Monday, 26 December 2011

ell-eft

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60' (20')
Swim: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3d8+3
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d6+1, see below.
Save: F2
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

This smooth-skinned newt, with mottled black and grey skin is 4' long.  It's mouth contains rows of needle-like teeth.  It's colouring can change  so it can surprise a victim on 1-3 on 1d6.  Ell-efts carry disease on their teeth, each bite has a 5% cumulative chance of infecting a victim. A save vs. poison is allowed.  If failed, disease kills the victim 1d6 days later.  If successful, the victim becomes bedridden for 15 days, at the end of this, there is a 1 in 8 chance the disease is fatal.  Ell-efts can breathe water as easily as air and move between sewers, cisterns and marshes with equal ease.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

krampusfest

This week has seen Nevermet Press collaborate with artist Steve Austin seeks to reinstate the Krampus to his proper place by the side of St. Nicholas.  The Krampus adds more fear to the hope and fears of all the years... a laudable goal.  In honour of this noble endeavour and as a hat tip to the Merry Krampus carneval, we are entering Krampusfest!

ICONS Christmas Bonus (ICONS Compatibility Licence).

Krampus 
Height: 7'6"  Weight: 300lbs
First Appearance: Angel City Xmas Special #1
Origin: Transmutation
Prowess: 7
Co-ordination: 4
Strength: 7
Intellect: 5
Awareness: 6
Willpower: 7

Stamina: 14

Powers: Emotion Control (Fear) 5, Resistance (Cold) 4, Strike 5 (claws, slashing),
Specialities: Investigation, Stealth, Weapons (Bludgeons), Wrestling


Qualities: Friend of Saint Nicholas, Punisher of Wicked Children,
Challenges: Social (demonic appearance), Personal (polite houseguest if given fresh fruit).

Krampus was once Ruprecht, a medieval knight transformed by ancient magics into demonic form but tamed by Saint Nicholas to punish wicked children.  Krampus appears as a horned, wingless demon with midnight-blue fur carrying a length of rope and a bag with a number of sticks (switches), lumps of coal and sacks.  The switches and coal are left for wicked children in their Christmas stockings.  Particularly vile kids are abducted and taken for a terrifying journey.  While the word on the street is that Krampus eats these abductees, this isn't true.  Some end up tied up outside churches or police stations after a harrowing journey in a sack.  Krampus is partial to fresh fruit and will, if offered it, act like the perfect gentleman.  His demonic appearance and child-abducting ways have caused more than one rooftop battle which Saint Nicholas has had to break up.

inns & taverns: the golden cinquefoil

Befitting a busy river-town tavern in the ice-fell, the Golden Cinquefoil has a reputation.  Quips about 'reputable taverns' aside, it is sought out by those who enjoy drinks and victuals.  A few 'regrettable' incidents involving sell-swords preclude it from courtly favour.  Those wanting disreputable activities are best somewhere else.   It's sign, a gold tormentil on black, indicates the sponsorship of a local knightly order. Their ongoing vigillance usually means trouble is distant.

From the outside, the Cinquefoil is a quadrangle of solid stone and mortar.  Horses are stabled in a municipal stable in the town centre.  Dwarven stonemasonry is evident in it's construction.  The black slate tiles are often rimed with ice.  A rarity, the downstairs windows are glazed with green and clear glass set in lead to resemble fish-scales.  These windows are shuttered in barred casements that make a racket when opened.  These are closed at sundown without exception.  There are no upstairs windows, bitter winds preclude it.  Inside pale lemon plaster walls with black-stained timber are hung with scrimshaw icons and iron horseshoes.  An open hearth spills heat into the taproom and cooks a profusion of food.  Doors to a backroom, privy and kitchen see occasional traffic.  An open stairwell ascends to common and guest rooms, while the bar runs the length of the north wall.  A trapdoor leads down to a voluminous cellar and brewery.

The ice-fell allows unique brewing techniques.  The typical drink is spruce beer, sweetened with black molasses, crowberry and rowan berry.  Less discerning palates prefer fireweed ale, a straw-coloured bitter with sharp aftertaste.  The house speciality is Blood-Head, a potent ruby-tinted eisbock with plum and chocolate aftertaste.  Bloodroot, a bitter brown liquor is drunk from small glasses, warming and soothing, popular in winter.  The hungry are equally well-catered for.  A creamy saltfish stew with rye bread is surprisingly good. Blood sausage, goose confit and piragi (dumplings filled with ground beef, pickled cabbage and egg) are sold to artisans.  Knights and the wealthy are treated to jugged hare and fattened goose stuffed with rye, herbs and crowberry.

The current landlord, Merus Merusson, is newly-appointed. Though a quintessential ice-fell landlord (portly, porcine, balding and bewhiskered) he knows his proper place.  Namely following the lead of senior barmaid Alietta River. Fair of hair and skin, sagas once sang of her beauty, now satires sing of her spite.  Skilled in sword and spear, her tongue is sharpest.  The remaining staff, three barmaids, two chambermaids and a chef work to keep things lively.  Their outfits are simple white linen and fur where appropriate.  Alietta and Merus between them run a tight ship.  Merus is an expansive host, generous with measures. Alietta tolerates this as it 'keeps things sweet'.

The Golden Cinquefoil has a common room capable of sleeping nine. Chambermaids roust sleepers shortly after sunrise to clean it.  Five expensive double-guest rooms, with lockable doors, fur-lined blankets, iron chamberpots and bedpans are surprisingly comfortable.  Merus gives newlyweds a bottle of bloodroot as wedding-gift. He recommends it 'to steady the nerves'.  Alietta is obsessively protective of anyone newly married.  The chambermaids are especially careful.  Guests pay in advance to Merus who provides keys (and who keeps spares).  Unusually again, the keys are different for each room.

Once a month, when the moon is dark, the Cinquefoil hosts it's sponsors.  Nine knights bearing the golden tormentil on black will arrive and take up the common-room.  During the day, they occupy the backroom.  Matters of state, peril and religion are discussed over ale and food.  Those hoping to eavesdrop incur Alietta's wrath if caught.  At harvest-time, the inn brews bid-ale.  Locals chip in to making batches of ale, profit from which is donated to just causes  These are decided by the knights, individually or collectively.  Their decision is often sound and always final.

Friday, 23 December 2011

review: future lovecraft by innsmouth free press

Metric: Stars.  Why?  Because they're right.  Really, what else do you propose for an anthology of Lovecraftian short stories set in the future?
DISCLAIMER: Based on a review copy from Innsmouth Free Press.
Overall: 4 stars (greater than it's parts, some cracking stuff here)
Future Lovecraft runs the gamut of Lovecraft's genre and it's settings reflects the myriad lenses in which we see the future.  From Prisoner-esque dystopias to post-apocalyptics where humanity seek mutation, and alien worlds where nanotech runs riot, the settings support the essential bleakness of Lovecraft's vision.  Some stories and poems sing, others crawl from the foamy brine.  All of them convey the horrors of an entity-filled, uncaring universe.

Stories: 4 stars  (varied in scope and execution, all of them interesting.)
The stories are a mix.  The opening stories are eye-opening aperitifs and not your typical eldritch horror.  From the virtual insanity of Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep to Tri-TV's channel-surfing antics and the kitchen-sink catharsis of In the Hall of the Yellow King, this triptych serves as a timely reminder you're not in New England anymore Toto.  What follows next is a diverse smorgasbord of horrific sci-fi with distinctly Mythos slant. Rubedo, an Alchemy of Madness is as potent as the morphia dulling Eliana's senses.  Harmony Amid The Stars puts you in the head of a microbiologist diving into madness on a long-distance voyage to Barnard's Star.  The Comet Called Ithaqua reveals what happens when ghouls take to the stars.  PostFlesh reveals the fate of shipwrecks on a nano-ravaged world.  Go, Go, Go Said The Byakhee is post-apocalyptic, mutating, time-travelling tragedy.  Venice Burning is a deliciously dark take on a broken reality.  Myristica fragrans details shadowy horrors on a space station, giving hints of LeGuin or Tanith Lee.  Concerning The Last Days of the Colony of New Roanoke provides an archaeological point of view on ancient catastrophe, relived by those who didn't learn.  The Kadath Angle returns to Innsmouth for a space before going beyond.  Deep Blue Dreams reveals what happens when Mythos horrors become designer drugs.  Other stories in this volume are just as good, the above have particular interest for me.

Poetry: 4 stars (powerful stuff, may not be everyone's cuppa).
Lovecraft was an exponent of poetry and it's apposite that this collection includes Do Not Imagine, a powerful piece from the perspective of the aliens.  The Old 44th considers history and the Hounds of Tindalos. This Song Is Not For You reveals the charm of the piping from Azathoth's court. Transmigration laments the inevitable fate of the cultist, A Welcome Sestina from Cruise Director Isabelle Molyneux reveals the Mythos take on the adage 'you are what you eat'. The Deep Ones echoes the subject, I can imagine this chanted by Polynesian natives.  Finally Big Bro rounds off the volume with visions of the Crawling Chaos.  Again, there are other poems, these ones were of especial interest to me.

Admiration for the inclusion of strands of poetry in an anthology aside, Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles are to be commended for picking complementary stories and poems in distinct themes.  The diversity of authors and settings is a delight for those jaded with dreary New England shores and dissections of Lovecraft's racism.  This anthology shows the bleak universe that HPL and his peers advocated finds roots in all soils.  Which is as it should be.  The cosmic horrors dwelling beyond our apprehension care little about such pettiness.  This is a quality anthology and worthy of your attention if you're a fan of this genre.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

damned city: bacino


Bacino sits surrounded by swamps and the Fiumorte. The destination of the southern Black Road is guarded by a red palisade of petrified wood. The swamps discourage centaurs and raiders. Entry is barred by two fortified gates with catapult, portcullis and many scorpions firing lead bolts. The first barbican sits on the Black Road. Known as the Black Gate, it is manned by the imbonitore. Clad in leaden jackal-helm and scalemail, bearing trident, gladius and shield, they dress for business. Immediate compliance is expected, resistance meets lethal force. A toll of two silver is paid for each body entering Bacino from the Black Gate or Traitor's Gate in Parvapelve.  This morbid toll keeps with ancient traditions of burying the dead here. .

By water, access from Carnefossa, Perlanero and the Avernine converge on the shallow bay of Parvapelve. This crescent-shaped bay lies beyond the red palisade, travelling past Parvapelve's horns gets you to Bacino proper. Residents dredge for amber and lootable bodies. Parvapelve is a crumbling slum built on mass graves escaped either by wealth or death. By land, the westernmost point of Parvapelve connects to Bacino via Traitor's Gate, the other barbican. The toll is two silver per body.

Bacino proper is split into four quarters. Beyond Traitor's Gate is Banchine, a fishbone of quays backed by narrow streets shaded by warehouses and towers. Skiffs can be readily chartered from the quays, barques are rarely available for transport of goods. By contrast, skiffs travel light and fast, gliding across the Fiumorte with hooded ferrymen at the stern. Bacino ferrymen are a close community. Unlike their Avernine peers, payment means passage attacks drawing bloody reprisals from several irate persons. The harbourmaster, Jerion, understands the ferrymen. This doesn't stop him executing smugglers or being a master slaver. Links with imbonitore as a former captain help salve his poor relations with Bacino's magistrates and lord. Banchine's towers hold various patricians who built their dynasties.  Some of these now wait for death.  Others court it more liberally.

Caligregis houses the western quays. These handle shipping for the city. The central quay houses the Chantákia ferry, crossing the Fiumorte at sunrise and again at sunset. Barques for Perlanero, Carnefossa and Chantákia sail hourly. Sleek liburnas patrol for river pirates. The westernmost quays support six dromonds, privateers with Oroguidan and Avernine marines and spinati shock troops. The land around these quays is slowly sinking. Warehouses pump out water with convict-manned Riccoferran waterwheels to store goods and chattel. Quayside inns offer cheap wine and fermented fish vinegar. Alleys in Caligregis sink into the swamp. Imbonitore patrols avoid certain alleys, sometimes paid handsomely to do so by gangs working for magistrates. The heart of the sunken alleys is The Court. This decrepit plaza houses all Bacino's leprous magistrates and pale lotus beds, a potent narcotic. Their smoking staves burn lotus dust hiding their smell. Heralded by tiny bells on severe black robes, faces under leather hoods, crowds part before them. The magistrates serve to arbitrate legal disputes. Judgements are swift, cruel or expensive. Appeals are moved to the Court, petitioners risk leprosy. Most magistrates defer to Mefitico, eldest and the most venomous of a nest of treacherous vipers. The city's tradition of funeral barques for dead patricians sailing east is honoured from Caligregis. Slaves earn their freedom by crewing the barques. These have some grave-goods and usually fall foul of thieves from Parvapelve or the Avernine.

The Black Gate opens into Vallapis. Famed for it's cosmopolitan market, this district holds the House of Hounds, where imbonitore are trained. Their chief officer is Amon. Standing seven feet tall, his voice booms across the plazas. Prodigiously strong and equally skilled wielding scourge and gladius as both weapons and symbols of office. Brutal in battle and leadership, his honesty is proverbial. His leaden jackal-helm is unique, with ruby eyes, bared teeth and braided red horsehair crest. The imbonitore live Spartan existences bound by military discipline. Vallapis market sells many things, from Animardente honeyed persimmons to Oroguidan alchemical goods and Riccoferran steel. Slaves from outside the city can be bought. Imbonitore patrols in Vallapis are almost incorruptible. Magistrates are rarely summoned but when they are, flocks of them descend like rapacious legal vultures. The rest of Vallapis is residential. Merchants live in gated villas while their staff linger in damp tenements and haunt busy market taverns. Dogs are valued in Vallapis. Ratters and rat-catchers never want for work.

East of Vallapis and north of Branchine is Carcaule. This maze of shadowy alleys holds workhouses for orphans, warehouses for goods and madhouses for lunatics. Talk of lycanthropy is hushed fearfully. Imbonitore finding any incinerate them in their homes. This order comes from the lord of Bacino. Levist was crippled by rats, his tendons and muscles chewed through, his rakish good looks consumed. Wearing a stylised iron mask he crouches in a sedan chair seething with spite and malice. His tongue is rapier-quick and sharp. His bleak manse is famed for it's coliseum, where Levist indulges his love for swordplay. Gladiatorial duels happen every season. Levist owns a nearby pig farm, the swine eat the dead growing massive and vicious on them. His emblem is a rampant black boar.

Monday, 19 December 2011

limaxiad

No. Enc.: 0 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2d8
Attacks: Charm
Damage: 0
Save: F4
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: VI

Brazen, fickle and easily distracted by anything of value, limaxiads appear as pallid human women slicked in oil with damp, dark hair.  A limaxiad is tied by spirit to a giant slug, they may not  move further than 240' from it or they die after 1 turn.  Limaxiads can charm person when they remember to do so, if threatened or if they take a particular like to someone.  Their victim must save vs. spells or go to the giant slug and stand helpless before it as it consumes him (this usually means they are lost forever).  Limaxiads wear their treasure from past victims and rarely carry more than that.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

review: weird adventures by armchair planet

Metric: Maltese Falcons.  Was going with dimes but this needs better
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy. I'm credited for doing some proofreading.
Overall: 4.5 Maltese Falcons (excellent & original setting for games)
Those familiar with From The Sorcerer's Skull will know of the pulp/noir adventure setting of the City and the Strange New World.  One of the most original and engaging settings I've read for some time. A magical New York in a mythic America with ancient Old World roots woven from Great War horror, gaslight mysticism and Age of Exploration folklore hung from a framework of classic D&D, pulp adventure stories and monochrome movies. 

Contents: 5 Maltese Falcons (innovative re-imaging of classic concepts)
An introduction to the setting is offered along with pointers to From The Sorceror's Skull and Strange Trails, a free companion PDF.  Like all good introductions it's brief and to the point.  What follows next is a flavourful guide to the Strange New World.
Information Please offers potted history, calendar and cosmology.  Text is interspersed with comic/Ripley's-esque pages.  From the downfall of Meropis to the Hell Syndicate, the setting is accessible.  Ethnicity is not dodged but part of the setting.  The treatment of magic and divine elements is interesting with organised magic and religion counterpointed by wild cards. 
A Strange New World takes you on a whistlestop tour of Septentrion (this world's America) and points North and South.  Zingara (their Mexico) gets some love and The Ten Ways to Die in Asciana sidebar is a great example how setting can be concise and flavourful.
On A Weird Road zooms in on how Septentrion is divided yet united.  Political tensions and divisions are presented as adventure hooks.  From the Union to New Lludd and the South, then across the Smaragdine Mountains west to Freedonia, Hesperia and San Tiburon.  Each area has distinctive identities and the smaller cities and other locations offer road-trip opportunities.
City Confidential zooms in on the City of Empire and its' four duchies, includes a whistle-stop tour of Empire Island neighbourhoods from Aldwood to Yiantown.  The city's infrastructure has opportunities for the enterprising.  Monster-hunting, mixing it up with criminal gangs and uncovering mysteries are just some of the diversions the city has to offer.  Maps of Empire Island and parts of the City make this easy to visualise.
Weird Menaces offers monsters ranging from re-skinned classics like the brain invader, goon and rust beetle to original twists like the hobogoblin, living house, lounge lizard and skunk ape.  Monsters are loosely grouped by type.  Minimalist statblocks cater for ascending and descending armour-class systems while providing enough detail for a GM to customise as needed.

Art & Layout: 4 Maltese Falcons (stunning cover, owes plenty to it's dime-novel roots)
If you recognise Doug Stambaugh's homage to the Trampier Players Handbook cover, you're in for a treat.  There are adverts redolent of Moore/O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.  The layout hearkens to newsprint-era/dime-novel roots with callouts to it's comic-book roots.  While I like the Ripley's-style pages, the classic newsprint approach isn't quite to my taste.  The artwork is excellent, pieces by Rene Manoquis, Stefan Poag and Adam Moore as well as Chris Huth and Jonathan Bingham among others compliment the text wonderfully.

In conclusion, Weird Adventures is worth your consideration.  The blend of pulp, noir and horror makes this a must for fans of those genres.  System considerations are kept to a minimum and for those wondering if using public domain media can inspire games, Trey Causey provides a pioneering glimpse into how this works.  While ostensibly for d20/d20 Modern, I could easily envisage Weird Adventures using a Lamentations of The Flame Princess chassis with minimal difficulty.  And yes, playing spot the shout-out/in-joke is it's own game.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

damned city: animardente

The Bridge of Smoke crosses the Bruciatura south-east of the Avernine at the foot of Animardente's northern slope.  Here the Black Road runs northwest past Lacunero's tar pits to Oroguida and southwest to the southern slopes and Bacino.  The Black Road is miles of bitumen-mortared flagstones.  The slopes rise to Riccoferro's walls.  The Spike casts a shadow at sunset on the Spine Road leaving Riccoferro's famed Centaur Gate.  Merchants travel this jagged road atop the slopes, fearing ambush by gangs of drunken centaur reavers. Animardente centaurs are hard-working, hard-drinking and violent.  They dye their manes black with walnut oil to accentuate paleness, which for them is a status symbol.  Indentured to the lords of Animardente centuries ago, rebellion surfaces in their cups on feverish summers.  Drunken centaur gangs are hunted by the lords' troops.

On the northern ridge, the keep of Arcemalba guards the first crossroads of the Spine Road.  This keep defends against centaurs and Riccoferran exiles.  Pale granite walls hold a garrison of malicious soldiers clad in spiked splint mail and helm, wielding halberd, longspear and bow. Their prisoners endure sadistic brutality. Running across caltrop beds, gauntlets of spiked fists and living archery targets are some examples.  Their cruel behaviour fuels their martial reputation.  These spinati are drilled in anti-cavalry tactics by the bellicose, brilliant and overweight general Gazar.  Gazar holds Arcemalba for Animardente. Spinati enjoy some notoriety outside the city walls, enemies of the city dread their presence in battle.

The northern slope is split into two neighbourhoods.  Balineum has bitumen, salt and sulphur mines.  The oily Bruciatura spills from a cistern high on the northern slope stained maroon with aromatic naphtha.  It's bitter waters causes dizziness and burning rashes, with prolonged exposure resulting in fainting.  It carves a lifeless course to the Black Road. There it sinks into a morass of tar pits, the Black Road and it's branches providing safe passage.  Balineum's mines has a mix of indentured centaurs and humans using slaves to toil in mine and refinery.  Centaur overseers drown troublemakers in refinery baths. 

The other, Ossarogis, sits on the north-east slope, behind the tar pits of the Bruciatura.  Centaurs avoid Ossarogis though some gangs launch destructive raids.  Smoke from conical stone kilns provide charcoal, pottery and smelt metal while disposing of dead bodies.  Locals are patient souls as likely to use nearby white oak as corpses to fuel kilns.  Where Balineum residents are passionate, they have cooler heads.  Animardente's lords are watching them, they argue, so actions remain circumspect and words civil lest someone awakens.

The second crossroads sits on the edge of a crater housing a smelter and a busy market.  The Spine Market trades in hematite, metal ingots and food.  Traders often cough, smoke from the smelter is distracting.  It processes Riccoferran ore with local rocks to make carbon steel sold exclusively at the Spine Market. Whispers persist that meteoric iron is smelted for the lords of the city on certain nights. Such rumours would alarm factions in the city.  As a result they are played down by all hearing them lest the lords get involved.

The southern slope is taken up by one community.  Palepratis is agrarian, growing persimmon, black walnut, inkberry, juniper, sweet magnolia and white oak. Beehives prosper amid the trees.  Yew and white poplar stands offer shade.  Slaves and centaurs here serve the farms, who work to feed both themselves and the lords.  Farms keep goats and swine for meat.  Yet not all is idyllic here.  Centaurs are abused, foreign slaves get better treatment.  All toil under the sun.  Farmers bloom early and perish in their prime, this land is difficult to keep maintained.  The Black Road terminates halfway around feeding into Bacino.  Beyond the Black Road, the Fiumorte widens out.

Petranera, a smoke-wreathed citadel of black stone guards the Spine Road's final crossroad where easternmost roads converge.  This is home to Lord Belias, attorney for the city and his beguiling, libertine daughter Fiammera.  Belias tolerates the dissolutes she collects, Fiammera makes an efficient chatelaine during his duty-driven absences. When he does return, the halls empty of sybarites. Belias is a serial widower, though dark whispers insinuate unwholesome liaisons with Fiammera in Petronera.  Guarded by a spinati garrison, the lords scheme and plot. 

The Black Road girds Animardente, with traffic from the crossroads, Oroguida and Bacino. Where the Bridge of Smoke arrives is the halfway point.  The kilns of Ossarogis and pig-pens of Palepratis meet in a permanent market where people buy district goods to bear to their allies.  The craft is excellent, not prolific as Oroguida or Riccoferro yet skilled in construction and presentation.  Notable is a post where a greataxe is buried in it's head.  This post announces local executions and mercenaries for hire.

Monday, 12 December 2011

laniar

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d8)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 6d8
Attacks: 3 (claw/claw/bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/2d4+2, trample (2d6).
Save: F4
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI

The laniar is a wooly, fanged creature like a maned bear with a lustrous grey pelt.  It's jaws hold two rows of serrated fangs. If both claws strike, the laniar will trample their opponent if they are man-sized or smaller doing 2d6 damage.  Creatures trampled may (1-3 on a d4) be trampled on following  at +4 to hit.  If an opponent flees, there is a 50% chance a laniar will chase.  A laniar can track creatures if they have spilled their blood and can be cruel predators. 

Friday, 9 December 2011

review: vornheim the complete city kit

Metric: Snakes.  For reasons that become apparent, snakes are associated with the erudite in Vornheim.
DISCLAIMER: Based on a PDF copy.  This book was designed as a physical product and may have  lost some elements in translation.  That said, printing some pages out got around that pretty quickly so...
Overall: 4.5 snakes (a setting and a workbook with some killer apps)
Those who want to speed up prep for their games need this.  Urban games will also benefit mightily from this book, though it's inspirations are applicable to megadungeons as well.  A willingness to play fast & loose with rules as written is assumed.  While the layout and text could be less cluttered, the design principles, cartography and volume of quality content is tough to argue with.  Vornheim deserves it's status as one of the best RPG products currently out.

Content:  5 snakes (brilliant cover charts and tables, strong flavourful setting and encounters)
Vornheim is original.  The first section mentions things off-hand because they may be relevant to your game. The oddities are odd and the presence of spells like vile hound, locations like the Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng and monsters like the flailceratops and plasmic ghoul make Vornheim atypical.  Superstitions and bizarre holidays are reminiscent of Gormenghast.  What makes this setting effective is how economic Zak is with the presence of the gods -  Vorn alone spawns a number of ceremonies and rituals, something that other campaigns may do well to emulate.  The baroque structures of Vornheim provide a good template for other cities and can be tweaked and modified by other GMs to fit their worlds.  Urbancrawl rules are a wonderful method for speedy generation of city streets and the floorplan shortcuts are quick ways to keep the game turning.  There are fistfuls of ideas in this book - some of which have been explored in Zak's blog. There are other sources credited as well, which is a nice touch.

Art & Layout: 4 snakes (awesome cartography, very clever cover charts, text chaotic useful)
Text layout is crabbed and claustrophobic, evocative but a bugger to speed-read, mercifully bolded text helps pick out the essentials.  The design elements and layout in other respects are very strong and Jim & Zak are to be commended.  Borders hold valuable chapter and page information which easily lets you move between sections.  PDF bookmarks work a treat and help navigation.  Artwork is rendered in Zak's style.  Some pieces have definition, the cover, the full page for House of the Medusa (p14) and flailceratops (p23) are cool.  The cartography is strong and Zak's style is intuitive, working in flat plane but arranged by floor (House of the Medusa), in orthographic perspective (Immortal Zoo of Ping Feng) reminiscent of a video game or vertical perspective (Library of Zorlac).  It's good stuff, using visual cues to ease dependence on keys.  Those used to pre-made floorplans may find this an issue.  That may not be the typical audience though...

In conclusion, this product stands alongside other excellent city sourcebooks.  Chaotic Useful is a relevant description.  Vornheim has fantastical elements that suit some campaigns perfectly.  New players may feel a bit intimidated but for those GMs who need a little fizz, this is a good present.  The support for 4th edition D&D was an unexpected bonus as well.  There are some bold ideas in here that have been excellently executed.  While some people may find it unpolished, the same argument could be made about prog rock vs. punk rock.  I may not know art, but I know what I like and I like this.  As a first album, it's good - the second one is the real test I hear...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

damned city: oroguida

Oroguida is isolated from the Avernine by tar pits and quicksand banks fed by the Fiumorte.  The safest routes to Oroguida are by Occidua in Riccoferro and The Black Road in Animardente.  Boardwalks and stone piers keep Oroguida from sinking into brackish wetland that floods every autumn and winter.  Mud and water seeps through corrugated roads and boardwalks.  Dykes to limit flooding form canals by the boardwalks allowing barques and skiffs to move chattel.  The clink of coins and chains is ever-present.  Gold is the lifeblood of Oroguida.  It flows from a brisk slave trade as well as transfer of goods and individuals.  Status is conferred by visible gold or slaves.  Ostentatious wealth is preferred, vulgarity is expected.  Mercenaries in coin-riveted brigandine guard sedan chairs bearing bejewelled merchants with golden smiles.  By contrast, slaves bearing the sedan wear loincloths, manacles, whip scars and owner's brands.  Labourers may own a nose ring or gold medallion.  Artisans wear two or more rings with medallions or bangles.  A guard usually has half a dozen arm-bangles.  Some unwed women wear gold coins in head-dresses with charm bracelets. 

Near Occidua, a ghetto called Catenae grows around imported waterwheels.  Chainmakers forge chains using Riccoferran iron and scrap metal for anchors, shackles and weapons.  Mercenaries skilled in flails and spiked chains work out of Catenae, these _catenisti_ are the nearest thing to elite troops found in Oroguida.  There is a sizable drydock in Catenae that services the skiffs and barques plying canals transporting goods and people.  Tumulurbem stands between Catenae and the House of Hands.  Founded from an old village built on ancient ruins, explored by those seeking easy gold.  Flooding, unstable walls and degenerate mutants make this difficult.  There is gold but it's far from easy.  Pre-human gold idols found underneath are quickly smelted into gold ingots to avoid bloody reprisals.  Tumulurbem markets sell assorted supplies to explorers.  They also warn explorers balliffs will seize loot unless they are affiliated to a licensed business.

At Oroguida's heart is the House of Hands, a ten-towered structure resembling two grasping hands.  Here, the Aliquamante, a council of thirteen oligarchs preside.  Clad in hooded samite robes with gold masks of angry medusae, they are part syndicate, part priesthood.  They provide judgements and license trade in Oroguida for 10% of assets or income, whichever yields more.  The leader is The Wolf, a corpulent captain clad in gold-coin brigandine whose word is law.  Mercenary bailiffs enforce this by seizing goods and chattel.  The House of Hands watches over three great boardwalks with their attendant canals.  Slaves toil on windlasses to pump water out of the cellars.

Carnefossa deals in pigs, slaves and vice.  The branching southern canal links to the Fiumorte and sees traffic from Bacino and Perlanero.   The Wolf's bailliffs are particularly active in Carnefossa.  Nearer the House of Hands, the stink of swine, canal water and unwashed bodies fades under perfume.  Yet the stink never truly dies.  Further to the south, it grows to fill the nostrils.  Pig pens and cesspits are dug under boardwalks, sometimes used as prisons or slave holding pens.  Biting flies attract a variety of frogs, some poisonous.  Brothels, drug dens and wine houses riddle Carnefossa.  Streetwalkers work from the canal edge to alleyways within the shadow of the House of Hands.  Some use parasites and poisons to enhance their appearance, trading health and longevity for potential wealth.

Lacunero, a slum with a pall of brown smoke reaches east to tar pits bordering Animardente.  Near the House of Hands is the Black Alley where alchemists sell alchemist's fire, pigments and exotic metals.  Other streets near Black Alley Further along the great canal, smiths forge shining blades of stainless steel and potters sell enamelled clay.  Clay and stone is quarried  from flooding pits.  Furthest away, and close to the tar pits, residents mine bitumen for mortar, sealant and adhesive.  Watch towers keep vigil for caravans from Animardente.

Monday, 5 December 2011

dilany

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 2d8+2
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d4
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI

These 4' long squat marsupials resemble brindle-furred dog-faced rats with short tails.  The dilany is a fierce beast, when it successfully bites it locks it jaws and gnaws on it's victim doing 1d4 damage each round, clinging until either it or the victim dies.  They can be removed by the presence of open flame.  Their sense of smell is exceptional and they can track prey with it.  Dilany dig for worms and grubs but eat any meat they encounter.  A dilany nest is often foul-smelling and decorated with the gnawed bones of their prey. 

Saturday, 3 December 2011

inns & taverns: the rouge and glass

Gnomes enjoy beer in cellars. The Rouge and Glass is celebrated among gnomes, halflings and certain taller folk in the know.  Noise usually comes from it's doors and there is almost continuous activity.  Though some dislike it's gaudiness, it's popularity is evident.  The Rouge and Glass is tucked in a hill beneath a fortified tower manned by a platoon of crack gnomish crossbowmen.  Trouble is almost never a problem.  This has led to speculation that whoever owns the tower owns the inn.  Gnomes, dwarves, halflings and the wise know it's the other way round.  The sign is a steel mirror with gilt scrollwork and "The Rouge and Glass" painted in red.  This glows with foxfire as light fades.

From the outside, the inn is built within a hill with a tower atop it and a mirror affixed above a double door.  Through the double doors, an antechamber ends in a door between two crystal-studded pillars.  Light brought into this space causes the pillars to shimmer.  A lectern and stool are positioned to the right of the door.  During daylight, an old, extremely wizened gnome maid in somber fabrics and leathers alternates between pipe and hipflask to grant admission.  After sundown, the usual occupant is a gnome in spiked leather with steel wire woven into his beard.  He grants admissions but hassles those he dislikes.  Beyond this door is a long chamber, almost airy and spacious.  The layout is not unlike that of a ship, there are raised seating areas to the right and left of the door.  Pillars are roughly positioned where masts would be.  At the far end is a semi-circular ampitheatre with four tiers of gnome-sized seating.  The bar is on the left wall and decorated by various painted mirrors and crystal tiles.  Light flickers from an ostentatious candelabra of red and orange glowing crystals and copper wire.  This softens features as good firelight does.  Three closed doors to the left (cellar, landlord's office and a store room) and two to the right lead to privies.

A number of drinks can be purchased.  A brown ale, of wet sand colour and average taste is the safest bet. Many regulars prefer a hard pale cider or a dark ruby beetroot beer (dry with hints of earth and malt) to drink.  Connoissieurs may wish to take a glass of pomace (apple liqueur) or a slightly jaundiced genever.  Jugs of wine are also sold, red or white.  Neither are particularly appealing to any but drunks or those who cannot countenance ever drinking beer.  Food is not sold though on some cold nights hot meat pastries are offered to clients by staff.  These are greasy, yet substantial.  The meat defies simple identification and is of mixed origin smothered in thick onion gravy.

The staff here are mostly gnomes.  The landlord, Amlyn Hyssop, is rakishly handsome.  Twinking sapphire eyes and white-gold hair are sometimes complimented with a courtly suit, or flouted with a labourer's outfit and leather boots.  Comfortable and confident, Hyssop prefers to advance without drawing undue attention. His wolfhound, Reaver, is slavishly loyal.  The other staff are itinerant gnomes, equally balanced between male and female, all with ready smiles.  Practical jokes are regular occurences, resulting in beetroot beer fountains, inexplicable noises and coins attached to invisible thread.  The other staff are a troupe of dancers and musicians of various races.  These range from convivial line dancers to more exotic performances with veils and gaudily feathered fans.  One part Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, one part Moulin Rouge.

There is no accommodation.   Those seeking it are chased off.  Some patrons drag feet to tease favourite staff.  The invective unleashed often shows the height of gnomish creativity.  Those who don't take the hint will find themselves chased with brooms. Yet when Reaver growls all but the stupid drunks know that it's time to leave.  Reaver has been trained to take someone's hand between his jaws and gently lead them out.  Amlyn usually handles high-status troublemakers who inevitably visit, laden down with gold coin and disrespect.  They usually leave lighter of both.

Some humourless locals claim pickpockets work the Rouge.  This leads to 'raids' supported by staid clerics.  Amlyn and the bar staff tone down their ribaldry.  The regular clientele don't resulting in a brawl.  Needless to say, this provokes a crackdown.  The Rouge cloaks their more scandalous activities but word gets out - as it always does.  A large watch raid may meet stiff opposition from the crossbowmen and what appears to be a siege might attract attention...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

damned city: riccoferro

Riccoferro is built on a hill rising out of the Avernine.  An iron mining town, it is split into six fortified zones like a giant spiral stair part carved into the hill leading to the Avernine, Bacino and the Fiumorte and the morass of Oroguida.  Relentlessly grey, Riccoferro hums and vibrates from temple bells ringing over iron-masked soldiers in plate and mail riding steel-shod hooves over cobblestones over tunnels housing ringing trip hammers and stamp mills.   This place breeds ambition, paranoia and a malicious streak.  Seeking to elevate themselves to tiers where underground waterwheels and hammers are unneeded, they scheme tirelessly.  Cautious yet implacable, the idealised Riccoferran has an eye on the prize and plans for almost any contingency.  This attitude is exemplified by the soldiers who provide martial law, called ironmasks by the locals.  These rule by fear, brutality and constancy.

Temple Street runs the circumference  of Riccoferro and gamut of architecture with a thousand beliefs.  Almost every building here is a temple or shrine save the gates to Avernine, Animardente and the locks to Bacino.  An equator of elaborate temples jostle cheek-by-jowl.  Prophets true and false harangue passers-by.  Temples to heresies and schismatics selling indulgence and benefice are neighbours with more orthodox faiths.  Discordant chanting and invective can overwhelm sensitive ears.  Fighting regularly occurs and is suppressed by ironmask brute squads with flanged maces and tower shields.

The first and highest zone, Rutuonis, rises in the northwest but cannot be reached by the Avernine gates or Bacino.  Looming over all of Rutuonis is the Spike.  Artisans and finesmiths line Rutuonis and the average citizen wears more gold and jewels than iron.  Ironmasks here wear a surcoat of grey wool with a red scaled bull to their plate mail.  Statues of snake-haired furies with sweeping wings keep vigil from towers and townhouse roofs.  As a  deterrent against burglars, these are most effective. The Spike is an iron-shod citadel and prison that impales the sky at the heart of Riccoferro.  No building is taller and from it's solar, the local patrician, the Iron Constable observes his domain.  Those trying to build higher than the Spike are condemned to death.  Ironmasks leading convict labourers tear down buildings and tear apart builders between warhorses. It's said the Spike's cells lie under Oroguida's cesspits and Chantákia's strip mines.

The second zone, Settentrion, houses the northern Avernine gate. Ironmask  garrisons at the gate, western wall and the base of the Spike make this zone orderly.  A smithy row from armourers to farriers sells soldiers the tools of their trade.  Finesmiths unable to get Rutuonis gold sell jewellry in brass, copper, pewter and glass.  Assassins and sorcerors sell subtle death away from the garrisons. 

The third zone, Marmorbis, is known for a great coliseum where athletic and gladiatorial games are held to delight jaded appetites.  Schools and stables predominate with an influx of newly-built iron ore mineshafts sunk into the hill away from the Spire.  The ore is processed in Orien, older residents are furious at ore wagons taking up their roads.  A narrow gatehouse, the Centaur Gate on Temple Street overlooks Animardente's slopes.  It's fortification and narrow entrance is such only a small garrison is needed.  Here the Riccoferran mean streak takes the form of flattery and manipulation. Ironmasks are fewer here yet command fearful respect from locals by harsh judgements.  They wear a surcoat with a white circle emblem.

The fourth zone, Orien, houses the eastern Avernine gate.  The gate is heavily-garrisoned as is the base of the Spike.  The ironmasks take special care of Orien for the subterranean ironworks Riccoferro is famed for are based here.  The trip hammers and stamp mills never stop, the incessant noise drives some deaf, mad or suicidal.  Others drown the noise and vibration out with vices.  Wealthier iron miners are moving to Marmorbis so an influx of new blood is happening. Iron is shipped out from Perlanero or the Avernine gate.  

The fifth zone, Perlanero, has three locks to Bacino along the south face of the hill.  Ironmasks here wear a grey surcoat with a black sea horse and have garrisons at each lock and the Spike.  Rats are ubiquitous,.  Warehouses of iron bars, brass and copper jewellry, bales of wool and sailcloth await the boats to Bacino.  Myriad waterwheels under Perlanero's  cobblestones carry water into the bowels of Riccoferro up towards Orien and the Spike. In autumn, chill mists cloak the slave markets flush with a season's takings.

The final zone, Occidua, houses the western Avernine gate and a gate to Oroguida.  Ironmask garrisons built over convict-powered waterwheels stop flooding.  Gloomy, muddy cobbles are treacherous underfoot.  Labourers and hemp-growers provide most wages with ropes and fabrics leaving the Avernine gate or via Perlanero. Exiles from Riccoferro or other parts of the city sometimes linger here before fleeing into the Avernine.  Ironmasks stay in their garrisons but if roused crush any resistance.  A dozen disgraced ironmasks have turned vigilante gang. These rustmasks are the nearest thing to populist outlaws Riccoferro has.  

Monday, 28 November 2011

miasmarak

No. Enc.: 1d4 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 120' (40')
     Climb/Web: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1d8+1
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d8, poison
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: VI

Miasmarak are slender, ten-legged spider-like creatures that emit faint incense-like mist from their carapace.  This mist makes those breathing within 10' of one light-headed (save vs. Poison or take  -1 to hit and AC).  Their webs are perfumed traps that entangle the unwary as per the web spell and are laced with the mist (as above) making them risky places to be caught in  Their bite is less potent and slow-acting, a victim must save vs. Poison with a +1 bonus or die after 1d6 turns. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

damned city: the avernine

The Avernine clings to our city like a tattered mantle.  It's a sprawl of crumbling armouries, odious garrisons and cracked roads.   Built on marshland, the Avernine houses soldiers as well as camp followers, criminals, drunks, political exiles and malingerers.  Food shortages are common and the city's patricians buy favour with grain rations for serving troops.  Those too poor, addled or weak to fight become grist for the mill.  Martial law is imposed by militias and armed troops root out entrenched gangs.  Fires caused by marsh gas are frequent enough shouts of 'Fire' are always responded to in force.  Crying wolf is a good way to get lynched.

Life in the Avernine is noisy, jostling for food and status is commonplace.  Thieves are a perennial problem and punished harshly for it.  Poverty is rife, one in three have no home and another one in three are billeted or in barracks.  Brawls are popular as are athletic contests and gambling.  Strength is power, the weak submit or get crushed yet few tyrants survive.  Markets are carefully managed by heavily-armed patrols and inciting food riots is a death sentence.  Patrols have some leeway in identifying inciters.  Owning property in the Avernine is a euphemism for ill-gotten wealth, a shady past or fall from grace.  Ironically many soldiers are eager to do so.

Over time the Avernine has grown like a stain on the marsh despite fires and riots.  Corrupt artisans scavenging from buildings and using shoddy material have inculcated poor repair.  Walls are daubed in cement then decorated with murals and graffiti.  Older buildings have sinister, baroque designs built to withstand siege but theft and poor repair have eroded most.  One exception is the Brazen Keep, largest garrison of the army patrols whose bronze-clad towers seeth with stamped glyphs.  The current commander is whispered to be carving up and slowly eating his predecessor like smoked sausage.  Other landmarks include commemorative pillars studded with the verdigris-coated skulls of enemy generals and kings. 

The marsh on which the Avernine grows is fed by two rivers. The ice-cold, deep-rolling Fiumorte branches, tunnels and rejoins itself.  It yields lost dead to Avernine shores as canny gangs loot patrician funeral barques.  Corrupt Avernine ferrymen demand additional payment halfway, those who can't pay sink or swim.  Those in sight of the oily, oozing Bruciatura have it worse.  It's thick stinking mud sucks at boardwalks and buildings.  When the river ignites, gas explosions and fires spark riots, looting and bloody reprisals. In summer, those near the Bruciatura adopt a siege mentality.

There are five gates into the city proper.  The first, called the Bridge of Smoke crosses the Bruciatura as it leaves the slopes of Animardente.  The second, called the Dead Lock, forms a fortified lock down to Bacino's piers.  Though the Fiumorte has streams throughout the Avernine, this lock sees much commercial use.  The final three are evenly spaced on Riccoferro's walls, at the north, east and south, bolstered by iron portculli and iron-masked patrols interrogating visitors.  They are prosaically named the North, East and South gates.  Around all the gates tenements press closer to form claustrophobic covered alleyways.  Those seeking entry rarely see sunlight until they enter the city.

Monday, 21 November 2011

xantheder

No. Enc.: 2d6 (3d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 10' (3')
Swim: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 1/2 (1d4 hit points)
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d3
Save: F1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

These gaunt yellow fish grow up to 2' long, have spined fins and mouths filled with needle-sharp, backward-pointing teeth.  The xantheder hunts in groups and will attack anything bleeding or flashing brightly in the water.  Xantheder can wriggle onto the shore but suffocate in 1d6+4 rounds unless they return to water deep enough to submerge in.  Xantheder flesh is dry and sulphurous, a taste rarely acquired.  Boiling a xantheder corpse in a pint of acid for an hour totally dissolves the body to make a most potent glue that only affects wood or paper.  On other substances, this glue separates once properly dried, lasting 1d4+1 minutes.  The glue is used by alchemists and scholars alike for book binding.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

inns & taverns: the halfway house

Perched halfway up a steep incline, the Halfway House serves an ancient hilltop crossroads.  This tavern is famed for offering last meals to the condemned and redeeming many lost souls.  The locals boast "Even the doomed smile at the Halfway House."  Some soothed souls have gone onto great things, others are quiet pillars of a community.  The House is neat, a whitewashed stone and caulked thatch courtyard amid ramshackle wooden cottages.  The sign is a white horse-head snorting fire - homage to a local legend.
 
The courtyard opens into a working yard, redolent of woodsmoke, straw, manure and yeast.  To the left, a stable for seven horses is tended by a quartet of seemingly identical stableboys in rough-spun livery who charge two silver a night for care, three for care and feed.   To the right a working brewery, where barrels clunk and rumble.  Ahead is a narrow door, surrounded by manicured hops vines.   This opens to a narrow porch. with scarred walls.  Behind a wide taproom runs the length of the building.  Immediately to the left is a T-shaped bar, to the right a spacious seating area with benches and tables set in a U-shape.  In the far left corner a doorway leads into a back room with more seating and a locked door.

A warm brown ale, refreshing and tasting faintly of burnt bread and flowers is served here.  Dark clay two-pint jugs of mild beer, black as tar with a caramel sweetness are sold for five coppers to local labourers.  These are refilled behind the bar and if returned, a copper piece is refunded.  Blackberry and damson liqueur is sold in black clay bottles to those who abhor ale.  Food is simple, a goose confit and bean stew is cheap yet delicious.  More discerning palates enjoy goose liver pate and pork rillaud with smoked sausage and sweet seed loaf

The landlord Pallier is tall, thick-necked and burly, with thinning black hair and squashed nose.  His arms wrestle barrels and people equally well.  His gap-toothed, winning smile warms many hearts. His instinct for spotting those willing to redeem themselves by hard work is keen-edged and well-tested.  A diligent cellarman and cook, his work ethic is infectious.  The bar staff are a colourful bunch, ex-drunk soldiers (Rollo, Berse and Karle), reformed tattooed dancers and washerwomen (Miena, Salla and Neme) and ex-addict healer (Alden) and his quadruplet nephews (the stableboys)   Many locals consider Pallier the best mayor they never had, though never before the current incumbent.

Five rooms are available to rent, these are simple closeted rooms capable of sleeping two in comfort, four at a push with lockable doors (though all the keys fit the locks).  They are basic but comfortable.  Berse and Karle turn a blind eye to four local girls who communally rent one room every week but Pallier throws out anyone who causes trouble.  Berse and Karle delight in dumping certain troublemakers in a horse trough if they cause trouble.

The crossroads at the top of the hill sometimes see use as a place of execution.  Sometimes those deaths are not peaceful affairs, the executed sometimes return to seek revenge. In addition, a local gang intend to expand their turf to include the Halfway House.  So far, the staff have seen off previous attempts but out-of-town help is coming.  The watch breaks up scuffles but withdraw to the temple if undead or magic is involved.  Clearly there are interesting times ahead.

Friday, 18 November 2011

review: divine favor - the inquisitor

Metric: Scapulars.  As we've already made use of  sanbenitos, nobody would expect this.  You were hoping for comfy chairs, weren't you...?
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 4.5 scapulars.
This is an ambitious book, if you're fine with the inquisitor class as written, the spells and archetypes will interest you.  If you're a rules hacker though, this book really comes to life.  Inquisitors are already quite versatile and this book offers options which if you're developing from scratch work wonders though established characters might need a little crowbar & lubrication for the new options available.

Content: 4 scapulars (Excellent if mildly unorthodox, rules hackers & tweakers will love it).
Stefen Styrsky goes to town with the inquisitor, immediately emphasising the classes' offensive capabilities.  Censures and condemnations are new abilities and replace the judgement and solo tactics/teamwork feats.  The latter feel more like sinister versions of the paladin's mercy abilities which is fitting for the class.  A typical inquisitor is empowered to bring down their foe, the build here is much more anti-personnel in nature.  Inquisitions replace domain abilities and built around the Midgard setting though adaptation is simple enough.  Archetypes is where this book really shines with the ghost hunter, hand of god (assassin/monk/inquisitor), penitent  (anti-inquisitor inquisitor), stalking shadow (assassin inquisitor), sworn foe (ranger/inquisitor) and witch hunter (guaranteed hit at parties, perhaps not with parties).  New spells offer some wonderful new weapons for the discerning inquisitor. Greater brand, nail foot and well of angry souls make the inquisitor a fearful figure.  Three extra feats around the new condemnation ability feels sparse given the plethora of new abilities in this book and compared with other entries in this series - perhaps a missed opportunity though an advert for Complete Advanced Feats on the last page is perhaps opportune.

Art & Layout: 5 scapulars (good cover, subtle layout makes content stand out)
A good cover from Christophe Swal helps give this inquisitor an unsettling air.  The skull-flail might be a censer or something much more sinister.  The illuminated layout inside seems subtler than Divine Favor - The Cleric and The Oracle and really focusses you on the content. That is a sign of excellent layout and hats off to Timothy Wickham for walking that particular tightrope. 

In conclusion, this book pushes the boat out for inquisitors in the same way that Divine Favor - The Cleric did.  While there is a cornucopia of spells, the light feats section ends the book on a mild anticlimax.  For a GM confident in their handling of crunch and willing to experiment, this book is golden and worthy of a five scapular rating.  For those content with the inquistor as written the new options may be less appealing though the archetypes and spells are excellent, making this book a worthy addition.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

yet more tools for writing & groups


A trio of sites that help get ideas together.  What happens next?  That's down to you.

Springpad - This intuitive notepad app has hidden depths.  Idea capture, task management and integration with Google and Facebook.  Browser integration makes it easy to share notebooks or individual notes.  Web page capture is available.  Also supported on Android and iPhone.

TitanPad -  Fans of EtherPad may find this open-source web-based version useful.  The big draw here is that you don't need to install anything or sign-up to use it for short-term collaboration with up to 8 people.  Just open a pad and send a link - useful for editing around a document.  Doesn't play with Mac/iOS yet alas.  

Trello - A web-based virtual pinboard that lets you can ideas on boards and sequence them into 'to do', 'doing' and 'done'. Cards can be given attachments, colour coding, checklists, completion dates and voting options that can be expanded into a task management system including allocating cards to other Trello users.

Monday, 14 November 2011

urburas

No. Enc.: 1d2 (1d4)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 30' (10')
Swim: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 7
Hit Dice: 3d8+3
Attacks: 1d2 (touch)
Damage: 1d4 + paralysis
Save: F3
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: None

This pale starfish-like creature grows to 6' diameter and  dwells in port sewers, estuaries or anywhere where salt and fresh water mingle.  The urburas is truly omnivorous, unable only to digest metal or gemstone. It reaches out with stinging arms, these transmit a paralytic poison that lasts for 2d4 rounds.  Paralysed victims are moved to the central mouth where they are digested if they don't suffocate first.  This revolting process inflicts 1d6 damage each round and results in death by asphyxia after 10 rounds.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

villainous psychology - traps & tricks

This month's RPG Blog Carnival comes courtesy of Elthos RPG.  It's about getting into the mindset of your villain when creating tricks and traps.  Consider the following, popular with criminal investigation when setting up something to dumbfound, damage or destroy your enemies.

Method - This governs the architect as well as resources available to them.  The psychotic chemist may concoct explosions, acid or poisons.  A necromancer will use undead or death-themed devices.  Engineers devise Rube Goldsberg-esque deathtraps.  Orcs use spiked pits but access to death rays usually involve a third party.  Bait makes a trick or trap seem more compelling.

Example: A Lemurian necromancer in a Mutants & Masterminds game baited four separate flooding sewer chambers with hostages.  This forced the party to split up to save them.  Each was guarded by zombies and a serpent demon.  Though the heroes rescued the hostages, the traps gave the necromancer time to work a ritual summoning something big with tentacles.

Motive - The desired outcome is important.  Tricks deceive, confuse or deny access.  Traps imprison, harm or even kill.  A diabolical warrior might use traps to weaken powerful foes before finishing them.  A haughty sage uses tricks to deter foolish visitors.  Ancient priests set lethal symbols to slay tomb robbers. The motive behind the trap enables a GM to plan accordingly, and where appropriate, signpost the potential lethality or weirdness to come.

Example: A hunchbacked fey offers a narrow-necked crystal ewer filled with yellow gold coins for a horse.  The fey wants a horse and the adventurers delayed.  The narrow neck of the ewer means coins jam together so only 1d6 coins can be retrieved each round by pouring or by hand.  The ewer holds dozens of coins (yet less than the price of a warhorse) and fills a backpack - it will take some time to empty.  Breaking the ewer turns it into a ravening bear.  If broken while holding coins, 30 - 80% are lost in transformation. 

Opportunity - Traps and tricks are active, pre-meditated strategies, implying preparation and anticipation of a target.  If the victim can fly, an open-topped pit is at best inconvenient.  Circumstances work for or against - the smart architect optimises. Planning can mitigate failures.  The best traps and tricks walk a line, planned to prevent failure while seizing the advantage.

Example: Sometimes, simple traps just work.  Deadfalls are simple to set up and depending on system can have greater impact than blunt trauma.  Logs or boulders may block movement or trap someone under their weight.  Depending on situation and how clever the architect is, a simple deadfall may change a combat from a predictable melee to a desperate fight out of a dead-end.

When developing tricks or traps, consider these three things.  The result will be a series of traps that make sense.  Get it right and wnjoy your players cursing your ingenuity while lamenting their not seeing it coming.

Friday, 11 November 2011

review: kobold quarterly 19

Metric: Kobolds.  The little guys deserve your respect - this is year four and they've survived and prospered.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 4.5 kobolds
This issue is a challenge.  It picks areas I've got instinctive and experiential biases against and delivers considered, playable articles on those subjects.  In addition, there's some really good Pathfinder and AGE stuff here.  The layout is good as ever and growing increasingly colourful.  With expansion in mind, the kobold goes from strength to strength.

Contents: 4.5 kobolds (a varied feast of magic, horror and adventure)
This month's editorial announces an expanding magazine.  More stuff?!  This can only bode well.
The White Necromancer (Mark Radle; Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
A niche class for the connoisseur - challenging and done with finesse.  While the spell list and removal of evil spell descriptor ability makes me twitch, considered mechanics and new spells make this fit for odd-ball players without entirely disenfranchising clerics.  Potential campaign arc material.
Bottled Hubris (Jerall Toi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
A serious expansion to the alchemist class, building on Advanced Players' Guide and Ultimate Magic. The new specialists offer interesting directions.  My particular favourite is the calligraphist archetype, which just begs to be introduced into a game.
Magic Shops, What's In Store (Christina Stiles/Spike Y. Jones, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds).
Getting past my misgivings on this subject, this is a good article arguing for why they exist (and the magical missile weapon argument is a fair point.  I'm less convinced about Kieran's or Melysium's shop or the table at the end of the article which suggests population centres have plenty of magic.
Welcome to the Dragon Empires (James Jacobs, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds)
A preview of the lands of Tian Xia and the Dragon Empires Gazetteer.  This whistle-stop tour gives you a flavour of what's coming up.  Exotic lands and strange races provide intriguing glimpses into an excellent setting - shame it shares a name with a bit of Midgard.
Làu Kiritsu (Richard Pett, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The absolute obedience and hierarchical customs demanded by this archdevil and his servants offers a different, exotic flavour to the traditional hellish foe.  Adventure hooks, magical torture items and a puzzle box round out this intriguing article.  Pett at his best, a mix of whimsy and horror.
Archetypes of Death (Phillip Larwood, Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
Something a bit Hallowe'en-worthy, a death-themed archetype each for barbarians, monks, druids and summoners gives a twist on the traditional.  Of particular interest is the grave druid (suitable choice for a battlefield) and the master of worms (a monk inspired to fight undead).
Courting Adventure (Rick Hudson, system neutral, 5 kobolds)
A tour of the noble titles and the courtly figures who keep vigil over the kingdom.  These aristocrats do more than just attend balls, they perform functions.  A useful map for end-games where the high-level characters looking to carve out a barony of their own. 
Land of Horse and Bow (Simon English, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)The Rothenian Plains in Midgard offer a mix of steppe warrior, gypsy tribes, shamans, centaurs and kite-riding elves.  Background options for these characters and variant rules for Arcane Lance spells provide more flavour for Open Design's Midgard setting.
Balance-Free Bonuses (Monte Cook, system neutral, 4 kobolds)
The new lead in Dungeons & Dragons offers some thoughts on how to make the traditional races and  classes stand out with some simple traits without having to worry about bonuses or modifiers.
Morningstar, Monkey Marrow and Ice Cream For Dinner (Jeremy L.C.Jones, interview, 4 kobolds)
An insightful interview with indie designer Jason Morningstar, brain behind Fiasco and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  If you don't have these games, check them out. 
10 Ways to Turn Dull Traps into High-Stakes Encounters (Britian Oates, Pathfinder/4E, 4 kobolds)
A list for trapsmiths to consider when placing their engines of destruction.  Introducing complexity in it's execution and/or disarming is only the beginning.
The Gordian Knot (Mario Podeschi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The winning entry of the Relics of Power competition, an extradimensional knot from the tapestry of the universe which offers magical insight and the ability to evade detection and scrying.
Scions of Terror (Josh Jarman, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
Four more background options for Midgard in AGE, this time for the Western Wastes, which earns a mention in the Midgard Bestiary.  Players may choose arcanist, nobleman, goblin trader or hellborn.
Aneela, Human Cleric (Matthew J. Hanson, Solo player, 4 kobolds)
A novice cleric faces some difficult choices against undead.  This is a simple introductory adventure for a solo player, requiring battle skill, savvy and some luck.
Bark At The Moon (Brian Liberge, 4E, 4 kobolds)
Another Hallowe'en-themed article, allowing characters to gain useful powers from lycanthropy and becoming a shapeshifter.  A theme and various attack powers provide intriguing options.
Book Reviews (various, 4 kobolds)
Gearing up for the primary gifting period reviews of Heaven's Needle by Liane Mercel, Low Town by Daniel Polansky and the latest Pathfinder Tales, Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter.
Order of the Undying Sun (Wolfgang Baur, Pathfinder/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
A thumbnail sketch of a knightly order of Khors, a solar deity that is slipped from courtly favour but serving the Magdar Kingdom with loyalty and links to Divine Favor: The Paladin.

Art & Layout: 4.5 kobolds (an increasingly colourful selection of excellent pieces)
The cover by Malcolm McClinton is an evocative piece, showing an archer with flaming arrow astride a sinuous oriental dragon.  Interior artwork is a mixture, ranging from high-quality, colour pieces like Jason Rainville and Mark Smylie's piece for the White Necromancer and Steven Wood's piece for Bottled Hubris and Matthew Jaecks' piece for Làu Kiritsu.  Colour pieces are more prominent, notably in the Midgard articles by Mark Smylie.  Eva Widerman and N.C. Wyeth also deserve mention for their work.  Monochrome sketches like Hugo Solis' piece for Aneela, Human Cleric stand alongside woodcuts, which are in the significant minority now.  The cartoons are amusing and themed apposite to preceding articles, from the necromantic antics of Stan!'s 10x10 toon to the alchemical ennobling of d20 Monkey and noble aping of Bolt & Quiver.  Legend of Bill resorts to low-brow and falls short(s) because of it.  The layout is crisp and cohesive, something that it's draconic ancestor failed to achieve at year four (and later).

In conclusion, this is a strong issue.  While some articles are challenging because they proposed things I disagree with, there's still plenty of quality content.   Even the ads make you smile while pushing the envelope, Zombie Sky Kickstarter projects appear alongside 3rd party ads and The Kobold Scroll of Holiday Wishes 2011 edition.  Things have changed for the better, and KQ has dominated the niche of  a print zine for tabletop RPG.  Wonder what's next? 

Monday, 7 November 2011

kasinganga

No. Enc.: 1d3 (2d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 2d8+2
Attacks: 1 (touch)
Damage: 2d4
Save: F2 (see below)
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: See below

The kasinganga appears to be a two-foot-long omnivorous worm of glowing orange surrounded by heat haze and leaving a scorched trail behind them.  Those who touch it suffer acute burns (2d4 damage) and  must save vs. Death Magic or have combustible items in their possession ignite.  Kasinganga are elemental creatures made of liquified brass; a dead kasinganga can be smelted into 5d8gp of pure metals (copper, tin, some iron).  As such they are immune to heat-based effects but take double damage from cold-based attacks.  They are often associated with unusual volcanic activity or restless spirits of fire trapped within the earth.  The lairs of kasinganga are littered with spiralling structures of grit on the floor.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

inns & taverns: the mason's jar

The Mason's Jar is a busy two-storey tavern in a town known for temples and pilgrimages.  The Jar primarily serves masons working on temples or noble houses.  Artists, patrons and agents attend, seeking wprkers or commission.  The Jar has a reputation for wealth.  Many well-heeled patrons dress ostentatiously.  The sign is a large jug with a compass and hammer imposed and Mason's Jar underneath in scrolling ironwork.

The Mason's Jar is a south-facing tavern with shaded patio off one of the main roads circling the town.  Massive stone amphorae mark entrances, serving as oil lamps. Filled and lit at twilight, they last all night. The patio is often busy until the pious attend midnight ceremonies.  Inside, the Jar is always busy and lit by cool-burning blackened clay lamps.  A mix of pipeweed, spilled ale, sweat and rosemary oil assails the nose then grows unobtrusive until the next morning.  The door opens to the taproom.  Half of this room is taken up bytables and stools with benches and tables lining the wall.  The other half is clear before a long bar.  Open stairwells lead to a mezzanine over the benches where more small tables and stools cluster and then further to the second floor where doors block further view.

The Mason's Jar buys in ale from many local breweries.  Wife-ale, a nut-brown ale with faint citrus tones is the usual tipple.  A dark wheatbeer brewed by monks is sold in half-pints to poor masons and apprentices.  An ongoing fad for pale ales, like forgewife or furst ale among the wealthy attracts a premium price.  Those drinking such are noted by regulars as nouveau riche or potential patrons.  Wine is also sold, a sweet dark wine said to ensure potency and a red with fruity undertones.  Spirits are not sold by local ordinance and those with them are discouraged from drinking them ont the premises.  Food is inconstant in quality with a stodgy saltfish crumble that provokes thirst, sauerkraut and rock cakes accompanied by delicious sweet cherries marinated in brandy.

The landlord is a surly, burly human gentleman called Jessem.  Familiar with masons and their ways, his clothes are well-mended, his hair a mass of iron curls defying comb, eyes glaring from under beetling brows. He snorts and stamps his way through life, though his cellarmanship is first-rate. The other staff are courteous if subdued and mildly terrified of him.  In the early hours customers are unceremoniously asked to leave by broom-wielding staff.  This has provoked uproar on many times until Jessem comes downstairs, usually to bar the tardy for a lunar month.  Within the Jar's walls, Jessem's authority is a mail fist in a steel gauntlet.  The only exception is the mediocre cook, Addel, a weatherbeaten old sailor who Jessem tolerates with unusual grace.

Five small east-facing garrets on the second floor are available but at double the usual rate.   Jessem leeringly claims this discourages casual whoring, to the outrage of goodwives on pilgrimage.  Those who take rooms here often have commissions, buying the affections of masons with food and ale.  The rooms are warm and well-appointed with coverlets and good straw mattresses.  There is no stabling, again by local ordinance though a municipal stable is a short walk away.  A gang of linkboys patrol the walk between the Jar and the stable at night.

Those seeking masons do well to come here.  Temples, castles and towers attract varied commissions - the whispers of a mason's guild are confirmed on the half-moon every lunar month.  Master masons, influential journeymen and well-heeled gentry visit the mezzanine to discuss business.  These affairs are quiet and subtle but shape the temples' influence upon the city.  Infiltration of the guild by wererats and doppelgangers only serve to make the guild's influence disproportionate to it's size.  Some members are concerned at the guild's rising star being crushed by the temples.  For now, they ride high.

Friday, 4 November 2011

review: the red eye of azathoth

Metric: Brass spheres.  For reasons which will become apparent.  Not that this will help.  After all this is for Call of Cthulhu.  Survival is not a likely prospect.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 brass spheres (worth the wait and then some...)
A well-constructed Call of Cthulhu campaign is a joy to behold and this one is built to last.  Though the epic scale and lack of ready access to dynamite until the last scenario may discourage purists, the quality of this campaign shines through. The historic nature of the campaign makes it slightly different from the usual 1920's or modern-day cosmic horror.  With some truly awesome set-piece encounters and harrowing situations, Red Eye of Azathoth deserves a place in any discerning Keeper's collection. 

Content: 5 brass spheres (a cornucopia of cosmic horrors and likely heroes)
This is a five-part campaign of reincarnating souls in pursuit of an ancient Chinese sorceror intent on becoming master of the world (with a little help) by way of binding Azathoth.  If that doesn't sell you on how insane cultists are, you've not been paying attention.  Pre-generated characters are provided for each scenario - suggestions for other options are available but these are plenty of fun; the last scenario in particular will have your players chuckling if they're Western fans.
The first scenario introduces a Viking raid on Lindisfarne where the stars are right.  Splitting the party between Norse raiders and monks allows for intra-party roleplaying, investigation and gory violence in a tight scenario brimming with Norse zombie lore and Mythos horror against an apocalyptic backdrop where troubling visions may be the least of your worries...
The second scenario leaps to Kamakuran Honshu, where early samurai discover the secrets behind a quietly prosperous village.  Buddhist reincarnation beliefs mixed with distinctive Japanese monsters and the uniquely horrific nature of Mythos magic reveals a scenario replete with treacherous bad guys and stunning visuals set in snowy mountain passes. 
Then to Inquisition-era Valencia, where reincarnated Investigators await torture and worse.  Escaping the Inquisition dungeons will be the easy part.  The odds are stacked against the investigators here and players will need their wits about them to prevent a hideous ceremony.  If an enemy of their enemy can be trusted, will they be able to take advantage of such help?
The next step is Roanoke Island.  The arrival of more colonists may do more than strain relationships with the locals. Yet against this backdrop, a race against time between two former allies puts the newest incarnation of the Investigators between a rock and a hard place.  The roleplaying opportunities come thick and fast here.  The fate of the colony may be the least of your worries.
Finally in Arizona, there is another incarnation.  This has one of the best opening sequences I've seen in any scenario, let alone Call of Cthulhu.  The scenario is classic Western revenge piece.  Cannibalism features large here and using prior relationships with the townsfolk will make this one of the more memorable scenarios that players will experience.
The structure hangs together sufficiently well that events are not entirely dependent on precursors from previous scenarios but the influence of events may enable player agency or provide interesting complications.  The use of the Incarnum skill provides options for lore (including sorcery) making it a double-edged sword.  Sometimes it's possible to know a little too much.
Appendixes with player handouts, new monsters, new spells and other items of interest enable players and Keepers alike to get the best out of the scenario.  The handouts are good-quality and doubtless will inspire responses from players varying from grim chuckling at the Inquisition's handling of confession to wincing at reading some of the magician's manuscripts.

Art & Layout:5 brass spheres (gorgeously grim cover, helpfully organised, lots of fun).
The Malcolm McClinton cover shows berserk Vikings with orange eyes attacking Lindisfarne monks while Norse warriors look on in horror; conveying the mood of the first scenario and setting the tone for the other parts.  Interior art is a mixture of classic pieces.  Each scenario has it's own distinct design and this suits the product perfectly.  Maps and interior art are excellent and where possible keep the aesthetics of each scenario.  The layout and statblocks are helpfully organised with relevant appendices at the end of each scenario so you're not forced to search for long.
 
In conclusion, Red Eye delivers on it's promise.  It's been a long time coming but now it's here you can see why it's got it's Chaosium-licensed status.  Even if you played each scenario as a one-shot that's still five sessions of wonderful Cthulhu goodness.  The ability to roleplay and think laterally is essential in this scenario.  If your players are of the 'open door, kill monster, take treasure' attitude, this may not be the best option.  Yet those players may also relish the break in pace.  Diehard Cthulhu fans take note, this one is worth your attention.

Friday, 28 October 2011

review: divine favor - the druid

Metric: Acorns.  Mistletoe berries has a rather more innuendo-laden connotation.  In addition, if you squash them, the resulting pulp makes a real mess.  Stick with the humble acorn.
DISCLAIMER: Review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 acorns (quality content expands the druid's horizons).
This Divine Favor is a pleasure.  Fans of druids will rub their hands at the expanded options here and GMs will consider dusting off that druidic campaign they've been thinking of.  The layout is the usual Open Design quality and the price is very reasonable.

Content: 5 acorns (balanced, elegant and versatile options galore).
The introduction mentions the signature abilities of Pathfinder druids.  Wildshape is given it's due and advice on spells and feats are offered.  Then it's straight into the new stuff.  Wildshape options draw from a common idea but execute it differently.  Nature's multitude lets you become your very own rat pack or murder of crows.  At higher levels you become your own herd of dire boar.  Swarm shape lets you become an army ant column or mass of scorpions.  Included is a variant for animal companion flocks; druids with this option get scary quickly but fans of George R.R. Martin will approve. Druidic archetypes allow players to tailor a druid to fit a campaign instead of belonging to a generic cookie-cutter lineage.   Each group of archetypes (moon druids, greenmen, elemental shamans) have their own distinct sub-specialisms.  While the over-critical may wonder why not play a cleric, changes are smooth enough that the druid isn't lost in translation.  Next some new domains and subdomains, allowing a stronger flavour and some unexpected options for druids.  A GM will need to give some of these a bit of thought to see if they fit.  The domains are balanced and jaded players may be surprised by the options available.  New animal companions goes esoteric with oozes, plants and worms as well as lizards and slugs; these are distinctive companions brimming with options and memorable encounter hooks.  Finally new feats offer options balancing combat utility (totem aspect), lore (primeval counsel) and metamagic.  Even animal companions can get in on the action (healing tongue).

Art & Layout: 4.5 acorns (a layered layout and well-formed with it).
Divine Favor - The Druid combines the usual mix of Christophe Swal cover (an excellent piece with a druid waiting to pounce) and woodcut interior artwork.  The layout is textured yet clean.  The lack of interior colour is a minor niggle though the quality of the interior art is consistently good.  I was a bit surprised to see a lack of Ogham script but the hidden message in roleplaying game supplements trope has been somewhat done to death.

In conclusion, druids are a class popular with certain players.  The wealth of options and diversity here makes this one of the stronger entries in the Divine Favor range.  Players of druids will love some of the options and GMs will appreciate how these can be combined to create memorable, distinctive encounters.  The idea of a dwarven druid with nature's multitude and a wildshape of brain ooze would make s scary encounter.  That's just one example of how versatile this book is.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

orctober - tusks of blood

Orctober rumbles on. Over at Aeons & Auguries, there's an excellent look at orcish architecture just begging for geomorphs.  Siskoid ponders how orcish refugees face the fall of an evil empire.  And at Meatshield.Net, an unexpected approach to orcish diplomacy.

Beefing up orcs is a typical response if a referee underestimates party firepower.  Orcish wereboars are an unexpected escalation but as Hallowe'en approaches it seems apt.  Plus, why let the hill giants have all the fun?  Orcs hulking out under the full moon and with boar friends sounds fun - I pity any shieldwall facing that.  Orcish boar riders are a staple of fantasy wargaming.  Orc-wereboar hoplites with boars fighting cheek by jowl feels right.  Perhaps not so unexpected after all.

Their culture may be less extremist than traditional orc culture but every inch as selfish.  I peg them as Neutral Evil, might-justified and nasty-tempered, too selfish for obsessive hate or psychosis.  With their  resistance to ordinary weapons, their savagery makes them natural skirmishers.  Lunar rages and extreme selfishness makes them poor mercenaries.  This is a group placated or avoided rather than allied with.  Their hatred for elves comes from competing in a shared environment - the latter know how effective silver arrows are.  Their attitude to regular orcs is usually contemptuous and foreign tribes are offered a chance to swear a painful blood oath.  Sharing blood with lycanthropes is often a changing experience...

Monday, 24 October 2011

jiskavi

No. Enc.: 1d4 (2d4)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Fly: 240' (80')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1d8+2
Attacks: 1 (beak)
Damage: 1d4
Save: M1
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

The jiskavi is a cadaverous vulture tainted by sinister magics and made eternally hungry.  Each round a jiskavi feasts on a corpse, it regains 1 hit point up to it's maximum and there is a 10% chance the corpse is spoiled and cannot be raised by a raise dead spell.  If a Chaotic wizard feeds it their own blood once a day for a week (doing at least 1 point of damage to the wizard) the jiskavi heals the wizard 1 hit point per round it feasts after it is fully restored until the corpse is spoiled (after 10 rounds or 10 hit points are healed).  Jiskavi cannot harm or touch anyone under a protection from evil spell.

Friday, 21 October 2011

review: divine favor - the oracle

Metrics: Cards. Let me guess, you saw that one coming?  With your talents...
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF review copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 cards (oracular spectacular)
Strong enough to stand in it's own right and excellent compliment to Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle or Complete Advanced Feats.  This sourcebook adds new curses, mysteries and feats to the oracle, adding versatility and fun to a focussed class.  GMs in particular will appreciate the expanded mysteries and curses, while players might want to try something a little bit different.  Steampunk, Lovecraft and Conan aficionados will find things in here of particular interest. The sheer exuberance of the mysteries and curses makes up for the minor deviations from the approach used in other books in this series. Art and layout are excellent balancing complicated backgrounds with clear, concise text.

Content: 4.5 cards (awesome curses and mysteries forgive a lack of overview)
Unlike other Divine Favors, there's not much overview, straight into the new stuff.  The curses an oracle must bear are expanded with drunkenness, soullessness and cowardice, among others.  One of the best adaptions of a bokor's curse is included under unstable form.  Oracular mysteries follow, ranging from clockwork to the old gods, the moon, plague, snakes and wine.  In these, Stefan Styrsky shows that he understands the oracle's essential difference from other divine casters - that they are divine sorcerors and taps into what makes them a breed apart.  Some obvious combinations suggest themselves but the real draw are more obscure mixes of curse and mystery.  Finally there's a half-dozen feats - summon avatar adds flavour to summoned monsters while other feats focus on empowering mysteries or providing access to spells ordinarily not within the oracle's remit.  All oracle-specific, unsurprising given the book's subject though slightly at odds with others in this series

Art & Layout: 5 cards (excellent layout using colour and ink to high standard)
Christophe Swal's cover shows an oracle in full proclamatory mode.  The interior art is a blend of colour and monochrome on a patterned background.  The text is clear despite intricate design work in the background.  This marriage of elements makes Divine Favor - The Oracle stand out.  Nothing is cluttered, everything is used well and as usual, the PDF bookmarks just work.  The assembly of this book is another example of how other PDF publishers need to up their game if they want to be in the lead.

In conclusion, this adds fun options to the oracle.  The lack of overview appears to be a deliberate choice, having done a good job in Advanced Feats: Visions of the Oracle, why rehash?  It's omission is only unusual in context of other Divine Favors. While other companies may shamelessly recycle, this is not the case here.  What is here though is several shades of fun.  Oracles get a significant boost and this sourcebook wears it's influences openly and knowingly.  Again, the price is insanely reasonable and once you've read it, orders of  soulless clockwork oracles or mutating oracles of the old gods will march into your game.
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