Thursday, December 4, 2008

Critter Cache – Animals and Beasts (BlackDirge Publishing & Goodman Games)

I have got to admit one thing. It’s probably the first 4e product that made me laugh out loud. In one of the encounter suggestions, the following line is found: "1 orc eye of the orcish god (level 5 controller)" – We all know why it says that, but that line just sounds so silly and made me laugh. Anyway, there is little doubt that a lot of people think that the MM could have used some more regular animals. Let me say up front that I am not one of those. Animals and Beasts should definitely fill out the hole left by the MM. As far as I can tell, most if not all animals that were weren’t included have now been covered. We even get a new poison and a nasty disease as a bonus. There are however some issues here and there with the crunch, such as the Dire Ape that can stunlock you to death (Only the ape missing can prevent this, there is nothing you can do), the Tyrant Ape (hello mr. Kong) who seems very weak for a solo (if the crunch followed the fluff, it would be passable, but definitely still on the weak side) and a stomp attack that makes very little sense (I can buy the elephant having 3 reach, but how does it keep a character pinned at 3 squares range. I just don’t see it). Last but not least, BlackDirge continues to explore 3e’isms in 4e. Most notably resist damage with weapon keyword and fighting below zero. I must admit that especially the fighting below zero is not my cup of tea, and I wish it had been done more smoothly, more 4e-like, instead of (sort of) copying the 3e way. Overall, it’s not a bad product, but definitely the weakest of the Critter Cache line, and the one I will use the least.
Rating:* * *

BlackDirge’s Dungeon Denizens (BlackDirge Publishing and Goodman Games)

Overall, I have to say that DD holds a horde of very flavorful monsters, most of which look solid (crunch-wise) and definitely interesting enough to use in my campaign. The art is very 1e’ish, and in general, the monsters are a (good) bit more lethal than monsters of the same level from the 4e MM. He really pushes the envelope on how much a damage a monster of a given level should deal. As a DM who likes to kill his players (according to them), this is cool by me (Yum, yum, Greater Barghest drains two healing surges!). Although the book is far from flawless - there is notably a few issues with a few of the solos. They are either too weak, or they are way over the top; Grave Swarm I am looking at you! The editing or crunch mistakes are kept to a minimum, just like we should expect from Goodman Games. The spread of monster by level is good, although it is a pity that there are no regular monsters over level 19; only elites and solos. On the other hand, they are so many cool things (all monsters are indexed by level, by type and by keyword – just awesome for a DM) in this book that you quickly forget and forgive mistakes. Blackdirge reintroduces stuff like magic resistance and damage reduction in 4e format. Some will love this, some will hate it. He also introduces resistances based on the alignment of the attacker – I can’t say that I am huge fan of this, but it will please some people, that is for sure. As a bonus, we also get one of the sweetest curses (disease) that I have yet to see. I can’t wait for my players having to eat the flesh from the corpses of sentient beings in order to be able to heal. Cannibal Curse FTW!
Rating:* * * * *

Poisoncraft : Venomous Villains - The Syrallax (One Bad Egg)

The Syrallax, a distant cousin of the male medusa, is an evil subterranean race using nasty-looking weapons fashioned from the bones of their victims. They excel at tactics and mind-control, and they are in general just plain nasty. I find them a good and refreshing alternative to the evil overlord race from below to add to my campaign. And the art by Kev Crossley is just perfect. Like really awesome. Aside from two examples of the Syrallax (1 or 2 more wouldn’t have hurt), we are treated with a fully fleshed out encounter with a Syrallax Overlord (level 20 elite controller) and his multiple minions, taking place around a defective poison refinery. The refinery can blow up (treated as a hazard) and so can many of the barrels of poison (obstacles) that have been placed around the encounter area. Definitely a great encounter that shows just how interesting and dynamic 4e combats can be, if done by the right people. We are also treated with a little preview of the upcoming Codex Venenorum IV in the form of the Evershroud, a very nasty level 22 poison. Watch out for the aftereffect – it’s not a typo, the poison deals the same damage after the first made save. I think that’s a great way to increase potency of poisons without merely pilling on the base damage. All and all it is a great product, its biggest problem being that it leaves me wanting to know and read more about the Syrallax.
Rating:* * * * *

Hard Boiled Cultures (One Bad Egg)

Apparently, Mr. Hicks and co. can do no wrong. Hard Boiled Cultures is a DM’s guide to making the standard races of your campaign more diverse. They deconstruct the basics of the races (stats, feats, abilities) and show us how to twist that into distinct sub-races ready to populate and enrich your campaign world. While they use the PHB races as examples, there is no reason that their theories can not be applied to any and all 4e races. I think it is a brilliant (trying not to use awesome here) idea that every DM should embrace. Doing so offers true flexibility and choice for your player characters. No longer will every rogue be halfling, every fighter be dragonborn, or every cleric be elf. By creating sub-races using HBC, your players will no longer have to choose between making the character they want and making an “optimized character”. The only thing missing (IMO) are tables of alternate abilities. OBE tells us how to evaluate each ability and power, but all examples are based on already existing abilities. Which works great, mind you. I just wish there had been a few tables with lists of cool ideas for abilities for each race. It’s still an awesome product though.
Rating:* * * * *

In Search of Adventure (Goodman Games)

ISoA is a collection of 6 1st-2nd level adventures. Overall I am not too impressed. Adventures 2-4 are all three set in a desert, which is an almost automatic turnoff for me (and the ones presented did nothing to change my mind). The 1st, 5th and 6th adventure have some great background and interesting ideas for encounters, but the execution is just boring. Too often they use 4-5 of the same monster and nothing else in a combat. Variety is the spice of life, and of 4e. Lots of new monsters, but I am a bit (okay, a lot) concerned about the balance of these monsters. It seems quite a bit off, at times. In general, they seem way too happy about solo monsters as well – I mean; two solos in a 10-page level 1 adventure? That’s not how 4e works at its best, IMO.
Rating:* *

Wrath of the River King (Wolfgang Baur, Open Design)

If you read this and wonder why the review has changed, it's because I lost this review to the evil overlords of the interweb. With no backup. Anyway, WotRK is a tale of greed, love and revenge, where the heroes start off trying to find the miller's wife, but quickly find themselves embroiled in a game of thrones amongst 3 factions of Fey. They end up making their way towards the castle of the River King in order to prevent a Fey attack on the mortal realm. The adventure is very flexible (sandbox style) and stuffed full of interesting skill challenges, combat and more than anything else, roleplaying encounters and opportunities. The Queen's Birch Fair especially shines in this regard and is so full of adventure hooks that you can probably use it basis for half a campaign. For the more combat-minded, there is plenty as well. Several of the encounters even look positively deadly. All in all, this is by far the best 3PP adventure written for 4e. And not only is it a great adventure, but it is also an awesome inspiration and a must have for any DM who ever plans to bring his players to the Feywild. You can still purchase this if you sign up for Halls of the Mountain King, else you are probably SOL.
Rating:* * * * *

Pact of the Angelic Choirs (Adamant Entertainment)

I was very much (okay moderately) looking forward to this one. I have a thing for angels, and if done right, it would definitely be something that would be incorporated very quickly into my campaign. But alas, it wasn’t. There are some decent ideas in the fluff, but the crunch is just horrible. Some of the issues are small, things that annoy more than anything, but when you couple that with a good deal of powers that look horribly broken, it’s kind of hard to ignore. Small stuff includes the at-will dealing radiant damage, despite being described constantly as a fire attack. The constant use of willpower instead of will. Then again, that’s probably because it’s not released under the GSL. Also, Truename. Good idea, poor implementation. I mean, why give penalties to monsters’ defenses (and thus give the DM more work) when you can give the player unnamed bonuses that stack with everything else. Anyway, as I said, mostly small stuff, so let’s move to the bigger issues. How about a level 2 utility that gives 1+int mod to AC, all defenses and resistance 1+int mod vs. fire, acid, radiant and lightning. For 5 minutes… Or how about a level 6 utility that as a minor action gives 1+cha (main stat) modifier to a roll. But it can be any roll used within the next 5 minutes. Or how about a level 10 utility (immediate reaction) that when used gives you temp hit points and an action point. Or how about an immediate interrupt that “rewinds the clock” to before the event, and lets you cut in with a minor, move and standard action. Seriously? A level 5 close burst for 3d10+modifiers+ knock prone? Or a level 29 burst 5 that can do 10d10 (of no less than 3 different types of energy) + knocks prone? Sure, you might have to hit yourself, but still? Too much work in this one, in my opinion.

Pact of the Vermin Lords (Adamant Entertainment)

The idea is good, no doubt about it. For the most part, the power s fit well thematically, and there are some great ideas in the fluff. AoE spells become a spreading contagion, healing becomes shedding the husk, zone spell becomes a cloud of nasty tomb insects, ongoing damage a parasite worm etc, etc. Overall some very cool fluff for a very dark character. The issues I have with PotVL come from the crunch. First of all the at-will is extremely controllerish. I know that the warlock is strike with a tad of controller, but that at-will should be a controller at-will. Oh and did I mention that it is very good? There are also a few powers that look broken and/or weird (You Are My Host, I am looking at you), but overall, it’s fairly solid.
Rating:* * * *

The Shroudborn (One Bad Egg)

The Shroudborn gives us a new multi-class option full of flavor and role-playing abilities that any semi-sane DM should at least consider to introduce in his campaign. Now, not all DM’s will feel that The Shroud fits in his campaign, but no problem there either. The Shroud could really be anything. You could simply be attuned to the Spirit-World. Or you could be cursed by the Gods. Or yet again, you could be touched by the Fey. (Okay, maybe not that one, but you get the idea I am sure). Oh and it works great for NPC’s as well! It's a good way to inject some flavor into that boring Orc chieftain or Hobgoblin captain.

So what does it mean to be touched by the Shroud? Well, first of all, you can swap one of your +2 stat modifiers for a +2 Int modifier and one of your racial skill modifiers for a skill for a +2 stealth modifier. You also acquire some minor physical changes, like milky white skin or pale eyes. After spending a feat, you get to choose another ability (from a very short list, based on race), and qualify for further multi-classing. Which is probably a good idea, if you want to expand on your character’s connection to the Spirit-World.

The powers are cool, thematic and flexible. None seem obviously broken, and OBE even introduces a new key-word: Arena, which pulls you, your target(s) and possibly your allies to a closed off demi-plane sort of place, where you can continue to fight. What can I say? Yet again, OBE delivers.
Rating:* * * * *

DCC57 Wyvern Mountain (Goodman Games)

Wyvern Mountain is the latest adventure from Goodman Games. It is an extremely linear adventure that sends the heroes to Wyvern Mountain to investigate what shenanigans are afoot. They follow the road (and monsters on the road) to the former dragon lair, now occupied by a goblin tribe. They kill the goblins, solve the riddle to enter the real lair that has been in temporal stasis, and defeat the guardians and master of the lair. Game over.

Overall I am disappointed. While there are some cool (read nasty) traps (7d10 at 4th level – OUCH), they are never part of an encounter, so unless players die from it, they are never really in any danger. There are some crunch issues, as well as some odd suggestions of tactics (like a monster starting by using a close burst power that makes its allies regain hit points). Worst of all is the lack of interesting terrain or features in combats with high level/high hp opponents. On the positive side, there are some nice puzzles and we get two new cool monsters, the vargouille and the barghest – yeah, when I say new, I mean 4e-style obviously.
I get that DCC's are supposed to have that oldschool hack and slash feel. Screw the roleplaying etc, but where is the harm in making interesting combats, if combats is all there is. Way too often they resort to using one type of monster in their combats. Only once in the whole adventure do they meet more than 2 different monsters at the same time, and that's when they encounter a ranger with his pet dire wolf and eagle. Diversity FTW.
Rating:* *

Demon Queen's Enclave (Wizards of the Coast)

The heroes find themselves (depending on which hook you use) heading to a drow settlement in the Underdark in order to stop a greater evil brewing. An rebellious drow has been lured to the dark side (as if Lolth doesn’t qualify as the dark side already) by Orcus. The drow, now a vampire, has taken over a domain in the Shadowfell which used to be ruled by an exarch of Orcus. From there, it has launched an attack on the drow settlement, breaching it defences.
So when the players arrive, they find a town-battlefield, infested by undead and demons. And drows, of course. The goal might be to stop the nefarious plans of the Orcus worshipping vampire-drow, but how do you do that. Do you ally with the lone drow necromancer, with the failed drow commander that thinks of himself as dead man walking, or do you see out the matron mother in the temple of Lolth, and strike a deal with the most unholy of all. Or maybe you just plow through everything. That would of course be a pity. Once an alliance has formed, how do you proceed to enter the realm of Orcus? There is also a personification of the plane that has its own agenda, and an artefact that doesn’t quite want what everyone assumes it wants.
The adventure is choking full of interesting encounters, awesome settings, meaningful choices, cool application of skill challenges and interesting NPC’s.

DQE (P2) is by miles the best adventure WotC has ever produced. In fact, I will go so far as to say that it is probably one of the best adventures made for D&D in many years. Buy now!
Rating:* * * * * *

Manual of the Planes (Wizards of the Coast)

The 4e MoP follows the trend started with the 4e FRCG. WotC provides the structure, with enough info to set the correct tone, and leave enough room for the DM to stretch his creative muscles and make it his own. If you are the type that needs to have books with answers for every single question, then this probably isn’t the book for you. If you on the other hand want a framework on which to base your own stuff, to help those C-juices get flowing, then the 4e MoP is an invaluable tool. I am not going to give it six stars, mostly because you can get by without, if you have a lot of material from prior editions. But it’s a damn good investment, if you ask me.
Rating:* * * * *

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Critter Cache: Prehistoric Beasts (Blackdirge Publishing and Goodman Games)

Yeah. More monsters. One can never get enough monsters. Blackdirge brings us 11 brand new spanking dinosaurs, with 3 variants of each. And as a bonus, at least one of each type of dinosaur is suitable as a mount, and they still all come with a description. Yes thank you. Overall I would say there is little groundbreaking, but the monsters have cool thematically appropriate powers, although, if someone would like to be critical, there seems to be a little issue of damage-inflation. Some of these monsters do quite a lot of damage. But who wouldn’t want a mount at 5th level that can daze and stun (save ends). I know my rogue would .
Rating: * * * *

DCC56 Scions of Punjar (Goodman Games)

Scions is a 4th-6th level urban adventure crawl where players are hired by a minor noble family to find out how a pendant, which is supposed to be entombed in the family tombs, has made its way to a local pawn shop. Soon the heroes find themselves embroiled in a tale of revenge, because the slighted and thought-to-be-dead deranged daughter of the family has returned, now an insane necromancer. She has amazed a secret army of undead in the depths of the city of Punjar, and wants her family dead.
As usual, Goodman Games gives an adventure full of deadly traps and nasty combats. However, and this is a big plus, many of the encounters have a non-violent solution, so it’s not all hack and slash. There are a few twists, and room to expand the adventure significantly, if that is what you want. They are also kind enough to provide a flowchart of the major encounter areas, since not all encounters need to be taken in a definite order.
Sadly, there is some editing that really annoys the hell of out me. Wrong xp for some monsters and some 3.x-isms in the fluff, like the rogues having a few wizard or warlock levels to enhance their abilities. Maybe it’s just copy-pasting that hasn’t been caught by the editor, but none the less. I expect more from GG. There are also some parts of the adventure that can’t be copy-pasted, what’s with that. But worst of all is their use of the skill challenge… 6 diplomacy checks and nothing else in a skill challenge? 8 intimidate checks and nothing else in a skill challenge? My advice would be to subscribe to DDI and thus be able to read the advice Mearls gives on skill challenges, or read the DMG. Because that’s just poor use of a great system. Anyway, if you are willing to look past the crunch, add another star.
Rating:* * *

Heroes Handbook: The Dragonborn (Goodman Games)

A lot of people have been complaining that 4e lacks fluff, myself included at times. Well, if it’s fluff you want, it is fluff you will get. The dragonborn are here described as an ancient races steeped in tradition and honor. A sort of samuraiesque-indian hybrid race, divided into very distinct clans, each with their own history and traditions, each with their own interpretation of the Code of the Dragon, the cornerstone of dragonborn society; Courage, loyalty and integrity.
Each clan (8 are described in detail) comes with it’s own paragon path and feats. There is also a whole chapter of feats fitting any (well, there are prereqs) dragonborn character. Overall, it is great stuff, and while there are a few feats you as DM might need to take a look at (as well as a few PP’s), overall the stuff appears to not be completely unbalanced. Not everything has been the subject to the dreaded power-creep, and there are plenty of options for those who wish to build on their dragonborn character, making him even more distinctly dragonborn.
The book has around 60 pages of almost 100% fluff, 10 pages on how (tables) to make a engaging and interesting family history for your dragonborn, 20 pages of monsters (mostly different dragonborn) and finally around 10 pages of new magical items.
While I am 100% sure you could play 4e without this book, I would definitely not be without it.
Rating:* * * * *

The Quintessential Wizard (Mongoose)

QW is essential a book of crunch. While it does have some decent fluff here and there, I am evaluating it based on the crunch. All I can say is that not much have changed. The Q-series had a reputation of being unbalanced, and even though it is a completely new group of designers, not much has changed. This book has more broken feats than all other 4e books put together. Several of the PP's are also really, really good (trying to avoid using the word broken again). The powers vary more, but seriously, sleep as an encounter power at level 5? Sigh. Oh and what the hell is the "held" condition (I understand what it is, but I shouldn't have to make even educated guesses)? Arguably there is stuff you could find useful in the book, but considering the size and the number of broken stuff, I cannot recommend it in any way shape or form. I expect more, and so should you!

Draconomicon I: Chromatic Dragons (Wizards of the Coast)

The 4e version of the Draconomicon is here. As opposed to the 3.5 version, it is only about the chromatic dragons. Now, this may not please everyone, just as the omission of the metallic dragons in the Monster’s Manual did not please everyone. Want to know everything about the psychology and physiology of the chromatic dragons? Want help on integrating dragons into your campaigns? Want dragon traps? Want dragon rituals? Want page after page of dragon lairs and a large variety of dragons? The Draconomicon is however full of all sorts of all the goodies you will need for running evil dragons. I can’t wait for Draconomicon: Metallic Dragons.
Rating:* * * * *

The Kroola (Poison Ivy press)

Okay. I knew I shouldn't have bought it. I mean, jolly but aggressive crocodiles that walk upright, live in swamps or play pirates on the Seven Seas? Maybe it is just me, but it just didn't do anything for me. Fluff aside, one could hope for some decent crunch, but alas. While they probably fit some world, the Kroola are just too powerful for your average campaign. The "no-granting-CA-while-prone" and "the improved unarmed attack" are nice and fit thematically, the Kroola's racial power is just.. well powerful. As an encounter power, spend a healing surge for con modifier + ½ level regen that lasts for the encounter as long as you are not "not-bloodied" or unconscious. Sure, there will be times where you waste it, if ennemies disengage you soon after you are bloodied, but often it will be godsent. Imagine a Kroola Infernal Warlock (I actually have a hard time imagining that, but anyway...). 20 con and at 2nd level that's 7 hp regen per round. He could almost easily play tank with that.
Rating:* *

Martial Power (Wizards of the Coast)

Expectations from my side were both high and low at the same time. High because it is the first real splatbook of 4e, low because it is a splatbook. I was not disappointed. I was not let down by what some claims to be a corporation of evil money-grubbing suits without soul. Martial Powers promises more options for my martial powers, and options it delivers in spades. Sure, not all are equal, and there might even be something horribly broken, but from a first quick read-through, Martial Power is just made of win. You get many new powers, many new class features, and quite a few new builds for greater variety. At a glance, I can easily see the beastmaster ranger becoming a favorite. I know I would like to play a ranger now. I can’t give it 6 stars, but since it is all crunch, I do not feel that I can do that without extensive testing. When that is said, this is a must have, if not only to give your players more options with regards to powers and feats.
Rating:* * * * *

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Gods of the Shroud (One Bad Egg)

Let me start out by saying that if what you are looking for is a replacement pantheon for your high-magic campaign, this is probably not a product for you. It is however the perfect set of gods for a gritty, dark world on the edge of civilization or humanity. Baring running such a campaign, the Gods of the Shroud should be perfect as Ancient gods, still worshipped by barbarians, various humanoid tribes or really anyone living on the fringe of society. I must admit that I would have liked more fluff, but the fluff gotten was very evocative and sparked a lot of great ideas - just as it should be. The Channel Divinity feats are mostly great, and quite fitting. Overall a product I will be using a lot.
Rating:* * * * *

Friday, October 3, 2008

Paths to Prestige: The Fell Knight (Blackdirge Publishing)

First of all, despite the price tag of $1.50, you aren’t getting a whole lot. A prestige class, the corresponding template for monsters, and an example of a MM monster with the template slapped upon, along with a little fluff. Or maybe I am just spoiled. Anyway, the idea of the fallen paladin is fine, because we do not have it per say. We have the evil paladin via the core books, and the paladin that has given up on the gods via the Unbroken of One Bad Egg. So it’s filling a gap, although a very small gap. The problem I have with the Fell Knight is the implementation. For example, at 11th level, all powers you have that deal radiant now deal necrotic; except (because it is a class feature and not a prayer) your divine challenge. Then at 16th level, targets that are affected by your divine challenge take ongoing necrotic takes some ongoing necrotic damage. So your DC deals radiant damage and necrotic ongoing. Not really smooth in my book. Why not have DC do necrotic damage instead?
Rating:* * *

Lands of Darkness #2: The Cesspools of Arnac (Expeditious Retreat Press)

I think I won’t buy any more of the Land of Darkness series. Either they are extremely boring, or the whole concept just doesn’t suit me. The encounters seem repetitive and the new monsters seem without soul. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good, most notably a nasty level 5 disease which leaves you perma-dazed with a hefty penalty to AC and Fortitude defense. I am however not a fan of assured TPK’s which is what has been put in there. Sure, there is a skill challenge which allows you to avoid the encounter, or rather, resolves the encounter without bloodshed. A failed skill challenge is however a sure TPK. Against a level 3 a level 12 controller, 91 hps, insubstantial, flies, phases, and every 3rd round on average, he can make a close burst 6 attack that does 2d8+1 damage, pushes 5, and immobilizes (save ends). Of course, they can flee, I guess, but still...
Rating:* *

Tankard Tales: Willowbark (Myth Merchant Press)

Okay, so Willowbarks is a tavern at the edge of civilization. It is an interesting, if not completely innovative concept. The PDF describes the owner and his employees, as well as sets up some rumors and adventure hooks and some small adventure ideas. While I think that the author should have included stats for the owner and his friends, I like parts of the adventure seeds and the small adventures in Willowbarks. One sees the players being stuck in an alternate pocket-plane/dimension, due to a gnomish device gone awry. They must repair the device to return to their own plane, but unfortunately a portal to the Feywild is acting up and monsters are literally pouring in through the portal. Fun times, except that if the players fail, we are told that they just wake up unharmed, back at the inn. That’s kind of weak.
Rating:* * *

Critter Cache: Big Bugs (BlackDirge Publishing and Goodman Games)

So, finally we got us some more monsters! And they even have descriptions! Okay, I must admit I have never been the biggest fan of bugs, but there are some real gems in this product, as long as you do not look too much at the art. It looks like 1e stuff. Okay, I guess some people might dig it, I sure as hell didn’t. We got ant soldiers that frenzy (get more attacks when they are bloodied), we got an ant queen whose pheromone burst has not one, not two, but three different applications, both offensive and defensive, making it an awesome controller/leader hybrid. There are a few places where the author went a bit overboard, such as a beetle (level 6 brute) which does 2d10+10 damage when it has a target grabbed. Ouch. All in all, a good solid product, filled with some nasty critters to dispense of your pesky players. If you feel that 4e is just incomplete without these kinds of monsters, add another star.
Rating: * * * *

The Death-Mother (One Bad Egg)

"A mockery of motherhood, the death-mother appears a rotting, clawed zombie with an enormous, bloated abdomen that splits open to reveal rows upon rows of sharp, needle-like teeth. A single long tentacle emerge from that maw on occasion; striking a foe, the death-mother exerts a momentary control over the victim’s mind and feeds its gestating get with leeched life-force" - If that just sounds cool, nay awesome, it is because it is. Between producing undeads during combat and devouring more corpses during combat to produce even more undeads, this monster can be a truly horrifying experience for your players. Do not deprive yourself of the pleasure of using this against them!
Rating: * * * * *

The Half-Dead (One Bad Egg)

It had to happen I guess. With The Apelord and The Unbroken One Bad Egg had raised my expectations to a unreasonably high level. Yet, there is something intriguing about the Half-Dead.The concept and flavor really appeals to me, but I am never going to use it as a full player race. I think that is the biggest hurdle of the Half-Dead. I do not see it as a race that many will use. I will however use it at some point, where one of my players die, as some plot device. We will have to see. Overall it's a well designed race, but I do have some concerns about the racial ability. +5 to all death saves is too much (I think, but haven't had time to do the math yet).
Rating: * * * *

The Demigod (LPJ Design)

Hi, my name is Jack, and I am an 11th level demigod fighter, and I can't die.. what? No seriously, The Demigod race has it's moments. Three things really annoy me though, when I read it. First of all, divine nature? C'est quoi? Well, one must assume that it's mr LPJ dodging the GSL. Fair enough I guess, it just annoys me that the terminology changes from product to product. Second thing that annoys me, is the name. I mean, come one, DEMIGOD? I realize that it is what they are, but in D&D, when someone says demigod, you immediately think of someone extremely powerful. Not to mention the epic destiny from the core rules. So Jack the 11th level demigod fighter/vanguard becomes Jack the 21th level demigod fighter/vanguard/demigod? Say what? Last, but not least, can you spell B-R-O-K-E-N? Well, not the race in itself, but rather one of the paragon feats. Treat any roll of 10 or lower on a death save as a 10? First of all, there is no limit to this, so I guess that makes me pretty hard to kill, unless someone beats me down to below minus bloodied. Also, why would I need a feat to treat a roll of 10 as a 10? Hmm... There is some good stuff in there, I like the feel they got going, but it needs some work.
Rating: * * *

Punjar - The Tarnished Jewel (Goodman Games)

While made for their 4e OGL DCC line, PtTJ is easily adapted to any game system, as it has absolutely no crunch in there. The only 4e-ism in there is one mention of the dragonborn. This large city (75k) is run by a former thief turned Overlord is a haven for scum, bribery, murder and other nefarious pursuits and beings. Even the council-seats are as default buyable. Aside from the council, there is little centralization. Each of the wards of the city is run in it’s own fashion, with a common theme of brutality and hopelessness permeating them. Goodman Games and Mr. Stroh have created the basis for something truly great, and this appetizer has definitely let me wanting for more information about the Tarnished Jewel.
Rating: * * * *

King of the Trollhaunt Warrens (Wizards of the Coast)

Following the Pyramid of Shadows, but not really linked in a significant way, WotC finally get their adventure-writing together and brings us one of the best adventures in many years. The premise is simple. A little town is threatened by trolls and their new troll king. The heroes arrive and must find the secret warrens, kill the troll-king only to haste back to town to foil an attack by the troll-king’s “army”. After the attack, they find out the troll-king is not dead, and return to the warren, killing the troll king again, only to have to follow him into the Feywild, where he has now been reborn as the ancient troll-king Vard, first king of Vardar. Good stuff all around. Skill challenges, fights and role-playing opportunities are all there in good amounts, with seeds for much more.
Rating: * * * * *

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Unbroken (One Bad Egg)

I have two words for you guys. Must. Have. The Unbroken is a paladin paragon path simulating a paladin that has broken with his god, but wants to do things that must be done, be they good or evil. Thematically, it’s hardly breaking new ground, but it is IMO a very important option to have in your campaign. But the best thing about this short PDF is that it gives you a smart way to not only handle the paladin code introduced, but that you can easily use it with the normal paladins and their relationship with their god. Hell, it could fit for any character that wants some sort of code. At $1.49, it’s worth every penny several times over.
Rating: * * * * * *

DCC54 Forges of the Mountain King (Goodman Games)

FotMK is an oldschool dungeon crawl if there ever was one. No roleplay, many rooms, many monsters in small rooms (9 monsters in a 3x5 room!!) and extremely lethal traps, all of it sprinkled with a riddle and an ancient evil. Liking that is a matter of taste I guess. I <3 the lethal traps, which incidentally are very fitting with the whole dwarven theme, but the lack of room to move around during many of the fights create some very static encounters in 4e. There are some random editing (?) issues, like an item power that should be a free action and not an immediate reaction, and also a referral to the wrong room at a point, but overall, I didn’t notice any huge problems on my first read-through. I must however mention how very impressed I was with the int 1 zombies’ ability to perform a circling move, in order to be able to ambush the players from behind. That’s putting very little to very good use ;)
Rating:* * *

Anthropophagi (Alea Publishing Group)

As I see it, there are several issues with these monsters. First of all, the crunch seems a bit off. Maybe it is just me (I haven’t compared to other than a few monsters), but 1d8+4 and 1d6+4+weaken for a mere level 4 brute seems nasty. Also, the aura will be a killer, for players that go below 0. The Marauder is also a bit odd, with an immediate reaction that is a bit cryptic. Also, I find the fluff hard to swallow. I mean, in what kind of world are official papers granted to undead, so that they can prowl the battlefield, looking for corpses. Maybe it fits Alea’s world, but it seems hard to fit in a “normal” campaign world.
Rating: * *

The Linotaur (Adamant Entertainment)

Maybe it is just me, but, as mentioned when I talked about the Apelord, I have always had a thing against talking animals as player races. The Apelord won me over, so I thought, why not expand that even more. However, four legged talking animals are just not doing it for me, apparently. I never was a fan of the centaur as a player race. I guess there is nothing wrong with the Linotaur per say, aside from the fact that I would probably not have chosen to copy-paste the gnoll’s racial power, ferocious charge. Originality is a great thing. While I won’t allow my players to play one, I kinda like the fluff and feel of the race, so I will most likely use it and create some barbaric tribes roaming the savannahs of the south.
Rating: * * *

Wraith Recon (Mongoose Publishing)

Wraith Recon is a supplement for all that want the opportunity to run a different campaign. With Wraith Recon, your players will be able to play a different brand of heroes. Here nothing matters beyond the next mission. No one cares who you kill, as long as you get the job done. Looting every creature or running around searching every single room is a thing of the past, as all you need will be provided. All you need to worry about is putting together a kickass team, and getting ready to follow orders.
Wraith Recon provides a really good framework for making a campaign where the players are part of an elite strike team. With some sort of game-mechanics innovation in it, it would have scored higher, but sadly there is none. Also, do not expect too much from the art…
Rating: * * * *

Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide (Wizards of the Coast)

I am one of those people that the idea of breaking campaigns up in a book for the DM and a book for the players is a great idea. The FRPG gives the players all the information they need to create a character in the Realms. You get two new races (Drow and Genasi), a new class (Swordmage), Realm-specific feats, and a host of paragon paths, also specific to the Realms. You also get an overview of all the major areas of the Realms, and the knowledge someone native to those parts should have. Even if you do not run a FR campaign, the book is worth the money. The drow and genasi could appear in any campaign, and the Swordmage is an awesome gish-class, even better when multi-classing into wizard. The paragon paths are easily made more generic to fit any campaign.
Rating: * * * * *

Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (Wizards of the Coast)

After reading this book was the first time in more than 10 years that I have considered running a campaign in what was one THE campaign of choice for me. The book does a great job at describing the Realms, in a short and to the point way. It gives you an awesome framework for a campaign, with lots and lots of plot hooks, without going so much into detail that you have no room to maneuver. If you are one of those who think a campaign book should tell you everything, down to the price of inns in the different wards of Waterdeep, or the color of Manshoon’s underwear, this is not a book for you.
Rating: * * * *

Sunday, August 3, 2008

DCC55 Isle of the Sea Drake (Goodman Games)

The heroes find themselves stranded on a jungle isle, and find themselves in the middle of a small war between two ancient tribes. One tribe is since recently in control, after striking a deal with an evil wizard and his pirates. The wizard is there to gain control of a magic item that would allow him to control the local sea-drakes. Overall IotSD is a decent adventure with a great tone, and some opportunities for role-playing. It’s also fairly different from the standard urban or dungeon feel that we encounter in 90% of all adventures.
Rating: * * * *

Phrenic Shards (Dreamscarred Press)

Much like the Noble multi-class from Alea Publishing, Phrenic Shards uses a wide array of feats in order to simulate a class that does not exist. In this case, it is the psion. While the idea has merit, and there is definitely possibilities (Alea proved that), Phrenic Shards falls short. Way short. This is mostly because they are so many broken feats in there. “As One” gives you +2 to hit and +2 damage with your shard when you use a martial power. Two other feats buy you an aura (50’ radius) that gives you a surge or an AP every time an ally uses an AP or a surge within your aura – seriously?
Rating: *

DCC53 Sellswords of Punjar (Goodman Games)

SoP is a dark urban adventure that pits the heroes against a possessed Beggar-King and his shadowy allies, in order to avoid the spread of a shadow-plague. Goodman Games have here created a solid adventure with a distinct old-school feel. It has an interesting plot and some good set pieces. There is some innovation with regards to the rules, for example with regards to the shadow-stuff toxin which worsens your condition each time a save is failed, up to 5 times. It’s a mix of the normal poison rules and the disease track. Good stuff.
Rating: * * * *

The Apelord (One Bad Egg)

Have you ever wanted to play an intelligent animal in D&D? I haven’t; in fact, I have never allowed such races in any of my campaigns during the 20 years I have been running them. However, this is about to change. The Apelord is simply full of win.
Rating: * * * * *

Peasant House (Alea Publishing)

Peasant House is not really a 4e product, since it works equally well for all editions of the game. However, it was listed under 4e products, so I bought it. And I wasn’t disappointed. The first two chapters, who describe how the different classes and races interact with serfdom and peasants, were a bit weak. Not poorly written or anything, just not interesting. However, the next chapters, describing the day to day life of the peasants, the atmosphere of their home and such, made it worth buying. I have always had problems with describing accurate peasant homes, and this product really gives a good picture of how they lived.
Rating: * * *

Noble (Alea Publishing)

Noble is a multiclass, with a class that doesn’t exist. The idea is brilliant, and my bet is that we will see many of those in the future. However, when I read this the first time, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, or merely of poor taste. Names like “Tongue Lashing” and “Courtier’s Retort” didn’t help I guess. However, as I read more, I realized that the names didn’t really matter, because the noble multiclass is a great way of handling such things. Noble comes with a full set of powers (38) ready to buy with your feats. Also included in the pdf, are power cards, ready to print out. That’s just great.
Rating: * * * *

Anointing the Seer (Unicorn Rampant Publishing)

AtS is an adventure, where the heroes are pursuing an evil family (the mother: the witch, the son: the warlock, the father: the dragon!) that have kidnapped the beautiful priestess and turned many villagers into pigs. They go from the town, to the mother’s hideout, to the son’s hideout, ending in the father’s hideout. It is simple and straight forward. There are some interesting opportunities for roleplaying and skill challenges, so with a little work, it could be a decent adventure. However the editing is atrocious. In fact, I will go as far as say that anyone asking money for a product, should be ashamed delivering one of such quality. Not only is the spelling bad, but it is full of 3.5-isms, and it is quite clear it was written as a 3.5 adventure, and then hastily converted in order to cash in on the October 1st date. Now, $5 isn’t much, but it is the principle. When you ask people to pay for your stuff, certain things are expected.
Rating: *

Forgotten Heroes: Fist, Fang and Song (Goodman Games)

I think this was easily the biggest disappointment yet. Goodman Games are to me one of the best 3rd party publishers out there. It’s not that FH:FFaS is a bad product. It’s just not what I had expected. You see, they had the opportunity to make some great versions of the old classes, more than 5 months before WotC does their version. However, instead of making real 4e versions, their classes feel like 3.5 versions, with 4e rules; needlessly complicated. I am sure some (lots of) people will enjoy those versions, but to someone who really has embraced the smoothness of the classes in 4e, they are a disappointment.
Rating: * *

Lands of Darkness #1 - The Barrow Grounds (Expeditious Retreat Press)

The Barrow Grounds is basically a cemetery you can put anywhere in your campaign, more or less. The idea is great; however the result is less than stellar. They have 12 encounters, and most are pretty boring. Rats and undead! I dunno, but a product such as this, which basically is a list of encounters, should give me more than I can think up in 20 seconds. There was some good stuff in there though. As the place is made for levels 1-3, each crypt/area has its encounter(s) adjusted depending on what level your players are when they arrive. One of the encounters, with a guardian golem could also lead to some great roleplaying. This saves the product from being a *.
Rating: * *

Plague (Expeditious Retreat Press)

Everything you ever wanted and needed to run a plague in your 4e games. Lots of great fluff and information on plagues, as well as the crunch needed to make them truly lethal, even for epic level characters. Buy it and release death in your campaigns!
Rating: * * * * *

Advanced Player's Guide (Expeditious Retreat Press)

Written by Ari Marmell aka Mouseferatu, this book brings the monk, the barbarian, the bard, the druid and the illusionist to our tables. The 1e feel promised is delivered to the best of my knowledge, and apart from (the barbarian) the savage warrior, the classes are awesome, and ready to be used in your campaign. Definitely one of the best third party products made for 4e at the time of writing.
Rating: * * * * *

Adventurer’s Vault (Wizards of the Coast)

AV should have been the 4th core book. There is no way around this book, and even though it does have it flaws with some items that can cause problems in the game, this is simply a resource that is too good to pass up. It brings new weapons, new armors, mounts, vehicles and alchemy (non-magical rituals) to your table. Not to mention hundreds and hundreds of magical items. And when I say hundreds, I do mean it. The index of magical items is 24 pages long!
Rating: * * * * *

Pyramid of Shadows (Wizards of the Coast)

Following TL, the heroes are drawn towards the Pyramid of Shadows, an ancient pyramid that has entrapped Karavakos, a tiefling of considerable arcane ability. PoS has a kind of old-school feeling to it. You have a lot of very different monsters, in a very small area, just like in the good old days. At least the writers have tried come up with an explanation as to how it is possible, but I must admit that the whole non-stop dungeon-crawling doesn’t appeal to me another. There are however plenty of very interesting encounters to steal and use in your homebrews. So all in all, worth buying for inspiration and the encounters, but it would require too much work to make a great adventure.
Rating: * * *

Thunderspire Labyrinth (Wizards of the Coast)

Following the trail picked up in KotS, our heroes are led to an ancient underground minotaur complex, now a semi-secret tradepost run by a group of wizards. The heroes pursue the trail of a renegade wizard attempting to size control over the small community, through 4 distinct dungeons, where they battle hobgoblins, duegar, gnolls, demons, evil wizards, and of course a dragon.
The dungeons in TL are of a much more manageable size than in KotS, with plenty of interesting fights, and via The Seven-Pillared Hall, there are plenty of opportunities to create some great roleplaying moments.
Rating: * * * *