EZG reviews Cerulean Seas: Azure Abyss

Cerulean Seas: Azure Abyss

This massive sourcebook for the aquatic unfathomable depths is 100 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page kickstarter-backer-thanks, 1 page poem and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 92 pages of content, so let's take a look!

So what is the Azure Abyss? Essentially, it is the aquatic equivalent of the Underdark - the unfathomable depths and after a basic introduction including a glossary we delve into the hostile terrain that is encountered in the very lowest depth of the sea - abyssal depths and hadal depths - 10.000 ft beneath the waves until 20.000 feet for abyssal zones and below that, the hadal zones. Terrain, from trenches to sediment to mini-ecosystems that spring forth from the cadavers of massive beings to finally cold seeps, infectious slimy warts and mussel beds. Hydrothermal vents, acidic zones, megaplumes (essentially aquatic volcanic eruptions) and 6 forms of geologically poisoned areas   as well as pools that act as teleportation gateways further suffuse the depths, making for a crunchy and thoroughly intriguing toolbox to spice up your terrain.

The second chapter details deep sea-races and kicks off with a revisited section on other aquatic races that allows you to create deep sea versions before providing new aquatic races, which of course include buoyancy information and depth tolerances. The first would be the Asterak, who gets +2 to Int and Con,-2 to Str, count as merfolk, get darkvision 60 ft, may 1/day utilize shocking grasp, electricity resistance 5, can control their bioluminescence and are susceptible to low depths. beyond these luminescent creatures, we also get aquatic dwarves - the austorian Dwarves. They get +2 Con and Wis, -2 Cha, pressure and geopoison immunity, slow swim speed, darkvision 120 ft., breathe only water, get +2 to appraise, cold resistance 5, +2 to saves versus poisons, spells and spell-like ability, may move on land at 75% of their speed, stonecunning, +4 to CMD versus bull rush, trip and proficiency with austorian weapons.

 And then, we get perhaps one of the insanest, most badass races to ever spawn - if the artwork doesn't blow you away, I don't know what will - Echinns are essentially giant humanoid sea urchins - glowing tentacle-like fingers, arachnoids-resembling eyes, bristling spines. O M G. Want. Crunch-wise, they get +2 to Str and Con, -2 to Int and Wis, Pressure and Geopoison immunity, are gilled anthromorphs, get a normal swim speed, low-light vision, can use bioluminescence at will to glow like a torch, get natural AC of +2, cold resistance, +4 to saves versus poisons, echinn weapon familiarity and poisonous spines. Usually I'd complain about the racial attributes gearing them too closely into the melee-roles - but seriously, they simply are TOO COOL.

If you read Alluria's Remarkable Races Compendium, you'll enjoy the aquatic take on the Obitu - neither dead, nor undead, these beings get +2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Cha, darkvision 60 ft., +4 to saves versus disease/poison, improved initiative as a bonus feat at 1st level, +2 to acrobatics, escape artist and sleight of hand, 5+ 1/2 character level negative energy resistance and immunity against sleep. And no, they are not undead - they just look that way and thus you won't have to deal with all those pesky immunities. Viden Oculi look somewhat like a beholder - with long rubbery tentacles that act as legs and hands and two of them featuring additional eyes - it's a weird creature to describe and one you'll have to see to truly get. The Viden get +2 to Dex and Wis, -2 to Str, are small aquatic aberrations, can secrete slightly acidic tears as slime from their eye, get 30 ft. swim speed, all-around vision, can shed bioluminescence as a torch, suffer from light blindness, are pressure sensitive and choose two detect spells of the first level, which then are constantly active for the creature. Unfortunately, at least personally, I consider that ANNOYING AS ALL HELL. I hate the detect spells and having to consider two that are permanently in effect just sucks - sorry. It's just busy-work for the DM who will have to look at all those pesky auras all the time. Annoying.

The final new race would be the Abyssal Rusalka, a feykith with a lower torso resembling a jellyfish. These embodiments of deadly beauty get +2 to Cha and Dex, -2 Str, count as feykith, can exude luminescent blood that provides concealment 1/hour, may shed bioluminescence as a torch, get +1 to DCs of enchantment-spells they cast and those of cha 15+ may use charm person 1/day - but what's rather cool is their shirt of tentacles: It AUTOMATICALLY drains 1d4 hp from foes, healing 1 hp to the Rusalka. They may suppress this ability. And I like its idea -though the execution made me cringe...for a second. Creatures have to begin their round in the Ruslka's square (!!!) - not an adjacent square, but the Rusalka's. This is enough of a limitation for me - hence: Two thumbs up!

Deep Drow and anthropomorph crossbreeds of Seafolk and Echinn complete this chapter before we  get tables for all the vital age, height and weight/depth tolerance etc.-tables and dive into a discussion of existing classes in a Deep Sea context and get into a new base class, the Angler. Anglers get d8, 6+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good fort-saves and proficiency with light and martial weapon as well as light armor proficiency. And the class is interesting indeed - essentially, its angle (pardon the pun) is battlefield control: They may, via preparation, change 5-foot square upon 5-foot square, into a deadly area - impeding defense, movement, offense - make hindrances only happen to one character etc. - as well as creating traps much like those of the ranger to further pepper the battlefield. Per se a great class, though honestly, I would have loved to see more hindrances/traps, though Drop Dead Studios' "Vauntguard"-class could easily be scavenged for more traps - at least that's what I'll be doing!

We also get 3 10-level PrCs: First would be the Halionaut, who gets d10, 6+Int skills, full BAB, medium fort-saves and essentially are masters of the depth diving, being able to divine how warp pools work, gaining favored terrains both planar and common and terrain mastery for these new terrains, all depending on the chosen terrains. Interesting PrC, though not one that blows me away. Myxinmaves get d6, 4+Int skills per level, 6 levels of spellcasting progression and are all about the hagfish - their slime covering the myxinmave's body with protective coating. They also get a giant hagfish servant, a bite attack that only works against foes with flesh, immunities to all things putrid and an armor of living hagfish as well as the option to transform partially into the creatures, the option to become flexible as if boneless and a poison before gaining a hivemind as a capstone. Cool PrC with some disturbing imagery... (And yes, we get a full page of rules for creating hiveminds and determining their stats - and eventual spawning spellcasting prowess...)

The final new PrC is the Seductor,, who gets d8, 6+Int skills per level, 1/2 BAB-progression, medium will-saves, 5 levels of sneak attack progression and essentially are the secret agents of the depths, combining deadly sneak attack with touches that may charm and paralyze foes. while hiding their alignment. Again, not a bad PrC, but not one that got me overly excited.

After that, we're introduced to Special materials and weapons of the deep (the latter coming with full color artworks!!!) before getting, of course, more feats - 21 to be precise. I won't go into details for every one of them, but I will mention the following: Eating special materials to heal yourself, emit a siren song 1/day, dazzle with bioluminescence, expand  poison clouds and Viden may take a whole array of feats to transform their base forms and finally even see slightly into the future. Of course, some new toys for anglers , sharper spines for echinns, etc.. can also be found here - my favorite feat, though, would be the female ceratiodi piscean's Dual Mind - after having mate graft himself into your side, you may now use your mate's mind to gain two weapon fighting and ignore dex-requirements for the follow-up feats, get +1 favored class and +4 to saves versus mind-affecting effects. Weird and cool.

Speaking of cool - the 10 new spells are absolutely glorious: Ever wanted to make a foe want to attack him/herself? Or create acidic zones? Yeah. Extinguish pesky bioluminescence? Yep. Or merge part of your body with a greater creature, highjacking its body for your purposes, essentially becoming a parasite? Now THAT hasn't been done before! After 8 new magical items, we dive into the campaign setting specific part of the book with A LOT of awesome adventuring potential.

The Deep Sea Bestiary deserves special mentioning - Alluria's monsters usually at least are good, as are their artworks. Seriously, you have to see this book's bestiary to believe in its existence. We get a minimum of at least one signature ability for each one, but the artworks - OMG. I've never seen anything like it. Seriously. Paizo-level and beyond. These artworks can stand their ground, toe-to-toe with the industry-leader and perhaps even surpass them. Yes. That good. This bestiary may be the most beautiful one I've EVER SEEN. From the disturbing deep sea dragons to squid imps and the alien grandfather worm, these artworks will BLOW YOUR MIND. And the best thing about them is: Their crunch lives up to these artworks. From the humble to the CR 23 behemoth, these creatures are glorious, ooze iconicity and set the bar higher for ANY monster-book out there. Have I mentioned starfish people that manage to look badass?

We also get a pronunciation guide, a list of deep sea critters by CR (including the Bestiaries and Alluria books!), an index of tables, an art index and 1 page of cardstock minis.


Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches - which is a massive feat at this length. Layout adheres to Alluria Publishing's drop-dead-gorgeous 2-column standard and the pdf comes fully bookmarked, though sans printer-friendly version. Expect a massive drain on your printer (or get this in full color print). I HAVE to mention the artworks - even by Alluria's insanely high standards, they are insanely beautiful. They actually are the best-looking artworks I've ever seen in any 3pp-book. They surpass many 1st party publisher artworks, whether Paizo or WotC. It boggles the mind, incites imagination. Thoroughly impressive - the artists have been up to their a-game!

At first, I was blown away - the new races actually included two ones I'd want to play and WILL include in my campaigns - something that rarely happens! When the class and PrCs didn't stand up, at least for me, to the predecessor-pdf's awesomeness, there's nothing particularly wrong with them, but still - my enthusiasm was slightly dampened. And then, via feats and spells and items, the book once again managed to build up tense expectation that was released in a blast in the bestiary and campaign setting information. While I first thought this would clock in as 4 stars after reading the class-section, I can wholeheartedly recommend unanimously ALL THE REST of the book - from terrain to fluff, from crunch to creatures, we get a massive array of superior content that provides some of the coolest creatures to have ever featured in a given bestiary - to the point where any verdict not a 5/5 and a seal of approval would be a disservice to this book's stunningly awesome content - so there you have it. GET THIS! Even if you don't play beneath the waves - for aberrations and strange cthulhoid creatures, there is so incredibly much to scavenge here that I'll guarantee you won't regret getting this, even for usage above the waves.
Don't let this gem slip through your hands and dive right into its depths here on OBS!

Endzeitgeist out.


EZG reviews Adventure Quarterly #4

Adventure Quarterly #4

 The fourth installment of RiP's spiritual successor to Dungeon magazine is 85 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 79 pages of content, so let's take a look!   After one page of introductory musings of Robert N. Emerson (on the nature what is "right" gaming), we delve into what will from now on be a continuous series of articles: Ruins Perilous.  

Now if you're not familiar with the concept, here's the deal: Questhaven, as some of you may know, is a city ruled by adventurers - and as a means of improving your social standing and moving up in the adventurer's guild (the Questor's Society), you can explore the mega-dungeon called "Ruins Perilous", which is actually a lethal proving ground for the guild, its challenges artificially created by the society to test the mettle of wanna-be heroes.

The first level was featured in AQ #2, and, much like it, the second level, this time from the pen of one of my favorite supplement authors out there, T.H. Gulliver, can stand on its own, should you so desire.

  That being said, apart from the note that this level is intended for PCs of 2nd level, that's about as far as I can go without going into massive SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.  

You've been warned! Here we go! As with the first 10 levels of the Ruins, the dungeon dragon Carcera is in charge of resetting/repopulating the complex. When not using the guild-rings that are used to activate some of the dungeon's effects, some suggestions for replacements via magical energies are given. So- what is level 2 about? Well, for once it is inhabited by the Hammer Mountain Ratfolk - refugees from their eponymous home-complex and the ones that reset the traps on the first 5 levels of the dungeon and know all those nifty secret tunnels. Unfortunately (or fortunately), not all is well in the state of the rats - one may even call things rotten, since the king has been killed by his pet giant snake which is supposed to be no longer poisonous and blind to boot. The corpse has vanished and the deceased king's brother has married the queen, while the prince has vanished and the ratfolk's master trapsmith Ophelia (here any pretense of subtlety is dropped) refuses to work.  

Yeah, if your literature classes are all but forgotten, let me spell it out for you - this is Hamlet with rats - only it's more. True to the concept of the dungeon and the ratfolk's predisposition towards traps, the level starts as a trap gauntlet (which is btw. reproduced in a cut-out, enlarged part of the level's map - as are the other parts) before the PCs encounter ratfolk and are thrust into unconventional social dynamics - whether they just hack and slash through the level (dealing with ninja rats...) or engage in diplomacy, they can either have some hack and slashing or a microcosm of social intrigue upon their hands - the exploration of the inner warrens and the fungal garden (two complexes), where the prince is hiding and the huge cobra lairs - have I mentioned the neat fungal hazard taken from 101 Hazards and Disasters? Whether as an orgy of bloodshed or courtly intrigue, it's up to the PCs on how to resolve this sandbox and show that in their version, Hamlet could have had a less cruel ending.  

The second module, by Agoston Petz, is called Legend of the Huntress and it is in here that adventurers are hired by a disreputable man on the behalf of one greedy merchant called Jospeh Hackesh, who hires them to acquire a specific ruby hidden in a manse in the notorious Dire Weald - last known resting place of lady Jacqueline of House Nadaly.

Having found proof of the manse's location in a hidden study of his, the players may check the study and engage in dialog with the merchant - which is depicted in quite vicarious detail. The Dire Weald makes the best of its name, coming with some rather deadly potential random (and not so random) encounters, the latter covering an elder forest drake, the skeletal undead remnants of the deceased lady's lover and huntsman and also a drow hunting party (with a sidebox to spice up the warriors of the patrol) - already hinting at the things to come, for the abandoned manse is not that abandoned and now a drow stronghold - and hidden below it lurks the dungeon, where the spectre of Jacqueline along her twisted spellbook await to test the PC's mettle, also filling in the blanks of her fate and her dealings with a notorious vampire lord - whether they keep their bargain or not, of course, remains up to the PCs...  

 The final module herein is Bret Boyd's (the mastermind of Tricky Owlbear Publishing, btw.!) "Self-Determination" for level 15 PCs - The PCs awaken as strange blue tendrils recede - and they are naked. Disoriented, they take the rudimentary equipment from an adjacent room and find a map of the surrounding sites - showing places the PCs have never heard of before. Exploring the complex further, the PCs find strange evidence of an organization called the "Black Hand" (comic-book geeks should get a chuckle out of that one), before encountering strike-squads of two-headed trolls and deadly harm traps - and probably realizing that they bleed blue and require less sleep...something is odd here. Escaping from the complex, the PCs will probably sooner or later stumble across the village of Pelkiin.  

 Turns out, the PCs are not in their own world anymore, but on Caldina, the continent of Quitan. Among other pieces of information, the PCs get to know about an abandoned temple in the mountain, the fact that the community needs to pay tribute to the trolls once a year and that a world-hopping elven wizard only known as "the Albino" is probably the man to seek out - only he's none too pleasant and lives in the swamp. Worse, an infiltrator of the Black Hand has travelled to this world, shadowing the PCs...  

 The Albino is not sporting for a fight, hitting the PCs with the blunt truth - that they are clones of the original PCs, created on behalf of the Black Hand to create evil versions of the PCs. There is no home for them to return to and just as the albino tries to goad them into helping him, the commander Xanivexilom arrives and commands the Albino to return the PCs to their cages - to which he replies with the fact that they have a free will. And yes, if the name was not enough indication -the commander is a dragon. Beyond the deadly fight, the albino is not telling the whole truth - he is actually an offshoot of a deity - and in order to get the PCs and warn the red-blooded originals back home, the clones will need to brave the temple that is now the roaming ground of the trolls.

Braving the trials herein, the clones may now actually go "home" - serving multiple purposes - whether as a backdrop solution for a high level TPK (a plan b that backfired, so to speak), as an option for PCs to talk to themselves, a set of extra lives, a change of scenery (a new campaign world - insert your own choice!), a way to introduce a shadowy cabal - the choices are massive. What if the war god returns and wants to reabsorb the albino? And what if the cloned bodies need something to sustain themselves? You could easily go full-blown Fringe with this set-up, creating world-spanning plots - and what if the free will of the clones struggles against an ingrained programming of the Black Hand? The massive amount of potential herein is interesting - there is so much going on here, as a kick-off for a new arc, this is simply superb. We also get stats for the two-headed trolls, two new magic items and, of course, maps.

 Creighton Broadhurst has done something glorious for this issue as well: As far as I can remember, I've complained about the Dungeon Dressing-series installments on doors, double doors etc. lacking handles and hinges - and this pdf finally nets us these dressings - with a massive d%-table with 100 entries covering the subject - 2 thumbs up!  

 The second appendix is titled "Wide-Open Sandboxing: The Dam War" that essentially sketches a sandboxy environment that could be developed into an adventure or a whole campaign alongside some neat pieces of advice for DMs - again, neat -though that was to be expected from Steven D. Russell!  


Editing and formatting are very good, though the second module could have used some blank lines to make the block of text easier to read. Layout adheres to RiP's two-column full-color standard and the pdf comes with some original, beautiful full color artworks mixed with some fitting stock art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked and with an archive containing maps of the areas, partially as high-res jpegs (for Ruins Perilous) and as jpegs.

The maps are made with dundjinni and are ok, though nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, we don't get player-friendly versions of the respective maps, i.e. all come with letters inside, making them not particularly suitable as hand-outs.   Speaking of not particularly subtle - a slightly more subtle nomenclature in the first module would have been nice, as would have a slightly more detailed note on social interaction. If your group is like mine and well-versed in classic literature, you may want to rename some NPCs to make things slightly less obvious.

The second module feels a bit cluttered - by focusing on the module's boss (and adding some haunts) or on the new inhabitants, making either a more constant threat, the module could have been improved, though there's per se nothing wrong about it. The final module is GLORIOUS in its set-up and idea and not too interesting regarding the primary opposition, but it doesn't have to be - it opens up some rather interesting questions on free will and transhumanism while remaining firmly entrenched in fantasy. Kudos to Bret Boyd!

All in all, though, in spite of the cool appendices, this issue of AQ feels slightly weaker than the superb third issue, missing 5 stars by a margin and among others, due to the lack f player-friendly maps. As such, my final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, still rounded up to 5 for the purpose of this platform, though, for even with my nitpicky gripes, it remains a more than neat offering. Ask your players what makes their characters tick - and get this collection of modules here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop!  

Endzeitgeist out.