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Quests of Doom 4: A Midnight Council of Quail (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/26/2021 11:40:23

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 22 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 16 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested to be moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

This module is intended for 4–6 characters of levels 3rd to 5th; in contrast to many modules in the series, it is actually not as brutal as you’d expect it to be. The adventure didn’t prove to be too challenging for a decently optimized band of adventurers. While a well-rounded group is suggested, the module is, difficulty-wise, very unlikely to result in PC deaths; if you’re running this for 3rd level characters, the PCs need good tactics in the final combat, but otherwise, the adventure is rather manageable.

Structurally, the module features slightly more of a page of magical and alchemical items, which range from functional (a ring to fortify you against poison) to rather creative ones like enchanted spurs; these spurs, by the way, also include a minor snafu in the item rules, missing a bonus type when there should be one. Another rules issue would be an instance where a Dexterity check is prescribed, when an Acrobatics check would be used for the sort of check instead. That being said, these two minor hiccups won’t break the experience.

The module can be thought of as a cursory investigation and a brief dungeon. As often for these modules, we get read-aloud text for the encounter areas in the dungeon, but not for the investigation section, which takes place in a small village. The module features a b/w-map for the village, and one for the dungeon, but both of these do not come with a player-friendly version sans glyphs/numbers. Serious comfort detriment there. The village map has no grid, and the dungeon map does not note its scale; I assume each square to be 5x5 feet.

Okay, there is one more rules-relevant aspect that needs to be addressed, but in order to do so, I need to go into SPOILERS. As such, I’d like to ask potential players to jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the module has a REALLY strong opening that hearkens back to old-school aesthetics, when high-level druids were rare (and only a fixed number per level existed, worldwide – to level up you’d need to eliminate a superior…): The party is approached by a flock of Quail, one of whom can speak: The bird has gained sapience (as well as speech – only this one bird speaks) due to proximity to an arch-druid. The birds have observed a weird tendency in a local village, with a new despot moving in and all people behaving more or less apathetic. They ask the party to investigate, and the first section of the module begins.

Here, the adventurers investigate the strange occurrences. The village is peculiar in a few ways, as it sports a wunderkind of sewing, which means that all peasants are very well-dressed, and with things like gong farmers taken into account, we have this subdued sense of weird that I very much enjoyed in the author’s 3.X offerings back in the day.

Structurally, the investigation is not particularly well-structured; a trail of clues or the like isn’t clearly laid out, requiring a bit more prepwork than necessary. However, on the plus side, the whole thing is created in a way that makes the PC’s actions matter more – it is relatively free-form and may well boil down to the party simply forming their own conclusions. The respective keyed encounters note “Infected” for a household that’s compromised, but ultimately, that is not relevant: You see, the obvious despot who moved in is part of the issue, one of the two villains responsible. This fellow is a wereboar who uses one of the new items, a ring of human control, to assert his dominance. This ring generates charm person 3/day, and has a CL of 1st.

…yeah, that’s unfortunately not how it works. RAW, this would mean that he can maintain 3 charm persons, for an hour each; on a failed save, mind you. That doesn’t suffice to keep all people in the village noted as “infected” under control. So yeah, RAW, the premise doesn’t work out as provided. Not even close. It should also be noted that, in PFRPG, there are plenty of ways to detect the presence of enchantment magic, so that is imho the likeliest outcome of the investigation. As a whole, this investigation feels like it has been cut down and/or simplified a bit, and that it doesn’t really account for all the cool things PFRPG can do.

Granted, you can fix that by explaining the flawed ring-rules away with a side-effect of the work of the second villain: You see, there is a hidden complex, where a mad druid lurks, who is under the effects of essentially a kinda-radioactive ore. I like this ore; it has a 6-stage progression (indubitably due to 5e’s influence), but the GM can potentially explain the weird villagers that way.

Anyhow, ideally, the party deals with the wereboar and the hidden druid, the latter being btw. the one difficult combat in the module: A young grizzly plus a CR 7 druid can be hard for a level 3 party but provided the party can keep the druid from using his spellcasting to full effect, it is very much possible to triumph in this module without having too hard a time. The small dungeon is solid; not much to complain there, but also not that much stood out to me.

Which brings me to one issue of the module that GMs need to be aware of: This module breaks the WBL-assumptions of the game, big time—not in a game-breaking manner, and indeed, I consider e.g. a flag that you can use to make use of the clouds as signals to be thematically amazing…but if that sort of thing is important to you, it still bears mentioning.

…and there is, sort of, the elephant in the room: The setup of this adventure is top-tier, and the village is rather neat as well; the Quail-hook is really cool. But I couldn’t help but feel that this great hook is totally wasted on the banality of the antagonists of the module. I mean, picture it: If the party actually had to use the Quail as a surveillance-force, combined with a schedule for villagers, you know, some actual real investigation, that would be SO COOL; but the module doesn’t really make use of its premise, instead opting for something safe. It’s so cool, but it’s only window-dressing. Alternatively, having a Quail surveillance hive-mind as an opponent would have been rather awesome, right? What has been done with the setup is okay, but not half as cool as mind-blowing as the premise deserved.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level, okay on a rules-language level; the module is mostly functional as presented, with only details as slightly problematic factors. Layout adheres to a 2-column b/w-standard, with solid b/w-artworks. The cartography in b/w is nice as well, but the lack of player-friendly maps is a big comfort detriment. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Lance Hawvermale’s midnight council sports the trademark subdued weirdness I always liked in his writing; there are aspects of fairy tale-esqueness here, with a subdued and interesting punk-sprinkling on top. There’s just this tiny bit of it that makes it feel distinct and novel, while still hitting the classic Lost lands vibes. Dave Landry’s PF-conversion also works better in this module than in many other modules of the series. That being said, I couldn’t help but feel like this had been cut down to a much smaller size than originally intended…or like it squanders its absolutely fantastic premise. The investigation aspect of the module, structurally, is so barebones and obvious, and without that much to actually actively thwart the party, that I couldn’t help but feel let down after it kicked off so strongly.

In a way, this is almost a mirror-image of Quests of Doom: Awakenings: Awakenings was dragged from the lofty praise it deserved by formal issues, whereas this one is stronger in the formal components, but promises much with its hook, only to then underdeliver a rather mundane story. Now, as a person, I vastly prefer Awakenings over this module, but as a reviewer, I have to account for this adventure actually working as penned. In the end, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded down…but this one gives me hope for the remaining modules in the series.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: A Midnight Council of Quail (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: In the Time of Shardfall (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/30/2020 10:02:48

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 22 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested as part of a series of reviews by my patreon supporters. My review is based on the PF-version, since that’s the one that was requested. I don’t own the other versions.

This module is designated for 4–6 characters of 5th or 6th level, and as always for Frog God Games, a well-balanced group is very much recommended. Nominally set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, the module can be adapted rather easily to other campaign settings…with a few caveats that may be relevant for you. On a formal level, it should be noted that the module has 7 neat b/w maps, but much to my chagrin, no player-friendly, label-less versions are provided; jarring, considering that FGG used to include those. We get random encounters, rumors, and essentially a hex map with a couple of smaller regions where everything zooms in – nice, I like a good wilderness/location scenario. (As such, it should be noted that this isn’t linear per se, though the module does seem to work best in a certain sequence.) The module features well-written read-aloud text.

The module is penned by none other than Michael Curtis, who is generally a guarantee for an awesome module, so let’s see if this module can break the curse that seems to have affected this series.

The following discussion of the module contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the backstory of this module taps into an inconceivably ancient prehistory where the Great Old Ones waged war. In this age of dinosaurs and worse, the dracosaurus horribilis was created – the proto-dragon Ghurazkz. This thing was so powerful that the demon frog god Tsathogga’s tsathar servitor race had to intervene, creating a mirror of raw obsidian, the Akaata – this would drain the life-force of the shoggoth-slaying monstrosity, but even it would not suffice. And thus, they cast the mirror with its prisoners into the vortex of time, into the far future. Eons passed, empires fell, tsathar degenerated…and that future has come. It’s the time of the Shardfall, as the Akaata shatters, releasing its prisoners.

Readers familiar with DCC will note the references to essentially a time of chaos back then, to dark forces battling, etc. – I like the tone here. However, if your game does have a pretty established lore regarding ancient eras, that’s something to bear in mind. Some of the module’s impact is also predicated on the fact that suddenly, prehistoric creatures are roaming the landscape is deemed to be odd, so if you have a dinosaur county in your setting, perhaps don’t play the module near that one.

The module begins pretty much with a bang, and has the party face dinosaurs and pretty soon find the first of the 5 fragments of the ancient mirror; I do like that destroying these is very much possible and rewards being smart (don’t attack the reflective side); after some serious (and cool/deadly) dinosaur action, the trail of the fragments will sooner or later confront the PCs with Jouktar, the most memorable NPC herein, and also a symptom for the book: This fellow would be a tsathar from the pre-degeneration phase, when they had an intelligent, refined culture; he was imprisoned as well, and could fill in the party on what happened…but the language barrier is severe due to millennia of differences, and as such, pantomiming is suggested, with some serious ideas re pantomiming etc.. I love that per se.

Yeah, unlike in DCC, languages aren’t a problem in PF. Comprehend languages, anyone? Tongues? Seriously, why does this module ignore basic strategies for solving this? Heck, the issue extends beyond system borders! In S&W (the go-to-OSR-system for these), the whole problem can be circumvented by writing down communication and casting read languages, a frickin’ 1st-level magic-user spell. 5e also has this little-known 1st-level ritual…it’s called frickin’ comprehend languages. I really don’t get it. This sort of issue could have been bypassed with just a proper narrative framing, but instead, we get some serious consistency issues in ALL THREE SYSTEMS this was released for. This is particularly jarring, as the tsathar actually makes for a reliable and unconventional ally during the module, and is one of the few non-combat scenes in the otherwise combat-heavy scenario full of neat setpieces, which also includes a tar-pit-laden bog of poisonous mists, with a nasty necromancer on the loose. AWESOME.

…why does none of the undead here get special tar abilities? A proper mini-template, done? Where are the cool environmental effects? Absent. It’s such a great backdrop, where is the mechanical significance? We also have a few minor formatting glitches and e.g. misnamed skills like “Riding” instead of Ride, but these are cosmetic.

Ultimately, the PCs will need to make their way to a tribe of ogrillons to the proto-dragon and deal with it before it regains its strength….and it’s a MEDIUM creature. It’s CR 7, and essentially a juvenile gray dragon. It’s a solid, challenging boss…but it’s so incredibly lame after the cool set-up.

It was so horribly anticlimactic, and without the dinosaur angle and background story, it’d feel like just another dragon lording over humanoids. This, more than anything, screwed with me; why doesn’t the fellow get a unique statblock? Even better option: Why is there no gathering of power/special abilities? It’d have been easy to assign one unique ability per fragment dealt with; all the abilities only work against the proto-dragon, and as such, they could have been used to have the PCs deal with a boss far above their weight-class!

You know, something like: “Power of the Ages (Su): As a swift action, you can tap into the life-force of those who perished at the claws of the proto-dragon, fortifying yourself against its attacks. You gain xyz temporary hit points, as the spirits of these damned shield you from harm. You can command these spirits to attack as a standard action…” (No, this is not in the book; I improvised this.)

You know.

Something WORTHY of the epic set-up!

As written, a well-optimized party can eliminate this fellow in two rounds, tops, and a real power-gamer can one-shot the “epic” proto-dragon. Also: It’s MEDIUM.

All this set-up for a MEDIUM dragon…sigh It’s also weaker (as in: less Strength) than many of the dinos unleashed. I can’t recall when I’ve been this underwhelmed by a module’s boss.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are okay on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the lack of familiarity with the target systems, particularly the PF-version, of an otherwise great author is very much evident…as is the fact that the Pathfinder conversion by Dave Landry is just BAD and barebones, failing to account for realities of the system in instances where these aren’t just statblock errors, but actually the conversion hampers the frickin’ plot. Layout adheres to a clean two-column b/w-standard with some solid b/w-artworks that might be familiar to fans of FGG. The b/w-cartography is per se really cool and detailed…but we have one map with a 10 ft.-grid, and one with a 20 ft.-grid (an epic T-rex battle); both grid-sizes are a PAIN to work with in PFRPG. The lack of player-friendly versions is also a further strike against the module, particularly in light of the cool set-up. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

Michael Curtis’ “In the Time of the Shardfall” is an excellent example of an amazing yarn sunk by sloppy mechanical execution, at least in PFRPG. I can’t comment on the 5e and OSR-versions, but as outlined above, unless the module was rewritten (which I doubt) for these versions, the language-issue at least will persist. This module was frickin’ heartbreaking to review…because its framework does so much right: It is relatively free-form, has really cool dino-battles, awesome backdrops that ooze atmosphere and a cool concept for a final boss….and then proceeds to squander all of that potential. Where are the sticky tar-modifications for the undead? Where are the unique hazards? Why is the final boss so incredibly lame?

I think, I might have an idea. I’m just suspecting things here, but I assume that this was written in a system-neutral manner, with different specialists assigned to jam the module into the respective systems. And at least for PFRPG, that operation has fallen flat. Big time. This needed more pronounced rewrites to work in the system, and instead, we get what feels like a rushed minimal-effort conversion.

…can you have fun with this? Theoretically, yes. If your party isn’t that deep into PFRPG’s mechanics, and you gloss over the problems. But in many ways, this module is symptomatic of issues that sunk some other great modules in this series. I really hope the remaining modules in the series will leave me with more positive things to say.

I need to rate this, though. And as painful as this might be for me, I can’t justify rating this higher than 2.5 stars, rounded up, but only barely. This has all the makings of 5 stars + seal of approval, but fails to capitalize on them in the most aggravating way.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: In the Time of Shardfall (PF)
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Hall of the Rainbow Mage (5e)
by Craig D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 11/29/2020 20:58:12

I legitimately really like this adventure. It's got a lot of awesome twists and turns and NPCs. It's got mysteries, conspiracies, and paranoid wizards. From an adventure design, I think this is phenomenal.

The only gripe that I have with it has to do specifically with its "5e" designation. It's clear that this was written for a retro-clone whenever a magic-user's tactics are described because it doesn't take into account 5e's concentration restrictions. For example, before ambushing the PCs, one wizard is supposed to cast alter self and fly on himself and then use black tentacles in combat. This doesn't work at all with the 5e version of these spells as casting one would end the previous spell, not to mention that Swords & Wizardry spell times are significantly longer than 5e spells. So be forewarned that if you hope to run this, you're probably going to have to find some kind of work around for these encounters.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Hall of the Rainbow Mage (5e)
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Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
by Jordan D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 10/03/2020 15:24:57

I got the pdf version from the download above and I really appreciate the fact that it comes with a full complement of bookmarks, including an alphabetised list of bookmarks for every monster in the books monster manual. It's also nice that the book comes complete with it's own monster manual.

Its's a strange beast, since it's very rules light, and yet several of the rules it does have are needlessly convoluted, with a large array of tables to decide weather or not something hit, rather than simply saying 'OK, its got 15AV, so beat 15 on a D20 to hit'.

Here is how movement is calculated: 'Base movement rate divided by 3, times ten feet, is how far the character can move in one round.' Why!? Why not, 'Your movement is 15 feet. You can move 15 feet.'

I get that a large part of this whole OSR thing is that it is a re-collection and re-organisation of the original D&D rules, so it partly exists for archival/historical purposes, and is quite nice to have in that regard. The book itself also states that if you don't like a rule, feel free to either not use it or change it. So fair enough I guess. My quest continues for the perfect OSR rules. I think the plan at this point is probably to look through Vengers 'The Islands of Purple Haunted Putrescence' and then see if I feel inspired to either use his 'Crimson Dragon D20 Revised' system, or if feel like modifying 'Swords and Wizardry' so that it's more to my liking, or if neither are working for me and I need to buy 'Dungeon Crawl Classics' and see if that does the job.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Swords and Wizardry Complete Rulebook
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Tome of Adventure Design
by Jack C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/05/2020 22:01:55

Came across this on Questing Beast and man am I grateful that I've found it. A huge amount of helpful tables to make designing your own campaign that much easier.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Adventure Design
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Tome of Adventure Design
by Jonathon H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/27/2020 17:10:10

This should be a much more popular book, unbelievably useful and powerful creative tool. Helps best when you're at the blank page step and can't figure out where to start, or if you hit a dead end during creation. Meant for high level design and preparation rather than at-table use during a game session.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/20/2020 05:56:35

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters, who asked for slow, but steady coverage of the entire series.

Okay, while nominally set in the Lost Lands campaign setting, Nightstone Keep can easily be put into just about any campaign setting without much hassle. We have a location-based adventure wherein the PCs explore the eponymous dilapidated keep as the baseline premise. The adventure does not sport read-aloud text, but does feature one thing I very much enjoyed: The b/w-maps presented herein are actually player-friendly – no annoying numbers etc. are featured, and there are no spoilers on the maps, just general designations. Kudos.

 The module is intended for a party of about 6 characters of 5th to 8th level, at least nominally. What does that mean? Well, this is a Quest of Doom module, and as such, I expected top-tier difficulty; however, a more salient way of looking at this would be to consider this a horror adventure; at the very least, a dark fantasy yarn. If you approach this with the mindset that you can just “win” it by doing everything right, you’re facing a TPK. The module, alas, isn’t particularly good at telling the GM how to handle the challenges presented, and one CAN argue that this is just as broken as “Awakenings” in some ways; however, I maintain that, unlike said adventure, “Nightstone Keep” can potentially work, or at least, is closer to actually working as a top-tier difficulty module. This can be bested. Kind of.

In order to explain the potential issues this has, and means to offset them, and whether you want to check this out, though, we need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Nightstone Keep was abandoned some time ago, and apart from the initial encounter that pits the party against so-called carrion graw (crow-like monsters), the focus of the module otherwise is a single creature of sorts. Of sorts? Yeah, remember the awesome Monstrous Arcana-series from the second edition days of yore? If I had to liken this to any other module, this series, and Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic “The DemonSpore” would be my frames of reference.

You see, a strange, brown, fuzzy growth spread through the keep – and it*’s the herald of the true horror that the heroes will need to best, the Aurunglyd. Like the DemonSpore, we have a fungal infestation here, but one without the whole divine angle – instead, this one seems to simply spawn servitor creatures with different roles , like tendrilled maws, the slow, but hardy glaur guardians, or the nimble, aerial speartongues. In a way, the plant monsters in this module provide a strange and somewhat frightening ecology that is interesting and well-executed.

To a point. You see, having e.g. the Huge glaur guardians only sport a speed of 10 ft.? That’s smart, and clever parties can exploit this to hell and back – in a good “fight smart” sort of way; the massive tunnels and general size of the environments also means that the module can play very much like an awesome survival horror scenario. You see, the aurunglyd has an Intelligence of only 11 – it’s not dumb, but it’s also not super smart, so that’s a good thing; it lets the GM play it accordingly, and fall to smart tactics. In theory.

There are two issues with this critter. It’s a CR 17 monster on its own, with 6 attacks, all sporting grab, and the engulf DC is 27. Ouch. Still, can be handled. It’s two details that make this critter cease functioning: 1) The monster has regeneration 10; RAW, this regeneration has no negation clause. I kid you not.

From context, I assume that fire and lightning were supposed to negate it, but the statblock fails to specify that. 2) This thing has 210 hp, regeneration 10. Oh, and it has an artifact that makes it ALSO regenerate 1d4+3 hp per round. The gem of vitality is an artifact that the PCs might well end up with – it’s a massive gem that heals you for 1d4+3 hp PER ROUND. INFINITE HEALING! Yay! -.- Granted, it is relatively fragile for an artifact (hardness 15 + 200 hp, also regenerates 2 hp per round – good luck trying to destroy it…), but yeah – this artifact’s healing CANNOT be negated.

It gets worse. It doesn’t even have a slot, and weighs 60 lbs. and imposes a whopping -1 penalty to atk and Dexterity-based skills (which makes no sense for the aurunglyd, but isn’t represented in the statblock anyways…) – for INFINITE HEALING. Oh, the weight? That’s seriously NOT a significant drawback. I mean, come on, even in old-school games, any fighter at this level worth their salt can juggle stuff like that.

It gets WORSE. The area the aurunglyd is fought in? It has really nice environmental hazards etc. – which is cool. However, it also has an upwelling pool that grants the aurunglyd fire resistance 10.

Let’s take stock, shall we? Melee pretty much means DOOM and death if attempted; Good luck with your 5th to 8th level fighter/melee dude trying to not get squished and absorbed by the thing, even prior to it spawning servitors.

One of the two improperly functioning means to deal persistent damage to the critter still has fire resistance 10 to overcome. The other is rarer. Beyond this, we STILL have 5 to 7 hit points regenerated per round. Oh, and the thing has AC 26. It’s not even easy to hit.

“But endy”, you say, “this is an old-school module! Combat is a problem-solving exercise!” Yes, you’d be correct. However, the module gives the party the finger for going the burn-it-all-route – it doesn’t work due to the body of water and artifact, even if the GM increases the pitiful damage that natural fires tend to inflict in PFRPG.

Not even a thoroughly optimized party has a good way to deal with the artifact. Worse, the artifact and the part of the thing that holds it? Submerged in the pool. Can you see any party, even the best-optimized murder-hobo 25-pt.-buy party get in the pool and beat this? No? Well, there’s a reason for that. You can run this module with MYTHIC characters and TPK them. I kid you not.

Then again, stronger characters will trivialize all but the final encounter.

Know what this boss fight is? It’s the most brutal DPR (damage per round)-test I’ve seen for the system, and one that is woefully lacking in actual calibration. All the pieces are in place, and yet, the module screws it up.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the module is utterly wrecked in a couple of key aspects, which render it unbeatable for the level-range if run RAW. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, with nice b/w-artwork. The b/w-cartography deserves special mention, as the presence of player-friendly maps is a big plus. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.

Urgh, this review was even more frustrating for me to write than the one for “Awakenings”, because “Nightstone Keep” (EDIT: This used to read "Nightfall Keep"; that's what I get for listening to Blind Guardian while writing the review...) is even closer to actually, you know, working. Ed Greenwood manages to evoke a sense of slowly creeping dread and dilapidation; I love creature ecologies like this, and I wanted to love this module; I got ready to sing its praises, and was happy – and then, the  final boss fight degrades this module from a Quest of Doom to a doomed quest.

For comparison: Even super-deadly LotFP-modules tend to be fairer: Burning all in “Death Love Doom”? Totally valid. Ridiculous attention to detail in “The Grinding Gear”? Pays off. Here, though, the party can’t win with either optimization or clever play – only by beating the DPR-challenge posed, with RANGED options, mind you. The module explicitly discourages smart play and non-combat strategies, which runs contrary to the spirit of old-school modules.

Now, if your party invested their resources primarily in electricity damage, they might triumph. Might - provided they realize how the fight works from the get-go. Because otherwise, the frontline fighters will die, leaving the squishy casters to their doom. I wasn’t joking when I said that this module can kill off MYTHIC characters.

I’m not sure if Anthony Pryor just botched the conversion, or if the other iterations of the module are as broken as this one, as I don’t own them. It’s evident that this wasn’t playtested, at all, and that nobody checked the math for the level-range.

How to rate this, then? Well, it’s a great, creepy, escalating dark fantasy/horror module – up until the utterly RIDICULOUS final boss DPR-test. It can be fixed and made into a 5 star-experience with relative ease – ignore the frickin’ broken artifact (which should NEVER fall into player hands anyways) and eliminate or slow the regeneration the boss has. Ideally while also tinkering with the ridiculously over-CR’d final boss, rebuilding the statblock for a tough, but manageable CR in the vicinity of 10, with a focus on high Constitution and staying power.

…but I can’t rate that. I have to rate what’s here. And what’s here is a great case for how small errors and a lack of checking of a game’s math can utterly destroy what would have been a great yarn. It can be salvaged, though. And I am genuinely too lenient here. But I can’t bring myself to rate this as low as it frankly deserves. After all, it can be fixed with relative ease…which is the only reason I can justify giving this module 3 stars; mechanically, it’s a 1-star failure, but if you’re willing to fix the finale, you can have serious fun with this.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Nightstone Keep (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 08/17/2020 05:22:28

An ENdzeitgeist.com review

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 18 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

“Cave of Iron” is an old-school module intended for characters level 1st to 3rd – a well-rounded party of 6 is recommended, and at 1st level, this is a VERY deadly module. It should be noted that the module requires that the GM pulls off something that every experienced player will be weary of; otherwise, it might well end before the intended finale, so yeah – this is certainly a module for experienced GMs. And parties. Oh boy, this is capital letters DOOM. Are you tired of your cocky, optimized PCs? Well, the final region has 10 minute intervals for random encounters, and these encounters can include 6 CR 4 creatures, and even one encounter with 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 (!!) critters – while one of the planned encounters lists this as not necessarily an IMMEDIATELY hostile one (they do turn hostile if the party dawdles), parties that think they can murder-hobo through this with their 3133T-murderhoboing builds will die horribly. It should also be noted that, while the numbers of critters encountered make this intent clear, the like is not spelled out in the random encounters section, so yeah – experienced GMs definitely required. The party has no chance of survival if they can’t level mid-adventure, and imho, even level 3 parties may well be hard-pressed to survive this one. You have been warned.

The module features read-aloud text, as well as b/w-maps for a section of wilderness and an adventure-location; the latter is aesthetically really pleasing and nice, but both maps come without player-friendly versions.

The primary antagonist comes with very rudimentary and pretty flawed depictions of making characters of that type; I strongly suggest ignoring the paragraph. Apart from the primary antagonist, we have two new monsters here – as a minor nitpick, an ability called “thought onslaught” should most definitely be codified as mind-affecting, as it does cause untyped damage. Another creature’s CMD is off by one, missing its special size modifier.

The module is set in the Keston province in the Lost Lands campaign setting, but is pretty easy to adapt to other settings. The adventure starts off in Hillfort, and nomen est omen here. 12 years ago, valuable metals were found in the hills in the vicinity, and the Hardshale Mine thrived – every month, a wagon train carries supplies to the mine, and returns laden with iron and miners, with the trip usually taking less than a week. It’s been 3 weeks and the last supply train hasn’t returned, and the riders that were dispatched when the wagons were 4 days overdue haven’t returned either, and more goblins than usual have been sighted – enter the adventurers!

To provide more details, I’ll need to go into SPOILER-territory. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, the first section of the module deals with the road to Hardhsale Mine after the short briefing. If the PCs are smart, they’ll take a friendly NPC along for the rid: A kind rogue can certainly help; the commoner minor, who is also an alcoholic, though? Less useful. En route, the PCs get to face several goblins (potentially gaining some intel regarding the plant monsters, like Jupiter bloodsuckers, which the PCs can also find.

And then comes the hard sell I mentioned, which really requires serious GM mojo to pull off – The PCs meet Pezzi Zakii, a friendly shroom-humanoid, who professes to be a kind being. Ideally, the shroom accompanies the PCs as a funny sidekick, “saving” them with his “shroom powers” over his own plant creatures. Conversation primers are also provided, and this’d be a more effective angle if, well, if shrooms were not one of the most classic OSR-villains ever. If your players played through either Expeditious Retreat press’ shroom modules or Matthew J. Finch’s fantastic Demonspore, forget about selling this one to your party. The module does not hinge on the party falling for Pezzi, but becomes more fun if they do. Here’s an issue: “It is vital, however, that characters don’t kill Zakii on the road.” While the shroom has 35 HP, making that unlikely, it’s certainly within the range of things that the party can pull off. On the plus-side, invisibility and sleep as prepared spells do make for a pretty likely chance to escape. So yeah, not penalizing the module for this one, even though I really suggest GMs taking some serious time to think on how to sell this.

Why? Because the module does actually a really nice job at making Pezzi seem likable, and the shroom, until recently isolated from the surface world, has a good reason to have free-willed adventurers around, wanting them to demonstrate how e.g. smelting iron works, etc. Still, some designated troubleshooting sections most assuredly would have been helpful here. The Hardhsale Mine, once the party arrives there, is the highlight of the module: Lavishly-mapped, the place features a ton of feeblemind-ed miners, deadly plant creatures (including a cool reskin of the assassin vine – the flowershroud), and with the magic-dampening witch grass hazard, the small mining settlement is atmospheric, dangerous and thoroughly creepy.

Of course, the PCs will need to go down into the Hardshale Mine – the mine has three levels, with the majority of the action dealing with the third level, where the mine managed to break through into the shroom’s habitat, thus initiating the catastrophe…provided the party isn’t TPK’d. A planned encounter deals with 5 CR 4 and one CR 5 enemy….which can’t RAW be bypassed. Hope your group is super-paranoid and good at hit and run…The final encounter with Pezzi Zakki and its minions btw. add +2 advanced violet fungi on round 1, 5 mandragoras (CR 4) and a green brain (CR 5) on round 2, a CR 3 fungoid on round three, and all surviving vegepygmies from a camp on round 5. These vegepygmies, btw.? That’s the 14 CR 1, 8 CR 2, and one CR 6 creature. Plus, you know, the CR 5 BBEG. If the PCs have not leveled by then, they will be wiped out at the very latest here.

Now, there is a room for super-deadly modules like this one; heck, I prefer hard modules. But this one is insanely brutal, and its level-range is hard to sell. I can’t see a level 1 party beating this; not even really overpowered groups. Level 2 will also be borderline – so yeah, wrong level-range.

But there is one aspect that really tanks the module for me. That final subterranean area, which constitutes more than half of the keyed encounters? Well, guess what’s missing its frickin’ map? YEP. The entire subterranean finale is missing it’s §$%&$§-map! And no, this is not intentional – the text references hexes, and the module certainly doesn’t waste time talking about the relation of encounter areas sans map, making it very obvious that a map should be here…but isn’t. How in all the 9 hells could that happen???

Conclusion: Editing and formatting re good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf sports some nice artworks in b/w. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography for the surface of Hardshale Mine is awesome and b/w – but that doesn’t make up for a) the lack of player-friendly maps (which Frog God Games usually provided) and b) THE FIRCKIN MISSING MAP for the region containing half of the keyed encounters!!

Man, Steve Winter’s scenario deserved better.

The module has not one, but two bad strikes against it: 1) The lack of player-friendly maps is disappointing; the missing map is inexcusable. 2) Dave Landry’s PFRPG conversion is insanely-brutal. I get the whole DOOM part of Quests of Doom; heck, I’ve been a fan of the super-brutal modules. But this one? You can throw mythic characters at this and watch them die. The level-range is not appropriate, and I’d seriously not throw this at a party below 3rd level; heck, most parties at 4th level would still consider this to be HARD if the GM plays it halfway smart. Unless you’re dealing with a super-optimized group, this might still TPK level 4 parties!

Both of these would be serious strikes on their own; the latter perhaps more excusable than the former; but in combination? In combination, they tank this module, and while the adventure, if run as intended as opposed to as provided, is a solid yarn, it isn’t outstanding, or novel enough to make up for these issues. My final verdict can’t exceed 1.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Cave of Iron (PF)
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Tome of Adventure Design
by Mark P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 08/04/2020 22:19:13

This is a great resource for the solo RPG-er. My only regret (and so the reason for four stars) is that the book is not available via POD. If it were available both as POD and PDF, I would rate it more highly.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tome of Adventure Design
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Quests of Doom 4: Forgive and Regret (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 07/01/2020 10:26:13

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 20 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 14 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as part of a series of requests by my patreon supporters.

Well, this module was originally penned as part of the criminally underrated series of environmental sourcebooks penned by Tom Knauss. To be more precise, this module originally was released as one of 3 modules in the “Marshes of Malice” swamp sourcebook, which I also own. Unlike the modules in “Mountains of Madness”, the adventures featured in “Marshes of Malice” do not constitute a mini-AP of sorts, which is good news for standalone presentations like this one.

This module takes place in the region known as the Wytch Bog in the Lost Lands setting and is formally a freeform sandbox with a surprisingly deep lore. Thematically, I’d call this gothic horror with a distinct fantasy slant – if you enjoyed the better Ravenloft modules back in the day, or Arthaus’ excellent 3.X Ravenloft-supplements, then you’ll adore the themes of this adventure as well.

Indeed, the set-up provided here is absolutely compelling, and better than many modules of twice that size: While a well-rounded party of characters is definitely suggested, simple murder-hoboing is not what’ll lead to success here (for a well-executed round of murder-hoboing, use Fishers of Men instead); this module rewards investigation and clever parties – in fact, it demands it. Proper roleplaying is required to solve the adventure, and, as a huge plus, the GM is not left alone with the capabilities of a level 8 party to deal with. The module requires that the party makes use of their powers and resources to triumph here.

Structurally, the module makes use of events, set-piece encounters and residents, but how things come together is ultimately left up to the GM, so this does require some preparation. Read-aloud text is provided in some instances, but is generally more on the sparse side of things, considering the freeform nature of the adventure.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Hamish MacDuncan was not a peasant man – but that holds true for most of the xenophobic people in the Wytch Bog, as they are most assuredly hardened by the harsh and merciless life here. He was, however, a man with even less scruples, and when the horrible Archdeacon Bucá of Gurbynne pronounced and edict of extirpation for the traveling folk of the Viroeni, the poor people found themselves in this inhospitable place.

Hamish promised to get them to safety – but took their gold, as well as that of the local populace, and with his martial expertise, enacted a genocide in the bog – with only the sons of the matriarch escaping. Vengeance should prove to be brutal: Hamish was caught, put in a coffin, and condemned to the watery depths, turning into a grotesque nosferatu, cursed to remain for as long as the bloodlines of the treacherous and xenophobic bog-folk remained.

Now, unearthing all of this is very much possible, as the PCs travel the bog, from one inhospitable residence to the next. Hamish claims almost absolute dominion, and seems to want to end the bloodlines with his minions; thing are further complicated by the deadly inhabitants of the bog, like will-o’-wisps, a broken soul with class levels, etc. – there is a surprising amount of lore to be unearthed here, and Hamish has several hideouts and counter-strategies to dealing with the PCs.

Indeed, from surviving entities filling power-vacuums to the potential for multiple encounters with the multiclassed nosferatu, this module gets its tone PERFECTLY RIGHT. Hamish having a haven that requires magic/and/or being clever and contingencies (not the spells) in place further adds to that – he is a great dynamic antagonist, and not some idiot waiting to be slaughtered.

This is a fantastic dark fantasy/gothic horror yarn, and I’d play it in Ravenloft, the Witcher RPG etc. in a heartbeat. I seriously love this adventure.

HOWEVER. The stand-alone module, despite most assuredly having the room, does not fix my main gripe with the module in the hardcover. Out of some stupid reason I can’t fathom, the Wytch Bog regional map, which the PCs will explore, lacked a player-friendly version back then, and still does. Considering that plenty of letters act as spoilers on it, that’s a downer and serious comfort detriment. So the module hasn’t improved.

There is something worse, however. It actually got worse. In the original, e.g. a burning bush referenced the hazard rules of the hardcover; while the reference “see chapter 3” has been purged, guess what hasn’t been added? Bingo, actual information for its effects. RAW, this is CR 5 for no danger. Things get worse. See, Hamish has this cool angle that emphasizes his leitmotif: Skeeters, blood-sucking insect-things. They are his primary force of minions. Guess who is lacking stats in this stand-alone iteration? Bingo. The “see chapter 6”-reference-lines have been deleted, but the module still lacks the frickin’ stats! WTF. These creatures are his eyes and ears and foot soldiers – and sans stats, this renders the module essentially RAW unplayable, as the GM has no clue regarding their capabilities. Of all the creatures herein, the one missing is the most prominent one! How could this happen??

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, the omission of the central minion creatures or hazards referenced is a bad blunder that seriously tarnishes a per se neat module. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the adventure sports neat b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked, but as noted before, lacks the player-friendly map to make this convenient to run.

Of all of Tom Knauss’ modules deserving better stand-alone versions, this one irks me the most. It is a per se fantastic adventure, a perfect example of great and consistent adventure-writing, and ironically, it’s been sunk like its antagonist in its stand-alone version. The hazard-hiccup is unpleasant, but not the worst part. It’s not one encounter, or some sort of tangentially relevant thing that’s missing: The most prominent creature herein lacking frickin’ stats is an unmitigated disaster, particularly since the creature helped emphasize the themes of the module. If you can get the hardcover, get that version. This version, though? It’s not operational as written. It breaks my heart, but all this does, is to make me regret getting this version; I can’t forgive this blunder and can’t go higher than 2 stars for this one.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Forgive and Regret (PF)
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Tegel Manor PSD Maps
by James V. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/21/2020 11:11:05

Okay, I went ahead and took a chance and purchased these .psd files. This is what is included in the package:

Tegel Manor (Layered Photoshop File) 682mb Tegel Manor Dungeon Level 1 (Layered Photoshop File) 98mb Tegel Manor Dungeon Level 2 (Layered Photoshop File) 63mb Tegel Manor Dungeon Level 3 (Layered Photoshop File) 84mb Tegel Manor Dungeon Level 4 (Layered Photoshop File) 19mb Monastery of Garm (Layered Photoshop File) 62mb Wilderness Map (Layered Photoshop File) 184mb

While it would have been nice to have received some form of response from the FGG folks stating the above, it didn't come, not here nor as a result of a direct email to them. The Tegel Manor map is superb and I expected nothing less since I watched Alyssa Faden create it. I'm not sure who did the other maps but they are no more spectacular than what you see in the book. So in my opinion, the write up for this product is misleading. It is not psd files for all the maps in the book. The Temple of Frigga is missing. Likewise, the full size map of Tegel Manor is not segmented down like it is in the book. My main reason for buying this product was more to get a close up look at the techniques Alyssa uses with her maps. So for me I would say it is worth the price of admission, however for anyone else, if you don't plan to modify the maps, or don't have a desire to see the techniques used, don't buy this product. Purchase the pdf of the book and import the images from the book into Photoshop or you software of choice and cut out your own battlemaps/floor plans.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Tegel Manor PSD Maps
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Bard's Gate: The Riot Act (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/29/2020 12:24:26

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This expansion-module to the massive (and excellent) Bard’s Gate city supplement clocks in at 18 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 13 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was requested by my patreon supporters; I never even noticed it came out back in the day, until one of my patreon supporters told me to get it and review it recently. Being pretty OCD and surprised that this flew under my radar, I went ahead…

The Riot Act is a module set in Bard’s Gate (and yes, you should have that book to run it, unless you’re willing to make some serious modification), situated in The Lost Lands, for 4 characters of 2nd level. The module mentions that a rogue or bard is helpful, and I’d concur – skills will be useful. More than that, you’ll need means to dish out SERIOUS amounts of damage and high Will saves – scratch that, the boss is simply unfair if played even halfway decent by the GM, but I’ll get to that below.

The module features no player-friendly maps, and two of the maps are missing a scale, one of them even a grid. One of the potential combat encounters could have used a map, but has none. For overview, having a map of Bard’s Gate is extremely useful, but that doesn’t provide these location maps either. The maps present in the module do not come with player-friendly iterations.

The module does have a handout, which is per se a cool thing – unfortunately, it is the most stupid kind of handout in which the antagonists have WRITTEN DOWN their evil masterplan on PAPER, including gloating. This was a real immersion-breaker for me, and one of the few instances, where I genuinely think that the module would have been better off without a handout – and a better plot instead.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The module also contains 3 magic items – one nets unlimited daily magic missiles, but if used more than once per day, one strikes the user. It also fails to mention an activation action – I assume spell completion. There is an item for nary more than 1K gold that lacks an activation action, but ends ANY musical effect automatically – yes, even that of a level 20 bard. And worse, those affected can’t use the like for an hour afterwards. In a world where this item exists, any music-based characters and abilities are useless. This is badly-designed and broken. The final item ties in with the boss.

The module does offer random encounters and read-aloud text. Okay, so structurally, this is a railroad, but unfortunately not one of the good ones – and yes, there are plenty of awesome railroad adventures.

The following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

..

.

So, a lady called Asmarisa has purchased a large building of the Bridge district, opening her theater, the Motley; her first play, “The Maiden’s Kiss”, has become a super smash-hit – to a strange degree, and thus, the lyreguard investigated, but turned up with no evidence, and in fact, very happy with the play. The adventure kicks off as the PCs are walking through the Bridge district and become embroiled in a riot – after the much-sought-after tickets for the next show. The rioters use the stats from bard’s Gate, and can attain tickets either via force or Diplomacy and subterfuge.

Unfortunately, this is where the module starts to fall apart in a variety of ways. The PCs attend the performance, and halfway down the read-aloud text, said text tells the PCs what to do, namely joining in thunderous applause. Read-aloud text should NEVER hijack control from a PC – particularly since, well, it’s not guaranteed. No surprise: The play is enchanted, PCs must make Will-saves while attending, but the read-aloud text forces them to applaud either way. Oh, and the play affects the PCs with a “powerful, but undetectable mass charm.” It’s also “latent.”

SERIOUSLY??? You mean…like, it’s a whisper in the ear? Like, I don’t know…a frickin’ suggestion?

Also, regarding this whole set-up?

NOT HOW PFRPG WORKS.

PFRPG has a) a VARIETY of valid ritual engines; b) a VARIETY of spells that actually do what the module wants to do – and mass charm? DOESN’T EXIST. It’s mass charm person. Or charm person, mass. Also c) Bards have this engine that does exactly what the module needs. It’s called masterpieces.

Anyhow, the PCs navigate past the stage crew and into a passage beneath the Motley. In the passage, there are two adjacent rooms: One contains 12 rage zombies, one contains guards whose music pacifies the zombies. Why? How? Things become even better. At one point, there’s a magically-sealed lock that requires a tune – said tune is played by the guards, and it’s on a sheet of music…that is never mentioned before, in the section of the guards. Also weird: The door’s XP-reward for bypassing it with the proper “puzzle” if you can call it that, is less than the CR of the trap.

The PCs emerge after this section on a shoreline just a few feet from the Stoneheart River, where the evil entourage has their camp. (Why didn’t the lyreguard notice them?) The troupe is pretty numerous (22 rank-and-file goons, +1 CR 2 dude and a quasit), so you better hope that you have a character with maxed out Stealth who is also lucky. There are also some minor problems – like, what’s the save you use to avoid flames spreading? Well, the module seems to think that “Fortitude” is correct – which it isn’t, and also fails to type the damage as fire, but that, at least, is a nitpick. This is also the part when the PCs ostensibly either hear a NPC extolling their moustache-twirling plan and evil intentions, or find a written account that is no less dumb.

It gets better. When/if the PCs retreat, the final section will be a rooftop chase of the lady, while the city breaks out in riots. This mini-chase may per se be decent, but the boss Asmirasa? Well, she has wasted a feat on Weapon Finesse, but wields a weapon that can’t be finesse’d (smart) – and clocks in at CR 7. Yep, 7. You see, she was turned into a succubus by an evil item, the ring of demonic deception. Why is this bad news? Well, for one, she has charm person, at will. The DC? 22. At 2nd level. Remember, she also has a fly speed that lets her reliably stay out of reach of any PCs, AC 20 and 84 HP. She also has energy drain, which, when used even halfway smart, will guarantee an unfair, unrewarding type of TPK.

But that’s not where it ends, oh no. Her item, the ring of demonic deception, eliminates an outsider’s ability to cast spells or use SPs of third level or higher, eliminates DR and halves SR. But guess what? ANY magic to detect them and discern them fails and nets only a ping as a frickin’ commoner. This is NOT an artifact, and it can RAW be REMOVED AT WILL. Mortals also can turn into succubi/incubi, but who cares – the ring could be mass-produced by the forces of the abyss, and generate a perfect infiltration force of outsiders. Never mind that there are plenty of precisely codified spells and effects that do all of that (at higher levels), and that have appropriate safeguards. Oh, it gets better. The ring’s worth 90 K. At 2nd level – WBL adieu. “But they can’t sell an evil item?” Perhaps not, but there are plenty of options for PCs to convert magic item values into other benefits, devour it, etc. pp. Provided the PCs mind that selling evil stuff is a bad idea in the first place, that is…

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are formally good, if not particularly good regarding rules. Layout adheres to a no-frills two-column b/w-standard with neat to okay artworks, some of which fans of Frog God Games will recognize. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. Cartography is not as good as usual for Frog God Games, and is missing player-friendly maps as well.

This is the worst module by James M. Spahn I’ve read; both he and the authors that contributed additional material, Jeff Harkness and Skeeter Green, are usually indicators for something I’ll at the very least like.

This was not the case here. I don’t object to difficulty, never have – I’m a killer GM, and I like old-school modules. I think adventures should be hard, because, you know, if there’s no chance of failure, why bother playing? I also don’t object to railroads – heck, I’ve 5-star#d plenty of them over the years.

I do, however, object to the extremely sloppy rules that this module presents – because they destroy the central premise of the mystery to uncover, and because they, due to being so sloppy, undermine very valid strategies for the PCs. I object to read-aloud text forcing actions upon players – not feelings, atmosphere, a glance or the like – full-blown “this is what you do.”

I object to the module undermining the plausibility of the Lost lands setting, which generally is pretty darn good at catching such issues.

And I object to the fact that the villains are moustache-twirling stupid-evil.

This reads like a failed, phoned-in Pathfinder Society pitch, with Bard’s Gate slapped on.

…you know, when I have to bash a module by Frog God Games (doesn’t happen too often), it’s usually due to mechanics, or something going wrong in conversion. But even then, there’s usually something I can get out an adventure. Awakenings, for example, may not be mechanically-good in PFRPG, but oh boy, story? Totally worth going through the hassle of fixing it.

I got nothing here. This is both bad on a mechanics/logic-level AND on a story-level AND on a design-level.

I actually went through my massive Necromancer Games/Frog God Games-collection, and know what? I think this is the worst module by them I own. It’s their first module in years that I genuinely wouldn’t put on my shelf.

I can’t recommend this module to anyone. Get any other Frog God games modules; for example the excellent Rogues in Remballo. But steer clear of this bland, unfair, uninspired mess. 1.5 stars, rounded down.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Bard's Gate: The Riot Act (PF)
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Hazardous Habitats: Desertlands
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/22/2020 04:31:31

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The first installment of the Hazardous Habitats-series clocks in at 39 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 2 pages yellow (back cover), leaving us with 33 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

Okay, so what is this? Well, some of Frog God Games’ most criminally-underrated books for PFRPG was the series of “Perilous Vistas”-books, massive hardcovers, which included a ton of rules and information focusing on various biomes, with supplemental rules, monsters, and usually 3 to 4 adventures. Some of the adventures from these hardcovers have since then been taken out of the books, to various degrees of success, but the original Perilous Vistas books have an honored spot n my bookshelf – yes, I have them all.

Anyhow, the thing I enjoyed most about them, hands down? That’d be the assumption, very crucial to the books, that gamers are not simply consumers, that we want to know about a variety of topics. If there is anything I bemoan about the advent of d20-based systems, it’s that many books started to assume that only combat-relevant material needs to be featured. Compare e.g. 3.X’s Sandstorm book with Wilderness Survival Guide, and you know what I mean. In many ways, the environment, a crucial component for adventuring, all too often is relegated to window-dressing. And the GM who actually WANTS to know about an environment? They are often left to their own devices, and/or with small and nigh-inconsequential tidbits.

Well, and here’s what this series does: It takes the lavishly-researched content originally featured in the Perilous Vistas series of books, and provides a system neutral (system agnostic, based loosely on 5e, really), expanded iteration of the material provided in these books – in this case, the material provided in Dunes of Desolation.

The book kicks off with a general discussion of deserts – including the discussion on dry heat vs. humid heat, and the misconception that bright sands are the source of the desert being this hot. The book explains how deserts come to be…and before you yawn – no, this is no dry textbook, but it is genuinely helpful and well-presented information that assumes that the reader is both intelligent and wants to increase their knowledge. This gets two thumbs up from me.

Anyhow, the book then proceeds to depict a range of desert types, including percentile terrain element tables – hot and dry deserts, for example, can have a 10% chance for a salt pan, and the effects of dunes etc. on overland speed are noted in an appropriate, system agnostic manner. Better yet, we get a d20-based table of suggested encounters for each of the desert types featured. Furthermore, tables for population effects on demographics and humanoid demographics for settlements in the respective environment are provided..and these themselves influence the attitudes of the local humanoids! Political systems, notes on lifestyle and sample adventure ideas are also supplied alongside adventure locations.

This system is also provided for semiarid deserts, and briefly mentions coastal deserts (without going into this level of detail), before taking a look at the importance of water and its sources, from oases to rivers to alternate sources, with tables for water availability by desert type provided, with the tables differentiating properly between seasons. Desert travel, chance for the presence of settlements and notes on the construction and maintenance of roads (and the inevitable tolls!) can be found and are all explained, before we take a gander at the various means of travel, starting (obviously) with camels, before discussing mules and more exotic mounts.

Very interesting: Since the book is system neutral, the inevitable hazards that need to be in such a book to make it complete, are grouped in 4 difficulty levels, ranging from “easy” to “arduous”, with notes on detection, identification, avoidance, and escape provided alongside dimensions (with their own categories) and effects, which allow you to judge the intended level of challenge the hazard should provide. Since this may be a bit hard to picture, let me give you an example – the first one the book provides: Contaminated Water (Terrestrial, Disease). The hazard lists the following:

“Detection: Moderate Wisdom ability check or skill check pertaining to diseases, medicine, or nature Identification: Moderate Intelligence ability check or skill check pertaining to diseases, medicine, or nature Avoidance: Moderate Constitution-based saving throw completely avoids hazard Escape: Boiling or otherwise purifying contaminated water before drinking it Dimensions: Individual Effects: Harmful Damage Type: Constitution, hit points, or Wisdom Condition: fatigued, nauseated, or sickened Complication: Disease deals additional damage every 2d6 hours until cured Cure/Remedy: Successful Moderate Constitution saving throw made immediately after taking damage.”

This can be further modified – the book provides variants. Cholera lists: “Increase Effects to Dangerous.” Now, as you can glean from the above, the baseline from which we are supposed to extrapolate the mechanical effects would probably be 5e – while this is not a hard thing by any means, I can’t help but feel that this is where the system-agnostic approach is simply not as convenient as a proper version provided for a system, but that may be me.

On the plus-side, we actually differentiate between wet and dry quicksand, and various different poisons are also codified in pretty much such a way. A bit of a lost chance here – having at least a few poisons with a listed mundane way to cure them other than an ability check would have been nice to see. A random encounter table, and weather codified in this way can also be found – the latter comes with daily high and low temperature tables, chances for precipitation, and wind speeds. A missed chance here: temperatures are only provided in degrees Fahrenheit, and wind speeds assume mph (though the tables don’t explicitly state the latter). Ideally, it’d have been nice to have °C values as well, as °F doesn’t make sense to those not raised with it as a means to gage temperatures. It’s one of the things that keeps bothering me in RPG-books; the second value (kmh/°C) imho would really increase the value of books for those not as accustomed to imperial systems. This is particularly obvious when seeing that the text per se does feature °C values; same goes for the hazards themselves – these, alas, are absent from the temperature tables, though.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level, where present. Layout adheres to a nice two-column full-color standard, with the artworks provided differing in style and relevance to the matter at hand. The book comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks for your convenience.

I love Tom Knauss’ environmental books, and the Hazardous Habitats pdfs unlocking them for a wider audience is a good thing in my book. It is impossible to put down this book without having learned some cool tidbit about deserts, and the material never loses its focus on being a gaming supplement – it is educational without being boring or preachy, and I love it for that. After reading this book, you’ll think about deserts within the context of the game as more than just dry places with lots of sand. So yeah, that gets two thumbs up, and ensures that this book is one you can return to time after time.

On the downside, there are a few components that should be noted: Flash floods, while mentioned numerous times, are not codified as a hazard. I was also rather puzzled to see the book provide °C values (YAY!), only to forget them in the tables to determine high/low temperatures. So yeah, there are a few nitpicks, but if you’re accustomed to the imperial systems, you won’t mind those. The hazards work as well as they can with a system agnostic approach; personally, I’d have preferred adherence to a specific system, but I’m a bit of a stickler there.

As a whole, this is a rewarding, well-crafted environmental sourcebook only very slightly tarnished by a few niggles. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Hazardous Habitats: Desertlands
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Quests of Doom 4: Fishers of Men (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/15/2020 06:15:25

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module clocks in at 29 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages of module, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue as part of a series of requests by my patreon supporters.

Well, this module was originally penned as part of the criminally underrated series of environmental sourcebooks penned by Tom Knauss. To be more precise, this module originally was released as one of 3 modules in the “Marshes of Malice” swamp sourcebook, which I also own. Unlike the modules in “Mountains of Madness”, the adventures featured in “Marshes of Malice” do not constitute a mini-AP of sorts, which is good news for standalone presentations like this one.

Now, while the original version in Marshes of Malice made use of the expanded environmental hazards featured in the hardcover, this stand-alone version somewhat deemphasizes this aspect, and does not feature dead references to said rules – the module can be run as is and has been properly turned into a stand-alone version.

“Fishers of Men” is an adventure for 6th-level characters, and is set in the Dragonmarsh Lowlands of the Lost Lands campaign setting – for lorehounds of the Lost Lands, this means that this is pretty easy to connect to Rappan Athuk, if desired. It should also be noted that, while the module doesn’t mention that, an important NPC to the plot comes from Endhome, the setting of “The Lost City of Barakus.” I suggest 6 characters for this adventure, and I should note that this is an old-school adventure – it is difficult by design, and probably one of the harder ones penned by the author. It is per se a location-based adventure with a relatively heavy combat focus, so a well-rounded party is very much recommended. The module sports readaloud text for your convenience.

Theme-wise, this module showcases the author’s flexibility, as it leans heavily into fantasy-horror themes, and if I didn’t know better, I would have assumed that Richard Pett or Nick Logue had written this, so yeah – this is a pretty dark one.

Okay, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great! So, Oliver Quaywright is a visionary gourmand from Endhome, and one who kicked off a culinary trend when he realized the savory taste and succulent flesh of the mollusks from the Dragonmarsh Lowlands, An entrepreneur at heart, Quaywright realized he had struck gold, and proceeded to erect an impressive fishery to provide the supply for his delicious culinary creations – renowned among the elite. Quaywright, dubbed madmen and visionary, prospered, and while an evil slumbers in the Dragonmarsh Lowlands, it’s ultimately coincidence that provided the impetus for the grisly proceedings featured herein.

Tsathogga’s vile mind and hatred had consumed a chuul named Quattu, and said chuul stumbled over a bauble – an ioun stone, as it turns out – one that made the thing smarter. It could read the shipping label of the unfortunate it had happened upon – and a twisted plan gestated. Rallying sea hags and crabmen to its cause, the creature took the well-defended fishery in one fell swoop. The mollusk fishery, with its surprisingly-plausible pre-industrial layout, has since then been turned into a human slaughterhouse, while its servitors scour the Canyon River for prey. It’s debauchery and consumption flipped on its head, with impromptu, man-powered conveyor belts, the infestation called “purple rot”, and the horrid new masters of the fishery making for formidable foes. The living quarters of the place come with a pretty massive table of things to find, which let you add further detail to the savagery, and with azure lily pollen and the like, the complex is not for the faint of heart to tackle.

Indeed, this adventure is best tackled as a kind of assault on a fortified base by the party, with a combination of Stealth, etc. – structurally, an alert-response array of strategies would have been nice to have for the adversaries. Primarily mentioning that, since a GM responding to a full frontal assault with the adversaries herein will make the PCs rue the day… On the plus-side, the environment is pretty darn sandboxy, and allows for a wide variety of different approaches.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the pdf comes with neat b/w-artworks – particularly the one depicting the fishery and its entrance deserves being called out as awesome. The pdf-version comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is b/w – and, you guessed it. The 5 player-friendly versions of the maps that were included in Marshes of Malice? They are absent from this book. This is particularly jarring for the overview map of the massive compound of the fishery, as there is a TON going on there, and the PCs can easily scout out the map. So yeah: No player-friendly maps, in spite of them demonstrably existing. Boo!

Tom Knauss’ “Fishers of Men” has survived the transition to stand-alone module better than many of its brethren. The adventure retains the vast majority of its charm and horrifying, gory premise, and that’s a good thing. On the downside, the loss of the player-friendly maps makes the adventure significantly less convenient to execute than in its previous iteration – I certainly know that I am not particularly keen on drawing player-friendly versions of the 5 pretty detailed maps! It is this convenience detriment that makes me reduce my final verdict for this one to 4.5 stars, rounded down; if you can get your hands on it, go for the Marshes of Malice book instead. If not, then this most assuredly makes for a delightfully icky and twisted challenge.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Fishers of Men (PF)
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Quests of Doom 4: Awakenings (PF)
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 05/15/2020 06:13:24

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module in the Quest of Doom-series clocks in at 21 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page advertisement, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 15 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

This module is designated for characters of levels 1 – 3, and is an old-school adventure. This means that not all encounters are challenge-scaled, and that there’s a serious chance of PC death. I generally like old-school modules and making PCs sweat, so that per se is a plus for me.

I’d certainly recommend for adult parties, for it can become rather dark. Structurally, the module provides one of the most efficient bait and switches regarding themes that I have ever seen, and one that plenty of GMs will have an easy time pulling off due to the set-up and progression. On the downside, there is one scene that will potentially TPK the party if they think that fighting everything to the death is a smart choice. So yeah, some groups might require a bit of help/nudging from the GM there. As a whole, I’d recommend this module primarily to veteran groups. The module is much more efficient if the party has horses and/or animal companions.

All right, and this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.

… .. .

All right, only GMs around? Great!

So, with a variety of hooks, the premise seems old – a meteor streaks overhead, and the PCs are hired to examine/salvage the meteorite’s iron etc. If you expect some weird tentacle creature array coming up, the overland journey will strike you as super-weird, for the themes evoked are actually the Town Musicians of Bremen: The module begins with a very interesting, fairy-tale-esque angle, as all animals in the vicinity seem to slowly be increasing in Intelligence, learning to speak, etc.

This is the effect of the so-called Drift, and it is categorized in 5 stages that start as basic curiosity, and increase to full upright walking, use forelimbs properly, and communicate eloquently – this progression is based on time elapsed, and culminates at 11+ days; the drift powers are essentially spell-like abilities in anything but name (they should be classified as SPs, but I’m nitpicking there), and range in spell-level and uses from 1st to 3rd. Personally, I’d have preferred the drift powers to be codified in a way akin to corruptions, but that’s just a preference.

Anyhow, this fairy tale like scenario is played up in a fantastic manner: If the PCs have horses/animal companions, this awakening is even more impactful and rocks hard; it extends to the random encounters, and the different reactions of people to this change run a wide gamut: What about e.g. a bar with literally a sow as a mascot – who knows more than she lets on. Or what about that scene, where a family has been taken hostage by their cat and its allies? Said hostage situation is great, difficult and evocative. On the downside, the statblocks for the awakened sheep list “Feat, Feat, Feat” in their statblocks, which is a pretty obvious problem that should have been caught.

The turning point in themes from the mildly threatening to a further level happens when the PCs are faced with the heralds and servants of the Bear King: An owl with a broken wing, a chatty badger and a rabbit (called Stomper) with a taste for practical jokes make for remarkable companions to the dire elk Jostrocoles. PCs might become less, well, happy when the fanatic wolves arrive, and when the friendly badger is hurt by them – which is another chance to make friends here – friends they’ll need, for the bear king is a CR 7 stage 5 grizzly, and probably not something the PCs can beat. It’ll probably be up to the allies thus made to allow the PCs to escape captivity. The bear won’t let them just walk away. This is aforementioned thing that might be hard to see on a party of characters – they have to be okay with being captured and disarmed. Now, their badger ally will get them out, but captivity has its advantages: Here, the PCs will meet a belabra called Khotl, a strange jellyfish-like thing that can fill the PCs in regarding the mysterious phenomenon.

Khotl (who comes with roleplaying advice) tells the PCs about the grisly fate in store for their allies: The Drift is a horrible, infectious collective intelligence. The Drift will, at one point, force all infected beings to form a ginormous mass of flesh, using the bodies of its infected constituents as biomass as it levitates into space, where most beings will simply die, The driftmass will then proceed to another world, growing once more. All the weird hints granted from NPCs and companions suddenly make sense – and full-blown cosmic horror, uncaring, unfeeling, invades the module. I LOVE this. This bait and switch is FANTASTIC. Awakening to becoming a person, only to be subsumed and reduced to less than being an animal, being just biomass? That’s some seriously dark and horrifying concept.

In order to stop the Drift, the PCs have to infiltrate the driftmass, said strange meteor, and slay the core – so, provided the PCs managed to slip from the Bear King’s grasp, they have their work cut out for them.

The final part of the module, thus, is all about the PCs beating the insane things in the driftmass and slaying its core. The cartography for the driftmass lists numbers, though, while the module uses letters to denote the placement of adversaries. The map also lacks a scale and uses hexes, which implies a ginormous driftmass that makes no sense. This would be an issue, but not a crucial one.

HOWEVER. The Pathfinder conversion seriously goes off the deep end in the driftmass. The map lists 5 spots where creatures lurk; the module provides 2 creature-arrays: The first is a stage 4 gibbering mouther. The second would be a grick and a belabra (though the latter may have been intended to be a 3rd creature type – in such an instance, it’s missing the header designating it as such. These monsters surviving the last exodus are automatically hostile and super-dangerous. Thing is: Provided the scale of the driftmass is not huge, all creatures are pretty close to each other, and each of them is already BRUTAL and has TPK potential on its own. If the scale is indeed intended to be ginormous, this can be potentially done by lucky groups engaging in excellent tactics, provided they are rest-scumming AND optimized to the teeth.

This ends with the final boss, the driftcore. It’s a CR 10 (!!) stage 5 black pudding with at-will charm person, magic missile and sleep, 2/day darkness and web, and 2/day haste. It has more than 100 HP. With its reliable attack options, there is no way to not have even a clever group be TPK’d by this fellow. Even a level 3 party must be a) lucky and b) up to their A++++ game to beat this thing. Level 1 and 2? FORGET about it! If the driftmass, as I expect, is supposed to be dungeon-sized, this becomes even more ridiculous.

Now, I am a very vocal proponent for super-hard modules – and this module, up until the driftmass, was a well-wrought, deadly module. Tough, but fair. The driftmass? It becomes a horribly prickish save-or-suck fest; it’s unfair and just a mess. This can’t be done as written, at least not by even a decently optimized group at the suggested levels. Heck, even if you just kill off the PCs with magic missiles, you can kill them all reliably and easily. This is not a deadly module – it is beyond. I’d seriously consider the finale, depending on how you interpret the map situation, at best to be a solid challenge with a chance to triumph for level 4 – 5 parties. At the suggested levels, this is a guaranteed TPK.

Treasure for the insane finale? 8 pieces of gold, totaling 380 gp. No, I am not kidding.

Conclusion: Editing and formatting are good on a formal level; on a rules-language level, I noticed a couple of hiccups, including ones that impact gameplay. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column b/w-standard, with nice b/w-artworks. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience. The cartography is nice, but lacks scale, and the second map, as noted above, sports discrepancies regarding it and the text. There are no player-friendly maps included, which is a bummer.

Steve Winter’s “Awakenings” is a module I genuinely LOVE. The atmosphere, the bait and switch, the genre-flipping, is executed in a way that is downright fantastic, 5 stars + seal level great.

… Unfortunately, the conversion to PFRPG by Dave Landry wrecks the module’s finale. Up to that point, the module is brutal, as it should be as a Quest of Doom; it requires a good GM, but it works. The finale? It comes apart, regardless of how you interpret the flawed map – which is another huge strike against the module.

I frankly wished I had gotten another version, for these two problems? They tarnish what otherwise would be an outstanding offering. The map-situation is a brutal issue; the finale being so incredibly over the top regarding its lethality is devastating. I tried making mythic characters GEARED to surviving the module – you can still kill those off pretty reliably if you play the adversaries even halfway smart. That’s not just a DOOM-level super-hard module – it’s unfair and simply provided for the wrong level-range.

Now, to be frank, I should rate this 2 stars, at the very highest. But the adventure? It’s just so awesome that it may warrant investing the time to fix the botched finale. Hence, my final verdict will be 3 stars, representing here an inspired and evocative, but also deeply flawed, broken book – if you’re willing to invest the time to rebalance significant parts of the module, then this’ll be one awesome scenario that your players will keep talking about. If you’re not willing to do that, then steer clear.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Quests of Doom 4: Awakenings (PF)
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