EZG reviews Superior Fantasy Synergy

Hej everybody!

Today I'm going to take a look at a crunchy morsel indeed by Misfit Studios,

Superior Fantasy Synergy

This pdf is 73 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page advertisement, leaving 69 pages of content, so let's check this out!

If you're anything like me, you breathed a sigh of relief when PFRPG got rid of skill snyergies. They were clunky, overtly complicated and often forgotten. In summary, I don't know a single player or DM who actually liked how they worked. Now that I've established that, let me assure you that the skill synergies herein work nothing like those in the 3.X-days of old, instead providing us with a wholly original system: Essentially, you can opt to modify skill checks with your primary skill by complementing them with a secondary skill, for example making feinting via Bluff easier if you succeed at an acrobatics skill check. These secondary skill checks, however, are anything but a sure bet: Each of the secondary skill uses has 9 potential outcomes that range from utterly failing (Dc missed by 15+) the second skill check to utterly rocking it (DC surpassed by 20+), making the additional skill use a gambit. Furthermore, the original skill DC is modified depending on the action you try: Using acrobatics to enhance your climbing, for example is against the DC of the climb check -5. Note that these secondary skill checks do not supplant the original skill checks, but add options to handling skills. The possibility to gamble and modify your primary skill checks definitely opens up some interesting new options, if you are willing to run with the additional dice-rolling they require. Advice on how to handle skill synergies and e.g. using them depending on classes are included in the deal as well.

This is by far not where synergy stops, though: The next section provides us with feat synergy-rules. To give you an example on what that actually means, I'll take the very first of the synergy effects, adamantine lungs. To qualify for this synergy, you have to have the feats athletic, great fortitude and endurance. If you have these 3, you get the benefits of adamantine lungs, making it possible to hold your breath for 50% longer than normal. This is one of the simpler synergies, though, several other needing a selection of up to 6 feats that e.g. open up the option to use whirlwind attack to force enemies surrounding you to step back from you.
What this does cannot be understated: First of all, it provides tangible benefits for  characters who take feats that may not be wholly optimized, but fit in line with an organic character development.  Secondly, the synergy effects could easily be considered special fighting styles and tactics that could easily be utilized as non-monetary rewards by a DM. In fact, you could also make these synergy effects regular feats if you don't like the general idea. While reading these effects I did not notice one I'd consider broken or uninteresting and in fact, am enjoying the whole section and the way in which the material presented can easily be modified to suit your and just about any individual game.

Chapter 4 details class synergy, which is one big love-letter to multiclassing: Essentially, the synergy-effects once again are based on having access to different prerequisites, but instead of feats, we now are talking about class abilities like sneak attack, mutagens etc. Need an example? If you're an alchemist/barbarian, you can benefit from the Liquid Rage-effect and brew a special mutagen that restores a limited amount of rage rounds or even extend your current rage! Even more so than the stellar feat-synergy-section, this chapter opens whole new possibilities and incentives for multiclassing and customizing your characters and, once again, could also be used as story-rewards, organization-benefits etc. - in fact, you could probably craft a whole setting of cool organizations from these synergies.

Chapter 5 goes further by providing magic synergy effects, something that I bet has come up in your game: Ever had your players e.g. try to brittle structures, weapons etc. via fire and cold damage? With the rules provided in this chapter, you have now the option to make elemental physics matter in your game without being unbalancing - concise rules for all the synergy effects are provided and ensure that using magical tactics in the fights of your group finally matter. Add to that the options these synergy effects provide when interacting with terrain and you're in for a couple of pages of sheer awesomeness. It should be noted that weird combinations like a paladin/barbarian-cross-over are included, but the author has explained that this strange combination, prohibited by alignments, will make more sense with an upcoming release.

Less obviously awesome, but nevertheless brilliant is the final chapter, which is wholly devoted to craft synergies. If you're playing in a low magic campaign, this chapter is essentially a must-have and reason enough to justify the asking price in and of itself. Essentially, the chapter provides additional crafting rules to add mini-templates to your equipment. As with the skills, failing the second craft-skill has potentially negative consequences on the item's usability, making adding these special qualities a gamble. The added modified properties range beyond armor-ruining weapons (which can be found here, though!) and include special vials that deal their splash damage in a larger area and even weapons that have been specifically tailored and weighted to your individual character. In order to use these synergies, though, the crafting character has to once again, fulfill certain criteria, ensuring that not everyone can craft these modifications.

The pdf ends with several pages of reference sheets to facilitate usage of the new rules herein.


Editing and formatting are good, though not perfect -  I noticed several misplaced blank spaces and other minor glitches. While not impeding my understanding of the rules or generally being a hindrance, another pass at editing would have been nice. Layout adheres to a full-color 2-column standard and the artworks are a bit cartoony for my tastes. if you own "The Spellweaver", you know what to expect. The pdf comes with a printer-friendly version as well as a separate reference sheet pdf. What can I say? Whether you like the new skill synergy rules will depend mostly on whether you consider the additional dice-rolling a pro or a con, but enough rules and variants are covered to tailor the content to your game by restricting the usage of the synergy skills.
While I'm still a bit undecided on the section on skill synergy, the other synergies covered are gold and no-brainers - whether you include feat-synergy as story-rewards, feats or flat-out synergies, the chapter is a definite winner. the same holds true for class synergies and finally, magic and craft synergies, which provide options galore as well. Even better, while all of these synergies could be added to your campaign, the rules are open and versatile and enable you to introduce them in just about any way you like to your campaign, cherry-picking and customizing the content.

Supremely ambitious in scope, Misfit Studios' second pdf is a challenging design that retains top-notch customizability while providing easy to insert, fun and smart rules to your game, making this humble pdf a true winner and very hard, if not impossible, to dislike. In fact, my only gripes with the massive and extremely versatile content lie  in the minor editing glitches and a personal dislike of the art-style. Usually, I'd go 4.5 Rudii and round down to 4 due to aforementioned glitches, but that would, quite frankly do injustice to the stellar design and content herein, where in fact one chapter alone would make for an excellent supplement, let alone that many brilliant ideas. I really enjoy this book and would love to see a POD, as I consider this pdf worthy of being printed and while I'm not 100% sold on the skill-section, I do still consider this pdf an excellent example of stellar crunch-design. Thus my final verdict will be 5 Rudii, with the seal of approval missed by only a margin and remain with a definite recommendation. Congratulations to Steven B. Trustrum!

That's it for now, 

as always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.


EZG reviews Red Eye of Azathoth

Hej everybody!

It's already that time again - I celebrate another 100 reviews for a total of 600 on Paizo and to celebrate this unholy number, I figured I'd finally take some time off and review something non-PFRPG. Many of you might know that I love anything tentacled and adore the CoC-and ToC-games and thus, today, I'm going to take a look at Open Design's very unconventional CoC-adventure anthology spanning a whole millennium. Without further ado:

The Red Eye of Azathoth

This pdf is 108 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 103 pages of content, so let's check this scenarios out!

The anthology of adventures begins with a prologue depicting the rather complex plot lines that span a millennium and that will have your investigators struggling against terrible odds...and die. A couple of times. For one of the basic ideas of the anthology is that all of the adventures are connected via reincarnation - the Investigators actually are the same individuals and, via the new, story-driven Incarnum skill, may even tap into skills they had in past lives etc. - for a price, of course. And the currency is your sanity...

Each of the adventures comes with 4 pregens and the campaign is very much centered on using pregens suitable for the respective eras, so if you do plan to run these adventures with more characters, you should plan in some additional time to create fitting characters.

That being said, this is an adventure and thus the following text contains massive SPOILERS.  Investigators should cease to further investigate and jump to the conclusion.

Are you a Keeper? Sure? All right! The overall storyline centers on a cataclysm of proportions most terrifying: Lei Peng, ancient Chinese sorceror and vassal to the Denizens of Leng jerks his leash and breaks free of his master's control. While the Denizens seek to unravel the truth behind a brass-sphere artifact of Lei Peng and want to harness the "Red Eye of Azathoth", the red harbinger star to make earth their own playground and possess mortals at their leisure, Lei Peng uses the original sphere to reincarnate over the ages and wants to summon Azathoth to earth and usher in a cataclysm of madness and despair under his reign. The only drawback of Peng's ceaseless reincarnation (his true life-force secured in the dreamlands) is that the displaced souls of his former incarnations also resurface with each of his sojourns to our earth - cue the Investigators! A brilliant way to make the characters WANT to stop Peng and end their neverending nightmare!

Our first scenario takes place in Lindisfarne, 887 AD. The harbinger star looms over the abbey, in which the twisted bones of a former Peng-possessed saint lie and unfortunately for everyone involved, dark magic has taken over the cloister. The vikings who were in the process of raiding the place did certainly not expect the red rain of blood, rising tide or dark magic of Peng and thus, 2 monks and 2 vikings are sent to find the reason and put an end to Peng's dread sorcery. The initial constructed mistrust between the characters makes for a great way to encourage roleplaying and 2 handouts sum up what the respective characters know - this set-up, while potentially problematic, works only to unite the characters, though, as soon visions of past lives (5 are provided) and with it, the Incarnum skill slowly surface and forge them into a team while the apocalypse seems to loom. In order to stop Peng, they'll have to infiltrate the abbey, push blindly past corpse spiders (hideous amalgams of dead bodies who can only see what sees them) and finally stop Peng by breaking through his magical defenses. This climax sets a precedent for the whole anthology - while many Cthulhu-scenarios focus on investigation and offer a climactic show-down in the end, in this anthology, the stretch from investigation to full-blown, almost survival-horroresque escalation is a short one and while not common, it does work here - after all, if the Investigators die, not much is lost, thus encouraging players to go for the blaze of glory/gibbering, homicidal insanity approach.

The second scenario, 1287 AD, takes place in the Kamakura era in Japan. The land is still suffering from the repercussions of averting Mongol invasions and  one particular, isolated mountain village alone, Iwazumi, always manages to pay its tribute. 6 visions, a summary of what the investigators know (including glossary), 3 hand-outs notes, 3 new creatures and 4 new spells (mostly for the bad guys) are included. Sent to investigate by the authorities, the investigators will reach the village after an encounter with a servitor-race creature only to find a massive problem for their investigation: The people are mute. All of them.  Thus, the investigation will mostly work via written notes, perhaps even improvised gestures and a wall of silence literally blocks the investigators in the beginning - until they hear a newborns scream, which cues them, hopefully, that the local Kami is not all it seems and takes the voices - to put them into voice-boxes. When Peng attacks the village with a flock of disturbing bird-like servitors, the Investigators will have to save people, hunt the sorceror...and find that the Kami is in fact a Denizen of Leng who has already taken care of Peng's latest incarnation and seeks to undo Azathoth's lullaby via the thousands of stolen voices.  It's up to the PCs to stop this via any means necessary and hopefully thwart the plans of the now-revealed second faction of masterminds involved in this deadly game of chess.

The third scenario, 1487 AD hits the town of Valencia in Spain rather unexpected: The Spanish inquisition has taken the town under the leadership of the charismatic Esteban del Cassandro, divine savior of the town, guarded by angels made flesh...and latest incarnation of Lei Peng. To make matters truly worse, the angels are Byakhee in disguise and he has already rounded up Muslims, Jews and anyone else who might make for a good scapegoat and seeks to have them all purified by fire in the morning. The scenario kicks off without any of the investigators knowing which of the other inmates subjected to torture actually are investigators and after a grueling torture session potentially characterized by forced confessions and blaming of others, the players will find their latest incarnations confined to the city dungeon. This time, things are a bit different, though: We get 7 different handouts, 3 additional ones that help the players get used to the era and 5 different visions. The new characters are more experienced and some of them even know spells. And they will need them, for this particular scenario is HARD. Not only will they have to escape the prison, they will also have to navigate the streets of Valencia under the watchful gaze of the "angels" and mobs routing up people to be burnt - in order to stop the madness of a pogrom, the investigators will have to unearth how Peng controls the angels and expose/assassinate him in front of the whole town while exposing that he's not who he claims to be - otherwise, Peng's death will do nothing to spread to impending carnage and the fires of hatred will indeed defile the skies...

The fourth scenario, 1587 AD, is rather tame in comparison, but no less compelling - the investigators are colonists and have purchased their tickets toward a new life in the new world - they're set out for Roanoke! We again, get 5 visions as well as a handout. With regards to the scenarios in this anthology, this one is rather tame, but things can be deceiving. Once the investigators have taken care of their business in the old world and survived the perilous journey to America, they'll settle in the abandoned colony and try to establish contact with the natives to find out what exactly has befallen their predecessors - hopefully without opening hostilities with the natives. Peng's latest incognito tries to incite and escalate the dealings with the natives, but is soon stopped short in his tracks by being killed off alongside other people missing. Tensions are running high on the side of both settlers and natives and existential anxieties threaten along-side maddening drums from the woods the existence of the whole settlement. Hopefully, the PCs dealing with the natives keep a cool head and find the remnants of failed Leng possession (flawed copies of Peng's sphere) devices along the remains of the former colonists. If they fail to stop the denizen that has taken the shape of an evil tribal spirit, the Denizens will complete their duplicate spheres and condemn the world to eventually becoming their decadent playing ground of self-destructive urges...and that's not even the finale!

The final adventure, 1887 AD, takes place in Desperation, Arizona and includes wild west gun-fighting rules, 4 new spells, 2 new creatures, 3 visions and a whopping 11 pages of handouts - which is plain awesome in itself. The mining town of desperation has been beset by sandstorms and cut off from outside influences - even worse, Peng has finally had enough of the investigator's meddling and located them prior to them awakening to their nature. He also dealt with them. Permanently. All is lost. Well. Not really. A gallows in the desert suddenly sees the corpses coming to choking life - without any memories and still mostly mummified by the scorching heat, corpses spring the life, clotted blood starts to slowly unclot itself and half-undead gunslingers shamble back towards desperation in order to reclaim their identities and stop the apocalypse the mad sorceror with the shown eyelids seeks to bring down upon earth. Even with the benefits of six-shooters and their excellent gun slinging-skills, these individuals will be hard-pressed, for Peng's grip on Desperation is tight - controlling the food supply of the town, he has fed the town human flesh and is on the verge of having the town consume itself in a homicidal, cannibalistic fury. Even though the investigators are half-undead (though slowly returning to life), proficient in some spells and have a lot of skill on their side, Peng has stacked the odds against them: A conjured azagoth guards his codex, undead wendigo (and a lot of them!) servitors have taken over all positions of power and with a town teetering on the brink of madness, investigating when the whole town knows you're supposed to be dead and without knowing who you are tends to be rather difficult. Worse, this is their last incarnation, the last chance for the wayward souls to stop Peng - their incarnations are at an end and the demon-sultan looms. Hopefully, they have succeeded in some of the other adventures and pierced together enough of Peng's M.O. to get rid of him permanently and seal Azathoth in a showdown of cataclysmic proportions. Even if they succeed, though, their victory may prove to be bitter-sweet if they botches the Roanoke-scenario - the hottest goods out there are these intricate brass spheres...


Editing and formatting are very good, I only noticed 3 glitches, and all were punctuation glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked. The pdf is full color, though the softcover (no longer available) is b/w. The artworks consist of a mélange of period piece stock-art, original drawings and beautiful maps and handouts. This anthology is wholly different from anything I've ever played in CoC - chock-full of interesting mechanics and apocalyptic scenarios, the anthology may fall a bit flat on the investigation side of things, something purists should be aware of. However, the time-period-spanning sequence of scenarios and the non-traditional, episodic narrative structure make up for that in presenting you a tour de force of escalating nightmares, oppressive doomsday scenarios and disturbing allotopias, with each scenario featuring some kind of special set-up for roleplaying or some complications - this still is CoC, after all and whoever thinks that unfocused violence will solve anything will be squashed. Brains over brawns - even though this anthology feels more like a action-horror offering than a murder mystery. If you're looking for something different or want to show players of more combat-oriented rpgs how awesome CoC can be, this should be considered your anthology of choice.

My final verdict will be 5 Rudii + Endzeitgeist seal of approval.

Thank you for reading this very long ramble, thanks for the encouraging words to all and here'S to many, many more reviews! 

Endzeitgeist out.


EZG reviews Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands

Hej everybody,

today I'm going to take a look at Raaging Swan's latest module, an homage to the classic Moathouse of Temple of elemental evil,

Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands

This adventure is 95 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages advertisements, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page statblocks by CR (and a cool rhyme for your bard!), leaving 86 pages of content, so let's check out Raging Swan's latest adventure!

This being an adventure review, I urge potential players to jump to the conclusion in order to avoid SPOILERS.

Still here?

Shadowed Keep of the Borderlands is essentially a sandbox adventure in the truest form - intentionally reminiscent of the classic moathouse of ToEE, the now ruined keep was originally constructed by adventurers who have subsequently been routed and destroyed in a night of carnage by their goblinoid foes.

Now, the woods surrounding the keep have become rather unsafe - animals, vermin, bandits and worse prowl the woods and some sages speculate that a map to a famous lost dwarven hold might still lie within the keep - hopefully enough prompting to get the PCs to try to tackle the keep! The surface section of the keep essentially has two different areas - the bandit queen's tower and the donjon of ruin. In the former, the bandits (who may be tricked, negotiated with and even be joined by your PCs and get the RSP NPC-treatment with mannerisms etc!) make for a potentially lethal coordinated defense and if your PCs think they'll be in for an easy ride, they'll learn a harsh lesson here - the foes in the keep react organically to threats. Which is a VERY important thing to consider about this adventure:  The amount of detail provided for the keep is stunning - many rooms feature d20 tables to find valuables not found by other looters, bones of small animals, harmless mold etc. Essentially each room has SOMETHING going for them and NPCs and critters use the terrain to their advantage. Bandits use tables for cover, red hot pokers scare the hell out of goblins who used them on foes and know all too well the effect the things have, giant spider hang on the walls and throw nets on PCs, who in turn may hide behind tapestries - there is some environmental peculiarity in every room.

Wait, goblins? Yeah, but let's talk about the donjon first - essentially the middle ground between the two factions of the fortress, the donjon is  in a state of dilapidation and disrepair, overrun by vermin and haunted by the ghost of the former lord's child who wants to have his remains buried with his parents - only that's not as easy as one would hope. It is at the latest here that PCs will realize something - traps are not randomly strewn about, but instead can be anticipated and found via clever roleplaying, interrogation etc. The same holds true for the as of yet undiscovered and magically trapped vault of the adventurers, cleverly hidden within the donjon.

Beyond the donjon, in its cellar and dungeon, the blood moon goblin tribe has found a refuge and lurks, waging war on the bandits under the leadership of the despicable...ogre. Yeah. I was not impressed by that. How many adventure modules have you read for 1st level where the PCs eventually fight a damn ogre?  My cynicism should be proven wrong in this particular instance, though, for said ogre-brute is a horned, EXTREMELY deadly fiendish monstrosity (with a corresponding artwork), guarded by 3 medium, dual poison-sickle wielding concubines! It should also be noted that PCs may actually use tribal politics to gain an ally in a megalomaniacal goblin adept as well as rescue prisoners and even attack the green threat with the bandits - all options that should be considered, for the PCs are up against a goblin tribe that may actually launch a coordinated defense against their intrusion and  makes good work of their bugbear mercenaries and environmental surroundings.

Beyond the caves of the Blood Moon (which may be  entered via multiple ways, btw.!), there lies the undercrypt, a once hallowed hall (essentially a couple of extra rooms) now teeming with undead - a strange, necrotic corruption is spreading from a fissure of dark, ice-cold water and hallowing the ground/finding out what the source of the corruption is, might make for a nice follow-up to the things happening in this particular part of the dungeon. Once the goblins have been crushed, the bandits defeated, the ghost laid to rest and the undead disposed off, the PCs might actually lay claim to the fortress, which would make  for an interesting product in the future - here's to hoping that RSP  releases one!

The adventure comes with 9 pregens (including witch, oracle and magus, but no summoner or alchemist), 3 pages of handouts (an overview of the keep and two beautiful maps leading to the lost dwarven hold and depicting its layout, which served to immediately spark my imagination for further adventures) and 9 pages of illustrations that you can show to the players - this whopping amount of player-friendly additions is simply amazing.


Editing and formatting, as I've come to expect from Raging Swan Press, is top-notch - I didn't notice any glitches. The layout adheres to RSP's classic and printer-friendly, easy to read 2-column layout and the artworks are plentiful, classic b/w and amazing - with the exception of one piece (a certain treasure guardian, who looks cgi-ish and doesn't fit with the rest of the artworks), the artworks are top-notch in quality and evoke not only a sense of nostalgia, but also help illustrating the mood of the locations. Even better, their additional reproduction as player handouts make it easy on the DM to just hand them off instead of having to cut up the printed-out pages. Neat! The pdf comes fully bookmarked and comes with an optimized version for use with e-readers.

I'm a huge fan of the maps of the dwarven hold (and want to see the adventure set there!), but I would have loved it even more if the PCs had some way to find a similar (perhaps faulty) map of the dungeon below the donjon. Oh well, you can't have everything. Which brings me to the foes encountered.

I know, this is by design, but I'll come out and say it. Bandits, ogres and shadows. I don't want to see them in a first level adventure. They have been done to effin' death. Seeing that this adventure is a homage to the classics and deliberately tries to evoke a feeling of classical modules, I'm willing to let that particular gripe slip, though - especially due to doing at least SOME things different.

Much like many classic modules, the shadowed keep is not necessarily a good read and when first going through it, I didn't feel too impressed. In fact, I probably would have put this down, were it not for my experience as a DM - Creighton provided me with an advance copy and thus I had the option of running my players through the whole module prior to writing this review and... they had a blast, as did I. Which is not a given. I'll come out and say it - I don't like the "Temple of Elemental Evil". There. I did it. Pull out the rotten tomatoes, but I never liked the module and always considered it extremely overrated. Thus, deriving any sort of enjoyment, let alone this amount from a module that is a declared and designated homage is rather astonishing.

While the story/location is not too exciting, it is all about the details in this particular adventure - the whole adventure makes for such an immensely detailed place, the foes and their tactics are so detailed that actually RUNNING the adventure is a blast, especially with all the things to show your players. Even better, the module provides quite a challenge - if you play your odds smart as a DM, the players will be up to a Frog God Games-level challenge - during our run, my experienced players had 3 fatalities and none felt unfair or unjustified. Brains is just as important as brawns when challenging the Blood Moon on their home turf, especially their chief and his concubines! Even better, a timeline of events to spring upon your players - wandering animals, weather phenomena, goblin attacks - you name them, is provided to make the adventure feel even more organic and alive than by virtue of its excessive details. Using this timeline and shifting events around enables a DM to further customize the individual playing experience and provides for an excellent tool to put up and ease off pressure from the PCs while they are exploring the keep, thus ensuring no boredom can ever settle while exploring the different areas.

All in all, we had a surprisingly awesome time while clearing out the keep and thus, in spite of my initial cantankerous nitpicking, I'll settle for a final verdict of 5 Rudii for this very old-school module.

All right, next time, I'll have something completely different for you! As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.