8.30.2012

EZG reviews thr Remarkable Races Compendium

Hej everybody!

Now that Alluria Publishing, thanks to a kickstarter, has risen from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix, I thought it would be appropriate to grace them with a review appropriate of one of their biggest releases so far:

Remarkable Races: Compendium of Unusual PC races



This massive pdf is 161 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 blank page inside the front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC,3 pages of indexes (vital for a book of this size), 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 151 pages of content, so let's take a look at each of the new races:

The first in the cadre would ne the race of Anumi: Born from a sacred fruit found by an enterprising charlatan, these humanoids are actually the revitalized (or rebirthed) animal companions, familiars etc. that had reached the end of their life cycle, given a new, fully grown humanoid body with an animal head by the consumption of the draught distilled from it. Thus, it is not surprisingly that introducing this race to your campaign will immediately make animal rights etc. a new political factor -rather cool if you're so inclined, though in some rather dark/low fantasy campaigns that'd out of place.

Well, on the other hand, the background is easily enough ignored. So let's get to the stats: Anumi all get +2 to Str, +2 to perception and additional bonuses depending on the animal they originated from. Amphibians get +2 Wis, -2 Cha, acid resistance 5, can hold their breath 4 times their constitution score, get +4 to swim checks and +2 to saves against poison and disease (Bestial Fortitude). Arachnid Anumi get +2 Int, -2 Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +2 to reflex saves against electricity, fire or light area of effect spells (Bestial Reflexes), +4 to climb and can cast a web once per day as a spell-like ability. Avian Anumi get +2 Cha, -2 Int, the same reflex-bonuses as the spiders, +1 to ranged attack rolls and can cast feather fall on themselves once per day. Canine Anumi get +2 Cha, -2 Wis and scent as well as improved trip as a bonus feat.
Equine Anumi get +2 Int, -2 Wis, a base speed of 40 ft. that never decreases due to encumbrance, +2 fort-saves against poison and disease and can add a regular attack after a bull rush maneuver - the ability to not be encumbered is already powerful and adding this special attack goes too far for my tastes, making this choice particular insane for barbarians or similar heavily armored tanks. Feline Anumi get +2 Cha and -2 Wis, low-light vision, +2 to acrobatics and climb checks and may reroll every reflex save before the result is known. Unlimited times per day rerolls of reflex saves? Come again?
That's sick and unbalanced. Not gonna happen in my game. Ever. Ophidian Anumi get +2 to Wis, -2 Cha, darkvision, +2 to saves against poisons and diseases, bestial reflexes and +2 to escape artist checks. Porcine Anumi get +2 Int, -2 Cha, bestial fortitude, scent and can continue fighting for one round after being brought below 0 hp. Reptile Anumi get +2 Wis and -2 Int, bestial fortitude, +1 to atks against tiny or smaller creatures and may reroll all will-saves, even after failing them, making this race imho more broken than the feline Anumus. Again, not gonna happen in my game- Rodent Anumi get +2 Int and -2 Cha, bestial reflexes, +2 to initiative and can reroll failed saves, but have to announce that they do so before the results are known. Again, unlimited rerolls per day are a huge no-go for me. Ursine Anumi, the final type presented, get +2 to Wis, -2 to Int, get +1 atk +1 damage to one unarmed attack per round, bestial fortitude and the improved grapple feat.
After these racial traits, we are given advice on creating more Anumi-types and how to integrate them in your game. It should be noted that the necessary age, height and weight tables etc. as well as speeds and a concise list of starting attributes for all new races herein are provided at the end of the race-section of the book.

The second race we are introduced to is called "Boggle" - manipulated and bred to be more intelligent goblins, boggles have changed into rather benevolent beings and now can be considered beneficial inventors. These strange little goblins get +2 to Dex and Int, -2 to Cha, are small, get a base speed of 30 ft., darkvision 60 ft, +1 to ref-saves against fire, electricity and acid area attacks, count as goblins, get +2 to Knowledge (Engineering), Profession (engineering), Craft (any), disable device or Use Magic Device and boggle weapon familiarity. Speaking of which: From the multitool-style boggle-wrenches to wind-up buzzblades and sniping crossbows, the new weapons are rather cool. Better yet, boggles come with an inbuilt adventuring-reason: Boggle madness, a racial disease stemming from their unnatural genesis that drives venerable boggles mad unless they inject it daily- suffice to say, it's anything but cheap at 1 GP per dose. A nice race, especially for those slightly steampunkish in inclination.

Perhaps one of the weirdest races I've seen is the Entobian race: Upright walking caterpillars with a friendly disposition, though they fail to grasp the concept of romantic love. They also are larvites and can transform via metamorphosis, but the default Entobian gains +2 to Dex and Cha, -2 to Wis, are small, get 30 ft. movement, +2 to will-saves against charm-spells and effects, +1 to atk against vermin, get +2 to acrobatics and climb, can create strands of silk-like rope a couple of times per day and get a set of natural claws that deal 1d4 damage. The Entobians can also transform into 5 different evolved versions by taking the respective feats, but more on that once I get to the massive feat-section of the book.

Kvals look like wingless imps with huge hands and actually are a rather interesting concept: Basically, these creatures can be considered to be agents of entropy that seek to destroy evil when the balance is shifted too strongly. Abrasive and dark, yes, but if you'd have to draw some kind of comparison, the closest one I could find would then be that Kvals are a kind of cosmic antibody against the truly vile. They get +2 to Dex and Wis, -2 to Cha, are tiny, get low-light vision, can detect evil as a spell-like ability, are fast for their size (20 ft.), can wield weapons as if they were small, don't provoke AoOs when entering the square of larger creatures, get +4 to acrobatics and poison those delivering bite attacks or swallowing them. Playing such a small character can surely be interesting and honestly, balance-wise, they are solid.

Next up are the Mahrog, which are essentially a form of neanderthal, taken by a benevolent goddess, isolated from the world and kept peaceful and prosperous - until they found their way back into our world. Now, their primitive culture and race shaped by millennia of isolation clashes with the modern world of the setting they're placed in. They get +2 to Str, +2 to either Con or Wis, -2 to Int, count as humans, get either improved unarmed strike or improvised weapon mastery as bonus feats, get an additional skill rank that can be spent in appropriate skills and as long as they don't wear anything made of metal, they add a +2 natural armor bonus to AC when clad in leather or hide armor. The very conservative, overprotective mother goddess Mahra also gets a full write-up, including her new preservation domain. A nice race that comes with an inherent tragedy: The Mahrog goes out into the big world, starts as conservative and indoctrinated and returns to his/her brethren only to realize that the edicts on which their utopian culture is based are stifling, constricting and ultimately dooming the race - or perhaps they are right? I like races that have such an inherent potential for conflict and development.

Mogogols, cheerful humanoid frog-people, have developed from boggards to become a race of sea-faring, friendly frogs (and also play a role in the stellar Cerulean Seas Campaign Setting by Alluria Publishing). They get +2 Con and Cha, -2 Int, can be either medium or small with according movement speeds (30 ft. and 20ft., respectively), can hold their breath longer, move unimpeded through marsh or mud, have a 10 ft. grasping tongue, get +4 to jump checks and small mogogols also get +4 to climb-checks. Best of all, though, is that they get a 10 ft. grasping tongue with which they can grapple. Due to the strange curse, affliction or mutation that separated them from their boggard ancestry, all mogogols are born good. Generally, these Gripli-like beings make for a nice race.

After them, we are off to the more esoteric Muse: Born from the realm of dream (or nightmare), these ephemerally beautiful beings serve to inspire mortals towards great deeds. They gain +2 to Cha and Int, but -2 to Con, low-light vision, can grant allies +1 to all skill checks that involve skills you have yourself, can 1/day grant a reroll of an atk, save or skill-check via a touch and when they are above half their maximum HP, they get +1 morale bonus to armor and saves against adjacent creatures (an unwelcome design-remnant of 4th edition's "bloodied" condition, I guess - crunch-wise not impressive).  But why have they left the realm of dream? To inspire the dawning of a new age? Or to escape something dreadful, lurking just behind the walls of sleep?

The coppery-skinned Numistians with their cat-like, green third eyes on their forehead may seem familiar at first: Denizens once native on the plane of commerce, these beings quite literally bleed sand and coins and actually sustain themselves on coins and wealth - to them, commerce is literally life. They get +2 Wis and +2 Cha, -2 Str, can change their size between small and medium, are slow but steady like dwarves (20 ft movement, but no penalties due to encumbrance), gain low-light vision, can 1/day lose hit points equal to their level to reroll a given save to bribe fate, get +4 to perception to detect coins, get +2 to saves against poison and can actually consume money (in gold or platinum increments) to heal their wounds - especially the latter ability being rather cool.

Oaklings, mobile plants with humanoid "faces", have an interesting life-cycle, starting as acorns and then evolving to small trees that observe for years before springing to life and mobility. The coolly logic plants value survival above almost anything, making them feel rather detatched, hence also their racial traits: +2 Str and Wis, -2 Cha, +2 to saves against mind-affecting effects, paralysis, poisons, polymorph and stun effects as well as an immunity to sleep effects and can be affected by both humanoid and plant spells and effects. If below 50% of their HP, they get +2 AC due to rotective sap (again, 4th edition design remnant...), can heal by basking in sunlight and stand up as a swift action. Overall, the race feels rather powerful: The array of bonuses combined with the option to easily heal and standing up fast is slightly more powerful than I enjoy, though write-up wise, making these plant-beings essentially pragmatic beings determined by logic, I enjoyed them very much.

Next in the cirque is the one race I honestly dreaded, not due to their nature, but due to how many ways exist in which you could screw them up: The Obitu are a player-race infected with the so-called vivification virus - a virus that infects undead, and reverses their polarity, ending in a transformation that sees the beings being reborn as skeletons empowered by positive energy and thus also none of the life-hating characteristics of the undead. Obitu get +2 to Str and Dex, -2 to Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +4 to saves against disease and poison (how do they catch them sans metabolism?), gain improved initiative, +2 to acrobatics, escape artist and sleight of hands-checks, have a negative energy resistance of 5 + 1/2 character level and are immune to sleep. Good news first: The crunch is solid, if slightly more powerful than I enjoy - at least they don't have the sickening amount of immunities undead have. The negative being that the Obitu, with their magic virus (which also gets its stats) can potentially break a campaign's logic - after all, they offer an excellent way to enhance one's lifespan greatly. Also rather weird are the references to muscular contractions and blood, when the obitu are skeletons - a more detailed run-down of their alien physiology would have been nice indeed. That being said, while certainly not perfect, they are nevertheless the best undead race for PFRPG also far and in far-out campaigns with a lot of weird races (or Plane-hopping campaigns) I will definitely use them, perhaps once my next player dies, an Obitu spawns and takes root in the bones of the fallen... My favorite race herein so far.

Relluks are an interesting relic of a bygone era - literally. These beings are constructs made of basalt and obsidian pressed into the shape of a vaguely humanoid creature with a gaping maw of a tribal face at the front, sprung to life via a soul-crystal and covered in strange golden metals that cover their frames in a distinct pattern resembling circuits, these relics of the downfall of two allied civilizations of atlantean proportions now scour the earth, guided by instinctual memories of their as of yet undiscovered brethren. They gain +2 Con and Cha, -2 Dex, have a con-score and make fortitude saves as normal, but do get some (though thankfully not all) construct immunities: poison, sleep, paralysis, petrification, disease, nausea, sickening and energy drain all hold no threat to the Relluk, which is a quite impressive list in my book. However, this is offset by the inability to heal regularly - without magic, no Relluk can heal and additionally, they are susceptible to spells that deal with stone and non-ferrous metals. Relluks use their gems to emulate magic items and armor - if the wear a regular armor, they quickly become fatigued and exhausted and 1/day, Relluks can emit a, obscuring mist-like cloud of steam that deals minimal fire damage. Finally, they always shed light as a torch and contact with the Relluk's soul crystal ignites flammable objects, leading to some nice potential for humorous roleplaying. I honestly did not want to read this entry - yet another construct race? Yawn! But unlike Replicants, Ironborn and Automata, the Relluk are different in that they are WEIRD, don't feel necessarily humanoid and also thankfully (as did some of the aforementioned, just to be precise...) avoid the "slap construct-immunities on them"-approach. Even if your world already has a  sentient construct-race, I wager that the Relluk with their antediluvian flair will make for welcome additions and bring something new to the games! By the way: They come with a MASSIVE assortment of armor gems: 13 different base-types of armor gems are provided and apart from being useful as armor for Relluks, they also provide additional benefits like skill-bonuses, elemental resistances etc. Even cooler, there are gemstone equivalents for each armor gem, enabling Relluks to harness found gems in similar ways (which are actually VERY effective) and making gemstones finally more than just an annoying trip to the jeweler accompanied by an appraise-check. Kudos!

Ever wanted to play a slime? The Squole-race is just that. Slime. Humanoid-looking slime. Spawned from the Paraelemental plane of oozes, these beings get +2 to Dex, +2 to Con, -2 to Int, are blind beyond the range of their 40 ft. blindsight, get +2 to Acrobatics and Escape artists-checks due to being boneless, gain a resistance of 1/2 his character level against either cold, fire or acid and share some traits with oozes such as immunity to stunning, sneak attacks, poison and sleep. they can still be flanked, crited, paralyzed and polymorphed and while they don't sleep, they do need to eat and drink. The blindsight is powerful, but the blindness beyond the reach is a cool way to balance the benefits of this race and while these oozes don't feel as cool as the Relluk, they are a solid, albeit very weird addition to a campaign.

Speaking of weird: The Taddol are a weird crossbreed of elf and ettin, encompassing two personalities in one humanoid body. They get +2 Str and Int, -2 Cha, low-light vision, count as both elves and giants for  race-related effects, get two favored classes (and +1 skills and hp every time they take a level in such a class), +4 to perception, double the number of head and neck-slots, but have double the chance to die by vorpal weapons -losing one head kills a Taddol. They also get Two Weapon Fighting as a bonus feat and qualify for the improved and greater feats without taking the dex-requirement into account.

The Xax are born from a combination of mad worshipers of the great tapestry and the primordial forces of the Abyss - and are strictly logical. Their physiology is weird, with a vertical mouth and eyes above another, organs comprised of tentacles (!!) and similarly weird stuff. Xax get +2 to Con and Int, -2 to Cha, are small, slow (20 ft.), roll at character creation for a random elemental resistance, gain proficiency of an exotic weapon of their choice and can randomly gain access each sunrise to another race's signature racial powers, like stonecunning or halfling's luck. A combination of chaotic fluxes akin to a rod of wonders with a dint Lovecraftia would the best describe these strange beings and honestly- they are so imaginative, I kind of like them. I might even introduce them into my campaign world - though I'll have them all disguised. In my campaign, all races in this book would get lynched faster by the xenophobic human populace than you could say "Tar and Feathers".

The final new character race is another one you're guaranteed to never have seen before: The Zif are intelligent parasites that thrive in symbiosis with mollusk-forms and have since adopted the race of Snillorhgs, which should be understood as large snails with hands. Zifs get +2 Int and Wis, -2 Str, are medium, slow, gain an additional knowledge-skill rank at character creation, can't wear shoes (but gets a second belt-slot), and can retreat into their shells, gaining 5+character level DR/-, but blinding the Zif. They also get +4 to climb checks and attempts to resist bull rushes - and possess an inbred and surprising hatred of aberrations and traditionally evil races. Another truly unique and intriguing race, I must say!

So, now the basics are out of the way, let's move on to the racial prestige classes, for this book contains one for every new race.

First in the array is the Zif Abolisher, who comes at d8, 4+Int skills per level, medium fort and will-saves and full BAB as well as 9 levels of spellcasting progression. These beings can essentially be considered a dual-class of aberration-specialized hunter with arcane capabilities and the option to disable mental powers temporarily.  The Relluk Archeovitus gets d8, 8+Int skills per day, medium BAB, medium  ref-and will-saves and no spell-progression. The PrC gets the option to access bardic music, stonecunning, the option to perceive invisible creatures, an enhancement to make the steam solid fog and finally the abilities to cast find the path as well as legend lore. The Taddol Battletwin gets d12, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium reflex saves and the abilities to replace the traditional two-weapon fighting style f the Taddol with a  singular determination on large and deadly two-handed weapons, thus putting two minds to one blade, with devastating consequences: From improved reach to a better CMD to a cool capstone ability that lets her reroll her attacks 1/hour, the class is a cool, martial class that does not need any magic gizmos - quite cool, especially since the Taddol to me give off a distinct Howardesk flair - I'll probably rather use them in my extremely low-magic Hyborian campaign...

The Kval Deathseeker (D12, 2+Int skills, medium fort and ref-saves, full BAB) gives new meaning to the phrase "Small but Fierce" - granting abilities to jump into the fray and even grant improving DR. Better yet, though, is the level 10 capstone ability: If an event would plunge a world towards catastrophic evil, this blaze of glory ability lets the Kval Deathseeker shunt all in a 1000 ft.-radius into a demiplane cyst, trapping the vil in question for a thousand years at the cost of not being able to escape himself - a cool final resort ability for a heroic sacrifice-endgame and since using the ability is dependent on DM-approval, one I absolutely LOVE. The Boggle Demolisher gtes d8, 6+Int skills per level, medium BAB and medium ref-saves and could be seen as a roguish demolitions-expert that excels at breaking things (for example the armor of his foes..) and creating explosives. Unfortunately, the Demolisher has not aged well and with the creation of the APG and the alchemist-class, feels somewhat dated. A revision as an alchemist-PrC would be cool.

The greedy Numistians introduce the Entrepreneur, who gets d6, 8+Int skills, medium BAB, medium fort and ref-saves and no spell progression. Entrepreneurs gain the abilities to automatically treat appraise-checks as rolled 20s, massively improved knowledge checks, improving blindsight, darkvision, an interesting ability that seems to heal damage when hitting a foe with a bludgeoning weapon, but actually doesn't, an aura of trustworthiness and even x-ray vision. An interesting class, though one too focused on enhanced senses for my tastes. The Golden Muse (d8, 2+Int skills, medium BAB, medium will-save, full divine spell progression) is focused on bringing evil to justice, making the class essentially celestial in themes - golden light that crushes evil and inspires ally - the like. I found this particular class not too captivating or cool. The Obitu Grim Reaper (d8, 4+Int skills, full BAB, medium will-save 9 levels spell progression) is another PrC that does not excite me - yes, an undead-looking undead-hunter is cool. But the abilities are boring - I've seen bonuses against creature type y, immunity against negative levels etc. too often to consider this class well-made. I've literally seen all the abilities (apart from a slight improvement of the vivification virus) before. Wasted potential for the cool name. Entonbian Lightseekers get d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium ref-saves and can be seen as trailblazers with some minor abilities to enhance their weapons with light-effects as well as speed and mobility-enhancements.

The Anumus Pharaoh (d8, 4+Int skills per level, medium BAB and will-save, full spell-progression) is actually a true surprise - not only get they to choose from different ancient secrets, they can also exchange persons via teleport in combat, punish or aid foes and allies by sheathing them in purple flames and sway the masses - the Pharaoh-PrC rocks hard and I'll use them in my campaign - not only for Anumi (though I'll rename it -scion of the duat).  Two thumbs up for that one! The Oakling PrC, the Reverent of Spring (d12, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort and will-saves) is a hunter/melee combatant that sees nature as "Kill or be killed" and can even learn to heal minor wounds each time they inflict damage in melee. The Mahrog Savage (d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort-save) gains bonuses to handling a specific type of animal, summon animals of this kind, can create special hides that are the equivalent of civilized armor, special weapons that emulate civilized ones and turn into his totem animal.  The Squole Slimelord (d8, 4+Int skills, medium BAB, medium fort-and ref-saves, full spellcasting progression) gains the ability to summon oozes and influence the mindless creatures as well as launch slime globes at foes and even turn into a full-blown ooze at the end.

The Xax warrior philosopher (d10, 2+Int skills per level, full BAB, medium fort and will-saves) starts off as a regular fighting class, but e.g. the option to roll 5d4 instead of a d20 once per round as well as the cool capstone "Perfect Strike" (treat atk as 20 or damage as maximum) make this class rather cool and the warrior philosopher a well-rounded class. The final new class is the Mogogol Zubbit, who comes with d10, 2+Int skills, full BAB, medium will-saves - and is unfortunately utterly lame - a kind of pseudo-paladin, all of the zubbit's abilities are worse than those granted by the Paladin and Cavalier base-classes. Ok for NPCs and if you consciously want to make your Mogogol weaker. Otherwise: Avoid like the plague!

After this massive section, we delve into the feat-chapter, which is thankfully equipped with a two page table of feats by race so you can easily find what you're looking for - special mention deserve the entobian metamorphosis-feats that give you the option to transform your larva-like entobian into different entobian forms, including new racial modifiers etc. - since, however, this review is already bloated beyond compare, I'll refrain from going into all details. Overall, the majority of the feats offer some neat benefit and make sense.

The second portion of the book is specially for the GM and includes short write-ups of the island-home of the taddols and the plane of commerce of the Numistians. We also get a lot of magic items: From pet-related item like an invisible lash to put on Anumi (or would-be enslavers) to boggle one-man helicopter-backpacks, magic mistletoes, heartstones obitu can put in their empty chests to an enchanted slime armor and a diving helm-like ooze that enables you to breathe underwater, this chapter unanimously deserves my fullest praise - iconic, cool, imaginative items, one and all.

After this, we get a bestiary-section for all the races and related creatures, including undead oaklings, new oozes, etc., the section is useful and nice. The pdf closes with an aforementioned index. The pdf also comes with 3 pages of paper cardstock minis in full color.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect: I encountered a couple of different minor typos, though none impeded my ability to enjoy this pdf. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column full-color standard, that, while beautiful, will extol a brutal drain on your printer since there is no printer-friendly version. The full-color, original artworks are mostly awesome and range from good to excellent. The pdf is excessively bookmarked.

I honestly expected to hate this book. Seriously. New races have a hard standing with me as I don't like it when races don't bring anything new to the table but variations of crunch. Thus, I was rather astonished to see that all of the different races herein at least have something going for them - some being even exceedingly innovative in their design and ideas. That being said, these races are weird and may not be appropriate for every setting, gravitating more towards settings with a lot of weird humanoids running around. The average creature herein would lead to people screaming "Monster" and piling up the pyre in my home campaign - in high fantasy, racially diverse settings or even better, planeswalking settings, though, these races truly shine and offer some breaths of fresh air to known and tried tropes. In fact, I can easily picture all of these beings fitting seamlessly on the streets of Sigil or any other place in the great beyond.

That out of the way, the supplemental material also deserves mentioning: While the magic items provided can stand up to the best of books, the PrCs, with some notable exceptions, fell flat for me: Too often do they remind one of classic tropes like "Mage with favored enemy" or "celestial bard" and while some offer truly ingenious abilities, not all feel that well-crafted. But back to the races: Apart from some slight balance-concerns I voiced in the respective sections (especially regarding the Anumi), I was positively surprised to see how well the races herein fare. Especially the Relluk practically belongs into any campaign that features a lost civilization prominently and remains my favorite race herein - probably because they have the most elaborate background. I know that the choice is by design, but my major gripe with this pdf is the lack of customs of the new races. While the omission of religious rites etc. makes them easy to integrate into a given campaign, it is religious rites, social peculiarities etc. that make races stand out and shape their identity. Take a look at Rite Publishing's race-books, notably the Ironborn in direct comparison: While the Ironborn are also a relatively new race, they do come with customs, terminology, identity-creating ploys. I really would have loved to see more in that vein, to e.g. properly present the ramblings of Xax warrior philosophers in battle. For me personally, this flaw weighs quite a bit and combined with the lack of a printer-friendly version and  the minor glitches I encountered, makes me settle for a final verdict of 4 Rudii in the end.







All right, next time, I'll take a look at a module! 

As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out. 

8.24.2012

Endzeitgeist reviews Amethyst Renaissance

Hej everybody,

I promised you a review on a big book and a big review you shall get, a review of a complex and intelligent setting - without further ado:

Amethyst Renaissance



This massive pdf is 399 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ToC, 1 page Index, 1 page SRDs and 1 page back cover, leaving us with a whopping 391 pages of content, so let's check this out!

I'll just come out and say it: I'm not familiar with any old iterations of the Amethyst-setting, thus I can't draw any direct comparisons. What is Amethyst then? Essentially it is a what-if scenario of vast ambitions: What would happen if a logical fantasy setting, with all its consequences, with its magic etc., was thrust upon our technological world. Not a black/white dichotomy, nor a stylized version of fantasy. The ambition is to create a setting in which the problems, social and ecological are very much intact, including all the topics that move us - only that now the force of magic has entered the world and while it does change the options of the people, it is also a force that is at direct odds with technology - but even this dichotomy is too simple to properly explain the intricate web of themes and topics opened by this book. But let me try to explain via the setting's history: Essentially, it presumes that there once was a magical age here on earth, when the world was still called Terros and people worshiped a benevolent entity of unbridled creative energy and chaos- until the arrival of the black gate and a deity of order and syntropy started to lay waste to the world, culminating in the K-T-extinction event, resulting in the death of legendary dragon/god amethyst and the extinction of magic from the world. Technology and natural evolution reigned. Until a second impact, a meteorite saw the resurgence of magic. The forces of order and chaos have returned and in-between, mankind has to witness its technology ceasing to work in the presence of magic, thus creating enclaves of the size of nations, cities of hyper-technology in a world where magic looms beyond the walls and dragons and fae have reclaimed the planet. Add to that the legend that there's an artifact that may expel magic again and forever or make the one bearing it a god and we have ample potential for the earth-shattering things your PCs can do in AR. "Which side will you stand on in the end" is a question that will be hard to answer in the setting...

After a brief description on altered magic (though that is covered in more detail later) and the origin of power for clerics, druids and mages, we are introduced to a glossary before we get into chapter 2, where we are introduced to the variety of races available for character creation in the Amethyst Renaissance setting and from the start an interesting consideration is put into focus: Traditions. Tenebri curse and swear loudly while executing daily affairs, Laudeni never wear undergarments etc. - while these points may seem boring and mundane, they actually prove a point I often try to make: Races are more than the conglomerate of their stats and should be treated as such. This chapter thus includes a stunning wealth of gestures and peculiarities, from considering silent gestures rude to kowtowing to one's tools and even a complex appropriation of the "metal-gesture", i.e. the devil's horns as both a potential greeting (with a thumb in the fist) or an request for intercourse (with the thumb exposed). Sexuality and the Fae race's take on it is also thankfully covered, being rather open and non-discriminating regarding e.g. homosexuality and monogamous when married, but rather polyamorous before, thus creating further potential for cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Add to that the existence of a particular form of iron/lead that is particularly toxic to fae and an inherent magical nature that disrupts technology, as reflected by a saturation level that can never plunge below 20 and we're in for cool and complex creatures even before we delve into the respective racial entries, which are spearheaded by the Chaparrans, who can essentially be considered wood elves that believe their existence is eternal and changes between being a being of flesh and blood and being a tree. These wild fae are truly deadly experts with their bows, get climb speeds etc. and can even teleport in forests, making them feel truly unearthly. 

The Damaskans, on the other hand, can be considered a race of intellectual, bibliophile,obsessive chroniclers of the things that happen in their chosen field. Equipped with a vastly supreme sense of balance, gravity etc. and being universally ambidextrous, they also make for stellar swashbuckling-style characters and warrior-scholars, as their intelligence-modifier influences their combat prowess. Gimfen are a peculiar race of Fae as well, lacking the disruptive field that characterizes many echans (slang for magic-users and magical beings) and being obsessed (and rather successful) with melding magic and technology. While not being as apt as humans, they make for interesting alchemists, tinkerers and could be seen a s a type of gnome/halfling-hybrid, also due to their height. Laudenians then, would make for the classic high elves - a pure first race in decline, their culture is determined by a fear of degradation (as their descendants turned into other fey) and hence they have turned to living in a fabled city in the sky - however, they are not only haughty, immortal and rare, they also have lost any connection to nature due to their hatred/fear of the corrupting influence of walking the earth.

The Narros can be considered the strong warrior/miners of the Fae races, determined by a 100% commitment and making for natural born soldiers. Speaking of good soldiers - the Pagus, Fae changed by the black gate do not disrupt technology, but are stigmatized from birth as heralds of the black gate and are prone to old-age insanity. And then there are the Tenebri, a race of deceptively fragile-looking blind Fae with a deadly scream, these beings have allegedly been cursed by a god and are interesting in that they are more or less at war with the Narros and, due to their blindness, have a completely different take on attractiveness etc., thus subverting  preconceptions of beauty ideals. The final Fae race then would be the Tilen: Fragile and graceful, yet strong, these beings are essentially fae who have clawed themselves back from undeath and can be seen as a playable Fae vampire race: They have no reflections, are blinded by light etc. - but in a twist of the theme, while they can heal via draining blood, they are passionate and rather non-violent creatures and thus make for a great duality between dark pasts, themes of hereditary sin and kindness in the face of xenophobia and aversion. Among the evolutionary races, Humans are first and detailed just about as much as the other races, taking the fall of old ideologies and virtues and the varied nature as well as the cataclysm that decimated their race into account before going on with the Kodiaks - upright walking bears that are a recent phenomenon and which have only begun to rise from hunters and foragers to farming communities. With such a diverse roster of races, a whole entry is devoted to crossbreeds between Fae and human as well as crossbreeds between the different types of Fae.

And we're only just past the playable races - now, let us turn our heads towards the background of the setting! The section kicks off with an idea I whole heartedly endorse - a selection of backgrounds and organizations for the whole group to belong to - essentially providing a way for the player characters to know each other  and get a benefit and starting point to properly develop their backgrounds. After that, we are introduced to new traits, though it should be noted that a new class of traits, so-called Amethyst Traits, are introduced: Every character may only have one of these slightly more powerful traits. Since the setting's peculiarities, religious and belief-based traits are subsumed and/or replaced by supernatural traits that enable a slight tapping into the forces that be via an unexplained natural talent. Traits, to be honest, have swiftly become my least favorite thing to review - they provide paltry bonuses, boring one-liners and half of them boil down to "You have been bullied by X/grown up in Y/etc." -BORING. Now this is what this book does perfectly right: Each trait comes with an extensive, long flavor text that immerses one in the respective background and best of all, also roots the character believably and deep in the world of Amethyst Renaissance. This is how traits should be handled. Kudos, respect and two thumbs up - 3pps, take heed, this is how it can be done!

In the next chapter, we deal with classes - rather important, taking the peculiarities of the setting into account- magic is usually channeled by a totem, for example, meaning that wizards may use other things as focus - for example orbs, shields and even more esoteric things. Of course, we also get a variety of new Techan classes, starting with the Grounder (d10, 4+Int skills, full BAB, good fort- and ref-saves) that gains access to brotherhood abilities, improved recoil absorption etc., while the heavy grounder is the heavy arms/explosive specialist variant of the class. We also get the new Marshal base-class (d8, 6+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves), who can be considered a war-master-like support class with auras to enhance team-mate capabilities and enhanced benefits for teamwork. What I was missing from this class was the option to utilize teamwork-feats/solo-tactics -  a good class that could have been better by being more streamlined with PFRPG-content. The mechanic operator (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) can be seen as the tech with the customized weapons, including a cool ability called "Shiny Red Button" that enables the operator to do rather deadly stunts with his deadly modified weapons like automatically hitting, dealing additional damage etc. - very cool! The Medic (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-and will-saves as well as 4 levels of exploits) can be considered the techan combat medic, able to negate e.g. the last hit to strike an ally and use his injections to strengthen allies. VERY cool, though I would have loved more exploits. The next general category of classes is called stalker and can be considered soldier-specialists - from the blazing Gunslinger (d10, 4+Int skills per level, full BAB, good ref saves) that can put a deadly ballet of bullets (flurry-style) through his enemies and the diametric opposite, the Sniper, who learns to enhance his single shots to further maximize his deadly potential. The Vanguard (d8, 7+Int skills per level, weird 19/20 BAB-progression, good ref-saves) is the final of the classes herein, gaining knowledge to fight with primitive powers, unarmed attacks etc. - essentially a mundane, dirty and cool alternative to the esoteric monk.  (Also nice: Fighting-game inspired ability-names as inside jokes.)

In a world of both technology and magic, we also need new skills and thus are introduced to new skills dealing with the proper use of explosives, engineering, knowledge (science) and vehicle operation. The setting also includes 7 1/2 pages of feat-LISTS before giving us the feats and they do something I really like: Apart from racial feats etc. you'd expect to find, there also are a vast variety of feats that have background traits as prerequisites, expanding upon the background concepts and making the traits matter that much more. Again, 3pps, take heed - this is a great idea. But are the feats up to the quality? To cut a long, uninteresting and potentially ruinous listing of feats and what they do short (and to stop myself from blowing this review completely out of all proportions) - yes. The feats are well-designed and the techan feats, for explosive, new armors and weapons etc. make for fine additions and since I'm a huge fan of vehicles, especially the nice coverage of them, via both the extensive skill-section and the feats makes this chapter a crunchy winner in my book.

The equipment section is also rather smart, beginning with a cool recap on ever-improving technology and stagnant, unchanging magic before going into the different currencies, ranging from the familiar gold pieces (echan money, including local names for the pieces) to the universal credits used by the techan.  Next would be the obligatory entries on different technology levels, up to antigrav and complete reconstruction of beings from dust as well as information on e.g. battery types and EDF - echan disruption fields that represent the disruptive effects of magic on technology as well as means to at least temporarily cancel and/or diminish said detrimental effects. Of course, Echan weaponry is also detailed. If you ever wanted to play one bastard with a REALLY big weapon, fret not, for super heavy weaponry is also covered - if you put that tripod down and aim your foes will know to weep. It should also be noted that auto fire is introduced with cohesive rules and that we get stellar artworks for many new weapons. Have I mentioned the almost mecha-like classes of heavy armor (and their respective lighter counterparts) and the class on shields, both traditional and kinetic and the rather large array of modifications that can be added to armor, enhancing customizability even further? Other cool bits are the AEN, essentially an echan-detection system, camera balls, information on viral/gene therapy, rules for exotic materials and best of all: Vehicles galore - tanks, jeeps, whatever you desire. And then there are the cool vertibird-like airships and even high-tech blimps! HELL YEAH!

In Chapter 7, we get to check out PrCs, for both the echan and techan fractions - from knights of Abraham, the PrC-incarnations of rangers and paladins (not available as base-classes) to the determined Gimfen assassins of the Crimson Leaf to the elite techan angel snipers, infantry support specialists, sierra madre gunslingers and york gun dancers, we are introduced to flavorful, regional and organizational PrCs that truly feel like they belong to their niches and make sense in the context of the world. mechanics-wise, they offer nice rules. In order to keep this review from blowing further out of all proportions, I'll refrain from listing them all. The chapter on magic is also rather interesting, as it talks about the strange dichotomies of white and black magic, disruption and the concepts of infinite creation vs. absolute syntropy as well as about theories on summoning beings and the effects of magic - both white and black magic change the user - Ixindar's black magic adds corruption points and changes you and even white magic and association with fey has the tendency to slowly turn you into an echan-like being. Also rather cool: Powerful spells are usually limited to being only learnable from an anchor, which means that learning such a spell entails quests of its own and making access to such spells rare and coveted - want polar ray? Get that crystal skull! Antimagic fields can prove lethal to echan beings not associated with Ixindar and we also get 4 technology-disrupting EMP-style spells. The magic items and what's available in Amethyst Renaissance would also cover a whole chapter - it s especially noteworthy that we get an awesome array of artifacts that come with extensive background stories before we get into the sections that especially should be read carefully by prospective DMs.

The following two chapters deal with the leitmotifs of the Amethyst Renaissance setting, ranging from familiar foreignness and constructions of alterity to eschatological ramifications of the cataclysm that was the second hammer and the canonical continuation of human religions, belief, ideologies and science as well as covering the plethoras of alternative models for society as introduced by the Fae and adapted by the echan races - which, of course, is anything but unilateral and in fact a topic not to be neglected. The corrupting influence of Ixindar, transportation and travel, languages, ideologies and warfare - you name it and these pages provide. A gazetteer of the world, introducing us to the bastions, their tech levels, to the kingdoms and also the homes of the worst infections  is also provided and makes for a nice lead-in to the new beasts- While most beings can work in the Amethyst-setting, several creatures are replaced by races unique to the setting and thus, the bestiary section kicks off by introducing us to said replacements. Special mention in this section deserves the beautiful representation of the fae and the "degenerated" subtypes that have developed from them. The corrupted Dragons of Ixindar also get a nice treatment herein and the pdf hints at the worst of these beings and their special strengths.

In Chapter 13, the DM gets the grand gamut of inspirations for campaigns - whether you and your group would go for a theme of echan/techan differences, mixed groups or campaigns focused on a place, this section provides even further ideas and guidance for DMs  before presenting us with a beginner's adventure, which serves as a nice starting point for both echan and techan or mixed groups. A nice module, though I would have preferred an echan and a techan start scenario.

After that, the expertly written narrative that leads us throughout this massive tome concludes and an Index finishes this massive tome.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good - I noticed not a single wording that would have impeded my understanding of the text or rules, though I did notice several passages where text was in italics that wasn't supposed to be. Generally, though, the formatting is excellent. The layout adheres to a drop-dead gorgeous b/w-2-column layout with graphics on the borders and no printer-friendly version, which is a minor bummer. The artworks, oh the artworks: They belong, tops, to the most iconic, awesome, evocative and brilliant pieces I've seen done in b/w and the couple of full-color artworks herein are no less dazzling in their beauty. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks, though no nested bookmarks, which is a bit of a pity, since nested bookmarks would have imho further improved the ability to navigate this massive book. The pdf also comes with high-res jpegs of 3 full color artworks, a map of Canam and 4 different wallpapers.

Now, this review took me much longer than anticipated due to several reasons - first of all would be the ambition of the setting: Essentially its endeavor of creating a what-if-scenario that is logical is laudable - what is truly stunning, though, is the variety of play styles it can accommodate. Yes, you can play a fantasy campaign laced with sci-fi elements in this setting. Just as easily, you could participate in a technology vs. magic, scifi vs. fantasy war of the worlds, a gritty cyberpunk scenario or even explore themes of ideologies, races, conflicting society models or a theme of technical evolution vs. chaos that is stagnant in its magical creations etc.

Amethyst Renaissance accommodates all of these playstyles and infinitely more.  Secondly, this review took forever to write due to the crunch being so different from what we usually see in PFRPG. Due to the peculiar nature of magic an technology in the setting, checking the balance of the classes, PrCs and options makes for a monumental task I can only hope I partially achieved in completing. Balance is precarious and there were many an instance where I actually thought that a given race, feat or other class option was overpowered, since e.g. automatic hits and similar concepts are used. However, the setting's unique balancing factors like the EDF and ideological differences/conflicts, tech levels etc. also mean that there are a lot of uncommon factors that mitigate the relative power of the races and options herein. To make matters perfectly clear: This is probably not a setting to scavenge from, since just about all crunchy elements are tightly inter-connected both with crunchy and fluffy bits to weave a complex tapestry of both exciting and uncommon options.

Amethyst Renaissance is also, and that should be stressed, an intelligent setting: Its logic, coherent approach demands a mature approach both on the side of the gaming group and the designers, as the elements that are relevant social topics in our everyday world still matter in this setting, including unpleasant topics like racism, fanaticism and the escalating clash of ideologies. All while retaining an identity beyond the sum of its component parts. Is this pdf universally balanced? Hard to tell, even for me. If a DM is not careful with regards to feats, equipment etc., I can see such a game being hard work - this is not the fault of this book, though, as the parts actually DO work they way they are intended. Another note for all the people with extensive PFRPG-libraries and a minor problem I see with this pdf should be mentioned, though: Rules concepts like teamwork feats, solo tactics or the gunslinger's grit mechanic have not found their way into this setting. Instead, we have setting-specific solutions and rules-representation, which, while they do enhance the individuality of the setting, also mean that adding other content to the setting could prove to be problematic. It is also due to this that I hope we'll get more techan equipment, vehicles etc. in future supplements - introducing other content on one's own could prove to be a decision that should be carefully considered.

Finally, I feel compelled to mention one thing: As per the writing of these lines, I really hope for a print version of this book - BUT: This pdf is cheap. I mean it. Ridiculously cheap in fact. 15 bucks for 400 pages? Of content of this quality? Now if that is not an excellent bang-for buck ratio, I don't know what is. I'd honestly be hard-pressed to mention another book that marries stellar artworks, a truly unique and smart setting, innovative rules and interesting ideas while being this damn affordable- At the low asking price, Amethyst Renaissance is a total, complete steal. What's my final verdict, then? I've thought. I've calculated. I've pondered. Is this book perfect? No, there are some minor formatting glitches. There is the lack of nested bookmarks. I'm new to Amethyst and have no idea how this one and its prior d20-incarnations interact. What I can say is that this pdf made me want to play in the setting. That its races came more to life to me on these pages than just about ALL races I've reviewed this year. That the ideas are often not adhering to standard PFRPG-solutions, but work well and in unique, special ways. That the base-classes rock hard and feel cool. That I love the creative ideas, twists and all the unique "clash of culture"-style pieces of information. If my review left you even remotely curious and/or you're looking for a truly new, unique and versatile setting, I'd strongly encourage you to check this pdf out - Amethyst Renaissance is clearly a professional book and a labor of love. And at the low price, I can still justify to give this book my full blessing - thus, my final verdict, in spite of the minor blemishes that can easily be neglected, will be 5 Rudii.







As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,

Endzeitgeist out.

8.17.2012

End(ZEITGEIST) reviews Part I

Hej everyone,

it's been quite some time since I've taken a look in real life to anything by EN Publishing, only to recently realize that they have a rather interesting AP for PFRPG going - with the two basic guides being FREE!

Thus, today I'm going to take a look at the free guides for the AP before I delve into the modules! Hope you'll enjoy the reviews!

Let's start with the DM's guide,

Zeitgeist Campaign Guide



This pdf is 19 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page map/ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving 15 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This pdf contains GM-information and is chock-full of SPOILERS and intended for DMs only- this review, though, will refrain from mentioning any details. Since the basic concept of the AP is rather complex, the pdf comes with a concise run-down of the player's antagonists and better yet, the methods of the conspiracy the players will have to contend with. Better yet, since the AP presumes a mystery spanning multiple adventures, keeping the central plot-secrets as well as how to spoon-feed the handling of information and clues are covered - with a nice guideline by adventure for the PCs.

The first five adventures also get a plot synopsis including scenes to whet our tastes for the modules including an option to abridge the campaign if need be. The pdf also features a full-page, beautiful map of the campaign world.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column standard and the full color pieces of artwork can stand up to the highest standards, though the lack of a printer-friendly version will mean that this pdf will put a brutal strain on your printer. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. This pdf is a great overview of the Zeitgeist-AP and the content makes one really run the AP, while providing first hints and advice on how to properly convey the leitmotifs and peculiarities of the saga. Seeing that this is a free pdf, I don't have much to complain about apart from the fact that I would have enjoyed a full campaign synopsis and perhaps a flow-chart diagram for the antagonists, but that's just me being nitpicky. This is a great free pdf and thus, I'll settle for a final verdict of 5 Rudii.







And of course, there's also a free 

Zeitgeist Player's Guide


This pdf is 37 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 32 pages of content, so let's check this out!

In the Zeitgeist AP by Enworld Publishing, the PCs are not only living in an age of industrialization of clashing ideologies between traditionalism and progress, they also serve as agents in their homeland, working for the Risur Homeland Constabulary, essentially a kind of secret service devoted to the nation of Risur. Race-wise, it should be noted that a nation of tieflings and even of monstrous humanoids exists, as well as that the elven goddess has died in war with mankind and thus, there almost are no female elves left. Dwarves believe that armageddon draws near, but stoically toil on. Planar travel does not work and any kind of magical flight only work for a maximum of 5 rounds. The Zeitgeist AP uses no traits and instead provides a free theme-feat for each character at first level:

Beyond providing a central theme for each character, these feats add roleplaying potential galore, coming not only with the usual crunch, but also with a rather extensive fluff-section - If you need a general overview of the quality you can expect, take the Eschatologist's feat "Icy End of the World": It not only enables you to generate a zone of icy cold that deals character level damage to all inside (including you) and makes healing impossible, it can also be used to stabilize and even resurrect PCs that have fallen in the last round. Or take the feat "The Man with two Guns is God" for Gunsmiths, that enables the user of the feat to attack with firearms as if you had two-weapon fighting and quick draw and even better, not provoke an AoO when drawing and attacking in the same round. Spirit Mediums can talk to the dead as a spell-like ability and even conjure up a spirit to perform a  standard action at you behest. The theme feats are brilliant, smart and iconic and add some rather cool additional angles for the players to explore.

The player's guide also provides guidelines regarding firearms and treasure, vehicles, organization prestige and the options to secure minor help by NPCs in your endeavors. The second chapter details the setting overview, including a section on the planes, wild and dead magic zones and the basic details of all the countries as well as sections on the dominant religions and philosophies.

The third section of the book details the metropolis of Flint, where the AP kicks off - capital of Risur, home to the PCs and beautifully cartographed, this section is awesome indeed - have I mentioned the fully-stated mage-shackles? Since the Zeitgeist AP will juggle a lot of NPCs, the final page is devoted to NPC-mugshots and short run-downs of the respective characters.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a  2-column, full-color standard with fitting borders and the artworks, oh boy, the artworks are AWESOME and should fulfill the needs of even the most critical person, being on par with Paizo, WotC etc., perhaps even beyond that in a couple of them. The pdf comes with no bookmarks and unfortunately, without a printer-friendly version - the pdf will extol a brutal drain on your printer.  This is a player's guide after my tastes - with stellar crunch, great background stories, no spoilers and a plethora of great hooks (via e.g. the theme-feats) to deeply entrench your characters in the world of Zeitgeist. Am I stoked? Hell yeah! While the lack of a printer-friendly version is a major blemish in my book, this player's guide is free and of a higher quality than most commercial publications. Furthermore, the concepts and rules of e.g. the theme-feats can easily be scavenged, providing goodness even if you don't plan on running the AP. Hence, my final verdict will be 5 Rudii + endzeitgeist seal of approval.




All right, that's it for now! Next time, I'm going to take a look at one massive sourcebook!
As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,


Endzeitgeist out.


8.09.2012

EZG reviews Way of the Wicked IV

Hej everybody,

today I'm taking a look at the latest installment of the evil AP by Fire Mountain Games

Of Dragons & Princesses



This pdf is 106 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages maps of Talingarde, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 99 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This being an adventure-review, the following text contains a lot of SPOILERS. Potential players may wish to jump to the conclusion.

Still here? All right!

The last adventure had the PCs in a precarious situation - the sacking of the most holy places of Mitran religion can easily be botched and thus, this adventure kicks off with the PCs either fleeing from the Vale with an army on their heels or triumphantly marching from it in charge of their own dark forces. Worse for Cardinal Thorn's dread masterplan - his third knot, the assassins in charge with dealing with the regent King Markadian failed and were vanquished and his mole in the army is too frightened to assassinate the king. His plan seems to be crumbling - but there are the PCs, aren't there? These people have been a valuable asset, but they are getting too strong. Thus, Thorn develops a Xanathos gambit that may very well backfire: The king dearly loves his daughter and this is his weakness - if a sufficient threat surfaces in the royal palace, he'll come to the rescue - with the elite of his guard. But what constitutes a sufficient threat? What about Chargammon, legendary old black wyrm? Yeah, that should do the trick. The PCs get a lackluster assignment - recruit the extremely hostile Chargammon, known to slay all intruders to attack the royal palace and in the chaos ensuing the King's return, kill the regent, a formidable foe himself and destroy his elite guard. Even if they fail, Thorn wins - gaining finally the leverage to force his mole's hand.  Now if that does not smell of suicide mission, the PCs are dumb. For now, though, they'll have play along.

Thus, the module kicks off with the PCs leaving Valtaerna, either at the helm of their own successful army and with an enhancement to their own evil organization or with their tails between their legs, fleeing from a vast army featuring a magic banner. Rescuing their bugbear commanders, their hippogriffs, teleportation magic - a bunch of options to escape after a botched invasion are there and even abandoning the rank-and-file goons is expected (they can be replenished), though not necessary - the PCs can actually lead their army through the wintry, deadly passes to escape with their organization intact.  Once they rendez-vous with the Fire-Axe, they'll see that at least the sacking of Daveryn went as planned - the city has fallen and Sakkarot wants to talk to them - and trade information, for Sakkarot, ina fit of melancholy, tells them the details of his deal with Thorn and that in the end, he is to take a fall against the Asmodean "saviors" once Talingarde has plunged into chaos. More worrying is that Tiadora and Thorn seem to  be rather stingy with new orders/plans. But before new orders are issued, the PCs will have some fun - sacking Daveryn, district by district, looking for loot as well as allies and the missing duke, squashing resistances etc. - the city comes with a beautiful , player-friendly full-color map that includes the names for the district, but thankfully no annoying numbers. And it is neat to see the consequences of the PC's actions, e.g. the Tears of Achlys, which claim victims and remain a potent and deadly threat. A total of 4 looting tables, plus one for magic items and multiple random encounters supplement the planned encounters that are part of the looting: From breaking the last remnants of the resistance (e.g. the remaining city watch and a company of soldiers) to an interesting find in the local wizard's tower, the PCs have some challenges waiting: Said Wizard has the hints to the legendary wyrm Chargammon's nest as well as more vital clues: The Duke is still inside the city walls and hiding and the lord of eagles seems to have captured the spawn of Chargammon. It should also be noted that the diviner's spellbook and notes make for some cool treasures - especially the lavish description of the spellbook is a nice touch.

Of course, even now the PCs can make new allies: The Baroness Vanya of Veryn, holed up in her mansion would make Cersei Lannister pale in comparison to her wickedness, but she's also a consummate politician that may make for a valuable ally regarding social interactions. The insane glory-hound and duelist master Rodrigo would make for the second potential ally - while not evil, he is amoral and cares only for his craft. Add to that spymaster Anton Breuder (who could provide a benefit in a future module), the option to steal the sapphire of storms (if the PCs are up for Mission Impossible-style trap disarming) and we're in for some fun. Better yet, if the PCs have failed to keep the slaughter of Valtaerna secret, the local prison could serve as a means to replenish their organization and a means to recruit Irfan al-Janbiya, the one assassin who was spared the righteous wrath of Sir Richard when he crushed the third knot.  Once the PCs have found and dealt with all sources of information (good place to torture the subdued duke and perhaps a Mitran cardinal), the PCs could move onward -or they could do a cool sidequest for Grumblejack (or Raiju) to collect different types of spirits they may find strewn around the city - rather cool and adds some neat details to the local economy. The climax of the sacking should come as both a challenge to the PCs and as a sign that they are truly infamous: Two angels come down from the heavens to put them to justice.
Speaking of outsiders - Tiadora, this time accompanied by 9 errinyes, makes finally an appearance and hands off the quest to the PCs, acknowledging (perhaps subconsciously) that they did ALL the successful, major work in Thorn's gambit. By now the PCs should slowly starting to grasp that their master becomes concerned with their power. For now, though, they are off to the aerie of the Eagle Lord, a mythic being that commands the storms itself to rescue a black dragon - either by slaying the legendary bird and its court or by subterfuge and then have to deal with the rather dumb and deceitful spawn of the great wyrm to secure an audience and get them past the array of deadly river drakes guarding the isle. Worse, the duplicitous dragon does not warn them against the other defenses of the great wyrms lair, which makes e.g. the viper vines all the more deadly. Not as deadly as negotiating with an utterly chaotic evil black wyrm, though - in the end, PC ingenuity should prevail (there are btw. alternate ways to secure an audience) and they're off on a quest for the wyrm - to slay his rival, the copper wyrm Eiramanthus. Slaying a dragon is never easy and slaying this particular one is no exception.

The charismatic copper wyrm is a known planeswalker and has, in his travels far and wide, secured an array of concubines of surprising power - from Setia Swims-the-Sea-of-Stars, a ceteceal agathion to Sakari Yoshimune, a Toshigami Kami to finally Shakti Shobhana, a redeemed tataka rakshasa, the respective companions will provide quite a challenge - on their own. If the PCs are dumb enough to race into the island with drawn weapons and without a good plan to take care of them one by one, they will be squashed - especially with the allies of the respective concubines and potentially the copper dragon master of the island joining the fray. Add to that the labyrinthine quarters, crystalline gargoyles and a xorn emissary and a puzzle on a chess field, an interdimensional witchwyrd genius studying planar travel and the villains will be sorely tested even before they reach Eiramanthus, who true to his breed, will be rather communicative at first - of course, conflict with the noble being is inevitable and in the end, either he (and all remaining servitors/companions) or the PCs will be dead. And the rewards are nice indeed - the draconic hoard not only contains quite a bunch of unique treasures and is presented in excruciating detail, it also contains yet another piece of fabled hellbrand, dark blade of Asmodean champions and the demi-lich called "Nameless Tyrant", encased in crystal and yet another potential minion, albeit a very dangerous one - especially the knowledge of the lich-transformation might be interesting for the PCs Even more interesting, though is the infernal ally Dessiter, who warns the PCs of the impending treachery in Book 5 and to keep away from Thorn and plot his demise, adding quite a bunch of interesting pieces of information to the PC's repertoire, including the reason why Sir Richard has not yet been eliminated.
And then coolness begins - for the deed of slaying the copper wyrm, the PCs are actually rewarded by Chargammon in a rather cool way: He forces his son to serve them for 100 years - the PCs can now ride a black dragon into battle! Hell yeah! It's time to slay a king - in a month. First, wise PCs should explore the city of Matharyn and stock up - for before slaying the king will be perhaps their last chance for a while to get things done before the breakneck show-down with Thorn. The final location then,  the Adarium, beckons and powerful wizards can be slain as well as celestials, righteous pyre-golems destroyed and diplomatic relations ruined (if the PCs act smart...). Secrets can be unearthed - including the hidden location of Hellbrands final component and Thorn's phylactery. Better yet, the magical prodigy princess and Sir Richard are here as well, guarded by an honor guard and a golem of mithral, their defenses are extensive and will ensure that the two get away - and for now that might be good, as it turns out the princess of Talingarde is not only beautiful, she's also a silver dragon-spawned prodigy of magic and when Sir Richard is defeated by Chargammon's assault, she intercedes and actually slays the dragon. Meanwhile, the PCs will have quite a battle with Markadian V and his elite guard on their hands.

The pdf also offers extensive troubleshooting advice and help with what/if-scenarios regarding the module's plot and the consequences we can expect from the potential of failure. We also get a whole page depicting the outcome of the clash between the Fire-Axe's armies and the forces of the king  sans their leader that serves as an introduction to the things to come. The city of Matharyn gets a lavishly detailed gazetteer-section, including information on putting the PC's organization to the test against the excellent night watch. The pdf also offers advice for lich and vampire PCs and a run-down to make Way of the Wicked an all-vampiric campaign, from Book I to VI.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I encountered some minor typos spread throughout the module, though no enough to rate it down. Layout of the AP is beautiful and on par with Paizo publications and the artworks and cartography are stellar and up to the highest quality. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with a semi-printer-friendly version without backgrounds as well as another pdf that includes the handout as well as player-friendly versions of all the maps sans the annoying numbers -AWESOME!
The fourth module of the WotW-AP is a wicked ride of fun, but one that needs careful planning on part of the DM - the module relies on the PCs completing the plan in spite of its flaws and a lot of quid-pro-quo-quests. To truly make this module work, a GM has to be up on his game. That being said, the module nevertheless is a stellar example of cool things to do and the villains will finally feel as if they are infamous indeed - the attacks by celestials and the forces of good finally directly attack the PCs and the option to gain a dragon mount rocks. Challenging creatures like a dragon and an ancient nature spirit is iconic indeed. That being said, there is at least one potential problem I see with the module: While the capital of Talingarde is detailed and the Adarium a challenging climax, it is the final section that needs a bit of DM-expansion: The pdf does not cover HOW to enter the Adarium and while the players have a multitude of tools at their behest, some guidelines would have been nice. Additionally, the PC's infiltration while their "threat" forces the king's hand could have been made more iconic, with more guards that are slain while the PCs are running the corridors. A timeline or some cinematic scenes in which the PCs can see how their wicked ally vanquishes otherwise lethal roadblocks in the module would have added some gleeful spite to their accomplishments.

That being said, I am complaining on a very high level here - this module is still an excellent, awesome ride and while it has no new mechanics like the two immediate prequels, it offers the PCs a chance to reclaim an organization and make new allies - though I would have loved to see more for the villain's cohorts to do. In contrast to the attack on Valtaerna, this module does not offer much to do for the poor cohorts apart from accompanying the PCs, which is a pity - give the psychotic alchemical golem, Grumblejack etc. something to do in the Adarium. (Though the sidequest provided for a cohort is awesome...) Perhaps a sabotage of the golems, a reconnaissance, making the assassin kill the court mage etc. - something like that. While easily done yourself, I would have nevertheless enjoyed to see some love there. Again, please bear in mind that this is still complaining at the highest level. Book 4 provides us with interesting challenges, is logical and makes for a fun ride for your villains and while personally, I slightly enjoyed the first 3 books more due to aforementioned minor nitpicks, I maintain that this pdf is still an excellent module that this time lacks hard-to-presume assumptions like the communication-blockade in book III - in fact, many adversaries herein utilize spells etc. to piece together information on your PCs, lending an air of credibility to the world and the actions of your dastardly group of devil-worshipers. The additional material is also up to the stellar quality of the book, though personally I don't like the section on vampire and lich-PCs - honestly, these topics need to be tackled in much more detail to work smoothly, at least speaking from experience. I have a vampire-PC ( a fallen, blessed priestess that turned towards bloodthirsty fanaticism) in my home-campaign and rest assured, the implications go beyond what one would expect at first.

How to rate this, then? You heard my nagging complaints and might ask yourself why I'm so utterly nitpicky with regards to these modules. Why? Well, because the Way of the Wicked is that good. Honestly, "Call forth Darkness" is perhaps one of my most favorite modules ever. And the others are not far behind. From the craft's perspective, the 4th module is solid and the attention to lavish detail, the cool  creatures and of course, the presence of dragons as both adversaries and allies will lead a sense of empowerment to the PCs. For me, the finale was not as satisfying as it could easily be - however, the remedy is so simple that no DM should be stumped to improve it.  In the end, I feel I have to be careful to not hold any installment of Fire Mountain Games' AP to a standard of its own and instead deliver a verdict in the grand context of publications. Not every adventure can do something radically new, after all. Thus, my final verdict for this part of the AP will clock in at 4.5 Rudii - an excellent module that could use a bit more guidance/epicness in the finale, especially when the conquering in Book III and the escape/march from Valtaerna shows how well author Gary McBride can handle such situations.





All right that's it for now! Oh, by the way: This is my 800th review on Paizo. Thank you to everyone out there who has helped me improve, who reads my reviews and to all the friendly people who dropped me a line. A heartfelt "Thank you" for continuing to read my ramblings!


Endzeitgeist out.

8.03.2012

EZG reviews Dark Roads and Golden Hells

Hej everybody,
today I'm going to take a look at the latest Open Design, in which we get to take a trip to planes both wondrous and wicked:

Dark Roads & Golden Hells



This pdf is 111 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 106 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

Disclaimer: I was a patron of this project, but didn’t contribute due to time-concerns.

All right cutter, I see you’re rather clueless about them’s roads, so here’s the chant:

The pdf kicks off with a rather interesting treatise on the nature of planes, making the outer planes essentially a foundation spawned from the soul essence of beings, entwined with an ever-swelling tide of interlapping ideas that continuously touch, change and expand each other,  giving birth to countless, even infinite multitudes of ideas – to the point where infinity itself is just another idea betwixt an uncountable legion of concepts and their ever-soaring inhabitants, seeking for meaning – be it gods, outsiders or mortals. If one were to say so, even the phenomenon of quantum entanglements could be explained in the magical context of a planar game and fit within the themes that determine one’s after life – for as like draws to like, proximity destinies and karmic resonance are not just abstract concepts here and while numbers are present in many mystic traditions, it is in the planes that they exhibit their full potential and significance, just like abstractions and allegories may actually become truth and quite literal in the planar realms of countless possibilities. Even better, outsiders, those strange beings (and strange they should be due to their very nature) in service to a cause or concept, are also given a rather brilliant introduction, returning the concept of distinct foreignness that soften escapes DMs to these beings – immortal souls, player in the grandest game, these beings are different from mortals, even if they once were ones themselves.

In a total of 10 sample entries, we get a selection of outsider personalities, ideologies and character traits (not mechanical ones, mind you) that serve as a stellar gateway for any DM (or a brilliant primer for those characters with Knowledge(Religion) or (The Planes)) to outsider psychology (lacking a better term): From immortal chessmasters to cynics and elementals and whisperers, these write-ups immediately spell out evident truths and serve in a way that has largely been absent from many products – in just a paltry 2.5 pages, this pdf returns the “out-“to outsider: They are not us, they do not belong to us mortals. Granted, Paizo also does a great job regarding their outsiders, but seeing such an inspiring introduction to basic concepts is nevertheless awesome. And that was, as mentioned the introduction.

In chapter 2, we are introduced to the variant cosmology that serves as the default for the highly anticipated Midgard campaign setting, but with the general design-goal of remaining modular to the extreme and easy to plug and play into just about every kind of cosmology – from Planescape to the Great Beyond. Central concepts of the cosmology presented in these pages is a sense of an end to a cycl –just as once the primal gods were vanquished and banished from the worlds and planes, so is the fate of the new gods already woven, spinning towards Ragnarök in the ever-changing eternal game that fate and chance may play – or not. Generally, the addition of fortune and destiny to the cosmic forces at play as a dominant construct and concept feel like a very smart move indeed. The two dominant struggles in the planes Psycohmachia, the feud between good and evil for mortal souls as well as the eternal fractal dance of law and chaos are concepts introduced in lovingly unique detail and care. Of course, conceptual planes those touching upon the prime material plane are also a part of this chapter, as is an extensive discussion of how alignment traits of respective planar locations, be they overlaps or planes in their own right. The conceptual planes deserve special mention: From overlaps like mercy street, the lane of disguised celestials, to a city in which everything is mad of glyphs, both inhabitants and everything beyond to the palace where all things lost and broken go – these locations ooze imagination and creative sparks and may, very well, spark their own multiverses, campaigns and concepts, as befitting of the uncounted possibilities inherent in the planes. Better yet, the planes adhering to the order of elemental indwellings also are featured and come with a rather staggering array of sample locations – from 999 Luftballoons, inhabited by intelligent wasps to the forests of valor, where burning, fire-clad celestials stoke the fires of courage in mortal souls.

Even better – from the elflands, home to inscrutable beings like the Ljósalfar and similar mysterious fey to the loom – the planar fabric that connects the grand tapestry to the far beyond at the edge of conception – both planar frontier, edge of infinity, liaison to unimaginable things and distortions to the 7 heavens of the cardinal virtues to the eleven hells as well as the shadow realms, home to the courts of enigmatic shadow fey and other things strange and unimaginable, the compelling cosmology of Midgard is concise, expertly presented, stellar in imaginative quality and missing in no virtue to be expected from such a sourcebook. Add to that the Underworld, a dark prison of Carcerian dimensions in which liches and yama-kings decide on reincarnation all sorts of bleakness and desolate things abound and suffuse that with the staggering amount of sample locations, each of which could spring-board one, if not a vast array of campaigns, and we’re in for one of the coolest cosmologies I’ve read since taking in the original conception of the great wheel and all the derivative systems that spawned from it. Suffice to say, I consider this cosmology on par with, depending on your tastes perhaps even better, than Paizo’s and their version of the great wheel and Golarion’s tradition-infused, yet fresh take on the old tropes has been so far my favorite one since the inception of Planescape in second edition. And yes, that does include just about all 3pps and books like “Beyond countless Doorways” for 3.X.

Oh, but that’s not all! There also is a chapter that begins, quite titillating with: “Between”.  After the grand overview, we thus delve into the samples for the strange places that can be found beyond the boundaries of mortal perception and the first location we’re introduced thusly is quite literally “Between” -  the place where all those teleportation mishaps and plane shifting accidents alongside all the lost things, broken and abandoned, end up to form a  plane coalesced and defined by a sense of not-belonging, by a sense of unbelonging and hybridity and the malevolent intellect of the intangible form that acts as master, creator and abductor – the Limnus.  It should be noted that not only are the mechanical repercussions of such a plane are covered, but that magical peculiarities, denizens and adventure seeds are a part of this and all the entries that follow. Second is the Casino – another place between extremes, this place could be seen as the nexus between fate and chance, between law and chaos and is thus also headed dual thrones of law and chaos, this is the place where kingdoms and yes, even worlds and souls can be won, where fortunes are squandered and gained and where pachinko and signal noise games await alongside the options to gamble with the best the planes have to offer – but remember the ultimate truism of gambling – in the end, the house always wins…

After a trip to the dangerously joyful casino, we delve into the depths beyond and visit a particular corner of hell: Evermaw, where all things starve and thirst and Mordiggian the Hunger God rules beneath jaundiced clouds and even the mighty Ever River is but a mere trickle: Here, Mordiggian’s spawn, the ghouls and vampires rule and it is here the erstwhile lieutenant of Orcus has retreated for now, content with his living ghoul servitors and plotting towards inscrutable goals, the grand city (though grand may be a misleading moniker) “Beyond Vultures” offering multiple hooks and a disturbing peculiarity: The lottery. Worse than in Panem, the lottery brands each person with a 4-digit number once it has interacted and bought something from a resident – subsequently, each day means that the number may be drawn. If it is, the city demands a toll that is to be paid in flesh…

Now, if you’re looking to buy something truly out of the ordinary, there’s no place but one –marketplace. Literally THE marketplace among the vast planes, it is here that just about anything conceivable can be bought and sold – from hope to classics like Angel’s Tears or even the broken hearts of demons, this city can probably best be described as the planar consequence of mercantilism beyond moral boundaries, somewhat akin to a bigger brother to Katapesh and all who have visited that town in Golarion can probably depict how an escalation of this concept may look like. Better yet, the creatures provided as sample denizens include far-out characters like a suave mimic-master spy/sheriff that serve to add a plethora of style to a given rendition of this trade-hub among trade-hubs.

Now, the Plane of Spears is something different altogether – remember that concept of Valhalla, fighting only to be renewed and fight again? The Plane of Spears is essentially that, minus the feasting and anything resembling a respite from a battle neverending. Now, If you think that the place remains in static conflict, you’d be wrong, though – the battles fought and lost, the places conquered and sacked actually change the plane towards some inscrutable destination in the eternal game between destiny and fate. Beyond the bloodshed and the violence, though, glory, riches and prowess beckon and worst (or best) of all: Newcomers may easily be doomed by dying to remain here – for all eternity to wage wars and challenge the armies of gods, demons and things beyond mortal ken.

Particularly interesting in its implementation of the concept of the fractal dance would the be the domain of Rusty Gears – set in Rava’s realm, the perfectly grinding gears and clockwork-realms work in perfect precision, inevitable roam – but where’s law, there’s also chaos – fields of rusts, towns constructed on moving gears and vast junkyards of broken cogs await those eager to find fate’s destination for them or an opportunity to jam a wrench into at least a part of the grand machine. Since it’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Mechanus and its mechanical inhabitants, you can imagine my delight when reading this particular section. And finally, there’s the Well spring of Life and Radiance: Here, Potential, essences and minds spring forth is blazing glory and sefirots to enlightenment await – if you brave their dangers, these literal and metaphysical paths enable you to gain a unique power (temporarily or permanently) and gain access to certain planes. Beware, though: For many have found truths that burnt them and destroyed them. I love this plane for its clever links to mysticism and metaphorical concepts as well as the dominant idea of radiance as something amoral and generally considered “good” that can nevertheless destroy the imperfect mortal as any kind of similarly pure cosmic revelation, thus somewhat further diluting the bland diametric oppositions that make gaming often so predictable.

Of course, there also are some major new pieces of crunch here for your perusal, starting with 3 new races: From Devas, born of the stuff of raw creation by echoes of personalities in the plane of radiance, these beings can come with wings, multiple arms or even bestial or elemental essences. They also are the only race that could lead to some abuse – I am not and probably will never be comfortable with playable races that (can) have more than 2 arms and not off some kind of inherent drawback. The Maxims and Warptouched are two sides of the same coin – the one touched by law, the other by chaos, with fitting racial abilities for both – I didn’t have anything to complain about either. Unless I’ve miscounted, we also get 45 new feats, which is slightly more than  I would have wanted, seeing the potential for feat-inflation. However, even in this section can we find some rather interesting ones – from a feat that makes you immune to the modification of memory (think about it – no one but you remembers: What a great plot-device!) to the new concept of patronage feats that require you to be in service of a concept, god, deity etc. and clearly marks you, but also provides some nifty benefit, the section can be called well-made indeed. More than 40 new traits also draw on the new planes and planar concepts expounded in the beginning and some of them actually are fun: You could e.g. take “Lucky number”. Roll 1d20 at the campaign’s beginning – that’s your lucky number and every time you roll it on a skill-check or atk-roll, you gain a bonus of +1. Neat idea!

Now, it’s no secret that I LOVE the concept of Incantations (and if you haven’t bought the Zombie Sky Books yet, go do so now…) and thus, I was rather happy to see 2 new incantations herein – one to stand on the dead man’s bridge and bargain yourself into the underworld (but not necessarily out…) and oneto pass from the prime material to the elflands (or the shadowplane, depending on cosmology, I guess), but only by utilizing a site of tragedy and death. I LOVE these and I honestly would love for a whole book (100+ pages) of incantations of a similar quality. And then there are the 18 new spells and oh boy, they are…AWESOME. Again. Yeah, I know, broken record… But seriously – with the spell “Slipstream”, you can tag on to other creature’s teleports and come out close to their destinations. And then there’s “Defensive Paradox”, which is a stellar spell to negate devastating attacks, but which may change you forever and replace you with an alternate version, essentially allowing you to change afflicted character’s personality, Dr.Who-style. Alternately, you could use your magically enhanced sense of combat geometry to make truly devastating ricochets and similar supra-genius attacks. Hell yes!

Chapter 5 then deals with advice on gamemastering the infinite planes and if you expect tried and boring truisms, you’ll be disappointed: Instead you get poignant, sound advice on how to do it as well as ANOTHER selection of awesome locations – gateways to the planes, from the feyroads to the 9 Stairways, the house of infinite doors and the ever river to the road of gateways, we get a neat selection of traveling ways beyond boring spells that should satisfy all tastes. Better yet, planar settlements and settlement-modifiers (including disadvantages), sample fully stated planar settlements, again, with excellent fluff (and statblocks) are fully detailed. However, in the planar economies-section, the book once again amps up the coolness: From buying and selling (or loaning) your body, the purchase of destiny, names, youth and voices and similar esoteric goods are covered. And there are rules for the archetypical sword, the flesh of fate-eaters and remnant pearls, remains of squashed planes – all artifacts, mind you.

The final chapter details the bestiary and kicks off with new templates: From the Animus, to the fallen/risen templates to the servants of death (Ankou, CR +1) and the radiant creatures to those called neverborn, I enjoyed the templates. The first new creature is the Algorith, an angel of force, pure math, universal physics and impeccable guards against things that none should know or witness. Fidele Angels are more benevolent: Born from a love so pure it transcends death, they retain their memory to guard their mortal lovers. Perhaps against the threats like the Cambium, which seek to steal the mortal creatures humors – a great call-back to this pseudo-medical concept, which imho should see more support in the game. Also rather disturbing, the fate-eaters may unhinge certain abilities and devour not only a mortal, but also his/her/its abilities, skills and feats. The idiot-savants of chaos, the headless hundun are creatures of creation and might seem almost chthonic, though they remain a general brainless benevolence. We also are introduced to clockwork dogs, rust drakes and eyeball-like observers, to finally the spinning hags, which could essentially be pictured as lesser versions of the Norns with some cool additional abilities. All the creatures herein come with a multitude of signature abilities and the b/w-artworks are fitting, where provided.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any significant glitches while skimming through the pages of this pdf – great to see that the somewhat major editing glitches that plagued some ODs have been purged from these pages. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard and is mostly black and white, accentuated with an elegant gold that should provide a great synthesis between good looks and printer-friendliness – kudos to layout-artist Marc Radle. The artworks contained herein are b/w, adhere to a rather nice style and can be considered top-quality as well. The pdf is also excessively bookmarked.

All right, I’ll say it straight away: When Dan Voyce, lead designer of Northlands announced he would head the planar sourcebook for Midgard, I knew that this would rock in the end. Little did I know how much not only Dan, but also the patrons understood the peculiarities that make the planes different from the prime. In no way did this book ever amount to the rehash of a prime material concept, instead providing not only a strikingly original cosmology, but also featuring a splendid array of locations and creative ideas that can enhance your game, even f you already use other cosmologies: The ease of plug-and-playing any component of this book is beyond belief and in fact, in my opinion, the crowning achievement: While the content herein could stand alone as a cosmology, whether Planescape or the Great Beyond are used – all components retain their usablility without losing their conceptual identity, thus making this book, at least in my opinion, vastly superior to all 3.X-plane-books. And yes, that does include the otherwise awesome “Beyond Countless Doorways”.  I’ve been waiting for such a book since Planescape and the only other planar resource I could mention that somewhat is similar in quality, though different in focus, would be Paizo’s. Yes. It’s that good – and it’s also intelligent. I only touched upon all the awesome concepts herein, briefly even and delivered only a fraction of potential interpretations. This book can enrich any campaign and even if you don’t want to go planar (yet), I guarantee that the content in this book and its ideas can influence any campaign in some kind of positive way. And even the crunch (of which I’m not as big a fan – I can’t see those boring traits anymore…) has its stellar quality, from the cool patronage feats to the excellent spells and incantations, we’re in for fun galore. My final verdict, if my rather lengthy tirade of joy and praise has been no indicator, will be 5 Rudii + seal of approval. 












But wait, there's more!


Shadow Planes & Pocket Worlds




This web-enhancement to "Dark Roads and Golden Hells" is 25 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/introduction, 1 page SRD, leaving 21 pages of content, so let's check this out!

This pdf kicks off with a controversial domain - Mora, The Children's Table has, according to the introduction, actually made a patron quit his patronage of the project. Born from the remains of a celestial mother figure that devoured instead of nurture. Thus, today the island is haunted by memoriasma, a deadly mist that might catch you in a perpetual nightmare and the inhabitants are not better - parasitic vampyric dryads, boogeyman and all things abominable that may haunt childhoods and be considered darkest possible representations of the worst fears. Mora is a dark and twisted place, somewhere between fairy tale and hell, twisted and tainted, vile even, but is it tasteless or particularly explicit? Not in my opinion. Personally I loved this twisted realm and don't get what's particularly offending about it, but I guess for some people, the theme of the realm might hit a bit close to home. Mora is definitely not a place that should be introduced into a campaign featuring kids, but for mature or adolescent players and GMs, a vast wealth of twisted imagery can be found here.

After that, we are get the fluffy story to supplement Rusty Gears, the tale of Arachne and Charun and after that we get a selection of planar hazards, traps and afflictions: From Alephs, chaotic motes of planar conjunctions to non-euclidian angles to flowers that can hasten you, but age you and may enable you to relive memories, we are in for quite some awesome hazards. Better yet, the Ever River also gets its hazards, from Phlegethon to Styx and Lethe, Gjoll and Acheron, the write-ups rock.

6 new planar diseases and 7 planar drugs and poisons (including Angel's Tears and Lethean Ale) are also part of the deal, as is something utterly awesome: 7 different kinds of planar effects - from xaosiana, an insanity inflicted by prolonged contact with  chaotic planes to temporal distortions between planes - stellar!

We also get an infinite pit trap, stats for the food of the dead, the fractal shield ability and the impossible weapon quality to 12 new excellent magic items, this section of the pdf once again can adhere to the highest standards - from the egg of the world to faerie food, the items are not only cool, they evoke a sense of wonder.

The pdf also provides a bestiary that kicks off with two different templates: The imaginary friends (CR +2)of those damned on Mora and the She-template for the dark female masters of the land (CR +2) are included and then there are new monsters: The CR 12 legendary Arachne, who is on a never-ending quest to replace Ariadne as the weaver of fate gets her stats, as does the narrator of the books, Cicerone the Upfallen, a fallen deva bard (CR 19) as well as the beautiful, deadly angel of revenge, Lady Liliam the Black Avenger (CR 14) complete the additional information contained herein for the stellar "Dark Roads and Golden Hells".

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to the same beautiful 2-column standard of "Dark Roads & Golden Hells". The pdf has no bookmarks, which is a pity, but comes with quite an impressive array of beautiful original b/w-artworks I didn't expect to find here - Kudos!

Let me come right out and say it: If you only slightly enjoyed "Dark Roads and Golden Hells", you definitely need this. If you're looking for a smörgåsbord of planar options to add to your campaign and don't plan to use DR & GH, you may still want to check this out. Why? Because it's probably the highest quality content you'll find for such a  low price. This pdf is a stellar example of writing, of crunch-design and fluff-writing and is completely on par with the main book, which ranks imho among the best planar sourcebooks ever penned. My final verdict will thus, of course, be a full 5 stars + endzeitgeist seal of approval.













As always, thank you for reading my ramblings,


Endzeitgeist out.