9.05.2014

EZG reviews Plight of the Tuath II - Vasily's Woe




The second installment in Mór Games' epic saga clocks in at a massive 101 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC,1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a massive 94 (!!!) pages of content, so let's take a look, shall we?

This being and adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here?

After triumphing in the former module, Philiandrius the mage contacts the PCs again to travel to the town Innskittering to reclaim the so-called "Antecedent of Easement" as a first step towards foiling the invasions of the Fomoire and their dread deity.  Providing them with a means of contacting him and some scrolls, the PCs are sent on their way toward the town of Safeharbor - provided they can prevent their ship from being sunk by magma elementals. In Safeharbor, the PCs may unwittingly gain the attention of the Sect "The Culling" - people that hunt good clerics and wizards because they want the peace bought from the evil gods to remain intact. Morally interesting, this fascinating nod towards the structure of deities and belief in the Imperiums Campaign Setting makes for a compelling set-up that adds a unique dimension to the setting, but one you can easily ignore or reappropriate. Which also brings me to a point - in case you have not played Plight of the Tuath's first module, you are not left alone - the module offers ample advice on running this as a stand-alone, though it mho loses some of its glorious fluff if you do so. Advice on additional tricks to challenge exceptionally capable parties also can be found throughout the module, which renders running it for pros (like my players) easier.

Now back to the plot - I mentioned the Culling already, and know what - the first killer of them the PCs may encounter actually gets a massive, concisely-written background story and actually is a well rounded character. Now Innskittering, guarded by magical mists, hits a soft spot with me - the sinister village, with its old hagish barkeeper, the module's eponymous creepy rhyme-song "Vasily's Woe" and the subtle sense of decreptitude and death, the town and its non-too-friendly inhabitants may well end up as troop-style mobs out for the PC's blood - after all, the temple the PCs will have to enter is taboo ground for strangers. In the exceeding, cool flavor of the module, the very guardian statues of the temple receive their own legends. Unbeknownst to the PCs, the recent outbreaks of plagues (which, as a backdrop of looming despair, is also reflected in tinctures and long-nosed plague masks as available items to purchase - including a stunning artwork for the mask) has had the despairing villagers transform people into soul-bound marionettes  -and the path of breadcrumbs leads to Petrov Manor.

In the dark manor, the PCs may save a gnome as they explore the place - now if you're like me, here's one final example why this module is such a great read: A small box fills us in on a gnomish custom - the small folk have been hunted by doppelgangers for generations and thus tend to show their "colors" by picking their skin and bleeding, believing doppelganger blood to be of a different color than red. This also influences jewelry, which often comes with a means to picking one's skin. Now mind you, small cultural tidbits that make sense on a very fundamental logic level within the context of a setting might seem paltry to you, but you *notice* these things on a subconscious level and they all come together.

Now, beyond the investigation of the manor, which in its dressing and challenges, remains distinctly medieval (and unlike most haunted manor scenarios ), the PCs can also explore the manor grounds, where a dread cult taken root -or go directly to the witch Yaga Petrov, who makes for essentially the boos of this module - if they manage to survive her unique spells, the demonic infestation and oh so much more.

The module also comes with a full-page hand-out of stats for a certain gnome, information on the 4 exceedingly cool emergences the PCs may receive during this module (think of trait-like/spell-like rewards for actions that may be lost...or further explored...), fully detailed and statted villages with legends, properly narrated and phrased galore, 10 magic items with EXCESSIVE background information, 6 original monsters, optional rules for minor and major divine rituals, write-ups for the religions of 4 deities (including rituals, SAMPLE BLESSINGS and subdomains...) and finally, 4 pregens, all with their own full-color artworks.

Easy to print-out b/w-cheat cards for DMs to show or have ready for key-NPCs and player-friendly versions of 6 of the maps (all they could conceivably research in the module) are provided.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch - while e.g. one of the statblocks has a "1" missing before the 6 in the AC-entry, the modifiers remain and that was the most grievous glitch I noticed - for a module of this length, quite impressive. Layout adheres to a 2-column full-color standard that is easy to read...and makes me weep that I don't have this in print...yet. Seriously, the first "Plight of the Tuath"-module was beautiful, this perhaps is even more so. The artworks are, no hyperbole, on Paizo-level, depending on your tastes, perhaps even beyond it. It should also be noted that the module is internally hyperlinked and excessively bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is line-drawn and nice - and plentiful.

"Vasily's Woe" is an exercise is great story-telling that even has some sand-boxy, non-linear qualities to it. While, in its heart, a relatively simple investigation/explore spooky places-module, this adventure actually made it hard for me to put it aside. I'm not kidding.  I do not often come across a module I want to read to the end, taking my laptop to bed with me after staring all day long at text. William Moomaw's "Vasily's Woe" did just that. Where the first module by Mór Games had some slight issues with a potentially overshadowing NPC, some non-standard rules in the climax etc., this one also provides unique rules - but ones that actually make sense within the context of the module, and sans contradicting existing ones. But you don't necessarily will want to buy this for the crunch.

You want to buy this for the atmosphere, the ingenuity of the writing, the mastery of the little cultural tidbits that make a world come alive. The atmosphere can be perhaps described as a captivating blend of Russian and Gaelic myth, dosed with a nice sprinkle of danse macabre, an a coherent world-building that may be based on systems and creatures we know, but gives them a whole new dimension. This is more "The Witcher" than Golarion - grittier, but not necessarily darker. The amount of detail provided for...well, EVERYTHING, steeps everything in a sense of antiquity that utilizes subtle techniques of myth-weaving to create a beautiful tapestry of interconnecting dots PCs and players alike may explore at the same time, generating an (Almost always optional) level of detail scarcely seen in modules. Better yet, the overall panorama drawn here is one I really, really love - while managing to generate a sense of antiquity, of an old and ancient world, at the same time, this module succeeds in being FRESH.

This module and its setting, from what I could glean of that, manages to be at once defiantly old-school and suffused with a sense of the ancient and mythological (in the proper academic term's various notions), while at the same time carving its own identity and making a defiant stand against settings that have bloated themselves with races, thinking that by adding a race with x modifiers, they can create a richer backdrop of cultures, when they can't even get proper human cultures right. This module has more awareness of what makes a world believable than the vast majority of settings I've read (and enjoyed). It boils down to the attention of detail and the proper THINKING THROUGH of its components, which come together as something greater than the sum of its parts.

You may have noticed that I have remained relatively opaque throughout the review - this is not due to an inability to describe the plot, but rather from my desire to not spoil this one and the reading experience, this offers.

William Moomaw and Mór Games deliver a module, which, while not flawless, makes for a superb reading, a compelling adventure and top-notch production values. Add to that the fact that this is only the second product of Mór Games and I'm really stoked to see where the company and its Imperiums-campaign setting will go in the future. I remain with a final verdict of 5 stars + seal of approval and a nomination as a Candidate for my Top Ten of 2014.

You can get this glorious module here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.

EZG reviews Perplexing Puzzles #1: A Crystal Puzzle is Forever





This FREE pdf clocks in at 14 pages, 2 pages of SRD, leaving us with 12 pages of content, so let's take a look at what this offers, shall we?

As you can see, this pdf is FREE and about PUZZLES. Yes, puzzles. Remember those? You know the type that, back in the days of 1st and 2nd edition, provided the awesome brain-teasers, the food for your grey matter beyond crunching combat-numbers? Yeah. There aren't many around anymore, which I consider rather a pity - so what are these about?

Essentially, the idea is relatively simple - you have crystals and rods to poke the crystals with. There are three types of rods - one red, one green, one blue.
Crystals can have up to 4 different colors - red, green, blue and clear. Each of the rods has a specific result when poking a crystal. Taking for example a blue rod to poke a crystal will have the following results:

-It makes a red or green crystal blue.
-It makes a blue crystal clear.
-It also affects all adjacent crystals (not those diagonally adjacent) to the crystal touched.

Each rod has a different array of such rules that make figuring the puzzles out rather fun - and easily expandable.

Each Puzzle herein has a base configuration of colored crystals and a goal configuration to reach and the difficulty ranges from child's play to challenging - the penultimate puzzle took my group about 30 minutes to get right and my guys are good at solving logical puzzles. If you as the DM can't be bothered to solve this, sample steps to solve the puzzles are provided, though it should be noted that these not always are the most efficient way to solve these.

Now if this looks rather underwhelming on paper, rest assured that it's actually fun if your players enjoy  actually thinking and flexing their mental muscles. I know my players enjoyed it enough to to make me make puzzles like these the basic technology of hotwiring the creations of one particular ancient civilization in my game.

While primarily intended as a mini-game while waiting for the one guy who's late, the 5 sample puzzles provided can easily be expanded by an enterprising DM to include many, many more.  A total of 4 pages of dot-cut-outs to represent crystals is provided as well, if your players need a visual cue - for advanced groups, I'd suggest not providing these, since it makes the task slightly more complicated and is a nice memory-training exercise.

Now the pdf also offers some advanced tricks - If your players have too hard a time, provide a multi-colored rod that can change colors - especially nice if your PCs failed to find one of the rods. If you're sadistic (or to reflect botched UMD-checks, there is a variant which changes a random crystal's color every 5 moves. This should NOT be used for the more complex puzzles, though - your players won't be happy about it. Finally, there is a kind of template for a golem who can be tuned to a color, with different special attacks based on the crystal color they're attuned to.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good - while I noticed some minor non-standard rules-language in the end, that is not something problematic or grievous in a free product. Layout adheres to a printer-friendly two-column b/w-standard and the pdf has rudimentary bookmarks.

Okay, I'll come right out and say it - I love this pdf. A) It's FREE. B) It inspired me - the possibilities of this deceptively simple system are endless -  more complex patterns of crystals? Possible. A Ziggurat that needs to be solved, with crystals strewn throughout the dungeon, requiring exploration to get the pattern and then solve it? Possible. Creatures that have superb defensive powers (Vastly increased DR etc.) and need to be solved first, requiring attacks with the rods while they try to bash you to smithereens? Possible. The potential of this humble little book is staggering and it simply is FUN. Now granted, if your players don't enjoy logic puzzles, then this might not be for you - but come on, give it a try. Remember those days when gaming was a teaser for the intellect as well as the imagination, from the time to which we point when we tell ourselves that gamers are above average in intelligence. Unleash your nerd and dare to use some fun puzzles - you literally have nothing to lose with these - they're for FREE and well worth 5 stars + seal of approval - an awesome free product by Bradley Crouch.

You can get this neat pdf for FREE here on OBS!

Interjection Games also currently has a kickstarter running for "Strange Magic" - check it out if you're by now bored by Vancian casting and want to see a Tome of Magic-style book done right!

Endzeitgeist out.

8.29.2014

EZG rambles: Strange Magic Kickstarter

And now for something completely different:

As you may have noticed, I read *A LOT* of roleplaying products in my function as a reviewer. The logical conclusion of this vast amount of material is that my campaign is suffused with unconventional races, classes, monsters, feats - you name it.

My players see a lot of weird classes in playtesting and are infinitely patient with my constantly refreshing pool of options that I throw at them. One of the issues I have with many playtesting practices is that they happen in a vacuum - that way you can check math, sure. But actually *playing* the classes is where the glitches show or where a one-dimensional focus becomes apparent. A class that can't do anything worthwhile in non-combat becomes significantly less enticing. Hence, they have to put up with a lot of playtesting scenarios.

It is no surprise then, that a *LOT* of great 3pp classes have and continue to enrich my player's gaming experience. From Rogue Genius Games Talented classes, to Dreamscarred Press' Psionics, Kobold Press's New Path-classes or Radiance House's Pact Magic and infinitely more - there are many cool options to which my players have been exposed. Then, one fine day, one guy called Bradley Crouch started making truly "advanced" classes - highly customizable and a tad bit weird, with their own, strange systems and unique tricks.

Little did I know that playtesting was about to get more complex for me and my group. Take the Ethermancer, perhaps the best warlock-class currently available for any d20-based system: When we tested that guy, I was stunned to see the class actually work exceedingly well, in spite of its constantly refreshing mana-style pool. Gone were the "nuke and cover"- evocation overkills and in game, it proved to be exceedingly fun. So fun that one of my players went for the class for the campaign.

Over the course of the following weeks of gaming, he enjoyed the class enough to write an optimization guide for the beast.

That has never happened before. The level of commitment was interesting and so, I took a look at the system, started tinkering and experimenting with ideas. If you'd like to have Daniel's optimization guide for the pre-KS ethermancer, just drop me a line via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab and I'll send you the pdf.

Cut to some weeks later and a lot of exchanged e-mails about ideas on how to file off some rough patches, making some options more viable etc. - and suddenly, Bradley asked me whether I'd be game for a kickstarter that expands the options of three cool classes and their unique systems that have been enriching my game. I said immediately "yes."

In case you're wondering whether this book will be worth it, here are the reviews of all the constituent magic systems, all of which are greatly enhanced with new material galore:

Truename Magic
Ether Magic  (& its first expansion)
Composition Magic (& its first expansion)

Now 2 of these guys are Candidates for my Top Ten of 2014. Yes, that good. Even before expansions and further streamlining.

The resulting book is live, progress on each class is fast and thorough and this book will be glorious!

So if you will, drop in and take a look - and if you're looking for balanced, cool alternate systems, a Tome of Magic that actually works - well, here you go!

Click here to go to the Strange Magic Kickstarter Page.

Next week, I'll talk about some of the cool things I've got up my sleeve for this project and explain the design intent behind one of the classes, the etherslinger!

See you then!

 Endzeitgeist out.

8.21.2014

EZG reviews Road of the Dead Collector's Edition

Road of the Dead Collector's Edition






This module clocks in at 45pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/CR-lists, 1 page advice on reading statblocks and 1 page advice on running the module for novice DMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover,  leaving 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, before I dive in - we get 6 pre-gens to run the module, a short primer-style appendix of the general area of the lonely coast including travelling distances/speed and 3 new monsters +2 magic items, the latter of which both get their own artworks. That's the supplemental stuff. It should be noted that the original "Road of the Dead" may have had more pages, but not more content - the collector's edition simply properly collates the information of the module and thus makes it more printer-friendly.

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

All right, still here? Great! What is this module about? Well, one upon a time, a strange people lived in the forests and vales of the Lost Coast. These people had their own, distinct culture and now, the PCs, via one hook or another, stumble across a complex of said folk. Now the culture is the interesting thing here, for the dungeon mirrors essentially a take on the "Road to the Underworld" that dead souls must take upon death as you probably know from Mayan/Aztec mythology. That is, unlike most mythologies, the souls of the vanquished still are in jeopardy after death - failure on the road means an end to the soul - truly final annihilation. The iconic dungeon herein mirrors the procession of such a conception of the afterlife in the very dungeon - resting, to this date, as one of the finest example of unobtrusive, indirect story-telling I've seen in a dungeon:
From pools of "blood", crimson mists, roads of wails  -the complex offers smart, intelligent hazards and obstacles, a barrow-labyrinth with undead that also includes RSP's trademark dressing tables of unique sounds and things that happen, spell fragment-hazards, a divination pool - there are plenty of unique and challenging threats and hazards here - including a now added possibility for more socially-inclined characters to shine that was absent from the original. Now I can't emphasize enough  how concise and organic this module feels - the dungeon, in the very act of the PCs making their way through, tells a captivating story by simply existing: Each encounter, adversary and trap has the distinct feeling of being lovingly hand-crafted - from sharpened stalactites to flame-gouts spurting demon maws and unique outsiders and one of the most iconic final rooms in any PFRPG-module - not one component of this adventure feels like filler or anything other than downright awesome.

Add to that the further adventuring options that have direct consequences depending on how the PCs manage their discovery to acting as +1 optional boss battles to challenge the truly capable or lucky groups out there and we have a significantly improved version of a module that already was very good...

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting, as almost always in RSP's offerings, is flawless. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks. It should be noted that the pdf features improved artworks for many a piece and also features one version for screen-use and one for print-use.

Creighton Broadhurst's "Road of the Dead" was a very good module back in the day, but it had minor weaknesses. The Collector's Edition has purged them all and made what shone before a dazzlingly glorious beast. The complex and its story, the adversaries, the hazards - this module is one of the finest examples of indirect storytelling I've seen in ages and imho surpasses in the thoroughly awesome concept of the dungeon and the implementation of its features in the narrative almost every example I can think of. This place makes sense in all the right ways; It's exciting and challenging, but not too hard. It can be enhanced via the bonus/follow-up encounters to be hard, if a DM chooses so. It provides a fascinating glimpse at a unique culture and one I'd hope we'd explore more in the future.  The Collector's Edition is a significant improvement in all regards and my dead tree copy, including spine etc., lives up to all the standards as well, adding superb production values to stellar content. Even if you have the original Road of the Dead, the print version is definitely worth its low price and if you don't have the original module, then this should be considered a must-buy anyways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and since "Road of the Dead" has not featured in any of my best-of lists...this one does and is a candidate for my top ten of 2014.

You can get this awesome module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

8.08.2014

EZG reviews GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing


GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing





This massive compilation of Raging Swan Press' Wilderness Dressing-series clocks in at a massive 159 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than a massive 152 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Okay, so you know the deal, right? I did reviews for all the constituent files of the wilderness dressing-series and I don't like repeating myself over and over, so if e.g. the exact content of what the installment on "Snow & Ice" or "So what's the Pirate Ship like, anyways?" intrigue you - just check out my reviews for those, all right?

Great - what I will go into details about, though, would be the massive array of brand new tables to e found herein as well as the organization, for especially the latter is downright genius:

The first bunch of the book covers features and events - caves and their dressings, firesite/campsite events and the like complement the installments on ruins and castles. Then, the next chapter provides bandits and travelers to put in respective locations, whereas after that, we have a concise organization of dressing-tables by terrain type - expanded by the equivalent of three full wilderness dressing-pdfs (and we're talking this chapter alone!): Full coverage for swamps and marshes and farmlands as well as borderlands complement well the classics like the glorious primal forests or desolate deserts. Now the final chapter provides ample tables for ships - from shipwrecks and pirate ships to coastlines and sea voyages, the new supplemental content herein once again amounts to a surprising amount.

On a  content-base, the campsite tables features no less than 100 full entries for dressing and features each and the same holds true for the tables about caves, which furthermore get terrain properties. The Borderland-content as well as the content on swamps and farmlands follows the full wilderness dressing formula by proving massive tables of 100 entries for both dressing and minor events as well as coming with concise d12-tables of random encounters that include the respective fluff for the adversaries faced. And yes, the variety here is universally as staggering as we've come to expect from the best of wilderness-dressings - from bulls about to break out of control to fey and GARGANTUAN BUMBLEBEES, creatures from all 4 bestiaries get their chance to shine here. The swamp rules-cheat-sheet for DMs, with quicksand, undergrowth and bogs etc. all collated further provides a level of DM-help unprecedented in just about any supplement apart from those by Raging Swan Press.

I should also not fail to mention that exactly this level of detail also extends to the entry on coasts, while 50 entries of sample shipwrecks, 100 entries shipwreck dressing and, once again, 12 encounters, round out this book.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, bordering on flawless - an impressive feat for a book of this length. The pdf comes in RSP's two-column B/w-standard with thematically fitting b/w-art that partially is stock, partially glorious original. The book comes with two pdf versions - one printer-friendly and one optimized for screen-use. The pdfs are extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks and even ToC etc. is hyperlinked within the document in an unobtrusive manner, rendering navigation by pdf as comfortable as possible. It should also be noted that the pdfs are extremely tablet/smartphone-friendly and render perfectly on my Google Nexus 5 while taking up next to no space  -the screen-version does not even surpass the 10 mb. The print-version has its title conveniently placed on the spine and offers a neat, matte cover as well as nice paper. Nothing to complain there either.

The designers John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Seamus Conneely, Brian Gregory, Eric Hindley, Greg Marks, Brian Wiborg Mønster, David Posener, Josh Vogt and Mike Welham have almost universally done a great job and when some tables aren't as glorious as others, then only due to the insanely high standard of the series in general. Now I won't kid you - I didn't particularly look forward to reviewing this, mainly because I did not think I'd be able to say something I hadn't said in one of my reviews of the small pdfs in the series. And yes, I could have ran my usual spiel of talking about the respective new tables, what works and what doesn't etc. - but it didn't feel like it would be enough.

So I postponed and procrastinated. Then, my group went into the wilds, on journey and left civilization, at least for a while.

I've got to go on a slight tangent here: As some of you may know, I print out all my pdfs. I just prefer paper. It makes catching glitches easier for me and is just more pleasant to work with, at least for me. I printed out all the component-parts, archived them in my terrain-folder and had them on standby ever since. I did use them and I enjoyed them. Then I got this book.

The difference, by some strange quirk of my mind, organization in the tome or whatever you may call it, is staggering. This book has since rapidly turned into my most-used DM-accessory book. And oh boy, is my campaign better off for it! And the reason eluded me for some time...after all, I had most of the constituents, why do I use it now this excessively?

The answer came to me the other day - I looked at the ToC and it was there, I read it, it made sense. When I was gaming, though, I did not actively remember where what is, my usual process. Think for a second, recall information xyz, go on. I didn't have to.

Somehow, the organization of this book, at least for me, is so borderline genius and adheres to some weird principle of how my brain processes information and draws logical conclusions that I don't even have to remember what first letter (i.e. the "d" of desert) the respective table has - via a borderline genius organization of tables and content, my subconscious manages to immediately pick up where the information I'm looking for can be found. Now mind you, I experienced this phenomenon from the get-go, the very first use of the book. This is a triumph of glorious organization and layout and perhaps the best example of the like I've seen in any roleplaying game supplement. This is a proof that layout artists, alongside developers and editors, truly belong to the heroes of the rpg-industry. And it makes me use the book. ALL. THE. TIME.

Now even if this observation does not interest you in the least and you already have all the old Wilderness-Dressing files - take a look at the sheer amount of bonus content. Yeah. Even for people like me who had the constituent files, this should be considered a must-have, a book that every DM should own. This book is a hot contender for my top ten no. 1-spot of 2014, gets a 5 star + seal of approval and while I'm at it - every DM should own this: It's hereby declared an Endzeitgeist Essential-book for DMs. Players, if your DM doesn't own this, get it for him/her - they'll be happy and your gaming experience will improve significantly while traveling - I guarantee it.

Do yourself a favor and get this book for your game. If you're a player, buy it for the DM. Seriously, your game will immediately become more detailed, more awesome. You can get this GEM here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.