While I'm waiting for my next surgery I had plenty of time and subsequently, here are some awesome files that hopefully bring a (twisted) smile to your face - I know I felt twitches of gleeful malice in my black heart while reading them!
First among my reviews for today is the second part of the dark oriental saga:
The second part of the three-part Japanese horror saga set in Kaidan, "Dim Spirit" clocks in at a whopping 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page list of contributors, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 6 pages of advertisement and 2 pages SRD, leaving 51 pages for the second part of the epic, so let's check out whether it stands up to the excellent quality we had in the first part!
First of all you’ll notice the, once again, excellent quality of the layout: The Bamboo-lined pages and the artworks serve greatly to enhance the overall, unique feel that made me appreciate the first Kaidan-adventure so much. The adventure is also bookmarked extensively for your convenience. After being introduced to the new country and its rules and subjected to some of the dark things lurking in the shadows of this place, the plotline now evolves: From a journey into the night and towards ever more sordid revelations of Kaidan I, the pace now changes into another direction and the fighting-spirit of both your PCs and players will be tested by this second part and its bleak, sorrowful narrative. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I can go on about this adventure without spoiling anything, so potential players beware, from here on reign the
That could destroy an experience you would hate to see…well…spoiled.
Still here? All right! We left the PC’s trail when they entered Tsue-Jo to finally deliver Marl’s “Gift” and free his daughter from the clutches of the daimyo. Subsequently, the first act of the PCs will be to explore the town and settle in a Gaijin-friendly Inn the daimyo provides for unwelcome (or rather unimportant) visitors. Not all is expected to go well by the enigmatic merchant, though, as he sends the PCs to buy horses (they will smell the necessary fast getaway) and more importantly, to let them spread gifts among the populace – red silken handkerchiefs. For what purpose, though, only becomes evident later. It is here that I want to comment on something that is unfortunately rather rarely seen in adventures – social encounters. Both the handkerchief-dispersing and the horse-shopping (quite difficult with the xenophobic populace) as well as the resulting scene in the daimyo’s palace can be seen as prime examples for good “normal” encounters, which make the resurgence of the horrific aspects later all the more important. Even the visit at the daimyo’s palace, while disturbing, goes quite well and Marl can reclaim his daughter and even get a present. Nothing is as it seems in Kaidan, though, and I refrain from spelling out exactly what happens, but after the scene at the palace and the PC’s departure from there, they are marked and their escape will prove to be one laden with a severe handicap that will continue to be both problem and motivation for the PCs. Extensive advice for the Dm to deal with some of the potential problems is also offered in this section – nice!
The first station on the way is an abandoned village including a garden shrine, where a terrible tragedy of star-crossed lovers (yes, it’s the kill by accident trope, but with a twist) occurred, but before you start to yawn and move on, let me tell you that both the location are iconic, detailed and creepy, that the people in question are interesting and that, most importantly, they serve as a side-quest, a backdrop to a rather personal tragedy the PCs will have to face. If successfully united, though, the PCs might claim a katana that greatly improves similar to the wielder’s honor – a great concept and mechanic, one step beyond RiP’s excellent take on legacy items and one I hope to see expanded upon in future releases!
Again, this is a massive SPOILER, please players, jump to the conclusion.
Marl’s daughter, who seemed all fine, albeit traumatized, seems to recover from her ordeal at the hands of the daimyo, only to turn out to have been changed into an essentially hapless and tragic form of undead that can’t remember her deeds by day and reforms if slain – another burden, though one the PCs might, via a good DM, grow very fond of her and even pity her to the extent that they’ll try to find salvation for her. Presuming the PCs draw the right conclusions, that is. Otherwise one of them will be in for a nasty surprise indeed! Add to that Marl coming clear and telling the PCs about his handkerchief-scheme, which enraged the daimyo and they’re in for fun.
Bereft of the guide that acted as a mediator for the PCs until now, they are now hunted by a powerful force in this foreign land, handicapped by a growing weakness and a deadly killer that makes sleeping a gamble and encourages competent and creative problem-solving. Remember me telling you about despair? There you go, a perilous journey is ahead of them and let’s hope the PCs will be smart and stick to the bushes to evade the enemies hot on their heels!
Now, if you’re thinking about the wilds being the place for random encounters, you’d of course be right, but the encounters provided go beyond what you’d expect from individual short monster-bouts, being less random and rather exciting, from bakeneko to shadow stalkers and giant dragonflies, the PC will hope for solace at their destination. If your DM-alarm-bells are ringing again, don’t fret, once again extensive information is provided to ensure you’ll keep the plot going in spite of potential player-detours to the story.
Kitsumura, once again with a beautiful map, is a rather interesting place to visit – after all, it’s a hengeyokai village! (Look forward to the ITC-installment!) In the village, the PCs can find some kind of help if they play their cards right with the non-humans, i.e. by the PCs helping the henge in their troubles – their water-supply has been compromised and to add insult to injury, Snow-falling-on-the-blood, the mastermind behind one of the most disturbing encounters in Kaidan I, is now in the village, albeit disguised. While the PCs hopefully can put the beast to justice, they’ll also have to deal with a supernatural death squad as well as the now corrupted spring that has been tainted by a dread oni, its kami enraged and mad and probably a dread foe the PCs can overcome by being smart. The main antagonist of part I makes a return from the dead after that and it’s time to conclude this installment with the PCs learning (at the latest now), the way to end their undead companion as well as finally know what prompted their sickness – the PCs will want to get the source of their ailment. Which is, of course, in the lion’s den - the daimyo’s place. However, now the PCs have made friends with the hengeyokai and thus have a connection with their Tengu allies.
After that, we’ll get to the appendices, the first dealing with reincarnation, or rather KAidan’s twisted version of it. The second offers us new beasties, two great templates and some critters, all of which have some unique, cool fluff and some of which, once again are rendered in stunningly beautiful b/w-images, though not all. Rangers also get a new archetype, and a rather complex one at that as the yojimbo is spanning two pages – it is balanced, nice and makes for an interesting choice for eastern rangers. In another appendix, the concept of samurai honor is explained and its mechanics are expanded upon via two new feats. The pdf concludes with 4 pregens as well as an extensive-two-page glossary to help the DM run the saga and enhance the fluff.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed one minor editing glitch and two minor formatting glitches – at this length not enough to rate this adventure down. The adventure is concisely written, exciting and feels like the natural, logical change of both mood and setting to evolve the drama of the saga, evolving rather than ripping part 2 off and setting the stage for the conclusion of this dark tale. Tragedy, roleplaying, honor, weird creatures and a nice blend of events, a small investigation, wilderness and social skills are presented and while this is surely not the easiest adventures out there to run, it offers enough help to any GM to run the complex stages and boy, they are worth it. If properly evoked, a good DM can conjure a bleak tale from these pages, a yarn of death and sorrow that the PCs might yet twist to at least include some light in its umbral tapestry. However, you have to take into account that this installment, while putting PCs on the edge, hunting them and drawing them into the story-arc, I don’t think it would work too well as a stand-alone and that the horror here stems from the feeling of being hunted as well as from the foes the PCs have to face – the haunted, rather gothic horror and “get-out-alive”-scenarios have been replaced with a more in-your-face dread-and-despair-approach if you don’t use some creatures in the best/suggested ways. Usually, I’d detract a star due to the assumptions on the PCs course of action/travel route, but its logic is sound and enough information is provided to get stray groups back on track. Thus, I don’t have anything to truly complain about, in fact, while I slightly prefer the first part, it’s once again a haunting, beautiful journey into Kaidan, one that might shore up enough grudges for the PCs to swear revenge. Even better, the set-up at the beginning serves as one of the best transitions and the ideas are VERY cool and have been intentionally not mentioned anywhere in the review. I also liked the village the PCs find and the things to do there. In contrast to the first part, though, we don’t get that many encounter maps, but more supplemental rules material. All in all, I have to, once again, recommend this excellent addition to the Kaidan-saga – check the adventures out if you haven’t – they’re unique both in setting and style. My final verdict will be 5 out of 5 Rudii – awesome job!
Now that you hunger is roused, what about some awesome supplemental material?
This (now revised) pdf is 31 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 5 pages advertisement, 1 page back cover and 2 pages SRD, leaving 20 pages for the Tengu, so let's check them out!
In tradition with the series, the pdf kicks off with three tales that illustrate the mindset via 3 tales - I really enjoyed the read and the minor editing glitches of V1 have been taken care of. After that, we get the concisely-written and compelling IC-narrated origin myth of the Tengu race as well as a great introduction to the unique, enlightenment-seeking nature of the race as well as its concept of honor. The Tengu society and their relationships with other races (including the Kappa, Hengeyokai and Korobokkuru) and we also get discussions on alignment and religion, languages (including their love of poetry), discussion of their adventurers and nomenclature. It should be noted that the IC-narrative is consistent and consequently used and thus makes this a very enjoyable read.
After that, we get the racial traits of the Tengu: They get +2 Dex, -2 Con, +2 Wis, low-light vision, a natural bite attack, get two additional skills as class skills, +2 to Stealth and Perception (here is a blank line too much in the block), +4 to linguistics and learn more languages and proficiency in swords. Alternate racial traits are also provided, in case you want your Tengu to use axes or spears instead of swords, a tengu proficient with riding and handling animals, Tengu born in forests or mountains, especially gifted poets or brown especially fierce Kite Tengu. We also get an Age, Height & Weight table and an extensive discussion (including the Japanese terms) of the Tengu's take on all classes. Following RiP's excessively detailed and customizable standard, we get 9 favored class options covering the base classes as well as one for the summoner and one for the cavalier - nice!
Speaking of the cavalier: The Tengu get new archetypes and the cavalier gets one of the most kick-ass takes on the class imaginable.. I've got 4 words for you.
Dire-boar Tengu cavalry. HOW AWESOME IS THAT???
I'm a jaded cynic, but this just blew my mind!
And the mechanical execution rocks, too, providing you with mount stats and an extensively detailed order. Believe me, this one ROCKS! The next archetype is less awesome, but still nice, offering a valid take on a dexterous fighter. Their very own paladin-archetype, focusing on interaction with nature and kami and awakening the spirit within one's blade is nice.
Magus-friends rejoice, for RiP has added the archetype of Tengukensei, an awesome and very iconic take on our favorite arcane fighter in the revised pdf – this quite frankly goes above and beyond what almost any company out there does and once agin proves RiP’s commitment to offeing the very best to its fans as well as heeding the criticism they receive. Awesome!
After these, we get the Hishoken, the 20-level Tengu racial paragon class. The class gets full BAB, good fort and ref-saves, 4+Int skills per level and d10, being a fighting class focusing on agile attacks, lightning fast strikes and finally can become weightless (standing on e.g. thin branches) and even getting limited flight and the ability to temporarily transform into elementals.
After this rather cool class, we get a short discussion on the Daitengu, the legendary Tengu-sages of their respective mountains. The pdf closes with 10 new, Tengu-related feats, centering on improving their flight and swordsmanship. Mechanically, I didn't have a problem with any of the feats, all seemed balanced and like reasonable picks.
Editing is top-notch, I noticed no more glitches, all the old ones have been taken care of. Layout is full-color and adheres to the beautiful, bamboo-lined Kaidan-standard. The artworks are mostly ok, but the b/w-artwork depicting the Tengu simply kicks ass - kudos to Mark Hyzer, I love this piece! The pdf is extensively book-marked and I'll come right out and say it: It's my favorite book of the "In the Company"-series to this date. I have no complaints regarding the racial class and the archetypes rock hard. I love the mindset of the Tengu and where "In the Company of Kappa" sometimes felt a bit confused with regards to IC-narrative/crunch, this book, like the wind and the mountains that gave birth to the Tengu, creates a concise and serenely beautiful work that makes for a great read while providing you with the tools to use the Tengu. Even better, V.2.0 offers more content (Magus-archetype), features no glitches and quite frankly is one of the most kick-ass reads for a asian-themed race/class. It offers an excellent bang-for-buck-ratio and you quite frankly have no reason not to pick this up. The new and improved “In the Company of Tengu” gets my highest verdict of 5 Rudii with the Endzeitgeist-seal of approval.
Want even more, perhaps some traps? There you go!
This pdf is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving 14 pages of content, so let’s check the latest installment of the #30-series out!
As we’re used to by now, the pdf kicks off with an aptly-written IC-introduction to the matter at hand and sets the traps located herein at the optional backdrop of Rakifabeer, the main necropolis of the land of tombs and manages to actually sketch an interesting civilization and backdrop in a single page - a commendable example of concise writing! Moreover, the designer’s short commentary informs us that we actually get 55 traps instead of 30 – more than our poor PCs bargained for. Even better, though, several are combined into trap encounters, making a case for the complex traps I love so much. But onwards to the traps – will they stand up to the excellent “Art of Traps” by Necromancers of the Northwest?
The first thing you’ll notice when delving into the traps is, that they are not simply an assortment of traps (though they can be used as such), but actually work as a kind of gazetteer of the necropolis, including details like victims of polymorph traps etc., which subsequently evokes a rather gazetteer-like feeling that goes far beyond a dry crunch-book and is even reminiscent of a sketch for a trap-focused adventure – Neat! This flair is further enhanced by providing e.g. a simple, grid-map for the “Tombs of Tamar”, including A LOT of information to give the PCs hints of what to expect via linguistics and smart thinking. The traps linked to a Tamar king’s tomb are especially devious, well-placed and cool and come with another map.
But don’t be concerned, even the regular traps we get, are imaginative: Picture a room with a floor that tilts into the corner where the most weight lies, add two swinging deadly scythes to separate the room into quarters and you get a nice example of an easy to implement trap, that is just plain cool in its rather simple, yet iconic deviousness. Of course, the indy-trap, aka the rolling boulder had to get its representation, too and I actually prefer this one to NWN’s take on the trap, probably also due to there being a nice side-view of the traps make-up and the nice stumble-traps. No, that’s actually not it, rather it’s the addition of a reverse gravity for maximum pain n the PC’s part. And the alternative of a rolling ball of water. Water? Yep, and no the PCs are not supposed to drown. After all, there are those cute shocker lizards…
That’s what I’m talking about, it’s this kind of inventiveness that makes the distinction between good and awesome. Speaking of drowning: Combine magnets and water for a happy drowning and if that’s not enough, add one of the party-separation traps for even more fun. If you’re sadistically inclined (like I am), there’s also a downright cruel and evil trap that made me chuckle with glee: Teleport into a sarcophagus and transformation into a mummy – scream, PCs, scream! *Muahahaha* That are the small and “simple” traps. Yep. I was wide-eyed when I read that, too. The Necromancer’s chessboard (again, with a schematic depiction), makes for a cool idea and the pit-traps that conclude the pdf make for a nice addition to the file. While at first I wasn’t too excited about them, due to their proximity in the file, I realized that they could easily be stacked for deadly effects and the “Ahhh-owww-ahhh-ow-ahhh-owwww-etc.”-factor.
The pdf is extensively bookmarked and I noticed no editing or formatting glitches bar one: In the designer’s commentary, the pdf is referred to by its work-in-progress title “tricky traps”. That’s it and definitely nothing that could be considered a justification for detracting a star. Layout adheres to the new two-column-RiP-standard and artwork is b/w stock-art, but beautiful and very flavorful one. Indeed, I can’t bring myself to saying anything negative about this file – it’s a joy to read (in contrast to most crunch-heavy books), is easily integrated into any setting/dungeon, could stand alone as an adventure-locale/mini-gazetteer and would e.g. make for a great expansion of modules like “Pact-stone Pyramid” or the legendary “Necropolis” by Gary Gygax (R.I.P.), one of my favorite adventures of all time.
A crunch-heavy book full of imaginative traps, a practically complete trap-based adventure-sketch, an iconic flair and traps that truly deserve the moniker “imaginative” – Could one want for more? Yes, I missed one thing and have to admit that, while NNW’s “Art of Traps” has to admit defeat on all other levels, there is no complex puzzle-trap in here that necessitates the players thinking outside the box/logical and the complex traps from NNW’s book are just a joy to behold. In all other regards, though, #30 Traps for Tombs is just stellar and offers more content than promised – a lot more. It was not necessarily the additional crunch, but the stellar, captivating presentation and fluff that made this book a true blast to read and sparked off some truly insidious ideas in the twisted mind of yours truly –With all the praise I’ve heaped on this book, you might imagine what my final verdict will be: 5 Rudii and the Endzeitgeist-seal of approval. If you even have the slightest soft spot for traps, go check this out – the low price nearly forces your hand to do so. In fact, check it out even if you don’t like traps or trap-books: It might sway you!
All right, that's it for now, next time I'll change my location again.
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,
P.S.: If any of you fine folk would be interested in designing a little graphic representation of my dread seal of approval, I'd appreciate it!