Told you I'd be back soon, didn't I?
Today, I'm going to return to Greg Vaughan's epic and deadly Slumbering Tsar-series whose publication is in no small part thanks to an interview by Lou on this blog and introduce you to the dread Temple-city of Orcus, namely
This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 54 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, leaving 50 pages of content, so let's take a good look at the very first part of the epic Slumbering Tsar saga that had never been released under any other system, introducing the dark and dread temple city of Orcus!
This being an adventure review, the following contains massive
so please, potential players, stop reading NOW.
Having survived the manifold and dread dangers of the Desolation, the PCs, at the beginning of this module, finally start to delve into the legendary temple-city, which is introduced via both an interesting background information and a nice idea that ensures the PCs won't get respite from the dangers of the Desolation or the City - the true citadel of Orcus is hidden between the planes and to explore it and end the sinister threat, they'll have to find 9 statues, the so-called 9 disciples while avoiding the alignment-warping effects of the city. But to enter the city, the PCs will have to brave the black gates of Tsar, i.e. Kirash Durgaut and the tower of weeping sores or find some other way into the city. And wow, the Black Gates are not easily penetrable - the PCs will be assaulted by several siege undead (and we're not talking 6, we're talking about quantities of 50+) as well as a deadly "boss"-fight against a new creature, the dokkalfoer, which is essentially an intelligent animated tower that contains deadly yet illusory defenders and is HARD to destroy, even without other enemies.
Alternatively, the PCs might try to use the sunken gates, gates to the city that have been submerged in a swamp-like environment, featuring not only plenty opportunities to drown, die by the hands of bog mummies and even a living swamp. Finally, the PCs might try to scale the walls or enter via the broken gates, both of which are not truly better options, as the walls are patrolled by undead and the broken gates still contain the remains of another potential boss battle with a battle hulk. However, if they act smart, the PCs might use this hulk to their advantage. We get an 1-page overview map of the city and 2 detail maps of 1 page respectively, one for the black gates and one for the sunken gates.
There is a reason, though, why the black gates never fell to the onslaught of the army of light - the siege castle Kirash Durgaut! The legendary siege castle features three floors of the castle, its maps spanning 6 pages, 2 per floor and one page of maps for the upper floors that make up the tower of the weeping sores. A quick glance at the maps shows you the siege weapons and details that will make the fortress hard to infiltrate, even for the PCs - they better have magic, good plans, stamina and their dice on their side, otherwise e.g. animated portcullises, iron maiden golems, strategically planted siege and regular undead (if you consider e.g. Athach-skeletons or Grey Render fast zombies regular...) will get the better of them. They can also meet a devilish thief and catch him in the act and will have to fight their way through the demonic/undead troops left in the fortress up to the tower of weeping sores and its torture chambers where they'll have to defeat General Myrmac, the deadly skeletal host general of the tower and his diabolical seneschal.
The pdf closes with two monsters ( both get their own artworks) and a magic item.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a clear and printer-friendly b/w-two-column standard and the maps are nice, have a parchment-look and come with grids. I would have loved key-less player-friendly maps to cut up and show to your PCs, but oh well. The b/w-artworks spread throughout the book are beautiful, often disturbing and capture the feel of Tsar. The encounters are cool and old-school, featuring some the PCs will easily walk over and some where the PCs will have to play it smart to prevail. In a nutshell, this installment of ST continues to provide the excellent quality and iconic locales we've come to expect from Greg A. Vaughan's magnum opus and Frog God Games. The pdf is extensively bookmarked, making it rather easy to use on screen. In the end, I don't really have any good points of criticism, this installment of ST keeps the excellent quality of the series and for people who don't want all of the books/don't have a subscription: If you need a dread siege castle or some ideas how to make your villain's evil fortress more impenetrable, you are at the right place. My final verdict subsequently has to be 5 Rudii.
Need something more generic, though? Perhaps a host of cohorts after all the puny allies of the PCs have been killed off? Additional firepower for adventures like Slumbering Tsar? Or are you running Kingmaker and struggle to come up with enough cool NPCs?
There you go!
This pdf is 48 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 1 page introduction to the subject matter, 1 page editorial, 2 pages ToC, 1 page back cover, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 39 pages for 100 new hirelings, so what is actually within this tome?
The pdf kicks off with a one-page discussion on why this book exists, namely a significant dissatisfaction with the leadership mechanics and its problems. I'm sure we all experienced the unfortunate problem of cohorts simply not living up to being essential parts of a given roleplaying group and dying too easily/being just another set of (bad) stats. This pdf seeks to remedy that by providing a whopping 100 henchfolk and hirelings for your perusal. For ease of navigation, we also get a two-page table of the henchfolk to be acquired by the PCs sorted by alignment, with details on their classes and the respective pages as well as a two-page list by class as well as another one that presents the henchfolk by race. The alignments of the henchfolk covered are LG, NG,CG, LN, N, CN and LE, offering no cohorts for the NE and CE alignments. While I can understand the reasoning for not adding them as well and making e.g. one of the CN or N guys and gals evil is not hard, I'd love to see a sequel devoted to insane and/or depraved cohorts for NPCs/ evil parties.
The first rules presented cover the acquisition of new hirelings & henchfolk depending on the size of the town in which the PCs recruit as well as a d100-table to randomly determine applicants. The rules are simple, concise and easily implemented. Even better, they can not only be used for PFRPG, but for almost any fantasy-based roleplaying game. This is not where the rules stop, though: From easily used (Diplomacy-based) job interview with the hireling to be, to quick and easy rules for the hireling's upkeep, careful consideration is given to balance the additional support they offer for a party with costs, ensuring that the PCs don't simply amass a small army.
On to the hirelings, then: They are presented by race, starting off with 8 dwarven NPCs. While no full stat-blocks are given for the respective NPCs, they do come with alignment-information, basic ability-scores and their base class. More importantly, though, they all get the Raging Swan NPC-treatment, i.e. short information on appearance, background, personality and mannerisms are given. Each and every NPC within this book gets this treatment.
My favorite dwarven hireling would be the clam, level-headed and kind, yet extremely unpleasant-smelling Torgal Helkrak, called "The Oyugh", whose Cha-score of 6 is explained via his lacking hygiene and conceals a kind, gentle heart. Among the 8 elven NPCs, my personal favorite would be the stark, raving mad Cydul Nailo, who is convinced that all that stands between him and the whisperings of the dread dragon in the sky is his trusted, dented helmet. If you can't come up with some cool ideas resulting from this delusion (or is it one?), I don't know what might spark your imagination.
Within the Gnomish ethnicity, none stood as much out as among the first two racial groups, though the almost pixie-like, hyperactive and kind cleric Ellywick Foler with her pet chipmunk makes for a cool little cohort who is ure to be endeared to the PCs if handled right. All the better when the DM wants to kill off a treasured associate to avoid TPKing the party...
Among the 8 halfling henchfolk, the hedonistic, yet friendly Garrett Greenbottle (a sorceror of the fey-bloodline) caught my interest as well as the rogue Osborn "Ossie" Tealeaf, the latter for reasons I can't disclose here, with players reading this.
The 8 half-elven hirelings presented herein make for interesting companions, with Ilonal, a femme fatale cleric of the god of love ranking as my favorite, but while none fall into the dread emo-Tanis-trope, none really had me excited either.
The most interesting ethnicity with regards to hirelings, at least for me, would be the half-orcs, as they are hard to portray as anything but the cardbox-cut out tropes in the few lines available for each individual. A very cool character is the shoddy make-up wearing, female cleric of the god of beauty and love who was reincarnated into a half-orc by a druid. Formerly, Gerbo Nackle was a dashing male gnome - cool idea and makes for a lot of cool developments. The intellectual diviner Farnsley Thaddeus Biddle is another prime example for good character writing. I do have a gripe here, though: There are two half-orcs named Feng, one who is just called "Feng" and "Feng the Fang" - It would have been easy to rename one of them, why go with the ambiguity?
The vast majority (52 if I haven't miscounted) of the new henchfolk belong to the race of humans. Unfortunately, once again the name-conventions are a bit lazy: We get 2 Digorys, two Alans, two Cajas, 2 Kenver and one Kenvern, 2 Kittos, 2 Petroks, 2 Rosens, 2 Sowenas - that a lot of duplicate names. While we all know the frequency of some names is higher than others, players often have a hard time enough to remember all the names (at least in my campaign that holds true!) that we don't necessarily need names that are all the same. Yes, most have at least a different surname, but unique names would have made for nice bonuses, especially given the fact that you can always take an existing name and apply it to an additional character. This minor problem of repeatedly-used names is, though, the only truly negative thing I can say about the wide plethora of characters found herein.
Editing and formatting are good, while I didn't notice any typos, double sentences or the like, I did notice some minor punctuation errors as well as a superfluous tab-blank in one of the tables, glitches that could have easily been caught by another pass at editing/formatting. Layout adheres to the classic, two-column Raging Swan standard and the b/w-artwork is nice, though (quite understandably) we don't get artworks for all the cohorts. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and we also get a second version optimized for use with e-readers. There being no statblocks per se, but only fluff with general attributes, usability of this pdf is not restricted to PFRPG, but could easily be adapted to just about any fantasy rpg. This being a crunch-light book, I'll rate it on the fluff and how the attributes of the respective characters are reflected in the flavor-text describing them. Interestingly enough, the amount of options of e.g. reasons for a low charisma are very high and, to be honest, none of the characters herein felt truly generic or like a walking trope. With the half-orc Krusk we even get a nice metagamey nod towards an iconic of yonder days of 3.X and, as you may have gathered from my favorites, some truly far-out individuals are among the hirelings. Rest assured, though, that more mundane people and even old and venerable characters can be found among the hirelings, offering for a nice and diverse set of individuals. I do have some points of criticism, though: Neither the APG, UM or UC are directly supported by these characters and while it is easy enough to make particular sorcerors or druids witches, it would have been nice nevertheless to at least have bracketed information à la "If you use the APG, substitute class XYZ for base-class ZYX" - in my opinion this would have enhanced the already very broad versatility of this book. Indeed, this book not offers a sufficient array of NPCs to serve as ideal backdrops for e.g. Kingmaker-campaigns or similar NPC-heavy campaigns, but could inspire whole campaign-arcs via the hooks for all the characters herein. Not all is perfect, though: The aforementioned name-issue is even more evident when e.g. considering Myghal, a monk hireling whose name is the exactly same as the one of a monkish villain from Villains I. An easily avoidable repetition. Another extremely minor gripe I have is the lack of one of the nice rhyming stances that feature prominently in almost all recent RSP publications. While none of my gripes per se are enough to detract a whole star, the accumulation of them makes it unfortunately impossible for me to rate this pdf the 5 stars its content would usually receive from me. While not enough to detract a star, this pdf still gets a final verdict of 4.5 Rudii. Don't be fooled, though: There is scarcely such an easily usable pdf out there and the value you get for your money is astonishing, making this one of the most expedient files to have as a GM. If you're DMing for a fantasy setting, any one really, be sure to check this out. You won't regret it. I hope there will be sequels.
Next time I'll have a review on a patronage project for you.
All right, that's it for now, as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,