8.25.2011

EZG reviews The Breaking of Forstor Nagar

Hey everybody,


today I'm reviewing RiP's latest premium product,


The Breaking of Forstor Nagar




This adventure is 48 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial and ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 44 pages of content, so let's check it out!

Disclaimer: I'm a latecomer patron this project.

The first thing you'll notice when taking a look at this adventure is its layout - Jonathan Roberts, cartographer extraordinaire, has also provided the stunningly beautiful layout for this pdf, which actually surpasses most rpg-books I've seen. It's really worth a mentioning if the layout appears like some kind of extra piece of art. Oh yeah, art. Cover and interior artist Tyler Bartley along his co-illustrators Jonathan Roberts (again, what can't the guy do?) and James "DevinNight" Hazelett provide some of the most eye-boggling, stunning pieces of artwork I've ever seen in any 3pp-product: The 5 pieces of original artwork are so beautiful it almost hurts and rank on the same level as Paizo and similar first party publishers, if not even surpassing them. James Hazelett provides a plethora of easy to use paper-counter-like mini-artworks like the ones you might e.g. know from his Dark Forest pack. Have I mentioned that each and every locale featured in the adventure gets its own map by Jonathan Roberts? If there ever was a beautiful rpg-book that screamed "I'm a high-quality" premium product when looking at it, this is it. The Breaking of Forstor Nagar is an 8th level adventure, but that is about all I can say prior to going into details, so from here on to the conclusion,

SPOILERS REIGN! If you intend to participate as a player, stop reading and jump to the conclusion NOW!

...

Still here? All right!

Forstor Nagar not only sounds like an awesome place (or a black/death metal band) but rather is - the city is carved into a glacier and subsequently consists mostly of ice, a beautiful and cool backdrop if there ever was one. But what exactly are the PCs supposed to do there? Well, the city is under siege by the dread Hungering legion, an army of devil-driven cannibalistic barbarians set to consume the heart of the city's legendary oracle to attain its foresight. Meanwhile, via one of the 4 sample hooks provided, the PCs will have to infiltrate the city and convince a certain Mathinder to escape with them - before the Breaking of Forstor Nagar is complete and the last defenders fall to the terrible cannibals. Who are a great looming force - somewhat reminiscent of Fierfly's reavers, several origins to customize them are included, adding to their mystery and making their implementation into any given campaign world a rather easy feat to accomplish.

The adventure drops the PCs almost in medias res, beginning their assault/chase through Forstor Nagar via their descent from an ice bridge to a fireboat's deck manned by legionnaires - it's up to the PCs to take the boat by force, prevent its crashing into the city walls or follow some other, clever plan. A surefire way to tell good design from bad is when an encounter can easily be modified and acknowledge different PC-strategies like using water elementals etc - all in all one of the most memorable first encounters in any given adventure I've had the pleasure of reading.

It is here I'd like to add that extensive information on the locale, temperatures, terrain etc. is included throughout the whole adventure, significantly facilitating play. The second encounter has the PCs, via the rooftops, open or disguised, get behind the line of defense of Forstor Nagar's defenders and their cool lightning-ballista siege weapons. Whether social, stealthy, smart or slaying, a plethora of options is encouraged by the 3 starting positions, Jonathan Robert's beautiful map and Ben McFarland's smart design. the terrain is used to full effect in this encounter, guaranteeing a memorable encounter that is followed up by a cool part where the PCs find the now shattered green houses of the ice city along the intruding remorhazes - after all, what better source to generate sufficient heat in these dread climates? They can even prevent further attacks by these dread creatures and might also meet a multitude of monkeys throwing stinking fruit, a nice nod to one of my favorite 2nd edition adventures of old.

Depending on their actions, the upcoming assault on a barricade of the legion will be one hellish battle with the legion and its infernal hunger devils to offer enough time to evacuate the diplomatic compound, saving further citizens (with sample personalities given, offering the extra mile of information that makes running adventures a joy and easy) and finally making contact with Mathinder...who wants the whole refugees be saved as well.

Thankfully, Mathinder is not lawful stupid and after the nice change of pace the social encounter provides, has a plan. The plethora of refugee-characters make for as many or as few additional complications as the DM desires, and the next encounter has the hungering legion fight more than dirty as the PCs try to take out one of the legion's pitch-casting siege weapons, finally reaching the temple of the oracle, where magical escape is waiting if they rescue more hostages and best some rhino cavalry, that is. Yes. I just wrote "rhino cavalry" as an afterthought - the adventure is that good. Sometimes, life as a reviewer is good to me.

Unfortunately, the oracle is an adult white dragon and the ensuing three-way battle between oracle, legion and PCs makes for an iconic & awesome climax - just to have the main forces of the legion arrive and the characters, hopefully, barricading the temple to flee through collapsing ice tunnels, braving stray, final legionnaires, collapsing sections and seeking to reach the saving teleport circle and escape from the collapsing weight of the city coming down upon the catacombs.

The sequence also comes with complicating factors, a lot of sample DCs and a skill-challenge-style optional encounter to repair the circle.

The pdf also offers 5 new magic items: From the skin-rending "flensing" quality, to arachnid bolas and ghoul nets, we get a nice set of disturbing tools. The pdf closes with the CR+1 hungering creature template as well as 4 pregens.

That's not where the content stops, though: The Breaking of Forstor Nagar was created with full support for virtual table tops, enabling you to play this pdf via the internet and all your friends, wherever in the world they may be via the free maptool (including a youtube tutorial by the guys from RiP), Fantasy Grounds, and TTopRPG - seeing the quality of the artworks and Jonathan Robert's cartography, this experience is sure to not only be pleasing on a content-level, but also to the eye.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice a single glitch and the pdf is extensively bookmarked. I already commented on the stunning two-column layout, though I'd like to say that it's draining on the printer - I suggest you get a full color print copy of this devilishly handsome book if you want to run it. I'm jaded, let's face it. I've seen and read so many RPG-books, it's hard to excite me and especially adventures often fall short of my own high expectations. I won't have to modify Breaking of Forstor Nagar. I'll change diddly-squat. This pdf is Ben McFarland's roaring rampage through an insidiously well-crafted, yet simple plot, taking flying, invisibility and similar tools at the PCs disposal into account, while providing a huge amount of awesome ideas. The tour de force through the city of grinding ice along its harrowing conclusion and nail-biting, exciting escape has me asking for more. This pdf is a stellar example of peak performance of all the talents that go into crafting a good book - from formal criteria, cartography, editing, writing, art, layout, writing and innovation (this being to my knowledge the first PFRPG-adventure that has specifically been designed for use with VTTs), Breaking of Forstor Nagar would be a prime candidate for 5 stars even without the support. With it and facing the raw quality of the combination of stellar performances by the individual participants who collaborated in this book, I can only say that I'd give this 6 Rudii if I could. My final verdict will be 5 Rudii, the Endzeitgeist seal of approval and the knowledge that this adventure will be sure to reemerge in my third party publisher's top ten list of 2011, it's that good.

Two epic, well-crafted adventures in such a short time - Citadel of Pain and Breaking - Sometimes life as a reviewer is good.





All right, that's it for now, as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,


Endzeitgeist out.

8.22.2011

EZG reviews Tsar II, Part 2 and 3

Hey everybody,


today I'm going to take a look at the second and third installment of Greg A. Vaughan's epic Slumbering Tsar saga's second part in which we delve further into the dread city of Orcus.


The Lower City


This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page of SRD, 2 pages of advertisements, leaving 58 pages of content, so let's look at the lower city: Can it stand up to the horrors encountered in the tower of weeping sores?

This being an adventure review, the following contains massive

SPOILERS

so please, potential players, stop reading here.

The dread city of Tsar is defined, among other things, by a deadly pall, a kind of evil mist that not only blocks direct sunlight (hello vampires!), but also impedes [good] magic and makes detect evil a rather bad idea. More insidiously, though, the pall corrupts any who dare to rest within, slowly subverting them to Orcus' influence via garish nightmares and the dread power of the demon prince of the undead.

After several rumors to glean in Tsar, the adventure continues to give us a selection of events, as Tsar is a (un-)living environment: The PCs won't have an easy time exploring the city, as e.g. a sniper (an an invisible stalker one at that) with a reach of 3000 (!!) ft. will start trying to pick off the PCs, necessitating some clever thinking/triangulation. Another problem the PCs might face is the return of an advanced storm giant dread ghast with a whopping CR of 17 - Slumbering Tsar is hardcore and epic and while the encounter is epic and rocks, squealers need not apply when the once pure general of the army of light escapes from his prison, hungry for the life-force of men. Oh yeah, once the PCs have a certain artifact, they'll have to deal with a steady onslaught of trolls, troll-kin and mutated varieties in addition to Tsar's dangers. On the side of things in favor of the PCs, they may complete the quest of Gerrant of Gilboath, paladin-spirit and potential ally as well as mentor for becoming a Justicar (PrC) and source of some more than nice items. Oh, there's also the encounter that details the return of the cursed undead caravan carrying the last disciple to the temple-city once the PCs have returned the others to their place and the caravan is hardcore. A section detailing return to the camp to stock up as well as random encounters are also provided.

There is a section detailing the Grunge, a part of the city that was heavily damaged during the assault of the army of light, including a fully mapped and disturbing shop of a bone cobbler. Apart from that, we also get a spawning pit of blood golems and a tunnel. Boring? Au contraire, mes amis! The demon-infested tunnel provides access to both the cliff warrens and the missing river (from the harrow lanes) and features e.g. a cool (and somehwat hilarious) Morlock chief that enjoys playing his pipes of pain whom, the PCs will have to stop to enter the higher levels of Tsar, but hobgoblins, ogres, a dinosaur, an ettin-colony and some troglodytes might provide for a challenging delve through the caverns. 1 map featuring some thankfully keyless sample lairs are provided.

The other area detailed is the Great Swamp that once was a regular part of the city and now comes with its very own random encounter tables. The swamp also has 3 bosses - a giant bog turtle, an advanced swamp tyrant and a half-dragon demodand with his own tar golem, guarding one of the disciples and making for an interesting, albeit strange potential ally.

The pdf concludes with 3 monsters (screamer, skeletal swarm, toxic mudman), an entry on the minor artifacts that are the 9 disciples as well as 2 new PrCs, the Justicar and the Disciple of Orcus, both of which, while powerful, are aptly designed. Much to my rejoicing, the Justicar comes with its own spelt-out codex.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice a single glitch. Layout adheres to the elegant printer-friendly two-column standard of the ST-series. The b/w-artworks rock and evoke a classic flair I've come to associate with the series. The maps feature the used-parchment look and offer grids, but once again, I would have loved extra versions without the annoying map-keys in order to print out, cut out and then offer to my players. The pdf is bookmarked, though not as extensively as I would have liked. An overview map of the city is provided for your convenience. This installment of ST focuses HEAVILY on exploration of a ruined city and does so in a cool and evocative manner - Even while reading it, I felt the dread and pervading oppressiveness and danger of Tsar and its ancient evil. Greg A. Vaughan once again created a superbly iconic location and for anyone interested in the whole saga, this is a clear 5-Rudii recommendation. However, while you might scavenge bits and pieces, I'm not sure whether this installment would be as fitting to be torn apart and resized for other adventures. People looking for that might want to detract a Rudi. But then again: Why are you not getting the whole series? ;)







The Harrow Lanes


This installment of the epic Slumbering Tsar series is 60 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 3 pages of advertisements and 1 page of SRD, leaving 53 pages of content, so let's take a good look at the second level of Orcus' dread temple-city!

This being an adventure review, the following contains massive

SPOILERS

so please, potential players, stop reading.

The second foray into the mean streets of Tsar is introduced via, how could it be any different, random encounters and the respective critters. In order to access the harrow lanes, the PCs might have to brave the so-called lower tower gate (which comes with a one-page map) and an advanced devourer acts as the boss-fight for one of the Tsar-spanning side-quest detailing the redemption of Mordecai and offering a crucial hint for a future installment of the series. The hammer that is a part of this quest is depicted in the appendix (as a minor artifact) and gets its own detailed b/w-artwork. Nice!

Next up is the smithy of Larach-Umbriol, a smithy necessary to complete another quest from the desolation, potentially resulting in an event described in the "lower City" - it should be noted that we get another one-page map.

There is also an encampment of rather elite gnolls that make for a rather hard encounter - the PCs will have to deal with the huge wicker man the gnolls revere (interlacing with another encounter from the lower city) as well as many deadly opponents - if the PCs don't tread lightly or fight smart, they'll be in for a world of pain. The map for the gnoll camp is also provided on another page. However, the encampment suffers from a relic that has eluded the editors. From the swill hole, the PCs can enter the chambers and cavern that run along the infamous subterranean missing river of Tsar, the piece of water that feeds the swamp-like section of the city. The river comes with a one page map as well as an additional map page containing 2 encounter areas. From morlocks to phantom fungi and a tentacled horror boss, this river is rather creepy and deadly in a cthulhoid way and e.g. a leech vermin host makes for another compelling fight as well as providing another one of the disciples for the PCs to find.

At the northernmost point of the harrow lanes, the PCs can find a majestic villa, where a covey of hags and their fire giant minions reside - here the PCs might complete a quest for vengeance for a exiled hag. Of course, this area also gets its own map. The fallen towers of the city get a map, too and the encounter from the lower city featuring the invisible sniper can be brought to a conclusion in this area. The Next area we are introduced to (again, with its own map), is the Khanjar's gauntlet, i.e. the rather deadly gallow-trees guarded lair of a deadly woodwrack dragon.

Next up on the plate is a foundry, which one day was intended to create a titanic super-cannon, now being guarded by a plethora of golems and undead and elemental-driven furnaces. Of course, we get another nice one-page map for the foundry.

The final area of the harrow lanes depicts the cathedral of pain, the lower-class former temple of Orcus. Unfortunately, there is another in one of the boxed texts. Appart from that, though, the PCs can end the threat of ashborne arachnae by slaying the brood mother. That is not all, though - several deadly undead creatures, a daraka demon and a terrible cursed cleric of Orcus (a gauntling) make for rather challenging and deadly adversaries and will be sure to test the mettle of your PCs to the limit and possibly even beyond. The cathedral gets 2 appropriately epic maps as well, making for rather cool showdowns with the big baddies.

The pdf closes with appendices detailing a new undead creature (with its own b/w-artwork), the dark custodian, as well as entries on afore mentioned hammer and the entry on the 9 disciples.

Conclusion:

The pdf adheres to the concise and clear two-column layout of FGG, complete with a plethora of high-quality b/w-artworks. Formatting is top-notch, but the two relics I found prevent me from giving a perfect score in formal criteria. It should also be noted that my version of this pdf did not feature bookmarks, which makes navigating the file harder. With regards to content, we once again get iconic and challenging places, encounters and the conclusion to some rather interesting quests from the series, which is great for people following the whole saga. For those of you who want to buy a separate file, though, this one might not be the best choice - the harrow lanes are very entwined with the lower city and both files practically necessitate each other for full usability.

On another note, I noticed that finding the disciples can prove rather difficult on the DM - on my first (granted, rather casual and hasty) read-through of the file while riding the train to work, I missed the disciple statue the PCs can find in this adventure. I hope that in the final book, they'll be somewhat highlighted for the DM's ease - after all, they're the focus of this part of the saga. The separation of encounters in e.g. the lower city and its areas here made my reference of some of the things that go on in Tsar a bit harder than they should be. While I'm sure that the final epic hardcover won't suffer from these problems, I think the two would have been better in a double price and content file. This, along with the very minor editing glitches ( I didn't notice typos or grammatical errors, after all) and the missing bookmarks result in a final verdict of 4 Rudii. Add half a Rudi if you're using the whole saga or are especially interested in using the whole temple-city.





All right, that's it for now,

as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,


Endzeitgeist out.

8.19.2011

EZG reviews Citadel of Pain

Hey everybody!


Chances are, I'm OCD and have less of a life than you do. Why? Well, this very review is my 300th one on Paizo and I had this special one saved for just that occasion - after all, a short review wouldn't be fitting, now, would it? Thus, without further ado,


Citadel of Pain


This pdf is 119 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page of ToC, 1 blank page prior to the content, 1 page of Kickstarter thanks to patrons, leaving 113 pages of content, quite a bunch! It should be noted that the new version of the pdf is separated into 2 files - adventure and map-sheets and thus uses up less space than before. (The high-res map-sheets should be printed out anyway!)

The adventure kicks in with a neat splotch of blood and a famous line by Oscar Wilde prior to getting into the action. It should be noted that this adventure uses the mega-dungeon map from Gaming Paper and includes 25 sheets for the map of the dungeon. The sheets are b/w and large enough to use with miniatures and come with a grid. Early in the adventure we also get an extremely useful one-page overview map and this is just as far as I can go without delving into massive

SPOILERS.

...Potential players, please jump to the conclusion. Seriously, you don't want to spoil this one.

...

Still here?

....


All right! The adventure takes the PCs into a citadel sealed by liquid, magic-resistant stone that once belonged to mad and sadistic Vilseph Dumond, who sought to transcend mortality by building the ultimate torture device. Prior to the Citadel being sealed, an almost vanquished army of monster sought refuge and the citadel has lain dormant for long. The PCs are hired via 3 sample hooks or one of your own making to enter Rogthondar, the dread citadel, alongside Twith Ballancastor, alchemist extraordinaire, whose drilling tank provides for the PCs entrance to the otherwise sealed dungeon. Yep. They enter a citadel covered by liquid rock via a drilling-tank. How cool is that? Of course, this act of drilling is not too simple and panicking guards as well as the dread dumondite (the liquid stone) do their very best to make the entrance to the citadel feel well-deserved. Additionally, the atmosphere of claustrophobia is almost tangible right from now on to the very end of the adventure.


Even cooler, though, is the micro-society that has sprung up within the bounds of the citadel, sentient altar-prototypes of the legendary Eureka Rib lead different fractions in an ongoing struggle and seek to further transform and propagate their very brand of superior creatures. The PCs enter the playing field of the dungeon's politics via the fraction of the deviceless (they don't have an intelligent torture device), who are lead by humans and work as a kind of police-force in their quarter, which also contains the bazaar, a rather surreal hodgepodge of ogres, minotaurs, bugbears and troglodytes. Food, of course is scarce, valuable and especially any food not being fungal or a derivative of an alchemically-modified edible vermin called slitch is guaranteed to bring A LOT of attention with it.


Another peculiarity of the area controlled by the deviceless is a huge cistern from which alchemical slough is extracted to create so-called demi-potions - unstable alchemical potions that come as three sets of quality and with 20 (sometimes utterly hilarious! Examples include blown-up lips that blind you, but help you swim due to increased buoyancy, becoming a meaty ball with a face and growing hair... a lot of it...) side-effects per level of quality for the imbiber that are thankfully temporary enough to make the game-relevant, but also amusing to the afflicted player. A simple mini-tracksheet containing the factions also helps the DM manage the reactions of the different factions, but more on that later, after all, the PCs have just crashed into the citadels neutral ground, the kitchen, and may be stunned to see a kind-hearted troglodyte futile attempts at saving one of the guards that accompanied them and got hit by the dripping, deadly liquid rock. That's where the fun starts: Lou Agresta & Rone Barton's former collaborations have been more than rife with several interesting and ingenious tidbits of fluff and this one is no difference: The premise of a wholly isolated society with its own balances and the arrival of newcomers is played up to the fullest: From cults springing up to celebrate the advent of the liberators to the simple fact that in such a limited population everyone knows certain rules. Everyone but the PCs, that is. Add to that a nice smattering of a kind of urbane "slang" employed by the denizens (with easily mistakable measurement units like "a human hand" - no, the ogre does not want a severed human hand, you sicko!) and you're in for a background that may in and of itself offer hours of roleplaying fun and potential for both hilarious and dangerous situations.

Indeed, after maneuvering the strange and curious bazaar and at least partially getting to know the place, the PCs will have the opportunity to defeat some foes and thus gain the option to talk to an ambassador of the alchemically-mutated deviceless (who don't have an altar, i.e. a sentient torture device), who seeks to use the novelty of the PCs for a "diplomatic" mission to the respective monster clans. As a benefit for the PCs, the deviceless mention the fabled eureka rib, perhaps the very only possibility for the PCs to once again escape the citadel - of course, coincidentally one of the sentient altars worshiped as gods by the humanoids might very well be said rib... Unbeknownst to both ambassador and PCs, the grandmaster of the linen-wrapped mutated alchemists has more on his agenda, though and the ambassador seems to be an instigator of the worst kind... This concludes act 1.

Act 2 serves as a rather free-form flow of the different monster territories, first of which is the Fantôme-bugbears: Mutated bugbears half-caught in the realms of dream, whose altar is possessed by a ghost who in turn acts as a seal that holds back the tide of nightmarish creatures from the depths of dreaming shallows. Interfaction events, already explained prior to this, also are presented: They are events that can be introduced to change the balance between the factions like assassination attempts to keep the political landscape of the citadel mutable. Mutability is a good cue: The fantôme bugbears _all_ come with individual, imaginative, cool mutations and whether the PCs battle or negotiate with the dread Oneiromant, the ghost trapped on the dread bed-altar has some rather interesting/disturbing dreams and if one PC accepts the boon and curse of the bed, they'll have to contend with a dread invader from dream.

The second faction presented are the minotaurs, who worship the dread white witch, a rotating marble pole with an attached harness that end its merry-go-round by suddenly stopping and slamming the victims against its base - the resulted witch-kissed minotaurs regenerate and henceforth are infected with strange...things that make them almost unkillable. To make matters worse, interfaction events and an internal power struggle between king and high-priest over the amount of minotaurs to be exalted by the witch has the faction torn and not necessarily makes the PC's quest to see the devious and aggressive torture device any easier. Even more interesting: The device actually has an inkling how to escape and in an act of self-preservation might even try to creatively talk to PC out to destroy it.

The Troglodyte camp is similarly unique: Transform by their altar, the foul-smelling brutes have found a monastic (and a pronounced contempt for their untransmogrified brethren) calling via their iron-skinned new forms. The paranoid leader wants one of the regular troglodytes forcefully recruited and once again, faction politics might make it harder than at first glance. The metal-syringe-studded iron ball they use for transformation might yet offer another clue, though...if the PCs brave the merciless troglodyte's requests or infiltrate the compound.

The final faction are Riddle's End's Ogres, three-eyed intelligent ogres (wizard class levels, baby!) obsessed with magic and subsequently out for the PC's tools. The deceptive ogres actually can prove to be a significant challenge, as they prepare one of the smartest and deadliest ambushes I've seen in quite a while in their partially submerged complex- the PCs will definitely remember the clever ogre's assault. The hidden altar of the ogres, a grisly spine-snapping chair, sunken and yet possibly repairable. Have I mentioned a water elemental and its pet octopus or the possibility of the PCs flooding a region of the citadel?

And then there's the slog, a kind of common ground to which the PCs will frequently have to return on their subquests. Sooner or later, the saviors from Without (the term for "from outside the citadel") will come to the attention of Gabrele, a _GOOD_ ogre to assassination attempt, minotaur recruitment drives etc., the PCs will have their hands full and you as a DM enough fodder to make the citadel feel even more alive. More importantly, the slog offers the PCs something to fight for - the unique culture of the citadel, as mentioned earlier, its endearing slang and the fact that here of all places, while besieged by mad factions, humanoids and men have begun an probably unprecedented, more or less peaceful coexistence, at least among the general populace. This rather strange yet endearing utopia, based on a claustrophobic equilibrium of power, is about to come crashing down with the PCs finding the lower condensing room where a nasty surprise sits ready to initiate the furious climax of the adventure.

Act 3 features the condensed sentient alchemical waste hinted at in the bazaar during the very first encounters, a dread and deadly ooze. made out of gallons of discarded alchemical waste. To make matters worse, the deviceless finally move into open action trying to bury the PCs alive buried and sealed in dumondite - but to no avail. At this point, the undead (and surprisingly nice and cooperative) gnomish engineer might offer the final clues for the activation of the Eureka Rib, which initiates the epic final confrontation of the module: Here the faction-tracker will come in handy - the PCs and their allies as well as the opposition are up for an epic showdown, having the PCs try to get past several attack squads and offering a very cool cinematic run, finally facing off against Grandmaster Sinas Crabbe of the deviceless. After this showdown, a PC (or ally!) will have to brave the unimaginable agony of being subjected to the Eureka Rib (or destroy it and escape thus) and thus choose the fate of all Rogthandor: Freedom for all, escape for but the PCs and continued confinement for the inhabitants or an escape for the PCs alongside a devastating self-destruction that kills everything inside - quite a weighty decision to thrust upon the subject's shoulders, after all, while the inhabitants are peaceful now, who can tell how they'd react to life outside? Do they remain relatively docile, becoming the PC's faithful army? How do the humans react, with prejudice or even a pogrom? Or do the humanoids revert to their usual clichés, ravaging the lands? If the PCs killed all, how can they live with such a genocide at their hands? And what to make of the ribs significant permanent (yet not overtly game-influencing) powers like stopping to age? And what of Vilspeth? The possibilities are endless.

The pdf also features stats for optional assassins, a list of magic items by value, 8 pages of lovingly-crafted hand- outs (which should be standard - handouts are GREAT and help immerse the players in the story), a one-page version of the faction tracker and two pages of the handouts of the torture-device visions.

The pdf closes with the additional sheets to expand the mega-dungeon.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches - the few that existed in the first version have all been taken care of. Layout adheres to the clear two-column standard, is b/w and features aesthetically pleasing borders. The inside artwork is b/w and ok, though nothing to get too excited about. The pdf is EXTENSIVELY bookmarked, with each subchapter, encounter etc. there, including the CRs - commendable and a boon for the DM.

I'm not the biggest fan of large dungeons, at least most of them tend to degrade into "Kill all"-sprees or fail to present sufficient social/infiltration changes of pace to keep my attention. Some dungeons are well-enough designed in their craft to have me ignore this time and again, Necromancer Games and its heirs being among the prime examples. But then there are some dungeons that don't feel common. That feel different. Like e.g. the classic Banewarrens. The Citadel of Pain stands tall and proud in this tradition, feeling completely unique in being not a dungeon to wade through and slaughter anything that crosses your path (though that's an option, too!), but instead combining political intrigue and mystery of urban adventures with the claustrophobic and hostile environment of a dungeon.

It took forever to write this review, if only due to the fact that I was hard-pressed to give you even an essential overview of the possibilities and imaginative potential of this environment - the society Lou Agresta and Rone Barton crafted rivals e.g. the strange societies of China Mièville in imaginative potential and iconic quality. Even better, the duo of authors have managed to create an adventure, that thanks to the tracker makes it easy for the DM to handle complex faction politics and ensure modularity. The crowning achievement of adventure-writing any sandboxy adventure, at least to me, is utter modularity and freedom of choice. While printed adventures always have to somewhat rely upon minor guidelines to ensure the story works, I've rarely seen an adventure that can be modified this easily and I guarantee that no two ventures to Rogthandor will be the same - there are that many possibilities.

The climax, the sentient altars - there are a lot of great ideas herein and, sometimes, adventures make players ask themselves questions: Is it right to slaughter all these humanoids that don't hurt anybody and are oppressed by cruel ruling castes? Is it right to eradicate the sentience of an intelligent item begging for quarter, even if it's evil? Where does being a hero end and being a murderer begin? Even if the general populace is not evil, is it right to release them into the world? The repercussions of the successful adventure are wide and might upset the social order of a certain stretch of land (and I haven't touched upon the boons for the PCs...), offering adventure ideas galore and the sympathetic cultural hodgepodge in Rogthandor potentially points towards questions of culture, identity and racial understanding. While not the easiest adventure to run and definitely not one to run spontaneously, Citadel of Pain ranks among the most rewarding, iconic, complex and thought-provoking dungeon-adventures I've read in quite a while, supported by a commendable amount of handouts, map-sheets and awash with creative ideas. Have I mentioned the subtle and gratifying humor that is interspread within some of the encounters and e.g. the demipotion-lists? I'm running out of superlatives to heap upon this awesome piece of writing and thus will just say that, if I could, I'd rate this 6 stars - my final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval. If you're even remotely intrigued by dungeons or any of the things I mentioned, do yourself a favor and check this out. You won't regret it.





Thank you for reading all my ramblings over the years, I hope I continue to be of some assistance to some of you,


Endzeitgeist out.



8.17.2011

EZG reviews Kaidan III

Hey everybody,


today I'm going to take a look at the furious finale of the Kaidan-trilogy!


Kaidan III - Dark Path


The final part of the epic Japanese horror saga by Jonathan McAnulty and Micheal Tumey is 62 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, 3 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 53 pages of content for your perusal, so let's check them out!

After the lurking estrangement and the despair-ridden darkness of the second installment, the PCs, cursed and on the run, finally have allies and will reap the seeds they have sown in the two predecessors on their way to the climax.

And boy, the introduction already serves as an epic lead-in to the things to come, first offering a brief bit of creepy IC-plotting and then moving on to elaborate the legend of Oni, Yurei and Kaidan and how it came to be the way the players find it. As a nice nod to people versed in Japanese folklore and history, the story does draw heavy inspiration and even shares the names form the conflicts between the Taira nd the Minamoto clan. This review is based on V.4.0 of the pdf, in v.3.0 there was a formatting glitch here that has been taken care of.


This being an adventure review, the following contains massive SPOILERS. If you're planning on ever playing this excellent saga, please refrain from reading on.

...

Still here? Do you want to SPOIL the awesome climax? If you want to play this, jump to the conclusion!

...

Ok, here we go!

As the PCs are still suffering from the curse of the golden spear, they'll have to find a way to infiltrate the daimyo's palace, retrieve the artifact and then get as far away as possible from the dread lord. After a brief respite from their ordeals in Part II in the Hengeyokai village they hopefully saved from an almost-insane kami and the depredations of a fiend in disguise. The allies the Hengeyokai promised, though, turn out to be up for a challenge: 4 Tengu (be sure to check out RiP's excellent In the Company of Tengu, if you haven't already - while not necessary to run this adventure, it is still an awesome file to have to customize further the avian allies.)are on the side of the PCs in this foray, or rather, they might be: First the PCs will have to prove their mettle in battle or otherwise leave an impression on them in order to lead them into the lion's den.

The planning of the infiltration of the daimyo's treasury might be a bit challenging for the DM, but thankfully the Tengu know of some underwater tunnels, which might provide an access to the palace that does not initially involve alerting the vast amount of guards to their presence. The infiltration via the river proves to be not as easy as the PCs might hope, but it is better than the otherwise extremely well-defended Shiro (that gets its own map) - after entering the palace via this secret route, the PCs will have to contend with a short 3 level-mini-dungeon. Braving the disease-ridden sewage-system, the PCs can stumble upon a potential ally among the prisoners (though they'll have to heal the poor sod first). Among the horrible experiments they'll have to brave are necromantically-infused wax-cocoons containing dread samurai zombies, barracks full of corpses that are the hunting ground of a terrible swarm of apocalypse spiders to undead hung from hooks that serve as a macabre sort of alarm as well as a silent-hill-style door that is held shut by a crucified corpse that is torn asunder by opening the doors and instantly regenerates when they are closed, serving as a kind of promethean punishment for the poor creature as well as having an unpleasant surprise in store for the PCs. Once they have finally braved the treasure vault's guardian, the PCs can reap the plentiful rewards within the treasure chamber, among which new spells (2 from 101 3rd level spells) and the reason for their infiltration can be found: The golden spear is once again theirs! If the PCs have managed to trip the alarm, their escape will not be too easy as they'll be hounded by the daimyo's killers.

Spear in hand, the PCs will have to make the trek through the mountains, preferably via the name-giving Dark Path. Should the PCs choose to take another road, easy modifications are presented to avoid creating the notion of undue railroading. Commendable design! The daimyo's hounds this time are nothing to be trifled with and a duo of deadly killers seeks to intercept them. To add another complication to the already quite oppressive situation of the PCs, the oni will try to eliminate the threat of the spear once and for all, confronting them with a deadly snare by a Jorogume, a spider-like fiend with illusion-based abilities. The encounter comes with a beautiful map and features the STUNNING cover-art as a nice full-page illustration, perfect as a handout once the mask falls. Braving this trap, the PCs hopefully reach the entrance to the Dark Path, where another duo of the daimyo's deadly killers lies in wait to prematurely end their exodus from the lands of Kaidan.

The navigation of the lava-tubes that lead through the mountains proves to be perilous and oppressive in atmosphere, symbolizing the path to damnation and serving as a dread echoing amplifier for the things that stalk the tunnels. The plethora of wandering monsters (and their dread frequency) as well as the array of complications and mood-enhancing elements perpetuate and drive home the sense of danger and panic the PC should gradually become more and more convinced that they have stumbled into their smooth, black stone-encased grave. The blind, eyeless ghouls that will menace and attack the PCs are far from being the worst creature to hound the PCs - that honor belongs to a dread snake-oni (whose b/w-artwork is awesome!) which not only is a tough adversary, but also is rebirthed when slain, thus necessitating the hasty departure of the PCs. If they manage to find its lair, they can at least take its little hoard, which contains, among other things, a magic Kaidanese longbow. Even the sunlight that might greet the PCs once they have traversed the Dark Path offers no respite from their ordeals, though, as Jadoko, the hebi-no-onna that has hounded them since the first module, makes her final stand.

If the first two parts of the trilogy were any indicator, this would mean the end of the tribulations of the PCs, but those who would think so are in for quite a shock once they reach the deceptive tranquility of Gaijinoshima. Tranquility, oh yeah, there was something I forgot to mention: Of course, the PCs first have to procure a means to enter Uesaki and take the ferry or otherwise take a boat to their harbor of destination. Several possible courses of action are provided for the PCs to follow, ranging from the theft of a boat to disguising and sneaking abroad the ferry. Once in Gaijinoshima, the scarlet harlot awaits the PCs to ferry them out of Kaidan. Well. It awaits them. Along three of the daimyo's elite Danmastumabatsu-killers cleverly disguised and a squad of undead. The fight (featuring a nice map of the vessel) among the massacred remains of the erstwhile crew that will strive to include the PCs in their undead ranks serves as the furious finale of this rather breathtaking climax of the Kaidan-saga. Hopefully the PCs have the means to acquire a crew...fast.

In tradition of the first two parts, we get several appendices. While the reincarnation mechanic is not reprinted, you should probably already know all about it from the two sequels. More interesting, at least to me, is the appendix featuring the new beasts: From the poison-spitting bachi-hebi snakes and their big oni brothers to the supremely creepy Jorogumo (spider women), we get 3 cool new critters that fulfill my personal desire for unique monstrous abilities.

The third appendix details the Danmatsumabatsu, the dread Daimyo's cadre of elite assassins, each possessing a set of unique and distinct abilities that set them apart from regular NPCs - I love them! They are efficient, deadly, creepy and just about all I expect from elite foes like them. If all NPC-write ups were like this, I'd never have to complain about bland NPCs ever again. These necrotic warriors are indeed fine specimen, though I admit to wanting MORE.

The pdf closes with 4 pre-generated characters as well as a two-page glossary.

Conclusion:

Editing is excellent, I only noticed one typo and formatting is good, though I did notice a couple of minor mistakes (like a box instead of a dash) - summa summarum I only found 4 glitches, not enough to justify the loss of a star. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and comes with the beautiful, bamboo-lined full-color layout we've come to appreciate in Kaidan-releases. The artworks are nice and feature the style we already know from its predecessors and the cover artwork by Jason Rainville, thankfully reprinted as a one-page-version sans borders in the book, is in my humble opinion the best of the three - beautiful, creepy, atmospheric and one of my favorite pieces from him. Jonathan McAnulty has managed to once again deliver another facet of horror-gaming that is hard to pull off - a brooding sense of being chased, potentially neck-breaking in pace and fueled by a justified paranoia, the infiltration and subsequent escape from Kaidan offers opportunities galore for dark and deadly encounters, all while being underlined by a foreboding, subtle symbolism that might have the PCs wondering whether they are about to escape the darkness or rather wade straight into it. The at times claustrophobic imagery and the silent-hill-esque nods during the infiltration serve to enhance the multitude of fears this adventure conjures up: Indeed, one could scan the pages of this adventure for some of the primal fears inherent in all of us and find an instance of each one having a kind of representation. The development from subtle horror over despair to the disturbing end of the saga has had me more than satisfied with this part. Standing in no way behind its two predecessors, I can happily pronounce a verdict of 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval and wholeheartedly recommend the whole saga to just about anyone even remotely intrigued by the premise - these three premium products stand in a line with RiP's by now almost legendary, premium product Coliseum Morpheuon and I hope to see more additional material for Kaidan in the future, perhaps even more adventures -the unique, cool setting deserves it!

Endzeitgeist out.






All right, that's it for today, next time I'll visit a rather painful place. The good kind of pain, of course! ;)


As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.

8.11.2011

EZG returns to dread Tsar with a lot of hirelings

Hey everybody!


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

The Tower of Weeping Sores



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

SPOILERS

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.

Conclusion:

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!


Henchfolk & Hirelings



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.

Conclusion:
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,


Endzeitgeist out.


8.10.2011

EZG reviews the The Bloody Fix (& More Cavalier Orders)

Hey everybody,


first of all: Sorry for the absence, as some of you know, I had some health-related issues that confined me to the hospital, but now I'm back and better than before! Alright, probably not, but to celebrate the return of yours truly, I'll take a look at one classic piece of coolness, one of the best urban horror adventures I've ever read and coicidentally one that got me into reviewing in the first place. Of course, my reviews then were not that detailed, informative or well-written, but I'll hope to remedy that now!


Road to Revolution II - The Bloody Fix



This adventure is 64 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 57 pages for this installment of the Road to Revolution-saga.

This one is a special one for me, after all, it was the first review I ever wrote. It was uninformative, short and did not do this adventure any justice and today, finally, I’m revisiting this great piece!

This being an adventure-review, you will see A LOT OF SPOILERS from this point on, potential players should jump to my conclusion. I mean it, this being a mystery-adventure and a good one at that, you’d really spoil yourself a great treat.

Still here?? SPOILERS ABOUND!!!

All right, let’s delve in! When the PCs in part I of the Road to Revolution cracked down, hard, on the skullcrackers, the fighting should have stopped. Instead, the fight clubs as vents for the racial tensions have begun to pop up all around Azindralea like shrooms on a decaying trunk, codified and supposedly safer than before. Something stirs, though, and champions have begun to die in battles and accidents and thus, the PCs are contacted by an old acquaintance, Marcus Galwatty, the stone-walling army-bureaucrat/warrior from the last adventure who has received an Ehrenrood, a fighting stick that, via social and political pressure, forces him to fight soon, but he also knows that the set-up will result in his death, one way or the other.

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Galwatty asks the PCs to help him in his investigations and find the true mastermind behind the deaths, the fight clubs… and of course, save his hide. All that in just a couple of days, but thankfully, street urchin and information gatherer extraordinaire Eddie Gin is on the side of the PCs and will help them if they get stumped. Assuming the PCs want to help him (and a plethora of non-altruistic reasons are given as hooks), the investigation is on! It is here I should note that once again a whole set of broadsides as handouts are provided to bring the city to life.

The investigation is kicked off by the PCs looking for the suspects and informants Galwatty etc. and extensive information on how to get the PCs back on track and/or avoid investigative dead-ends. First of the suspects, a cruel money-lender named Mona who lairs in an Inthoso-den, including its very own, high-quality mini-map. What’s Inthoso? Well, it’s a hallucinogenic, synesthetical drug that can make for quite some interesting additional roleplaying encounters. Mona is definitely not a nice gal and not among the most cooperative suspects. Even worse, some of her answers might lead the PCs to suspect that something is amiss with her…

The next suspect’s trail leads to a butchering yard in a villa (again with a map) now occupied by a rather hostile gang, including a dire mongoose guard “dog” – the PCs will have to use their wits or stealth in order to save this particular suspect from the attentions of the gang – nice hostage situation included. The hostage, though, is disturbing – cowered in self-inflicted scab-marks that spell out dread warnings, the lingering sense of dread and something being amiss further intensifies.

From this rather creepy portent, we move on to, get this, a poetry-slam in a rather nice tavern against a former champion of the moon goddess! Ever did something like that in an adventure? Thought so! Even cooler: After the bantering, the PCs might find their 3rd suspect, shrunken and hiding in a tea-pot. Once again, good interrogation skills may provide another clue for the PCs and another, almost supernatural stonewall that seems to stupefy their every move.

Next up on the list in a mid-to high class brothel (including map), where diplomacy might get the PCs to a hot clue, finally – if they act smart, they’ll be pointed towards a certain tower, in which one Gentlemen Jimmy Gems is in the course of killing his latest offering to the mastermind behind this dread plot and drain her blood via an invisible pipe into the sewers. And yeah, birds sometimes perching atop it are mentioned! That is, if the PCs are truly superb – otherwise they’re in for a cool little parcours-like chase-scene against Jimmy, who is not to be trifled with…

The menagerie of cool interrogations and investigations continues with a potential bar-brawl in a legendary insurgent’s bar with Galwatty’s foe in the battle to come – who promptly tries to insult the PCs and, looking at the colorful sample-insults the pdf provides, I can definitely see him succeeding in provoking them. Hopefully they don’t miss a rather uncharacteristic lapse in his tough-man’s bearing.

If the PCs get stumped (or you want to make sure they realize not all is going well), an encounter with the now half-mad, nightmare-haunted Marcus is up any time the DM sees fit.

All while this investigation is happening, a huge array of modular hauntings and cool attacks can happen and be sprinkled in, gradually building tension – from ghostly nursery rhymes to mime-monks attacking, up until the PCs had enough investigation. Once that happens, they will have encounter a Galwatty who has fallen prey to a cursed attack and can’t fight. Thanks to alter self, once again the PCs might have to save someone by climbing into the fight club’s ring – even better, depending on the course of the adventure and the initial hook used to get the PCs involved, motivations are given aplenty – commendable in adventure-writing! Unfortunately for the PCs, their trusted side-kick has been kidnapped and they’ll have to act fast to save the poor street-urchin – a rather gruesome letter by the crimson medusa that wants the PCs away from the crimson cup, where the fight will take place.

Part II sees the PCs infiltrate said locale (a map once again is provided) – that is, a part of them will. While their employer has his own agenda, one of them will fight in a force-cage against his opponent while not only the crimson medusa poses a threat, but the mysterious hooded lady, agent to the villainous mastermind, uses a potion by a quite legendary alchemist to turn half the people into slavering dog-man-things out for blood – carnage, confusion and a worthy battle are likely to ensue, as is the first fault of the hooded woman - a direct link to said alchemist and subsequently the chance to catch her and get the final, crucial piece of evidence they need.

This leads us into the furious finale of this adventure and once again, I’m calling for a spoiler-alert. Even if you ignored my first one, please, if you have any chance of playing this adventure, don’t spoil the revelation.

SUPER SPOILER ALERT

….

Still here? Ok.

The enemy, as it turns out, is the whole mansion, brought to life via a dread tragedy that the players, by piercing together clues from their investigation and the finale, might destroy. Brute force won’t help them that much and the supremely creepy, smart collection of encounters with the mansion, while navigating it, coupled with flashbacks that offer some discrepancies to their findings. While at first the true nature might not be evident, unscrupulous players who fail to (or don’t want to) defeat the mansion can ally themselves with this dread foe. Among the haunted house climaxes I’vre read so far, and I’ve read a lot, this one ranks supreme at the best one. The final pages of the adventure are taken up by discussing its conclusion, giving huge lists of abilities for creatures like the main villain as well as the remaining handout.

It should be noted that the handouts can be downloaded for free in a full color version. The PFRPG-conversion for this adventure is free as well.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice a single formatting error and only two minor typos, not enough to detract a star. The adventure is bookmarked and layout adheres to the elegant two-column b/w-standard, offering quite a bunch of original pieces of b/w-artwork that serve to capture the flair of what is happening. This adventure was my very first 3pp-review, and for a reason. Good investigations are hard to pull off. Good horror adventures are even harder to pull off in roleplaying settings, where the PCs are actually hard and can fight their threats (unlike CoC or ToC) – this adventure manages to pull off both stunts at once.

The sheer imaginative playfulness witch which surreal, yet very cool ideas like a certain shrunken person and his vantage point as well as the villain and several others are presented and compressed into the pages of this module, is simply staggering.

Usually, I’m quite glad if there’s ONE good idea per adventure – this one, though, brims with them, going above and beyond to keep the investigation modular, yet easy to run and alternating between potentially humorous and terrifying encounters, hurtling the adventurers to a climax that had my players chewing their nails. I am jaded and so are my players, but quality like this is seldom seen for any system and I can gladly announce that in spite of the experience I’ve amassed since reviewing this for the first time, it has not become one bit stale – rather, I can today more than then, appreciate the stellar quality of the writing of Lou Agresta and Rone Barton’s cooperation. This adventure is a modern classic and ranks among the best urban mysteries I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. My final verdict, predictably, is 5 Rudii and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Quite frankly, I’d go for 6 if I could. If you have somehow missed this until now, give it a try. I guarantee you won’t regret it.





Of course, I also have a review of a more recent product for you!


Advanced Options: More Cavalier Orders


This pdf is 11 pages long, 2/3 of a page front cover, 1 page editorial & SRD, leaving 9 1/3 pages of content.

The pdf kicks off with a short discussion on the nature of cavalier orders and presents a summary of the 7 new ones contained herein, 1 more than in this pdfs predecessor.

The first Order is already more original than almost all from the first pdf, being the Order of the Bow, an order that (Surprise!) focuses on mounted archery. Seeing that up until now this niche has not yet been covered well by the class, I consider this to be a nice addition. Especially the lvl 15 ability that lets the Cavalier end a mounted charge with a ranged attack is quite a nice one. If you’re the Cavalier and not on the receiving end of the charge, that is.

The next Order, the Order of the Citadel, focuses on battlefield command and tactical support of his allies, featuring the ability to issue commands that grant significant bonuses to his allies, going so far as to offering a selection 5 decisive commands in addition to the standard battlefield support, making this mechanic a) more versatile than a single one and b) actually pretty useful, as e.g. one of the tactics enables the cavalier to grant his allies his Cha-mod as morale bonus to their crit-confirmation rolls, initiative and ref-saves –Neat!

The Order of the Raven acts as a kind of dark enforcer for a lord, and, while not necessarily evil, they usually are feared. They are quite adept at demoralizing foes and generally speaking, I much prefer them to the one-dimensional oh-so-evil cardboard cut-out Order of the Skull. My only, minor gripe with this class is the lvl 15 ability that once again nets the Cavalier limited spellcasting at his level minus 14, which at this level is simply neither impressive, nor too useful. Plus, I’ve said it once and will say it again: The Cavalier, at least to me, is a rather worldly class and would be better suited for some supernatural or unique ability.

The next on the list is the Order of the Shroud, a dedicated undead slayer whose challenges are especially lethal against the living dead and who get usage to channel energy, but only for smiting purposes. Unfortunately, there’s a minor formatting glitch here: A part of the order’s cool crest’s white background conceals approximately one fourth of the letters of the first column on page 6 – while still decipherable, it’s still a glitch that could be avoided.

And now comes one of my favorite Orders from this pdf, the Order of the Trident, which focuses on aquatic combat – now that’s a bit out of the ordinary, gathered, but it can be a godsend and offers for some rather interesting new concepts with regards to what one think of when the term “Cavalier” is uttered. Even better, a smattering of sample aquatic mount stats are presented that range from the obvious dolphins, whales, sharks and orcas to the rather cool giant morays, manta rays and even 2 kinds of dinosaurs –now if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. If you happen to own Alluria Publishing’s Cerulean Sea campaign setting, be sure to check this order out.

The penultimate Order is one of those iconic ones one practically has to like: An all-female Order of the Unicorn, who even can get the legendary creatures as mounts. The rules for the pure mounts are analogue to those of the Order of the Griffon from the predecessor and, while not necessarily the solution I would have chosen for the mount’s advancement, definitely work, though as a DM I would impose some restrictions with regards to the class-levels the mount can take.

The final Order is dedicated to the Wolf, a barbaric scion of a tribe who can inspire allies via pack tactics but also work alone. More importantly, though, he gains an extremely iconic direwolf mount. Oh yeah! Unfortunately, once again, the heraldic crest’s white background is somewhat superimposed over parts of some letters and while not impeding usability, it is somewhat annoying.

Finally, there are three new feats: One grants you +4 cavalier levels for the purpose of one of your abilities, one increases a mounts atk and damage and the final one, squire (intended for non-cavalier classes), lets you gain the skill-bonuses and class skills of an order of your choosing, but only as long as you do not violate the teachings of that order. This is a feat I really enjoy, as it practically combines a substantial, yet cool benefit with a background for your character, namely having served a squire. You don’t have to be a genius to come up with some neat ideas resulting from that.

Conclusion:

Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Unfortunately, the same does not hold tue for formatting, as I’ve mentioned in the review. Layout adheres to the 3-column standard and the pdf has no bookmarks. The front cover by Redpeggy is beautiful and the b/w-crests for the orders are a nice touch. All in all, I’m very pleased to say that this book is superior to its predecessor in each and every way imaginable: Designer Marc Radle with Owen K.C. Stephens has trumped his last shot at orders by a huge stretch: While the Orders presented herein still remain easy to integrate in every campaign setting out there and are generic, they all offer enough touches, nooks, ideas to make them captivating in some way. Be it via an interesting, ability, a cool mount or just iconic imagery, they all serve a certain theme that goes beyond being the bland fulfillment of a trope. My only very minor mechanical gripes are the “spellcasting at level minus 14”-mechanic, which I consider useless and the class levels for the unicorn mounts, but these are personal preferences and not necessarily something I can hold against this pdf. Indeed, when all’s said and done my only true gripe with this pdf lies with the minor formatting glitches. If they would make parts of the text unintelligible, I’d detract a whole star. As the lines are only partially obscured, cutting of parts of capital letters, though, I’ll only detract the half star that separates a very good file from an outstanding one, resulting in a final verdict of 4.5 Rudii, making this, in my opinion, one of the best advanced options books.







All right, that's it for today, but I'll be back VERY soon with some raging goodness and more!

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.


P.S.: I hope all of you who went enjoyed Gencon, I would have loved to be there with you! I'm hoping to be there next year!