8.29.2014

EZG rambles: Strange Magic Kickstarter

And now for something completely different:

As you may have noticed, I read *A LOT* of roleplaying products in my function as a reviewer. The logical conclusion of this vast amount of material is that my campaign is suffused with unconventional races, classes, monsters, feats - you name it.

My players see a lot of weird classes in playtesting and are infinitely patient with my constantly refreshing pool of options that I throw at them. One of the issues I have with many playtesting practices is that they happen in a vacuum - that way you can check math, sure. But actually *playing* the classes is where the glitches show or where a one-dimensional focus becomes apparent. A class that can't do anything worthwhile in non-combat becomes significantly less enticing. Hence, they have to put up with a lot of playtesting scenarios.

It is no surprise then, that a *LOT* of great 3pp classes have and continue to enrich my player's gaming experience. From Rogue Genius Games Talented classes, to Dreamscarred Press' Psionics, Kobold Press's New Path-classes or Radiance House's Pact Magic and infinitely more - there are many cool options to which my players have been exposed. Then, one fine day, one guy called Bradley Crouch started making truly "advanced" classes - highly customizable and a tad bit weird, with their own, strange systems and unique tricks.

Little did I know that playtesting was about to get more complex for me and my group. Take the Ethermancer, perhaps the best warlock-class currently available for any d20-based system: When we tested that guy, I was stunned to see the class actually work exceedingly well, in spite of its constantly refreshing mana-style pool. Gone were the "nuke and cover"- evocation overkills and in game, it proved to be exceedingly fun. So fun that one of my players went for the class for the campaign.

Over the course of the following weeks of gaming, he enjoyed the class enough to write an optimization guide for the beast.

That has never happened before. The level of commitment was interesting and so, I took a look at the system, started tinkering and experimenting with ideas. If you'd like to have Daniel's optimization guide for the pre-KS ethermancer, just drop me a line via endzeitgeist.com's contact tab and I'll send you the pdf.

Cut to some weeks later and a lot of exchanged e-mails about ideas on how to file off some rough patches, making some options more viable etc. - and suddenly, Bradley asked me whether I'd be game for a kickstarter that expands the options of three cool classes and their unique systems that have been enriching my game. I said immediately "yes."

In case you're wondering whether this book will be worth it, here are the reviews of all the constituent magic systems, all of which are greatly enhanced with new material galore:

Truename Magic
Ether Magic  (& its first expansion)
Composition Magic (& its first expansion)

Now 2 of these guys are Candidates for my Top Ten of 2014. Yes, that good. Even before expansions and further streamlining.

The resulting book is live, progress on each class is fast and thorough and this book will be glorious!

So if you will, drop in and take a look - and if you're looking for balanced, cool alternate systems, a Tome of Magic that actually works - well, here you go!

Click here to go to the Strange Magic Kickstarter Page.

Next week, I'll talk about some of the cool things I've got up my sleeve for this project and explain the design intent behind one of the classes, the etherslinger!

See you then!

 Endzeitgeist out.

8.21.2014

EZG reviews Road of the Dead Collector's Edition

Road of the Dead Collector's Edition






This module clocks in at 45pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page ToC/CR-lists, 1 page advice on reading statblocks and 1 page advice on running the module for novice DMs, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover,  leaving 36 pages of content, so let's take a look!

All right, before I dive in - we get 6 pre-gens to run the module, a short primer-style appendix of the general area of the lonely coast including travelling distances/speed and 3 new monsters +2 magic items, the latter of which both get their own artworks. That's the supplemental stuff. It should be noted that the original "Road of the Dead" may have had more pages, but not more content - the collector's edition simply properly collates the information of the module and thus makes it more printer-friendly.

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.

All right, still here? Great! What is this module about? Well, one upon a time, a strange people lived in the forests and vales of the Lost Coast. These people had their own, distinct culture and now, the PCs, via one hook or another, stumble across a complex of said folk. Now the culture is the interesting thing here, for the dungeon mirrors essentially a take on the "Road to the Underworld" that dead souls must take upon death as you probably know from Mayan/Aztec mythology. That is, unlike most mythologies, the souls of the vanquished still are in jeopardy after death - failure on the road means an end to the soul - truly final annihilation. The iconic dungeon herein mirrors the procession of such a conception of the afterlife in the very dungeon - resting, to this date, as one of the finest example of unobtrusive, indirect story-telling I've seen in a dungeon:
From pools of "blood", crimson mists, roads of wails  -the complex offers smart, intelligent hazards and obstacles, a barrow-labyrinth with undead that also includes RSP's trademark dressing tables of unique sounds and things that happen, spell fragment-hazards, a divination pool - there are plenty of unique and challenging threats and hazards here - including a now added possibility for more socially-inclined characters to shine that was absent from the original. Now I can't emphasize enough  how concise and organic this module feels - the dungeon, in the very act of the PCs making their way through, tells a captivating story by simply existing: Each encounter, adversary and trap has the distinct feeling of being lovingly hand-crafted - from sharpened stalactites to flame-gouts spurting demon maws and unique outsiders and one of the most iconic final rooms in any PFRPG-module - not one component of this adventure feels like filler or anything other than downright awesome.

Add to that the further adventuring options that have direct consequences depending on how the PCs manage their discovery to acting as +1 optional boss battles to challenge the truly capable or lucky groups out there and we have a significantly improved version of a module that already was very good...

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting, as almost always in RSP's offerings, is flawless. Layout adheres to a two-column b/w-standard and the pdf comes with two versions - one optimized for screen-use and one to be printed out. The pdf comes with excessive bookmarks. It should be noted that the pdf features improved artworks for many a piece and also features one version for screen-use and one for print-use.

Creighton Broadhurst's "Road of the Dead" was a very good module back in the day, but it had minor weaknesses. The Collector's Edition has purged them all and made what shone before a dazzlingly glorious beast. The complex and its story, the adversaries, the hazards - this module is one of the finest examples of indirect storytelling I've seen in ages and imho surpasses in the thoroughly awesome concept of the dungeon and the implementation of its features in the narrative almost every example I can think of. This place makes sense in all the right ways; It's exciting and challenging, but not too hard. It can be enhanced via the bonus/follow-up encounters to be hard, if a DM chooses so. It provides a fascinating glimpse at a unique culture and one I'd hope we'd explore more in the future.  The Collector's Edition is a significant improvement in all regards and my dead tree copy, including spine etc., lives up to all the standards as well, adding superb production values to stellar content. Even if you have the original Road of the Dead, the print version is definitely worth its low price and if you don't have the original module, then this should be considered a must-buy anyways. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval...and since "Road of the Dead" has not featured in any of my best-of lists...this one does and is a candidate for my top ten of 2014.

You can get this awesome module here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.

8.08.2014

EZG reviews GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing


GM's Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing





This massive compilation of Raging Swan Press' Wilderness Dressing-series clocks in at a massive 159 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, leaving us with no less than a massive 152 pages of content, so let's take a look!

Okay, so you know the deal, right? I did reviews for all the constituent files of the wilderness dressing-series and I don't like repeating myself over and over, so if e.g. the exact content of what the installment on "Snow & Ice" or "So what's the Pirate Ship like, anyways?" intrigue you - just check out my reviews for those, all right?

Great - what I will go into details about, though, would be the massive array of brand new tables to e found herein as well as the organization, for especially the latter is downright genius:

The first bunch of the book covers features and events - caves and their dressings, firesite/campsite events and the like complement the installments on ruins and castles. Then, the next chapter provides bandits and travelers to put in respective locations, whereas after that, we have a concise organization of dressing-tables by terrain type - expanded by the equivalent of three full wilderness dressing-pdfs (and we're talking this chapter alone!): Full coverage for swamps and marshes and farmlands as well as borderlands complement well the classics like the glorious primal forests or desolate deserts. Now the final chapter provides ample tables for ships - from shipwrecks and pirate ships to coastlines and sea voyages, the new supplemental content herein once again amounts to a surprising amount.

On a  content-base, the campsite tables features no less than 100 full entries for dressing and features each and the same holds true for the tables about caves, which furthermore get terrain properties. The Borderland-content as well as the content on swamps and farmlands follows the full wilderness dressing formula by proving massive tables of 100 entries for both dressing and minor events as well as coming with concise d12-tables of random encounters that include the respective fluff for the adversaries faced. And yes, the variety here is universally as staggering as we've come to expect from the best of wilderness-dressings - from bulls about to break out of control to fey and GARGANTUAN BUMBLEBEES, creatures from all 4 bestiaries get their chance to shine here. The swamp rules-cheat-sheet for DMs, with quicksand, undergrowth and bogs etc. all collated further provides a level of DM-help unprecedented in just about any supplement apart from those by Raging Swan Press.

I should also not fail to mention that exactly this level of detail also extends to the entry on coasts, while 50 entries of sample shipwrecks, 100 entries shipwreck dressing and, once again, 12 encounters, round out this book.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, bordering on flawless - an impressive feat for a book of this length. The pdf comes in RSP's two-column B/w-standard with thematically fitting b/w-art that partially is stock, partially glorious original. The book comes with two pdf versions - one printer-friendly and one optimized for screen-use. The pdfs are extensively bookmarked with nested bookmarks and even ToC etc. is hyperlinked within the document in an unobtrusive manner, rendering navigation by pdf as comfortable as possible. It should also be noted that the pdfs are extremely tablet/smartphone-friendly and render perfectly on my Google Nexus 5 while taking up next to no space  -the screen-version does not even surpass the 10 mb. The print-version has its title conveniently placed on the spine and offers a neat, matte cover as well as nice paper. Nothing to complain there either.

The designers John Bennett, Creighton Broadhurst, Seamus Conneely, Brian Gregory, Eric Hindley, Greg Marks, Brian Wiborg M√łnster, David Posener, Josh Vogt and Mike Welham have almost universally done a great job and when some tables aren't as glorious as others, then only due to the insanely high standard of the series in general. Now I won't kid you - I didn't particularly look forward to reviewing this, mainly because I did not think I'd be able to say something I hadn't said in one of my reviews of the small pdfs in the series. And yes, I could have ran my usual spiel of talking about the respective new tables, what works and what doesn't etc. - but it didn't feel like it would be enough.

So I postponed and procrastinated. Then, my group went into the wilds, on journey and left civilization, at least for a while.

I've got to go on a slight tangent here: As some of you may know, I print out all my pdfs. I just prefer paper. It makes catching glitches easier for me and is just more pleasant to work with, at least for me. I printed out all the component-parts, archived them in my terrain-folder and had them on standby ever since. I did use them and I enjoyed them. Then I got this book.

The difference, by some strange quirk of my mind, organization in the tome or whatever you may call it, is staggering. This book has since rapidly turned into my most-used DM-accessory book. And oh boy, is my campaign better off for it! And the reason eluded me for some time...after all, I had most of the constituents, why do I use it now this excessively?

The answer came to me the other day - I looked at the ToC and it was there, I read it, it made sense. When I was gaming, though, I did not actively remember where what is, my usual process. Think for a second, recall information xyz, go on. I didn't have to.

Somehow, the organization of this book, at least for me, is so borderline genius and adheres to some weird principle of how my brain processes information and draws logical conclusions that I don't even have to remember what first letter (i.e. the "d" of desert) the respective table has - via a borderline genius organization of tables and content, my subconscious manages to immediately pick up where the information I'm looking for can be found. Now mind you, I experienced this phenomenon from the get-go, the very first use of the book. This is a triumph of glorious organization and layout and perhaps the best example of the like I've seen in any roleplaying game supplement. This is a proof that layout artists, alongside developers and editors, truly belong to the heroes of the rpg-industry. And it makes me use the book. ALL. THE. TIME.

Now even if this observation does not interest you in the least and you already have all the old Wilderness-Dressing files - take a look at the sheer amount of bonus content. Yeah. Even for people like me who had the constituent files, this should be considered a must-have, a book that every DM should own. This book is a hot contender for my top ten no. 1-spot of 2014, gets a 5 star + seal of approval and while I'm at it - every DM should own this: It's hereby declared an Endzeitgeist Essential-book for DMs. Players, if your DM doesn't own this, get it for him/her - they'll be happy and your gaming experience will improve significantly while traveling - I guarantee it.

Do yourself a favor and get this book for your game. If you're a player, buy it for the DM. Seriously, your game will immediately become more detailed, more awesome. You can get this GEM here on OBS and here on d20pfsrd.com's shop.

Endzeitgeist out.