5.11.2016

Eyes of the Stone Thief (13th Age)

Eyes of the Stone Thief (13th Age)






This massive mega-adventure clocks in at 364 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 7 pages EXTREMELY detailed ToC, 3 pages index (useful), 1 page magic item index (even more useful), 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 347 pages of raw content, so let's take a look!

This book was moved up in my review-queue due to me receiving a print copy. While we haven't yet finished this massive monster, quite a bit of playtesting went into this review.

We begin this book with an interesting explanation - while this massive hardcover very much does present a mega-adventure, it aims to provide maximum customization options to make this book really your own, to account for your table's tastes. Hence, we begin with a list of icons and how they interact with the stone-thief...but the GM is NOT left hanging beyond that: Instead, we get detailed, smart observations regarding the structuring of the campaign and potential plot-lines to embark upon - this does include advice when to kill or not kill a PC, the effects of the escalation die on traps...well, and the submergence die, a handy and easy mechanic to track excursions into the stone thief and drive home the unique nature of the dungeon.

The pdf also sports advice on handling leveling in the dungeon, etc. A chart provides the default configuration of levels at one handy glance in three configurations and then, we are introduced to the nature of the levels and denizens and yet another chart helps you keep track of relationships between fractions, icons and movers and shakers within the framework of this campaign - two thumbs up!
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AHRGH, I can't do this! Before my face turns purple-red: Players, seriously...skip to the conclusion NOW. I need to get into SPOILER-territory right now!
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Okay, seriously, if you want to play this (You do!) as a player, skip to the conclusion.
*ahem*
Through the underworld, colossal structures roam - barely sentient, they move forward, mindless ly assimilating anything that gets in their way, integrating it into their structures. The keyword here is "mindlessly." Picture, if you will, standing on a keep's wall, guarding your home. Suddenly, the earth starts to quiver, then shake...and then, the green orchards burst open, like a violent ripple of storm-tossed waters, only that tons upon tons of earth are moved aside as the most titanic thing you've ever seen approaches: You see a thing so big it boggles the mind and results in a temporary paralysis, as your mind tries to comprehend the doom approaching: You see a titanic, churning mouth of pure destruction, where churning pieces of steel and towers loom, where ridges of arcades and erstwhile spires create a grotesque, titanic gullet that consumes not people...not dragons...but whole towns.
An (un-) natural disaster of epic proportions given sentience, a massive dungeon of power from ages long gone, a place with an agenda and the intellect to pursue it, a problem the Icons couldn't really fix. Your town is doomed...but you and your allies may manage to infiltrate this huge thing, like microbes in a whale, riding on the pieces of town, keep and structures, in a churning maelstrom of stone, rock and blood - for before you is none other than the stone-thief, and it needs to be stopped. The stone-thief - Makh Miz Adaor, she who undermines. Makh Adaz Akor, the Howling Pit. Khazar Vuk Varag, oldest of hatreds. That's how the dwarves know the stone-thief...and their lord personally wants it dead. The prince of shadows considered the stone-thief dangerous enough to steal its eyes (hence the title), blinding what otherwise would be a deadly threat...to anyone. The stone-thief may well be the creature to break the stalemate between the icons...so a lot of different icons want this beast either eliminated...or as the crown jewel of their arsenals.

If your first impulse of this was "Living dungeons?" - well, the absolutely awesome component here would be that the stone thief is its own world, if you will: Ever moving and blind, this titanic...thing's capabilities are incredibly sensible: Whether it's the structure of its levels (which btw. come with info on suggested levels, encounter-dispersion, etc.)  that includes the gizzard you use to enter or its details - you always get that this is no simple dungeon to crawl through: Having limited control over its constituent parts, the stone-thief grows ever more powerful, reviving and controlling its denizens.

Even death cannot save you, as the stone-thief's diverse denizens have means to recreate adversaries - flesh-forming, the undead...the stone-thief knows how to keep pesky small folk out...for the most part. I already mentioned the submergence die: You see, while this colossal thing burrows its paths through the planet like a poisonous worm in the proverbial apple, its insides contract, often in deadly ways...so one would assume that there is no life inside, right?

WRONG.

You see, while the stone-thief has a lot of control over its configuration, this control is not absolute: Deep inside, generations of people led by a witch live, trying to ultimately assume control over this powerful being.

The Orc Lord has sent an excursion that has established a foothold inside...but obviously, the green-skins shouldn't be allowed to control this beast either...but at least they keep the cult of the devourer in check: Basically a group of insane apocalyptic terrorist-cultists, these people worship the living dungeon and hope to bring ruin to the realms above. Oh, and then there would be a council of spirits within the very walls - the custodians, who not only engage in complex power-plays among themselves, they also guide the dungeon and make sure it does what they want - if the dungeon should ever regain its eyes, they'd lose their status...and perhaps, their usefulness. Within in the pit of undigested ages, treasures of ages past loom and an apocalyptic settlement of the desperate hide within the stone-thief's innards -Dungeontown. Whether that's a safe haven, a despotic, sick settlement or anything in between - all up to the GM, though the seeds to develop this haven are all there.

It's hard to talk about this dungeon without mentioning the structure of this mega-dungeon. So here goes: One issue of mega-dungeons is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" structural problem. As anyone who has ever played and defeated one of these iconic dungeons can attest, there are two basic approaches, both of which sport their own issues.

The classic mega-dungeon would be static one, which I'll call "structured" for the purpose of this review: You get full maps for the whole thing, players and PCs can familiarize themselves with and secure areas and the process of exploration is classic, fun and all...but sooner or later, there will always be the session, where players are wasting time with a particular area; where the structure of the dungeon gets in the way. When you, as a GM or player are itching for an epic boss battle or the like, but you know you'll have to slog through x rooms of minion-combats first. It is then that structured mega-dungeons are at their most frustrating. On the plus-side, the story told, the familiarity gained of the areas explored - all of that really makes the dungeon feel lived in unique. These dungeons, like e.g. Frog God Games' Lost City of Barakus, Cyclopean Deeps, Rappan Athuk, etc., excel at indirect storytelling, but their structure can get in the way of direct storytelling.

Similarly, dynamic factions can easily be moved around within. Modular dungeons are a different manner - E.g. Savage Mojo's Lich Queen-saga champions full control over the dungeon for the GM: Instead of a concise overview map, one gets rooms and encounters that can be moved around at your leisure. While this does provide the means for the GM to always retain maximum control over the respective tension and requirements at the table, this approach has an inherent problem: You obviously don't t get a concise overview map, have a lot more GM-work on your plate and no matter how good you are as a GM, you probably will never reach the level of familiarity within the dungeon and the sense of actually exploring the place. These dungeons lend themselves to better direct storytelling than structured dungeons, but ultimately invariably suck at indirect storytelling, which, to me, is a component I value just as highly. By necessity of this approach, dungeons will feel more like a highlight-reel, less like an organic place.

I see pros and cons for both approaches and can enjoy both - I can rattle off excellent examples for either approach.
This mega-dungeon, however,  transcends the limitations of this dichotomy: All levels herein come with gorgeous, isometric maps, with the respective encounters using the environment in the best of 13th Age traditions to modify the surroundings and utilize the terrain in combat. Similarly, scaling for the rooms is provided...but here's the thing: The dungeon's structure allows for the recombination, inversion and resetting of areas and surroundings - and the book accommodates your needs: The killer-trap level the PCs will always have to traverse, the gauntlet, has more nasty traps and encounters than it needs - for your sake, so you get to choose, can maintain control over the pacing.

So you can keep the area familiar...yet fresh.  Your PCs and players will grow familiar with components - revived foes may let them pass after having their butts kicked before, for example - but the dungeon does not suffer from the issue of potentially becoming stale or stagnant: The recombination of rooms and inhabitants within the levels is a glorious idea...and the whole mega-dungeon always has a sense of urgency due to the submerge die: Once the thing starts rumbling, the PCs better start getting out (or to a safe zone!)...which ends a perfect means to track and for a GM to rack up the tension if the PCs are idling...and yeah, there are plenty of actions that increase the submergence die...

The genius of this book, indeed, can be found in the fact that, much like the stone thief itself, it is a structure...that is alive and feels modular. It is inorganic and organic at the same time - to use a genre-wise inappropriate analogue, but one that my academic readers will understand: This is a cyborg dungeon. It is uncannily close to being what we know, but the capabilities are beyond that of the regular. This is no Frankenstein-hodgepodge - it is basically an evolutionary step ahead. Now I mentioned the requirements of direct and indirect storytelling. Indirect storytelling in structured dungeons works well - you crawl through the dungeon, because it is there and by virtue of room arrangement and the like, you slowly get a picture of what's going on. This works herein as well. However, the massive book does not merely leave you with a room-by-room accumulation of descriptions - no.

Instead, this book presents a huge assortment of handcrafted stories beyond the structure of the rooms - the Quests. These are not simply brief outlines à la "PCs go to room xx, then to room yy, then get..." - no. The quests provide basically campaign-level fodder and ideas for excursions in and around the stone-thief - for the premise is that the PCs will have to evacuate the dungeon more than once! (And yes - one idea includes the stone thief sloughing off the part with the PCs in it while submerged under an ocean...)

These quests can be ignored or used, combined at your leisure and much like the premise to explore the stone-thief and all relating to it, customized in a myriad ways. And if you're time-starved...you can still run the dungeon pretty much by the book. While I'd suggest reading this before running it as a whole, I tried running one level sans any preparation, blind - and it worked tremendously well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are superb - for a book of this size to excel in both qualities to this degree is a thoroughly impressive feat. The superb organization via ToC and indices guarantees furthermore that you have a very easy time finding the actual information you're looking for. Layout adheres to the 2-column full-color standard established for 13th Age-products and the book comes with a metric ton of awesome artworks, with a lot of the bosses sporting downright evocative pieces in the distinct aesthetics established for 13th Age. The cartography of the respective levels comes in absolutely gorgeous isometrics in full color and leaves NOTHING to be desired. The electronic version comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks. The print-version is a glorious full-color hardcover and, sans hyperbole, one of the crown-jewels of my RPG-book collection - its production values are superb, the paper is thick and the binding great. This book is made to last...and it needs to.

Okay, this review took a lot of willpower to not immediately burst forth with what I really wanted to say:

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's Eyes of the Stone Thief...is the BEST MEGA-DUNGEON I HAVE EVER READ.

Regardless of system and setting. 

This has all the strengths of both structured and modular mega-dungeons and none of the weaknesses. The characters herein brim with creativity. The challenges, whether they be traps, hazards, creatures of the stone-thief itself universally are simply SUPERB. Excellence. Platinum-Standard. This is innovative regarding the rules, smart in its depiction, exciting to read and a single level has more ideas than some whole dungeons I've read.

The intriguing nature of the dungeon itself makes sure that the stone-thief basically is one of the coolest villains I've ever read: More so than the myriad of foes in this book, the dungeon itself is what will draw the ire of players and PCs and the advice for depicting it, the exceedingly concise presentation of the mechanics and rules to which it needs to adhere, the thoroughly evocative settings, the stunning modularity of the setting and structure...every page, every sentence in this huge tome breathes pure, unadulterated, undiluted excellence.

Let me once again emphasize that: This is my platinum standard for mega-dungeons from this day onwards. It quite frankly makes many of the mega-dungeons I've read look like a grade-school-flutist trying to compete with a world-class prodigy. This is pretty much a whole class of its own - it is smart, well-written, brims with more creativity than just about any mega-adventure I have read and...I'm running out of superlatives to heap on this book. No matter the scale you apply, this is apex-level excellence.

I'll go one step further: Know how console video-games are often branded as system-sellers? This is, to me, one of the very, very few books I'd consider worthy of this title.

This book is so good, I urge every GM, no exceptions, to get it. Even if you and your group have no interest whatsoever in 13th Age and its rules or setting. This book is so good that, on its own, it suffices as a reason to learn the rules. It can be converted and does not lose much, though you may want to give careful through regarding Koru behemoths -> replace with kaiju of your choice) and icons. Still, I wholeheartedly believe that learning 13th Age for the express purpose of playing through this book is worth every second, every dime. Even when taking the price of the core-rules etc. into account...this still is worth it a hundredfold.

This book is a glorious read, play even better...and. Let me give you a bit of context: I've read many 1st and 2nd edition modules. I have a HUGE collection of 3.X material. I own a metric ton of PFRPG-material. I have several 4E-books. I have a bunch of 5E-books. I have an extensive collection of OSR, CoC, GUMSHOE-books and a bunch of Midgard and Shadowrun books. My Pdf-only folder of books that I do not own in print is over 90 GB and this folder does NOT include pdfs of books I own in print.

 I have literally read more than a thousand modules. I have a lot of modules, both big and small, that I consider awesome for vastly diverging reasons. From superb-investigations, spine-tingling horror to massive APs or superb sandboxes with concise structures. Among all of these modules, there are pretty much only a handful I'd even consider mentioning in the same breath. This is basically the 1% of the 1% of the 1% in terms of quality and ranks as one of the best, perhaps the best mega-dungeon ever published. At the top of my head, the only book I'd consider truly on par with it in imaginative potential and scope would be Frog God Games' Sword of Air - and that one is not a mega-dungeon, but rather a superb combined wilderness/dungeon/investigation-sandbox...and my number 1 spot of last year's Top Ten.

Now I know, this was released in 2014...but I only got into 13th Age and thus, this book, relatively recently. And it needs to be honored properly. This gets a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval, is a candidate for my Top Ten of 2016...and should honestly be in any GM's library. Even for scavenging purposes, this is worth it. Even if you want to convert it to your system of choice, this is worth every second spent converting it. This is apex-level adventure-craft...and I really hope it has not forever spoiled me rotten regarding my expectations for a mega-dungeon. If you want to get one mega-adventure...get this one. It doesn't get better than this.

You can get this ridiculously awesome, brilliant mega-dungeon here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!

Endzeitgeist out.

4.22.2016

Gonzo 2





This book clocks in at 419 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, leaving us with...414 pages of content.
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WTF, 419-pages?? Seriously, I had various iterations of the playtest-doc since last year. It's the only reason you're seeing this review NOW. This has been moved forward on my review-queue as a prioritized review...and doing so was smart, for this book has been in circulation among playtest classes for more than a few months This is seriously the biggest book of CRUNCH I have ever reviewed, even taking the one-column layout into account...and it would completely break my format. So how to review this?

All right, let's establish some standards, shall we? I am not going to go into an in-depth analysis break-down of each ability, since that would bloat this review to an extent that helps no one. Instead, I will give you a brief class-by-class breakdown and then provide my general assessment of it, all right? Great!

The architect is a 3/4 BAB-progression class with a good Will saving-throw, d8 HD, and 4 + Int skill points. These guys let you create towers based on environments present, with a scaling number of active towers at a given time. He may also choose to summon improved versions at 5th level - these count as two towers active. Towers are created as a standard actions and have different base stats depending on resources used in construction. Beyond that, they have a mobile weapon's platform. Gravity-towers, elemental towers...quite a lot of types are provided and the class has 3 capstone super-towers...though presentation here is slightly inconsistent - the table erroneously calls these "citadel cannon" instead of grand tower and one of them has a somewhat not really required reference to a tower being only a possible choice at 20th level - which already is the case for the whole category and makes the presentation slightly more confusing. The titan archetype is a full BAB one and uses towers to supplement his increasingly mechanical body and gaining size and towers to be added to the body - complex and unique.

The atomic adept is a 3/4 BAB class with a good Fortitude saving throw, d8 HD, 4 + Int skill points, and 6th level casting - with a unique twist: While the class has an extremely small Int-governed spell list, they are defined by radiation: These guys are kinda like warlock-y type of blasters, with scaling rays that inflict radiation damage (treated like negative energy, minus option to heal undead). Here's the interesting component, though: These blasts can only be performed safely a number of times per day; any blast thereafter inflicts double the amount of rads on the atomic adept. Spells also influence the rad count with a somewhat chaotic chance of incurring a meltdown against himself. The higher the rad count a creature has, the more severe the negative conditions incurred, with rest, spells etc. being capable of reducing rad-count. Sufficient natural or regular armor also reduces rads incurred. This class is odd - there are VERY powerful talents that let you gain full progression for the blasts, for example...but at the same time, you may inflict this damage upon yourself when suffering a meltdown...and while the class has not the finesse of e.g. the Interjection Games ethermagic-system, the overall balancing of the class is interesting in that it can pull off a lot of powerful blasts, but is very limited in their function. Personally, I gravitate to more customization, though I do believe that the rad-system has a lot to offer - via other classes and expansions, there is a ton of potential here. That, and I do like the chaotic nature of spellcasting here. The mad bomber replaces nuclear strike with radiation damage dealing bombs as an alchemist - which may, due to the daily limit of bombs, be more suitable for less high-powered games...though there is some issue regarding blowing all bombs at once. If the bombs were intended to not have a daily cap, then this needs some balance-finetuning - unlimited bombs = better damage output than the base class. Overall my least favorite class in the book and the one I can see having the most issues.

The battle butler (or battle maid) is a full BAB class with good Reflex- and Will- saves, d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points that treats expensive clothes as armor. They specialize in Dex-based and are somewhat bodygaurd-ish, choosing a creature as their contract and defending them. More become available at higher levels they can select more people. Unlike many full BAB-classes, they have a bunch of non-combat utility tricks, including massages that can get rid of exhaustion/heal attribute damage. And yes, the ability has anti-abuse caveats. What about perfect memory? The interesting component with the class would be the service meter - this meter fluctuates when the master is struck and oscillates between providing bonuses (or penalty) to critical hit confirmation rolls and damage bonuses - the interesting component here is that the class gets damage-bonuses when they also have penalties to critical confirmation rolls. The table and system are simple and play rather interestingly. The class also features the new butler weapon group and several appropriately-themed weapons. This will make a whole lot of Otakus very happy! If you haven't noticed, btw.: The battle butler does undergo a rigid conditioning - and sometimes, something goes wrong - cue in the rapscallion archetype, who begin with empty service meters, but may exert more control over them.

The chessmaster gets 3/4 BAB-progression with good Reflex and Will saves, d8 HD, and 8 + Int skill points. They utilize edge points gained in combat and skill challenges and providing advice to allies actually yields results - the perfect class for all the "I know better than you where to place your character on the grid"-type of players...and providing bonuses makes listening, for once, viable and also gain edge points when their suggestion is carried out. These points they can use to return the favor by giving that action a boost via edge points- and yes, this may actually result in proper teamwork. They also get the option to set-up gambits, with prereqs, costs, triggers and effects - higher levels unlock new gambits and allow for new customizations of old ones. Interesting: At higher levels, the chessmaster can provvide advice to the enemies - when the enemy follows the advice, the chessmaster gains edge points; if not, the chessmaster can penalize him. Very interesting mastermind/tactician-style class. The trickster archetype swaps two abilities and replaces plans and coordination with a limited spell list.

The chimney sweep is a full BAB class with good Fortitude- and Reflex-saves, d10 HD and 4 + Int skills per level. They gain soot points via chimney sweeping, which they can use to create concealment at first, and gain other benefits at higher levels. They can see through fog, mist, and soot without penalty, and gain various tricks based on soot - generally, think of these guys as polearm/concealment fighters and soot-point based bonus precision damage. Okay, but very limited specialist.

The croupier gets full BAB-progression with a good Reflex and Will save, d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points. The croupier receives the Sense, which makes hostile attacks of ever-increasing natural attack rolls fail - e.g. natural 2s. When a foe misses him, he gains Sense points, which may then be expended to modify e.g. d20 rolls: Think of the mechanic as somewhat akin to a Charisma-based version of grit, but based on being missed. Additionally, weapons like pool cues and cards are part of the deal - and important: The class can conjure forth cards and throw them at foes, with the suits becoming relevant when chosen via one of the class's talents - with e.g. hearts offering healing, clubs debuffs, etc. Billiard-based combat tricks and chaotic firearm use or limited bardic abilities complement a chaotic, but interesting class. Archetype-wise, the cheater can use his tricks to influence the rolls of others - basically, the more misfortune-themed variant of the class. The second archetype, the pool shark, would be the specialist who manifests a cue ball of force energy, usable in conjunction with a couple of unique rounder talents...including a mechanically novel crazy eight ball that may suddenly change course...

The davatti gains full BAB-progression and good Fortitude- and Reflex-save-progression, d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points. The interesting point here being that they can move 4-dimensionally - in the directions of ana and kata - to illustrate the concept for 3D-thinking: Imagine you're a denizen of Flatland (2D) and can move into the depth or height of your world - 4D-movement works similarly, but obviously lacks as poignant an illustration since our own perception is attuned to 3D. Mechanics-wise, this class can be summed up as the perfect skirmisher - since they can short-burst teleport/4D-move to just about any space, they are supremely agile and make hit and run tactics pretty awesome; since their4D-movement is still restricted by movement-type, this movement can't be cheesed. Also truly intriguing: Non-4D movement charges their "manabar", i.e. the points they can expend to modify their tricks via talents and the like. That's not all, however - the class also sports a highly customizable "nth blade", which interacts in some instances with these mechanics - basically, we get a skirmisher with a highly customizable blade type. Pretty impressive class! The archetype for this class provided would be the deja-vin - instead of using their powers to phase around, these guys can try to force creatures to repeat their previous actions to the best of their abilities, including, obviously, modified warp talents.

The dynamancer gets full BAB-progression and a good Will saving throw, d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points. Inspired by Gurren Lagann et al., they can fire beams of love...that deal love damage. Evil foes take more damage from this, but have an easier time saving against it. The interesting component, here, is momentum - being hit (or hitting a foe) grants the class momentum, while it also may expend said points...and even go negative, incurring penalties for doing so. And no, can't be cheesed/kitten'd. In combat, the class has a BAB that is different from the listed amount, clocking in at CR of the opponent, with class level +3 (later: class level +5) being the caps. Aforementioned love ray can be supplemented and expanded upon over the levels to result in compulsions and signature styles (including gender fluidity of those hit or breakdancing). Additionally, the gain handicaps, which allow for different uses of momentum - blind dynamancers can spend momentum to gain blindsight for a limited time-frame, for example. They also get an aura at higher levels that prevents creatures with a low Charisma from approaching them and a sufficiently whacky capstone. Archetype-wise, there is a somewhat tactician-y one, the greaser, who may lend signature styles to allies, for example.

The guide has 1/2 BAB-progression, good Reflex and Will saves, d4 HD (no, you have not misread!), and 8 + Int skill points. Have you seen the infamously stupid D&D cartoon and thought the GM as a character was a good idea? Have you ever played Ocarina of Time and NOT wanted to bash Navi's wispy bauble to smithereens? Well, there are guides. Guides serve the Storyteller, who prefers happy endings and thus sends out these fellows to guide heroes. Hence the name. These guides can change into tiny bubbles (with elemental traits) - even though the text confusingly once states that their form is diminutive and can basically provide all those support tricks: Mage Hand, Knock, high-level limited wishes, 1/day raise dead  at the cost of being reduced to -1 HP, swift/immediate action cures - think of these guys as the support globe that hopefully isn't as annoying as the more infamous rendition in video games. Balance-wise, these guys are very fragile and their limited offense capabilities make them an uncommon playing experience. Unassisted flight at 1st level may prove to be problematic for some campaigns, though admittedly, the fragility of the class does help here a bit - a few well-placed arrows and you had a guide... One note: At 2nd level, these guys may cast magic missile at will, providing an easy and convenient way for very reliable damage. Depending on the precise nature of your campaign, this could prove to be an issue, thought it won't be in most. Fairy godmothers replace bauble form and some tricks with Cha-based spellcasting from the cleric's list and generally is a significant change of the feeling of the class.

The henchling gets full BAB-progression and good Fortitude saves, as well as d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points per level. The class is pretty ingenious in that it takes the old "who carries the loot"-discussion and puts an end to it: These guys do. Not penalized by encumbrance, they are superb at carrying huge amounts of gear...and actually benefit from it: You see, the primary weapon of these guys is the pack - basically, they can enchant their back packs, bags or the like and are particularly adept at bludgeoning foes to death with all the loot gathered. Interesting: Melee splash damage...and yes, you actually WANT to carry around increasing amounts of gear, since the higher your level, the higher the bonus damage for progressively higher weights carried around will be. Damn cool idea and uncomplicated, easy to grasp execution. Archetype-wise, the merchant, a rather complex one, can provide a significant number of quality of life improvements and the option to ferret out rewards for things/foes defeated is interesting as well.

The henshin hero is a full BAB class and has good Fortitude- and Will-save-progression, d10 HD, and gets 4 + Int skill points per level. These guys have a trinket à la Power Rangers that allows them to assume a special form a limited amount of rounds per day; while thus transformed, they gain tension points for passing rounds and defeated foes. These points act as a resource to power special tricks, including enhancers to the bonus damage-dealing finishers. The talents of the class include mounts, better action economy, explosive finishers and transformations - the whole array of tricks you know from the genre. Beyond the modularity this framework offers, the henshin hero also may choose one from a metric ton of leitmotifs, which cover bases from space to the alignment axes - these basically act as somewhat order-like/bloodline-like ability-suites that unlock new tricks at higher levels and provide modifications of the aforementioned finisher moves. Morph rangers are, obviously, more teamwork focused.

The magical girl gets 3/4-BAB-progression, good Fortitude- and Will-saves, d8 HD, 4 + Int skill points, and 6th level Cha-based spontaneous spellcasting. Magical girls are a hybrid between the henshin hero and the magus classes, and thus also gain a transformation as well the ability to gain and use tension, with finishers being untyped damage-blasts. Her motif acts more like a witch's patron, essentially a list of bonus spells. They also gain spell combat and some magical girl powers that blend magus arcana and hero powers and may expend transformation rounds to power spellcasting or dispel effects. Interesting: They can modify their finisher to work as AoE- basically, Sailor Moon, the class. The magical girl and henshin hero may btw. modify their trinkets via the empathetic device archetype to make their defining trinkets slightly sentient. Fused heroes, in the meantime, do not have such trinkets at all, working via different attributes and gaining a unique overdrive state, which can prove to be rather risky.

The monster cowboy gets full BAB and good Fortitude- and Reflex-saves, d10 HD, and 6 + Int skill points. They gain the gunslinger's gunsmith ability and, more importantly, a monstrous companion that acts like an animal companion (though the list is expanded to include e.g. gorgons, hydras or shambling mounds...), and gain the ability to ride pretty much anything you can imagine: With the exception  of humanoids, incorporeal undead and oozes - even if they're not willing. While initially, this is done mainly to hassle the foes and gain advantages over them, things change once steel points enter the fray; these can be used to attempt to force creatures into submission via Handle Animal checks, though it is a mind-affecting effect. Beyond SPs gained by brands and the subversion of the will of branded foes, these guys They also have the ability to perform extra tricks with lassos and nets. Monstrous mount-choices, obviously, are part of the class presentation, though I really would have loved to see a pseudo-Chocobo here...oh well...riding owlbears is pretty awesome. And FYI: Since riding fellow adventurers doesn't really help the class, it thankfully steers clear of the minefield that is one PC riding another...

The multiman gets 3/4 BAB-progression and a good Reflex save, d8 HD, and measly 2 + Int skill points. Their main ability is creating clones - at first 1 at a given time, later up to 4. Clones are created as a swift action 4/day, +1/day for each class level, lasting for class level rounds, minimum 3. Clones are restricted in the actions they can perform and observant adversaries may pick out the prime multiman. Clones are rather fragile to begin with and draw upon a collective pool of resources. Impressive: The disarm/item-duplication-cheese options are covered. The class becomes more interesting pretty fast, with customizable clones (e.g. remote-detonation clones or ones that fly/are invisible) providing options via two separate suits of talents. Oh, and obviously, the class also gets some serious teamwork-vibes going on. Archetype-wise, the mitotic man is similar yet different, splitting off clones by mitosis, with consecutively powerful ooze traits gained instead of mirror manipulations. I am a bit weary of these guys, but then again, the visuals are glorious.

Class number 15, The phantom thief, gets 3/4 BAB-progression with good Reflex- and Will- saves, d8 HD, 6 + Int skill points, and 6th-level spontaneous Cha-based spellcasting. Billed as a hybrid of the rogue and the bard they also get a pool of panache, the ability to fight more effectively in light or no armor, and the ability to spend panache to sneak attack. They later gain a number of tricks to allow them to steal various non-physical things, amongst other abilities. The class has the crazy prepared option among the talents (which works well and can't be cheesed, though it lacks the "no-specific-key" caveat)...and can steal abstract concepts - from memories to attitudes, these guys come off as the mythic tricksters with a slight touch of the magical. If you're familiar with a lot of 3pp-books: Think of these guys as a pretty powerful take on the Abstract Thief that works much better than the class of the same name. My favorite version of the concept so far - kudos! The bagman archetype of the class is the gift-giving specialist, just fyi - and yes, you could make conceivably battle santa with this one.

The sparkle princess has a 3/4 BAB-progression and good Fortitude- and Will-saves, d10 HD, 2 + Int skill points, and Charisma-governed spontaneous spellcasting of up to 4th level, though spells may be cast alternatively via sparkle power. Sparkle princesses are ruthless, savage killers, honed by fighting devils in a nightmarish demiplane of Hell, dread Candyland ruled by the Chocolate King, where everything is tooth-achingly sweet and the devils assume cutesy-wootsy forms, tempting children into the plane where most are either devoured or pressed into slave labor. They utilize special snowflake powers that can be powered by their sparkles...or they perform atrocities, which are sparkle-powered modifications of their respective attacks. Including the severing of limbs. Obviously. (Yes, rules included.) They also gain an animal companion or can establish a bond with their allies. Information on the demiplane is provided, as is the +2 Cha and Con, -2 Int half-construct teddybear race. ...the sparkle princess may not be mechanically the most novel of options herein...but oh boy do I love the class and its notion. Oh, and there is the mother archetype who can reselect all mommy powers it comes with at 16th level - via the aptly-named "Best Mom Ever"-ability.

The thread maiden is similarly a 3/4 BAB class with a good Will save, d8 HD, 6 + Int skill points, and 6th-level Wisdom-based prepared spellcasting. They can see the threads of fate, which results in a rather unique perspective on the world and creatures - think of her seeing things basically as though we all were sackboys/girls from Little Big Planet. Depending on the specialization chosen, they can unweave magic, take away the qualities (or types) of creatures or objects. Additionally, special attacks, so-called snips, allow for the expenditure of unused spell slots to provide pretty nasty debuffs.
Finally, the ungermaw gets full BAB, plus a good Fortitude-save, d10 HD, and 4 + Int skill points. These people can draw in air with such force it delivers targets closer to his gnashing teeth. They get a bite (proper primary/secondary codification provided) and are defined by hunger - they must eat twice as much as a regular character and still are never sated. They gain a number of talents, mostly focused on consumption as they progress, making their bite more deadly, allowing them to exhale to push people away, and even the ability to feast on magic itself...and yes, swallow whole. The cannibal archetype of this class, while technically not correctly named, gets abilities depending on the creature eaten.

The pdf also sports archetypes beyond the aforementioned ones:
Abductee clerics replace channel energy with the option to deal nonlethal damage...however, there is a chance that the target is abducted and subject to alien experimentation. Interesting one. Broodmother summoners are the harbingers of insectoid or otherwise weird symbiotes - instead of an eidolon, they can caused touched creatures to be infected and then mutate. They get less creatures to be summoned, but may cause damage versus those infected, as a capstone even providing a killswitch. The Comrade paladin...is a holy warrior of the ideals of marxism, devoted to bringing down nobility and bourgeoisie. The coward rogue is permanently shaken and deals minimum sneak attack damage - but may inflict its cowardice on others and even learns to modify his levels of fear - a lot of unique talents included. Interesting archetype-concept.

Pretty cool, particularly for all interested in modern-style gaming, the ranger-archetype of first responder, with paramedic, firefighter and police officers being represented. The folken barbarian hails from a strange land and has a blend of superstition-style abilities (yep, hex) and signature weapons as well as the option to stir the hearts of those that listen to him using his native tongue.

Glitch sorcerors are interesting enough to be almost considered their own class and rank as one of my favorite sorceror archetypes EVER - getting rid of the defining bloodline and all that's associated with it, these beings regard reality as a simulation and may tamper with in, hacking the world itself: This allows them to swap creatures with other creatures, for example. Modifying DR or hacking resistance also are...interesting. The significant, potentially game-changing power comes at a price, though: Each time the glitch hacks reality, reality recoils. The GM has an assortment of options, from problematic objects to worsened starting attitudes...and yes, this can lead to very unique situations. I really like this one, though it does require a quick-thinking GM. Still, a campaign with these guys and Rite Publishing's Metadventurers could be absolutely hilarious! Goblin rogues may elect to become battle clowns (including an assortment of goblin jokes) and harpy witches replace hexes with belittling, vile insults.

The impersonator PrC gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Fort- and Will-saves and 7/10 spellcasting progression, a bonus feat at 1st and every 3 levels thereafter...and generally, has the fine-tuning depending on the persona he impersonates: A Schwarzenegger impersonator gets  different class skills, applies better weapon training to different weapons than a Bruce Lee impersonator, for example. 6 sample icons are provided. The Slimelord PrC gets d8, 4+Int skills per level, 1/2 spell/extract-progression, 1/2 BAB-progression, 1/2 Fort-progression - by studying oozes, they can lob oozy bomb-like globs at foes, get different slime forms and progressively take on ever more oozy traits...but at the cost of progressively losing Charisma. Oh, and yes, there is a new deity: Baygorth, the elderslime, whose favorite weapon...is green and needs to smell like peaches. That's it. provided you can make a weapon adhere to these criteria and do so...well, you got it. And yes, you can take Weapon Focus (Green and Smells Like Peaches). This section also introduces us to the humanoid oozes called Rezumar, who get 2 Dex and Wis, -2 Int and have a couple, but thankfully not all ooz-y traits...and make for an overall balanced race, though I wished it had more space to shine.

One of the oddest archetypes I have ever seen would be the Master Familiar - a familiar who gets a wizard thrall. Kinda awesome! The Nascent deity oracle archetype selects a dominion from a list of cleric domains, with provides a prerogative and a list of class skills, replacing the mystery and mystery bonus spells. Not a big fan of this one, mainly since I've seen the concept done better. The negotiator inquisitor is a slick, silver-tongued guy with some battle-butler-synergy and ooze chemist alchemists get a symbiotic ooze (erroneously, he's called "mad experimentalist" once here) - basically an ooze companion that can be enhanced by extracts, but the alchemist does lose bombs. Unfortunately, I've seen that one done before in a bit more unique manner by Flying Pincushion Games. Pacifist fighters are perhaps not perfectly named, but they do provide a solid means of depicting a face-fighter that does not kill his foes. Pyrotechnicians are bomb-specialist-alchemists with full BAB and Ex bombs as well as no spellcasting - mainly useful for non-magical settings; in the fantastic context, I've seen this trope done better.

On a high note: Rancer cavaliers get orthellas - magical motor-cycles. Awesome, though I wished there were more than the two sample ones provided here. Speedster monks increase their damage, the more they have moved and become progressively faster (think Flash or Quicksilver, light edition), while starchild druids gain a psychedelic outsider companion and the option to animate dreams. The take on the Storyteller archetype, here provided for the bard, has weaponized books and can conjure forth legends of old.

Of course, in a book of this size, one should not be surprised to see feats - and indeed, from Dance-Fu fighting style to Percussive Maintenance Style or Sissy Slap style, there are quite a few rather funny ones. The feat-section also provides a lot of options for the huge array of classes (and archetypes) herein - e.g. the harpy does get a couple of feats. Nice, btw.: You see the associated class at one glance - in optional brackets behind the feat-name. Very helpful! Firing a bow with your feet? Possible. Also cool: Elemental Phobia: it nets you resistance versus the element, but makes you react with dread when faced by it...and yes, upgradeable. A fascination-inducing Puppy-Dog gaze, a personal theme song-feat...this book earns its title.

The book also sports new gear - metal jaws, cloudpress and darksteel, nacreous silver...quite a bunch of new materials can be found...oh, and yeah, there even are a couple (5) cool combat drugs. Books of lewd desires or bullets that talk with you while sticking in your body...have I mentioned the "Oh Dear Mother of God why would you do this"-chain that can discorporate into a spider swarm on command?

Sooo, and right now I come to a chapter that may single-handedly make some people buy this book, even those that don't care at all for a single class herein: Mecha-construction rules. You get build points, various frames, engines, weapons, defense systems, movement systems, special systems - in one word: Easy to grasp-rules (with Build Point-progression rules for Mecha-XP, if you will - slow, normal and fast progression...), different sizes, different generators - the set-up is simple, yet works...and may well be a great start for a whole book of mecha...the system's relative simplicity certainly would allow for a lot of expansion beyond the ~20 pages devoted to it! I love this chapter and its rules, but on a nitpicky side, explaining how the system works in detail would have been didactically smart - while it becomes evident upon reading what the components do, clearly explaining all components, not just the basics before going into the system would have made it a tad bit more user-friendly. Then again, it's so easy to grasp, you won't have any issues.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are...honestly much better than I expected. In a book of this significant size, there are surprisingly few glitches herein. Kudos to Morgan Boehringer, Christina Johnson and Rahul Kanojia. Layout adheres to a 1-column full-color standard and there is a LOT of playful, original full-color art herein. On the downside, I don't really like the one-column standard for books like this (more page-flipping) and I'm no fan of the font. Both are subjective points and thus will not enter the equation regarding my final verdict. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and a second b/w printer-friendly version -great to see that one!

Scott Gladstein, Dayton Johnson, Ian Sisson, Sasha Hall, Mark Nordheim, Christos Gurd - congratulations. This book is the biggest crunch-book I have ever reviewed. It took me forever to get done and I honestly expected the reviewing process to devolve into pure pain somewhere along the way. It didn't. This is due to several facts:

1) This book opts to go the high road: You won't see any lackluster combinations of old class mechanics herein; even in hybrid type classes, the results are unique and have their own unique schtick.

2) Almost all of the classes feature some kind of very distinct and novel mechanic - granted, I dislike some of them personally, but I have to applaud their creativity and said dislike stems universally from personal tastes. You can e.g. reduce rads via magic pretty easily; in my games, this would be a problem; in others, it may be required for the mechanic to be considered worthwhile - bug or feature? You decide.

3) Overall, there are no downright broken components herein. There are some strong options herein, but they universally are circumstantial in their power and focus: Obviously, the glowing Navi-thing must fly...is that an issue in your low-level game? It can be, but it doesn't have to be.

4) This book, honestly, is great for serious games as well. The davatti, for example, will certainly see use in my games, no matter the tone.

5) This book is never, ever BORING. I have seen A LOT of different crunch books and quite a few...well, feel somewhat redundant to me at this point. This one, for the staggering majority of its vast page-count, managed to keep me entertained while reading and analyzing it.

How to rate this colossus, then? See, this is where it gets tricky for me - I have encountered a couple of instances where the rules-language or presentation could have been a bit clearer. I didn't like everything...but on the other hand, this is pretty much a colossal grab-bag of options, a scavenger's toolkit that allows you to play basically Power Rangers, Sailor Moon, use tropes like the battle maid, skirmish through space or play a friggin' fairy godmother...or a psychotic sparkle princess. Not all options or power-levels will be appropriate for every campaign. Not all classes will be to your liking...but chances are, you'll find a lot of damn cool material (or rules-inspirations) in this book. Ever wanted to play Ghostrider? There's an option for that. And then there's the bang-for-buck ratio. ~$0.04 per page. You'll be pretty hard-pressed to find a book of this imaginative potential with such an impressive bang-for-buck ratio. While there are some hiccups herein, the totality of the book deserves praise and hence, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars...and since I loved a lot of the imaginative and innovative options herein, I'll round up and while not all components inside deserve it, I will still slap my seal of approval on this massive book for the multitude of components inside that I do love. If you want to see something radically different, take a look at this tome - there is so much to love here, even if you end up loathing some components, it's well worth the investment!

You can get this massive tome here on OBS!

Little Red Goblin Games also has a patreon - you can check it out here!
 
Endzeitgeist out.