10.08.2014

GM's MIscellany: Dungeon Dressing








This massive tome clocks in at 399 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page advertisement, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 3 pages of short author bios (which should be included in any roleplaying game supplement - seriously, help the talented folk that craft these books get all the recognition they can!), 1 page advice on how to read statblocks, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than 388 (!!!) pages of content, making this one of the longest books I've ever reviewed, so let's take a look, shall we?

When I reviewed "Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands" and similar adventures by Raging Swan Press (if you haven't checked these out - get them!), the one thing that caught my eye the most was the sheer brutal amount of details - you know, terrain features, things to actually do, that rendered them so...alive. Concise. Believable. The details mostly absent from many new-school modules, the level of detail lost in many a module since the 3.X days in favor of long statblocks. Well, the series that spawned from the genius realization that details are important would be the Dressing-lines, which contain some of the most ridiculously useful information for any DM you can find - not only for Pathfinder, but for any system.

This is not all that made Raging Swan press modules stand out - remember those dungeons where monsters were placed with neither rhyme, nor reason, wondering how the dragon got into the dungeon etc. - and the annoying rationale "MAGIC!"? Well, this book can be considered the ultimate rebuttal to this type of sloppy design - providing concise information on how to craft intricate dungeons that actually make sense. Basic observations from "Who amde the dungeon?" and "For what purpose?" to former roles it may have had to who actually knows about these tidbits of lore are only the tip of the ice-berg: Considering food and water, access, predators and the like, making good unoccupied rooms that tell stories. Every DM and especially any worldsmith should check these out. Advice on handling a dungeon's physicality (vertical shafts, terrain threats etc.) are provided alongside special considerations for mega-dungeon design and even alternate dungeon designs (of which one can now find a new series by RSP...) - the advice provided here is presented so concisely, it could be deemed a proper checklist for making good dungeons, one that any DM should take a long, hard look at.

Now you may already know that this book collects the numerous Dungeon Dressing-pdfs in one handy tome - but do you realize the extent of what is in here? The following installments are collected herein: Altars, Archways, Bridges, Captives, Ceilings, Chests, Corpses, Doom Paintings, Doors, Double Doors, Dungeon Entrances, Dungeon names, Fiendish Traps I + II, Floors, Fountains, Gates & Portals, Goblin's Pockets, Legends I + II, Mundane Chest Contents, Pits, Pools, Portcullises, Sarcophagi, Secret Doors, Simple Magic Traps, Stair, Statues, Tapestries, Thrones, Trapdoors, Walls and Wells. Additionally, the 3 "So what's the Riddle like, anyways?" are part of the deal and an extensive excerpt from the immensely useful "All that Glimemrs"-compilation has also been provided, sporting a total of 20 treasure hoards at your disposal - after all, dungeons need treasure!

Now you probably have seen that one coming - but I have written reviews for ALL OF THE ABOVE. Yeah. Looking at it from my current vantage point, I feel somewhat OCD...be that as it may, you can easily look up all those reviews, so no, I won't repeat myself and cover all of these again. Even if I did, the resulting review would probably clock in at more than 20 pages, so yeah.

What I *do* focus on here would be the new content provided - let's begin with new Fiendish Traps, shall we? A total of 3 new ones of these nasty, complex traps are provided, making essentially "Fiendish Traps III" a part of the deal here. The first here makes for an exceedingly smart trapped puzzle-lock for an undead (or similar creature's) lair: Different alcoves contain different skulls, with each skull representing one of the bare necessities of life - hunger, thirst, etc. - in order to open the vault door, all traps have to be triggered at the same time, resulting in magic-induced thirst, famine, suffocation and an attack by an animate dream...Ouch and oh so iconic and cool! The defense-hallway sporting poisonous gas and fetchling snipers is nasty as well, as is the traps that is a variant of the classic endless falls, which also adds a temporal distortion to the whole deal - awesome!

Now one of the most overlooked and easiest way to make a dungeon not work is to not get the illumination/sight-question of the inhabitants right. Sans darkvision, inhabitants better have some sort of way to provide for sight - and since this one is also combat-relevant, it will come up - I guaranteed it. Hence, we have one of the most useful DM-cheat-sheets of the whole series in this new chapter, providing everything you need to know in that regard rules-wise at one glance. Want to know how this goes even faster - whether braziers, candelabras (1 page each), fireplaces (2 pages), lanterns, magical lights, torch sconces (all 1 page) - the book actually provides so much variation, you'll never need to reply with "ehem...there are torches." ever again - detailed, versatile and downright brilliant, this chapter is glorious in its evocative details, even before the 2 new light-based traps.

Now of course, one can note that the topics of the book mentioned above do not cover every potentiality of dungeon exploration or design - hence, the book also covers carpets and rugs, evidence left by previous explorers (foreshadow those hostile NPC-groups!), grafitti,, junk and rubbish, mirrors, eeerie atmospheres (!!!), clothes and possessions, strange magical affects, strange smells, strange sounds, specialized priest's and wizard's chests, provisions, mirrors,  odds and sundries, clothes and miscellaneous possessions and YES! LOCKS! The oversight of all door-pdfs now receive their own table! Each of these new tables is at least one page strong, with several covering 2 pages and the locks coming with DC/cost/quality-cheat-sheet mini-table. Wow. Just wow.

It should be noted that, for your convenience, the book also provides 2 pages of index for traps by CR ( with the CR covering the range from None to 15 and providing page numbers) and statblocks by CR (ranging from 1/2 to 9, also with page numbers) for easier navigation.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are thoroughly impressive - I have seldom seen a book of this size with this high quality in these two regards - top-notch and awesome. Layout adheres to Raging Swan Press' two-column b/w-standard and the pdf can be considered printer-friendly. Artwork is fitting b/w and the pdf comes in two versions, one to be printed out and one for screen use. But unless you went full-blown tablet, I'd suggest you get the gorgeous hardcover - I have it and its binding is professional and both paper and glossy cover make this tome a beauty of elegance indeed.

The authors Ben Armitage, Alexander Augunas, Aaron Bailey, John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Jeff Erwin, James Graham, Brian Gregory, Eric Hindley, Ben Kent, Thomas King, Greg Marks, Andrew J. Martin, Jacob W. Michaels, Julian Neale, Chad Perrin, David Posener, Brian Ratcliff, Pierre van Rooden, Liz Smith, Josh Vogt, Mike Welham can be proud indeed - why? Because this book is a milestone.

I'm not engaging in hyperbole when I say that this belongs in the arsenal of every DM - period. I had the individual pdfs before and I used them - quite extensively, mind you, but this is something different. Sit down with it and start rolling - in less than 30 minutes you'll have an extremely detailed dungeon at your fingertips, with players not realizing that the complex you created not stemming from a professional module, but from your pen. That is, they may realize it, since this book renders your dungeons memorable, awesome and makes SENSE.

Much like the superb "Wilderness Dressing"-book, the organization in this tome is one of the subtle, yet downright brilliant components - the arrangement of the components may be neat - but there's something apart from that which makes this work so much better than its component pdfs. Beyond collecting all in one handy tome, this book eliminates the small blank spaces left by the component pdfs - the small odds and ends, the carpets, the locks - what has been missing before now is simply there.

Another scenario - you've bought a module and like the dungeon, but it feels sterile, perhaps due to page-count not sufficing? Use this book and in less than 10 minutes, you'll potentially have a dungeons your players will talk about for years to come.

I've beaten around the bush long enough - not only for Pathfinder, but  for just about any fantasy-system, this massive book is a godsend. If you have a dungeon, you need this book - it's simple as that. I've been using it in my game ever since I got my greedy hands on it and the sheer massive amount of content and awesomeness in this book is enough to make dungeons feel alive once again. Yes, not all components are super-duper-mega-awesome, but that fact remains that the majority *is* just that - and that the sum here is so much more than its component parts.

This is one of those very few mile-stone supplements that simply offer no reason not to get them - the extremely fair, low price point (for this amount of content!) adding a significant, further dimension to the awesomeness that is this book. I wouldn't ever want to miss this glorious tome and

I'm running out of superlatives fast - so let's end this  -this book is a must-have.

An instant classic.

One of the most useful books I've ever had the pleasure to review.

If you don't have this book, it's high time you'll add it to your library. I guarantee that you'll love this - and if that's not enough, Raging Swan Press does have a money back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

This book is a hot contender for the number 1 spot of my Top Ten of 2014. My final verdict is 5 stars + seal of approval - the maximum of my scale and had I any other scale, it would score that high still. This book henceforth also is part of the books I consider essential for any campaign - hence, it receives the "EZG Essential"-descriptor.

You can get this monument of a book here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

10.03.2014

EZG reviews Dunes of Desolation





This massive book clocks in at 193 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive array of 188 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look!

So "Dunes of Desolation", hmm? This pdf's name would be considered audacious when used by most publishers  -"Desert of Desolation" as a boxed set made some of my most precious, fondest memories back in the day - the glorious maze, the sky-boat at the pyramid's top, the logical, cool social sandbox at the oasis, the sheer level of detail, the sea of glass - this beast had so much going for it. So how does this one fare?

Well, first of all, this Book should be considered part of a direct line with Necromancer Games/ Frog God Games' Glades of Death and Dead Man's Chest - i.e. an extremely detailed environmental source-book in the style of publications of old, with a focus on information instead of x lame variants of races/classes as some other *cough* environmental supplements delivered.

Thus, we begin this massive sourcebook with an array of considerations regarding deserts  -from desert-types (hot and dry deserts, for example), to how they come to be to transition zones and handy tables to determine water availability, this section should be considered somewhat educational as well as simply useful and inspiring. The next logical concern would pertain to travel and settlements, which include not only handy tables to determine settlement types, concerns of tolls and desert animals of the fantastic variety and how to purchase them. Deserts as a dangerous place also sport a variety of hazards, which would be represented in e.g. proper stats for agave-poison and even peyote - but beyond that, the dangers of impure water are also addressed with a variety of nasty afflictions the PCs can receive.

Taking the details one step further, the corrosive effects of deserts also receive their own rules and mirages, quicksand and similar iconic challenges are addressed alongside dangerous animals and vermin, rain...and, of course, temperature. The handy charts for temperatures, wind speed etc. are simply glorious (though I wished they were included in °C as well as in °F - while not complicated, my European mind still has to make the conversion and I always have to think a bit when I read °F until I remember  the way to do it.). Among the more mechanic options, sliding on sand and dunes via acrobatics makes sense and the challenging survival DC-modifiers feel appropriate.

We also receive  an array of new feats and while the majority of them are okay, a couple really stand out - e.g. one that allows you to put ranks in fly sans a means of personal flight or one that allows you to deal regular damage to swarms. Much more enticing, at least for me, would be the selection of desert equipment provided  -from detailed outfits to waterskins that contain al-haloon kidneys that can purify water to magical treats like a sonic crack of doom-rattlesnake whip, enchanted ankhs and astrolabes to better flying carpets (4!!!) to magical dates, enchanted harem veils, and, of course, genie lamps. What about an array of damn cool magical hookahs?

We also are introduced to quite an extensive collection of new monsters, all of which come with beautiful, original b/w-artworks. Now regarding the beasts - from jackal shapechangers to serpentine threats, undead gunslingers, deadly cacti - a solid selection of creatures, including deadly demons, are provided. Many of these guys, gals and...things have unique signature abilities, which is nice to see, but even when they don't they tend to evoke a distinct sense of...belonging. Much like reading old monster manuals, these creatures feel distinct - what about, for example a cherub-like being with a  slumber-inducing breath? An evil killer-bunny relative to the Al-Miraj? It's surprisingly hard to put the appeal of the creatures into words, for while they do not bombard you with awesome signature abilities or exceedingly clever builds, they feel like they've been taken straight from a mythology book of another world. They have this sense of cohesion and combination of imagery and concept that makes them feel, for lack of a better word...real. Or at least possible. Granted, the superb artwork does its fair share of the job here, but still - impressive.

The same partially goes for the spells  -getting a cactus-body, a buff to remain chaste, counter cursing - sabotaging divinations, excavating a den of thieves to hide inside - the spells have a very classic touch to them that should assure them finding homes in plenty a campaign. What about trapping foes in a giant hourglass of sand? While not all of the spells herein can be considered truly iconic or glorious, there is quite an assortment that does feel magical. The core classes also receive ample support in the guide of archetypes (and in the sorceror's case, respective exclusive bloodlines) - from camel-riding mounted barbarians to scalp-takers, seductive concubines, the genie-hunting sha'ir, the keepers of the dead, palace guards, dervishs, sadhus, janissaries, to trance warriors, bazaar thieves and Viziers - while mechanically, these archetypes have in common that they're solid, if not awe-inspiring, they do have something different going for them - they are unique. They feel right and concise and they are anchored within the context of the environment and setting. Their very concepts resonate and make them feel...cool. Yes, preventing foes from attacking you is one thing that can be achieved via many means, but as soon as your courtesan PC accomplishes this with an ability called "1001 Nights", you'll be grinning a bit broader, won't you?

The massively detailed chapter on religions follows this level of detail - providing essentially a massive origin myth, an explanation for the providence of the churches that adhere to one faith, but still are very distinct and different, taking cues from what amounts to saints turned deities, this chapter is massive in detail and the primary deities come in excessive detail - while sans e.g. obediences and the like , they otherwise stand in no way behind the deities provided by e.g. the Inner Sea Gods, with copious information on doctrine, clothing, clergy etc. being provided Comparably in short-hand, but also there would be two full additional pantheons, adding ample chance for religious strife, cults, etc.

And here begins the section of the 3 adventures, so players beware, for the djinn pronounce woe upon the thousand year damnation of those players bound to tread within the following paragraphs.

All right, DMs only remaining? Great! The first module, Child's Play, is nasty - a particularly sadistic efreet has crafted a devious scheme - in the House of Thousan Delights, he grants people everything they ever wished for, offering for them to stay forever or return to their downtrodden, despondent existence - with the other option, of course, being a trap most foul, sending them to an extradimensional dollhouse replica of his palace to be hunted down there. When a djinn-blooded child runs afoul of this dastardly plot, her unusual physiognomy instead transports her brain and other parts of her into dolls - enter the PCs, who have to willingly enter the deadly playing ground and rescue her...of course, unbeknownst to the PCs, everything is MUCH more complicated, starting with the true master of the place being not as he seems - but in the case of nosy players still straying, I will not spoil the reveals - HINT: They're awesome.

The second module, King of Beasts, begins with beasts suddenly targeting men and becoming aggressive - coinciding with the notorious hunting troupe "Game Over" - to unearth the truth behind the attacks, the PCs have to deal with the grief of a sphinx in the guise of the lionweres serving it, prevent a dread curse from spreading, brave the desert sands in a rather epic trek through the hostile terrain, hone their detective-skills and finally, hopefully, manage to wrest the soul of an erstwhile force from good from the metaphorical clutches of a grimoire most foul.

The final module, My Blue Oasis, asks the question when it is required to let go of life-long obsessions and dreams and what kind of cost one is willing to pay for a change for the better. Oh, have I mentioned that a dragon, derro, and a potentially cataclysmic 42 million tons of water are there to unleash upon the world? Yeah, if you want to make your world Cerulean Seas as a change of pace, here's a very good option - and yes, here we have a type of artifcat that may spawn whole campaigns...wars even.

The pdf concludes with a random encounters-table for desert creatures and a table of random desert events, much like a miniature wilderness dressing.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent - in spite of the book's size, it sports next to no glitches. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the book comes with MANY awesome, original b/w-artworks. I have rarely seen this amount of great art in a non-kickstarter book - this one is beautiful in all the right ways. The massive tome also comes with neat cartography, though I wished key-less versions of the maps t hand out to players had been provided in an appendix. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked with nested bookmarks. I can't comment on the print-version since I don't have it yet.

Designer Tom Knauss and conversion content editors Erica Balsley, Skeeter Green and John Ling have done a great job here: Frog God Games is not known for crunch-mastery or the like, but among the crunchy bits in their supplements, this ranks as one of the best so far. But you don't buy this for the crunch, anyways, do you? Figured. At least if you're ticking like me, you get Frog God Games-supplements because they feel concise, because they have this mythical flair, because they treat magic and the fantastical not as a commodity, while still managing to instill a sense of logical cohesion that makes the supplements and modules plausible and ultimately, relatable.

This ephemeral quality extends to just about everything herein - even the crunch; The material provided herein in that regard is superior to Dead Man's Chest and Glades of Death...and indeed, this is one glorious beast of an environmental source-book...even before the modules. Kudos to the conversion team and the obvious effort that has gone into making the feats et al. actually contribute something neat to the game - crunch-wise, this is perhaps the best book by FGG so far. And the monsters and modules...let's just say there's a reason I've been this opaque. Even in Frog God Games' oeuvre, they stand out. The 3 modules are detailed, breathe the spirit of Arabian Nights and the fantastic in equal measures and deserve the moniker "...of Desolation" in that they do not stand one inch behind the legendary boxed set in imaginative potential and believability, perhaps even transcending it.

Now in a book of this size, not all crunch is perfect, not every item can be a winner, not every spell mind-boggling - I do not claim that it is. What I can wholeheartedly claim is that this is the type of book that makes reviewing worthwhile - the writing is actually so good, I felt hard-pressed at times to step away and let sink what I've read. This made me dust off my 6 Arabian Nights-print-out and  makes for a superb addition to any desert-campaign, even if you choose to ignore the Lost Lands-fluff. Add to that the low price-point and superb production values, and we have a collection of adventures that no self-respecting DM should pass by....whether you go for the Desert of Desolation, the Southlands of Midgard or to unearth the Legacy of Fire/Mummy's Mask - I guarantee that this tome will make your desert more alive, more real. This is a glorious tome, a fun read, and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval, while also qualifying as a candidate for my best-of 2014 - get this awesome beast of a book!

You can get this awesome tome here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

9.26.2014

EZG reviews Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat

Laying Waste: The Guide to Critical Combat





This massive tome clocks in at 168 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of backer-list, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 160 pages of content, so let's take a look!

But before we do, full disclosure: After receiving the Beta-version of these rules and thoroughly enjoying them, I was asked to be a stretch-goal for this book and thus have contributed some content to this book. I do not consider my verdict in any way compromised by this, but felt obliged to mention it anyways. The archetypes I contributed are clearly discernible (since the book properly credits its guest authors - which is awesome!), so judge for yourself.

Got that? All right. So the basic question this book poses is one that has haunted me for multiple iterations and roleplaying systems - why are critical hits so boring? Yeah, bonus damage may be nice, but let's face it - the additional numbers just aren't that cool. In older systems I essentially scavenged and homebrewed components from e.g. rollmaster, but those brought their own issues. When the critical hit and fumble decks hit shelves, I went for them. They didn't do the trick for me, being not extensive enough and a tad bit too random for my tastes. Just taking and modifying systems from other rule-sets also proved to be not the best option.

Enter Laying Waste. The base system is ridiculously easy to grasp - all crits deal max base damage. There are no more critical confirmation rolls - these have been replaced by so-called severity checks: These are essentially a d20-roll + the the excess amount the attack beat the target's AC and also fractures in the critical modifier of the weapon and the size of the weapon. Even bonus damage, different size categories etc. are taken into account. What sounds moderately complex in a review's text is actually exceedingly simple on paper and thanks to the concise examples given. Now additionally, severity checks then result in no additional effect, a light wound effect, a moderate wound effect or a severe wound effect. Some of these wound effects have saves to mitigate - so yes, while you make chop off nose, puncture eyes or even behead foes, they will have to have failed a save to suffer such debilitating effects. Once you have determined the severity of the wound, you roll a d% to check the effect, with each table offering a massive 50 entries of different wounds  that makes 150 for piercing, bludgeoning and slashing EACH. While there are some overlaps of wounds between the respective damage types, these are the exception rather than the rule, resulting in the diversity and uniqueness of the remarkable occasions of criting being significantly increased - it's no longer: "Remember how I dealt 47 damage to the ogre in one stroke!", but rather "Remember how it took that ogre's arm clean off?" Yeah. You probably get why prefer systems like this.

Now in case you haven't noticed - this results in a significantly increased gritty-factor and a kind of increased realism that gets rid of an, at least for me, unpleasant abstraction in the rules. Now another part of the effect would be the prevalence of bleed-effects - it never made sense to me that bleed doesn't stack and for the purposes of this system, it does. Means of recovery and the heal skill also are properly implemented - no longer is the latter a waste of skill points, but rather a nice option to help keep your battered allies together. Now this base system can be further modified rather easily via a couple of optional rules that worked well in my tests.

Now, of course one would assume that synergy with e.g. already published feats would become wonky, but since severity replaces the critical confirmation roll, the bonus added can be simply carried over - elegant. Now this book does sport a vast array of new feats to support the system - the table alone covers over 5 pages, just to give you an idea of the scope. If I don't want to bloat the review worse than Kaer Maga's bloodmagic practitioners, I'll have to resort to giving you a general overview, all right?

The feats generally interact and expand with the new system - take the very first feat, acrobatic reflexes: Instead of a ref-save, this allows wounds that prompted a ref-save to avoid the wound's effects via acrobatics. Other feats allow you to treat the base damage (e.g. piericing) as another damage type. Of course, just about all common class/race features can be expanded as well - racial foe/hatred? There's a feat for it. Better threat range against foes unaware of you? Yep. Increased bleed damage whenever you cause it? Bingo. On a plus-side - shields receive more relevance: With the right shields, you receive a chance to negate the critical hit. Yes. The whole hit. Why do I consider this a good thing? Well, at first, I didn't. In actual game-play, it did add a level of dynamics, a roller coaster of emotions to the combat: When my Death Knight scored a decapitation against the paladin, who then proceeded to negate the attack, the player was sitting on the edge of his chair. Now some of the feats admittedly are "only" a good idea that could use proper expansion into a full-blown system: Take critical channel - Roll a d20 every time you channel: On a 20, double the effects. While this one won't break any game and gives the channeling player some of the criting satisfaction, I still maintain that a full-blown system would work better here. I'm also not a fan of adding a second attribute (like e.g. cha) as a modifier to damage, even if it's only on critical hits, but that's a personal preference and won't influence the final verdict. Now Deflect Blow is also an interesting feat - as an immediate action, you may opt to be hit by an attack, but receive DR /- equal to you BAB against the attack. No way to exploit, tax of one feat, action-economy-restriction - this is an example for a damn fine feat. Why? Because it makes combat more dynamic, adds some tactics and can't be cheesed via items, buffs etc. Opting to increase the threat range at the chance of an increased fumble-rate.

Another peculiarity of the feats herein would be that, beyond the weapon damage type finally mattering more, the feats also often require specific weapon qualities to work, lending the respective builds towards a more diverse weapon selection and thus, fighting styles. While by far not all feats herein are winners, the vast majority actually work in rather awesome ways and serve to neatly expand the base system's impact. Now Laying Waste would not be a massive book on mechanics without new archetypes -a total of 16, each crediting the respective author (and yeah, these include Rachel Venture, John Reyst, James Olchak, Adam Meyers, Clinton J. Boomer (!!!) and yours truly). Now generally, the archetypes are rather high-concept: James Olchak's Bajquan Imperial Bodyguard, for example, makes for one of the coolest bodyguard archetypes I've seen in a while - and while regaining ki by receiving damage can be cheesed with regeneration and fast healing, it is at least slow - still, that particular ability imho requires further restrictions to prevent all-out cheesing. Brian Berg's sinister Blood Archer, firing arrows clad in virulent poison with bone bows just oozes cool imagery. On teh other hand of the spectrum, Rachel Ventura's woodland snipers bounded to nature spirits, teh Dakini, are less sinister, but still damn cool. 

My Disembowler archetype is all about wielding oversized weapons (and yes, I plainly disregarded the cluster-f*** that is the Titan Mauler FAQ in favor of a simpler solution)...and gaining, at later levels a friggin' one-man cannon. This barbarian archetype also is all about NASTY severity-effects and may wilder somewhat in the gunslinger's arsenal. Now some Otakus may start grinning right now - If you haven't realized it: I made this one as a personal love letter to the character Guts from Kentaro Miura's legendary dark fantasy Manga-saga Berserk. Conversely, my master of 1000 cuts, a fighter specialist of bleeding criticals actually came, concept-wise from my 2nd edition-days, before the bleeding rules were nerfed to smithereens - with Laying Waste fixing that, I could finally update the cool concept and modernize it. James Olchaks fighting-style analyzing Mockingbird-rogue is cool and Rachel Ventura's take on the Amazon actually makes a low armor, agile barbarian based on CHA work. Now if you've seen any WuXia-movie ever, I probably won't have to explain the concept of the pressure point master I wrote - Iless damage, better critical effect control would be what to expect here. (On a personal note: Thanks to all the reviewers that explicitly commented how they liked this one!) Adam Meyers also has something rather cool up his sleeve - the head honcho of Drop Dead Studios provides some cool Sneak Attack Substitutions. Now I don't have to tell you that Clinton J. Boomer's contributions are high concept and awesome - heavily armored dwarven barbarian? Ninja? Yeah. Brian Berg also provides a more down-to-earth sword master and a mace specialist. James Olchak's Spiked Gauntlet/Armor-specialist also makes for a neat take on the trope. John Reyst's Vandals are barbarians all about stealing and destroying.

Now it's only fair in a system of cool critical hits to apply the same thoroughness to critical fumbles -a distinction between melee, ranged and natural critical fumbles covers all the bases for the mundane ways to botch. This part of the system is just as optional and modular as the base system, but also damn cool. Now going even beyond that, Laying Waste takes groups that play with Armor as DR and Called Shots as variant rules into account and provides rather extensive advice on using the systems in conjunction, should you choose to. While I liked both base systems (introduced in Ultimate Combat, if my memory serves right) idea-wise, their execution did not work for my group when I introduced them, but since some groups will like them, kudos! Now I already mentioned the increase in significance the poor heal-skill receives and yes, the rules here are concise as well.

Beyond that, magical items and item qualities, a nice piece of short fiction and the fully statted Cr 15 fetchling magus on the cover as an iconic round out the book.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting, not the biggest strength of TPK Games, is better here than in any other book they've released so far - while minor glitches can be found, their frequency is low enough to not impede one's enjoyment of the book. Layout adheres to a relatively printer-friendly 2-column b/w standard (with red highlights) and the b/w-art is original, old-school and nice, apart from the full color cover and single pieces here and there. The pdf comes excessively bookmarked and hyperlinked for your convenience.

This critical system is AWESOME. There's no way around it. If I had not considered it great, I wouldn't have agreed to work on it. Now, quite some time has passed and the system has seen some use and I can wholeheartedly say - it has improved the game. Combat is more dynamic, crits are more memorable - and best of all - the system is ridiculously easy to learn and master, elegant in design and modular: Don't like the fumbles? Ignore them. Don't like a feat/archetype? Ignore it. Even better, the system does not require other supplements to be specifically designed for it - each new supplement you buy can easily be made to adhere to Laying Waste's rules - this system will remain relevant. That being said, I wouldn't be Endzeitgeist if I had no complaints - some feats and archetypes didn't blow me away, but that's all right. A more significant catch would be that this book, by intention, is all about martials and martial crits - alchemical, magical or psionic crits will have to wait for Laying Waste II, which will also be made. So yeah, there's a gap in the system there, but one that is acknowledged. After several months of playtesting this beast, I can say that neither I, nor my players ever wish to return to the boring, bland default rules. This book may not be perfect, but you can cherry-pick it very well and the general system is elegant and downright genius.

If dark fantasy, horror, scars or just a gritty, more realistic fantasy is what you're looking for, if crits no longer result in excitement at your table - then you MUST get this. Even if you just want an array of wounds or additional effects for your own critical system, this beast is well worth the fair asking price. My final verdict will take all of these into account, but ultimately reflects one fact: There are few books that see this much use at the table, that so effortlessly increased fun - and while I can't always play with it (since I do a lot playtesting), it has become a permanent fixture in my main campaign. Now when do we finally get book 2? My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval plus a nomination as a candidate for my best-of 2014.

You can get this great system here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

Endzeitgeist out.