Wednesday, 29 June 2011

review: streets of zobeck by open design

Metric: Rats on a stick! Get 'em while they're 'ot!!  Lah-verly rats on a stick for a discernin' conno-sewer!!!  Listen, when you're reviewing, sometimes you got to moonlight as a snack vendor on the Cartways.  Tough times innit?
DISCLAIMER: Based on a PDF review copy provided by Open Design
Overall: Five (count 'em!) rats on a stick.
Pathfinder GMs wanting a gritty, semi-industrialised fantasy city want for nothing here.  Seedy NPCs, nice-and-nasty locales and vignettes galore in the adventures.  The layout is good and eminently useable in game, Streets of Zobeck strikes that balance between utility and immersion that characterises a great setting book.

Contents: Five (count 'em!) rats on a stick.
There is no waiting or preamble here.  You are straight into the city by introduction to locals.  This being Zobeck, not all are human.  All have an agenda and trusting any of them has a price. 
Then locations - places to purchase special wares, companionship and secrets.  Each of these have additional characters, some deserving greater expansion.  From the Cartways Black Market to The Old Stross Bath-house to the Silk Scabbard, each of these has plenty of opportunities for the kind of trouble player characters excel in getting into.
Adventures are where the book excels.  Yet more characters and the set-pieces?  Oh yes, no spoilers.  Everyone Lies is a wonderful introduction to Zobeck's gang life.  Rust follows up with urban predators (perhaps the only scenario players can be truly heroic) while the Fish and the Rose is a perilous heist.  The First Lab and Rebuilding a Good Man twine disturbing ideas together to test player nerves.  While Ripper does what it says on the tin and wears it's heart on it's sleeve, Flesh Fails is a disturbing high-level romp which wears someone else's...  A sense of continuity is achievable and GMs will be able to craft their own plot arcs around the characters in here.
Finally, it wouldn't be a Pathfinder supplement without feats, traits and magic.  The offerings provide considerable flavour and GMs looking to bolster their city watch encounters will be mighty pleased.  These can be borrowed with remarkable ease for other games.

Artwork/Layout: Four and a half (no refunds!) rats on a stick. 
Pathfinder statblocks are unruly creatures at best but are corralled here with ease.  The cover art by Pat Loboyko shows a simple deal in a dingy tavern.  The interior pieces by Glen Zimmerman capture both the horror and the squalour of life on the underbelly.  Maybe a bit more colour would have made this shine but it's in keeping with the tone and a minor quibble at best.  The layout is neat, showing pervasive grubbiness and the maps are simple and comprehensible.  

In conclusion, Streets of Zobeck makes an excellent argument for urban games where splitting the party is high-risk for dubious gain. Pathfinder DMs will find this book eminently useful and other game masters will find much to inspire them. Elements of steampunk and Gaimanesque fantasy (a hat tip to Messrs Corpulent and Doldrum) give the city a distinctive feel.  Ben McFarland and team (among them Richard Pett, Christina Stiles and Mike Franke).  The elements of grim and dark will give Warhammer Fantasy Role Playing fans a familiar frisson.  Paladins may find the transition to city life tricky and high-level types may stretch the fabric by their retinue but this is excellent fare and would make an excellent tent pole to base your Midgard (or other) campaign around.

Monday, 27 June 2011


No. Enc.: 1d6 (2d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 60' (20')
Fly: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 3d8
Attacks: 3 (2 claws/1 bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/1d6 + special (see below)
Save: F2
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: XX

The gierghul are notorious scavengers.  They appear as a great vulture with the head of a bald, scabrous man with elongated teeth.  Gierghul will hover overhead when a battle takes place and swoop down on the dead and dying. The bite of a gierghul causes paralysis (a save negates this) for 1d6+1 rounds, this does not stop the gierghul from trying to eat it's prey while still alive.  Their preferred prey are those near-death or the vulnerable.  For those, they have no mercy.  Gierghul cannot be turned as undead even though there are legends that they are spawned from ghouls.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

review: the lost city by open design

This easily-scaleable adventure sandbox draws from the same well as TSR's B3 The Lost City and I1 Dwellers in the Forbidden City.  You can play this fresh, though it's real strength comes with a little preparation.
Metric: Mirages.  A desert-based setting so it's that, camels or biting flies.
DISCLAIMER: Based on a PDF review copy provided by Open Design.

Overall: 4.5 mirages.  The scale of this adventure is magnificent.  Many innovative monsters and some cunning twists on familiar encounters make this an entertaining romp. A cleric or paladin is a sensible choice usually but in this sandbox they will be essential given the high damage potential and undead nature of some potential opponents.

Contents: 5 mirages (Lots of very good ideas.  No, more than that!)
The city of Kadralhu is sunk beneath the sands of the Ishmai desert.  Your party discovers this ancient ruin from an older time.  What follows isn't your typical ruined city.  There is a lot to explore, the denizens do not simmer in splendid isolation and the presence of the player characters will tip a number of careful balances.  The result is that the players will find themselves with plenty to do.  The scale of the challenges facing them are appropriate to paragon-characters and there is enough play here to merit a slow rise to epic-scale confrontation.  The tropes of the typical 4E game are inverted here with elemental forces running roughshod over imprisoned divine powers.

If you want monsters, Lost City delivers.  The sand giants (take a giant and give him powers like the Marvel Comics Sandman!) and spectral giants make worthy paragon opponents.  The oklu are wonderfully strange, their imprint-based powers showcase 4E's flexibility.  A DM will do well to keep oklu statblocks handy and organised during encounters with these strange folk.  The parasitic trignotarbs are a great example of monster design.  There's plenty of new monsters in each section, like the gypsosphinx, malsalix plants and some unique individuals (a real strength of 4E) including false godlings.  Equally, Lost City makes use of established beasts like chuul in innovative environments.

Individual adventures are provided in each chapter. The Phoenix Tower is a well-crafted introduction.  Impressions reveals the oklu and their society.  The Hanging Gardens introduces the trignotarbs on a big scale.  The Corpse Commons reveals tensions between oklu and the spectral giants in a necropolis.  The Waterworks of Kadralhu is a tour of what ails the city and what can be done about it.  Finally the Vaults of Kadralhu reveal the inner mysteries of the city and the challenges that await it's potential restoration.  Recurring plot arcs weave between individual chapters with player-friendly markers.

Artwork/Layout: 4 mirages (Good stuff mildly let down by monochrome maps).
The cover shows a gypsosphinx attacking an adventurer.  Layout is crisp with statblocks arranged sensibly yet Some textboxes struggle to contain content. Given the amount of content though this is unsurprising.  Corey Trego-Erdner's internal art realises the setting while Darren Calvert's work forms small oases of colour.  Cartography by Jonathan Roberts is brilliant for black & white but colour would have made them striking.  Thankfully, there is no beige-tinted backdrop for a desert setting.  Open Design could provide colour maps for these separately of course (hint, hint).

In conclusion, this is a worthy piece from Open Design.  Even if you don't play 4E (and edition wars are so... tedious) there are plenty of ideas to mine. Logan Bonner and the team (including Open Design regular Michael Furlanetto, Quinn Murphy (At-Will) and Tracey Hurley (Sarah Darkmagic)) have done impressive work worth your consideration.

Monday, 20 June 2011


No. Enc.: 1d3 (1d6)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 150' (50')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 4d8
Attacks: 3 (2 claws, 1 bite)
Damage: 1d4+1/1d4+1/1d10
Save: F2
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI

A gaunt lion with porcupine-like quills for a mane and spines jutting from it's elbows and tail. To attack the beast in melee risks a saving throw vs. Death Ray or suffer 1d4 damage from quills. Wielding a shield will reduce this damage by one point for every bonus to AC it provides (a shield + 1 reduces damage by 2 points) to a minimum of 0 damage. All quillions are born man eaters, preferring humans over other prey. The quillion was spawned out of the cauldrons of plains witches. They did not expect it to breed with other lions.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

three things: quill and ink

Igneous Ink
This ink is used for ritual purposes, igniting once it dries and burning with a faint orange smoky flame equal to candlelight. A vial of the ink when broken explodes for 2d6 fire damage and ignites anything flammable it splatters.  If used as intended, the ink delays combustion for 5 rounds but will ignite doing 1d6 fire damage per minute spent writing on the object.  A full vial of igneous ink can scribe up to the equivalent of 10 pages of vellum or parchment as the scribe must continuously keep their quill wet to prevent ignition... The ink radiates evocation magic.
Market Value: 300gp
Creation: 3rd level, Brew Potion, flaming sphere.

Querulent Quill
This plain white quill is valued by those seeking confessions.  When the command word is spoken, it will ink itself and transcribe what is spoken. It stops when the speaker lies, resuming when the truth resumes.  The speaker becomes aware of the quill's magic  and can make a Will save (DC15) to resist.  The quill stops working when picked up by another person who must speak the command word to resume it's magic.  Ironically witches have the easiest time making them.  The quill radiates conjuration, divination and enchantment magics.
Market Value: 16000 gp
Creation: 3rd level, Create Wondrous Item, comprehend languages, unseen servant, zone of truth

Serpent Sepia

This dark green ink is prized by assassins.  The ink is venomous if drunk or injected (Fortitude DC 11, 1d2 Con damage, cure 1 save).  It's most insidious use is drawing a picture of a snake on a piece of parchment and casting it into flames.  This summons a fiendish viper for 3 rounds that will obey the artist to the best of it's ability.   There is enough ink for three such drawings to be made.
Market Value: 170gp
Creation: 3rd level. Brew Potion, summon monster.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

inkstone monkey

No. Enc.: 1
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1d8
Attacks: 1 (bite)
Damage: 1d2
Save: M1
Morale: 6
Hoard Class: None

The inkstone monkey is a long-tailed monkey about five inches long. It's eyes are wet crimson pools, it's fur sepia velvet. Beloved of scribes, clerics and scholars of wizardry alike, the inkstone monkey lives on a diet of nuts and ink. Yet if fed blood (1 hit point) the inkstone monkey provides sepia ink on demand for the next 24 hours by stroking a brush or quill along it's lustrous fur. This ink is suitable for penning spellbooks and makes the process of scribing spells easier. The monkey will not demand blood but may give an owner a nip before revealing it's unique talent. Inkstone monkeys are considered unlucky by those who believe in superstition since their fur stains.

Monday, 13 June 2011

all together now - review: the complete advanced feats by open design

Metric: Feasts. Creating an odd hybrid of previous metrics would create something Lovecraftian... so instead I'm going to use the most common typo I've done writing this review.  Random yet apposite.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 feasts.  Some tweaks on content and improved artwork, while you can still pick these up individually, the collection provides helpful structure and removes the rough edges in some of the previous books. Worth getting in it's own right as a companion volume to APG for those needing to lessen the learning curve.

Contents: 5 feasts.  This compilation has all the feats in the Advanced Feat series in one place (with a seven page table summarising them) and a little tweaking which will make some GMs sigh with relief.  These in combination will encourage players and GMs alike in exploring options.  A fair share of these feats are not limited to the APG classes and provide options for those players who still want to play clerics and rogues.  My only kvetch about this PDF is a minor one - hyperlink the feats in the table to the feat entries. Given the breadth of options and versatility that the feats offfer, there is enough to spark many interesting new characters for years to come.

Following the feats are clear guides to each of the Pathfinder Advanced Players' Guide classes from alchemist to witch and builds with attached characters for each of these.  Character sheets for a cavalier's mount and summoner's eidolon help those with special friends keep track of them.  Dotted among all of these are pieces of commentary and sidebars that show the thinking behind certain feats and character decisions.  These offer little tasters of design insight and playability considerations.

Artwork/Layout: 5 feasts.  The cover has a hero with his back to the wall - an excellent piece by Christophe Swal. Interior art from Christophe Swal and Darell Langley provide whimsy as well as action, the chihuahua on p22 is extremely funny.  The increasing amounts of colour art reprising the covers of the previous books really help the Complete Advanced Feats stand out.  The economy-size table of feats is easy to search and the layout is easy on the eye.

More than just a list of feats? From this showing, definitely!  Characters are attached to builds, the sheets for eidolon and mount have whimsy all of their own.  Worth getting if you have the other PDFs?  Again yes, the tweaks and organisation of Complete Advanced Feats make it easier to use and reference.  Having banged on about a compilation for some time, now it's here, I'm glad to see some extra work went into it's assembly and that the layout is inspired by the best rather than going back a step.  Sigfried and the team have provided a companion volume to Paizo's APG that compliments the new core classes admirably.

Monday, 6 June 2011


No. Enc.: 1 (1d2)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 120' (40')
Armor Class: 5
Hit Dice: 6d8
Attacks: 2 (2 claws or 1 bite/1 tail lash).
Damage: 1d8/1d8 or 1d10/1d6; disease.
Save: F3
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: XI
This large sloth-like lizard is coated in a shaggy mat of green hair from snout to lashing tail. Against foes surrounding it, it remains on all fours, using it's snapping jaws and lashing tail. When fighting a single opponent it will rear up to use it's claws. Those in melee with a balbonisa learn it's hairs are diseased. A successful melee hit either by or against one means a save vs. Poison or become sickened for 1d6 hours, during which time they can move at 50% of their normal speed and are at -2 to hit, while opponents gain a +2 bonus to hit. This disease does not affect other balbonisa. An oddity of balbonisa is their instinct to gather gems to decorate a nest for mating purposes.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

inns & taverns: the cake and wreath

The Cake And Wreath is famous for dancing contests every half-moon from spring until harvest-tide. The winner gains a shield-sized cake topped by a wreath of exquisite sweet-scented blooms.  Other times, The Cake And Wreath serves travelling nobles.  Here etiquette over-rules business sense much to the chagrin of merchants and artisans seeking patronage.  Most travellers prefer other more bucolic venues but for some, the mix of pained manners, dancing and drafty rooms is irresistable.

It  is a huge ivy-clad roadside stone building. Yet the interior has stairs and hall to rival a lord's manse.  Interior pillars and arched stairwells support a vault over a sunken wooden dance floor.  Tables are set behind the pillars.  A dais on the eastern wall raises carved chairs reserved for the landlord and occasional dignitaries.  A minstrels' pit before the dias protects musicians and patrons.   Bars are situated at either end of the great hall. 

Trade cartels seeking noble patronage provide assorted ales.  The mix is eclectic and not always well-kept.  Sweet wines, brandy and sherry are readily available but the latest fashion for ladies is a simple genever served with candied lime. This is supported by a supply of game fowl, suckling pig and fruit pastries with generous helpings of brandy to disguise a lack of flavour.  Servants can buy meat pies that taste-wise overshadow the ersatz fare of the noble menu.

The landlord, Lensythe is distinguished yet spry.  Immaculately groomed, he guides staff with smiles, kind words and occasional fatherly speeches.  His staff are devoted, hard-working and all dance.  Many are good looking and staff turnover is brisk.  Winning the dance often leads to marriage proposals or court attendance.  Those who remain after five years often become mentors to new arrivals or grow embittered and move on.  Lensythe jokes about bringing new blood to the nobles but he knows and uses his influence.  Families and reputations are created or destroyed every year.  Lensythe has been doing this for years and has become adept at introducing well-suited people.

Accommodation is plentiful and priced appropriately, five suites suited for nobles with suitabled fittings. Servants also have twenty cell-like rooms.  These are kept in a way to hides scandalous use.  The landlord has provided a spare noble suite to local newlyweds to encourage 'a little romance' for one night free.  At least one member of staff turns coin by covert use of a suite, whether for blackmail or by more salacious methods.  Nobody has died yet, much to their credit.

Competition between dancers is good-natured yet intense, emotions run high yet bound by stiff etiquette.  The judging is not impartial as you'd expect.  Nobles who visit find themselves swayed by all manner of inducements, mere gold is a last resort.  Lensythe's agelessness has drawn comment from the observant.  While he claims to have had his glory days, some wonder at his longevity.  The tradition of a dressed cake has ancient roots, something sages versed in the fey would recall if paid...
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