying capacity and a ki-powered mettle that is thankfully strongly restricted. While I'm not a big fan of the competing attack-roll parrying mechanic, it is ultimately solidly executed.

Finally, the way of the volatile flame would represent the bravo/face-type of character, whose social skills at higher levels can enhance his critical hit. In short and as a conclusion to this hybrid class: It's page-count is actually well-spent. Unlike many a hybrid class, it is more than the sum of its parts and sports several unique angles to explore. While personally, I prefer higher player-agenda classes, the respective ways and their unique playstyles seem to be pretty balanced among themselves and make it possible to generate a sufficiently broad array of character choices. Well-made and certainly one of the good hybrid classes! We btw. get a sample level 16 NPC.

Next up would be the hobgoblin black glass witch archetype, who suffers from diminished spellcasting, but receives a pool of soul points; when creatures nearby expire, these witches may draw part of their lifeforce into their soul reservoir, which can then be used to increase the potency of hexes - and yes, the archetype cannot be kitten'd! Kudos!!! As a minor complaint, I noticed a reference to "shaman" in one of the two hexes of the witch, a cut-copy-paste remnant and cosmetic, but yeah. This time, we get a sample level 11 character. The hobgoblin fervent vanguard would be a mounted inquisitor who loses the inquisitor domain and monster lore and gains mounted tactics instead of solo tactics. They also are adept at finding their prey and at 5th level, may share their bane with their mount, increasing that modification correspondingly at 12th level. The sample character (this time level 8) does come with horse companion stats as well, just fyi.

The guarded augur half-cyclops oracle gets diminished spellcasting and its own list of bonus spells as well as revelations and abilities themed around doom-speaking and foresight, including trap sense, evasion, etc. The sample character clocks in at level 9. The nomadic gun would be an elan-exclusive blackpowder disciple archetype, who gets a modified bonus feat list and replaces maneuver training with Up the Walls, blending at higher levels the maintenance of psionic focus with more damage, short-burst teleportation and high-level deceleration flurries. Very cool psionic modification, whose sample character clocks in at level 6. Finally, the polkan plainsrunner (with a level 11 sample character) can be pictured as a wide-plains ranger, galloping unimpeded through their chosen plains. The least interesting of the archetypes herein from a mechanical point of view, but flavorwise and interesting option nonetheless.

The pdf also provides an array of feats for us, which includes a psionic Mobility-upgrade that lets you expend power points to further enhance your skirmishing AC as well as a variety of Chosen-feats, which can be activated 1/day, with higher levels unlocking more uses as well as SPs. I actually liked these more than I figured I would. Nice: Reposition-synergy with allies that basically lets you push enemies into a flat-footed position for respective allies. 1/day greatly increased chances to critically hit for half-cyclops characters, quicker two-handed firearm reload, sharing an elan's repletion, first range-increment coup-de-graces...there are a lot nice feats to fill specific, seldom trod paths that make sense to me. More importantly, the prerequisite-array and respective power-level, unanimously, managed to withstand my scrutiny. The feats are viable, sans being game-breakers. Kudos - it's frankly been a while since a feat chapter managed this feat. Haha. Sorry, I'll punch myself for this later.

The pdf then goes on to provide an assortment of diverse magical weapons: The coat of gathering storms is charged by negating sneak attacks and critical hits, which may then be used to bull rush adjacent creatures. Unused charges dissipate, mind you, so no - cheesing the item is not a very good strategy. Arrows that declare war upon a target, cursed crowns, a quick-draw-enhancing holster, an anti-authoritarian blunderbuss, a magic wanted sign, nice staves...the chapter provides an interesting and well-crafted array of options.

The gieve, also known as the cyclops throwing blade, mustangs, spurs and rules for aforementioned uliun (including rules for uliun intoxication) and basically sheriff stars complement this section before we feature the amazing final part of the book - tables upon tables that denote which type of equipment is available where and for what price. These little tables are incredibly helpful when playing in a given region and prevent the GM from having to flip books - I seriously think the like should be standard for regional sourcebooks.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty much top-notch on both a rules-language and a formal level; I noticed no undue accumulation of missed italicizations or similar guffaws and the rules-language is precise. Layout adheres to Purple Duck games' two-column standard and the pdf features several nice full-color artworks. It should be noted that the book remains pretty printer-friendly. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Treyson Sanders, with additional writing by Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr, delivers by far the best Porphyran regional guide to date, seamlessly blending the virtues of all writers and honing them: We have Mark Gedak and Perry Fehr providing ample Porphyran lore and Treyson Sanders delivering his trademark precision feats to fill gaps in the interactions of rules. beyond that, though, we have one of the rare examples of a really cool hybrid class that gets pretty much everything right, nice archetypes and, more importantly, a region that just feels amazing: The Wild West/fantasy-crossover portrayed here is evocative, takes a bow before greats of the genre without just copying them and resonates with flair and panache. The fact that the pdf addresses the price-concerns with black powder weapons sans compromising the integrity and internal logic of Porphyra is just the frosting on an amazing book that delivers literally a ton of bang for your buck. This is well worth a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval. Whether for inspiration, as a regional sourcebook, for scavenging purposes or all of the above - this is worth getting, even beyond the confines of Porphyra.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Heroes of the Hinterlands of Kesh
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